Welcome to the July Progress Report. We’ve got some great variety this month, with six albums spread from post-rock to poppy prog to extreme metal, all of which is worth checking out. In fact, depending on the listener’s taste, any of these six releases could be considered a top release for the month. As always, check these bands out and support the ones you like.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Auralayer – Thousand Petals (King Volume)
Thousand Petals is the debut full-length effort from the progressive doom power trio Auralayer. These guys hail from South Carolina and count amongst their influences High On Fire, Rush, and The Beatles. Combine those wide-ranging tastes and the production acumen of Kylesa’s Philip Cope and you’ve got some potential.
The nine songs on Thousand Petals (three of which first appeared on their demo two years ago) will certainly bring to mind bands such as High On Fire and Kylesa, along with Torche and Baroness. This is well-trodden ground but Auralayer bring their own charisma and songwriting chops to the table, and it often pays off with catchy, hooky results. Fans of any of the bands mentioned above would do well to check these guys out.
Bear The Mammoth – Purple Haus (Art As Catharsis)
Once in a while we throw a post-rock album in this column, and that’s what we have with Purple Haus, the second album from Australian instrumental rockers Bear The Mammoth. This quartet has been at it for a dozen years now, and this is their third album. Blending plenty of synths with the occasional riff, the band pushes their sound in both bold and familiar directions.
Instrumental post-metal needs to take the listener on a journey, and with Purple Haus Bear The Mammoth succeed in doing exactly that. Throw shoegaze and math-rock together but keep it all grounded by crafting enthralling arrangements and this is what you end up with. The album is chock full of mood and dynamics, keeping us firmly in our seats as we go on a journey with Bear The Mammoth – a journey well worth taking.
The Gorge – Mechanical Fiction (Pelagic)
What happens when you ask a group of jazz musicians to form an extreme prog metal band? You might think you get a ton of wankery and self-indulgence, but The Gorge avoid that on Mechanical Fiction, the St. Louis-based band’s third album. The quartet intentionally avoids going overboard in the complexity department, aiming instead to create complex but digestible extreme prog, and they succeed.
There’s as much groove and riffage as there is chaos and intricacy across Mechanical Fiction. The heavy, coarse vocals add emotional depth to the tracks, and while this reviewer always likes to have some vocal variety on extreme metal compositions, this is a minor quibble here. With hints of King Crimson, Gojira, and maybe even Intronaut or Meshuggah, The Gorge have crafted an extremely captivating prog metal album – one that happens to be our pick of the month.
Radiant Knife are personal favorites around here: we’ve reviewed their last three outings, all of which have been great. One might say this was our most-anticipated release of the month. This Louisiana duo hammer out a complex mix of sludge and prog rock/metal, and Greg Travasos (drums) and Stephen Sheppert (everything else) always fill the speakers with more than what one might expect.
On Pressure, the band’s fifth album (after two EPs back in 2020), the pair tear through nine hectic, riff-laden tracks. There’s tons of frantic drumming, occasional hardcore/punk-inspired singing, and a lot of thick, heavy riffs, all of which addresses the pressure of the modern age. Pressure might be Radiant Knife’s heaviest release, and one of their most compelling.
Voyager – Fearless In Love (Season Of Mist)
Australia’s Voyager have been honing their brand of progressive synth-laced hard rock for a long time now, culminating in this year’s well-known showing in Eurovision. Fearless In Love is the band’s eighth album and it boils over with what the band do best: namely, well-crafted poppy songs with plenty of heavy undertones and breakdowns.
As one might guess from all the promo photos recently, Voyager place the keytar and singer Danny Estrin front and center. It’s a gimmicky look but when songs back it up, as they often do on Fearless In Love, forgiveness is in order. Voyager doesn’t drift out of their lane this time around, instead crafting eleven songs ranging from moderately heavy to overtly gleaming with synth pads. It’s another really fun album for fans of 8’0s-inspired glam-pop a la the Night Flight Orchestra.
The Zenith Passage – Datalysium (Metal Blade)
Datalysium is Los Angeles-based progressive death metal outfit The Zenith Passage’s second album. This isn’t the same band that released Solipsist seven years ago, though; all that remains from that outfit is guitarist/keyboardist/backing vocalist Justin McKinney, who is joined here by a couple other former bandmates from his time in The Faceless.
Like a lot of technical prog-death, the music on Datalysium is incredibly detailed, intricate, and often fast. While the album starts out in rather prog-death-by-numbers fashion, the band quickly ramps things up with some interesting synth-fueled arrangements, jazzy breakdowns, and rather foreboding final tracks. If the band adds some variation to the vocals (like on “Automated Twilight”) and continues to hone their sound, they’ll definitely be onto something big on the next album.