Welcome to the July Progress Report . We’re kicking off the second half of the year here, and while summer months don’t often produce the year’s most gripping material, we do have a strong selection of varied styles for you to check out. Prog rock, thrash, modern prog metal, post-prog, it’s all here for your listening pleasure. Six albums worth checking out, six bands worth supporting. Take a read and click through to listen to these albums; hopefully one or more of them click with you.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Big Big Train – Common Ground (English Electric)
Big Big Train’s 2019 album Grand Tour made our Best Progressive Albums chart that year – the only album of the bunch we didn’t review when it was released. So I was pretty excited to get promo for Common Ground, the English collective’s thirteenth album – thirty years into their career. Big Big Train consistently release top-notch progressive rock albums, and Common Ground is no exception.
Featuring lush production, fabulous musicianship, and expressive vocals, the only downside to Common Ground might be the subject matter. Like many albums coming out this year, the topic du jour is COVID. Lyrics about missing people and being isolated might sound dated in a few years, but the songs Big Big Train have crafted here more than make up for the themes. Once again, the band has shown us what a great progressive rock outfit can and should sound like. Common Ground is our pick of the month.
Bulb – Moderately Fast, Adequately Furious (3DOT)
Bulb was the online name used by Misha Mansoor, Periphery’s guitarist, prior to that band taking off. Mansoor released plenty of material under that name, and in fact re-released ten archives of Bulb material last summer. Moderately Fast, Adequately Furious is his first proper solo album, and features a wide variety of material both new and old.
Cute album title aside, Moderately Fast, Adequately Furious is a solid instrumental prog album loaded with variety and versatility. One song features vocals courtesy of Misha’s brother Axel. Beyond that we are given compelling tracks ranging from dextrous prog metal to groovy electronic pieces and everything in between. This is a solid showcase of Misha Mansoor’s skills, and something one doesn’t have to be a Periphery fan to appreciate.
Being a thrash fan since the ’80s, I love it when something labeled “progressive thrash” lands. Push things to the next level. That’s what Aussie quintet Innasanatorium aim to do on Odyssey Of The Mind, their debut album, and for the most part they succeed in stretching beyond the conventional.
Take out the completely superfluous intro and outro tracks (they’re even named as such, and don’t fit the album at all) and we are left with a tight, exciting, and compelling nine-song platter of predominantly excellent twisted thrash metal. Strong and dramatic vocal performances accent some stellar yet complex songs, particularly the two-part title track. All told, Odyssey Of The Mind is a great debut from an exciting new band.
Mountain Caller – Chronicle: Prologue (New Heavy Sounds)
We reviewed Mountain Caller’s debut album late last year, and came away impressed. The London trio return with a three-song EP, Chronicle: Prologue. It precedes the concept of last year’s debut album, and in fact was recorded at the same time. So this means that the style and production remains consistent – and consistently strong.
Like the debut, Chronicle: Prologue features a band that has great breadth and dynamics in their sound and style, from heavy riffs to delicate ambiance and everything in between. Earlier references to Elder and Pelican remain in play, while moments in “Beyond this Black Horizon” and “Stripped of All but Purpose” display some heavier, more metallic moments, the latter in particular being a very strong cut. With this EP, Mountain Caller ensure they won’t be forgotten while we wait for their next album.
postcards from new zealand – city islands (Mandrone)
The amazingly prodigious postcards from new zealand (a band that eschews capital letters) are here with their 21st album in 13 years. That is a ton of songwriting. This anonymous collective composes what they refer to as post-apocalyptic dreamcore. What that means is the listener has to be in a certain headspace to enjoy this – patience is necessary.
Taken one song at a time, city islands has some mesmerizing music. Taken as an entire album, though, the final song really sums it up: “it just kept coming.” Aside from that stunningly menacing final track, the rest of city islands ultimately blends into the background – but again, if one is in the mood for a methodical, at times hypnotizing journey, postcards from new zealand might be just the thing.
Sleep Moscow – Of The Sun (Majestic Mountain)
Swedish trio Sleep Moscow are an atmospheric, cinematic progressive rock band. Of The Sun is their debut, a concept album about a cosmonaut’s unending journey. Fronted by current Green Leaf vocalist Arvid Hällagård and rounded out instrumentally by Petter Kindström and Eric Nilsson, the band plays a very moody and oddly alluring brand of dark prog rock.
Of The Sun just might be the most polarizing album in our column this month. Is it introspective, pretentious, grandiose, all of that, or something else? One thing’s for sure, it’s a charismatic album, and difficult to shut off once it’s playing. Full of morose vocals and poignant instrumental arrangements that manage to be sparse and textured at the same time, the album truly does tell a gripping tale. Sleep Moscow show they are a band to watch out for.