Welcome to the first Progress Report of 2017! The year is off to a strong start as far as prog metal goes, with a great album from Pain of Salvation (check out the full review here) and a number of other excellent offerings.
The theme this month is brevity, a word almost unheard-of in the progressive music field. In a genre known for its lengthy opuses, this month we’ve got a couple of EPs and a couple of LPs to take a look at. With an average length under 45 minutes, these are quick but worthwhile listens. Three of these are also self-released, and definitely worthy of label attention.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII (AFM)
Well, maybe this first one isn’t quite as worthwhile as the rest. The MMXVII in the title of this release of course stands for 2017, significant in that this is a re-recorded, remixed release of the Canadian prog-power band Borealis‘ 2008 album. The music is old enough that the band even has a link to their MySpace page on Facebook. No joke!
Seriously, though, World of Silence is 98 percent power metal, with just a hint of prog at moments. With an unrelenting kick drum and superhero vocal stylings, there’s no mistaking it for anything else. The production and performances may have a new shine to them thanks to the nine years between releases, but the songs themselves are competent but unmemorable.
Enemy Remains – No Faith in Humanity (Self)
The surprise of the month for me was No Faith in Humanity, the latest EP from Enemy Remains, a band led by former Fates Warning drummer Steve Zimmerman. The promo picture made me wonder what I was getting into, but this turned out to be a solid, if short, progressive metal offering, with emphasis on the metal.
There’s definitely some Fates Warning influence here, but Enemy Remains get much heavier than that. Harsh vocals, while not of the highest quality, are used to great effect to embellish songs, and singer Frank Morin does a fine job moving between clean prog-style singing and grittier vocals a la James Hetfield. All told, No Faith in Humanity is a promising EP that will make you anxious for more.
Jupiter Hollow – Odyssey (Self)
Jupiter Hollow are a pair of young fellows from Toronto, Canada, and Odyssey is their debut EP. It’s amazing enough to think that the intricate music presented here is just from two guys, but even moreso when you consider their ages: Grant MacKenzie (guitar/bass/synth) is 21 and Kenny Parry (drums/synth/vocals) is just 18. You’d never guess it from the way Parry belts out these tunes, though, at times sounding like a young Geddy Lee.
The five songs on Odyssey are short by prog-metal standards, but they pack a lot of tight songwriting into them, ranging from eclectically chaotic to mildly experimental. I don’t know if Odyssey will garner these guys the attention they deserve from the record labels, but regardless I’m looking forward to their upcoming full-length album. This is a great first impression.
Need – Hegaiamas: A Song For Freedom (Self)
Need are a stellar Greek band. The oddly-titled Hegaiamas: A Song For Freedom is their fourth album, and it is this close to being a knockout punch. Excellent musicianship, seriously engaging arrangements, and top-notch vocals highlight the album. The six actual songs, including the epic closing track, are all on par with any of the more well-known bands – Symphony X, Fates Warning, you name it.
Hegaiamas is almost the gem of the month, with one glaring exception: the five minute long narration right in the middle of the album, and the Game of Thrones-sounding voiceover at the end. All momentum garnered from the first, and excellent, half of the record is completely eroded by this buzzkill of a ‘song.’ Folks, if you have to spend five minutes explaining the plot of your concept album, you did something wrong.
Riviere – Heal (Basick)
Riviere consider themselves to be a post/prog outfit, and I won’t argue. The music on Heal draws influences from acts ranging from Cult of Luna to most noticeably Karnivool, and the band meshes those and other influences into their own full, lush sound. Opening track “New Cancer” is a great example, sounding much like Karnivool would if they employed the post-metal soundscapes of Cult of Luna. It’s an intoxicating combination.
As one might expect from the influences listed above, the focus for this French foursome is powerful, well-arranged songs that are beautifully produced and performed. Bass player Arnaud Laffont has a voice well suited to the material, soaring over the music effortlessly. While Riviere don’t display the technical self-indulgence of other prog metal bands, Heal is too good to pass up.