Ever since the first days of the blog, there have been a few genres that were heavily associated with it. Internally, we came to call these sounds “heavyblogcore”, as a little self-deprecating joke. The bands making this particular sound were always a little bit heavy, a little bit weird, and a little bit dark but not too much. To be honest, the main identifier that tied most of them together was that they played some sort of progressive music. That term, “progressive music”, hides something within it, a certain social trend in metal and music at large: the day of “progressive metal” and “progressive rock”, as standalone genres in the own right, is long over. Today, “progressive” is a modifier you add on to other genres to signify experimentation, odd time-signatures, non-traditional instruments (for the genre) or sprawling track and album times.
But this doesn’t mean that the category is completely empty. It’s a fine line to draw for sure but there are some artists out there for which the “progressive” in “progressive doom” or “progressive death” stands out more than the modified genre. What makes them unique, or what gives them their unique sound, is the progressive part of the equation. It’s a flavor, a tone, a taste, a difference in shade rather than a whole palette.
And for those albums, this column now exists! Naturally, it needed to have a terrible pun for a name, to signify everything that is nerdy and somewhat “dad” about progressive music. Thus, the Prog-nosis was born! We’ll use this column to give you a rundown on all the releases that were decidedly “prog” during the month. As I hinted to above, we’re going to being play fast and loose with our definitions here; what might sound as a primarily progressive to one might not sound like it to the other. And that’s fine; just chill, friend. Let’s focus on the music and let writers write about what they love, where they love it.
So, without further ado, we present to you all of the prog that’s fine to print. Odd time signatures lie ahead! Too many notes stalk these waves! Loud synths on everything!
Sithu Aye – Senpai III (prog fusion, nu-prog)
I know there are a bunch of OG memes about “serious prog nerds,” but I’ve always thought prog was one of the most downright fun genres in rock and metal. One of my earliest musical memories was listening to my dad’s original pressing of Drama by Yes while playing his vintage Super Nintendo (my parents were proud ’80s kids, ok?). Ever since, I’ve gone to prog for its over-the-top goodness: soaring melodies, ridiculously long songs, technical wizardry, and so on.
Senpai III might be a modern prog album to its core, but it brought me back to everything that made me fall in love with the genre in the first place. Sithu Aye essentially channels all the grandiosity of traditional symphonic prog through a nu-prog lens, coming out on the other end with all the juicy guitar hooks and majestic backing orchestration. This is notably bolstered by some well-written piano melodies that further tie the album to prog’s roots.
Of course, if you’re familiar with Sithu Aye’s music, you know there are some chunky, djent-leaning riffs on the docket as well, along with the modern prog production you’d expect. “Hanako’s Shoujo Manga Spinoff!” is one of the most danceable, enjoyable examples of nu-prog I’ve heard since the genre embraced pop sensibilities. But I truly do think Sithu Aye hearkens back to the core prog blueprint more so than their peers, and that’s very much to the benefit of Senpai III. If you want to look in both directions of prog’s trajectories, then strap in and prepare for a good time.
Meer – Playing House (progressive rock, symphonic pop)
I feel like there was a turning point, maybe sometimes in the 90’s, in how culture and, more specifically, musicians came to regard what progressive rock (and metal) was “about”. In the 60’s and 70’s, progressive music was very much about exuberance and the uplifting/liberating qualities of excess. Sure, some darker music was being made in the context of the genre but, overall, progressive rock was a celebration, a shared geeking out exploding with musicality, a multiplicity of approaches, and an infectious sort of optimism. In the 80’s, this was all filtered by the generally darkening global cultural (working under the shadow of Reaganism and Thatcherism, amongst other forces). In the 90’s this culminated in progressive music’s rebirth as something technical, frustratingly difficult, and excessive in a different way, an excess which generates awe instead of exuberance, a wonder based less in joy and more in prowess. Examples? Just think of the difference between Dream Theater’s Awake and Scenes From a Memory. That should sort you out.
However, in the last decade or so let’s say, it appears that there’s a re-awakening of the idea of progressive music, especially rock, which lies on explosive emotions and overall joyous sound. One of the bigger proponents of the style are, of course, blog favorites The Dear Hunter, with their orchestral and, overall, brightly colored style. Over the years, many bands have taken up that mental, starting to operating in the same sort of headspace, even if they don’t sound much like The Dear Hunter: Thank You Scientist, Bent Knee, The Family Crest are a few example we can name. To this growing sound we can also now add Meer, who’s recent release, Playing House, bears all of the hallmarks of the style.
I direct you to the second track, “Beehive”, though we could have chosen basically any point in the album as an example. It’s not a “bright” track at all, which is why I picked it; it has plenty of minor sounds, mainly in the creeping strings and scintillating synths which operate in the background of the track, and the lyrical content is about temptation, addiction, and destructive love. But the overall sound! The overall sound is explosive, a manifestation of dramatic emotions, colors, and ideas. The strings are massive, dominating the choruses where they only complement the verses. The vocals are also a big part of this, especially Johanne Kippersund’s excellent timbre. They are so grandiose, so evocative, that they work beautifully with the rest of the instruments, like gushing water filling a huge container to the brim in a second.
The overall result calls to mind the exact same adjectives as the heyday of progressive rock’s birth and maturation, even if they don’t sound much the same: exuberance. Everything on Playing House is larger than life and that’s a damn good thing. It restores to progressive rock its original fuel, its place in the annals of modern music, as the genre that goes higher, further, and brighter than anything else around it. Playing House is a celebration of the genre’s potential, reminding me why I fell in love with it. Do me a favor and play this one on your speakers; it deserves the space.
Glass Kites – Glass Kites II (progressive rock, synthwave, chromatic prog)
If you want to hear something that simply oozes every single musical touchpoint of classic chromatic prog rock while somehow actually managing to sound progressive and not just a weak imitation of shit from the 80s and 90s, Glass Kites is the band for you. From its sci-fi synthy ambience, to its clear as a bell vocals, to its reverb-drenched leads, their music possesses everything that screams music of a certain time and place. On Glass Kites II though, the Vancouver band’s first release in 9 years, the combination of genuinely compelling and emotional compositions, immediately alluring hooks, and knowing just how far to push certain tropes without falling into pastiche arrives at a kind of musical alchemy that simply works. In the case of closing epic “Discworld / Projector,” it produces something truly magnificent and forward-thinking that will undoubtedly remain one of my favorite songs of the year.
NaKhArA – The Procession (progressive death metal, avant-garde metal)
Admittedly, I never checked out Pitbulls In the Nursery given their edgy name. But if they sound anything like their new side project, then consider me intrigued. With NaKhArA, former guitarist Saïmon crafts an eclectic blend of progressive death metal featuring plenty of avant-garde flourishes. Groovy tech death and dissonant, blast heavy passages are periodically highlighted by sitar, vocoder, accordion, and classical guitar, making for a truly wild ride.
The Design Abstract – Technotheism (progressive death metal)
You’re going to hear a lot of albums in this column that could have fit in elsewhere on the blog, simply because “progressive” is more often a modifier than a genre these days. But some of these releases are just more defined by the “progressive” part of their genre tag and so they’ll end up here instead. This is definitely the case with The Design Abstract’s Technotheism and it’s mostly because of the synths; oh god, the synths on this album are so loud! It turned me off to start with, to be honest, but I’ve since come to love them. This album is liked a synthwave album and progressive death metal album rolled up into one and actually pulled off. If any part of that sounds interesting, you should definitely check this one out. It’s a ride and a half.