It’s been a while since I posted a Lesser-Known Gem entry. There’s been a ton of fantastic music released lately, and I can’t keep up with all of it, but there have always been great albums that simply get missed. El Profeta is one of those records. Released in 1978, this album failed to get much traction outside of Uruguay at its release, or in following years.
Armando Tirelli, prior to releasing his solo album, was the keyboardist for the Uruguayan jazz-rock group Sexteto Electrónico Moderno. SEM was not a prog band, but there were ample classical and jazz influences. I’m no expert in South American music (so I can’t specify genres), but SEM also had a distinctly South American feel to their music. Tirelli would use a lot of that classical and jazz experience when composing El Profeta.
I’ve got mixed feelings on the term “folk metal.” On one hand, you can have some genuinely creative fusions, while on the other hand you have schlock like Korpiklaani. (Korpiklaani are very fun in a live setting, but there’s no denying they are extreme schlock.) Over the last decade or so, there have been some uniquely American attempts at folk metal. Almost all of these have been made with a straight face, in contrast to many of the campier European acts (the aforementioned Korpiklaani, Finntroll, etc.). Panopticon, with their intertwining of black metal and bluegrass, is likely the best-known example, and I’d argue for including Zeal & Ardor’s Satanic spirituals under the “folk metal” umbrella.
Huntsmen’s Americana influences are less in-your-face than either Panopticon or Zeal & Ardor, but they’re nonetheless present in the band’s vocal arrangements, melodic choices, and electric-acoustic contrasts. This Chicagoan quintet also bases their sound in doom metal and post-metal, as opposed to the more common folk metal template of black metal.
Band: The Garin | Album:The Garin | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
The Garin hail from Kazan, Russia, and the band mixes prog, psych, and indie rock into an enjoyable package. This EP has four songs which bounce and twist energetically. Jazzy rhythms frequently crop up, and cosmic synthesizers often get a starring role. The vocals are a bit weak, but beyond that, the compositions are strong. “Yurei” is simultaneously influenced by shoegaze and ‘80s thrash metal, which makes for a unique experience, and “Duomo” closes the recording out with a guitar solo that evokes the best moments of ‘90s Pink Floyd.
Band: Hail Spirit Noir | Album:Eden in Reverse | Genre: Progressive metal, Progressive rock | Bandcamp
Hail Spirit Noir have been one of my favorite metal acts since they debuted with Pneuma in 2012. Mayhem in Blue, their 2016 release, was the only album to give Terminal Redux a run for its money in my personal best-of list for that year. Their unique synthesis of black metal and late-60s psychedelic rock and folk has been nothing short of brilliant. On Eden in Reverse, HSN has brought their sound up to the mid-1980s, with rich, creepy synthesizers taking over where swirling organ once dominated. While most of the album is quite strong, it’s definitely their cleanest album to date. I really missed the raw, abrasive black metal fury which was more prominent on their earlier records. The glossy synthesizers often only underscore just how slick everything sounds.
I found this album in a record store and was struck immediately by the cover art. After quickly consulting the Internet to make sure this wasn’t going to be something I’d hate, I decided to gamble and bought it without first listening to it. And boy, am I glad that I did.
Thy Catafalque is a one-man project based out of Hungary, and Naiv is this act’s ninth full-length album. By the way, this is a catafalque; I’d never heard that word and needed to look it up. On it, sole full-time bandmember Tamás Kátai blends black metal, electronic elements, and Hungarian folk music into something distinctive.
Back in the early days of progressive rock, Italy was second only to the UK in the scope and vibrancy of their prog scene. The Italians infused Anglo-originating prog with native folk and classical influences, they sang in their native language, and their use of uncommon scales and modes made them stand out. Not many of these bands found success beyond Italy’s borders, though, perhaps due to just how intensely Italian the music was.
Homunculus Res, then, have somewhat subverted prog tropes. Andiamo in giro di notte e ci consumiamo nel fuoco (We Go around at Night and Consume Ourselves in the Fire) is Homunculus Res’s fourth full-length release. This Sicilian quintet plays a variety of progressive rock strongly inspired by the Canterbury scene. The sound of the Canterbury scene was intensely English, and that’s why it was so surprising to find an Italian act in that vein.
I’ve been a fan of Kekal since about 2008 or so. I don’t recall where or how I ran across them, but they were promoting themselves by offering free downloads of four of their albums. (That offer still stands on their site, by the way.) Three of those albums are varying degrees of good, with 1000 Thoughts of Violence perhaps being my favorite of their releases. On the other hand, Audible Minority is simply bad. And it’s that inconsistent track record that always makes me a little apprehensive when Kekal release new material. I absolutely loved their 2018 album, Deeper Underground, but the album which preceded that—2015’s Multilateral—was inconsistent and muddled.
When I first heard Quantum Resolution, I was a little nervous, as it just wasn’t quite clicking with me. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but this did not feel like one of Kekal’s better efforts. After giving the record a few spins, though, it has grown on me substantially. I’m used to certain artists’ releases growing or wearing on me. That’s bog-standard for me with Inter Arma, Steven Wilson, and Enslaved; but I usually know how I feel about Kekal after the first listen. That’s why I’m glad I decided to give this album another chance.
Band: Abstracción | Album:Abstracción | Genre: Progressive rock, Psychedelic rock | Bandcamp
The debut EP from this Spanish septet draws heavily from the sound of Jethro Tull’s early material, and the liberal inclusion of sitar adds a late-‘60s psychedelic folk feel to the mix. Swirling Hammond organ and echoing electric guitar lines keep the atmosphere lush, while vocalist Catalina Requena’s willowy delivery occasionally bleeds into the instrumental elements. Each song is distinct, but the tonal continuity between the pieces keeps this recording cohesive and coherent.
Band: Ars de Er | Album:La Métamorphose | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
I’ve run across more Belarusian prog bands while writing for this site than I ever anticipated. The latest of these is the one-man act Ars de Er, which incorporates hefty doses of classical and jazz. Strange harmonizations predominate on La Métamorphose, drawing comparisons to the original big names of avant-prog and RIO. Heavy, metallic guitar lines underpin moments of furious soloing and chaotic rhythms. The atmosphere on this record is oppressive. The strange, diminished chords and haunting keyboard textures make for an anxious, claustrophobic feel.
I’ve largely been unimpressed with Opeth’s pivot away from death metal. A lot of their recent output has felt flaccid and derivative in an oversaturated retro-prog scene. However, the full-length debut of Greek act Guppy Fish covers the territory I’d always hoped Mikael Åkerfeldt and his crew would. The Fall of Man isn’t exactly a metal album, though it often flirts with the territory. The music is both grand and gloomy. The shadows cast by the giants of the genre are readily evident, but this album stands on its own.
This album’s title track aptly sets the mood as its opener. An eerie, watery guitar arpeggio bursts forth from its quiet beginning into the looming verses. A jagged, irregular riff is deployed to great effect between verses. Two-layered vocal arrangements are utilized both here and throughout the rest of the album to add a layer of depth. Continue reading “Album Review: Guppy Fish – The Fall of Man”→
Band: Chaos Over Cosmos | Album:The Ultimate Multiverse | Genre: Progressive metal | Bandcamp
This album is packed to the brim with tight, technical riffage and lush synth pads. Chaos Over Cosmos draw heavily from melodic death metal and classic prog metal, and they blend it into something exciting and complex. It’s perhaps not the most inventive or original bit of prog metal you’ll hear this year, but it’s engaging, fun, and shockingly accessible for a genre like death metal.
Band: Inter Arma | Album:Garber Days Revisited | Genre: Sludge metal, Progressive metal | Bandcamp
This is Inter Arma’s covers album. There are some interesting experiments on here. It opens with a Ministry cover; I’m not familiar with the original, but the feeling is both pummeling and atmospheric. Their cover of Neil Young’s “Southern Man” is an absolute gem. The blackened sludge fury lends itself to this track so naturally. This middle of this album sags a bit for me, as I’m not a fan of any of the originals, though hearing Inter Arma’s takes is interesting. They cover “Runnin’ Down a Dream”, and that’s just disorienting. Tom Petty was not sludgy in the least, and these guys play this song pretty clean. The non-shrieked vocals were almost distracting. It’s a serviceable cover, but it doesn’t do anything noteworthy. The album ends on a cover of “Purple Rain”. It closes strong, but the vocals in the first half feel strained, and that sort of instrumental gentleness doesn’t suit these guys too well.
Custard Flux is the brainchild of Detroit-based multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Gregory Curvey, and this is one of the more unique acts currently active in the progosphere. Custard Flux is a (almost) fully-acoustic band, with electric instrumentation being limited to a small number of guitar solos on this band’s first two albums. Acoustic guitar and harmonium have been the primary instruments this act’s sound has been built around.
Oxygen is Custard Flux’s third album in as many years, and it’s their best and most diverse yet. While the sound is still primarily acoustic, it’s been augmented with ample saxophone and violin. Electric guitar—in its rare appearances—feels more integral to the compositions, rather than being a solo laid on top of a fully-acoustic piece. The compositions are also the most daring and progressive they’ve recorded yet. Continue reading “Album Review: Custard Flux – Oxygen”→