Welcome to the July Progress Report. We’ve got some returning acts, some debuts, some re-dos, and a pretty good overall variety for you this month. Of note, four of these albums are self-released, so be sure to support these artists who are giving their all for us. There’s definitely something for everyone again in this month’s column, so check these acts out.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Birth – Born (Bad Omen)
San Diego-based Birth arose from the ashes of renowned psych-prog outfit Astra, surfacing last year with a three-song demo that hinted at great ’70s-inspired prog rock aspirations. Here they are now with their debut, aptly entitled Born, and the aspirations have come to fruition. Mixing lush instrumentals with a number of songs featuring vocals, Born is the most ’70s album this side of anything Malady have released.
There is plenty of slick, psychedelic-tinged guitar and bass playing, and many of the songs are loaded with Mellotron and Hammond work. Vocals are airy and also very ’70s – in fact, the whole album is unabashedly retro, and extremely well done. From the epic, King Crimson-inspired “For Yesterday” to the opening instrumental title track, Birth takes us on a seductive and spaced-out journey down psychedelic prog rock pathways, each minute a joy to behold. Born is our top pick this month.
The Chronicles Of Manimal And Samara first came to light last year, in our February Progress Report. A year and a half later the duo is back with Trust No Leaders, a scathing look at today’s political climate and beyond. This album is nearly half an hour shorter than Andrea Papi and Daphne Ang’s debut, which is a good thing, as it is an incendiary rant against the state of the world, and an hour of that could be a turn-off.
Trust No Leaders is quite similar to last year’s Full Spectrum, which will happen when the majority of the album is spoken word. However, we do get some harsh vocals and singing from Papi and some more musical chants from Ang. It may not make the creative leap we hoped for last year, but Trust No Leaders is still a step forward, and the 39-minute runtime serves the message well. Fans of the debut will also love this one.
Derek Sherinian – Vortex (InsideOut)
Derek Sherinian is best known as the once and/or current keyboardist for Dream Theater, Sons of Apollo, Alice Cooper, Whitesnake, and more, but he also drops the occasional solo album. Vortex is the follow-up to 2020’s The Phoenix. It features an amazing lineup of guest guitarists: Steve Stevens, Nuno Bettencourt, Bumblefoot, Steve Lukather, Zakk Wylde, Joe Bonamassa, Mike Stern, and Michael Schenker. Additionally, Sherinian is again joined by Simon Phillips on drums and Tony Franklin on bass. In short, this album features a ton of big names.
Jazz, metal, funk, prog – it’s all represented, and all very slickly and cleverly. Sherinian is more than happy to relinquish the spotlight to his guest guitarists, all of whom absolutely nail it, but that doesn’t mean the keys take a back seat. In fact, Sherinian uses a number of excellent samples and keeps up with all his bandmates, dropping a few mind-bending solos of his own. Vortex will most definitely go down as one of the best instrumental prog albums of the year.
Things seem to happen in threes for New Jersey prog-post-black trio Gates To The Morning. Walk Between Worlds is the band’s first in a trilogy of albums. Half these songs are acoustic re-imaginings of tracks from their Return To Earth debut, while the other five songs are a mix of similarly redone tracks from future albums and Walk Between Worlds-only content. The band calls this album “the calm before the storm,” signaling a return to heavier far on the next two releases.
Interestingly, all three members of the band play all instruments, which doesn’t happen often. People looking for a metal album may feel lost here, but as far as unplugged/rearranged versions of previous material go, Gates To The Morning have done a pretty swell job. All ten tracks, while mellow and somewhat subdued, are intriguing listens worth checking out.
The Confidence Trick is the sixth album from Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate (I love that band name). The U.K. trio of Malcolm Galloway, Mark Gatland, and Kathryn Thomas (the same team who gave us 2020’s super Nostalgia For Infinity) draw influence from across the spectrum of progressive/artistic music, from Jethro Tull to David Bowie and everything in between.
This time around the theme is overconfidence and our repeated failures to learn from history. Heady stuff from a group that includes a former neuropathologist! The full spectrum of prog is covered here, from chunky riffs to spacey synth, from exquisite flute to epic instrumental (“Refuge” deals with Galloway’s great-grandmother’s flight from Nazis). The Confidence Trick is another strong, emotional, wonderfully performed piece of progressive rock that fans of the band and newcomers alike will thoroughly enjoy.
Pennsylvania’s The World Without Us wrap up our column this month with their EP Body Forth. This follows the group’s 2019 EP, and pulls influence from bands such as Periphery and Between The Buried And Me. Bass duties and some writing assistance are provided by Zach Strouse (Rivers of Nihil) and Tyler Capone-Vitale (Cognitive).
The four songs on Body Forth are razor-sharp, combining prog-death, goove, and hardcore and doing so quite deftly. Each track is compelling in its own right and grabs our attention by the throat. There is a lot of potential on display here; hopefully The World Without Us can channel that talent into a full album in the near future.