Seven Impale is a Norwegian sextet that plays a fairly dark, heavy, jazz-inspired version of progressive rock. In many ways, they bear a lot of similarity to Van der Graaf Generator, albeit with more maximal arrangements. It’s been seven years since their last release, so when they announced this, I was very excited to hear what they had been working on.
City of the Sun, their 2014 debut, is a stellar record and one of my favorite albums from that year. 2016’s Contrapasso, though, never quite landed with me. It isn’t bad, by any means, but it just lacked that certain something that would have allowed it to click. I think a lot of it had to do with the sheer length of that release. At 67 minutes, that’s a lot of jazzy, sax-forward prog to listen to, and it became a bit exhausting. Compare that to their debut, which clocks in at 45 minutes. Summit, their new release, sees them staying in their usual vein, but consists of just four songs. So I went into this hopeful I’d like it.
About a year-and-a-half after their dull-as-dirt twenty-second studio album, The Quest, Yes has returned with a new release. At times, I question whether or not this band really is “Yes,” though. They’re a bit like the Ship of Theseus at this point. Jon Anderson was booted from the band in 2008, following a severe asthma attack. Chris Squire was the last remaining of the original members in the band, and he passed away in 2015. Then last year, Alan White, the band’s drummer since 1973, also passed away. Steve Howe’s still with the band, though he did have a 16-year absence from the band from 1981-1997. Keyboardist Geoff Downes was briefly in Yes in the early ‘80s before returning in 2011. And Bassist Billy Sherwood was a longtime friend of Squire’s who has collaborated with the band since the mid-90s. My distaste for vocalist Jon Davison should be evident from my last Yes review.
Philosophical conundrums aside, I haven’t been shy about dragging big-name acts through the mud when they put out a bad record. The Quest was terrible, and I mentioned that I liked Heaven and Earth even less in that review. I’m not a fan of The Zealot Gene, and I gave RökFlötea lukewarm rating. (And that RökFlöte review prompted someone to send me a downright apoplectic email full of typos and shoddy reasoning. It really was funny how bent out of shape that person got.) I’m both looking forward to and dreading my eventual Dream Theater Deep Dive; if you think I went hard on The Wall’s sophomoric storytelling, just wait ‘til I talk about The Astonishing!
I went into this record with low expectations. The members of Yes seem to have simply gotten kinda lame in their old age. I was not particularly impressed with the first single, and the fact that this is another of those stupid disc-and-a-half money-grab releases also didn’t do much to give me hope. Despite all that, I wound up being pleasantly surprised. Mirror to the Sky is Yes’s best album since Magnification, and I’m willing to unambiguously call this album good. Not great, but good.
When I posted my Best of 2022 list, I noted that the central US had an especially strong showing on it, with five of the top 25 hailing from either St. Louis or Minneapolis. One doesn’t normally think of the Midwest as one of the major hotbeds of prog, alongside southern England, Northern Italy, and (more recently) Scandinavia. But the band Kansas (from Topeka) was a major success in the mid-to-late ‘70s, and smaller bands like Zerfas (Indianapolis) and Yezda Urfa (Portage, IN) have since received cult acclaim. Even in the two years I lived in Kansas I found a couple of great local prog bands: Flight/Dirigible Squared and The Last Glacier (both long defunct or disbanded, sadly). So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that a group from Minneapolis has put out another great progressive rock record.
Coming two years after Return to the ‘E’, Mind Out of Mind is this trio’s second full-length album. The eerie, Sergeant Pepper’s-meets-They Live album art is an excellent complement to the music here. It’s flashy and attention-grabbing, but there is a lot of subtle weirdness that gradually unveils itself, too.
Six Tonnes de Chair is a small French record label that specializes in garage rock, often with psychedelic and kraut-y flairs. I’ve covered acts from this label before (Perilymph, WEEED, Slift), and Missing Jack & The Kameleons fit into this general mold quite neatly. Their style draws a lot from late ‘60s garage rock, albeit often sounding a bit cleaner. Krautrock and surf influences are commonplace here, and they’ve got an overall fun feel.
“You Don’t Think” opens up with a buzzy, jumpy, krautrock-tinged riff. Flavors of surf rock are evident, too, especially in the airy backing vocals. There’s a bit too much going on with the drums for this to have a truly motorik beat, but the spirit is there. The rhythm is insistent and infectious, and it really complements the hazy atmosphere.
Arkitekture is a South Korean progressive rock band that plays a lush variety of progressive rock augmented by strings, winds, and reeds. Jazz, classical, and chamber music influences are prominent across this instrumental album. The individual tracks are well-constructed and full of powerful, emotive playing. If you’re looking for something grand and dramatic, this one is for you.
Band: Entropia | Album:Total | Genre: Progressive metal, Black metal | Bandcamp
Entropia’s new album is full of icy, biting riffs. The guitar passages are intricately layered and full of irregular rhythms. They’re often repeated in a krautrock-like way as minor changes accumulate. Though they’re hardly the focus, I love the way keyboards are deployed on this album; they add drama and depth whenever they’re included. The 15-minute title track includes some nice flavors of post-metal here and there. This is a really exciting record, and if you’re into acts like Oranssi Pazuzu or Inter Arma, I would especially strongly recommend this release.
A little over a year after their unimpressive return on The Zealot Gene, Jethro Tull is back with another record, RökFlöte. For this record, Ian Anderson stated he drew inspiration from Norse mythology, and the word “Ragnarök” is where he got the idea for this album’s title. Each of the twelve songs on this album is based off a character or concept from Norse mythology.
Going into this, I did my best to keep an open mind. Yes, I’d found The Zealot Gene unnecessary, disappointing, and soulless; but Tull has bounced back from bad records before! Minstrel in the Gallery followed the unfocused hodgepodge of WarChild, and Roots to Branches came after the tepid blues rock of Catfish Rising (and their middling ‘80s hard rock). Martin Barre continues to be absent from the band, so I tried to calibrate my expectations for the guitarwork accordingly.
Caratucay is a German prog-death metal quintet, and Nocturnes of the Incarcerated is their second full-length album. I will admit that I was entirely unfamiliar with this band before running across Nocturnes while perusing Bandcamp, but this album made enough of an impression on me, I felt it’d make a solid spotlight for this site.
After the brief subdued intro “Captivi te Salutant”, the album starts in earnest with “Paralysis”. It’s an immediate punch in the face, full of pummeling yet melodic riffs. The vocals have more in common with black metal than death metal for the most part, but that’s something I like. In general, I prefer black metal shrieking over death metal Cookie Monster vocals. Those low guttural vocals feature prominently, too, but they strike a nice balance. “Paralysis” is a tight, anxious song, where the riffs bounce all over the place. Despite the many shifts, the song holds together well.
PeroPero is a Berlin-based progressive metal duo of Austrian origin. It’s been six years since their last release, 2017’s Lizards. Massive Tales of Doom hews rather close to PeroPero’s typical sound. The vocals are idiosyncratic and dramatic, and the songs are full of wild and twisting riffs.
Massive Tales of Doom opens on the pummeling, slightly-askew guitar lines of “Vermin”. The drumming is exciting and energetic without being overbearing. The vocals are dramatic and are perhaps the most distinctive part of the band, overall. It’s unorthodox but it works excellently. The song alternates between expansive, doom-influenced walls of guitar and twisting, irregular scalar runs. Growling stabs of synthesized bass add an effective counterbalance during the song’s more ascendent moments.
Band: Enslaved | Album:Heimdal | Genre: Progressive metal | Bandcamp
If nothing else, Enslaved is a very consistent band. They’ve got a sound they stick to pretty well, and they release albums reasonably often. However, this can also lead to a number of their albums bleeding together into a vague mush of proggy, blackish metal. Heimdal is certainly better than Utgard, but it still doesn’t do much to stand out in their discography. Maybe it’ll grow on me; Enslaved’s best albums have always taken a few listens to sink in. But as it stands, after a couple listens, this is a perfectly fine–though inessential–release.
Band: Fistfights with Wolves | Album:The Sheep That Eats The Wolf | Genre: RIO, Zeuhl, Progressive rock | Bandcamp
This short release has some good ideas on it, but the problem is there aren’t quite enough of them to justify the 28-minute runtime. This band is clearly heavily influenced by Magma, especially in their vocal arrangements, but they feel like a bit of a one-trick pony. None of the songs stood out that much, and the 12-part mini-suite “RMFP” is scattershot and unfocused. The opening “Skeletons” is pretty good, so maybe this should have just been a single with one other tightened-up song.
Japan often gets stereotyped as having a lot of bizarre media. We’ve all seen those clips of insane Japanese game shows. I’ve never been to Japan, so I can’t personally vouch for the country, but I’ve got a feeling that’s an unfair, unrepresentative slice of their media landscape. I’ve heard enough dull Japanese jazz-rock to be confident they’ve got their own anodyne TV shows. However, sometimes that reputation for weirdness is warranted. Those insane game shows do exist, after all. And musically, it was Japan that revitalized zeuhl in the 1990s. The latest release from GEZAN falls firmly into that tradition of strangeness.
「あのち」(“Anochi”) is a striking record. It’s distinctive in its sound, and I somewhat struggled when thinking up artists for the “For fans of” section of the header. This album contains a dizzying blend of punk, prog, jazz, art rock and more. It touches on an impressive number of genres while also maintaining a sense of purpose about itself.