The Progress Report: February 2023

Welcome to the February Progress Report. We’ve selected a sweet variety here for you, long albums, short albums, extreme prog, prog rock, independent releases, big label (for prog) releases, debuts and established efforts. There are quite a few strong releases here, and even the ones with lower grades are worth seeking out. As always, check the bands out and support any that tickle your fancy.

Ratings are on a five star scale.

Dusk – Spectrums (Self)

After a handful of EPs and singles, Saudi one-man act Dusk presents Spectrums, their debut LP. The album features a number of guest vocalists from bands such as Entropia, Solemn Vision, and Ianai. And just to up the ante, Dusk’s Meshari Sangora allows the guests to sing in their native languages. Dusk has also split Spectrums into two halves, the first of which is more aggressive, modern progressive metal, the second featuring some electronic flourishes.

There are plenty of good ideas and superb music here, and a number of excellent songs (opener “The World We Used to Know” and “Only You” are particular standouts), but there are also a few duds and not all vocals hit the mark. Dusk covers so many genres here that the album lacks identity. A sharper focus would lead to a much better experience for the listener next time out.

Rating: 3

InsideOut Music

eMolecule – The Architect (InsideOut)

The Architect is the debut album from duo eMolecule – a partnership between Kelly Nordstrom and Simon Collins, former collaborators in Sound of Contact. I haven’t listened to Collins’ work since his 2008 solo album, U-Catastrophe, so it’s great to see he is still creating vital music. On The Architect the pair share vocal, keyboard, and programming duties, while Collins also focuses on drums and Nordstrom on guitar and bass. Both excel at their craft and it shows here.

Not every song hits the mark (we could do without the conspiracy-laden “Prison Planet”), and seventy minutes is pushing it length-wise, but for the most part The Architect is an excellent album, perfectly interweaving aspects of metal, prog, industrial, and more into an engrossing package which at times reminds one of OSI’s excellent output – good enough to be our pick of the month.

Rating: 4

Hypno5e – Sheol (Pelagic)

We first looked at French band Hypno5e’s work three years ago, when we had mixed reactions to their fifth album, A Distant (Dark) Source. The group is back now, with a revamped rhythm section, and a slightly more grandiose approach to their already-cinematic take on progressive metal. Sheol continues the story from their last album, but this time out with more depth, texture, and climactic moments.

Would those many climactic moments be better served by soaring clean vocals rather than the Gojira-like harsh tones? Probably, but the vocals are incrementally better, clean and harsh, and with such grandiose, ambitious songs that helps a lot. As before, having poets like Jean Cocteau and Anne Sexton reciting some of their work in the songs is an intriguing touch. Sheol is Hypno5e’s best album, and if they can top it on their next album they’ll be onto something amazing.

Rating: 4

Pelegrin – Ways Of Avicenna (Self)

French trio Pelegrin are relatively new to the scene, and actually haven’t performed live yet in their eight-year history. Following up their 2019 debut with Ways Of Avinecca, we find the band deftly incorporating psych rock, prog, and stoner with subtle middle-eastern influences. The theme of the album (a concept album, despite being just 36 minutes long) is the travels of a young student trying to save a philosophical text.

Pelegrin try to cover a lot of ground in a short time, and there are some real gems here (“Reach for the Sun” and “Mystical Appear” really work well), but comparisons to Pink Floyd and Elder are definitely premature. Vocals are hampered by DIY production, and overall, while the band showcases strong writing and playing, more consistency is needed to really break into the upper eschelon of prog/psych bands.

Rating: 3

What Strange Beasts – Starlight’s Castaways (Self)

This might be my surprise of the month. At first I was scared to death of Starlight’s Castaways, the second album from Seattle quartet What Strange Beasts. After all, 26 songs across 80 minutes is daunting. But there’s something special going on here, from the bright, shimmering guitars to the psychedelic, somewhat spacey rhythms to the many orchestral interludes that pepper the album.

Vocal harmonies really stand out, at times reminding one of vintage Yes. Three of the four musicians sing, and all do it really well, harkening back to the days of stellar vocal arrangements. In fact, while the songs are all enjoyable and really well-written, it’s the vocals I keep coming back for. Starlight’s Castaways might be long, but it is thoroughly enjoyable prog rock.

Rating: 4

Pelagic Records

WuW – L’Orchaostre (Pelagic)

We first reviewed WuW back in March 2020, and were immediately taken with their mesmerizing progressive/atmospheric brand of post-metal. L’Orchaostre is the duo’s third album, and they expand their sound a bit here, letting the riffs bleed into the atmospherics with great effect.

What made WuW stand out from the instrumental post-rock scene in the past was their ability to convey mood through the music, and on L’Orchaostre that has not changed. While the music is a bit more metallic than on their last release (again, they’ve let the riffs shine through), the band’s ability to draft compelling arrangements has not dwindled, making this album an excellent addition to their discography, and a must-listen for fans of the style.

Rating: 4

Other 2023 Progress Reports

January 2023 Progress Report

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