"Falling" in Love with a New A.C.T Release
Swedish melodic progressive rockers A.C.T return with a superb, album-length EP.
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This week, I’m excited to bring you the story of a new release by A.C.T — one of my favorite underrated progressive rock bands. The Swedish quintet has a unique sound that blends elements of Electric Light Orchestra, the Beach Boys, Dream Theater, Saga, Jellyfish, and other disparate acts into a melodic concoction of their own. A.C.T has a new album dropping tomorrow — an EP, actually, but one that clocks in at about a half an hour’s worth of new music — called Falling. I was fortunate enough to speak with founding members Jerry Sahlin and Ola Andersson from the band about it recently.
Let’s get to that story.
Sweden’s A.C.T is a band I fell in love with as soon as I discovered them with the release of their Last Epic album in 2003. Technically gifted, yet with a huge emphasis on melody and harmony, A.C.T has crafted its own sound over the years that incorporates a lot of influences and melts them into an infectious brand of progressive pop/rock that puts a smile on my face every time. There’s plenty of guitar and keyboard theatrics to satisfy the prog heads but also loads of hooks to latch onto.
The band has enjoyed a long career, releasing debut album Today’s Report 24 years ago, back in 1999. Since that time, there have been very few lineup changes, with the current roster of musicians consisting of Herman Saming (lead vocals), Ola Andersson (lead guitar, vocals), Jerry Sahlin (keyboards, vocals), Peter Asp (bass, synthesizer, percussion), and Thomas Lejon (drums, percussion).
I asked Sahlin and Andersson about the band’s name, which is pronounced like the word “act,” despite having periods after the first two letters, but not the third. The letters stand for something but the band prefers to keep that a mystery.
Traditionally, Sahlin has written most of A.C.T’s songs, but Andersson has been doing more writing in recent years. Each generally writes a full song to near completion in demo form before submitting them over the internet to the other members of the band to flesh out.
“When you do a demo, you kind of just get the demo right and present it to the others. You do all the instruments, because that’s how we want to present it,” Andersson said. “But that doesn’t mean that what we do in the demo ends up in the final product, because, you know, I’m a pretty lousy keyboard player. So, I just do basic things on my demo, and Jerry can do whatever he wants after that. And it’s the same thing with everybody in the band. So, everybody is doing their stuff and adds their special unique thing to it.”
The band members record their bits in their home studios except for drums and vocals, which are done in a professional studio.
A.C.T released five full-length albums in a 15-year span, with the last of those — Circus Pandemonium — dropping back in 2014. Concerned with the growing length of time between album releases, the band took the novel approach of releasing a series of four EPs, representing the four seasons. The shorter format has allowed A.C.T to put out a new release every other year, with the four records eventually painting a complete picture.
“Well, the idea for all this was to stay fresh and to stay creative,” Sahlin said. “Because if A.C.T would record an album, it takes like six years to finish it off. And we think it’s a pretty long time. So we wanted to divide it up to take one big picture and divide it up to four. And to stay fresh, you know, to write like five or six new songs each year to a different kind of concept.”
The third of those four EPs, following Rebirth (2019) and Heatwave (2021), is Falling, which is set to drop on March 3 and represents the “autumn” release in the EP cycle. Conceptually, Falling is taken quite literally by the band, as it consists of eight tracks — a short vignette on each end, with six “proper songs” in between — that tell the story of how various people react to an impending global extinction event from an object from space hurtling toward Earth. Andersson said he reads a lot of disaster science fiction stories, which may have contributed to the record’s concept.
Sahlin and Andersson each wrote three of the six full-length songs and the consistency between their writing is remarkable. While the subject matter in the lyrics is quite dark, the trademark A.C.T bounciness and the band’s melodic nature provide a striking counterpoint to Falling’s concept.
A great feature of the A.C.T sound is that the band often plays a fast, intricate part that features both Sahlin and Andersson playing their instruments together. That was something that grew organically from the early days of Sahlin getting to know Andersson as a musician.
“I was so impressed with Ola’s playing. So I wanted to challenge him,” Sahlin said. “‘Can you play this?’ And he did that, and it blended so cool together, and he did the same to me. ‘Can you do this?’ And that's how it happened. So it became a part of our sound.”
Fans of A.C.T will find plenty of new melodies, solos, and intricate guitar and keyboard bits on Falling, but it retains the band’s familiar trademark style. Simply put, whether you already love A.C.T or not, this album isn’t likely to change your mind about the band’s music. For me, it happens to hit the perfect sweet spot between being musically interesting, like other great progressive rock bands, and providing something poppy, sweet, and melodious. This is a band that can blast through a fast, scorching-hot instrumental section and then emerge into a gentle vocal passage that calls back to groups like ABBA, the Beach Boys, or Jellyfish.
Falling begins with the approach of an object from space — meteor, comet, asteroid, who knows? There are ominous sounds — an actual audio recording of a comet that Sahlin found during an online search and a little nod to ELO’s Secred Messages with some Morse Code thrown into the mix. Birds are squawking, dogs are barking, electronic gadgets are tracking the object, and there’s a sense of foreboding. In just 38 seconds, A.C.T has set the tone for the entire EP.
As the ominous sounds fade out, the listener is met with the dramatic opening of “Digging a Hole.” The song then becomes bouncy and almost fun despite the lyrics told from the perspective of someone who wants to spend the final hours of life on Earth with someone who only wants to rage against the dying of the light with a futile attempt to dig some sort of shelter.
Maybe we should celebrate, embrace the time that’s left
Maybe we should give up hope, enjoy before we rest
Living in the moment that was something you would say
Maybe we could take a step back and fully live each day
“I just wanted conflict in a relationship, where one person is completely obsessed by the thought of surviving this disaster, and the other one is listening to what the media says, having sort of given up and just, ‘Let’s spend the rest of the time we have left together and enjoy it,’” Andersson said. “I wanted that conflict, but I think I drew inspiration from from a movie. I think the movie is called Take Shelter, about a guy who is extremely obsessed by a coming disaster. And nobody believes him. And that’s where I got the image from and that’s kind of how it started.”
The song has a huge post-chorus series of melodic “whoa-oh-ohs” that immediately stick in the mind. It’s an undeniably A.C.T song with a little crunch, a lot of melody, and some interesting time changes. There’s an instrumental passage two-thirds through the song that sounds like Saga on steroids. It’s a phenomenal opening song.
In between songs, tacked onto the end of each, really, is a short bit of NASA recording as the object in space is being tracked on its approach to earth. Sahlin scoured the internet to find bits to insert to help tell the story of the object getting closer to Earth and they certainly help set the mood and assist in driving the concept forward.
The title character of “The Girl Without a Past,” the album’s first single, is in fact, someone from A.C.T’s very own past. The girl, Emelie, was first introduced to A.C.T fans back on the band’s 1999 debut album, Today’s Report. She’s a girl who has no memory of who she is or her past, but it turns out she can predict the future in her return on Falling. The protagonist or narrator of the song can’t decide if he should trust Emelie’s premonitions, and live his life according to her predictions of the world’s destruction, or write her off as a crazy person.
“We did a song on our first album called ‘Emelie.’ And it was about that kind of sickness that she had, and it was about that she couldn't remember anything,” Sahlin said. “So, it just came to me…what happened to that girl? I wanted to follow it up. So I just came up with this story to return to Emelie, and there’s one other secret about her. That was that she can’t remember anything, but she can predict the future. So, it’s kind of a nod back to when I was 19 years old.”
It’s got a very 1980s vibe to it, which I love (that was the decade of my teens, which almost always produces the music that sticks in one’s brain forever), and the chorus is a melodic earworm. Sahlin said the 1980s flavor of the song was intentional.
“I think that came out pretty well,” Sahlin said of the track. “We were aiming at kind of the 80s (sound). What would A.C.T sound like if we were in the 80s, like if we released this album in 1983?”
“Breathe” is a song about two people who can’t bear to be together but yet can’t live without the other. They’re forced to choose whether to spend their last days together and likely fighting or to be apart.
“I myself am a person that can’t decide on anything,” Andersson said. “And so, I kind of started thinking about what would it be like if you can’t decide and you spend your last days just thinking about what to decide instead of living? That’s kind of the basic idea.”
Although Andersson wrote “Breathe,” Sahlin said it’s one of his favorite songs on the album.
“I was crying,” he said, referring to his reaction to hearing Andersson’s demo. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is incredible!’”
The aggressive “A Race Against Time” captures the common man’s reaction to the looming disaster, with the song’s narrator demanding the government just do something about the object in space that’s on a collision course with Earth.
“I was putting myself in that kind of situation and you know, with social media and stuff, everybody’s writing stuff and it was like, ‘Why doesn't the government do anything? Just blow it up! I mean, what the hell is happening?’ It was more like a chaos song,” Sahlin said. “If we knew there was a comet coming toward us and they’re not doing anything, (we would be) complaining to the military and the leaders of the world. So, it’s just like a reflection on that. You know, ‘Ah, come on, do something!’”
The second single off Falling is the heartbreaking “One Last Goodbye.” Written by Andersson, it tells the story of a father watching his daughter as she delights to the light show in the sky, not knowing it means their destruction. The father feels the conflict between hiding the truth from his daughter, so she can enjoy her final hours of life, and being honest, so they can share a final, proper goodbye. Like much of the album’s subject matter, it’s a bleak topic.
And I, I wonder if you had a clue
You bubbled with excitement
Did I have the right to fool you?
This is the moment
The time and the place where we fly
I deprived you the right to say one last goodbye
“They’re watching it coming, and she’s really happy to see this great thing in the sky. And he knows that this is the last time they’ll see each other,” Andersson said. “She has a happy ending, but he still feels conflicted about it. And the refrain is just when it’s over, we will be forgotten. And we will just be some satellites floating around. Nobody will know ever.”
That’s pretty bleak stuff. The music in the verses is light and bouncy, but it gets heavier in the gorgeous chorus and it’s within that chorus that the listener feels the weight of the concept.
All we’ve known, will be gone
Musically, there’s a short keyboard bit late in the song that ties the song back to “Manipulator” from Last Epic, which I thought was perfect, since the father in “One Last Goodbye” is manipulating his daughter to some extent with his lack of honesty about the situation. However, Sahlin assured me the tie-in was — unlike with “Emelie” and “The Girl Without a Past” — completely coincidental.
“I think we do it all the time,” Andersson said of the coincidence. “We’ve taken things out from other songs and put it into our news songs. So you can hear it every now and then.”
“The Earth Will Be Gone” has a similar theme of telling the kids little white lies about what’s coming, as a family packs up their belongings to leave their home — presumably in some futile attempt to escape the coming disaster. Lyrically, it reads more like denial than the parent being untruthful to me, as the narrator tells their daughter that things are going to be OK and their house will be waiting for them when they get back, while simultaneously telling her that she has to forget about her friends.
The song has one of the best choruses on the record and is certainly a highlight in terms of the album’s concept.
“It’s a very ambitious song, and this is one of those songs that I doubt we will ever play live, because it’s kind of like a mini opera thing,” Sahlin said. “It’s a perfect ending, we think, on this record and on this theme.”
The final track, “Fall Out,” is an instrumental and it ends with an extremely short snippet of old-timey piano that sounds like it could be a piece of “As Time Goes By.” The previous two EPs in the series have similar clues in them and Sahlin said that we’ll have to wait to see how that all fits together after the fourth EP comes out. That is expected out in 2025, in keeping with the every-other-year schedule the band has been on.
“We love those kinds of puzzles,” Sahlin said of the little musical passages tacked onto the ends of Rebirth, Heatwave, and Falling. “So you will get the answer to that question.”
Although Falling is considered an EP, at about half an hour’s worth of music, it’s similar in length to the albums of the 1960s and early 1970s. With new music coming out every two years from A.C.T, it’s a good method of keeping fans happy with new material and at the same time, with Andersson doing more writing, the band has started to produce more demos in a shorter period of time, which may bode well for a shorter gap between the next EP and a potential full-length A.C.T album that would follow it in the future.
To summarize my thoughts on Falling, the lyrical content is dark but thoughtful, while the music is undeniably fun and interesting in a way that prevents the listener from getting bogged down in the bleak concept. It’s a fascinating record that should appeal to every part of the A.C.T fan base and is perhaps my favorite progressive release of 2023 to date.
For more information on A.C.T, you can click here to visit the band’s website and purchase items through their online shop, You can also follow them on Facebook, where they are more active with their news.
Digging a Hole
The Girl Without a Past
A Race Against Time
One Last Goodbye
The Earth Will Be Gone
For my full conversation with Jerry and Ola from A.C.T, check out the video below or listen to Episode 100 of the Michael’s Record Collection podcast. That’s right, I’ve reached the 100-episode mark on the podcast side of things. In addition to discussing the album, the guys talked about their first favorite albums, their musical beginnings, the start of the band, their writing process, and much more.
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