Album Review: Tanagra – Meridiem

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Band: Tanagra | Album: Meridiem | Genre: Progressive Metal, Power Metal | Year: 2019

From: Portland, (Oregon,) USA | Label: Independent

For Fans of: Symphony X, Dream Theater

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music

I often cite the vague concept of “cheesiness” as a fault in a lot of modern progressive rock and metal. Much like actual cheese, I enjoy it in limited amounts, but if I down a wheel of brie or a block of Cheddar, I’ll probably feel at least a little sick. Certain subgenres abuse this more than others, and power metal is one of the most cheese-forward styles out there.

The Oregonian quintet Tanagra whole-heartedly embraces cheesiness on Tanagra, their second full-length release. The earnestness with which the music is played is a huge plus for the band: had they been more self-aware, tongue-in-cheek, or even a little shier about the grandiosity, I don’t think this album would have worked as well as it does. Even the album art features a loving embrace of power and progressive metal’s tropes: amid a sci-fi landscape, the band’s logo is in a faux-Devanagari script, while the album title looks Tolkienian. (Had I not enjoyed this album, I probably would have decried this as lazy hackery; my feelings about an album’s artwork and the music itself often feed off of each other.) Continue reading “Album Review: Tanagra – Meridiem”

Album Review: Dizzy Mystics – Wanderlost

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Band: Dizzy Mystics | Album: Wanderlost | Genre: Progressive rock | Year:  2019

From: Winnipeg, Canada | Label: Independent

For fans of: Tool, RX Bandits, Children of Nova

Buy: BandcampAmazonApple Music

“Dizzy” is an apt adjective for this Manitoban quartet. The music here is packed to the brim with tight, technical riffs played at a breakneck pace. But this isn’t some math rock-style exercise in sheer complexity, nor is it some John Petrucci-style masturbation session. Dizzy Mystics are shockingly melodic in their compositions. Wanderlost is definitively not a metal album, but the closest analog is Tool. The melodies seem rooted in a similar strain of ‘90s alt-rock and are run through a similar artistic lens, albeit one with less distortion.

Folk influences are pervasive. Mandolin and acoustic guitar are often given prominence, and the technical skill combined with the tempo can give some echoes of bluegrass at times. There’s even the occasional flash of 1980s-Rush-style-vaguest-hint-of-reggae touches. Continue reading “Album Review: Dizzy Mystics – Wanderlost”

Album Review: PoiL – Sus

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Band: PoiL | Album: Sus | Genre: Progressive rock, Zeuhl, RIO | Year: 2019

From: Lyon, France | Label: Dur et Doux

For fans of: Magma, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Ni, Frank Zappa

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music

I’ve written before of France’s unique place in the world of progressive rock. Of the countries with distinct national sounds, theirs has always been the most unashamedly weird, fusing progressive rock with jazz and avant-garde music. Zeuhl was an almost-exclusively-French genre for the first twenty or so years of its existence, and two of the five founders of the Rock in Opposition (RIO) scene were Francophone. (Univers Zero were from the French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium.) PoiL, the experimental Lyonnais trio, are one of the most prominent contemporary bands carrying on this tradition.

Last year, PoiL fused with the band Ni to become three-sevenths of the supergroup PinioL. Ni’s particular brand of experimental rock music has frequently bordered on metal, and on Sus, it sounds as if some of that may have rubbed off on the guys in PoiL. PoiL lacks a guitar player, but that doesn’t stop the band from laying down their heaviest music to date. The bass on this album crunches and snarls; the electric piano pounds out weird, dissonant chords; and the drumming is downright virtuosic. Continue reading “Album Review: PoiL – Sus”

Album Review: Babel Trio – The Island of Cretal

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Band: Babel Trio | Album: The Island of Cretal | Genre: Progressive rock, Stoner metal, Greek folk | Year: 2018

From: Crete, Greece | Label: Labyrinth of Thoughts Records

For fans: Elder, Baroness, Numidia, Anatolian rock

Buy: BandcampAmazonApple Music

Greece punches above its weight in regard to its metal scene. It’s no Finland or Norway, but for a rather small, sunny, non-Scandinavian country, its metal output is prolific and influential. Most of this tends to be in the form of black metal, with the scene-at-large’s sound being dubbed Hellenic Black Metal. Babel Trio produce music which, to my ears at least, sounds a bit more geographically-appropriate than black metal, which often is associated with cold, grim, wintry imagery.

Babel Trio is a Cretan band who play a brand of proggy, fuzzy, and distinctly-Greek metal. The Aegean is not necessarily a new location for heavy psychedelia to be fused with local folk traditions. Turkey’s been doing it since the 1970s. But where Turkey’s Anatolian rock is a celebrated niche genre, Greece’s folk traditions have remained largely absent from the world of rock music. Babel Trio aim to counteract that by infusing fuzzed-out metal with Cretan traditions and progressive ambition. The overall timbre of The Island of Cretal is evocative of many stoner metal bands from the US, but the melodies are unmistakably Grecian. Folk tunes are reinterpreted as complex, rolling riffs that help the band stand out. Continue reading “Album Review: Babel Trio – The Island of Cretal”

Album Review: Inter Arma – Sulphur English

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Band: Inter Arma | Album: Sulphur English | Genre: Progressive metal, Sludge metal, Black metal | Year: 2019

From: Richmond, USA | Label: Relapse Records

For fans of: early Mastodon, Agalloch, Giant Squid

Buy: BandcampAmazonApple Music

Inter Arma is among the most-talked-about bands in the realm of modern progressive metal (at least online). It’s not hard to see why. The band’s last few releases have been stellar, and their most recent album, 2016’s Paradise Gallows, was especially impressive in its scope and ambition. They’ve managed to effectively blend the pounding heaviness of doom and sludge metal with the speed and sharpness of black metal. I try not to set my hopes too high for high-profile releases like this, lest I be disappointed with a pretty good album.

Sulphur English continues a trend that was begun on Paradise Gallows. Their 2016 release was the first of theirs to feature clean vocals, and acoustic guitar was even given prominent placement at moments. Clean vocals are even more widespread on Sulphur English, and acoustic guitars continue to be given a large role in an increasing number of songs, offering a sharp contrast against the thundering, growling sludge riffs. Continue reading “Album Review: Inter Arma – Sulphur English”

Odds and Ends – May 6, 2019

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Odds and Ends is a segment where I do brief reviews of albums I either didn’t prioritize for longer-form reviews, or ones for which I don’t have that much to say.

boltBand: Boltzmann Brain | Album: Spacesquid Brain | Genre: Krautrock, Noise rock | Bandcamp

I wanted to like this album a lot more than I did, largely because of its super-cool album art. However, the dissonance is simply too much for me on this release, and the songs often feel unfocused and meandering. If the band were to tone down some of the more shrieking noises, this would be enjoyable, jammy krautrock. I’m sure the dissonance is intentional, but it more often than not comes off as amateurish, rather than daring and deliberate.

Score: 51/100

yoreBand: Branch of Yore | Album: Kingdom of the First Time | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp

This is a nice, gentle album. Lush synths are the primary instrument on this release, and the vocals are sung delicately and treated with ample reverb. That approach gives this whole release a floating feeling. While I wouldn’t call this album particularly jazzy, many of the keyboard tones are reminiscent of jazz acts. By the end of the album, it does begin to sound a bit same-y, but it’s a nice release overall.

Score: 75/100 Continue reading “Odds and Ends – May 6, 2019”

Lesser-Known Gem: Zerfas – Zerfas

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Band: Zerfas | Album: Zerfas | Genre: Psychedelic rock, Progressive rock, Folk rock | Year: 1973

From: Indianapolis, USA | Label: 700 West

For fans of: The Beatles post-1967, Yes, Yezda Urfa, The Grateful Dead

Zerfas are one of those bands that there isn’t much information about beyond their music. I’ve ascertained they were formed in Indianapolis in the late 1960s by brothers Dave (drums, vocals) and Herman Zerfas (keys, vocals), and they persisted under a series of names until the early 1980s. They released one album, Zerfas, in 1973.

Zerfas, however brief their career, showed a lot of potential to fill several niches in the realm of progressive rock. Prog is a genre notorious for taking itself too seriously, with the music being played with near-surgical precision. A lot of the music on Zerfas, while structured and arranged in uncommon ways, has a loose, fun atmosphere to it. The timbre is frequently warm and sunny, thanks in large part to the vocals. Imagine if The Beatles (c. 1968) had tried to record a progressive rock album, and you’ll get a decent idea of what’s here. Continue reading “Lesser-Known Gem: Zerfas – Zerfas”