Album Review: Ciccada – Harvest

Band: Ciccada | Album: Harvest | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive folk | Year: 2021

From: Athens, Greece | Label: Bad Elephant Music

For fans of: Gentle Giant, Gryphon, Renaissance, PFM

Bandcamp

“Retro-prog” does not necessarily need to be a negative term. It usually is, and I most often deploy it when describing unoriginal Yes and Genesis clones. But there are acts who manage to successfully evoke certain elements of the first wave of progressive rock without being derivative. The most enjoyable of these draw from oft-overlooked corners, such as the Italian scene and progressive folk acts like Comus and Gryphon.

Harvest is the third record from Greek septet Ciccada, and it is easily my favorite of theirs so far. All the prog tropes are here—long and obtuse song structures, retro-futuristic synth tones, and top-notch musicianship—but they’re blended with under-utilized and unexpected influences. The eclectic inclusions range from jazz to Greek folk to the Canterbury scene to Baroque music, and beyond.

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Album Review: Bobby Shock – Street Angels

Artist: Bobby Shock | Album: Street Angels | Genre: Progressive rock | Year: 2021

From: New Jersey, USA | Label: Independent

For fans of: Chris Squire, Patrick Moraz, The Alan Parsons Project

Bandcamp

Bobby Shock is a New Jersey-based composer and multi-instrumentalist, whose last album—The Unforeseen—was a pleasant surprise for me last year. It was lush, diverse, and bass-forward. The compositions were unquestionably smart and progressive, but the music was still accessible.

Shock’s latest release continues with that general trend. The obvious focal point of this album is its 20-minute title track, but the other four songs are no less enjoyable.

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Album Review: Æthĕrĭa Conscĭentĭa – Corrupted Pillars of Vanity

Band: Æthĕrĭa Conscĭentĭa | Album: Corrupted Pillars of Vanity | Genre: Black metal, Progressive metal | Year: 2021

From: Nantes, France | Label: Independent

For fans of: Ihsahn, Enslaved, Panopticon, Van der Graaf Generator

Bandcamp

Progressive rock and progressive metal are notorious for high-minded concept albums which feature dense, intricate worldbuilding full of invented names and esoteric jargon. Ranging from the complex, Kobaïan mythos of Magma to Dream Theater’s multiple over-the-top multithreaded stories, you often don’t need to range too far afield to find a record which sounds like it started off life as an idea for a sci-fi novel.

Æthĕrĭa Conscĭentĭa is a French quartet which uses saxophone-infused progressive black metal to tell their tales of astral mysticism. Their 2018 debut, Tales from Hydhradh, is a powerful record which marries jazz, prog, and metal elements beautifully. Their 2021 follow-up, Corrupted Pillars of Vanity, takes that strong base and improves on it.

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Album Review: Genghis Tron – Dream Weapon

Band: Genghis Tron | Album: Dream Weapon | Genre: Progressive metal, Cybergrind | Year: 2021

From: Poughkeepsie, USA | Label: Relapse

For fans of: Cynic, Gorguts, Justice, the more electronic side of krautrock

Bandcamp

Part of the reason these reviews have been less frequent as of late is that I’m simply having a harder-than-usual time finding new music which really speaks to me. Unless it’s a fairly big-name act, I don’t have much motivation to write 400-800 words on a record where the score will be in the 50s. Thankfully, Dream Weapon came along and snapped me out of that funk.

I’d never heard of Genghis Tron before this album, and I can see why that might have been. They were initially active in the mid-2000s before taking a 13-year hiatus. I’d also never heard of the cybergrind genre, but it’s a fitting name. It takes the aggression and energy of genres like mathcore and grindcore and pumps it through synthesizers galore. (Interesting sidenote: “mathcore” is considered a real word by MS Word, but “grindcore” is not.)

What this record almost reminds me of is Justice’s debut album. Where is an electronic album with a significant hard rock/heavy metal substrate, Dream Weapon feels like it’s coming from the other direction. It’s definitely a metal album, but electronic music thoroughly imbues its DNA.

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Album Review: Meer – Playing House

Band: Meer | Album:  Playing House | Genre: Progressive rock, Art pop | Year: 2021

From: Hamar, Norway | Label: Karisma Records

For fans of: Bent Knee, Phideaux, iamthemorning

Bandcamp

Over the last two decades, Scandinavia has become one of the most prolific producers of prog in the world. Big-name acts (by prog standards) like Wobbler, Opeth, and Beardfish have made huge waves in the scene. Meer, a Norwegian octet, continues in this trend, blending complex compositions and arrangements with accessible, catchy pop tendencies (another Scandinavian tradition, which I’m considerably less fond of).

The eleven songs on Meer’s sophomore album, Playing House, show intense structural ambition. The music is densely layered, and the band utilizes dynamics to great effect.

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Album Review: Toboggan – Première Descente

Band: Toboggan | Album: Première Descente | Genre: Zeuhl, Progressive rock, Jazz fusion | Year: 2021

From: Clermont Ferrand, France | Label: Independent

For fans of: PoiL, Dai Kaht, Al di Meola, Primus

Bandcamp

I covered Toboggan’s debut EP back in 2019, and I really liked what I heard. It was jazzy, funky, and high-energy instrumental zeuhl. Toboggan’s guitar/keyboard player, Etienne Mazoyer, is in another zeuhl band, ZWOYLD, which draws more heavily from traditional prog and psych tones. There’s a lot of shared DNA between these acts, so if you like what you hear here, I strongly recommend checking out ZWOYLD. (Especially their 2016 album, ZGOND.)

The cover art of Première Descente suits the music quite well. The twisting, spiral slide gives a sense of the wild, swerving nature of the songs. Structurally, the individual tracks follow a long-short pattern, with long cuts running 9-14 minutes, followed by sub-two-minute breathers.

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Album Review: Steven Wilson – The Future Bites

Artist: Steven Wilson | Album: The Future Bites | Genre: Art pop, Synthpop, Soft rock | Year: 2021

From: Hertfordshire, UK | Label: Caroline International

For fans of: Steven Wilson’s other recent solo work – beyond that, I’m not sure; this is outside my normal wheelhouse

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Steven Wilson, likely the biggest individual name in the current world of prog, returns with his sixth solo album. After making a name for himself with his longtime prog metal/rock band, Porcupine Tree, he struck out on a solo career (which I’ve documented here) that has tacked increasingly poppy over his last few releases.

Wilson had commented that he currently does not feel inspired when playing guitar, and his continued gravitation toward synthesizers is evident on The Future Bites. I have to give him kudos for following his musical heart and not kowtowing to prog traditionalists demanding another Deadwing or Hand. Cannot. Erase. I really respect him for broadening his horizons and playing what he wants to play. I wish more artists had that sort of integrity and adventurous spirit.

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Album Review: Chromatic Aberration – The Trial of the King

Band: Chromatic Aberration | Album: The Trial of the King | Genre: Progressive rock | Year: 2021

From: Cleveland, USA | Label: Independent

For fans of: Genesis, Yes, Rush

Bandcamp

Happy 2021, folks! I took a couple weeks off, but now I’m back to my usual (mostly) weekly posts. I’ve got a queue of EPs and other releases for an upcoming Odds & Ends. I’m also nearing completion on my next Deep Dive, so expect that in early spring. I haven’t posted a full-length review in over two months, though! So, I’m shaking off the rust and highlighting a fantastic two-piece out of Cleveland.

There’s not much about this band online. They’ve got no presence on Facebook or Twitter or anything beyond their Bandcamp page that I can find. That’s a shame, because The Trial of the King is a great way to start off the year. This record feels like an alternate universe where Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee were members of Yes. The overall sound palette is rich and full of retro synths, but the guitars are usually angular. The bass has a satisfying, snapping bite to it more akin to Geddy’s tone than Chris Squire’s usual overdrive.

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