Leprous are one of the bigger names in the current progosphere. I love their first three albums, and Bilateral, especially, is fantastic. Their sound has changed a lot over the years however, and they’ve moved decidedly away from metal in a manner that has left fan opinions sharply divided.
I have not minced words about my disappointment in Leprous’s recent musical direction. To quote my coverage of their 2019 album, Pitfalls, “This album fucking sucks.” My thoughts on Malina, their 2017 release, aren’t an awful lot kinder. I saw them on tour twice in 2018 (opening first for BTBAM and later for Haken), and the experience was dull, to say the least. Pared-back arrangements and vocalist Einar Solberg going, “Ooh-aah” as pulsing white lights blinded me? Disappointing. Both sets were unvaried in their tonal and dynamic palettes: LOUD-quiet-LOUD-quiet, without any deviations to spice it up. Pitfalls was like a studio version of this experience.
Naturally, I didn’t have high hopes for Aphelion. I was fully anticipating this would be another micro-review, like my coverage of Pitfalls, or an Odds & Ends entry. But I’m familiar enough with the band’s output, and I found enough to discuss, that I could write a full-length review.
It’s not often I’m this on top of a new release (only three days out!), but BTBAM are one of my favorite bands. They’ve managed to blend death metal and metalcore with the tonal and structural language of progressive rock to forge a distinct niche for themselves.
The decision to do a sequel to their best-known album 14 years after the fact struck many (myself included) as an odd choice, but I did my best to keep an open mind. I don’t pay attention to lyrics, and harsh vocals barely even register as words to me, so if you’d changed the title to something else, I doubt I’d know this was a sequel. It is undoubtedly a BTBAM album, but there’s not much inherently Colors-y about it.
I’m also glad that this album was released whole, unlike the weird, two-part release of Automata. Automata works better as one unified piece, and it’s a full 10 minutes shorter than Colors II. I’ve read some speculation that that may have been due to interference from Sumerian Records. If true, I’m glad they held back from issuing Colors 1.5 and Colors 2. (And side note–why does Sumerian Records have the Sphinx and Pyramids of Giza as their logo? Couldn’t they have used a ziggurat?)
While I purposely use pretty broad, amorphous genre definitions on this site, I generally aim to highlight acts who are musically adventurous or inventive. A common way artists spice up their music is through various forms of contrast. This is especially common in metal and various subgenres which start with “post,” where it’s often a harsh-clean contrast. Another dichotomy occasionally used is an electronic-acoustic one.
I’ve previously covered Perilymph, the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Fabien de Menou. The band’s last album, Deux, was a wonderful blend of synth-led space-kraut balanced smartly against pared-back acoustic passages. Tout en Haut (Eng. On Top) follows in a similar sonic and textural path.
Zeuhl and metal are two genres which I’ve long felt would make fantastic bedfellows, but almost every instance of an attempted fusion I’ve found has been lackluster. Magma’s Šlag Tanz EP bills itself as jazz-metal, and that’s not too far off the mark; and the bands ni and PoiL frequently have moments where these two styles merge. Most other attempts at blending zeuhl and metal have come off as muddled, meandering morasses of aimless dissonance and irregular drumming.
Brazil’s Papangu, though, might be the best-realized example of zeuhl metal I’ve run across to date. Holoceno, their debut album, has been seven years in the making, and it tells the story of an environmental apocalypse–something Brazilians would understandably have on their minds.
I mostly find my music through searching tags like “progressive metal,” “krautrock,” or “zeuhl” on Bandcamp, and I’ve found that’s a pretty good way to stay abreast of new releases. Some bands, though, put only low-effort, insufficiently descriptive tags on their Bandcamp pages (if they have a Bandcamp presence, at all), so about once a month, I’ll browse through the charts on RateYourMusic and ProgArchives to see if I’ve missed anything which might fall under the purview of this site.
The tastes of RYM’s prog fans tend to skew in favor of the avant-garde and harsh, so when I saw that (as of writing), that site’s #1 record of 2021 so far was an avant-prog release from a band I’d never heard of, my curiosity was piqued. Avant-prog and brutal prog (a yocto-genre often featuring overbearing saxophone and aggressive, obtuse structures) are often hit-or-miss for me. Some of it is really daring and inventive, but a lot of it just strikes my ears as masturbatory weirdness and dissonance for the sake of weirdness and dissonance.
Cavalcade, the second full-length release from London-based band black midi, is an exciting, enthralling album that artfully blends the bizarre and bombastic with the restrained and melodic.
K’mono is a Minneapolis-based trio that are not shy about fully embracing the sounds of the early 1970s. Doing a wholehearted embrace of retro-prog can be a risky move. Most of the acts I’ve run across who take this route end up releasing records which are middling retreads of ideas done better half a century ago. There are certainly strong examples of unashamed retro-prog, though: Ring Van Möbius’s most recent album is fantastic; Chromatic Aberration’s debut (which I covered earlier this year) is a strong reimagining of Rush’s classic sound; and even my favorite punching bag Glass Hammer has a couple good records under their belt.
Return to the ‘E’ is K’mono’s debut record, and even without seeing this album’s tags or reading its description, it’s clear that they’re trying to evoke the imagery of famed album cover artist Roger Dean. A fantastical landscape of mushroom forests is the backdrop to some dark lord facing off against a trio of warriors, with the band’s logo written in a flowing, flourished style.
In the early ‘70s, progressive rock’s center of gravity was clearly in the UK, with the Italians having carved out their own distinct niche as well. In the ensuing decades, prog was largely dominated by Brits and Americans, but since the turn of the century, Scandinavia has become a leader in the genre, with acts like Opeth, Wobbler, and Beardfish.
Jordsjø, a Norwegian duo, follows in the path of their spiritual predecessors, Änglagård. Both acts draw heavily from acts like Yes and King Crimson, but distinctly Norse melodies are woven into anAnglo-prog-inspired backdrop. They’ve been consistently stellar over their career, and 2019’s Nattfiolen was one of my personal favorites from that year.
The lockdowns of the last year-and-a-half interrupted many musical acts’ touring and recording plans. But at the same time, the sudden forced sedentary setup offered many opportunities to write and record at home. Hanford Tape Sessions is one such of those recordings.
UK-based duo Hanford Flyover recorded all this music on a few portable cassette home recording devices. That technological limitation forced the band to keep things pared-back and straightforward, and the contrast to past releases’ lush sounds is obvious. The songs on this album are mostly short and to-the-point, but there are some interesting sonic experiments with satisfying structures.
I briefly covered Neptunian Maximalism’s (NNMM) last album, Éons, in an Odds & Ends last year. I said that I liked the idea of that album—an abrasive, sax-forward assault of drone, psychedelia, zeuhl, and more—more than its realization. I’m not a big fan of drone, but I sensed that NNMM could put forward something a bit more palatable to my tastes while still maintaining that genre’s aesthetic language.
Solar Drone Ceremony is the second full-length studio release from this Belgian ensemble, and it contains just one 52-minute track. It’s a creepy, occultic album wrapped in befittingly H.R. Giger-inspired artwork showing some sort of sexualized alien ritual.
Over the last few years, I’ve run across a number of bands which fuse the harsh aggression of black metal with more melodic influences and often-clean vocals. Acts like Howling Sycamore and Antisoph were my primary introduction to this style, and Stone Healer is a recent discovery who might be my favorite of the bunch, so far.
Not only do they meld the more extreme end of metal with something a bit more accessible, they often toss in post-metal, folk, and alt-rock touches. This results in a rich, varied record that also feels like one cohesive work.