Welcome to September’s Progress Report, a monthly column dedicated to all forms of progressive rock. Each month we will highlight a few albums that intrigued us, disappointed us, or made us wish we had avoided them. Of course, don’t forget about the bigger prog releases that don’t hit this column, but rather get their own feature, such as Evergrey and Opeth.
The name of the game this month is diversity. We’ve got instrumental prog, Canadian prog, technical death prog, Tool worshippers, and a LOT of flute! So buckle up and read on to see if anything catches your eye.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
An Endless Sporadic – Magic Machine (Self)
An Endless Sporadic, perhaps best known for contributing songs to the Guitar Hero game series, is really Berklee grad and multi-instrumentalist Zach Kamins. Here on Magic Machine he is joined by numerous guest musicians including Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater) as he creates instrumental fusions of jazzy prog metal.
Instrumental prog rock is a finicky genre. Can music alone carry this sort of album? In some cases, such as Dysrhythmia, this is not a problem, and Kamins and guests are certainly aces on their instruments. But there is so much going on in each song that they don’t stand out thematically – each song, although expertly played, blends in with the next. Magic Machine is a record that begs for vocals and more restraint in the arrangements.
Auras – Heliospectrum (eOne)
Canada is home to a lot more than just Celine Dion and Justin Bieber. There is a healthy metal scene as well, and Auras hope to be counted among such influential bands as Voivod and Gorguts. That is a tall task, and Auras aim to approach it with all the subtlety of a hurricane. Not the best idea, as Heliospectrum is a true test of patience.
Heliospectrum is a metalcore/djent album with some progressive overtones. Music is essentially staccato riffs mirroring the rhythm section, huge bottom end on the drops, and some very harsh vocals. With the exception of a few lulls in the cacophony (“Dream Elixir” features some clean singing, and coincidentally is a strong number), this ends up being a somewhat tiresome album.
Ayahuacsa – Yin (Self)
Another Canadian band, Ayahuacsa approach things a bit differently than Auras. Rather than bludgeoning you over the head with 8-string shredding, these Torontonians hit us up on Yin, their sophomore release, with what can best be described as progressive psychedelic grunge metal. For the most part this is an eclectic and fast-paced platter.
Yin is an enticing and varying blend of styles, with songs ranging from sludgy to thrashy. Think a heavier, sludgier, grittier version of The Mars Volta. What makes Yin stand out is the quality of songwriting, musicianship, and vocals. At twelve songs it’s a bit long, but Ayahuasca present a complete package to us with an album that is entertaining start to finish.
Edensong – Years in the Garden of Years (Laser’s Edge)
It has been eight years since Edensong self-released their debut. That’s a long time to be dormant and out of the public eye. The awkwardly titled Years in the Garden of Years tries to make up for this with more than seventy minutes of metal-tinged progressive rock, which for most bands is far too much. That is the case here as well.
There is definitely some intricate riffing on Years in the Garden of Years, most notably on flute – too much flute for some palates, especially if one can’t get the image of Ron Burgundy out of one’s head. Aside from that, this is an intricate and enjoyable, if overlong, prog rock release. Hopefully Edensong can record a third album a bit more quickly.
Inanimate Existence – Calling From a Dream (Unique Leader)
Progressive death metal makes an appearance again this month, in the form of Inanimate Existence, a Bay area seven-piece outfit. Calling From a Dream is their third record, and is a concept album dealing with a man trying to reunite with the soul of his lost lover.
This is a death metal album with a lot of elaborate orchestral arrangements. It starts off on a shaky note, with female vocals fading in and out of the mix as if the producer doesn’t know how to record them. The beginning of Calling From a Dream is weak, again marred by bad vocal production and odd arrangements, but the band find their groove by the midway point and deliver some solid songs down the stretch.
Source – Return to Nothing (Pavement)
With Tool continuing their self-imposed limbo, someone needs to step up and satisfy the masses. Enter Source, a Colorado-based band that wears their Tool idolatry on their sleeves. Return to Nothing is their debut album, and the trio pays an almost too authentic tribute to their heroes. Think Tool with a dab of Opeth’s death metal.
It’s hard to say if Return to Nothing is so similar to Tool as to be a shameful ripoff, or if it is more like a sincere homage. Either way, the music is very well done, and even if the production and instrument tonalities are a dead ringer for Tool, at least the songs are well written. This is the best Tool album we’ll get until the real deal drops one on us.