Welcome to the April Progress Report. It’s been quite a month, led by no less than the strong reunion album from Liquid Tension Experiment (reviewed separately here). The quality doesn’t end there, though; below you will find six more albums of varying styles, all of which are stellar in their own right. In reviewing the scores below it may seem like I’m on a bit of an overrating tear, but trust me, these albums more than earn their grades. Give the reviews a look, check out the bands, and of course go buy their music if it works for you.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Årabrot – Norwegian Gothic (Pelagic)
Norwegian oddballs Årabrot return with their ninth album, aptly entitled Norwegian Gothic. Back in 2018 this band found favor with us for Who Do You Love, a wonderfully weird mix of noise and rhythm that one finds difficult to stop listening to. Leader Kjetil Nernes is joined by the same collaborators as were present on the last album, this time delivering a 16-song, 57-minute epic.
Once again coming off like a mashup of Swans, Public Image Ltd, and Johnny Cash, Årabrot hypnotize and mezmerize us all the way through. Nernes’ sneer is front and center again on standout tracks like “Kinks of the Heart” and “The Rule of Silence.” Norwegian Gothic is heavier and more bombastic than its predecessor, but no less eerie and weird. And just like all the band’s work, this album is hard to stop listening to.
Astrakhan – A Slow Ride Towards Death (Melodic Passion)
For this reviewer, at least, Swedish melodic prog metal act Astrakhan came out of nowhere. I was not familiar with their first few albums, but A Slow Ride Towards Death has me quickly rectifying that error. This isn’t the Canadian prog-sludge band, but rather a group formed by members of Royal Hunt and Pain of Salvation, and that influence really comes across, as A Slow Ride Towards Death is very similar in feel and composition to PoS’s excellent In the Passing Light of Day.
Alexander Lycke is a highly-regarded vocalist back in Sweden, and one listen to this album shows why. He (along with PoS’s Johan Hallgren, who does some singing as well as lead guitar) imbues the songs with such emotion and power that one gets lost in the album quite easily. Add to that some outstanding songwriting (and a penchant for adding a ton of flanger effect to the bass guitar) and what we have here is one of the strongest progressive metal albums of this young year, and our top pick for a very strong month.
Last Hyena – How Soon is Mars (Stereobrain)
How Soon is Mars is the debut album from Bristol prog/math rock outfit Last Hyena. This young instrumental trio is all about pushing boundaries, much like King Crimson or Frank Zappa do. If that sounds enticing then buckle up, because you’ll be in for a fun ride through this short but entertaining collection of songs.
The tendency is for instrumental prog to be a busy street, with nary room for breath, but here on How Soon is Mars Last Hyena give each other a ton of space to explore, and explore they do, with plenty of hardcore dissonance mixed in with meandering jazz moments and splashes of atmosphere. The sky is the limit for Last Hyena; How Soon is Mars is a super debut.
Certainly the most unique album of the month has to be Conquistador, the debut album from the ambitious North Carolina duo of Stone Healer. The Kaminsky brothers (Matt on drums, and Dave on everything except drums) have been working on this album since their 2015 EP, and the time and effort shines throughout.
It can be difficult to pin Conquistador into a single genre. Stone Healer deliver a ton of progressive rock, epic metal, acoustic-driven numbers, and dollops of black and death metal. The fact that all the songs work as marvelously as they do is a testament to the brothers’ musical and songwriting talents. It’s almost impossible to stop listening to Conquistador. In fact, the only notable area for improvement would be the vocals, which are quite raw. Stone Healer are just some vocal refinement away from delivering a masterpiece.
Nad Sylvan – Spiritus Mundi (InsideOut)
It feels like we review something from Nad Sylvan every year. A quick search shows that the Swedish/American singer has appeared three times here in the past, twice with solo albums and once with Roine Stolt’s The Flower King Project. He is prolific, though, as Spiritus Mundi is his fourth solo album in six years, and first since his “Vampirate” trilogy.
Freed of the shackles of a triple-length concept, Sylvan goes for a slightly different sound here as he collaborates with Andrew Laitres (The Winter Tree), delivering a shimmering, easygoing folk-infused album of mellow prog. He has all the usual suspects helping him – Tony Levin, Steve Hackett, Jonas Reingold, and many others – and the music is well-produced and easy to sink into. Spiritus Mundi won’t blow any minds, but it will settle the soul and warm the heart.
The Vintage Caravan – Monuments (Napalm)
Rarely do Icelandic bands grace these annals, but to close the month out we have the fifth release from power trio The Vintage Caravan. Equal parts retro, psychedelic, bluesy, and progressive, Monuments displays a band whose songwriting is fully mature. The eleven songs here run the gamut from pure retro to psychedelically hypnotic, from all-out rocking to pensive and delicate, and everything in between.
Óskar Logi Ágústsson shines on both vocals and guitar, while Alexander Örn Númason and Stefán Ari Stefánsson are a more than able rhythm section. The eight-minute “Forgotten” is a highlight, with frantic riffs and super-tight stop-starts keeping us hooked. “Sharp Teeth” shows a more intricate yet still hypnotically groovy side of the band, while “Whispers” and “Torn in Two” are excellent songs as well. In fact there is nary a weak track to be found, making Monuments one of the month’s standout albums.