Band: Nord | Album: The Only Way To Reach The Surface | Genre: Post-metal, Progressive rock, Post-hardcore | Year: 2020
From: Paris, France | Label: Klonosphere/Season of Mist
For fans of: The Dear Hunter, Sólstafir, Leprous, The Mars Volta, RX Bandits
Bandcamp | Spotify
When I first ran across Parisian quartet Nord’s second full-length album, The Only Way To Reach The Surface, I was initially leery, due to some of the genre tags on Bandcamp. “Djent” is something that always causes me a lot of apprehension, and “post-hardcore” indicates there’s a good chance I’ll hate the vocals. However, the djent influences are minor, and the way the post-hardcore manifests itself is mostly in the instrumental elements, much like The Mars Volta’s early work.
Structurally, this album follows a loose pattern for its first eight songs. Starting with its first track, “I. Love”, the album establishes a dreamy atmosphere. A soft synth pad drones under synthesized vocals, occasionally embellished with clean guitars. The transition to “II. Violent Shapes” is a sharp one, though, as that song explodes with black metal fury out of the gate. Blast beats and evil-sounding shredding smoothly mutate lighter post-punk tones, but the music shifts back and forth between those two poles, with ample math rock fills along the way. Continue reading “Album Review: Nord – The Only Way To Reach The Surface”
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.
Band: Intronaut | Album: Fluid Existential Inversions | Genre: Progressive metal | Bandcamp
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.
Score: 82/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – April 13, 2020”
Band: Vinyl Dial | Album: The Flight of the Crown Hawk | Genre: Progressive rock, Space rock | Year: 2009/2019
From: Bedford, UK | Label: Seaside Tapes
For fans of: Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, Pulsar, Tool
Buy/Listen: Stream | Bandcamp
Vinyl Dial has had an unusual creative trajectory. The Flight of the Crown Hawk was originally recorded and released on MySpace in 2009. However, in 2019 it got a remaster and was officially released on Seaside Tapes, a label focused primarily on DIY-electronica and vaporwave. In the intervening years, this one-man project has put out a handful of electronic and vaporwave releases, in addition to other space rock/prog rock releases.
The Flight of the Crown Hawk is not shy about just how much of the music is inspired by Porcupine Tree’s early work. The first proper song, “Shapes in the Clouds”, begins with spare acoustic guitar, airy synth pads, and murky, effects-laden vocals. It slowly slithers along for its first half, and the guitar solo sounds like it’s straight off Porcupine Tree’s Signify. The song’s second half plays with stranger rhythms, heavier guitar tones, and cosmic synth leads. Continue reading “Album Review: Vinyl Dial – The Flight of the Crown Hawk”
Band: Guranfoe | Album: Sum of Erda | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
Guranfoe are an instrumental act who draw heavy inspiration from the ‘70s prog giants, most notably Genesis and Camel. They’re good at keeping the momentum up on this album, and the songs are chock-full of neat little flourishes and some great solos. Folk and jazz touches are deployed to great effect. However, as with many instrumental albums I cover, most of these songs feel too long, and some of the extended solos, in particular, leave me looking at my watch. If the band were to tighten up the songs a bit, I think they could put out a really great album.
Band: Karfagen | Album: Birds of Passage | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
Antony Kalugin is an incredibly prolific Ukrainian composer and multi-instrumentalist, and Karfagen is one of his myriad projects. Birds of Passage is Karfagen’s 11th album in 14 years, and most of it is focused on the 44-minute title track. It’s mostly bright, sunny prog in the style of acts like Spock’s Beard and Moon Safari. Organ and synthesizer dominate on the first half, while the second half reduces the bombast (initially, at least). It can feel long-winded at times, but the songs have enough distinct movements that that’s only an infrequent issue. If you’re a fan of the 21st Century brand of symphonic prog, definitely check this album out.
Score: 77/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – February 10, 2020”
Welcome back to TheEliteExtremophile’s Top 50 Prog Albums of 2019. If you missed Part 1, covering entries 50-26, you can read it here. Continue reading “Top 50 Prog Albums of 2019, Part 2: 25-1”
Band: Híbrido | Album: I | Genre: Progressive rock, Heavy psych | Year: 2019
From: Algeciras, Spain | Label: Spinda Records
For fans of: Mastodon, Antemasque, Yes
Buy: Bandcamp | Apple Music
Spain has thriving progressive/experimental rock and metal scenes, and Spanish bands have been featured on this site multiple times. The Spanish label Spinda Records is a recent discovery of mine, and they’re the sort of label I love. Based just north of the border with Gibraltar, they focus on underground, local acts that play progressive and psychedelic music. This support provides such acts with a valuable link to the outside world.
One act which particularly stood out to me was Híbrido. Híbrido’s music straddles a line between desert rock and more traditional progressive rock, which occasionally veers into the territory of a somewhat light version of post-metal. Continue reading “Album Review: Híbrido – I”
Band: Handwrist | Album: The Golden Swan | Genre: Progressive rock, Zeuhl, Avant-garde rock | Bandcamp
The Golden Swan was originally envisioned by its composer to have a choir sing in Basque and for there to be symphonic orchestration. Due to budgetary and logistical constraints, these ambitions had to be shelved, but the result is a distinct blend of rock, jazz, and classical music, nonetheless. The four movements of this album flow together seamlessly. Elements of the Canterbury sound are evident, and the jazzy atmosphere makes me think this would have been even better had it been recorded as originally intended. Moments on this album do meander, but those shortcomings are well worth it.
Score: 76/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – October 21, 2019”
Band: Atsuko Chiba | Album: Trace | Genre: Progressive rock, Math rock, Post-punk, Post-rock | Year: 2019
From: Montreal, Canada | Label: Mothland
For fans of: The Physics House Band, The Mars Volta, early Portugal. The Man, Cardiacs
Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music
The 1980s produced a lot of very good music. I’ve got a soft spot for some synthpop, and I love genres like new wave and post-punk. However, that decade, particularly its latter half, was not especially kind to progressive rock. In the current musical landscape, though, both progressive rock and post-punk are on the cultural and creative upswing. Occasionally, there is the rare nexus of both those genres’ revivals. Atsuko Chiba are one such nexus.
On Trace, their second full-length release, this Quebecois quintet lean into the dark, jagged rhythms of bands like Joy Division and Wire while mixing these influences with the complexity and technicality of math rock. Ample synthesizers, inventive melodies, and nonlinear song structures add to their prog bona fides. Continue reading “Albums Review: Atsuko Chiba – Trace”
Band: The Dark Third | Album: Even As the Light Grows | Year: 2018 | Genre: Post rock, Progressive rock, Post metal
From: Auckland, New Zealand | Label: Sony BMG
For fans of: Pure Reason Revolution, Alcest
Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music
I was surprised at just how much I liked this album. It’s a very strong debut outing, and I’m very interested to see what this New Zealand quintet will do in the future. The Dark Third use atmosphere as an instrument unto itself, and there’s a nice balance of loud and soft elements.
The opening epic begins with a wall of distorted guitar which transitions into an impressive instrumental exercise. Guitar lines soar over complex rhythms, only to be overtaken by majestic violins. Hints of blackgaze (black metal shoegaze) show up momentarily, but they’re soon replaced by the melancholy verse. Broad guitar arpeggios complement the vocals, which sound like they’re adrift in space. Near the 8-minute mark, the song becomes a quiet acoustic piece, led by piano and folk-inflected guitar patterns. This shift leads back to the earlier bombast to close the song out. Continue reading “Album Review: The Dark Third – Even As the Light Grows”