Welcome to the April Progress Report. Pretty much any review roundup is going to pale in comparison to last month’s amazing releases, but nevertheless we must carry on and look at some April albums. While nothing below is going to set the world on fire, these six albums are all worthy listens and purchases, so check them out and see what grabs your attention.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
I’m not sure if we’ve ever had a Chilean band in the Progress Report, so it’s about time. Welcome, Aisles! The band has been around for almost twenty years now, honing their melodic, at times heavy, brand of prog rock. Beyond Drama is their fourth album, and first since 2016’s Hawaii. It is also the first to feature vocalist Israel Gil.
Beyond Drama is highlighted by crisp, modern production and intricate musical arrangements. Aisles click on all cylinders, with every song loaded with hooks and splendid arrangements. As for Gil, he’s a talented singer with a penchant for delivering in a very Tobias Forge-like manner. At times this is charismatic but equally as often the vocal arrangements are simplistic and too Ghost-like. Despite this misgiving, Beyond Drama is a very strong prog album that should bring new fans to the band.
Sweden’s Black Oak hit hard on their debut album, Egolution. Espousing a style that draws plenty from post-metal, hardcore, prog, and maybe even a touch of shoegaze, the PR blurb accurately (but not comprehensively) describes the band’s sound as a cross of Cult of Luna and Spiritbox. I’ll take it.
There’s a lot going on here, and while Samuéla Burenstrand’s vocals take center stage – she’s on fire, whether it is her hardcore screaming or ethereal cleans – the band backing her up do so with plenty of creativity (although “Conflict” and “Collapse” sound like the same song). It takes a few listens to fully grasp what Black Oak are after here, but it’s worth it in the end, and in fact Egolution is our pick of the month.
Black Orchid Empire – Tempus Veritas (Season Of Mist)
London trio Black Orchid Empire grace the month with Tempus Veritas, their fourth album. Melodic progressive metal, djent, and a hint of classic rock make up the band’s style, at times harkening back to Haken’s Vector album stylistically – although sans keyboards. On this album the band seeks to tell imaginary narratives tied to major historical events, which is an interesting point of view.
The eleven songs on Tempus Veritas are succinct and to the point; no song is longer than four and a half minutes. There’s a keen sense of balance at play here – jagged riffing is juxtaposed by serious melodies and big choruses. Performances are top notch all around, both instrumentally and vocally. While Black Orchid Empire don’t break any new ground here, the songs and artistry on display show they are a band worth paying attention to.
Here’s a quick little debut EP from Edinburgh blackened progressive sludge trio Exdestrier. What does blackened prog-sludge sound like? Some High on Fire, some Black Sabbath, and maybe a touch of Enslaved all mashed up together. What you get from that are the five songs on Glorious Barbarism.
After storming out of the gates with the blustery instrumental “Widowmaker” the band settles into a solid routine of heft, intricacy, and brutality. These are heavy songs played with a deft and highly competent touch. And in a rare stroke of luck (at least to the listeners), the band self-produced this debut and did an admirable job of it. If you like your prog heavy and churning, Glorious Barbarism is the EP for you.
Jethro Tull – RökFlöte (InsideOut)
Jethro Tull have been releasing albums for fifty-five years now, with no signs of slowing down. After last year’s strong The Zealot Gene – the band’s first album in 23 years – the group is already back with RökFlöte, a twelve-song outing full of poetic interpretations of Norse gods’ personalities.
RökFlöte is another worthy release, featuring plenty of hard rock riffing, whimsical flute solos, and interesting, literal lyrics. A surprise mood is placed on the album with the opening and closing tracks being poems intoned in Old Icelandic by Unnur Birna. Highlights such as “Wolf Unchained” and “The Navigators” showcase a band that still has plenty to offer the progressive rock world.
Phaeton – Between Two Worlds (INB)
We’ll close out the month with some instrumental prog metal courtesy Canadian quartet Phaeton. Between Two Worlds is the Kimberley, BC band’s second album, a set of eight cosmically-inspired tracks loaded with both virtuosity and melody. When I hear the term “instrumental prog metal” I think of bands like Animals as Leaders and Scale the Summit, and those comparisons aren’t too far off.
Phaeton are relatively unknown, especially compared to the above mentioned bands, but they definitely hold their own on Between Two Worlds. All three members absolutely kill it on their instruments, the songs are wonderfully arranged and produced, and there’s plenty of variety here to hold our attention. Instrumental prog might be a little talked about genre, but Phaeton belong in the conversation.