Band: Kayo Dot | Album: Blasphemy | Genre: Experimental rock, Gothic rock | Year: 2019
From: Brooklyn, USA | Label: Prophecy Productions
For fans of: maudlin of the Well, Leprous, Type O Negative
Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music
Kayo Dot have long been one of the more amorphous acts in the progressive rock and metal scene. There’s often a great deal of variation between their individual albums, with their last couple releases being relatively soft and synth-heavy. Compare that to their vaunted debut, Choirs of the Eye, where the band started off as an avant-garde metal act. Of late, though, they’ve been incorporating more and more influences from the 1980s, particularly post-punk and gothic rock.
This fusion continues on Blasphemy, the band’s ninth studio album. This release also sees Kayo Dot reviving a bit of their metal roots. I would not call this a metal album, but it’s their most aggressive record in a while. Those heavier tones complement the coldness of the goth influences, and bandleader Toby Driver has managed to write another distinct album. Continue reading “Album Review: Kayo Dot – Blasphemy”
Band: Diagonal | Album: Arc | Genre: Progressive rock | Year: 2019
From: Brighton, UK | Label: Cobblers Records
For fans of: Gong, Pink Floyd, Gentle Giant, The Soft Machine
Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon
Diagonal’s 2008 self-titled debut is one of the strongest progressive rock records of the ‘00s. And the ‘00s were the best decade for progressive rock since the ‘70s, so that’s saying something. It was an enthralling blend of folk, prog, jazz, and Canterbury sounds presented with a fresh and modern energy. Their 2012 follow-up saw the band going almost fully instrumental after a personnel shake-up, much to their detriment. Alex Crispin’s vocals were one of my favorite elements of their debut, being far more soulful than most other vocalists in the genre.
I wasn’t even aware Diagonal were still together—it had been seven years since their last album. So, it was a pleasant surprise when I learned about their forthcoming third album, Arc. I was even happier when I listened to the first pre-release song and found they’d decided to reintroduce vocals to their music. The jazz influences on Arc loom large, in both the rhythms and the textures. The drumming is deft and often light, while organ and electric piano tend to be the lead instruments. Continue reading “Album Review: Diagonal – Arc”
Band: Chaos Over Cosmos | Album: The Unknown Voyage | Genre: Progressive metal | Bandcamp
Chaos Over Cosmos’s debut album draws heavily from acts like Fates Warning and Symphony X. The music is fleshed out with lush synths. There’s no shortage of power metal cheese, both vocally and instrumentally. The songs themselves tend to be pretty long, but they do a good job of keeping the momentum up and not overstaying their welcome.
Artist: Richard Henshall | Album: The Cocoon | Genre: Progressive metal, Progressive rock | Bandcamp
The latest album from Haken’s guitarist/keyboardist is exactly what you’d expect. There are tons of speedy, intricate riffs, and smart contrasts of metallic heaviness with moments of jazzy and poppy levity. The soloing is restrained, avoiding the common pitfall of virtuosic masturbation that you often find in this corner of prog. My one real complaint here is that Henshal’s vocals are pretty weak. His chops as a guitarist are solid, but his voice is often weak or strained.
Score: 80/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – September 23, 2019”
Band: Tool | Album: Fear Inoculum | Genre: Progressive metal, Alternative metal | Year: 2019
From: Los Angeles, USA | Label: Volcano
For a band with the stature that Tool has, writing my usual two-paragraph intro feels almost superfluous. They’re one of the most popular progressive metal bands of all time; their first four studio albums all went platinum multiple times over and are critically revered. They mixed the darker sound of early ‘90s alt-rock with progressive ambition and mind-bending psychedelia to forge a unique sound that resonated with a huge swathe of the population, myself included.
It shouldn’t be a secret that I love all of Tool’s previous output, with their 2001 album, Lateralus, being among my all-time personal favorites. The long-running delays and recording difficulties since their last release had become a punchline among fans, with Tool’s as-yet-unreleased fifth album being considered as imminent as Half-Life 3 or The Winds of Winter. But Fear Inoculum has finally arrived, 13 years after their previous release, 2006’s 10,000 Days. Most reviews I’ve seen, as well as general online discourse I’ve observed, has tended toward rapturous praise. I’m not among those. Continue reading “Album Review: Tool – Fear Inoculum”
Artist: Jens Carelius | Album: Opsi | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive folk | Year: 2019
From: Oslo, Norway | Label: Jansen Records
For fans of: Beardfish, The Strawbs, Gryphon, Peter Gabriel
Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music
Entomology isn’t entirely new ground for progressive rock. The 2015 album Hivemind from the band Plank is about bugs. And while perhaps not the exact same branch of science, the band Slugdge have built their whole career around mollusks, including slugs and snails, which are colloquially grouped together with insects. Opsi, however, focuses on a specific entomologist, which is more distinct.
Based on his great-great-grandfather’s diaries from his time studying butterflies in Siberia, folk musician Jens Carelius pairs his unique style of finger-picking and strumming with rich synthesizers to create evocative soundscapes. Opsi is far more daring in its song structures and textures than Carelius’s previous releases. Elements of his smart folk-pop still manage to shine through, making this album both complex and surprisingly accessible. Continue reading “Album Review: Jens Carelius – Opsi”
Artist: Louis de Mieulle | Album: Side$how | Genre: Progressive rock, Jazz fusion | Year: 2019
From: New York, USA | Label: Dalang Records
For fans of: Return to Forever, Magma, Brainticket, Probably a lot of those jazzy instrumental metal acts I don’t like
Buy: Bandcamp | Apple Music
I’ve been pretty open in my general hesitance toward instrumental albums. I’m not the kind of person to pay attention to lyrics, but the human voice adds so much character to music, which can be quite difficult to make up for with just instruments. I don’t believe I’ve discussed it in any great detail on this site—though I’ve made a few comments about it on Reddit—but I am also not a fan of the current zeitgeist of jazzy, instrumental rock and metal epitomized by acts like Intervals, Plini, and Sithu Aye. So much of it just sounds like aimless, speedy noodling. Thank God this album avoids those pitfalls magnificently.
French-born bassist and composer Louis de Mieulle’s newest album, Side$how, is a constantly-engaging blend of ambitious instrumental progressive rock with many trappings of jazz. Touches of electronic genres and krautrock crop up throughout this release’s 41-minute runtime. Consisting of eight songs, titled “Bed of Nails, Part 1-8”, the music was mostly improvised and recorded live by de Mieulle, a pair of keyboardists, and a drummer. Continue reading “Album Review: Louis de Mieulle – Side$how”
Band: Merlin | Album: The Mortal | Genre: Heavy Psych, Stoner metal | Year: 2019
From: Kansas City, (MO,) USA | Label: The Company
For fans of: Elder, Hawkwind, Pink Floyd
Buy: Bandcamp | Big Cartel | Apple Music
Merlin are one of the better examples of progressive stoner metal, and their last few albums have shown a clear musical evolution from dank groovemasters to artistically ambitious dank groovemasters. The saxophone which first appeared on 2018’s The Wizard now is more fully integrated, and with it, an injection of jazz influence. Blues elements are certainly present as well, but they don’t overpower, and many of the sludgy riffs are played with impressive restraint.
The Mortal appears to be something of a follow-up to The Wizard. Beyond their shared use of saxophone and similar titles, both close with an eponymous suite, and both those suites share musical and lyrical themes of magic. Continue reading “Album Review: Merlin – The Mortal”