Album Review: Dizzy Mystics – Wanderlost

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Band: Dizzy Mystics | Album: Wanderlost | Genre: Progressive rock | Year:  2019

From: Winnipeg, Canada | Label: Independent

For fans of: Tool, RX Bandits, Children of Nova

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“Dizzy” is an apt adjective for this Manitoban quartet. The music here is packed to the brim with tight, technical riffs played at a breakneck pace. But this isn’t some math rock-style exercise in sheer complexity, nor is it some John Petrucci-style masturbation session. Dizzy Mystics are shockingly melodic in their compositions. Wanderlost is definitively not a metal album, but the closest analog is Tool. The melodies seem rooted in a similar strain of ‘90s alt-rock and are run through a similar artistic lens, albeit one with less distortion.

Folk influences are pervasive. Mandolin and acoustic guitar are often given prominence, and the technical skill combined with the tempo can give some echoes of bluegrass at times. There’s even the occasional flash of 1980s-Rush-style-vaguest-hint-of-reggae touches.

“Letter” opens the album with a flurry of high-tempo arpeggios and oddly-metered strumming patterns. The rhythmic effect is off-kilter and disorienting, a recurring theme on Wanderlost. “Shindigjig” draws on folk sounds, giving mandolin prominent placement among the high-octane riffage and dramatic vocals. The bass, here and elsewhere, slaps and bounces with funky levity. The songs regularly display some impressive structuring. Despite their (relatively) short lengths, Dizzy Mystics move beyond simple verse-chorus structures.

Glimpses of metal do arise on occasion. “The Anti-Dream” is one of the heavier songs on the album, based around a strange, highly propulsive riff, though song’s second half slows down somewhat. This latter section is noticeably spacier and more psychedelic, leveraging an expansive guitar tone. “Diamond Duller” similarly displays some of the band’s most transparent Tool influence. The riffs are weird but melodic, and the vocals are especially reminiscent of Maynard’s.

I do have a few gripes with this release, though they’re mostly minor. “The Scythe Pendulum Swing” tries to be a slow-builder, but it comes off more as seven minutes of aimless meandering. Dizzy Mystics are never quite able to get the intensity up to a point that it feels like the song has progressed meaningfully. The jazziness of “Rester (Analog Chameleon)”, along with a few other quieter moments here and there on the album, doesn’t work well, either. This isn’t a band that can make an impact by taking it down a notch. Their strengths reside in frenzy and high-tempo theatrics. They also probably could have shortened this album by about 7-10 minutes, and it would be stronger; some songs run a hair too long.

Wanderlost closes on its epic title track, and Dizzy Mystics play to their strengths here. The riffs are fast, finger-twisting feats of technicality, and the song flows seamlessly overall. In addition to the band’s instrumental prowess, the vocals are impassioned and dramatic without coming off as ridiculous or overwrought.

Dizzy Mystics offer a unique take on progressive rock. Aside from some of the more common influences, like psychedelic rock, they integrate high-tempo folk, funk, and ‘90s alt-rock. It results in a distinct sound that sets them apart from most bands in the progressive rock scene.

Score: 82/100

Album Review: PoiL – Sus

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Band: PoiL | Album: Sus | Genre: Progressive rock, Zeuhl, RIO | Year: 2019

From: Lyon, France | Label: Dur et Doux

For fans of: Magma, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Ni, Frank Zappa

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music

I’ve written before of France’s unique place in the world of progressive rock. Of the countries with distinct national sounds, theirs has always been the most unashamedly weird, fusing progressive rock with jazz and avant-garde music. Zeuhl was an almost-exclusively-French genre for the first twenty or so years of its existence, and two of the five founders of the Rock in Opposition (RIO) scene were Francophone. (Univers Zero were from the French-speaking Wallonia region of Belgium.) PoiL, the experimental Lyonnais trio, are one of the most prominent contemporary bands carrying on this tradition.

Last year, PoiL fused with the band Ni to become three-sevenths of the supergroup PinioL. Ni’s particular brand of experimental rock music has frequently bordered on metal, and on Sus, it sounds as if some of that may have rubbed off on the guys in PoiL. PoiL lacks a guitar player, but that doesn’t stop the band from laying down their heaviest music to date. The bass on this album crunches and snarls; the electric piano pounds out weird, dissonant chords; and the drumming is downright virtuosic. Continue reading “Album Review: PoiL – Sus”

Lesser-Known Gem: Zerfas – Zerfas

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Band: Zerfas | Album: Zerfas | Genre: Psychedelic rock, Progressive rock, Folk rock | Year: 1973

From: Indianapolis, USA | Label: 700 West

For fans of: The Beatles post-1967, Yes, Yezda Urfa, The Grateful Dead

Zerfas are one of those bands that there isn’t much information about beyond their music. I’ve ascertained they were formed in Indianapolis in the late 1960s by brothers Dave (drums, vocals) and Herman Zerfas (keys, vocals), and they persisted under a series of names until the early 1980s. They released one album, Zerfas, in 1973.

Zerfas, however brief their career, showed a lot of potential to fill several niches in the realm of progressive rock. Prog is a genre notorious for taking itself too seriously, with the music being played with near-surgical precision. A lot of the music on Zerfas, while structured and arranged in uncommon ways, has a loose, fun atmosphere to it. The timbre is frequently warm and sunny, thanks in large part to the vocals. Imagine if The Beatles (c. 1968) had tried to record a progressive rock album, and you’ll get a decent idea of what’s here. Continue reading “Lesser-Known Gem: Zerfas – Zerfas”

Album Review: Pyramidal – Pyramidal

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Band: Pyramidal | Album: Pyramidal | Genre: Space rock, Progressive rock | Year: 2019

From: Alicante, Spain | Label: Krauted Mind Records/Lay Bare Recordings

For fans of: Hawkwind, Änglagård, Magma, Elder

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If there’s one thing the current progressive rock scene does not lack, it’s mostly-instrumental stoner metal acts which bill themselves as “progressive” despite lacking any real musical adventurousness. An upsetting number of bands regularly release albums full of uninteresting 15-minute heavy blues jams and label it as “space rock” or “progressive rock”. Thankfully, Pyramidal are not one of those acts. They lean heavily on early Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath influences, like many of those aforementioned stoner acts, but Pyramidal couple those influence with more daring jazz, krautrock, and even zeuhl influences.

Pyramidal is a band that’s been on my radar for a while, and with the release of their self-titled fourth studio album, I’m pleased to find that they’ve hit a new high in their songwriting and instrumental skill. In addition to the core band members, the group brought in a few guests to contribute saxophone, violin, and synthesizers. This is doubtless their most ambitious, progressive release to date. Continue reading “Album Review: Pyramidal – Pyramidal”

Odds and Ends – March 21, 2019

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Odds and Ends is a segment where I do brief reviews of albums I either didn’t prioritize for longer-form reviews, or ones for which I don’t have that much to say.

a1945761875_10Band: Cheeto’s Magazine | Album: Amazingous | Genre: Progressive rock, Pop, Progressive metal | Bandcamp

This album was a disorienting experience. Cheeto’s Magazine blend sunshiny pop with metal riffs and complex structures. The closest analogue I can think of would be A.C.T., though this has an even more aggressively poppy edge. The songwriting is consistently ambitious, and there are some moments reminiscent of Dream Theater’s better output. I give them a lot of credit for ambition, but the juxtaposition of metal with those bubblegum synths is often jarring.

Score:  69/100 Continue reading “Odds and Ends – March 21, 2019”

Album Review: Numidia – Numidia

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Band: Numidia | Album: NumidiaYear: 2019 | Genre: Psychedelic rock, Progressive rock, Blues rock

From: Sydney, Australia | Label: Nasoni Records

For fans of: Elder, Erkin Koray, Quiet Child, Pink Floyd, North African blues

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music

There seems to be a correlation between regions that are mostly desert and the production of psychedelic blues. The American Southwest has a fertile scene, and the Berber peoples of the Maghreb and Sahel have given birth to a unique fusion of blues, blues-rock, and their own native traditions. Maybe it’s something about the vast stretches of empty land that leads to this particular brand of earthy, mantra-like rock music. It would make sense, then, that Australia would have some contributions to this sound.

Numidia are a quintet hailing from Sydney (which, notably, is wetter than the Pacific Northwest or the British Isles) that plays a brand of meditative, desert-tinged blues rock with the sensibilities and stylings of classic 1970s progressive rock acts blended in. Explicit overtures are made toward Middle Eastern and North African music as well. Continue reading “Album Review: Numidia – Numidia”

Album Review: All Traps on Earth – A Drop of Light

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Band: All Traps on Earth | Album: A Drop of Light | Year: 2018 | Genre: Progressive Rock

From: Stockholm, Sweden | Label: AMS

For fans of: Änglagård, Magma, early King Crimson, Wobbler

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music

Any discussion of All Traps on Earth requires at least briefly discussing Änglagård, the band’s progenitor.

Änglagård were one of the best (read: one of the few good) progressive rock acts of the 1990s. They put out two classic albums, Hybris (1992) and Epilog (1994). These releases brought the sounds of classic ‘70s prog acts like Yes and Gentle Giant into a new era with a fresh twist and breathed new life into the long-out-of-favor genre. Those two albums deserve every bit of the praise they get. In 2012, 18 years after their last one, Änglagård put out their third album, Viljans Öga, to much acclaim. (I like it overall, but I think it’s too long and doesn’t do anything too special.)

Based on their past release schedule, Änglagård’s next album won’t be out until 2030, so in the meantime, the band’s bassist, keyboardist, and drummer have formed All Traps on Earth. This band’s debut, A Drop of Light, feels very much to be the spiritual successor of Viljans Öga. Both albums are mostly-instrumental, feature vast, Mellotron-soaked suites, and display a high degree of complex songcraft. But both also feel like they’re lacking some impact. Continue reading “Album Review: All Traps on Earth – A Drop of Light”