Last year, black midi made a fairly big shift in their sound. They moved away from the post-punk sounds of their debut and instead dove headlong into progressive and avant-garde rock. Cavalcadeis a fantastic record that brims with anxious energy, and Hellfire feels like a natural evolution.
The music on this record is powerful and befits its title perfectly. The band has described their new album as an “action film,” and the songs here are exhilarating enough to match that description. The lyrics are action-packed as well, often presented as hellish or dystopian narratives. Tight riffs full of jazz and math-rock touches permeate this album alongside odder inclusions, like country and showtunes.
An Isolated Mind is a one-man project based out of San Francisco. This act plays a chilling, lonely-sounding variety of experimental rock and metal. At one moment, the music may be a screaming wall of Arctic-cold guitars; and the next, it may be a gentle acoustic passage with alluringly warm keys and woodwinds.
I covered their debut album, I’m Losing Myself, in 2019, and I quite liked it. I was not the biggest fan of the pair of long drone experiments at the end of that record, but the preceding music was strong enough that I still put it on my year-end best-of list. A Place We Cannot Go is in the same musical vein, but there are obvious distinctions. This new release is less metallic, more contemplative, and better-focused.
France has long embraced a distinct weirdness and experimentalism in their rock music. Magma are probably the most germane example for this site, though there was a whole microcosm of uniquely French prog acts in the ‘70s, such as Ange, Memoriance, and Mona Lisa. This spirit can be seen today in numerous extreme metal acts, like the bizarre symphonics of Öxxö Xööx or blackgaze pioneers Alcest.
Creature, the one-man project of Raphaël Fournier, has put out a striking, bold release that continues in this tradition of adventurous Francophone rock and metal. (It’s also another strong release from Italy-based experimental metal label I, Voidhanger; I strongly recommend checking out their catalogue.) The music is dense and replete with synthesized vocals and engaging rhythms. Fournier is also quite verbose, demonstrating downright Springsteenian levels of wordiness. So, if you speak French, there’s likely a lot for you to analyze here.
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 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.
Welcome to the first installment of my 2020 best-of lists, TheEliteExtremophile’s Top 5 Prog EPs of 2020. Expect the two-part Top 50 Prog Albums list next week.
Prog is a pretty long-winded genre, so the number of EPs I listened to was low, somewhere in the 12-15 range. However, there were some absolutely killer releases, and trimming this list down to 5 was tough.
As I stated last year, I’m sure there are some excellent releases not included. This site is my personal pet project, and I simply cannot listen to everything that gets released. I also have my personal biases against some rather popular trends in prog, which affected the composition of this list. But if you’ve got recommendations, do not hesitate to shoot them my way, either through this site, email, or my Facebook page.
Band: Abstracción | Album:Abstracción | Genre: Progressive rock, Psychedelic rock | Bandcamp
The debut EP from this Spanish septet draws heavily from the sound of Jethro Tull’s early material, and the liberal inclusion of sitar adds a late-‘60s psychedelic folk feel to the mix. Swirling Hammond organ and echoing electric guitar lines keep the atmosphere lush, while vocalist Catalina Requena’s willowy delivery occasionally bleeds into the instrumental elements. Each song is distinct, but the tonal continuity between the pieces keeps this recording cohesive and coherent.
Band: Ars de Er | Album:La Métamorphose | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
I’ve run across more Belarusian prog bands while writing for this site than I ever anticipated. The latest of these is the one-man act Ars de Er, which incorporates hefty doses of classical and jazz. Strange harmonizations predominate on La Métamorphose, drawing comparisons to the original big names of avant-prog and RIO. Heavy, metallic guitar lines underpin moments of furious soloing and chaotic rhythms. The atmosphere on this record is oppressive. The strange, diminished chords and haunting keyboard textures make for an anxious, claustrophobic feel.
Band: Chaos Over Cosmos | Album:The Ultimate Multiverse | Genre: Progressive metal | Bandcamp
This album is packed to the brim with tight, technical riffage and lush synth pads. Chaos Over Cosmos draw heavily from melodic death metal and classic prog metal, and they blend it into something exciting and complex. It’s perhaps not the most inventive or original bit of prog metal you’ll hear this year, but it’s engaging, fun, and shockingly accessible for a genre like death metal.
Band: Inter Arma | Album:Garber Days Revisited | Genre: Sludge metal, Progressive metal | Bandcamp
This is Inter Arma’s covers album. There are some interesting experiments on here. It opens with a Ministry cover; I’m not familiar with the original, but the feeling is both pummeling and atmospheric. Their cover of Neil Young’s “Southern Man” is an absolute gem. The blackened sludge fury lends itself to this track so naturally. This middle of this album sags a bit for me, as I’m not a fan of any of the originals, though hearing Inter Arma’s takes is interesting. They cover “Runnin’ Down a Dream”, and that’s just disorienting. Tom Petty was not sludgy in the least, and these guys play this song pretty clean. The non-shrieked vocals were almost distracting. It’s a serviceable cover, but it doesn’t do anything noteworthy. The album ends on a cover of “Purple Rain”. It closes strong, but the vocals in the first half feel strained, and that sort of instrumental gentleness doesn’t suit these guys too well.
JG Thirlwell is an Australian-born, Brooklyn-based multi-instrumentalist best known as the man behind the industrial act Foetus. He also acts the composer for the TV shows Archer and The Venture Bros, the latter of which is one of my absolute favorite shows. (It also made progressive rock a central plot element in one episode.) Simon Steensland is a Swedish multi-instrumentalist and composer with a long history in modern avant-garde rock music.
In addition to avant-garde and progressive rock influences, this duo makes extensive use of orchestral music. Much of this album sounds like it could have been the score for a creepy arthouse film. Atonal strings and minor key woodwinds dominate on this record, filling up most of the space not occupied by traditional rock instrumentation. Continue reading “Album Review: JG Thirlwell & Simon Steensland – Oscillospira”→
Normally, I try to cover albums released within the last year or so on this site. I do make exceptions, with my occasional entries in my Deep Dive and Lesser-Known Gem series. This particular album, however, falls into something of an odd spot. Released in mid-2014, Muzykal’nye Vibratsii isn’t quite old enough for my completely arbitrary cut-off date of 20 years for Lesser-Known Gems. But it is certainly lesser-known, and it’s definitely a gem.
Looking at this album cover and listening to the music on this record, it’d be understandable if you mistook this for some underground, avant-garde release from somewhere between 1978 and 1985. But that is an aesthetic multi-instrumentalist Konstantin Zed purposely cultivated on his debut album. The Bandcamp page for this album describes it as art-punk, which, despite few punky moments, is oddly fitting. It draws heavily from the artsier side of post-punk and new wave.