This band reminds me a lot of Gojira. It’s sludgy, groovy metal with a powerful but unhurried pulse. There are some strong vocal melodies on here, and the songs each make an impression without overstaying their welcome. Neat riffs are sprinkled in, too. However, there’s nothing particularly noteworthy or unique about this release. If you’re in the mood for some solid post-sludge, this ain’t a bad place to turn, but it’s nothing genre-defying.
Band: Church of the Cosmic Skull | Album:There Is No Time | Genre: Psychedelic rock | Bandcamp
CotCS is a band that cultivates an odd image. Between their all-white clothing and referring to themselves as “Brother” and “Sister,” they obviously lean into a cult-y vibe.The music, though, is melodic, catchy, and dramatic psychedelic rock. Vocal melodies are a key component of their music, and all seven members contribute their individual voices to the overall sound. This blend makes for rich, lush passages that contain many overlapping layers of vocals; and I am a sucker for complex vocal arrangements. The music skirts along the edges of dark and light, alternatingly hopeful and anxious. This release is CotCS’s best album to date, featuring a diverse, dynamic array of songs.
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.
Denver’s Dreadnought are back with their fifth full-length album, The Endless. Their previous release, 2019’s Emergence, was a wonderful evolution in their sound. It demonstrated continuity with the sounds of their prior records while also being distinct within their discography.
In many ways, my assessment of The Endless is pretty similar. This album sees the band moving slightly away from their doom metal roots and incorporating a greater amount of post-metal influence. The band continues to demonstrate excellent compositional skill, and the interplay of the dual vocalists is wonderful. The songs here are slightly terser than usual, with none topping 10 minutes.
Jarrod Gosling (also known by the alias of Varrod Goblink) is back with another album under the Regal Worm moniker. Last year’s The Hideous Goblink was a wonderful piece of buzzy, progressive psychedelia with a clear sonic throughline.
On Worm!, Regal Worm’s fifth full-length release, the sound palette is a bit more diverse, but this pays dividends. While the songs don’t flow together seamlessly like on the last Worm release, there’s still a unique energy to Gosling’s music. The overall feel of Worm! Is lighter and more playful than its predecessor; there’s no 19-minute opus called “The Satan” on this one.
Band: General Admin | Album:techno techno techno techno | Genre: Math rock | Bandcamp
Leave it to a math rock band to have such an odd album title. (Then again, I might be disappointed by a math act giving a record a straightforward name.) The four tracks on this EP are energetic, anxious, yet also fun. The riffs are flashy, of course, and many of the melodies are surprising. It’s a to-the-point release that comes in, makes a statement, and does its job well.
Band: Gospel | Album:MVDM | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
MVDM is made up of just the titular 21-minute song (which actually has a much longer full title). The song was originally written back in the mid-2000s but lay unfinished for over a decade. This epic features lush, languid synths, technical, mathy riffs, and impassioned hardcore punk-style vocals. The song is exhilarating and features a ton of raw intensity.
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.
The Light in the Ocean is a Minneapolis-based quartet with a penchant for sea life. Both this record and their prolix 2020 album–The Pseudo-Scientific Study of Oceanic Neo-Cryptid Zoology–have featured cephalopods on the album art; and their 2019 debut heavily focused on seafaring. I wouldn’t have expected such themes from a band based in a landlocked state. (Then again, many a Hawkwind song is about space, yet they live on Earth.)
The music on Deep Reef Dream feels like a logical next step in their sound, based on what I heard on their last album. This release has more heavy moments than its predecessor, and the band has fully integrated both violin and trumpet into their songwriting. The music remains both complex and accessible, though. The album is also much less lyrically-focused, with six of the nine songs being instrumental.
Phaneronaut is a one-man project out of Germany with an inclination for weird, experimental electronics and sharp contrasts in tone. In the three years the project has been active, they have been quite prolific, so I have not listened to their whole back catalog. What I have heard, though, is strongly reminiscent of early krautrock acts, often landing somewhere between Neu! and The Cosmic Jokers.
This album, then, marks something of a shift in Phaneronaut’s sound. Originally envisioned as having two contrasting halves–a “wood” side and a “metal” side–the project evolved into something else, though the “metal” concept remained. Thus, where previous works are synth heavy and quite electronic, Anabasis features sounds (synthesized or otherwise) that use metal in their production. So the celestial synths of earlier works are reduced, and now there are much earthier tones, meant to portray a (possibly hallucinatory) journey to heaven.
Louis de Mieulle is a multi-instrumentalist and composer I’ve previously coveredtwice on this site. Since his last outing, there have been a few changes. He’s moved from the US back to France and rebranded as “Louison.” His new album, Magnetic Feel, is much more electronic and synth heavy than either of his Sideshow albums. He also performs (almost) all the instruments, whereas those two prior releases were recorded with bands. This solo approach has also forced him to be more structured in his songwriting, and considering some of my comments on Sid€show 2, that’s probably a net good.
Not everything is different on Magnetic Feel. Though de Mieulle bills this album as “cyberprog” and “retrofuture,” there is a grounding in jazz-rock, math rock, and the contemporary prog scene. Like the two Sideshow albums, this is entirely instrumental, and there’s a strong sense of sonic continuity across the ten songs here.
Band: Bekor Qilish | Album:Throes of Death from the Dreamed Nihilism | Genre: Black metal, Progressive metal | Bandcamp
Bekor Qilish is a one-man project hailing from Italy. The songs are full of high-energy shredding, technical soloing, and some really great keyboard textures. The production is fantastic, as well. This release (the title of which is impressively cliche for the famously-verbose world of one-man black metal projects) clocks in at under 30 minutes, and that works in its favor. There is absolutely no fat to trim, even in the sprawling and atmospheric closing track.
Band: Birth | Album:Born | Genre: Progressive rock, Psychedelic rock | Bandcamp
I really liked Birth’s self-titled EP last year, and their debut LP contains rerecorded versions of those three songs. The album as a whole is a bit mixed, however. Songs like “Cosmic Tears” and “For Yesterday” are fun, engaging slices of retro-prog. They’re obviously going for the sounds of 1969, but it’s well-enough played and written that I don’t mind. But then others, like “Descending Us” and “Another Time” lack that spark, making the retro sound feel more like a crutch. Overall, there’s a lot to like here, but it’s not without its drawbacks.