The Swedish band Dungen has been pushing the boundaries of psychedelic rock since the dawn of the century, when the group first started turning the sounds of the late ’60s and early ’70s into a Technicolor sprawl of endless possibility. Bandleader Gustav Ejstes has found a way to constantly shuffle, reinvent and reinvigorate the music of the past in a way that makes his works feel both modern and true to their influences.
Allas Sak, Dungen’s seventh album and first in five years, finds Ejstes and company immersing themselves deeper into the stacks and making small refinements that have a profound effect on their work. More diverse in instrumentation than its predecessors, the record is far less reliant on guitarist Reine Fiske’s brilliantly burnt-in blare, trading it for a wider palette of sounds that suits this surprisingly delicate set of songs. Where other Dungen records feature a live-sounding recording environment for Fiske and drummer Johan Holmegard to punch against — and for Ejstes to lighten in contrast — those fists have now been covered in velvet and ornately decorated. Even in “En Gång Om Året,” the closest they come here to a traditional Dungen psych-rock freakout, the displacement of that buzzsaw energy is noted. By pivoting into unexpected sounds and approaches, Fiske’s playing sounds re-energized, as well, with some of his most expressive leads to date.
Ejstes has always been comfortable on piano and flute as well as guitar and vocals, but Allas Sak also benefits from his growing reliance on winds and brass, vibraphone and harp, electric piano and hammered dulcimer. Each song sounds like Dungen to the initiated, but each also takes a left turn; “Åkt Dik,” with its piano lead, tenor sax, Mellotron atmospheres and low-register vocals, could provide a fine backdrop for a Carly Simon song. The melodic complexity of “Ljus In I Min Panna,” which pulls the listener in without succumbing to a specific or repeatable refrain, is less a challenge than an expression of growth and hyper-developed songwriting chops. The paths Dungen forge throughout Allas Sak have gotten harder to define, just as they’ve become more rewarding to follow.