I’ve previously talked about countries punching above their weight in musical influence relative to their population. Arguably, no country does this better than Iceland. With a population smaller than most mid-sized cities, this island nation has an impressive crop of musical ambassadors representing post-rock (Sigur Rós), black metal (plenty of acts, but most notably Sólstafir and Misþyrming), and whatever the fuck Björk is (Björk).
Frummyrkrið (Icelandic for “Primordial Darkness”) is a new band composed of three siblings. Dauðans Myrkri (The Darkness of Death) is an impressive debut which skillfully weaves influences such as traditional prog, ambient music, and “Viking metal” into distinctive Icelandic black metal. (I could write a whole rant on my distaste for the term “Viking metal,” but it does conjure up a specific style of music which is applicable here.)
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.
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.
Part of the reason these reviews have been less frequent as of late is that I’m simply having a harder-than-usual time finding new music which really speaks to me. Unless it’s a fairly big-name act, I don’t have much motivation to write 400-800 words on a record where the score will be in the 50s. Thankfully, Dream Weapon came along and snapped me out of that funk.
I’d never heard of Genghis Tron before this album, and I can see why that might have been. They were initially active in the mid-2000s before taking a 13-year hiatus. I’d also never heard of the cybergrind genre, but it’s a fitting name. It takes the aggression and energy of genres like mathcore and grindcore and pumps it through synthesizers galore. (Interesting sidenote: “mathcore” is considered a real word by MS Word, but “grindcore” is not.)
What this record almost reminds me of is Justice’s debut album. Where † is an electronic album with a significant hard rock/heavy metal substrate, Dream Weapon feels like it’s coming from the other direction. It’s definitely a metal album, but electronic music thoroughly imbues its DNA.
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.
I covered Toboggan’s debut EP back in 2019, and I really liked what I heard. It was jazzy, funky, and high-energy instrumental zeuhl. Toboggan’s guitar/keyboard player, Etienne Mazoyer, is in another zeuhl band, ZWOYLD, which draws more heavily from traditional prog and psych tones. There’s a lot of shared DNA between these acts, so if you like what you hear here, I strongly recommend checking out ZWOYLD. (Especially their 2016 album, ZGOND.)
The cover art of Première Descente suits the music quite well. The twisting, spiral slide gives a sense of the wild, swerving nature of the songs. Structurally, the individual tracks follow a long-short pattern, with long cuts running 9-14 minutes, followed by sub-two-minute breathers.
Band: Børeal | Album:Las Mariposas Agitan Sus Alas | Genre: Progressive rock, Alt-metal | Bandcamp
The debut EP of this Colombian four-piece combines the gritty, dirty guitar tones of early-‘00s alt-metal with engaging melodies, and diverse song structures. “Homo Homini Lupus” is a highlight, with its rolling rhythm and descending chorus. The band’s eponymous song closes out this brief release, and it’s my favorite of the bunch. This song is weird and draws the most heavily from modern metal. Some moments on this EP are a bit too evocative of the weaker elements of alt-metal, and some of the catchier melodies feeling incongruous against the harsh backing. Overall, it’s an enjoyable release.
Band: Dancing Sun | Album:Heart Tales | Genre: Progressive metal, Psychedelic rock | Bandcamp
There’s a lot of variance in the styles and discernable influences on these individual tracks. While a somewhat heavy album overall, some songs go all-in on metal influences, while others draw from jazzier corners. Heart Tales’ longer songs are the obvious high points. The extra space allows Dancing Sun to have the most fun with structure. I’m not wild about the vocals on this album, but if you’re able to move beyond it (like I was), or if you wind up enjoying them, there’s some very good music here.
Happy 2021, folks! I took a couple weeks off, but now I’m back to my usual (mostly) weekly posts. I’ve got a queue of EPs and other releases for an upcoming Odds & Ends. I’m also nearing completion on my next Deep Dive, so expect that in early spring. I haven’t posted a full-length review in over two months, though! So, I’m shaking off the rust and highlighting a fantastic two-piece out of Cleveland.
There’s not much about this band online. They’ve got no presence on Facebook or Twitter or anything beyond their Bandcamp page that I can find. That’s a shame, because The Trial of the King is a great way to start off the year. This record feels like an alternate universe where Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee were members of Yes. The overall sound palette is rich and full of retro synths, but the guitars are usually angular. The bass has a satisfying, snapping bite to it more akin to Geddy’s tone than Chris Squire’s usual overdrive.
Welcome to Part One of TheEliteExtremophile’s Top 50 Prog Albums of 2020, this site’s second-annual best-of list. It’s also my tenth year of writing year-end music roundups. The first eight were posted on my personal Facebook. Check out Part 2 here.
2020 was a banner year for progressive rock and progressive metal. There were so many fantastic albums released, and paring this list down to just 50 was often a painful process. Even more difficult was deciding on the exact order of these albums.
Like I said last year, I’m sure there are some excellent albums not included. 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.
Welcome to the first installment of my 2020 best-of lists, TheEliteExtremophile’s Top 5 Prog EPs of 2020. Expect the two-part Top 50 Prog Albums list next week.
Prog is a pretty long-winded genre, so the number of EPs I listened to was low, somewhere in the 12-15 range. However, there were some absolutely killer releases, and trimming this list down to 5 was tough.
As I stated last year, I’m sure there are some excellent releases not included. This site is my personal pet project, 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, either through this site, email, or my Facebook page.
Artist: Andre LaFosse | Album:Karma Suppression Index | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
This instrumental album is full of twisting, groovy guitar lines and pulsing electronic rhythms. I’d recommend this album to fans of later King Crimson, especially The Power to Believe. However, despite the strengths of this album—I love the various tones LaFosse utilized, and it’s very well-produced—it does fall victim to the same pitfall as many other instrumental albums: it winds up feeling too long. Most songs don’t have a particularly clear arc or momentum, and a good groove will only carry you so far.