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.
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.
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.
I’ve got mixed feelings on the term “folk metal.” On one hand, you can have some genuinely creative fusions, while on the other hand you have schlock like Korpiklaani. (Korpiklaani are very fun in a live setting, but there’s no denying they are extreme schlock.) Over the last decade or so, there have been some uniquely American attempts at folk metal. Almost all of these have been made with a straight face, in contrast to many of the campier European acts (the aforementioned Korpiklaani, Finntroll, etc.). Panopticon, with their intertwining of black metal and bluegrass, is likely the best-known example, and I’d argue for including Zeal & Ardor’s Satanic spirituals under the “folk metal” umbrella.
Huntsmen’s Americana influences are less in-your-face than either Panopticon or Zeal & Ardor, but they’re nonetheless present in the band’s vocal arrangements, melodic choices, and electric-acoustic contrasts. This Chicagoan quintet also bases their sound in doom metal and post-metal, as opposed to the more common folk metal template of black metal.
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.
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.
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.
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”→
Custard Flux is the brainchild of Detroit-based multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Gregory Curvey, and this is one of the more unique acts currently active in the progosphere. Custard Flux is a (almost) fully-acoustic band, with electric instrumentation being limited to a small number of guitar solos on this band’s first two albums. Acoustic guitar and harmonium have been the primary instruments this act’s sound has been built around.
Oxygen is Custard Flux’s third album in as many years, and it’s their best and most diverse yet. While the sound is still primarily acoustic, it’s been augmented with ample saxophone and violin. Electric guitar—in its rare appearances—feels more integral to the compositions, rather than being a solo laid on top of a fully-acoustic piece. The compositions are also the most daring and progressive they’ve recorded yet. Continue reading “Album Review: Custard Flux – Oxygen”→
Pink Floyd is one of those bands with no shortage of imitators and near-clones. Less-blatant aping and influence are nearly inescapable in modern psychedelia and prog. Pink Floyd had many distinct sounds throughout their career, though, giving modern acts plenty of material to draw inspiration from. Alcànatara—a quintet hailing from Italy—is one of those acts that doesn’t try to hide their Floydian roots.
I tried to think of other acts to list in the “For fans of” section of the review header, but this band draws from late-70s Floyd so clearly, I couldn’t think of a more apt recommendation. This is not to call the music here derivative or unoriginal, though. Pink Floyd is a heavy, heavy influence, but I’d never mistake any of these recordings as some discarded track from The Wall’s recording sessions. Continue reading “Album Review: Alcàntara – Solitaire”→