Arabs in Aspic
|Years active||1997–2004, 2006-present|
|Labels||Arion, Audio Resources|
|Members||Jostein Smeby, Stig Arve Jørgensen, Eskil Nyhu, Erik Paulsen, Alessandro Elide|
Formed in 1997 as a Black Sabbath cover band, Arabs in Aspic did not have a consistent name in their initial days of producing music. Lead guitarist and vocalist Jostein Smeby played with Tommy Ingebrigtsen, who contributed as a rhythm guitarist and theremin player in various cover bands with a focus on the metal genre. The formation of the band included Hammond organ player Magnar Krutvik and two brothers, Eskil and Terje Nyhus, acting as drummer and bassist respectively. Ingebrigten's recognition as a ski jumping world champion, coupled with the other members' passion for the sport, earned them the title of being a "ski jumping band";a attribution the partners later worked to dismiss.
Initially performing under different monikers, Arabs of Aspic took their name from the King Crimson album Larks' Tongues in Aspic, out of reverence for the record. A book on the topic of cricket entitled Arabs in Aspic was then found by chance on eBay, and the name was assumed for the band.
We thought it was such a surreal title that we just had to steal it. The title as a bandname also suited our vulgar sound at that time.— Jostein Smeby in Jürgen Meurer (Betreutes Proggen): Jostein Smeby and Erik Paulsen explain the current development of Arabs in Aspic
After the debut release, the group was joined by Stig Arve Jørgensen. He contributed background vocals and took over the Hammond organ after Krutvik switched to acoustic guitar and synthesiser. Following the release of the album Far Out in Aradabia, the band went on a hiatus.
In 2006, Smeby, Eskil Nyhus and Jørgensen joined forces with new bassist Erik Paulsen to form Arabs in Aspic II. Several demos were recorded in the subsequent years, before the band recorded the album Strange Frame of Mind in the studio of TNT guitarist Ronni LeTekro, in 2009. The album was mastered by Tommy Hansen at Jailhouse Studios in Denmark and received critical acclaim upon its release, with the LP version appearing in 2012. Following the release, the band dropped the 'II' and continued under the name Arabs in Aspic. In 2019, long-time live and session percussionist Alessandro Elide became a permanent member of the band. 
From its inception, Smeby was the primary songwriter for the group. In addition to Black Sabbath, he cited stoner rock and classical modernism as influences, while other band members drew inspiration from progressive rock staples such as Genesis, King Crimson and Yes, as well as other genres such as music of the Balkans, fusion, jazz and more. These eclectic and varying sources of music influence provided the foundation for the group's sound.
As a result of their influences, the group's sound has been described as a combination of "typical Scandinavian, slightly elegiac Retroprog with a good portion of hard rock." This style has shifted slightly over the years, with an early focus on hard and psychedelic rock evolving into a stronger adherence to progressive rock following the band's reunion.
Drawing largely from psychedelic rock, the debut album of the band incorporates influences from Hawkwind, older Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd, featuring "dark crushing guitars and a lot of Hammond organ". This influence is more pronounced than in their later releases.
Occasionally, the otherwise rather melodious music is interrupted by heavy guitar riffs, which provide a good shot of harshness and thus a nice contrast. But the guitar also likes to make extended psychedelic excursions, which is not found on later albums of the band in this form. This psychedelic influence is further enhanced by the use of the organ, which instead of wild solos focuses on psychedelic wafting, which can turn out quite powerful.— Jochen Rindfrey for Babyblaue Seiten on Progeria
The follow-up album of the band, Far Out In Aradabia, was released a year and maintained a similar musical style. However, this album incorporated more hard rock elements than the debut, with pounding guitar riffs emphasising the band's heavier sound. In addition, the creative production was more ambitious and each song demonstrated a greater degree of independence. Although the band's music was still heavily rooted in the 1970s, there were strong similarities between the two albums, and this led to speculation that "both albums were recorded in one session."
There are sounds throughout the album that could have come from a 1972 rock record. Loud and quiet, Hammond and Mellotron, acoustic guitars and melodies to revel in.— Mario Wolski on Arabs in Aspic: I - III for Saitenkult.de 
With the reunion album Strange Frame of Mind, released in 2010, the group took a musical turn towards "likeable, perfectly old-fashioned" progressive rock, with "fat sound and impressive harmonies." Accordingly, Strange Frame of Mind was judged to be "the beginning of their modern era" in terms of the group's stylistic development. Without entirely discarding psychedelic rock, blues rock and hard rock influences to do so, the band increasingly embraced elements of progressive rock. Keyboard playing proved to be a prominent part of this change. The development is sometimes associated with the addition of Stig Arve Jørgensen. Other developments included an expansion of the distinct "developments include the increased prominence of backing vocals in more sophisticated arrangements and more frequent use of odd meters in the music." "Ironically," says Jon Davis, the loss of the second guitarist led to more variety in guitar playing, as Smeby used more different tones and techniques.
Despite the change in style, international reviews of Arabs in Aspic's releases continued to be positive. Especially the re-releases and those after the reunion via Black Widow Records and Karisma Records received increased attention. The band is considered an "institution in its field".
The debut album Progeria, first released in 2003 via Børse Music, received international reviews, especially after its re-release via Karisma Records. The reviews of the remastered version of the album by Jacob Holm-Lupo were mostly positive. mastering version of the album were mostly positive. The release is "a short but nice combination of psychedelic retroprog and hard rock interludes", which however "still lacks the sophistication of the group's later albums", wrote Jochen Rinfrey for Babyblaue Seiten. On Metal Factory the album was praised as "[s]ehr interesting" for "70s and prog rock fans". A similar opinion was expressed for the webzine Vinyl-Keks. The album is for "prog rockers and fans of the 70s [...] a clear recommendation!" However, the debut was "not yet as musically mature" as subsequent releases. Mario Wolski from Saitenkult, on the other hand, criticised that the album "[was] much too short to pass as a full album."
Far Out In Aradabia follows the quality of its predecessor, but convinces with its humour. The humour and the improvised piece Butterpriest Jam led to a gradually better rating by Wolski from Saitenkult. The humour is also emphasised by Rinfrey for Babyblaue Seien. Norbert von Fransecky from Musikansich.de referred to the "messages recorded in German, which are completely weird numbers, both in terms of language and content." For Jon Davis of Exposé, the band also show more independence and creativity on the release. Meanwhile, the improvisation Butterpriest Jam divided the reviewers. While the track, which was only added for the re-release, was praised by some as "19 minutes of first-rate improv rock" and "real added value" the centrepiece and highlight of the release, others such as Eric Porter of Sea of Tranquility and Jon Davis of Exposé found it boring and tedious.
As the change in style ushered in by the reunion varied, so did the recommendations. Thus, Strange Frame of Mind was advised to those listeners who prefer progressive rock and appreciate Arabs in Aspic's more recent releases. In this new context, the music proves to be "obsolete, as the whole thing [...] sounds quite authentically like the 70s and also picks up the first retro-prog wave of the 90s [...]", but seems to be "very well" done, "technically perfectly implemented, [...] very colourful and imaginatively orchestrated and therefore all in all very varied."
With this, Arabs in Aspic had found the blueprint for their further albums [...], because they essentially continued this style. Sometimes with longer, sometimes with shorter pieces, sometimes with English, sometimes with Norwegian vocals. But I don't want to criticise that, because at least for me this mixture of Scandinavian elegy and well-dosed hardness is still a lot of fun, even if this music can hardly be called particularly innovative— Jochen Rindfrey for Babyblaue Seiten about Strange Frame of Mind
The assessment of Picture in a Dream remained that the group had congruently dedicated themselves to the sound of the 1970s. At the same time, the album had, "of course, nothing new to offer at all", but was "full of charm and joy of playing". Steven Reid of Sea of Tranquility, meanwhile, saw the album as evidence of the band's ongoing qualitative improvement. All the tracks proved to be extremely skilfully recorded and provided with powerful harmonic vocals. Peter Hackett of Musicwaves, however, criticised these. He said that the many voices were not balanced and thus stifled the music, which had some excellent compositions.
Victim of Your Father's Agony also features the familiarity of the great and classic interpreters of progressive rock, but Arabs in Aspic take up the style and interpret it "new and fresh" in "their very own way." Jürgen Meurer of Betreutes Proggen also praised the album's reliably "good-humoured 70s-inspired prog" and only criticised the playing time of 38 minutes.  Contrary to speculations that the album was in constant play throughout, Henry Schneider of Exposé wrote that the album was "not a huge step ahead," yet it was "obvious that the band is evolving and maturing."
The seventh album of the band Syndenes Magi was praised by Thoralf Koß for Musikreviews.de as a "retro-progressive masterpiece from Norway, atmospherically moving between KING CRIMSON and PINK FLOYD". As a "musical nostalgia trip to the 70s that always evokes memories of big names from back then", and as a release "one of the most fascinating [LPs] of 2017" as well as a "consistently [... ] musical highlight" the reviewers of the webzines Babyblaue Seiten described the album. In addition to the toughness of the playing, which stood out from the models, the Norwegian vocals were highlighted, which gave the album its own touch.
Most of all the exhumed keyboard sounds of the past - lots of Mellotron, but also heavy organ sounds - are a feast for nostalgia sound aesthetes of the 70s vibe. This album also features vocals in the local language, whereas the predecessors relied on the mass-compatible English-language version. But it is the authentic vocal passages that give the album even more of that typical Scandinavian flair that likes to have a melancholic edge.— Kristian Selm for Betreutes Proggen on Syndenes Magi
On Magic and Madness, Andreas Schiffmann succeeded in condensing "everything that has always distinguished them into a comparatively 'thick' core". Thus, Arabs in Aspic "transfers the early phase of Genesis into the present time", which is why he declared the album "an abrasion-proof long-runner with addictive potential and a contender for the title 'Prog Record of the Year'". Other reviews were also full of praise, saying that the album was a "firework of ingenious ideas, of great songs performed with unbeatable nonchalance". Some criticisms were made, such as by Frank Jäger of Powermetal.de, about the production being too uniform. He speculated that an external producer could have brought out "a great album" even better. The album was repeatedly criticised for its lack of originality, as the band failed to "stand out from the self-made blueprint." On the other hand, the album was praised as such, as a successful example of retro-prog, "certainly leaving nothing to be desired by progressive music lovers". Especially "sympathisers of versatile retro-rock" would enjoy the album, because with Madness and Magic "Arabs in Aspic have once again succeeded in producing a beautiful retro-album," which is only nuances behind its predecessor, judged the reviewers of Babyblaue Seiten.
- 2003: Progeria (Børse Music)
- 2004: Far Out In Aradabia (Børse Music)
- 2010: Strange Frame of Mind (Pancromatic)
- 2013: Picture in a Dream (Black Widow Records)
- 2015: Victim Of Your Father’s Agony (Black Widow Records)
- 2017: Syndenes Magi (Apollon Records: PROG/Børse Music)
- 2020: Madness & Magic (Album, Karisma Records)
- 2018: Live At Avantgarden (Apollon Records: PROG/Børse Music)
- 2011: Progeria / Far Out In Aradabia (Pancromatic)
- 2021: I – III (Karisma Records/Børse Music)
Singles & EPs
- 2015: Sad Without You/Italian Class/TV 3 (Crispin Glover Records)
- 2015: Prevail To Fail / Pictures In A Dream (feat. Rune Sundby, Crispin Glover Records)
- 2018: De Dødes Tjern / Step Into The Fire (Apollon Records: PROG/Børse Music)
- Guitar, Vocals: Jostein Smeby
- Hammond, Background-Vocals: Stig Arve Jørgensen
- Drums: Eskil Nyhus
- Bass: Erik Paulsen
- Percussion: Alessandro Elide
- Guitar, Theremin: Tommy Ingebrigtsen
- Hammond, Acoustic-Guitar, Synthesizers: Magnar Krutvik
- Bass: Terje Nyhus
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This article contains translated text and needs attention from someone fluent in German and English.(February 2023)