Phaneronaut is a one-man project out of Germany with an inclination for weird, experimental electronics and sharp contrasts in tone. In the three years the project has been active, they have been quite prolific, so I have not listened to their whole back catalog. What I have heard, though, is strongly reminiscent of early krautrock acts, often landing somewhere between Neu! and The Cosmic Jokers.
This album, then, marks something of a shift in Phaneronaut’s sound. Originally envisioned as having two contrasting halves–a “wood” side and a “metal” side–the project evolved into something else, though the “metal” concept remained. Thus, where previous works are synth heavy and quite electronic, Anabasis features sounds (synthesized or otherwise) that use metal in their production. So the celestial synths of earlier works are reduced, and now there are much earthier tones, meant to portray a (possibly hallucinatory) journey to heaven.
This Hong Kong-based act plays a variety of music very heavily inspired Magma. This zeuhl is relatively dark, and its most evocative of Üdü Ẁüdü.It’s fine overall–well played, with some interesting motifs. However, Athak does nothing to differentiate themselves from Magma. A lot of this simply sounds like a rough draft of a Magma record.
The second full-length album from this French act consists of three massive epics bookended by a pair of brief, gentle pieces. The first two of the epics are enjoyable, if somewhat typical, prog-black metal. There are lots of twisting riffs and thundering guitars, and it is very good. There’s just not much that makes it stand out. The third epic, though, leans more into death-doom, which simply isn’t that common of a genre.
Artist: Stewart Clark | Album:Journeys | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
Stewart Clark draws noticeably from the classic prog giants, most obviously Yes and Genesis. The music is rich and grand, and though the playing is hardly flashy, the songs are creatively and thoughtfully structured. The folk elements are especially nice. Some cuts do drag on a bit, but this is an overall enjoyable release.
Band: Cyril | Album:Amenti’s Coin – Secret Place Pt. II | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
If you’re looking for some well-made progressive rock in the vein of acts like Transatlantic or The Flower Kings, these guys aren’t a bad choice. It’s highly melodic with a lot of strong instrumental performances. The band does occasionally veer into overwrought balladry, and I can’t say there’s anything particularly novel being said here. Despite that, sometimes you just want some lush, classic-style prog.
Bands: Elder & Kadavar | Album:Eldovar: A Story of Darkness & Light | Genre: Progressive rock, Heavy psych | Bandcamp
Even though I wasn’t wild about Omens, I would consider myself an Elder fan, so I was intrigued when I saw the announcement for their new project. Kadavar, though, was a complete unknown to me. Had I not been told that this was a collaboration record, I likely wouldn’t have guessed it was anyone other than Elder, aside from the vocals on certain tracks. Eldovar has lots of spaced-out prog and psychedelic melodies, and it’s mostly pretty strong. There is almost no metal on this record, with the overall sound being rooted more firmly in classic prog.
This instrumental album tactfully blends progressive rock with folk and jazz flavors for an enjoyable experience. The 24-minute title track is especially strong, featuring jagged guitars and buttery-smooth saxophone in wonderful complement to one another. I would recommend this album to fans of Agusa or Änglagård.
Welcome to the first installment of The Elite Extremophile’s Top 50 Prog Albums of 2021. This article will cover places 50-26 on my list, with the top half set to follow on Thursday.
As I always say, I’m sure there are some excellent albums not included in my list. 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.
As I referenced in my Scheduling Note back in November, this list only addresses albums put out between January 2021 and November 2021. Next year’s list will cover December 2021 through November 2022.
Though it felt as if it started off fairly slow, 2021 wound up being a very strong year for progressive rock and metal. Finalizing this list took longer than usual, especially nailing down the specific order.
It’s been a while since I’ve done a Lesser-Known Gem. I’ve got no shortage of new music in my queue to cover, but I also love highlighting more obscure releases from the past. Today’s topic is one of my favorite albums of the 1990s. I have not been shy about my general indifference (often bordering on distaste) for a lot of prog from that decade, but Hydrotoxin’s one full-length release, Oceans, is one of the best distillations of the classic ‘90s prog metal sound.
I discovered this album when I was 18 or so and I searched “progressive metal” on YouTube. Somehow, the nine-and-a-half-minute title track was one of the top results. (It might have even been the top result.) Running that search now will yield primarily playlists and contemporary releases, which makes more sense. 2008 YouTube’s search function often left something to be desired, but in this quirkiness it was sometimes easier to find interesting oddities.
Very, very little information about this band can be found online. ProgArchives has the most information, but even that source is sparse and effectively limited to the band members’ names. Rate Your Music claims they put out an EP in 2007, Signal Denied, but I’m willing to bet that this is a mix-up with an identically-named band since neither Discogs nor ProgArchives lists this EP on the band’s page. (Note: I cannot find an easy way to legitimately acquire a digital copy of Oceans. CDs can be purchased through private sellers on Amazon UK and Discogs.)
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.
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.
While I purposely use pretty broad, amorphous genre definitions on this site, I generally aim to highlight acts who are musically adventurous or inventive. A common way artists spice up their music is through various forms of contrast. This is especially common in metal and various subgenres which start with “post,” where it’s often a harsh-clean contrast. Another dichotomy occasionally used is an electronic-acoustic one.
I’ve previously covered Perilymph, the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Fabien de Menou. The band’s last album, Deux, was a wonderful blend of synth-led space-kraut balanced smartly against pared-back acoustic passages. Tout en Haut (Eng. On Top) follows in a similar sonic and textural path.
Band: BaK | Album:Crater | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive metal | Bandcamp
BaK is a bombastic Australian act which blends the sound of acts like Pain of Salvation and Dream Theater with Middle Eastern instrumentation and rhythms. The closest parallel to BaK is probably the Tunisian power metal act Myrath, though some of the weaker moments on this EP do remind me of Grorr. The integration of those more exotic influences is done better than most acts who attempt similar genre fusions, but it’s still really tough to not come off as corny.
Artist: Christian Cosentino | Album:Lawn | Genre: Progressive metal | Bandcamp
This proggy atmospheric black metal album makes extensive use of lush, programmed orchestration. Many parts of this record feature piano as a co-lead instrument alongside guitar, and strings are almost always present. Normally I’m not the biggest fan of this type of arrangement, but I credit the success here to the fact that he went in a more atmospheric direction, instead of something more traditionally proggy, technical, and overblown.
Band: Cicada the Burrower | Album:Corpseflower | Genre: Black metal, Progressive metal | Bandcamp
Corpseflower is a record built around contrasts. One moment, the music is based around murky vocals and jazzy clean guitars, and the next it’s all harsh shrieks and icily distorted guitars. The instrumental work is deft, and the compositional choices are diverse and interesting. My only real complaint is that the two lengthy instrumental cuts feel too long. It’s not a fatal flaw by any means, but both could have been tightened up.
Band: Cosmic Void | Album:All Is Lost in Time | Genre: Black metal, Post-metal | Bandcamp
This 30-minute EP doesn’t stray too far outside the normal aesthetic bounds of somewhat-proggy post-black-metal, but it’s done quite well. The quiet moments are haunting with folky undertones, and the loud moments manage to be both icy and expansive. There are some rather inventive riffs and plenty of uncommon chords. I’m also impressed by the structuring of the four songs here. Though the tones and textures are typical of post-black-metal, the songs’ structures are more akin to classic prog acts with multiple distinct movements.