Album Review: Wobbler – Dwellers of the Deep

Band: Wobbler | Album: Dwellers of the Deep | Genre: Progressive rock | Year: 2020

From: Oslo, Norway | Label: Karisma Records

For fans of: Yes

Bandcamp

Wobbler are indisputably one of the top dogs of the modern progressive rock scene, and I quite like them. However, I view them as one of the most overrated acts out there. They’re certainly not bad, not by a wide margin. Nevertheless, From Silence to Somewhere (their 2017 release) is ranked 28th all-time on Prog Archive’s list of the top prog albums, which is ridiculous. It’s a very good record which cracked my personal Top 10 that year, but it certainly ain’t the 28th-best prog album of all time. At time of writing, Dwellers of the Deep ranks 52nd on that same list, and that’s even more egregious. (That list, aggregated off user reviews, has all kinds of other odd inclusions and exclusions, and I’ve got my own gripes about that site’s users’ biases.)

I also find the progosphere’s eager deference to this band off-putting, and I’ve witnessed an awful lot of hand-waving at just how Yes-y they’ve become over their last few albums. Their Yes-iness isn’t an inherently bad thing. Rites at Dawn is my favorite of their records, and that is arguably their most blatantly Yes-like release. But after a while, such obvious aping of another act’s sound does begin to wear thin, and Yes varied their sound more than Wobbler have. To reiterate: I like Wobbler, but I don’t view them through the same irreproachable lens that many other prog fans seem to hold.

Now that I’ve gotten my expository rant out of the way, I can address the album at hand. Dwellers of the Deep is this Norwegian quintet’s fifth full-length release. Upon first listening to it, I was struck by the fact that I could identify no appreciable differences between this album and From Silence to Somewhere. The sound palette hasn’t been shaken up, the albums’ structures are similar, and the melodies feel too familiar—bordering on re-trod. However, the strength of Wobbler’s baseline sound is such that even with these considerations in mind, Dwellers of the Deep is still a pretty good record. Not amazing, but pretty good and worth listening to.

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Album Review: Acid Mess – Sangre de Otros Mundos

Band: Acid Mess | Album: Sangre de Otros Mundos | Genre: Psychedelic rock, Progressive rock | Year: 2020

From: Asturias, Spain | Label: Spinda Records

For fans of: Mezquita, The Mars Volta, Fuzz

Bandcamp

I’ve discussed Spinda Records and their consistently high-quality underground prog and psych before. Moura’s self-titled debut—released by Spinda in March—might just wind up being my album of the year, but my year-end list is still taking form. The latest release from this label is the third album from Acid Mess, Sangre de Otros Mundos (Blood of Other Worlds).

The album opens with “El Reflejo de Su Piel” (“The Reflection of Your Skin”). The first half of this song is slow and atmospheric: clean guitar echoes as a squiggly, fizzy synth line winds its way beneath. That suddenly erupts into a distinctly Spanish guitar riff imbued with metallic aggression. Handclaps add a distinct textural element, and swirling organ, though low in the mix, makes everything feel fleshed-out.

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Album Review: Xander Naylor – Continuum

Artist: Xander Naylor | Album: Continuum | Genre: Progressive rock, Jazz-fusion, Post-rock | Year: 2020

From: New York, USA | Label: Chant Records

For fans of: Return to Forever, early Frank Zappa, Magma, The Mars Volta

Bandcamp

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.

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Album Review: Garcia Peoples – Nightcap at Wits’ End

Band: Garcia Peoples | Album: Nightcap at Wits’ End | Genre: Progressive rock, Psychedelic rock | Year: 2020

From: Rutherford (NJ), USA | Label: Beyond Beyond Is Beyond

For fans of: The Grateful Dead, early King Crimson, Procol Harum, Uriel, Spirit

Bandcamp

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.

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Album Review: Wills Dissolve – Echoes

Band: Wills Dissolve | Album: Echoes | Genre: Death metal, Progressive metal, Progressive rock | Year: 2020

From: Houston, USA | Label: Hypnotic Dirge Records

For fans of: Opeth, Isis, Enslaved

Bandcamp

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.

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Album Review: Thy Catafalque – Naiv

Band: Thy Catafalque | Album: Naiv | Genre: Avant-garde metal, Hungarian folk | Year: 2020

From: Makó, Hungary | Label: Season of Mist

For fans of: Kekal, Agalloch, Botanist

Bandcamp

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.

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Album Review: Homunculus Res – Andiamo in giro di notte e ci consumiamo nel fuoco

Band: Homunculus Res | Album: Andiamo in giro di notte e ci consumiamo nel fuoco | Genre: Progressive rock | Year: 2020

From: Palermo, Italy | Label: AMS Records

For fans of: Soft Machine, Gong, Caravan

Bandcamp

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.

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Album Review: Kekal – Quantum Resolution

Band: Kekal | Album: Quantum Resolution | Genre: Progressive metal, Avant-garde metal | Year: 2020

From: Jakarta, Indonesia | Label: Independent (digital), Eastbreath Records (CD)

For fans of: Krallice, Atheist, Kayo Dot

Bandcamp

I’ve been a fan of Kekal since about 2008 or so. I don’t recall where or how I ran across them, but they were promoting themselves by offering free downloads of four of their albums. (That offer still stands on their site, by the way.) Three of those albums are varying degrees of good, with 1000 Thoughts of Violence perhaps being my favorite of their releases. On the other hand, Audible Minority is simply bad. And it’s that inconsistent track record that always makes me a little apprehensive when Kekal release new material. I absolutely loved their 2018 album, Deeper Underground, but the album which preceded that—2015’s Multilateral—was inconsistent and muddled.

When I first heard Quantum Resolution, I was a little nervous, as it just wasn’t quite clicking with me. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but this did not feel like one of Kekal’s better efforts. After giving the record a few spins, though, it has grown on me substantially. I’m used to certain artists’ releases growing or wearing on me. That’s bog-standard for me with Inter Arma, Steven Wilson, and Enslaved; but I usually know how I feel about Kekal after the first listen. That’s why I’m glad I decided to give this album another chance.

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Album Review: Guppy Fish – The Fall of Man

gfBand: Guppy Fish | Album: The Fall of Man | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive metal | Year: 2020

From: Athens, Greece | Label: Independent

For fans of: Opeth, Riverside, Porcupine Tree

Bandcamp | Spotify

I’ve largely been unimpressed with Opeth’s pivot away from death metal. A lot of their recent output has felt flaccid and derivative in an oversaturated retro-prog scene. However, the full-length debut of Greek act Guppy Fish covers the territory I’d always hoped Mikael Åkerfeldt and his crew would. The Fall of Man isn’t exactly a metal album, though it often flirts with the territory. The music is both grand and gloomy. The shadows cast by the giants of the genre are readily evident, but this album stands on its own.

This album’s title track aptly sets the mood as its opener. An eerie, watery guitar arpeggio bursts forth from its quiet beginning into the looming verses. A jagged, irregular riff is deployed to great effect between verses. Two-layered vocal arrangements are utilized both here and throughout the rest of the album to add a layer of depth. Continue reading “Album Review: Guppy Fish – The Fall of Man”