Band: Ahleuchatistas | Album:Expansion | Genre: Math rock, RIO | Bandcamp
Ahleuchatistas are something of an outlier when it comes to bands I like. I’m often not a fan of improv-heavy acts that sound like they’re constantly on the verge of falling apart, but this trio always manages to thread the needle of tight, complex riffs and wonky, off-kilter meters with loose improv. Expansion feels a bit more composed than some of their past work, and that pays dividends here. The riffs are weird and wild and wiry, and the songs have an odd, shambolic energy to them. This is a bizarre and rewarding album.
Band: Fren | Album:All the Pretty Days | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
Had I known Wiosnawas a single off an upcoming album and not an EP, I wouldn’t have reviewed it. But alas! All the Pretty Days is Fren’s second full-length album. Much like their debut, it’s melodic and dramatic instrumental prog. The songs are engaging and attention grabbing, and despite their length, there is very little bloat here. This reminds me of Änglagård’s best work while also being distinct. Hints of jazz pop in from certain piano lines, giving flashes of Magma’s lighter moments.
Jarrod Gosling (also known by the alias of Varrod Goblink) is back with another album under the Regal Worm moniker. Last year’s The Hideous Goblink was a wonderful piece of buzzy, progressive psychedelia with a clear sonic throughline.
On Worm!, Regal Worm’s fifth full-length release, the sound palette is a bit more diverse, but this pays dividends. While the songs don’t flow together seamlessly like on the last Worm release, there’s still a unique energy to Gosling’s music. The overall feel of Worm! Is lighter and more playful than its predecessor; there’s no 19-minute opus called “The Satan” on this one.
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.
Diagonal had a quick turnaround between this album and their previous release, 2019’s Arc. Compare that timeline to the five-year gap between their self-titled debut and their sophomore album, or to the seven-year hiatus following that. Needless to say, I’m glad they’re putting out music at a brisker pace than they have in the past
I’m also glad that 4 is an improvement over Arc. Arc wasn’t bad by any means, but good chunks of it felt unfocused or needlessly drawn-out. On this new release, the band sounds energized and full of new ideas, and that musical vigor shines through in the five compositions present here.
Band: Grorr | Album:Ddulden’s Last Flight | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive metal | Bandcamp
Grorr are clearly trying to conjure up vaguely “Eastern” aesthetics on this album. The band’s logo evokes Chinese seals, and the album art draws from Chinese and Japanese styles. This continues in the music, though the influences are muddled and slapdash. The opening track is mostly scene-setting, but it give the listener musical whiplash by swirling together the entire continent of Asia. It’s got throat singing (from Mongolia and southern Siberia), sitars and tablas (from the Indian subcontinent), and the melodies are stereotypically “Chinese.” (Instruments which sound like guzhengs and erhus can be heard later on the album.) Moving beyond this mish-mash, Ddulden’s Last Flight is an alright album. The metal is melodic, and there are some inventive riffs. I’m especially impressed with the textures and timbres deployed here. After a while, though, the Oriental instrumentation becomes distracting. I absolutely hated the sitar by album’s end. And that’s unfortunate because Grorr demonstrated that they’ve got a creative vision and that they’re capable of composing some strong cuts. Ultimately, this record’s overbearing and half-baked Asiatic flare is what does it in. I really wish they would have toned it down a bit, or at least shown a bit more geographic restraint.
Artist: Jean Pierre Louveton (JPL) | Album:Sapiens – chaptire 2/3: Deus ex Machina | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive metal, Jazz-fusion | Bandcamp
When I saw JPL is the leader of the band Nemo, I didn’t get my hopes up. Nemo is an alright act, but I classify them in the same group Spock’s Beard and other schlocky, overblown retro-prog acts. Thankfully, this album wound up being a pleasant surprise. Sapiens is a bit more metallic than Nemo’s usual fare, and while there’s plenty of pomp and show-off-y instrumental moments, it mostly avoids needless indulgence. Jazzy touches are present throughout, and the overall bloat is minimal.
Welcome to Part One of TheEliteExtremophile’s Top 50 Prog Albums of 2020, this site’s second-annual best-of list. It’s also my tenth year of writing year-end music roundups. The first eight were posted on my personal Facebook. Check out Part 2 here.
2020 was a banner year for progressive rock and progressive metal. There were so many fantastic albums released, and paring this list down to just 50 was often a painful process. Even more difficult was deciding on the exact order of these albums.
Like I said last year, I’m sure there are some excellent albums not included. This site is a one-man operation (in relation to reviewing, that is; my editors, Kelci and Dan, have been tremendously helpful), 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.
Back in the early days of progressive rock, Italy was second only to the UK in the scope and vibrancy of their prog scene. The Italians infused Anglo-originating prog with native folk and classical influences, they sang in their native language, and their use of uncommon scales and modes made them stand out. Not many of these bands found success beyond Italy’s borders, though, perhaps due to just how intensely Italian the music was.
Homunculus Res, then, have somewhat subverted prog tropes. Andiamo in giro di notte e ci consumiamo nel fuoco (We Go around at Night and Consume Ourselves in the Fire) is Homunculus Res’s fourth full-length release. This Sicilian quintet plays a variety of progressive rock strongly inspired by the Canterbury scene. The sound of the Canterbury scene was intensely English, and that’s why it was so surprising to find an Italian act in that vein.
Band: Catapulco | Album:Pulpo | Genre: Progressive rock, Hard rock | Bandcamp
Pulpo, the second album from German band Catapulco, opens with the 17-minute suite “Sina”. On both this song and the rest of the album, Catapulco clearly draw inspiration from early ‘70s hard rock acts, and the vocalist’s delivery has an almost Southern twang to it. Much of Pulpo sounds like Molly Hatchet trying to do prog rock. There are some neat ideas on this record, and overall I enjoyed it, but at points it is derivative enough to be distracting. The lyrics also are distractingly trite, but as these guys are non-native Anglophones, I’m more than happy to cut them some slack.
I avoided this record for the better part of a month because I confused this band’s name with that of Astronoid, a group I emphatically dislike. Once I realized this mix-up, I gave this a listen, and I was glad I did. The music is pummeling, sludgy, melodic, and exciting. I’m especially impressed with the vocal performance here. My one complaint is that this record feels a tad long. Even if they would have chopped off one song or maybe shaved 30 seconds off every song, I would have enjoyed this release more.
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”→