Odds & Ends: September 6, 2021

Band: Antinode | Album:The Canary the Named the Stars | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp

The three songs on this long EP/short LP are solid, spacey progressive rock with subtle touches of jazz, metal, and indie rock. I’m a big fan of the instrumental tones and textures, and despite the songs’ lengths, they never feel like they’re dragging. There’s significant internal variation on all three tracks, and there’s a natural flow to the way the compositions evolve.

Score: 81/100

Band: Big Big Train | Album: Common Ground | Genre: Neo-prog, Progressive rock | Bandcamp

I have never understood the appeal of Big Big Train. They’ve got the occasional decent song here or there, but I’ve never enjoyed an entire BBT album. They often come off as saccharine and glossy, like a worse version of Spock’s Beard. Maybe I’m too much of a dour Debbie Downer to enjoy such unashamedly major-key music, but the opening “The Strangest Times” exemplifies my lack of fondness for this act. It’s bright, sunny piano-pop that doesn’t strike me as particularly proggy in any definition of the word. Successive tracks are significantly better, though it’s still not exactly my cup of tea. Much of this album comes off as soulless and plain, to say nothing of the bloat. The band sounds stuck in the mid-’90s’ prog scene, a sound which was fine for its time but was rightfully cast aside at the turn of the century. The lushness hobbles the band’s ability to make any real splash, and everything on here has been done much better previously by other artists, often half a century ago.

Score: 51/100

Continue reading “Odds & Ends: September 6, 2021”

Album Review: Genghis Tron – Dream Weapon

Band: Genghis Tron | Album: Dream Weapon | Genre: Progressive metal, Cybergrind | Year: 2021

From: Poughkeepsie, USA | Label: Relapse

For fans of: Cynic, Gorguts, Justice, the more electronic side of krautrock

Bandcamp

Part of the reason these reviews have been less frequent as of late is that I’m simply having a harder-than-usual time finding new music which really speaks to me. Unless it’s a fairly big-name act, I don’t have much motivation to write 400-800 words on a record where the score will be in the 50s. Thankfully, Dream Weapon came along and snapped me out of that funk.

I’d never heard of Genghis Tron before this album, and I can see why that might have been. They were initially active in the mid-2000s before taking a 13-year hiatus. I’d also never heard of the cybergrind genre, but it’s a fitting name. It takes the aggression and energy of genres like mathcore and grindcore and pumps it through synthesizers galore. (Interesting sidenote: “mathcore” is considered a real word by MS Word, but “grindcore” is not.)

What this record almost reminds me of is Justice’s debut album. Where is an electronic album with a significant hard rock/heavy metal substrate, Dream Weapon feels like it’s coming from the other direction. It’s definitely a metal album, but electronic music thoroughly imbues its DNA.

Continue reading “Album Review: Genghis Tron – Dream Weapon”

Odds & Ends – November 16, 2020

Band: Arcade Messiah | Album: The Host | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive metal | Bandcamp

Arcade Messiah is a one-man project out of Ireland that mixes progressive rock and metal with earworm melodies and intriguing electronic touches. Hints of post-rock and stoner metal permeate this album, and each song works wonderfully with the next. This release reminds me a lot of ADHD-era Riverside with its strong hooks, varied textural palette, and adventurous spirit. The Host artfully threads the needle in a way that many acts are unable to. This album strikes a balance of metallic bombast and smooth melodicism.

Score: 89/100

Band: Babel Trio | Album: The Martyr | Genre: Stoner metal, Progressive metal, Greek folk | Bandcamp

I’ve previously discussed this Cretan trio, and I found their blend of Greek folk melodies, progressive songwriting, and sunbaked fuzz truly refreshing. In lieu of guitar, the lead instrument in this band is a modified electric lute, which imbues the songs with a unique timbral quality. The Martyr took a bit longer for me to get into than their previous album, but it gradually grew on me over several listens. This distinctly Hellenic stoner metal kept drawing me back in with its uncommon melodies and well-structured compositions. Compositions range from charging to plodding, and that diversity of atmosphere serves this record well.

Score: 80/100

Continue reading “Odds & Ends – November 16, 2020”

Album Review: Thy Catafalque – Naiv

Band: Thy Catafalque | Album: Naiv | Genre: Avant-garde metal, Hungarian folk | Year: 2020

From: Makó, Hungary | Label: Season of Mist

For fans of: Kekal, Agalloch, Botanist

Bandcamp

I found this album in a record store and was struck immediately by the cover art. After quickly consulting the Internet to make sure this wasn’t going to be something I’d hate, I decided to gamble and bought it without first listening to it. And boy, am I glad that I did.

Thy Catafalque is a one-man project based out of Hungary, and Naiv is this act’s ninth full-length album. By the way, this is a catafalque; I’d never heard that word and needed to look it up. On it, sole full-time bandmember Tamás Kátai blends black metal, electronic elements, and Hungarian folk music into something distinctive.

Continue reading “Album Review: Thy Catafalque – Naiv”

Album Review: Kekal – Quantum Resolution

Band: Kekal | Album: Quantum Resolution | Genre: Progressive metal, Avant-garde metal | Year: 2020

From: Jakarta, Indonesia | Label: Independent (digital), Eastbreath Records (CD)

For fans of: Krallice, Atheist, Kayo Dot

Bandcamp

I’ve been a fan of Kekal since about 2008 or so. I don’t recall where or how I ran across them, but they were promoting themselves by offering free downloads of four of their albums. (That offer still stands on their site, by the way.) Three of those albums are varying degrees of good, with 1000 Thoughts of Violence perhaps being my favorite of their releases. On the other hand, Audible Minority is simply bad. And it’s that inconsistent track record that always makes me a little apprehensive when Kekal release new material. I absolutely loved their 2018 album, Deeper Underground, but the album which preceded that—2015’s Multilateral—was inconsistent and muddled.

When I first heard Quantum Resolution, I was a little nervous, as it just wasn’t quite clicking with me. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but this did not feel like one of Kekal’s better efforts. After giving the record a few spins, though, it has grown on me substantially. I’m used to certain artists’ releases growing or wearing on me. That’s bog-standard for me with Inter Arma, Steven Wilson, and Enslaved; but I usually know how I feel about Kekal after the first listen. That’s why I’m glad I decided to give this album another chance.

Continue reading “Album Review: Kekal – Quantum Resolution”

Odds & Ends – June 22, 2020

cbBand: Chief Bromden | Album: Slunovrat | Genre: Post-punk, Progressive rock | Bandcamp

This Czech quintet play a noisy, chaotic blend of post-punk and prog. They make me think of a rawer, noisier Atsuko Chiba, or a more progressive Viet Cong/Preoccupations. Glassy synthesizers shine against jagged guitars, and the compositions twist and surge in exciting ways. Math rock flourishes are common, and squealing guitars contrast against a buzzing background. There are other surprising moments: the keys in the instrumental “Skelněná Krajina” give a feeling not unlike video game music at times, and the sprawling “Ken Kesey” features some electronic inclusions.

Score: 82/100

afArtist: Aurora Ferrer | Album: Night Oracles and Falling Stars | Genre: Art rock, Electronic rock | Bandcamp

This album, while not strictly prog, is evocative of many prog and prog-related acts. The pulsing electronics are usually krautrock-y in nature, and the overall atmosphere is akin to acts like Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, and Pure Reason Revolution. The compositions are dense, creative, and driving. Particularly praiseworthy are the varied yet cohesive textures in each composition; the album has a distinct feel to it, but no two songs are quite alike.

Score: 80/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – June 22, 2020”

Album Review: That 1 Guy – Set the Controls for the Heart of the Buttnoggin

t1gArtist: That 1 Guy | Album: Set the Controls for the Heart of the Buttnoggin | Genre: Experimental rock, Electronic, “experimental ‘earthshaking future funk’ from the future maybe” (as per his Facebook) | Year: 2020

From: Las Vegas, USA | Label: Independent

For fans of: Buckethead, Primus

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon

That 1 Guy is one of my favorite musical acts. I’ve seen him live over a dozen times since I first saw him open for Porcupine Tree in 2009. He tours relentlessly (or at least he did prior to this current COVID-related lockdown), and I would strongly recommend going to see him live if you get the opportunity. As his name implies, he’s a one-man musical project who plays the Magic Pipe, an instrument of his own invention. The Magic Pipe is depicted on this album cover, but here is some footage of it in action.

As much as I love That 1 Guy, I wouldn’t label him as progressive rock. He certainly has an experimental flair—what with the homemade instrument and all—but most of his songs are, structurally, pretty straightforward. His previous album, 2014’s Poseidon’s Deep Water Adventure Friends, was his most ambitious to date, featuring surprisingly complex compositions and highly varied textures. So, when he released this album, I saw how long the songs were and the fact that he had tagged himself as “progressive rock” on Bandcamp, and I decided to stretch my definition of the genre to write about this release. Continue reading “Album Review: That 1 Guy – Set the Controls for the Heart of the Buttnoggin”

Deep Dive: Porcupine Tree & Steven Wilson

pt deep diveWelcome to the third installment of Deep Dive, where I take an in-depth look at the studio discographies of some of the giants of progressive rock and progressive metal.

For those who don’t feel like reading this massive entry, I’ve included a TL;DR and ranking of albums at the end. I’m opting to explore albums chronologically, as opposed to a ranked-list format. The context in which albums were made is important, and this is an element often missed in a ranked list.

My first two entries in this series focused on some of the giants of progressive rock’s 1970s heyday. For this entry, I wanted to focus on something heavier, which means someone more modern. After weighing a few options and starting Deep Dive entries on a couple other artists, I settled on Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson.

Porcupine Tree covered a wide style of music until their disbandment in 2010, ranging from space rock to art pop to progressive metal. Wilson has maintained that experimental spirit in his solo career, covering similar ground across his five solo albums. The early-21st Century progressive rock renaissance we’re currently enjoying may not have happened at all, had it not been for the wide success of Porcupine Tree, which opened the door for many, many other acts.

As a disclaimer, this essay does not cover all of Steven Wilson’s myriad musical projects. The man is too prolific for me to reasonably address all those projects in this one essay. I am solely focusing on Porcupine Tree and his solo material. No-Man and Bass Communion don’t fit this site’s purview; and while Blackfield and Storm Corrosion may fall under the margins of progressive rock, I simply don’t like their output and would not enjoy reviewing them in-depth. I also do not plan to discuss his remastering work on classic prog albums. I do highly recommend his King Crimson remasters, though I’d avoid his work on Too Old to Rock n Roll: Too Young to Die!, as mentioned in my Jethro Tull Deep Dive. Continue reading “Deep Dive: Porcupine Tree & Steven Wilson”