A little over a year after their unimpressive return on The Zealot Gene, Jethro Tull is back with another record, RökFlöte. For this record, Ian Anderson stated he drew inspiration from Norse mythology, and the word “Ragnarök” is where he got the idea for this album’s title. Each of the twelve songs on this album is based off a character or concept from Norse mythology.
Going into this, I did my best to keep an open mind. Yes, I’d found The Zealot Gene unnecessary, disappointing, and soulless; but Tull has bounced back from bad records before! Minstrel in the Gallery followed the unfocused hodgepodge of WarChild, and Roots to Branches came after the tepid blues rock of Catfish Rising (and their middling ‘80s hard rock). Martin Barre continues to be absent from the band, so I tried to calibrate my expectations for the guitarwork accordingly.
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.
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 the fourth 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 that is an element often missed in a ranked list.
Rush is a band I’d always planned to eventually cover in this series. I’d made no firm plans as to when, exactly, but they were undoubtedly on the docket. Originally, this Deep Dive was slated to be a look at Genesis, but Neil Peart’s unfortunate passing earlier this year prompted me to push off the Genesis entry for a later date.
In the early 1970s, acts like Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Atomic Rooster had demonstrated that trios could produce excellent progressive rock, but Rush pushed the capabilities of that limited format to its extreme with complex suites containing massive tonal variation. Even once Rush moved past their prog rock heyday, their music was mostly inventive, energetic, and—above all—distinct. Over the years, Rush became one of the best-known and most-successful rock acts of all time, particularly in their native Canada.
Subdivision I: The Early Years (1968-1974)
Rush formed in 1968 and originally consisted of guitarist Alex Lifeson (born Zivojinovich; “Lifeson” is an English translation of his Serbian name), bassist/vocalist Jeff Jones, and drummer John Rutsey. These early years saw a high degree of volatility in the band’s lineup, with Lifeson remaining the one constant. Jones left shortly after the band formed, soon replaced by Geddy Lee, and even Geddy was briefly out of the band in 1969. Continue reading “Deep Dive: Rush”→
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.
Welcome to entry number two in my Deep Dive series, where I look at the full studio discographies and histories of some of the major names in progressive rock and progressive metal. It’s here that I highlight output beyond an act’s “classic” releases.
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.
For this second entry, I’ve opted to cover Jethro Tull. Tull are best known for their pair of early ‘70s masterpieces, Aqualung and Thick as a Brick, as well as winning the inaugural Best Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Grammy over Metallica in 1989. But beyond those few common knowledge highlights, as well as the notable quirk of being the best-known rock act with a flautist, this band’s discography holds an impressive breadth of music, ranging from blues to folk to synthpop to world music.
I really love Jethro Tull. My love of Jethro Tull is so deep, in fact, that the first email address I ever made was a rather blatant reference to said fandom. (And that Yahoo address is still in use 14 years later, as well as a very similarly-named Hotmail account.) In high school, I made it my mission to collect a physical copy of every studio release from Jethro Tull. I still have all those CDs (including both the US and UK versions of Benefit), as well as several vinyl records, which I acquired both from my mom’s old record collection and from my own purchases. I also managed to see Jethro Tull in concert in 2011. Even then, Ian Anderson (plus Martin Barre and the other motley musicians) could still put on a hell of a show.
Despite my deep fondness for this group, I’ll do my best to be as objective as one can be when reviewing music. They did put out some crap albums, and I’ll be honest about other albums’ shortcomings. Continue reading “Deep Dive: Jethro Tull”→