I hesitate to use a label more restrictive than “rock” to describe King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. These astonishingly prolific Aussies have one of the most diverse back catalogs in modern popular music, ranging from garage rock to prog to thrash metal to synthpop to microtonal music and beyond. Their latest release is a dizzying encapsulation of their always-shifting style. The appropriately-titled Omnium Gatherum (a faux-Latin phrase meaning “a collection of many different things”) is a sprawling, 80-minute record that has a bit of everything.
Path of Might’s self-titled debut was one of my earliest purchases on Bandcamp. I loved the intelligent song structures and the visceral intensity of their playing. I apparently missed their 2017 sophomore album, but now it’s 2022, and they’ve got a third full-length release for the world.
The overall sound I remember from their debut is still here in this new release. The music is powerful and unrelenting, often evoking early Mastodon. But they have also become more refined. They’ve added keyboards to their music, and that addition has brought new richness.
One of the great things about the decentralization of the music industry has been the ability of niche record labels to proliferate. As evidenced by the minuscule amount of good zeuhl from the 1980s, if you played an unpopular genre of music, it was tough to get your recordings a proper release. Now, though, I can name several labels that either specialize in or put out a significant amount of zeuhl. Soleil Zeuhl is the oldest of these, founded in 1999. More recent ones include Dur et Doux, Guerssen (primarily doing reissues of obscure past releases), and today’s focus, Baboon Fish.
Baboon Fish Label is a French zeuhl label that, lately, has averaged about one release a year. What this label lacks in quantity, they make up for in quality. They released an album by Nebulous Sun last year, which made it onto my year-end list; and I also am quite fond of their 2017 release from The Orvalians. The most recent release from this label is the self-titled debut from self-described “angular rock” band Cratophane. That “angular” label describes a lot of what Baboon Fish specializes in, and it’s especially fitting for this experimental instrumental act.
Records like this one are why I’m glad I decided to lump music released in December 2021 with 2022 for my year-end list-making purposes. I’m often in a bit of a rush getting my draft lists off to my editors, and trying to find new music in the midst of that is a fool’s errand. Somalgia’s debut album–Inverted World– was released in mid-December, and it’s a fantastic blend of genres, including progressive rock, black metal, trip-hop, and psychedelia.
Somalgia is an English duo who go so far as to label their music “post-genre.” It’s certainly a diverse release, especially as far as progressive rock and progressive metal go; but they’re not doing the stereotype of pretentious prog-rockers any favors with this sort of posturing. The lyrics are also a bit 14-year-old-who-just-saw-The-Matrix-and-is-now-a-conspiracy-theorist for my taste. The band has used the NPC wojak meme multiple times on their Instagram, as well as engaging in some 5G conspiracy. I get the feeling it would likely be unproductive for me to engage in political discussions with whomever wrote the lyrics.
Political gripes aside, Inverted World has a lot of fantastic music on it; and it’s situations like this one where I’m glad I’m good at just tuning words out most of the time.
Searching “progressive rock” or “progressive metal” on Bandcamp (my primary means of finding new music) will yield an abundance of stoner acts labeling themselves as prog. Most are nothing special. Songs running 19 minutes does not a prog record make. To be sure, though, there are examples of bands that take the stylistic trappings of stoner rock and successfully meld it with the technical skill and structural ambition of progressive rock. Elder is probably the best-known example, but I’ve covered others, such as Howling Giant and Little Jimi.
Humanotone, a project based out of Chile devised by sole member Jorge Cist, is another strong example of a stoner metal-based act that makes complex, intelligent music. Compared to their rough-around-the-edges 2017 debut, A Flourishing Fall in a Grain of Sand is much more refined. The songs are put together well, and the individual elements of these long compositions flow together smoothly.
An Isolated Mind is a one-man project based out of San Francisco. This act plays a chilling, lonely-sounding variety of experimental rock and metal. At one moment, the music may be a screaming wall of Arctic-cold guitars; and the next, it may be a gentle acoustic passage with alluringly warm keys and woodwinds.
I covered their debut album, I’m Losing Myself, in 2019, and I quite liked it. I was not the biggest fan of the pair of long drone experiments at the end of that record, but the preceding music was strong enough that I still put it on my year-end best-of list. A Place We Cannot Go is in the same musical vein, but there are obvious distinctions. This new release is less metallic, more contemplative, and better-focused.
This Welsh quartet has a unique history. Originally formed in the late 1970s, they played live shows for several years but never released anything. After disbanding in 1981, Retreat from Moscow entered a (nearly) 40-year period of hibernation. In 2019, the band’s core reformed and started to record both old and new material. The result of those sessions is Life as We Knew It.
This band’s debut, four decades in the making, is a fun, punchy bunch of prog rock cuts. Many of the compositions certainly feel rooted in late-70s prog, with no shortage of flashy instrumental passages and arena-rock grandiosity; but the production is quite modern-sounding, and certain riffs border on metallic.
Krallice, a New York-based quartet, are stalwarts of the experimental/progressive black metal scene. From their self-titled debut in 2008 to now, they have consistently put out high-quality music, and each album has had its own distinctive hallmarks.
Crystalline Exhaustion is the band’s eleventh full-length release. I haven’t listened to their previous album (2021’s Demonic Wealth), but I did enjoy their 2020 release, Mass Cathexis. Crystalline Exhaustion continues in their general vein of spaced-out, proggy black metal.
After the better part of two months of writing nothing, I’m back! The first half of January was all my best-of-2021 stuff, after which things got really busy at work, and then Pokémon Legends: Arceus came out (that took up and continues to take up a lot of my free time). But anyway, you don’t come here for my personal goings-on; you come here for reviews of albums that came out several months ago in an unpopular music genre!
For the record, I was actually pretty quick with covering this one. Jethro Tull has put out their first album since 2003! (Though their Bandcamp seems to ignore their 2003 release, The Jethro Tull Christmas Album, as it states this is their first album in “over two decades,” which signals that Ian Anderson considers 1999’s Dot Com to be the last proper Tull album.)
Cynic is one of my absolute favorite progressive metal bands. They’ve got a singular sound that weaves together death metal, jazz, and astral progressive rock. Though they have drifted away from explicit death metal after their 1993 debut, their evolution has been natural, and they’re still recognizably the same band.
Ascension Codes is the band’s fourth full-length album and the first since the untimely deaths of founding drummer Sean Reinert and longtime bassist Sean Malone. These two are sorely missed, but the musicians assembled by guitarist/vocalist Paul Masvidal pay fitting tribute to the unique styles and incredible skills of their predecessors. Notably, instead of utilizing a bass guitarist, the bass parts here are all played on a synthesizer, which lends a unique character to this album in the context of Cynic’s discography.