After I completely shat over all that you love, I think it’s time to counterbalance with something more positive. No, 2016 wasn’t only shit, and yes, I do love well-executed progressive music. Maybe the bigger names did disappoint, but many smaller ones surprised, or, at least, met the expectations. So, without further ado, here’s a short, unranked list of the great things the year had to offer.
The Dear Hunter’s Act V: Hymns with the Devil in Confessional
The Dear Hunter’s latest chapter in their confusingly complex story did not fail. That album is great from start to finish. With the band’s earlier releases, they were interesting but there always was something that began to annoy me – and I still don’t know what that intangible flaw is. I’m relieved to say it is completely absent from Act V. The indie-infused progressive rock here is, quite frankly, utterly enjoyable. Each note is expertly placed and every modulation serves the narrative and adds to my enjoyment of the penultimate act in The Dear Hunter’s story. It provides us with memorable anthems and a lot of moments to sing along to, most of which will probably be a nuisance because they’re stuck in your head.
Despite the absolute mess that this album’s release was, Akrǿasis remains one of the best progressive death metal albums of the year, and Obscura’s masterpiece. That last comment is perhaps more personal than anything else, being that I’m not a fan of the band’s earlier releases, but this one, specially including Tom ‘Fountainhead’ Geldschläger, pushes my buttons just right. It’s astonishingly technical yet doesn’t feel too mechanical, thanks in part to the use of fretless instruments. Akrǿasis will give you brain cramps and a stiff neck.
It’s not often that we can be touched by Japanese Zeuhl, especially when it’s from an American band, the scene being mostly concentrated in France and Japan. Nonetheless, Corima has done so twice in a row, now, with 2012’s Quetzalcoatl and last year’s Amaterasu. For the uninitiated, Zeuhl can be either very boring or overwhelming. For me, it was quite disappointing, until I knew there existed a Japanese version of the genre, which is a bit more down my alley. However, Corima doesn’t fully do in one or the other, and instead are really claiming their own style – perhaps it is the foundation of a new, American school of Zeuhl, how exciting! The album is divided into 9 tracks making up 2 big songs. The fast-paced and very diverse instrumentation will most probably either shock or strike you with awe. It’s quite difficult to follow and comprehend, but it’s a fascinating album!
Third Ion’s Biolith
Here’s a smaller artist you shouldn’t overlook. Third Ion is an amazing progressive metal band comprised of proud geeks. Biolith‘s heavy prog combined with strictly clean vocals makes it sound a bit like Level 2-era Last Chance to Reason (minus the growls, obviously). Its vocal melodies are well written, and so are the songs onto which they are laid, which makes for a really interesting listening experience. Third Ion is one of those bands whose underground status is more than bewildering, given the quality of their release. Let’s hope they get the attention they deserve in the future!
Continuous lineup changes won’t stop Jeremey Poparad, the mastermind behind Axon-Neuron, to pull his progressive rock/metal project into ever more ambitious territories. This time, it’s with Metamorphosis, a double album of interconnected songs, that the band leaves a mark. I hesitated to write either rock or metal there because the music really is on the dividing line. Most of it definitely sounds more rock, but the presence of heavy, low-tuned guitar riffs somewhat blurs the distinction. On top of that, Metamorphosis includes a whole orchestra either complementing the rock instrumentation or playing dedicated compositions like the preludes to each disc. The female vocals on display are, although not perfect, very good and often well-dosed. Some themes are carried throughout the entire album, hidden within each song’s framework, which adds cohesion to the whole. Truly an impressive release!
Slice the Cake’s Odyssey to the Gallows & Odyssey to the West
Yet another album whose publication was problematic. I won’t spill details about it, because what matters is the product at hand. The Aussie band’s progressive death metal masterpiece takes the form of two distinct but inseparable sides: the ambient Odyssey to the Gallows, and the metal Odyssey to the West. Both are a work of profound care and introspection, both in their music, lyrics, and delivery. One can but empathize with the protagonist, given the utterly cathartic, almost theatrical vocal delivery. The first side provides something unique – a half-hour piece of atmospheric, reverb-laden music with demonic vocals -, while the other represents a new height in conceptual progressive death metal/deathcore releases. It’s the epitome of the genre, and the band’s probable swan song.
The Mercury Tree’s Permutations
Truly a bizarre take on progressive rock, but one that you can’t help but respect. The Mercury Tree has, since a few years, been building their very own style of progressive rock, often including the use of microtonal instruments. Permutations is an artistic, creative, original, and forward-thinking album that’s exploring new areas for the genre. Hopefully some bands will follow in their tracks and exploit this vastly unexplored territory. Yes, it’s experimental – even avant-garde -, and it’s quite challenging, at first, but if you give it some time, it will reward you tenfold!
Sithu Aye’s Set Course for Andromeda
My relationship with Sithu Aye’s music has been quite rocky. I really liked Cassini, and Invent the Universe even more so. 26 was a great, joyful EP, but then Pulse and Senpai EP「先輩EP」 didn’t interest me at all, musically. However, I’m glad to say that the dip is now over, and that Set Course for Andromeda is quite amazing. It’s a double album – although I don’t see the need for that since it doesn’t exceed the compact disc’s limit of 80 minutes -, where on one side sits 7 unrelated tracks, and on the other 6 songs that are part of one massive, 29-minute track. Both sides are very good and different. The instrumental “double” album, which is over one hour long, doesn’t feel tedious at all, and takes every opportunity to make an interesting detour or add something new. Oh, and there’s also a 5th anniversary remaster of Cassini that’s well appreciated, too!
Shamblemath’s Self-Titled Album
Shamblemaths is a very obscure name, in the progressive rock scene, and that has to change! If I were to compare their sound to a more well-known band, I’d say it sounds like a more defiant Not as Good as the Book-era The Tangent. If you know my feelings for that album, you’ll understand that’s a huge compliment. Shamblemaths is comprised of only three songs, but they make up almost an hour of material. In true prog essence, they are each almost 10, 20, and 30 minutes in length, and are written as multi-part suites that would, if divided, make 20 tracks. None of them sounds the least bit derivative or out of place, which is a true testament to the brilliance of the composers. Shamblemaths is a name more shall know.
South America is one of the last places I go to look for great progressive bands. Don’t be offended, I’m well-aware of the people’s good tastes in these countries, just that not a lot of very good bands has come out from there. That’s why I was so surprised to hear Tecnocracia, Uruguayan band Elarcos’ debut album. Although it has some flaws, mainly in production quality, I couldn’t leave this list without mentioning it. With more than an hour of progressive metal topped with saxophone cheese, the album stays true to the progressive metal genre while adding the band’s particular sound to it. It’s a fun jam loaded with great riffs and musical proficiency. Hopefully, we hear more from them in the years to come!
That’s all, folks! Hopefully, this list will help you decide what to listen to, and make you discover a few bands. I’m really looking forward to what 2017 has to offer! Thanks for following us on facebook, and to keep reading our little blog.