Welcome to our February Progress Report. Let’s face it, for heavy music in general February has not been kind. But don’t tell that to the prog bands! The six albums reviewed below are the six strongest as a group since we began this column back in September 2016. We’ve got a couple of stellar reissues, a couple of excellent debuts and a couple of super followup albums. You can’t go wrong with any of these, so pick your poison – or pick them all.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Black Sites – In Monochrome (Mascot)
Born out of the ashes of Chicago thrash band Trials, Black Sites go in a completely different direction on their debut release, In Monochrome. While not strictly progressive metal, In Monochrome should be considered an album of heavy music that draws influences from 70s rock, prog metal, and thrash, amongst others, giving us an album lacking pretension but overflowing with great ideas.
Harsh vocals are almost completely abandoned compared to Trials. The songs are excellent, as are the performances – drummer Chris Avgerin in particular stands out. Melody is the name of the game, with an abundance of tasty guitar riffs throughout. Production is very organic, keeping the performances of the band at the fore. Here’s hoping Black Sites keep the songs coming.
Haken – Aquarius and Visions (InsideOut)
Why would we review a couple of rereleases? Because they’re from Haken, that’s why. Last year’s Affinity was our prog metal album of the year, and Haken’s first two albums, Aquarius and Visions, are only minutely below that one in terms of quality. Both albums here have been remastered by the inestimable Jens Bogren, who produced both Affinity and The Mountain, and are accompanied by instrumental versions of all the songs, making for intriguing listens.
Aquarius was the band’s debut back in 2010, and was the sound of a band with years more experience than the two years Haken had. Lengthy progressive opuses adorn the album, and the mix of modern prog, ’70s prog, and even occasional harsh vocals made this a must-have release. Only a year later, Visions upped the ante slightly with improved vocals (although the lack of harsh growls displeased some) and more variety in the songwriting department, with songs ranging in length from 4 to 22 minutes. Visions was an exciting sophomore effort and showed us that Haken would be a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth (InsideOut)
The question with bands comprised of session or touring musicians isn’t whether or not they can play: they’re always without question crack musicians. The question is whether or not they can write. The Mute Gods are a trio of musicians who have toured in recent years with the likes of Steve Hackett and Steven Wilson, and Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth is their debut release.
And yes, they can write as well. The trio, along with several guest musicians, has given us some great ’70s-styled progressive rock here. Lyrically the album rails against the kind of society we have become, and while the singing may be considered the weakest link on the album, the music is top notch and the songs are interesting throughout, making this an engaging listen.
Persefone – Aathma (ViciSolum)
Honestly, I had no idea where Andorra was, and still wouldn’t if it wasn’t for the fact that prog metallers Persefone hail from this tiny country (it’s between France and Spain, if you were wondering). Aathma is the band’s fourth album, and if their first three didn’t put Andorra on the map, this one will.
Aathma is the most complex and diverse album reviewed this month, with every prog style one can think of represented – rock, metal, death, ’70s, a touch of djent, you name it. Harsh vocals, clean vocals, female vocals, this band throws everything in the mix, and amazingly they pull it off. Despite the sheer density of content, Persefone manage to give us a coherent, musically sound album that fires on all cylinders, and is my pick of the month.
Starbynary – Divina Commedia: Inferno (Revalve)
Did you ever wonder what a Geoff Tate-fronted progressive power metal band would sound like? Well, it would sound like Starbynary. No, Tate is not the singer for this Italian quintet, though. Divina Commedia: Inferno is the band’s second album, and first with the current lineup.
Yes, the vocals sound a lot like Geoff Tate, and that’s a good thing. Musically this is muscular power metal with heavy doses of progressive metal thrown into the mix. The songs are complex yet catchy, although at 68 minutes it’s a lot to take in. Nevertheless, Inferno is a fun album with no real weaknesses, and rounds out a great month of prog releases.