The Mars Volta, along with acts like Porcupine Tree and Dream Theater, helped revive the world of progressive rock in the early 2000s. They were one of the most beloved and influential prog acts of the 21st century. Their 2003 full-length debut–De-Loused in the Comatorium–and its 2005 successor–Frances the Mute–are two of the best prog albums of all time, irrespective of era. In addition to past prog influences, they incorporated post-hardcore, jazz, and electronic elements. Their classic sound is striking and immediately recognizable.
Now, ten years after their last album–2012’s Noctourniquet–they’ve reunited to put out their seventh full-length release. The core of the band remains the same; Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is still on guitar, and Cedric Bixler-Zavala is still the vocalist. Beyond that, though, there has been churn in the lineup. Bassist Eva Gardner has returned to the band after last appearing on their 2002 Tremulant EP. Omar’s younger brother Marcel–formerly the band’s percussionist through 2010–covers keyboard duties. (Longtime TMV keyboardist Ikey Owens passed away in 2014, though he did not appear on Noctourniquet.)
In reading about this album’s background, I found that Omar (always the lead (and usually sole) songwriter) consciously made an effort to move away from prog. This strikes me as a perplexing move. Just because Omar and Cedric are recording together, that does not make it The Mars Volta. Prior to forming TMV, they were both in the post-hardcore band At the Drive-In; and the two had collaborated in the one-off band Antemasque in 2014. If they wanted to make a non-prog album, reviving this band’s name doesn’t strike me as a smart move. They’ve got enough clout in the modern music world that they could have announced a new project and built hype off their reputations.
Over the last two decades, Scandinavia has become one of the most prolific producers of prog in the world. Big-name acts (by prog standards) like Wobbler, Opeth, and Beardfish have made huge waves in the scene. Meer, a Norwegian octet, continues in this trend, blending complex compositions and arrangements with accessible, catchy pop tendencies (another Scandinavian tradition, which I’m considerably less fond of).
The eleven songs on Meer’s sophomore album, Playing House, show intense structural ambition. The music is densely layered, and the band utilizes dynamics to great effect.
Steven Wilson, likely the biggest individual name in the current world of prog, returns with his sixth solo album. After making a name for himself with his longtime prog metal/rock band, Porcupine Tree, he struck out on a solo career (which I’ve documented here) that has tacked increasingly poppy over his last few releases.
Wilson had commented that he currently does not feel inspired when playing guitar, and his continued gravitation toward synthesizers is evident on The Future Bites. I have to give him kudos for following his musical heart and not kowtowing to prog traditionalists demanding another Deadwing or Hand. Cannot. Erase. I really respect him for broadening his horizons and playing what he wants to play. I wish more artists had that sort of integrity and adventurous spirit.
Deleted Scenes is the second album from Oakland prog-pop outfit Once and Future Band (hereafter called OAFB). I was introduced to them via their self-titled 2017 album, which was their first full length release. Their self-titled is a sunny slice of prog-pop with ample jazz and folk touches. However, almost every song on that album felt one to two minutes too long.
Welcome 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”→