Welcome to the June Progress Report. A special bonus for you this month, as we have a whopping eight albums in the column. Why so many? Three of these are EPs, and although we rarely look at EPs here, these ones are worth talking about. We’ve got a great variety on tap here, from progressive death metal to avant-garde, from jazzy prog to retro prog rock. And to top it off, I can heartily recommend each of these releases!
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon (Metal Blade)
French progressive death metal band Fractal Universe graced this column in April 2019 with their excellent Rhizomes Of Insanity, and they return now with their third album, The Impassable Horizon. Once again the band features plenty of variety, a solid selection of riffs, and a couple more sax solos – this time courtesy of guitarist/vocalist Vince Wilquin, who just began learning the instrument two years ago.
The songs on The Impassable Horizon range from unplugged to Gojira-like progressive metal. Wilquin’s vocals are strong throughout, as is the entire band’s musicianship. No song or theme overstays its welcome, resulting in an engaging outing that is on par with their previous work, and ensuring that Fractal Universe continue to make a name for themselves.
Intentional Trainwreck are essentially the duo of Pete Lesko and Patrick Gaffney, along with some assistance on bass from Mike Galway and Tony Prevara and a vocal turn from Richard David. Smokestack Of Souls is the band’s debut, six years in the making, and will appeal to fans of King Crimson, Faith No More/Mr. Bungle, Dillinger Escape Plan, and more.
Smokestack Of Souls has a very live, off-the-floor sound to the production; it is not overly processed at all. There’s plenty of crazy stuff going on throughout, with tons of heaviness and melody intertwined to create a pretty compelling package. Intentional Trainwreck have a certain unpolished charm to them which, despite the complexity of the musicianship on display, really serves to give the songs a very real appeal. With no weak tracks, this is a strong debut that should put Intentional Trainwreck on the prog metal radar.
Kilter – Sys (Alter-Nativ)
Kilter came to our attention less than a year ago, as the trio’s debut album Axiom served notice of an exciting new jazz-prog-metal outfit. Once again featuring drummer Kenny Grohowski (Imperial Triumphant), saxophonist Edward Rosenberg III (Heart of Barf – really!), and bassist and label owner Laurent David, Sys is a three-song EP that continues to showcase the band’s elite skills, seeing them push jazz and prog in unique directions – this time with each member being featured on a song.
There is little in the way of avant-garde metallic craziness here, but highlights include the almost swing jazz of “The Turing Test,” which slowly devolves into some amazing bass riffing, and “Mind-Body Problem,” which features some thick and slick King Crimson-like guitar work. If you enjoyed Kilter’s debut album (reviewed here just last year) you will definitely want to pick up Sys.
Nephila – Nephila (The Sign)
Sweden’s Nephila released their eponymous debut this month, but they are no stranger to that country’s retro rock scene. Several members of this masked band are also from Children Of The Sun – also a very strong act. While that band is more pure retro rock, Nephila throw the doors wide open to psychedelia, space rock, prog, and blues.
It’s an enticing mix, well executed and tons of fun. The dual vocals of Stina Olsson and Josephine Asker anchor the performances, and the band backing them give us seven quick and sweet numbers to revel in. Much like Children Of The Sun’s debut two years ago, Nephila is another great summer album.
Odd Circus – Mantha and Arch Nova (Good Idea)
Our third band this month to employ a sax player, Floridian trio Odd Circus also go down tons of interesting rabbit holes. The six-song EP Mantha was released this April, and followed in June by Arch Nova, a four-song barrage of experimental, avant-garde improvised heavy jazz-rock. Both EPs are based on free-form improvisations recorded last year, and are brilliantly executed.
The mind-bending nature of these improvisations are such that the listener will be compelled to return again and again to the songs (each EP can be thought of as a single song split into tracks, so listening to them each in their entirety is essential). Mantha is a bit more free and chaotic, while Arch Nova is darker and heavier. Both will appeal to fans of the outer extremities of free-form experimentation.
Somnuri – Nefarious Wave (Blues Funeral)
Having been described to me as progressive sludge, I was not prepared for the blackened thrash onslaught that opens Somnuri’s second album, Nefarious Wave. And while the more raging moments on this Brooklyn trio’s album took some time to grow on me, the rest sure didn’t. In addition to the more feisty tracks, progressive sludge does in fact abound.
When Somnuri calm down on tracks like “Desire Lines,” the heavy Torche influence shines through. And the variety presented here, with the thrash, sludge, harsh and melodic vocals, and all-around pounding progressive metal, keeps the listener wholly engaged through the all-too-brief 37 minutes. Torche, older Baroness, heck even Converge could be thought of as influences here, and fans of those bands will love Nefarious Wave. It was almost our album of the month for this column, if it wasn’t for…
Thy Catafalque – Vadak (Season of Mist)
Yup, you guessed it, the tenth album from Thy Catafalque takes the cake this month. Vadak means “wildlings” in Hungarian, and Tamás Kátai goes wild on this album, delivering a dizzying range of styles across ten songs and over an hour of runtime. Featuring no less than sixteen guest musicians/vocalists and recorded in more than ten countries, Vadak was a monumental undertaking and Kátai’s efforts pay off handsomely.
Vadak is Thy Catafalque’s most metallic release in some years, with plenty of harsh vocals and driving rhythms scattered across the album. Whether it’s the all-out aggression displayed on songs like “Móló” and “Gömböc” or the kitschy countrified flavor of “Kiscsikó (Irénke dala),” Vadak is a vital, enthralling, and aggressive release from a fantastic artist. If you’ve never listened to Thy Catafalque, Vadak is a great place to start.