It took exactly one issue for this column to break down into meta discussions of what is or isn’t progressive music, huh? Well, that’s the nature of the beast I guess: if you take a bunch of music nerds (internet music nerds at that) and have them write about the nerdiest (and often most obnoxious) of scenes, then you’re bound to start seeing the discussion launch into naval-gazing. That’s fine, don’t get me wrong; hell, here at Heavy Blog we encourage this sort of behavior. Of course, we don’t aim to settle the question of what is progressive and what isn’t here; that would take approximately 500K words and some sort of time travel mechanism so you could assassinate your opponents in the debate before they are even born. That’s the only way they’ll end up agreeing with you.
Ahemd. Anyway. Down below, you’ll find several albums that all come into discourse with the ideas of progressive music. We leave it to the reader to decide how much they care about how much these do or don’t fit into some sort of obscure and mostly-redundant definition. All we know is that these albums sounded at least somewhat progressive to all of us who contributed or raised some interesting questions about what progressive might mean. Oh, and they also all rule. So there’s that.
Enjoy. Oh, this also publishes on 5/4, so here’s that joke for you. Hurray.
– Eden Kupermintz
Ghostbound – Extended Play For My Sweet Mary Thyme
Placing Ghostbound within a column dedicated to progressive music might ruffle some feathers (hello Alec, I owe you a beer). Don’t get me wrong, the band certainly don’t lack the intricacies and complexities required to fit into this column. Their aesthetics are also not too far from what one might usually find in progressive circles. However, one feels that “art” might fit in more before Ghostbound’s “rock” rather than “progressive”. But hey, since when do we worry too much about these labels? As we said in the opening iteration of this column, progressive today is more of a moniker or a gesture than a “pure” genre, so we’re going to allow us ourselves some wiggle room here.
Anyway, Extended Play For My Sweet Mary Thyme is the latest outing from one of my favorite weird/art/progressive rock bands and boy, is it a delight. It’s a step up across the entire board for these guys. All is Phantom, their full length release from 2018, was an excellent album which, nonetheless, could have used some polish. Well, Extended Play has all of that polish and more. It’s not that the sound has fundamentally changed but that there are a few elements at play which make it shine through all the better, contributing to the overall theatrical, emotional, and aesthetic experience of the album.
Firstly, the vocals are even better on this release. I loved Alec A. Head’s vocals on the previous release as well but he has really stepped up on this release. Whether utilizing his more “routine” timbre or pushing himself close to screaming territory, Head sounds more confident, with a richer and more well grounded tone on this release. It’s great to hear him exploring those more aggressive and forward-facing elements of his singing as well; they bring a lot to the table for the band’s sound.
Secondly, the compositions just sound tighter on this release; the band feel more like a cohesive unit, operating together. Check out the opening to the second track, “Ada, Age of Eight”, for example. Listen to how the bass and the drums work brilliantly together, creating the wall of energy needed to push the guitars along, to maintain the momentum of the track all the way to its closing moments. Those guitars might have sounded lonesome without that backing but, instead, the track is infused with great momentum and energy.
Lastly, the EP format does wonders for the band. All is Phantom was an ambitious record and a long one at that, on run-time as well as on the sheer amount of ideas and musical moments that happened on it. Extended Play For My Sweet Mary Thyme being, well, an EP, is short and impactful for it. The release feels more essential, more distilled, and more direct. It’s an urgent version of Ghostbound and that sense of urgency takes their already excellent brand of art/progressive/avantgarde rock (call it what you may) and elevates it to new heights of artistic expression and accomplishment.
Genghis Tron – Dream Weapon
Let me stir up some longstanding controversy: is there a difference between Prog and progressive music? Loads of music is progressive by its very nature, but does that make it capital-p “Prog”? I’ve heard compelling arguments for either side, but I tend to believe in the existence of Prog as its own separate genre. Some bands embody the Prog style and aesthetic as its own identifier beyond that of broader progressive music. For instance: New York electronic metal act Genghis Tron are trailblazers and have in the past approached avant garde weirdness in their breakneck chaotic flips between dance music and grindcore. It was certainly progressive, but was it P R O G?
After thirteen long years since the release of their groundbreaking album Board Up The House, Genghis Tron have returned with Dream Weapon. They’ve shed any and all trace of grind, and instead have chosen to lean into an interplay of intricate drum patterns (laid by none other than Baptists and Sumac drummer Nick Yacyshyn) and darting synthesizers. Guitars very rarely riff, and when they do, they more closely resemble stoney desert rock. New vocalist Tony Wolski of The Armed rarely raises his voice, and adopts a subdued and often robotic tone of voice.
The whole sound is an entire vibe, and you can certainly call it proggy: Dream Weapon is a concept album with reflections on extinction, utilizes a consistent psychedelic atmosphere, features recurrent melodies, utilizes an abundance of synthesizers, and offers odd time signatures galore. Take for instance the album’s centerpiece “Alone In The Heart Of The Light”; which dedicates its entire seven minutes to an unreasonably smooth 5/4 groove which becomes totally infectious once Yacyshyn begins offering up some powerful drum loops around two minutes in and Wolski starts layering chants and ethereal vocal harmonies. It’s blissful, and if you’re a fan of prog, it makes it hard to miss the grinding riffs and blasts.
The transformation is jarring at first listen, but is a natural evolution for the act. Had they not taken that decade-long hiatus and continued making consistent records, it’s easy to imagine that this is the album they’d have come out with in 2021 regardless. It’s yet another example of a band shedding their heaviness and calling it “maturity,” but at least it worked out this time.
Stortregn – Impermanence
Much as I like my death metal as caveman-like as possible on most days, there’s just something about well-executed progressive death metal that hits just right, and Stortregn’s Impermanence has scratched that itch better than any release I’ve heard in a few years now. The five-piece from Switzerland — who I’m baffled weren’t on my radar sooner — admittedly go even beyond the many sounds encompassed by the progressive death label, with hints of black metal, tech death, and some melodeath sensibilities thrown in, but it all comes together smooth as butter to create an incredibly satisfying blend.
Opener “Ghosts of the Past” starts on the quieter side, but once momentum gets going it rarely lets up, carried forward by both phenomenal twin lead guitar work and frigid black metal sections over pummelling blast beats. The twin guitar work in particular is very reminiscent of Gorod and occasionally Beyond Creation in all the best ways, with ear-catching and memorable licks densely packed all through the record’s 45 minute runtime. But it’s the overall song structuring approach that spurred me to write about Impermanence for this column, with frequent extended acoustic bits over gentle bass lines that call to mind one Ne Obliviscaris (and to a lesser extent Opeth) whilst feeling even more immediate; in other words, even for all these quieter melodic parts and dynamics throughout the song, far be it from Stortregn to dwell on them for a moment longer than the song calls for. To cap it all off, the production is absolutely stunning, and every section of the album feels fresh and alive in ways that make it far too easy to simply get lost in the best way possible.
Impermanence could have easily made a spot in a few of our other genre columns given its synthesis of various subgenres of death metal, but if you’re a progressive metal fan looking to get more into the death metal side of things this is an ideal starting point. More generally, look no further than the phenomenally crafted riffs that kick off “Multilayered Chaos” or the stunning solo of “Moon, Sun, Stars” for some of the best heavy music that’s been released this year: you’ll be glad you did.
Dvne – Etemen Ænka (prog metal, post-metal)
If it feels like this album is all over this edition of Heavy Blog, that’s because it is. First, because it’s so damn good that every single member of the blog wants to write about it, more or less. Second, because it reaches across to multiple genres and scratches the itch for them in an incredibly satisfying ways. And the catch-all “progressive” is no different; even more than their previous releases, Etemen Ænka is the most varied, complex, and subtle Dvne album yet. Like I said in my review. And someone else said when it was released. And in Editors’ Picks as well, if I recall correctly? So you don’t need more words on it; just listen to it. It rules.
Aversed – Impermanent (progressive death metal)
When I premiered a track from this album, I mentioned both how cohesive Impermanent is and how much promise Aversed exhibit on it. Neither of those things have changed and now that the album is out there in its entirety, you can hear for yourself. Aversed are set to do some great things and Impermanent, an already great record, is testimony to that. If you’re looking for some well made, progressive, but melodic and sweeping death metal album, then this one is for you.