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.
Band: Artificial Brain | Album:Artificial Brain | Genre: Technical death metal, progressive death metal | Bandcamp
I remember there being a lot of hype around this band’s last album–2017’s Infrared Horizon–but it just never quite clicked with me. Their new self-titled album, though, is great. The riffs are blistering, dizzying, and mind-bendingly dissonant. The songs are well-built and feature some wonderful hairpin turns. Amid the mucky morass of gurgling vocals and growling guitars, lead guitar lines are often surprisingly melodic.
Band: Bess of Bedlam | Album:Dance until the Crimes End | Genre: Psychedelic folk, Canterbury sound | Bandcamp
This album varies between idyllic folk with psychedelic tinges and some Canterbury-leaning prog-pop. There’s a lot of good music here, but unfortunately, there’s also a fair amount of unspectacular indie-folk-pop. The weak moments are never bad, per se–just dull. And it’s usually quickly counteracted with a good song. If you’re looking for something arty but light, this isn’t a bad option.
Band: Agusa | Album: En annan värld | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
This instrumental Swedish act does a great job of weaving themes and ideas together into a coherent, engaging whole. The first of these two epics draws noticeably from the rich jazziness of Camel, and there’s an engaging blues jam which hearkens back to Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother era output. The second song starts as a slow organ jam, again reminiscent of early Pink Floyd. Swedish folk motifs are woven in artfully, and the whole listen is quite satisfying.
Band: A Formal Horse | Album:Meat Mallet | Genre: Progressive rock, Avant-prog | Bandcamp
The sophomore album from this English act has plenty of strange musical passages and striking vocals. Progressive metal influences are obvious in the powerful, hard-hitting riffs. Many of these songs have a sense of impending doom to them, with their vague lyrics and aggressive atmospheres. Despite the many unorthodox riffs, strange word choices (look no further than the song “I’m a Lasagne”), and overall unpredictability, I don’t think this album would be off-putting for someone new to this style of music. The band clearly has a good ear for catchy hooks and surprising twists that keep the listener invested.
Band: Ars de Er | Album:Other Side | Genre: Progressive rock, Avant-prog | Bandcamp
Ars de Er’s last album leaned heavily into avant-prog and RIO, but Other Side is a little more grounded in “traditional” prog. There are especially strong echoes of Porcupine Tree’s heavier stuff, like Fear of a Blank Planet. This album still has plenty of influences from jazz and modern classical music, which makes the overall palette well-balanced and diverse.
This is a loud, unsubtle record. The mixture of metal, rock, and electronic elements are utilized to pummel the listener. It’s an intense listen, so in this case the album’s short runtime (only 29 minutes) is a virtue. A runtime of more than 30 minutes would have run the risk of becoming too exhausting. Beyond the intensity, the compositions are creative and full of great textural contrasts. The vocals are powerful and impassioned, and the array of synth tones are able to conjure a wide ray of moods and emotions.
I mostly find my music through searching tags like “progressive metal,” “krautrock,” or “zeuhl” on Bandcamp, and I’ve found that’s a pretty good way to stay abreast of new releases. Some bands, though, put only low-effort, insufficiently descriptive tags on their Bandcamp pages (if they have a Bandcamp presence, at all), so about once a month, I’ll browse through the charts on RateYourMusic and ProgArchives to see if I’ve missed anything which might fall under the purview of this site.
The tastes of RYM’s prog fans tend to skew in favor of the avant-garde and harsh, so when I saw that (as of writing), that site’s #1 record of 2021 so far was an avant-prog release from a band I’d never heard of, my curiosity was piqued. Avant-prog and brutal prog (a yocto-genre often featuring overbearing saxophone and aggressive, obtuse structures) are often hit-or-miss for me. Some of it is really daring and inventive, but a lot of it just strikes my ears as masturbatory weirdness and dissonance for the sake of weirdness and dissonance.
Cavalcade, the second full-length release from London-based band black midi, is an exciting, enthralling album that artfully blends the bizarre and bombastic with the restrained and melodic.
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”→
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”→