Band: Cheer-Accident | Album: Chicago XX | Genre: Avant-pop, Prog-pop | Bandcamp
One moment this album is brimming with squirmy, atonal synthesizers with eerie vocal arrangements, and the next it’s mellow, artful pop rock. Despite hailing from Chicago, there’s a very British sense of weirdness to Cheer-Accident’s work, most comparable to the inimitable Cardiacs. Strains of post-punk and folk merge seamlessly with progressive and pop rock to create something truly distinctive.
Band: Dai Kaht | Album: Dai Kaht II | Genre: Zeuhl | Bandcamp
I like Magma a lot. They’re one of my favorite bands, and I’m positive I’ll eventually do a Deep Dive entry on them. However, their shadow is nearly inescapable in the world of zeuhl (outside Japan, at least). Dai Kaht are a Finnish act who draw a huge amount of influence from Magma. Their sound is more guitar-centric than Magma ever were. On a technical level, the musicianship and compositions are complex. For all its oddness, it’s surprisingly catchy, and it is somewhat unusual for a zeuhl act to have guitar as its main instrument. But in the end, this release mostly sounds like an updated version of Attahk. If you like zeuhl, give it a listen, but don’t expect anything groundbreaking.
Score: 73/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – May 18, 2020”
Band: Nord | Album: The Only Way To Reach The Surface | Genre: Post-metal, Progressive rock, Post-hardcore | Year: 2020
From: Paris, France | Label: Klonosphere/Season of Mist
For fans of: The Dear Hunter, Sólstafir, Leprous, The Mars Volta, RX Bandits
Bandcamp | Spotify
When I first ran across Parisian quartet Nord’s second full-length album, The Only Way To Reach The Surface, I was initially leery, due to some of the genre tags on Bandcamp. “Djent” is something that always causes me a lot of apprehension, and “post-hardcore” indicates there’s a good chance I’ll hate the vocals. However, the djent influences are minor, and the way the post-hardcore manifests itself is mostly in the instrumental elements, much like The Mars Volta’s early work.
Structurally, this album follows a loose pattern for its first eight songs. Starting with its first track, “I. Love”, the album establishes a dreamy atmosphere. A soft synth pad drones under synthesized vocals, occasionally embellished with clean guitars. The transition to “II. Violent Shapes” is a sharp one, though, as that song explodes with black metal fury out of the gate. Blast beats and evil-sounding shredding smoothly mutate lighter post-punk tones, but the music shifts back and forth between those two poles, with ample math rock fills along the way. Continue reading “Album Review: Nord – The Only Way To Reach The Surface”
Band: Slift | Album: Ummon | Genre: Space rock, Krautrock | Year: 2020
From: Toulouse, France | Label: Vicious Circle and Stolen Body Records
For fans of: Elder’s new stuff, Can, Ash Ra Tempel, Fuzz
Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music
Slift are a French trio who combine the ethos and aesthetic trappings of garage rock with cosmic atmosphere and mantra-like repetition. I was introduced to them via their 2018 album, La Planète Inexplorée. That album was great, and Ummon took everything I loved about it and cranked it up even harder.
Ummon is not a record for the faint of heart. It’s 72 minutes of garage-kraut-doom (or maybe doom-garage-kraut) with barely any breathing room. Huge, abrasive walls of guitar dominate this record, while chaotic bursts of noise pummel the listener. The band members themselves give fair warning on how key repetition is to this album’s sound on their Bandcamp page (or, as they phrase it, “r r e e p p e e t t i i t t i i o o n n”). With all this in mind, if you’re willing to give it a shot, this album is highly rewarding. Continue reading “Album Review: Slift – Ummon”
Band: Guranfoe | Album: Sum of Erda | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
Guranfoe are an instrumental act who draw heavy inspiration from the ‘70s prog giants, most notably Genesis and Camel. They’re good at keeping the momentum up on this album, and the songs are chock-full of neat little flourishes and some great solos. Folk and jazz touches are deployed to great effect. However, as with many instrumental albums I cover, most of these songs feel too long, and some of the extended solos, in particular, leave me looking at my watch. If the band were to tighten up the songs a bit, I think they could put out a really great album.
Band: Karfagen | Album: Birds of Passage | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
Antony Kalugin is an incredibly prolific Ukrainian composer and multi-instrumentalist, and Karfagen is one of his myriad projects. Birds of Passage is Karfagen’s 11th album in 14 years, and most of it is focused on the 44-minute title track. It’s mostly bright, sunny prog in the style of acts like Spock’s Beard and Moon Safari. Organ and synthesizer dominate on the first half, while the second half reduces the bombast (initially, at least). It can feel long-winded at times, but the songs have enough distinct movements that that’s only an infrequent issue. If you’re a fan of the 21st Century brand of symphonic prog, definitely check this album out.
Score: 77/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – February 10, 2020”
Welcome back to TheEliteExtremophile’s Top 50 Prog Albums of 2019. If you missed Part 1, covering entries 50-26, you can read it here. Continue reading “Top 50 Prog Albums of 2019, Part 2: 25-1”
Though this blog is only about a year old, I’ve been publishing music-oriented year-end lists on my personal Facebook since 2010. Those lists have usually covered all releases—albums and EPs—as well as music from genres outside the progosphere. Since starting this blog, I listened to more new music in 2019 than I had in any previous year, and it was even more skewed toward prog and prog-related output than in years past.
To save myself from having to write (and you from having to read) a 100-plus-entry list full of mediocre releases, I’ve instead opted to publish TheEliteExtremophile’s Top 50 Prog Albums of 2019. This post will cover entries 50-26. Part 2, covering the top 25, will be published on Monday.
I’m not publishing album scores here, and past album scores should not be read into too much. Reviews generally reflect something of a first impression, and after months of listening, albums’ standings rise and fall. This list also features some very good albums which I just never reviewed in full.
As a disclaimer, I’m sure there are some excellent albums not included. This 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, either through this site, via email, or through my Facebook page. Continue reading “Top 50 Prog Albums of 2019, Part 1: 50-26”
Welcome to the first of three planned installments for this site’s best of 2019. Starting things off is TheEliteExtremophile’s Top Prog EPs of 2019. The vast bulk of what I listen to for this blog is full-length albums, and the assorted prog-related genres tend to be long-winded. As such, this list contains only five entries, but all five are highly recommended.
As a disclaimer, 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, via email, or through my Facebook page. Continue reading “Top Prog EPs of 2019”
Band: Chaos Over Cosmos | Album: The Unknown Voyage | Genre: Progressive metal | Bandcamp
Chaos Over Cosmos’s debut album draws heavily from acts like Fates Warning and Symphony X. The music is fleshed out with lush synths. There’s no shortage of power metal cheese, both vocally and instrumentally. The songs themselves tend to be pretty long, but they do a good job of keeping the momentum up and not overstaying their welcome.
Artist: Richard Henshall | Album: The Cocoon | Genre: Progressive metal, Progressive rock | Bandcamp
The latest album from Haken’s guitarist/keyboardist is exactly what you’d expect. There are tons of speedy, intricate riffs, and smart contrasts of metallic heaviness with moments of jazzy and poppy levity. The soloing is restrained, avoiding the common pitfall of virtuosic masturbation that you often find in this corner of prog. My one real complaint here is that Henshal’s vocals are pretty weak. His chops as a guitarist are solid, but his voice is often weak or strained.
Score: 80/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – September 23, 2019”
Artist: Louis de Mieulle | Album: Side$how | Genre: Progressive rock, Jazz fusion | Year: 2019
From: New York, USA | Label: Dalang Records
For fans of: Return to Forever, Magma, Brainticket, Probably a lot of those jazzy instrumental metal acts I don’t like
Buy: Bandcamp | Apple Music
I’ve been pretty open in my general hesitance toward instrumental albums. I’m not the kind of person to pay attention to lyrics, but the human voice adds so much character to music, which can be quite difficult to make up for with just instruments. I don’t believe I’ve discussed it in any great detail on this site—though I’ve made a few comments about it on Reddit—but I am also not a fan of the current zeitgeist of jazzy, instrumental rock and metal epitomized by acts like Intervals, Plini, and Sithu Aye. So much of it just sounds like aimless, speedy noodling. Thank God this album avoids those pitfalls magnificently.
French-born bassist and composer Louis de Mieulle’s newest album, Side$how, is a constantly-engaging blend of ambitious instrumental progressive rock with many trappings of jazz. Touches of electronic genres and krautrock crop up throughout this release’s 41-minute runtime. Consisting of eight songs, titled “Bed of Nails, Part 1-8”, the music was mostly improvised and recorded live by de Mieulle, a pair of keyboardists, and a drummer. Continue reading “Album Review: Louis de Mieulle – Side$how”
Band: Magma | Album: Zëss (Le jour du néant) | Genre: Zeuhl, Symphonic music | Year: 2019
From: Paris, France | Label: Seventh Records
Buy: Digital Options | Physical Options
Magma are the founders of the zeuhl genre. Over the span of their 50-year career, they’ve been remarkably consistent in both their strange character and high quality of output. Strongly rooted in jazz and heavy on hypnotic jamming, their studio recordings were often taken to new heights in live settings, such as the version of “Köhntarkösz” on their album Live/Hhaï. Live performances have also seen epics be debuted and developed before reaching a studio album. Their 2009 album Ëmëhntëtt-Ré began life in the 1970s at live shows, and “Šlag Tanz” was debuted live several years before it was recorded. “Theusz Hamtaahk” as yet remains unrecorded in the studio. Zëss similarly began as a live-only epic in the ‘70s.
“Zëss” struck me as an odd choice for Magma to record. The live recordings I’d heard came off as long-winded, meandering, and repetitious, and this was a critique I’d seen elsewhere online. I think the band may have been aware of this criticism, so they enlisted the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra to add some texture and dynamism. Distinct to Zëss, band founder Christian Vander takes lead vocals over the span of the entire album. There are the usual female vocals in the background, but Vander remains at the forefront. He also does not play drums here, another first for the band. Continue reading “Album Review: Magma – Zëss”