Closer to the Heart (Top Pick)
Vena Cava – Oculus
One of my favorite sub-genres from which I don’t have enough music is what’s often (dubiously) dubbed “adventure prog”. Sporting bands like Wide Eyes, For Giants and solo musicians like Stephen Taranto and Plini, the sub-genre is characterized by blending brighter tones with progressive music. This creates a sound which draws on complexity but doesn’t make it its main focus, instead choosing to focus on storytelling and a sense of wanderlust to anchor its music. Sadly, it’s sort of a niche/dying sub-genre; with the overall decline of djent (with which adventure prog is often associated because it emerged from the same time/scene and shares many tone similarities with) adventure-prog has also been disappearing from the map and no one really uses the term anymore (except for me, damn it!)
However, that doesn’t mean that bands aren’t still making music in the style. Take Vena Cava for example, a promising fresh band from Kentucky who just released their third EP, Oculus. On it, they explore the kind of many-noted, bright-toned, wide-eyed progressive metal that I love so much, blending it extremely well with lush electronics to create that adventure prog sort of song. “Sleep Swell”, the opening track, is all you need to get what I’m driving towards; listen to how the opening segment sets the tone, with its lightly strummed guitars and atmospheric synths. Then listen to how the groovy riff picks up on those ideas, introducing dozens of little ideas to embellish its sound into something scintillating and fresh. Later down the line, these elements get turned up even further, starting to touch on some sounds that might remind the keen-eared among you of Polyphia or Unprocessed.
Especially listen to that resplendent, redolent bass and how central it becomes, alongside the playful synths, to creating a sense of wonder and atmosphere. Later on, those synths will be given their own space, ushering in a passage which reminds me of sleepmakeswaves and their penchant for evocative, synth-led, heavy passages. The whole thing just ends up feeling magical, like a whirlwind ride into another land. The track, and album, feel like falling into a door you never quite saw was there and finding a whole other land behind it. It feels like an adventure!
Polyphonia (Further Listening)
Sallow Moth – Stasis Cocoon
Restraint is important but sometimes you want to dive head first into a massive cacophony of overwhelming sound. Progressive metal is a surprisingly good way to do this; while the genre is known for its melodic predilections, it all depends on what genre you end up pairing it with. Thus, when Sallow Moth takes the progressive blade to the fat of death metal, the end result is Statis Cocoon, an album that’s practically purpose built for you lose yourself into. Gnarly riffs, all the breakneck drums you can ask, unrelenting tone, and structures that will bend your brain when you try to unparse them, all of these swirl into one science fiction odyssey. I mean, just hit play on the self titled track. Yes, that’s a massive heavy metal you’re hearing. Yes, it does devolve into this brutally sinister death metal riff. Yes, that riff is constantly shaking itself loose, falling apart under its own momentum. And, yes, that huge heavy metal riff comes back.
Oh, and all of (or most of?) the tracks on the album are named after/contain references to Magic the Gathering cards, there’s extensive lore behind it painting a science fiction epic, and that cover art absolutely kicks ass. What more do you really need to know? Put on your headphones or turn up your speakers and let Sallow Moth whisk you away with it’s wonderful excess.