It’s a Monday, but I don’t have a review for you. I was absolutely slammed at work last week, but I should have a bit more breathing room now.
Considering how close we are to the end of the year, and considering how many records there are I haven’t reviewed but would love to touch on, I will be increasing the frequency of Odds & Ends posts between now and mid-December. I’m not sure how many I’ll wind up posting, but I’d expect at least 4 between now and the end of the year, as opposed to the expected two.
I’ll also be taking off the weeks of Dec. 21 and 28, to allow myself adequate time to finish my year-end best-of lists and to allow Kelci and Dan adequate time to proofread them. Those can be expected in early-to-mid January.
There is no shortage of instrumental EPs and albums put out by guitarists. Many of these releases tend to be self-indulgent and focused on technical soloing. Because of that trend, it’s always a refreshing change of pace when I run across someone like Xander Naylor, who functions more as a composer who just so happens to play guitar, rather than a guitarist composing pieces for his instrument.
Continuum is Naylor’s debut full-length record, and it reminds me of Steve Hackett’s solo material. Not so much in sound, but more so in that while there’s plenty of skillful instrumentalism, it isn’t to the neglect of structure or vision.
Nightcap at Wits’ End—the fourth album from Garcia Peoples—shows the band’s continued evolution and refinement of their sound. Their first two albums were psychedelic garage rock pieces with some underlying prog leanings. One Step Behind (their third release) was centered around a 32-minute krautrock opus. This record dials back the scale of things, with only one song topping seven minutes.
The sound presented here is also something of a middle ground between their first three releases. This is undoubtedly a progressive rock album, but it hearkens back to the very earliest days of progressive rock, when the lines between psych and prog were even blurrier than they currently are. It draws a great deal of influence from those first prog bands, such as The Moody Blues, the first King Crimson lineup, and early Canterbury acts like Egg/Uriel.
Band: Days Between Stations | Album:Giants | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
Though technically not a member of the band, ex-Yes multi-instrumentalist Billy Sherwood produced and contributed heavily to this album. This band is extremely Yes-y, almost to the point of distraction. It’s a skillful aping of Yes’s sound, but it does leave me wanting a bit more originality at moments. I’m also not wild about Sherwood’s production; this album sounds thin and washed-out. However, if you’re craving something in the vein of (good) ‘90s Yes, these guys are a decent way to scratch that itch.
Band: Enslaved | Album:Utgard | Genre: Progressive metal | Bandcamp
This is certainly an Enslaved album. It’s melodic black-ish metal with frequent intrusions of harmonized clean vocals and prominent keyboards. Enslaved’s albums tend to grow on me over time, but they’re also often structured significantly differently. This record feels like Enslaved are trying to be more accessible. The songs are shorter than usual, and the band’s black metal background is played down. When RIITIIR (my favorite release from this band) came out, it didn’t click with me at first, but I felt the itch to revisit it. I don’t think I’ll be having much urge to put this album on repeat.
Album-long songs have a rich tradition in progressive metal. Edge of Sanity’s 1996 album Crimson is the best-known of these, but Inter Arma, Meshuggah, and others have dabbled in this format. And that’s not even touching on the countless albums where the individual tracks flow together. And while any band can put a 30-plus-minute track to record, it takes another level of skill to make it consistently good. A good album-long song needs to make sense as one song, as opposed to feeling like a handful of short songs smooshed together.
Echoes—the second release from Houston-based quartet Wills Dissolve—consists of solely the 32-minute title track. The swirling, psychedelic black hole cover art is fitting for this record. The music is huge and intergalactic, yet immensely heavy and crushing.
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.