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!
KEOR – TEAROOM
There’s always been something goofy about progressive rock and metal. I mean, the genres are not only concerned with technical skill but also with a lot of other nerdy stuff, emphasizing the aesthetic of the culturally shy, awkward, or atypical. Which is great! When I was a kid and ranting about science fiction and/or fantasy books to anyone who would listen, it was progressive rock and metal (and not power metal, yet) that made me feel like being this passionate about things was OK. KEOR’s TEAROOM does a great job of channeling this slightly awkward, but incredibly sincere, sort of passion. It’s an ambitious and extravagant progressive album that almost works like a confession, with the creator using it to talk about his feelings about the world, his hardships, his loves, and his passions.
From the musical side of things, the album is very percussive; the drums are loud and the guitars often take on this acoustic, powerfully strummed sound that further accentuates the percussive side of things. Likewise, when heavier guitars are used, they draw some inspiration from djent, although they never go full chug. It’s also a very expansive sound, with “large” production and a very ambitious expressive field; in that sense it’s sort of like Devin Townsend in ways, very unabashedly grandiose. It also reminds me of the criminally underrated Andy Hauck and his brand of wide open spaces and percussive, progressive metal.
But the album also has a darker and more ambient side to it, most exhibited on “WARLIKE”, the third track on the album. The Devin Townsend comparison holds up here as well; it’s like the Ki to the rest of the album’s Deconstruction, if that makes sense. The darker tones work very well with KEOR’s vocals, pushing up against the growl range although they never quite erupt into full screaming. The sensation of anger and frustration is carried across very well and offers a great contrast both to the bright “BLOSSOM” which precedes it and to the playful samples and centered vocals of “TOOK A NAP”, which is way more orchestral.
Overall, this is a short release for a progressive album but it manages to cover a lot of really great ground. Releasing an album like this takes a lot of guts, both from a technical and an emotional perspective. It probably took a lot of work to accomplish, to get all of the samples, instruments, and structures into place and stable enough to be called an album. But it also probably took a lot of bravery to bear yourself open like KEOR does on this release and what is more progressive than that?
Big Big Train – The Underfall Yard
Yes, this is a re-release. Yes, I have written about this band, and this album specifically, on the blog before. But I will never give up a chance to write about one of my favorite progressive rock bands of all time, contemporary or otherwise. The Underfall Yard is a timeless masterpiece, one of my favorite albums ever made, and this re-issue does incredible justice with it. Beyond remixing it in all the right ways (like making the synths just a bit louder and taking some of the harshness away from the vocal highs) Big Big Train have also added interludes, solos, sounds, and ideas to the album and somehow made it even better. Just go listen to this. It’s amazing.
Voronoi – The Last Three Seconds
I love albums that sound like their theme. The Last Three Seconds, a prog-fusion-jazz puzzler of an album, sounds just like its science fiction. It sounds like a ship humming to life around you, an AI managing a vast, high-tech city or a field of stars unrolling before you. It’s not just the rich synths (although they certainly don’t hurt) but the star-strobe like drumming, so fast and enchanting, and the luscious, space-sable bass that churns underneath it all. It’s also a very bewildering album, sure to set your progressive-hungry souls alight. It has plenty of weird meters, odd structures, and an overall propensity to just fold space, move sideways, go to FTL, hit the slipstream, you name it. It just suddenly moves into all these great and unexpected directions, making it a ride and a half, even after several listens (and believe me, I’ve had several). And it can even be surprisingly heavy at times, showing off its percussive spurs when needed.
-You Know Who