King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard are nothing if not prolific. Since debuting a mere decade ago, this band has put out twenty-three studio albums (plus an album of remixes, two sets of demos, and a ton of live releases), with Changes being their twenty-third overall, their fifth of 2022, and their third of the month of October, 2022. Not only have they been prolific, but their output has been consistently diverse. To call them genre chameleons would be underselling them; genre octopuses would better suit their radical stylistic shifts.
(Note that a lot of my octopus comment is due to people overselling chameleons’ abilities to change color. I have a pet chameleon, and he certainly does change color, but it’s not for camouflage. They change color to express their mood or to absorb more or less heat. And it’s not like it’s a massive shift in color. It’s more like an adjustment in intensity and saturation. Be sure to come back next week when I change the name of this site to TheEliteHerpetologist.com.)
Where was I? Oh right, lizards! Specifically of the magical variety and the monarchs of certain digestive organs with which they associate.
Thrash metal is a genre I like a lot when it’s done well, but there simply don’t seem to be that many quality thrash bands nowadays. There’s plenty of amazing output from the mid ‘80s through the early ‘90, Vektor’s music is amazing, and Voivod is still doing respectable work, but prog-thrash isn’t exactly the most flourishing sound out there.
Anarchÿ is a two-piece based out of St. Louis, and their debut full-length album Sentïence does a great job of scratching that prog-thrash itch. The songs are propulsive and masterfully played, and the breakneck pace of the music keeps the listener stuck to their music-player of choice. Even the album art and extraneous umlauts do an incredible job of conjuring this micro-genre’s heyday.
Band: Arkheth | Album:Clarity Came with a Cool Summer’s Breeze | Genre: Progressive metal, Psychedelic metal | Bandcamp
I’ve run across a number of acts claiming to be psychedelic metal, but not many actually pull it off. This Australian act manages to deliver on that promise, though. Psych, folk, and jazz are blended with blazing black and death metal to make an alluring sound. The album drifts along with gentle atmospherics at some points, but there’s no shortage of metallic aggression. Hints of Agalloch-ian post-metal crop up on occasion, and this whole release is very well-put-together.
I covered Gospel’s 20-minute single “MVDM” earlier this year, but this album came out about two months before that. The Loser is Gospel’s second full-length release, following their 2005 debut. In that 17-year hiatus, it’s evident the band crafted the best songs they could. The blending of top-notch instrumental skills, complex but concise compositions, and the raw power of their post-hardcore roots makes for a deeply engaging listen. Every song on this album is an exhilarating thrill ride. If the disappointment of the new Mars Volta album left you with an itch for aggressive, engaging prog, then this album should help out.
Halloween is on a Monday this year, so I figured this would be a good opportunity to get spooky with a Lesser Known Gem. I compiled a short list of about ten albums from which to choose. Some, like Jacula’s In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum, were written to be as occultic and creepy as possible. Others, like Message’s From Books and Dreams, were considered more for their album art. In the end, I decided on a pair of Czesław Niemen albums, Niemen vol. 2 and Niemen vol. 1.
Czesław Niemen (pronounced roughly Chess-woff Nyem-en) is an artist I’ve wanted to talk about for a while. Sort of like Guruh Gipsy were a big deal in Indonesia while remaining obscure elsewhere, Niemen is a major figure in the history of 20th Century Polish music. The National Bank of Poland has released three commemorative coins with his likeness, multiple streets around Poland bear his name, and his childhood home in modern-day Belarus has been converted into a museum.
After starting out playing straightforward rock and soul in the 1960s, his 1970 album Enigmatic saw him radically shift his style to the emergent genre of progressive rock. From 1971-1973, his backing band was the Silesian Blues Band, who eventually shortened their name to SBB and became another highly-influential prog act in their own right. (They are also a band I’ve considered for a future Deep Dive, though that’s far from imminent.)
There are a lot of proggy melodic death metal bands from Sweden. Many can run together or simply sound like Opeth clones, but there are some acts that manage to stand out from the crowd. One such band is An Abstract Illusion. In addition to all the genre hallmarks, this band does an excellent job of integrating bits of non-metallic styles to keep their songs fresh and interesting.
Woe, the band’s second full-length release, is a massive hourlong piece subdivided into seven more-digestible tracks. The sound palette of this album ranges from archetypal melodeath guitar leads to hints of dark jazz, dashes of electronica, and classic prog flashiness.
Mostly-acoustic Detroit band Custard Flux is back with their fourth full-length album (and their third to be named after an element), Phosphorus. Following 2020’s fantastic Oxygen, Phosphorus doubles down on some of the band’s previous innovations. The songs are longer and more complex, and electric instrumentation is integrated fluidly.
This is also Custard Flux’s longest release to date, and by a wide margin. At 80 minutes in length, it’s nearly 20 minutes longer than their debut and almost twice as long as either of their last two records. And though the melodies and overall ideas remain as strong as ever, this album isn’t without its excesses. There is a lot of bloat, with certain ideas being repeated over and over for much too long.
I’ve run across a lot of quirky genre descriptions on Bandcamp. Mellow Beast bill themselves as “wizard rock;” Louison’s latest album was described as “cyberprog;” and That 1 Guy has called his music “experimental ‘earthshaking future funk’ from the future maybe.” Despite their oddness, I could vaguely imagine what those might sound like. The UK-based quintet The Mighty Orchid King,on the other hand, dubs their music “mushroom-prog.”
Reading the phrase “mushroom-prog,” my mind immediately went to psilocybin and psychedelics–a not-unreasonable leap, if you ask me. However, reading the band’s description of this album, they intended that phrase much more literally. This album tells the story of a mushroom king and the spirits of the dead things he has consumed. It’s quite a clever concept which explicitly draws inspiration from John Milton’s Paradise Lost and carries a strong environmentalist message.
The band says they aimed to create “an entangled musical ecology,” and Mycelium Music Volume I is a veritable clonal colony of amazing music. The album has an impressive degree of sonic cohesion and continuity, and the individual songs flow together in brilliant, creative ways.
This band reminds me a lot of Gojira. It’s sludgy, groovy metal with a powerful but unhurried pulse. There are some strong vocal melodies on here, and the songs each make an impression without overstaying their welcome. Neat riffs are sprinkled in, too. However, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy or unique about this release. If you’re in the mood for some solid post-sludge, this ain’t a bad place to turn, but it’s nothing genre-defying.
Band: Church of the Cosmic Skull | Album:There Is No Time | Genre: Psychedelic rock | Bandcamp
CotCS is a band that cultivates an odd image. Between their all-white clothing and referring to themselves as “Brother” and “Sister,” they obviously lean into a cult-y vibe. The music, though, is melodic, catchy, and dramatic psychedelic rock. Vocal melodies are a key component of their music, and all seven members contribute their individual voices to the overall sound. This blend makes for rich, lush passages that contain many overlapping layers of vocals; and I am a sucker for complex vocal arrangements. The music skirts along the edges of dark and light, alternatingly hopeful and anxious. This release is CotCS’s best album to date, featuring a diverse, dynamic array of songs.
The Mars Volta, along with acts like Porcupine Tree and Dream Theater, helped revive the world of progressive rock in the early 2000s. They were one of the most beloved and influential prog acts of the 21st century. Their 2003 full-length debut–De-Loused in the Comatorium–and its 2005 successor–Frances the Mute–are two of the best prog albums of all time, irrespective of era. In addition to past prog influences, they incorporated post-hardcore, jazz, and electronic elements. Their classic sound is striking and immediately recognizable.
Now, ten years after their last album–2012’s Noctourniquet–they’ve reunited to put out their seventh full-length release. The core of the band remains the same; Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is still on guitar, and Cedric Bixler-Zavala is still the vocalist. Beyond that, though, there has been churn in the lineup. Bassist Eva Gardner has returned to the band after last appearing on their 2002 Tremulant EP. Omar’s younger brother Marcel–formerly the band’s percussionist through 2010–covers keyboard duties. (Longtime TMV keyboardist Ikey Owens passed away in 2014, though he did not appear on Noctourniquet.)
In reading about this album’s background, I found that Omar (always the lead (and usually sole) songwriter) consciously made an effort to move away from prog. This strikes me as a perplexing move. Just because Omar and Cedric are recording together, that does not make it The Mars Volta. Prior to forming TMV, they were both in the post-hardcore band At the Drive-In; and the two had collaborated in the one-off band Antemasque in 2014. If they wanted to make a non-prog album, reviving this band’s name doesn’t strike me as a smart move. They’ve got enough clout in the modern music world that they could have announced a new project and built hype off their reputations.
Denver’s Dreadnought are back with their fifth full-length album, The Endless. Their previous release, 2019’s Emergence, was a wonderful evolution in their sound. It demonstrated continuity with the sounds of their prior records while also being distinct within their discography.
In many ways, my assessment of The Endless is pretty similar. This album sees the band moving slightly away from their doom metal roots and incorporating a greater amount of post-metal influence. The band continues to demonstrate excellent compositional skill, and the interplay of the dual vocalists is wonderful. The songs here are slightly terser than usual, with none topping 10 minutes.