Album Review: Dizzy Mystics – Wanderlost

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Band: Dizzy Mystics | Album: Wanderlost | Genre: Progressive rock | Year:  2019

From: Winnipeg, Canada | Label: Independent

For fans of: Tool, RX Bandits, Children of Nova

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“Dizzy” is an apt adjective for this Manitoban quartet. The music here is packed to the brim with tight, technical riffs played at a breakneck pace. But this isn’t some math rock-style exercise in sheer complexity, nor is it some John Petrucci-style masturbation session. Dizzy Mystics are shockingly melodic in their compositions. Wanderlost is definitively not a metal album, but the closest analog is Tool. The melodies seem rooted in a similar strain of ‘90s alt-rock and are run through a similar artistic lens, albeit one with less distortion.

Folk influences are pervasive. Mandolin and acoustic guitar are often given prominence, and the technical skill combined with the tempo can give some echoes of bluegrass at times. There’s even the occasional flash of 1980s-Rush-style-vaguest-hint-of-reggae touches.

“Letter” opens the album with a flurry of high-tempo arpeggios and oddly-metered strumming patterns. The rhythmic effect is off-kilter and disorienting, a recurring theme on Wanderlost. “Shindigjig” draws on folk sounds, giving mandolin prominent placement among the high-octane riffage and dramatic vocals. The bass, here and elsewhere, slaps and bounces with funky levity. The songs regularly display some impressive structuring. Despite their (relatively) short lengths, Dizzy Mystics move beyond simple verse-chorus structures.

Glimpses of metal do arise on occasion. “The Anti-Dream” is one of the heavier songs on the album, based around a strange, highly propulsive riff, though song’s second half slows down somewhat. This latter section is noticeably spacier and more psychedelic, leveraging an expansive guitar tone. “Diamond Duller” similarly displays some of the band’s most transparent Tool influence. The riffs are weird but melodic, and the vocals are especially reminiscent of Maynard’s.

I do have a few gripes with this release, though they’re mostly minor. “The Scythe Pendulum Swing” tries to be a slow-builder, but it comes off more as seven minutes of aimless meandering. Dizzy Mystics are never quite able to get the intensity up to a point that it feels like the song has progressed meaningfully. The jazziness of “Rester (Analog Chameleon)”, along with a few other quieter moments here and there on the album, doesn’t work well, either. This isn’t a band that can make an impact by taking it down a notch. Their strengths reside in frenzy and high-tempo theatrics. They also probably could have shortened this album by about 7-10 minutes, and it would be stronger; some songs run a hair too long.

Wanderlost closes on its epic title track, and Dizzy Mystics play to their strengths here. The riffs are fast, finger-twisting feats of technicality, and the song flows seamlessly overall. In addition to the band’s instrumental prowess, the vocals are impassioned and dramatic without coming off as ridiculous or overwrought.

Dizzy Mystics offer a unique take on progressive rock. Aside from some of the more common influences, like psychedelic rock, they integrate high-tempo folk, funk, and ‘90s alt-rock. It results in a distinct sound that sets them apart from most bands in the progressive rock scene.

Score: 82/100

Album Review: PoiL – Sus

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Band: PoiL | Album: Sus | Genre: Progressive rock, Zeuhl, RIO | Year: 2019

From: Lyon, France | Label: Dur et Doux

For fans of: Magma, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Ni, Frank Zappa

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I’ve written before of France’s unique place in the world of progressive rock. Of the countries with distinct national sounds, theirs has always been the most unashamedly weird, fusing progressive rock with jazz and avant-garde music. Zeuhl was an almost-exclusively-French genre for the first twenty or so years of its existence, and two of the five founders of the Rock in Opposition (RIO) scene were Francophone. (Univers Zero were from the French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium.) PoiL, the experimental Lyonnais trio, are one of the most prominent contemporary bands carrying on this tradition.

Last year, PoiL fused with the band Ni to become three-sevenths of the supergroup PinioL. Ni’s particular brand of experimental rock music has frequently bordered on metal, and on Sus, it sounds as if some of that may have rubbed off on the guys in PoiL. PoiL lacks a guitar player, but that doesn’t stop the band from laying down their heaviest music to date. The bass on this album crunches and snarls; the electric piano pounds out weird, dissonant chords; and the drumming is downright virtuosic. Continue reading “Album Review: PoiL – Sus”

Album Review: Babel Trio – The Island of Cretal

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Band: Babel Trio | Album: The Island of Cretal | Genre: Progressive rock, Stoner metal, Greek folk | Year: 2018

From: Crete, Greece | Label: Labyrinth of Thoughts Records

For fans: Elder, Baroness, Numidia, Anatolian rock

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Greece punches above its weight in regard to its metal scene. It’s no Finland or Norway, but for a rather small, sunny, non-Scandinavian country, its metal output is prolific and influential. Most of this tends to be in the form of black metal, with the scene-at-large’s sound being dubbed Hellenic Black Metal. Babel Trio produce music which, to my ears at least, sounds a bit more geographically-appropriate than black metal, which often is associated with cold, grim, wintry imagery.

Babel Trio is a Cretan band who play a brand of proggy, fuzzy, and distinctly-Greek metal. The Aegean is not necessarily a new location for heavy psychedelia to be fused with local folk traditions. Turkey’s been doing it since the 1970s. But where Turkey’s Anatolian rock is a celebrated niche genre, Greece’s folk traditions have remained largely absent from the world of rock music. Babel Trio aim to counteract that by infusing fuzzed-out metal with Cretan traditions and progressive ambition. The overall timbre of The Island of Cretal is evocative of many stoner metal bands from the US, but the melodies are unmistakably Grecian. Folk tunes are reinterpreted as complex, rolling riffs that help the band stand out. Continue reading “Album Review: Babel Trio – The Island of Cretal”

Album Review: Inter Arma – Sulphur English

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Band: Inter Arma | Album: Sulphur English | Genre: Progressive metal, Sludge metal, Black metal | Year: 2019

From: Richmond, USA | Label: Relapse Records

For fans of: early Mastodon, Agalloch, Giant Squid

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Inter Arma is among the most-talked-about bands in the realm of modern progressive metal (at least online). It’s not hard to see why. The band’s last few releases have been stellar, and their most recent album, 2016’s Paradise Gallows, was especially impressive in its scope and ambition. They’ve managed to effectively blend the pounding heaviness of doom and sludge metal with the speed and sharpness of black metal. I try not to set my hopes too high for high-profile releases like this, lest I be disappointed with a pretty good album.

Sulphur English continues a trend that was begun on Paradise Gallows. Their 2016 release was the first of theirs to feature clean vocals, and acoustic guitar was even given prominent placement at moments. Clean vocals are even more widespread on Sulphur English, and acoustic guitars continue to be given a large role in an increasing number of songs, offering a sharp contrast against the thundering, growling sludge riffs. Continue reading “Album Review: Inter Arma – Sulphur English”

Lesser-Known Gem: Zerfas – Zerfas

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Band: Zerfas | Album: Zerfas | Genre: Psychedelic rock, Progressive rock, Folk rock | Year: 1973

From: Indianapolis, USA | Label: 700 West

For fans of: The Beatles post-1967, Yes, Yezda Urfa, The Grateful Dead

Zerfas are one of those bands that there isn’t much information about beyond their music. I’ve ascertained they were formed in Indianapolis in the late 1960s by brothers Dave (drums, vocals) and Herman Zerfas (keys, vocals), and they persisted under a series of names until the early 1980s. They released one album, Zerfas, in 1973.

Zerfas, however brief their career, showed a lot of potential to fill several niches in the realm of progressive rock. Prog is a genre notorious for taking itself too seriously, with the music being played with near-surgical precision. A lot of the music on Zerfas, while structured and arranged in uncommon ways, has a loose, fun atmosphere to it. The timbre is frequently warm and sunny, thanks in large part to the vocals. Imagine if The Beatles (c. 1968) had tried to record a progressive rock album, and you’ll get a decent idea of what’s here. Continue reading “Lesser-Known Gem: Zerfas – Zerfas”

Album Review: Pyramidal – Pyramidal

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Band: Pyramidal | Album: Pyramidal | Genre: Space rock, Progressive rock | Year: 2019

From: Alicante, Spain | Label: Krauted Mind Records/Lay Bare Recordings

For fans of: Hawkwind, Änglagård, Magma, Elder

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If there’s one thing the current progressive rock scene does not lack, it’s mostly-instrumental stoner metal acts which bill themselves as “progressive” despite lacking any real musical adventurousness. An upsetting number of bands regularly release albums full of uninteresting 15-minute heavy blues jams and label it as “space rock” or “progressive rock”. Thankfully, Pyramidal are not one of those acts. They lean heavily on early Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath influences, like many of those aforementioned stoner acts, but Pyramidal couple those influence with more daring jazz, krautrock, and even zeuhl influences.

Pyramidal is a band that’s been on my radar for a while, and with the release of their self-titled fourth studio album, I’m pleased to find that they’ve hit a new high in their songwriting and instrumental skill. In addition to the core band members, the group brought in a few guests to contribute saxophone, violin, and synthesizers. This is doubtless their most ambitious, progressive release to date. Continue reading “Album Review: Pyramidal – Pyramidal”

Albums Review: Atsuko Chiba – Trace

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Band: Atsuko Chiba | Album: Trace | Genre: Progressive rock, Math rock, Post-punk, Post-rock | Year: 2019

From: Montreal, Canada | Label: Mothland

For fans of: The Physics House Band, The Mars Volta, early Portugal. The Man, Cardiacs

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music

The 1980s produced a lot of very good music. I’ve got a soft spot for some synthpop, and I love genres like new wave and post-punk. However, that decade, particularly its latter half, was not especially kind to progressive rock. In the current musical landscape, though, both progressive rock and post-punk are on the cultural and creative upswing. Occasionally, there is the rare nexus of both those genres’ revivals. Atsuko Chiba are one such nexus.

On Trace, their second full-length release, this Quebecois quintet lean into the dark, jagged rhythms of bands like Joy Division and Wire while mixing these influences with the complexity and technicality of math rock. Ample synthesizers, inventive melodies, and nonlinear song structures add to their prog bona fides. Continue reading “Albums Review: Atsuko Chiba – Trace”