Odds & Ends: September 6, 2021

Band: Antinode | Album:The Canary the Named the Stars | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp

The three songs on this long EP/short LP are solid, spacey progressive rock with subtle touches of jazz, metal, and indie rock. I’m a big fan of the instrumental tones and textures, and despite the songs’ lengths, they never feel like they’re dragging. There’s significant internal variation on all three tracks, and there’s a natural flow to the way the compositions evolve.

Score: 81/100

Band: Big Big Train | Album: Common Ground | Genre: Neo-prog, Progressive rock | Bandcamp

I have never understood the appeal of Big Big Train. They’ve got the occasional decent song here or there, but I’ve never enjoyed an entire BBT album. They often come off as saccharine and glossy, like a worse version of Spock’s Beard. Maybe I’m too much of a dour Debbie Downer to enjoy such unashamedly major-key music, but the opening “The Strangest Times” exemplifies my lack of fondness for this act. It’s bright, sunny piano-pop that doesn’t strike me as particularly proggy in any definition of the word. Successive tracks are significantly better, though it’s still not exactly my cup of tea. Much of this album comes off as soulless and plain, to say nothing of the bloat. The band sounds stuck in the mid-’90s’ prog scene, a sound which was fine for its time but was rightfully cast aside at the turn of the century. The lushness hobbles the band’s ability to make any real splash, and everything on here has been done much better previously by other artists, often half a century ago.

Score: 51/100

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Odds & Ends: April 5, 2021

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.

Score: 58/100

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.

Score: 75/100

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Deep Dive: Pink Floyd

Welcome to another installation of Deep Dive, where I take a look at the extended studio discographies of some of the biggest names in progressive rock. 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 that is an element often missed in a ranked list.

Today, I’m covering a doozy. Pink Floyd is the most commercially successful progressive rock act by a wide margin. Their global sales tally somewhere between 200 and 250 million records since their debut in 1965, placing them eighth all time among recording artists. The second-most successful prog act is Genesis, with roughly 100 million sales and significant non-prog output.

Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd were my two primary introductions to progressive rock, and those are my second- and third-most-listened-to acts, respectively, according to my Last.fm profile, trailing only The Beatles. I have a deep, intense love of their music, and Richard Wright is probably my single biggest influence as a musician. At the same time, don’t expect this to be a one hundred percent worshipful lovefest, as I have some (strong) opinions which are heterodox among the Pink Floyd fandom.

Unlike other artists I have covered or will cover in this column, Pink Floyd has a huge amount of material which either never saw official release or was released in unusual ways. As such, there is a significant portion of their output which will not be included in the ranking at the end, though I will address it in the body of this essay. Most of this oddball material was recorded 1965-1970 and was released as a part of the 2016 box set The Early Years, 1965-1972.

I will also refrain from ranking Pink Floyd’s live output, as that strays beyond the limitations of this column. That’s unfortunate, too, as Pink Floyd bootlegs from 1968-1972 are something of an addiction for me. Their live performances from this time period are fantastic and deeply interesting, and I really recommend you look into this material yourselves.

Part I: The Barrett Years (1963-1968)

Prior to becoming “Pink Floyd,” Roger Waters (bass), Nick Mason (drums), Richard Wright (keys), Syd Barrett (vocals, guitar), and Bob Klose (guitar) performed rhythm and blues and cut a handful of singles under the name The Tea Set. And immediately upon starting this piece, I’m struck by the issue of Pink Floyd’s massive catalog of unreleased and non-album material.

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Top Prog EPs of 2020

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.

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Odds & Ends – December 7, 2020

Band: Alustrium | Album: Insurmountable | Genre: Death metal, Progressive metal | Bandcamp

The music on this EP is played with incredible precision, and the density of riffs-per-minute is impressively high. However, it also feels like this band’s main goal was to play as fast as possible, and even across such a short EP, that gets exhausting. There’s also nothing particularly unique about this release; this is rather boilerplate tech-death.

Score: 68/100

Band: Esthesis | Album: The Awakening | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp

This band heavily channels Porcupine Tree in just about every regard. It’s a skillful facsimile, right down to the tones of the individual instruments, and the songs are well structured. There is also the occasional outside influence, such the odd jazzy lick here or there. On the downside, this album is pretty long-winded. Only one of the six songs comes in under eight minutes, and most cuts could have benefitted from some trimming.

Score: 70/100

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Odds & Ends – November 16, 2020

Band: Arcade Messiah | Album: The Host | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive metal | Bandcamp

Arcade Messiah is a one-man project out of Ireland that mixes progressive rock and metal with earworm melodies and intriguing electronic touches. Hints of post-rock and stoner metal permeate this album, and each song works wonderfully with the next. This release reminds me a lot of ADHD-era Riverside with its strong hooks, varied textural palette, and adventurous spirit. The Host artfully threads the needle in a way that many acts are unable to. This album strikes a balance of metallic bombast and smooth melodicism.

Score: 89/100

Band: Babel Trio | Album: The Martyr | Genre: Stoner metal, Progressive metal, Greek folk | Bandcamp

I’ve previously discussed this Cretan trio, and I found their blend of Greek folk melodies, progressive songwriting, and sunbaked fuzz truly refreshing. In lieu of guitar, the lead instrument in this band is a modified electric lute, which imbues the songs with a unique timbral quality. The Martyr took a bit longer for me to get into than their previous album, but it gradually grew on me over several listens. This distinctly Hellenic stoner metal kept drawing me back in with its uncommon melodies and well-structured compositions. Compositions range from charging to plodding, and that diversity of atmosphere serves this record well.

Score: 80/100

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Album Review: Wills Dissolve – Echoes

Band: Wills Dissolve | Album: Echoes | Genre: Death metal, Progressive metal, Progressive rock | Year: 2020

From: Houston, USA | Label: Hypnotic Dirge Records

For fans of: Opeth, Isis, Enslaved

Bandcamp

Album-long songs have a rich tradition in progressive metal. Edge of Sanity’s 1996 album Crimson is the best-known of these, but Inter Arma, Meshuggah, and others have dabbled in this format. And that’s not even touching on the countless albums where the individual tracks flow together. And while any band can put a 30-plus-minute track to record, it takes another level of skill to make it consistently good. A good album-long song needs to make sense as one song, as opposed to feeling like a handful of short songs smooshed together.

Echoes—the second release from Houston-based quartet Wills Dissolve—consists of solely the 32-minute title track. The swirling, psychedelic black hole cover art is fitting for this record. The music is huge and intergalactic, yet immensely heavy and crushing.

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