Album Review: Tool – Fear Inoculum

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Band: Tool | Album: Fear Inoculum | Genre: Progressive metal, Alternative metal | Year: 2019

From: Los Angeles, USA | Label: Volcano

For a band with the stature that Tool has, writing my usual two-paragraph intro feels almost superfluous. They’re one of the most popular progressive metal bands of all time; their first four studio albums all went platinum multiple times over and are critically revered. They mixed the darker sound of early ‘90s alt-rock with progressive ambition and mind-bending psychedelia to forge a unique sound that resonated with a huge swathe of the population, myself included.

It shouldn’t be a secret that I love all of Tool’s previous output, with their 2001 album, Lateralus, being among my all-time personal favorites. The long-running delays and recording difficulties since their last release had become a punchline among fans, with Tool’s as-yet-unreleased fifth album being considered as imminent as Half-Life 3 or The Winds of Winter. But Fear Inoculum has finally arrived, 13 years after their previous release, 2006’s 10,000 Days. Most reviews I’ve seen, as well as general online discourse I’ve observed, has tended toward rapturous praise. I’m not among those. Continue reading “Album Review: Tool – Fear Inoculum”

Album Review: Jens Carelius – Opsi

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Artist: Jens Carelius | Album: Opsi | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive folk | Year: 2019

From: Oslo, Norway | Label: Jansen Records

For fans of: Beardfish, The Strawbs, Gryphon, Peter Gabriel

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music

Entomology isn’t entirely new ground for progressive rock. The 2015 album Hivemind from the band Plank is about bugs. And while perhaps not the exact same branch of science, the band Slugdge have built their whole career around mollusks, including slugs and snails, which are colloquially grouped together with insects. Opsi, however, focuses on a specific entomologist, which is more distinct.

Based on his great-great-grandfather’s diaries from his time studying butterflies in Siberia, folk musician Jens Carelius pairs his unique style of finger-picking and strumming with rich synthesizers to create evocative soundscapes. Opsi is far more daring in its song structures and textures than Carelius’s previous releases. Elements of his smart folk-pop still manage to shine through, making this album both complex and surprisingly accessible. Continue reading “Album Review: Jens Carelius – Opsi”

Album Review: Louis de Mieulle – Side$how

ldmArtist: Louis de Mieulle | Album: Side$how | Genre: Progressive rock, Jazz fusion | Year: 2019

From: New York, USA | Label: Dalang Records

For fans of: Return to Forever, Magma, Brainticket, Probably a lot of those jazzy instrumental metal acts I don’t like

Buy: Bandcamp | Apple Music

I’ve been pretty open in my general hesitance toward instrumental albums. I’m not the kind of person to pay attention to lyrics, but the human voice adds so much character to music, which can be quite difficult to make up for with just instruments. I don’t believe I’ve discussed it in any great detail on this site—though I’ve made a few comments about it on Reddit—but I am also not a fan of the current zeitgeist of jazzy, instrumental rock and metal epitomized by acts like Intervals, Plini, and Sithu Aye. So much of it just sounds like aimless, speedy noodling. Thank God this album avoids those pitfalls magnificently.

French-born bassist and composer Louis de Mieulle’s newest album, Side$how, is a constantly-engaging blend of ambitious instrumental progressive rock with many trappings of jazz. Touches of electronic genres and krautrock crop up throughout this release’s 41-minute runtime. Consisting of eight songs, titled “Bed of Nails, Part 1-8”, the music was mostly improvised and recorded live by de Mieulle, a pair of keyboardists, and a drummer. Continue reading “Album Review: Louis de Mieulle – Side$how”

Album Review: Merlin – The Mortal

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Band: Merlin | Album: The Mortal | Genre: Heavy Psych, Stoner metal | Year: 2019

From: Kansas City, (MO,) USA | Label: The Company

For fans of: Elder, Hawkwind, Pink Floyd

Buy: Bandcamp | Big Cartel | Apple Music

Merlin are one of the better examples of progressive stoner metal, and their last few albums have shown a clear musical evolution from dank groovemasters to artistically ambitious dank groovemasters. The saxophone which first appeared on 2018’s The Wizard now is more fully integrated, and with it, an injection of jazz influence. Blues elements are certainly present as well, but they don’t overpower, and many of the sludgy riffs are played with impressive restraint.

The Mortal appears to be something of a follow-up to The Wizard. Beyond their shared use of saxophone and similar titles, both close with an eponymous suite, and both those suites share musical and lyrical themes of magic. Continue reading “Album Review: Merlin – The Mortal”

Album Review: Magma – Zëss

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Band: Magma | Album: Zëss (Le jour du néant) | Genre: Zeuhl, Symphonic music | Year: 2019

From: Paris, France | Label: Seventh Records

Buy: Digital OptionsPhysical Options

Magma are the founders of the zeuhl genre. Over the span of their 50-year career, they’ve been remarkably consistent in both their strange character and high quality of output. Strongly rooted in jazz and heavy on hypnotic jamming, their studio recordings were often taken to new heights in live settings, such as the version of “Köhntarkösz” on their album Live/Hhaï. Live performances have also seen epics be debuted and developed before reaching a studio album. Their 2009 album Ëmëhntëtt-Ré began life in the 1970s at live shows, and “Šlag Tanz” was debuted live several years before it was recorded.  “Theusz Hamtaahk” as yet remains unrecorded in the studio. Zëss similarly began as a live-only epic in the ‘70s.

“Zëss” struck me as an odd choice for Magma to record. The live recordings I’d heard came off as long-winded, meandering, and repetitious, and this was a critique I’d seen elsewhere online. I think the band may have been aware of this criticism, so they enlisted the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra to add some texture and dynamism. Distinct to Zëss, band founder Christian Vander takes lead vocals over the span of the entire album. There are the usual female vocals in the background, but Vander remains at the forefront. He also does not play drums here, another first for the band. Continue reading “Album Review: Magma – Zëss”

Lesser-Known Gem: Guruh Gipsy – Guruh Gipsy

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Band: Guruh Gipsy | Album: Guruh Gipsy | Genre: Progressive rock, Gamelan music | Year: 1977

From: Jakarta, Indonesia | Label: Paramaqua

For fans of: Yes, Genesis, ELP

In Lesser-Known Gem entries, I’ve explored acts that combined progressive rock with Orthodox chants, flamenco music, and country and honky-tonk. The act I’m writing about today also blends progressive rock with the music of their homeland. That homeland, though, is Indonesia (specifically Java and Bali), which is quite far from progressive rock’s European homeland.

Guruh Gipsy were a one-off project. All the music was written by artist Guruh Sukarnoputra (a son of Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno), and he worked with the band Gipsy to record the material. Unlike the previous acts I’ve written about, Guruh Gipsy’s sole album was a widely-acclaimed and highly-influential success upon its release in Indonesia. However, as of the time of publishing, I’ve had exactly zero Indonesian readers of my blog, according to WordPress’s stats. It’s probably a safe bet that this is a rather unknown album to most of my audience. Continue reading “Lesser-Known Gem: Guruh Gipsy – Guruh Gipsy”