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”

Album Review: Slift – Ummon

sliftBand: Slift | Album: Ummon | Genre: Space rock, Krautrock | Year: 2020

From: Toulouse, France | Label: Vicious Circle and Stolen Body Records

For fans of: Elder’s new stuff, Can, Ash Ra Tempel, Fuzz

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music

Slift are a French trio who combine the ethos and aesthetic trappings of garage rock with cosmic atmosphere and mantra-like repetition. I was introduced to them via their 2018 album, La Planète Inexplorée. That album was great, and Ummon took everything I loved about it and cranked it up even harder.

Ummon is not a record for the faint of heart. It’s 72 minutes of garage-kraut-doom (or maybe doom-garage-kraut) with barely any breathing room. Huge, abrasive walls of guitar dominate this record, while chaotic bursts of noise pummel the listener. The band members themselves give fair warning on how key repetition is to this album’s sound on their Bandcamp page (or, as they phrase it, “r r e e p p e e t t i i t t i i o o n n”). With all this in mind, if you’re willing to give it a shot, this album is highly rewarding. Continue reading “Album Review: Slift – Ummon”

Odds & Ends – March 9, 2020

a1331639050_10Band: Ak’chamel, The Giver Of Illness | Album: The Totemist | Genre: Krautrock, Psychedelic folk | Bandcamp

The Totemist is a swirl of ritualistic atmosphere and repetition. The murky aura augments the contrasts between the sharp notes of the acoustic instruments and the omnipresent, sinister drone. The compositions morph in naturalistic ways, and subtle touches of jazz are worked in amid the faux-shamanic folk, resulting in something quite creative.

Score: 75/100

a2807075973_10Band: Cthulhu Rise | Album: Last | Genre: Progressive rock, Jazz-fusion | Bandcamp

This instrumental Ukrainian band reminds me a lot of Liquid Tension Experiment. The roots of the act’s sound clearly derive from Dream Theater-style melodic prog metal, but jazz plays a large role here too. The individual musicians flaunt their chops on the three songs here, but the soloing always comes off as purposeful. Each track is full of surprising twists and turns, with few ideas sticking around for more than about a minute at a time. Somehow, it avoids feeling disjointed.

Score: 84/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – March 9, 2020”

Odds & Ends – December 2, 2019

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legendryBand: Legendry | Album: The Wizard and the Tower Keep | Genre: Power metal, Progressive rock | Bandcamp

For all the hackneyed, cliché, sword-and-sorcery heavy metal imagery Pittsburgh’s Legendry evoke in their artwork and lyrics, the music is ambitious and inventive while remaining surprisingly accessible. They walk a fine line straddling traditional metal, power metal, and progressive rock with their speedy riffs, dramatic vocals, and soaring solos. The Hammond organ adds a distinct character that helps Legendry stand out from other traditional metal acts.

Score: 84/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – December 2, 2019”

Deep Dive: Porcupine Tree & Steven Wilson

pt deep diveWelcome to the third 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 this is an element often missed in a ranked list.

My first two entries in this series focused on some of the giants of progressive rock’s 1970s heyday. For this entry, I wanted to focus on something heavier, which means someone more modern. After weighing a few options and starting Deep Dive entries on a couple other artists, I settled on Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson.

Porcupine Tree covered a wide style of music until their disbandment in 2010, ranging from space rock to art pop to progressive metal. Wilson has maintained that experimental spirit in his solo career, covering similar ground across his five solo albums. The early-21st Century progressive rock renaissance we’re currently enjoying may not have happened at all, had it not been for the wide success of Porcupine Tree, which opened the door for many, many other acts.

As a disclaimer, this essay does not cover all of Steven Wilson’s myriad musical projects. The man is too prolific for me to reasonably address all those projects in this one essay. I am solely focusing on Porcupine Tree and his solo material. No-Man and Bass Communion don’t fit this site’s purview; and while Blackfield and Storm Corrosion may fall under the margins of progressive rock, I simply don’t like their output and would not enjoy reviewing them in-depth. I also do not plan to discuss his remastering work on classic prog albums. I do highly recommend his King Crimson remasters, though I’d avoid his work on Too Old to Rock n Roll: Too Young to Die!, as mentioned in my Jethro Tull Deep Dive. Continue reading “Deep Dive: Porcupine Tree & Steven Wilson”

Album Review: Garcia Peoples – One Step Behind

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Band: Garcia Peoples | Album: One Step Behind | Genre: Psychedelic rock, Progressive rock, Krautrock | Year: 2019

From: Rutherford, (NJ,) USA | Label: Beyond Beyond Is Beyond

For fans of: The Grateful Dead, Gong, The Moody Blues

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music

Garcia Peoples’ 2018 debut album, Cosmic Cash, easily made my personal top 10 of last year, with its mixture of inventive song structures, psychedelic textures, and fun, loose garage rock atmosphere. Their album from March of this year, Natural Facts, while enjoyable, didn’t quite hit the same highs as their debut. It was more overtly folk-influenced, with significant touches of Americana. It seemed they were charting out a trajectory reminiscent of the Grateful Dead. With this context, this album took me by surprise.

One Step Behind is nearly 40 minutes long but contains only two songs, one of which stretches over half an hour. There remain ample doses of Dead-like jangly guitars, but the band have also included krautrock-like meditation and repetition, as well as technical guitar and keyboard lines I would expect from the likes of Yes. Continue reading “Album Review: Garcia Peoples – One Step Behind”

Album Review: Sonora Sunrise – The Route through the Canyon

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Band: Sonora Sunrise | Album: The Route through the Canyon | Genre: Psychedelic rock, Krautrock | Year: 2019

From: Barnaul, Russia | Label: Trail Records

For fans of: Hawkwind, Can, Ozric Tentacles

Buy: Bandcamp

After running across this band, I’m starting to doubt if the American Southwest puts out any desert rock. I’ve previously discussed acts from Venice, Sydney, and The Netherlands that draw inspiration from the arid lands of California and Arizona, and now I’ve found this band from Siberia. Perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised; the band name would be a bit too on-the-nose for a group actually from the region. It’s not as if the Altai region is entirely dissimilar to the Southwest. It’s mountainous and semi-arid in places, albeit much, much colder.

Despite the desert imagery in the band’s name, and despite the fact that the music itself on this album evokes desert imagery, Sonora Sunrise don’t rely much on the blues. Instead, they opt for a more expansive, meditative sound full of lush synth pads and cosmic guitar arpeggios. The individual songs are unhurried yet mostly feel to be appropriate lengths. There’s also an impressive amount of sonic diversity. Krautrock, space rock, stoner rock/metal, and ambient music all get their own turn to be in the foreground. Continue reading “Album Review: Sonora Sunrise – The Route through the Canyon”