Welcome to the August Progress Report. After the mellowness of July, you’re in for a shock this month! Of the six albums we take a look at, no less than five are of a more extreme nature – and the sixth one is one of the best prog releases of the year. You might notice a lack of big hitters Steven Wilson and Leprous in this column: check our full-length reviews of Wilson’s To The Bone and Leprous’ Malina, but not until you’ve gone through this list.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Becomes Astral – Paleblood Sky (Self)
Becomes Astral are a Canadian progressive death metal outfit, and Paleblood Sky is their debut album. With production provided by Cryptopsy’s Christian Donaldson, parts of the album are based on the game Bloodborne. It’s a short record – six songs and 38 minutes – but the band jams a lot into the tracks.
Donaldson has done a great job on the album’s sound, which is modern, aggressive, and clean. Musically, Becomes Astral hold their own admirably, with well-written songs that hold your interest. The vocals are the weak point, with several “voices” used, none of which are particularly strong. Hopefully a couple more years of practice will strengthen these, as there is a lot of potential here.
Cormorant – Diaspora (War Crime)
Progressive black/death giants Cormorant return with Diaspora, an album that features even less songs than Becomes Astral (four), but clocks in at a massive 61 minutes. The tracks are between 8 and a whopping 26 minutes in length. In the hands of anyone else, this might be self-indulgent, but these Bay Area vets know a thing or two about sharp songwriting.
Diaspora is an excellent record, with all four songs taking us for thrilling rides. Production is a bit muddy, and the drums sound like they’ve been brickwalled too hard, but the songwriting and performances overcome this. With engaging arrangements, solid vocals, and tight musicianship, Diaspora is an epic record that even detractors of the death/black vocal style can get behind.
The Hirsch Effekt – Eskapist (Long Branch/SPV)
What happens when you take every vocals style and every musical instrument you can find, toss them in a blender, and spit the results out on a record? Aside from Mr. Bungle or The Mars Volta, usually not something good. But Germany’s The Hirsch Effekt are here to prove that theory wrong with their fourth full-length, Eskapist.
And they do so in a big way. What’s even more amazing is that this is just a trio, but the guys have written a catchy, engaging, energetic, and damn heavy record incorporating prog, death, black, hardcore, art-pop, classical, and the kitchen sink, and it all makes sense. The only downside to Eskapist is some of the song lengths: even my personal favorite on the album, “Lysios,” runs on about five minutes too long. Eskapist is a few self-edits away from being a top pick on the year.
Inanimate Existence – Underneath a Melting Sky (The Artisan Era)
Inanimate Existence are similar to Becoming Astral, a solid technical prog-death outfit. These Bay Area metallers are gracing us with their fourth album, Underneath a Melting Sky, an eight song, 36 minute package of blast beats that waste no time on buildups or atmosphere, but rather get right into the meat of each song.
Production is slightly thin on Underneath a Melting Sky: the bass is way back in the mix and the drums are more clicky than pummeling, but the songs are solid bursts of death metal hectically interrupted up with jazzy breaks. Every song is well-written and performed, with excellent guitar solos and solid, veteran vocal work. Maybe not the greatest prog-death album ever, but definitely worth grabbing for fans of the genre.
Lör – In Forgotten Sleep (Self)
And now for a break from extreme metal in the form of a prog-power band with some folk influences. Lör are a veteran five-piece out of Philadelphia, and In Forgotten Sleep is their self-released debut. Trust me, they won’t be unsigned for long. This album has it all in spades; the perfect mix of prog, heaviness (there’s a bit of harsh vocal work in here) and folk metal.
Songwriting and performances seem effortless here, with short interludes between epic cuts. Whether it’s the folk-influenced “Dusk” or the prog-power of “Eidolon,” Lör play it all with envious skill. Forget prog album of the month; In Forgotten Sleep is my album of the month period, regardless of genre. The only reason it doesn’t get a perfect 5 is because surely there’s a way for them to do something better: I just don’t know what.
Nostoc – ÆVUM (Self)
Last but not least we’ve got Nostoc’s self-released debut, ÆVUM. This is another extreme prog release, but these Costa Ricans have set themselves apart from the other prog-death bands this month by producing a killer collection of tracks in all facets – production, songwriting, vocal performance, and diversity of style.
I love it when new bands put the effort into production that’s essential, and Nostoc have done so here. The sound is full and aggressive, and the excellent bass guitar work is easy to hear. While the entire band kicks ass, Jorge Camacho really stands out on the bass. ÆVUM is an outstanding debut. I wasn’t expecting this quality, but I’m sure glad I was able to grab this record and give it its fair due.
Other 2017 Progress Reports
The Progress Report: January 2017
The Progress Report: February 2017
The Progress Report: March 2017
The Progress Report: April 2017
The Progress Report: May 2017
The Progress Report: June 2017
The Progress Report: July 2017