Lesser-Known Gem: Hydrotoxin – Oceans

Band: Hydrotoxin | Album:Oceans | Genre: Progressive metal | Year: 1996

From: Hanover, Germany | Label: Crystal Rock Syndicate

For fans of: Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Pain of Salvation, Queensrÿche

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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.)

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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

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Album Review: Perilymph – Tout en Haut

Band: Perilymph | Album:Tout en Haut | Genre: Space rock, Progressive rock, Psychedelic rock | Year: 2021

From: Berlin, Germany | Label: Six Tonnes de Chair

For fans of: early Pink Floyd, Patrick Moraz, Phideaux

Bandcamp

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.

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Odds & Ends – July 12, 2021

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.

Score: 71/100

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.

Score: 81/100

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Odds & Ends – December 21, 2020

Artist: Andre LaFosse | Album: Karma Suppression Index | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp

This instrumental album is full of twisting, groovy guitar lines and pulsing electronic rhythms. I’d recommend this album to fans of later King Crimson, especially The Power to Believe. However, despite the strengths of this album—I love the various tones LaFosse utilized, and it’s very well-produced—it does fall victim to the same pitfall as many other instrumental albums: it winds up feeling too long. Most songs don’t have a particularly clear arc or momentum, and a good groove will only carry you so far.

Score: 67/100

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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”