Welcome to the February Progress Report. Progressive music got off to an average start in January, but this month things really take off. We’ve got a very diverse selection here, with more than one album that blew our socks off. In fact, don’t be surprised to see two or three of these albums appearing in a number of year-end lists come December. As always, have a read through and check out anything of interest. Remember, all these bands need our support so do them a favor and if you like what you hear, purchase their album.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Let’s get things started with what might be one of the most unique albums we’ve reviewed here. The Chronicles Of Manimal And Samara (TCOMAS) are a U.K.-based duo comprised of musician Andrea Papi and poet Daphne Ang. That’s right: poet. Full Spectrum is the duo’s debut album, a 66-minute look into a wide range of human emotions and our impact on the world, set to a multi-genre musical backdrop. Hence the title.
Ang’s poetic incantations are mesmerizing and charismatic, and the music created by Papi ranges from death metal to rave. From song to song the listener experiences different genres and poetic themes. Aside from the long title track, listeners will find themselves fully engrossed in Full Spectrum. TCOMAS are onto something special here, and fine-tuning these efforts will likely result in some pretty amazing art.
Iotunn – Access All Worlds (Metal Blade)
A space-themed concept album? Sure. Technical death metal with a few other influences tossed in? Okay. Jón Aldará, the singer for Hamferð and Barren Earth, on lead vocals? Now you’ve got me! Danish progressive metal band Iotunn present us with their debut full-length, Access All Worlds, five years after they released an EP with a different singer.
The only nitpick with Access All Worlds is the somewhat mellow (and loudly mastered) production. This is more than made up for with incredibly strong songs that incorporate prog, death, and power metal seamlessly, and a tour de force vocal performance from Aldará, as expected. Access All Worlds is the Progress Report’s co-album of the month (you’ll see what you get to Spire), and it most certainly will feature on year-end lists.
Floridian quartet Kaupe return after just over two years with their second album, Cognitive Dissonance. This is a band that focuses on instrumental concoctions, with no set limits or boundaries to speak of. One minute the band hints at post metal groups like Russian Circles, the next minute Scale The Summit, but always Kaupe veer away from any actual imitation and stay true to themselves.
This is certainly progressive metal, but without the self-indulgent wankery one might expect from instrumental. Cognitive Dissonance lays down propulsive and engaging tracks, nothing exceeding five minutes, and holds our attention throughout as a result. All four musicians are masters of their craft and work together to make the song the highlight rather than any specific instrument. Fans of instrumental music will love this album.
It has been five years since Denver’s The Lylat Continuum formed. Over that time the band have been honing their skills and crafting songs that dip into a multitude of genres – death and progressive metal as well as Pink Floyd-like atmospherics. Ephemeral is the band’s debut, and features eight songs spread across nearly an hour. Guest musicians include The Contortionists’s Jordan Eberhardt on bass and Evan Sammons (Last Chance to Reason) on drums.
Those two, along with the trio of full-time band members on guitars and vocals/keys, turn in some technically skilled performances. Vocals are very one-dimensional, featuring only harsh death growls, and are too high in the mix, taking away from some exemplary playing. And while Ephemeral might be overly long, there are a lot of great ideas spread throughout. All told, this is a solid debut album by a band that shows a lot of promise.
Paranorm – Empyrean (Redefining Darkness)
Hailing from Sweden, Paranorm are a quartet specializing in blistering thrash metal with progressive tendencies and black metal-style vocals. Empyrean is the band’s debut full-length, after a couple of EPs. The band has been working on this album for several years now, and that effort and attention to detail comes through in the intricately arranged and completely engaging songs.
Musically this is some of the best thrash metal out there, with plenty of excellent riffs atop a very tight rhythm section. Guitar solos tear through the speakers aggressively, and each song is highly memorable. These guys know how to write great music! On the other hand, the vocals won’t be for everyone. The one-note black metal croaks do nothing for the excellent songs here. With a more varied and dynamic vocal performance, Empyrean could be a masterpiece.
I rarely dive into the black metal end of the pool, but with relatively unknown Australian duo Spire I’m sure glad I did. The pair have been around for over a decade now, and Temple Of Khronos is their second full-length release. They promise that the album will be “immensely evocative, and shrouded in a profound and majestic mysticism,” and they live up to that promise.
There are plenty of blast beats and tremolo picking, but Spire deliver so much more. There is a ritualistic aura about the album, with eerie effects and atmospherics heightened by the various vocalizations used, which range from chants to shrieks to Primordial-like singing. The succinct nature of the album only adds to its allure, pulling the listener in and not letting go for the entire 40-minute journey. This makes Temple Of Khronos our pick for the month, and one of the best albums of 2021 so far.