This Hong Kong-based act plays a variety of music very heavily inspired Magma. This zeuhl is relatively dark, and its most evocative of Üdü Ẁüdü.It’s fine overall–well played, with some interesting motifs. However, Athak does nothing to differentiate themselves from Magma. A lot of this simply sounds like a rough draft of a Magma record.
The second full-length album from this French act consists of three massive epics bookended by a pair of brief, gentle pieces. The first two of the epics are enjoyable, if somewhat typical, prog-black metal. There are lots of twisting riffs and thundering guitars, and it is very good. There’s just not much that makes it stand out. The third epic, though, leans more into death-doom, which simply isn’t that common of a genre.
Moura’s self-titled debut album was my album of the year for 2020. It was an exceptional release which blended dark psychedelia, progressive song structures, and the folk music of Galicia (the bit of Spain that dangles over Portugal; not to be confused with Eastern European Galicia). Two years later, the band has returned with another outing that blends those aforementioned influences, as well as some new inclusions.
Axexan, espreitan (Eng. Lurking, Peeking) is a strong successor to Moura while also having its own unique character. The songs are terser on this album; both records are roughly the same length, but this has twice as many individual tracks as their debut. The folk influences are prominent, and that helps Moura stand out in the current progressive rock landscape.
I have repeatedly raised the point on this site that Scandinavia (or the Nordic countries, or however you want to define Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland) punch above their weight in the world of rock music. Based on their populations, those five countries (though less so with Denmark) comprise a disproportionately large chunk of my library. Today I’m specifically focusing on the Norwegian act Knekklectric.
Alt blir verre (Eng: Everything Gets Worse) is their first new full-length since 2017. The brand of music they play is fun, clever, and overall relatively sunny, especially when compared to some of their compatriots. Their lyrics are also in a non-standard dialect of Norwegian (the sociolinguistics of Norwegian are quite complicated), so I had to make some slight guesses when translating song titles.
I will be the first person to admit I’m a bit out of my depth when it comes to folk music, especially of the one-guy-with-an-acoustic-guitar variety. It’s normally not my sort of thing. I have repeatedly discussed my deemphasization of lyrics, so lyric-focused genres often fail to resonate with me. Every now and again, I’m able to find something in this field which I like. Such releases, though, always feature inventive, original music, which is what draws me in.
You Belong There is the first full-length solo release from Daniel Rossen, lead vocalist of the indie rock band Grizzly Bear. I listened to a bit of Grizzly Bear’s output before writing this review, and there are certainly some common threads. This takes a much more somber and introspective route than the band’s output, though, with the instrumentation being nearly entirely acoustic.
Band: Cró! | Album:Buah! | Genre: Progressive rock, Psychedelic rock | Bandcamp
On such a short album, this Spanish quartet manages to cover a huge amount of territory. The title track strongly reminds me of classic Italian acts like PFM or BDMS, and “Coia” is slow-moving and creepy. Other songs touch on alt-rock, funk, and jazzy art-rock. It’s a wonderfully diverse release, and all those different styles are played excellently.
Band: Envy of None | Album:Envy of None | Genre: Post-rock | Bandcamp
Envy of None is Alex Lifeson’s new band, and it sounds absolutely nothing like Rush. I went in expecting that, based off the lead single. I knew it was going to be a lot spacier, more atmospheric, and mellower. And while there are a few good songs on the album (“Look Inside”, “Spy House”, “Dog’s Life”), most of this album is a bore. It reminds me of trip-hop–a genre I’m really not crazy about–but without much creativity. Most songs are slow and relatively unvaried. This might be good background music, but I was hoping for dynamism.
I hesitate to use a label more restrictive than “rock” to describe King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. These astonishingly prolific Aussies have one of the most diverse back catalogs in modern popular music, ranging from garage rock to prog to thrash metal to synthpop to microtonal music and beyond. Their latest release is a dizzying encapsulation of their always-shifting style. The appropriately-titled Omnium Gatherum (a faux-Latin phrase meaning “a collection of many different things”) is a sprawling, 80-minute record that has a bit of everything.
Path of Might’s self-titled debut was one of my earliest purchases on Bandcamp. I loved the intelligent song structures and the visceral intensity of their playing. I apparently missed their 2017 sophomore album, but now it’s 2022, and they’ve got a third full-length release for the world.
The overall sound I remember from their debut is still here in this new release. The music is powerful and unrelenting, often evoking early Mastodon. But they have also become more refined. They’ve added keyboards to their music, and that addition has brought new richness.
Hamtaï! Welcome back to Deep Dive, my series where I explore the extended studio discographies of the giants of progressive rock and metal. I’ve got a weird one for you today: Magma, the founders of zeuhl.
For those who don’t feel like reading massive entries in their entirety, I’ve included a TL;DR and ranking of albums at the end of this piece. I’m opting to explore albums chronologically, as opposed to a ranked-list format. The context in which albums were made is important, and this contextual element is often overlooked in many ranked-lists.
Magma has always been a weird band. I’ll delve into what exactly zeuhl is below, but even beyond the structural strangeness of their music, the band’s composition has varied wildly over the years. At the time of writing, Wikipedia lists 12 current members and 22 former members; and Rate Your Music names 11 current members with a staggering 89 former members. Much of this can be attributed to their frequent shifts in sound, ranging from their very wind instrument-heavy first albums, to mid-career funk experiments, to later albums which prominently featured vibraphone. Multiple vocalists have always been a signature element of their sound as well.
Magma has been incredibly consistent across their career, in terms of the quality of their work. Even their worst album isn’t all that bad. I’ll also give a quick shout-out to their live performances. I saw Magma on their 2016 US tour, and that was one of the absolute best live shows I’ve ever seen, only seriously challenged by my experiences seeing Rush and Moonsorrow. This column only covers studio output in any depth, but the live albums Hhaï and Retrospektïẁ (I-III) are some of their best work. I’m a big enough fan that I personally own the 12-disc live box set Köhnzert Zünd.
Before we get going, though, I’m sure those of you unfamiliar with Magma are asking…
One of the great things about the decentralization of the music industry has been the ability of niche record labels to proliferate. As evidenced by the minuscule amount of good zeuhl from the 1980s, if you played an unpopular genre of music, it was tough to get your recordings a proper release. Now, though, I can name several labels that either specialize in or put out a significant amount of zeuhl. Soleil Zeuhl is the oldest of these, founded in 1999. More recent ones include Dur et Doux, Guerssen (primarily doing reissues of obscure past releases), and today’s focus, Baboon Fish.
Baboon Fish Label is a French zeuhl label that, lately, has averaged about one release a year. What this label lacks in quantity, they make up for in quality. They released an album by Nebulous Sun last year, which made it onto my year-end list; and I also am quite fond of their 2017 release from The Orvalians. The most recent release from this label is the self-titled debut from self-described “angular rock” band Cratophane. That “angular” label describes a lot of what Baboon Fish specializes in, and it’s especially fitting for this experimental instrumental act.
Besna hails from Slovakia, and they play a variety of melodic black metal and post-metal which artfully weaves together multiple musical ideas. Each of the six songs on this album sprawl without being overlong. The passages blend together seamlessly, and the emotional intensity makes these tracks that much more impactful. I’m also glad that this band sings in their native language, as I quite like the sound of Slovak (and Czech, since they sound so similar, aside from that terrible ř sound the Czechs have).
Artist: Tanshuman Das | Album:Progress Report | Genre: Progressive metal, Progressive rock | Bandcamp
Tanshuman Das is a bassist and composer from India who writes music in the vein of ‘90s Dream Theater and similar acts. The music on Progress Report is epic, dramatic, and cinematic. The compositions are intelligently-assembled, and the playing is skillful. This album is a bit longer than it needs to be, but that’s a pretty common issue in this style of music. Overall, though, this is a fun, enjoyable release.