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.
Band: Caligonaut | Album:Magnified as Giants | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
This solo project from guitarist Ole Michael Bjørndal features members of Wobbler in supporting roles, most notably in backing vocals. The vocal arrangements, combined with the Mellotron-focused compositions, make this a very Wobbler-y album. This project is what I had hoped Dwellers of the Deep would have been. While no individual track rises to the same level as “Merry Macabre”, this is a far stronger overall release. The four songs sound well-planned and finely-honed. It’s hardly groundbreaking stuff, but it is consistent, enjoyable, and well-formed progressive rock in the classic Anglo-prog vein.
Band: Coevality | Album:Multiple Personalities | Genre: Progressive rock, Jazz fusion, Math rock | Bandcamp
All the individual songs on this record are strong in their own right. The musicianship is fun and flashy without being too indulgent, and the band draws from a nice tonal palette. However, when packaged into a full-length record, it just feels too long. After about 10 or 15 minutes I find myself losing interest. Perhaps someone more into jazz would enjoy this record more than I do.
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.
“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.
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.
Band: Cicada the Burrower | Album:Corpseflower | Genre: Black metal, Progressive metal | Bandcamp
Corpseflower is a record built around contrasts. One moment, the music is based around murky vocals and jazzy clean guitars, and the next it’s all harsh shrieks and icily distorted guitars. The instrumental work is deft, and the compositional choices are diverse and interesting. My only real complaint is that the two lengthy instrumental cuts feel too long. It’s not a fatal flaw by any means, but both could have been tightened up.
Band: Cosmic Void | Album:All Is Lost in Time | Genre: Black metal, Post-metal | Bandcamp
This 30-minute EP doesn’t stray too far outside the normal aesthetic bounds of somewhat-proggy post-black-metal, but it’s done quite well. The quiet moments are haunting with folky undertones, and the loud moments manage to be both icy and expansive. There are some rather inventive riffs and plenty of uncommon chords. I’m also impressed by the structuring of the four songs here. Though the tones and textures are typical of post-black-metal, the songs’ structures are more akin to classic prog acts with multiple distinct movements.
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.