Seven Impale is a Norwegian sextet that plays a fairly dark, heavy, jazz-inspired version of progressive rock. In many ways, they bear a lot of similarity to Van der Graaf Generator, albeit with more maximal arrangements. It’s been seven years since their last release, so when they announced this, I was very excited to hear what they had been working on.
City of the Sun, their 2014 debut, is a stellar record and one of my favorite albums from that year. 2016’s Contrapasso, though, never quite landed with me. It isn’t bad, by any means, but it just lacked that certain something that would have allowed it to click. I think a lot of it had to do with the sheer length of that release. At 67 minutes, that’s a lot of jazzy, sax-forward prog to listen to, and it became a bit exhausting. Compare that to their debut, which clocks in at 45 minutes. Summit, their new release, sees them staying in their usual vein, but consists of just four songs. So I went into this hopeful I’d like it.
Band: Astrochemists | Album:Starman Rising | Genre: Space rock | Bandcamp
The latest release from this instrumental Singaporean act consists of just one massive 32-minute epic. This composition is full of driving riffs and intergalactic synth embellishments. It’s got an infectious energy to it, and it holds up very well both as background music and as a showpiece.
The latest release from this one-man project out of Hungary consists of just a pair of epic tracks. The first, “Sötétség”, features piano passages that remind me of Arcturus. The meat of this song is pummeling, but the effect of the distorted arpeggi as they float is quite pretty. “Homály” opens with similar artsy piano lines, and the riffs are punchier overall. Both tracks are pretty solid, and if you’re looking for moody, complex black metal, this is a good choice.
Halloween is on a Monday this year, so I figured this would be a good opportunity to get spooky with a Lesser Known Gem. I compiled a short list of about ten albums from which to choose. Some, like Jacula’s In Cauda Semper Stat Venenum, were written to be as occultic and creepy as possible. Others, like Message’s From Books and Dreams, were considered more for their album art. In the end, I decided on a pair of Czesław Niemen albums, Niemen vol. 2 and Niemen vol. 1.
Czesław Niemen (pronounced roughly Chess-woff Nyem-en) is an artist I’ve wanted to talk about for a while. Sort of like Guruh Gipsy were a big deal in Indonesia while remaining obscure elsewhere, Niemen is a major figure in the history of 20th Century Polish music. The National Bank of Poland has released three commemorative coins with his likeness, multiple streets around Poland bear his name, and his childhood home in modern-day Belarus has been converted into a museum.
After starting out playing straightforward rock and soul in the 1960s, his 1970 album Enigmatic saw him radically shift his style to the emergent genre of progressive rock. From 1971-1973, his backing band was the Silesian Blues Band, who eventually shortened their name to SBB and became another highly-influential prog act in their own right. (They are also a band I’ve considered for a future Deep Dive, though that’s far from imminent.)
Certain albums click with me immediately. Some of them I wind up absolutely loving, like Moura’s self-titled or Papangu’s Holoceno. Others fall from my graces fairly quickly, like Hand. Cannot. Erase. or Devin Townsend’s Deconstruction. Yet other releases, meanwhile, take a while to sink in. Even if I didn’t totally love it on the first listen, I keep feeling drawn back to it; and on subsequent spins, my enjoyment only grows deeper.
The second full-length album from Scotland’s Ashenspire is one of those albums that really grew. On the first listen, I liked it. It’s an incredibly dense record, so I knew I was going to need to revisit it. By the third time I made my way through this opus, it had become a serious contender for my album of the year. The blend of black metal and avant-garde influences is incredible, and the raw anger of this record truly shines through.
Hamtaï! Welcome back to Deep Dive, my series where I explore the extended studio discographies of the giants of progressive rock and metal. I’ve got a weird one for you today: Magma, the founders of zeuhl.
For those who don’t feel like reading massive entries in their entirety, I’ve included a TL;DR and ranking of albums at the end of this piece. 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 contextual element is often overlooked in many ranked-lists.
Magma has always been a weird band. I’ll delve into what exactly zeuhl is below, but even beyond the structural strangeness of their music, the band’s composition has varied wildly over the years. At the time of writing, Wikipedia lists 12 current members and 22 former members; and Rate Your Music names 11 current members with a staggering 89 former members. Much of this can be attributed to their frequent shifts in sound, ranging from their very wind instrument-heavy first albums, to mid-career funk experiments, to later albums which prominently featured vibraphone. Multiple vocalists have always been a signature element of their sound as well.
Magma has been incredibly consistent across their career, in terms of the quality of their work. Even their worst album isn’t all that bad. I’ll also give a quick shout-out to their live performances. I saw Magma on their 2016 US tour, and that was one of the absolute best live shows I’ve ever seen, only seriously challenged by my experiences seeing Rush and Moonsorrow. This column only covers studio output in any depth, but the live albums Hhaï and Retrospektïẁ (I-III) are some of their best work. I’m a big enough fan that I personally own the 12-disc live box set Köhnzert Zünd.
Before we get going, though, I’m sure those of you unfamiliar with Magma are asking…
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.
Bobby Shock is a New Jersey-based composer and multi-instrumentalist, whose last album—The Unforeseen—was a pleasant surprise for me last year. It was lush, diverse, and bass-forward. The compositions were unquestionably smart and progressive, but the music was still accessible.
Shock’s latest release continues with that general trend. The obvious focal point of this album is its 20-minute title track, but the other four songs are no less enjoyable.
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.