Odds & Ends: April 5, 2021

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.

Score: 58/100

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.

Score: 75/100

Continue reading “Odds & Ends: April 5, 2021”

Deep Dive: Rush

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”

Deep Dive: Jethro Tull

Jethro Tull in concert at the Hammersmith Odeon, London, UK - 11 Feb 1977

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”