Kayo Dot are back with their tenth full-length release two years after the totally-okay Blasphemy. That album continued the band’s recent trend away from metal and toward Gothic rock with some experimental leanings. Kayo Dot has always been difficult to nail down with precise genre descriptors, frequently operating in nebulous grey areas between assorted experimental rock and metal subgenres.
Bandleader Toby Driver has often worked with a rotating crew of musicians for Kayo Dot, but for Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike, he recorded with the original lineup of his previous band, the critically-beloved maudlin of the Well. The musicianship is expectedly top-notch, and the fusion of experimental metal with subtler influences is sublime. This might just be my new favorite Kayo Dot record.
Regal Worm is a solo project by Jarrod Gosling, one half of the duos I Monster (trip-hop) and Cobalt Chapel (psychedelic rock). Regal Worm blends Gosling’s usual psychedelic leanings with more progressive and ambitious song structures. His last release under this moniker, 2018’s Pig Views, was my favorite album that year, so I naturally had high hopes for this release.
The album cover for The Hideous Goblink lives up to its name. It is an ugly piece of art and not nearly as enchanting as the art on his past releases. However, this is an instance where that old axiom about book covers and judging them holds true. Regal Worm’s fourth full-length release is a fantastic collection of songs which sound like one unified whole. The six compositions here all work in harmony with each other to deliver something fantastic.
Band: Duke Grey Fox w/ The Striped Bananas | Album:A Trilogy of Six | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
This instrumental record has interesting textures, ideas, and rhythms in spades. I’m especially fond of many of the synthesizer tones. However, like most instrumental records, this one feels too long. This release indeed feels like a trilogy of six; almost every song which tops three minutes feels dragged-out.
This is a fuzzy, buzzy psych record that is heavily inspired by the early works of King Gizzard and similar acts. The individual cuts are all fairly enjoyable, with a lot of folky inclusions. Certain instrumental excursions are better-plotted than others, though. My main issue is that this album feels somewhat aimless. There’s very little on this album that I’d consider unenjoyable, but more focus and cohesion would have been beneficial.
Well, it’s been two years. Time for a new Dream Theater album. A View from the Top of the World is the too-many-th release from these prog metal stalwarts. After the passable but unremarkable Distance over Time, I wasn’t really expecting much from these guys. Then again, I didn’t get into them until I was in college, after their prime, so I’ve never really expected much from them.
Dream Theater has their very specific sound, and with the exception of the bafflingly terrible The Astonishing, they have been super consistent and predictable. Everything is always masterful from a technical standpoint. However, it often comes off as soulless, and I frequently point to Jordan Rudess and John Petrucci as some of the most masturbatory musicians in the notoriously onanistic field that is prog metal. Much of their output over the last two decades has been uninspired, but now and again we have gotten the occasional flash of brilliance.
Nolan Potter is a Texas-based multi-instrumentalist, and Music Is Dead is his second full-length release. His 2019 debut was a strong collection of tracks which blended together a healthy melange of influences, like psych, folk, pop, prog, and experimental music. Music Is Dead further improves on that strong debut, and Potter demonstrates some serious instrumental and compositional chops.
Yes have returned after a seven-year absence to deliver an album no one was asking for. 2014’s Heaven and Earth was a terrible, ignominious end to Chris Squire’s impressive career. That record sounded like Air Supply doing a Yes cover album. In a contemporaneous review on my personal Facebook page, I remarked that that album “… is beyond bland. It makes milk seem spicy. This is beyond paint-by-numbers. This has less soul than a ginger.”
Unfortunately, The Quest continues in a pretty similar vein to its predecessor. This album is an improvement over their last release, but that is a pretty low bar to clear. Yes brings absolutely nothing new to the table here. The ills which plagued Heaven and Earth also hobble The Quest, a trend which seems to imply that there are inherent problems with this version of the band.
Vocalist Jon Davison appears to be a big part of the problem, but he’s not the only problem. As much as I would love to blame Glass Hammer (Davison’s former band and my favorite contemporary prog punching bag) for all of Yes’s ills, I cannot do so in good faith. Some of the worst songs on the album were written solely by longtime Yes guitarist Steve Howe.
Diagonal had a quick turnaround between this album and their previous release, 2019’s Arc. Compare that timeline to the five-year gap between their self-titled debut and their sophomore album, or to the seven-year hiatus following that. Needless to say, I’m glad they’re putting out music at a brisker pace than they have in the past
I’m also glad that 4 is an improvement over Arc. Arc wasn’t bad by any means, but good chunks of it felt unfocused or needlessly drawn-out. On this new release, the band sounds energized and full of new ideas, and that musical vigor shines through in the five compositions present here.
Band: Ars de Er | Album:Other Side | Genre: Progressive rock, Avant-prog | Bandcamp
Ars de Er’s last album leaned heavily into avant-prog and RIO, but Other Side is a little more grounded in “traditional” prog. There are especially strong echoes of Porcupine Tree’s heavier stuff, like Fear of a Blank Planet. This album still has plenty of influences from jazz and modern classical music, which makes the overall palette well-balanced and diverse.
This is a loud, unsubtle record. The mixture of metal, rock, and electronic elements are utilized to pummel the listener. It’s an intense listen, so in this case the album’s short runtime (only 29 minutes) is a virtue. A runtime of more than 30 minutes would have run the risk of becoming too exhausting. Beyond the intensity, the compositions are creative and full of great textural contrasts. The vocals are powerful and impassioned, and the array of synth tones are able to conjure a wide ray of moods and emotions.
Kesem’s debut EP was my EP of the year for 2020. It was a mind-bending trip of 21 minutes that blended progressive rock and space rock with the rawness and energy of classic garage rock. The songs on that EP feature sudden shifts in tone, texture, and mood; and the ample deployment of trumpet made them stand out.
Their first full-length-release, Post-Terra, follows in the same path as their self-titled EP. It feels more polished with smoother edges than its predecessor, but that doesn’t mean the sound is watered down at all. There’s still plenty of astral odysseys and surprises packed into this album.
It’s been a while since I’ve done a Lesser-Known Gem. I’ve got no shortage of new music in my queue to cover, but I also love highlighting more obscure releases from the past. Today’s topic is one of my favorite albums of the 1990s. I have not been shy about my general indifference (often bordering on distaste) for a lot of prog from that decade, but Hydrotoxin’s one full-length release, Oceans, is one of the best distillations of the classic ‘90s prog metal sound.
I discovered this album when I was 18 or so and I searched “progressive metal” on YouTube. Somehow, the nine-and-a-half-minute title track was one of the top results. (It might have even been the top result.) Running that search now will yield primarily playlists and contemporary releases, which makes more sense. 2008 YouTube’s search function often left something to be desired, but in this quirkiness it was sometimes easier to find interesting oddities.
Very, very little information about this band can be found online. ProgArchives has the most information, but even that source is sparse and effectively limited to the band members’ names. Rate Your Music claims they put out an EP in 2007, Signal Denied, but I’m willing to bet that this is a mix-up with an identically-named band since neither Discogs nor ProgArchives lists this EP on the band’s page. (Note: I cannot find an easy way to legitimately acquire a digital copy of Oceans. CDs can be purchased through private sellers on Amazon UK and Discogs.)