Album Review: Light – The Path

Band: Light | Album: The Path | Genre: Progressive rock, RIO, Chamber music | Year: 2023

From: Toulouse, France | Label: Independent

For fans of: iamthemorning, Van der Graaf Generator, Univers Zero

Bandcamp

Years ago, I ran across a poll on the ProgArchives forums asking what the most important instrument in a (progressive) rock band is. It’s obviously not guitars or keys, as ELP and mid-career King Crimson demonstrate, respectively. Neither Van der Graaf Generator nor Atomic Rooster had a bassist in their classic lineups. So that’s why I ultimately chose “drums” in that poll. What makes rock music rock music is its rhythm. Ditch the percussion, and it’s difficult to make something feel like rock music.

I bring this anecdote up because for about the first twenty-ish minutes of Light’s debut album, The Path, there is almost no percussion. (Side note, the generic nature of the names of both the band and the album made this a bit of a challenge to find.) This album opens in a manner which feels more like classical or chamber music. As the record progresses, though, more traditional prog influences are brought in.

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Album Review: Hammers of Misfortune – Overtaker

Band: Hammers of Misfortune | Album: Overtaker | Genre: Progressive metal, Thrash metal | Year: 2022

From: San Francisco, USA | Label: Independent

For fans of: Detente, Voivod, Droid

Bandcamp

Hammers of Misfortune is a progressive thrash four-piece currently based somewhere out of Montana. Every source outside of their Bandcamp listed their location as San Francisco, but Bandcamp said they’re based in Montana. So I’m guessing a relocation occurred somewhat recently.

Geographical unclarity aside, they’ve got a distinctive sound. Female-fronted acts outside of power and traditional metal are somewhat rare, and this band is quite keys-forward, especially for a thrash band. The vocals remind me a lot of Detente, and the rich synths and organs could fit in perfectly with any classic prog band. The riffs are fast and complex, though, and the music overall is uncompromising.

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Album Review: Magma – K​ã​rt​ë​hl

Band: Magma | Album: K​ã​rt​ë​hl | Genre: Zeuhl, Jazz-rock | Year: 2022

From: Paris, France | Label: Seventh Records

Bandcamp

Magma returns with a new studio album and a frustrating set of diacritics that make writing about this album in Google Docs a hassle. K​ã​rt​ë​hl follows 2019’s Zëss, the conclusion of the Kobaïa mythos, so I have no idea where (or if) this fits into the story of the Kobaïans. (For more on that, check out my Magma Deep Dive!)

Where Zëss ended things on a bit of a somber note, K​ã​rt​ë​hl has a noticeably sunnier disposition. It’s distinct from Félicité Thösz, but it shares that same general uplifting hopefulness. Magma has always been good at conveying emotion, whether it be the doom-and-gloom of “De Futura” or the celebratory warmth of “Öhst”.

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Album Review: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Changes

Band: King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard | Album:Changes | Genre: Progressive rock, Psychedelic rock | Year: 2022

From: Melbourne, Australia | Label: KGLW

For fans of: Traffic, Once & Future Band

Bandcamp

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard are nothing if not prolific. Since debuting a mere decade ago, this band has put out twenty-three studio albums (plus an album of remixes, two sets of demos, and a ton of live releases), with Changes being their twenty-third overall, their fifth of 2022, and their third of the month of October, 2022. Not only have they been prolific, but their output has been consistently diverse. To call them genre chameleons would be underselling them; genre octopuses would better suit their radical stylistic shifts. 

(Note that a lot of my octopus comment is due to people overselling chameleons’ abilities to change color. I have a pet chameleon, and he certainly does change color, but it’s not for camouflage. They change color to express their mood or to absorb more or less heat. And it’s not like it’s a massive shift in color. It’s more like an adjustment in intensity and saturation. Be sure to come back next week when I change the name of this site to TheEliteHerpetologist.com.)

My chameleon Rufus

Where was I? Oh right, lizards! Specifically of the magical variety and the monarchs of certain digestive organs with which they associate.

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Album Review: Anarchÿ – Sentïence

Band: Anarchÿ | Album:Sent​ï​ence | Genre: Progressive thrash metal | Year: 2022

From: St. Louis, USA | Label: Anarchötic Audio

For fans of: Coroner, Vektor, Toxik, Superfluous umlauts

Bandcamp

Thrash metal is a genre I like a lot when it’s done well, but there simply don’t seem to be that many quality thrash bands nowadays. There’s plenty of amazing output from the mid ‘80s through the early ‘90, Vektor’s music is amazing, and Voivod is still doing respectable work, but prog-thrash isn’t exactly the most flourishing sound out there.

Anarchÿ is a two-piece based out of St. Louis, and their debut full-length album Sent​ïence does a great job of scratching that prog-thrash itch. The songs are propulsive and masterfully played, and the breakneck pace of the music keeps the listener stuck to their music-player of choice. Even the album art and extraneous umlauts do an incredible job of conjuring this micro-genre’s heyday.

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Album Review: An Abstract Illusion – Woe

Band: An Abstract Illusion | Album:Woe | Genre: Progressive metal, Melodic death metal | Year: 2022

From: Boden, Sweden | Label: Willowtip

For fans of: Opeth, Edge of Sanity, Cynic

Bandcamp

There are a lot of proggy melodic death metal bands from Sweden. Many can run together or simply sound like Opeth clones, but there are some acts that manage to stand out from the crowd. One such band is An Abstract Illusion. In addition to all the genre hallmarks, this band does an excellent job of integrating bits of non-metallic styles to keep their songs fresh and interesting.

Woe, the band’s second full-length release, is a massive hourlong piece subdivided into seven more-digestible tracks. The sound palette of this album ranges from archetypal melodeath guitar leads to hints of dark jazz, dashes of electronica, and classic prog flashiness.

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Album Review: The Mighty Orchid King – Mycelium Music Volume I: “Pinedemonium Awakes”

Band: The Mighty Orchid King | Album:Mycelium Music Volume I: “Pinedemonium Awakes” | Genre: Progressive rock, Folk rock, Psychedelic rock | Year: 2022

From: Saint Albans, UK | Label: Independent

For fans of: Yes, Phideaux, The Beatles, King Gizzard

Bandcamp

I’ve run across a lot of quirky genre descriptions on Bandcamp. Mellow Beast bill themselves as “wizard rock;” Louison’s latest album was described as “cyberprog;” and That 1 Guy has called his music “experimental ‘earthshaking future funk’ from the future maybe.” Despite their oddness, I could vaguely imagine what those might sound like. The UK-based quintet The Mighty Orchid King,on the other hand, dubs their music “mushroom-prog.”

Reading the phrase “mushroom-prog,” my mind immediately went to psilocybin and psychedelics–a not-unreasonable leap, if you ask me. However, reading the band’s description of this album, they intended that phrase much more literally. This album tells the story of a mushroom king and the spirits of the dead things he has consumed. It’s quite a clever concept which explicitly draws inspiration from John Milton’s Paradise Lost and carries a strong environmentalist message.

The band says they aimed to create “an entangled musical ecology,” and Mycelium Music Volume I is a veritable clonal colony of amazing music. The album has an impressive degree of sonic cohesion and continuity, and the individual songs flow together in brilliant, creative ways.

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Album Review: The Mars Volta – The Mars Volta

Band: The Mars Volta | Album:The Mars Volta | Genre: Art-pop | Year: 2022

From: El Paso, USA | Label: Clouds Hill

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The Mars Volta, along with acts like Porcupine Tree and Dream Theater, helped revive the world of progressive rock in the early 2000s. They were one of the most beloved and influential prog acts of the 21st century. Their 2003 full-length debut–De-Loused in the Comatorium–and its 2005 successor–Frances the Mute–are two of the best prog albums of all time, irrespective of era. In addition to past prog influences, they incorporated post-hardcore, jazz, and electronic elements. Their classic sound is striking and immediately recognizable.

Now, ten years after their last album–2012’s Noctourniquet–they’ve reunited to put out their seventh full-length release. The core of the band remains the same; Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is still on guitar, and Cedric Bixler-Zavala is still the vocalist. Beyond that, though, there has been churn in the lineup. Bassist Eva Gardner has returned to the band after last appearing on their 2002 Tremulant EP. Omar’s younger brother Marcel–formerly the band’s percussionist through 2010–covers keyboard duties. (Longtime TMV keyboardist Ikey Owens passed away in 2014, though he did not appear on Noctourniquet.)

In reading about this album’s background, I found that Omar (always the lead (and usually sole) songwriter) consciously made an effort to move away from prog. This strikes me as a perplexing move. Just because Omar and Cedric are recording together, that does not make it The Mars Volta. Prior to forming TMV, they were both in the post-hardcore band At the Drive-In; and the two had collaborated in the one-off band Antemasque in 2014. If they wanted to make a non-prog album, reviving this band’s name doesn’t strike me as a smart move. They’ve got enough clout in the modern music world that they could have announced a new project and built hype off their reputations.

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