Welcome to the June Progress Report. If there’s an overriding theme this month, it’s consistency with respect to the ratings. That means everything here is worth a listen, from the smooth pop-prog of Tim Bowness to the pummeling death metal of Artificial Brain and everything in between. Have a read and go listen to what seems interesting, and you just might find your next gem here.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Artificial Brain – Artificial Brain (Profound Lore)
New York’s Artificial Brain are back with their third album. This eponymous effort marks the end of vocalist Will Smith’s work with the band, capping off a trilogy of full-length releases centered on sci-fi motifs. Lyrically it’s kind of a summary of the first two albums, and the band’s overall style remains intact here. That means that as far as prog goes, this will be one of the heaviest releases featured this year.
Artificial Brain specialize in guttural death metal that features just enough dissonance and complexity that their music hovers on the edge of prog or tech-death. This is a relentless album with ample changeups and plenty of interesting arrangements gurgling beneath the veil of nasty death metal. Guest appearances from Luc Lemay (Gorguts), Colin Marston (Krallice) and more top off a pretty strong record.
Charlie Griffiths – Tiktaalika (InsideOut)
Charlie Griffiths is the guitar player for prog superstars Haken, and Tiktaalika is his debut solo album. It gives Griffiths the chance to stretch his wings in a few non-Haken directions, particularly when it comes to instrumentation; here he focuses on 6-string guitar rather than 8-string. Guest vocalists who help bring these songs to life include Tommy Rogers (Between the Buried and Me), Daniel De Jongh (Textures), Neil Purdy (Luna’s Call), and Vladimir Lalic (Organized Chaos).
Tiktaalika is a prog metal album, loaded with technicality and blistering guitar work, plenty of clean and harsh vocals, and a number of detours ranging from thrash to King Crimson influences. Griffiths shines on guitars, bass, and keys, with some help from Jordan Rudess, drummer Darby Todd, and Rob Townsend on sax. It’s a captivating, energetic album that also happens to be our pick of the month.
Inanimate Existence – The Masquerade (The Artisan Era)
This is our third time reviewing an Inanimate Existence album, and each one has gotten slightly better. Can they keep the streak alive here on The Masquerade, their sixth album? Well, we missed their last album but can only assume it was a step forward from 2017’s Underneath A Melting Sky. Let’s see how this tech-death group fares here.
Comparing the trio reviewed by this site, The Masquerade is the best of the three. The songwriting and performances are more finely tuned, and production is beefy. Much like Artificial Brain, the vocals are subterranean and guttural in nature. However, the music leans far more towards the tech-death end of the spectrum. There are blast-beats aplenty but also orchestral flourishes, harmony guitar leads, and some fancy bass playing. It all adds up to a tasty tech-death release.
One of the northernmost artists I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing, Canadian Rick Massie hails from the frontier city of Whitehorse, in the Yukon territory. Guided To An Imperfect Light is his second album, and Massie tackles a vast scope in regards to genres, arrangements, and album length. It’s an ambitious project.
The work here might remind one of Thy Catafalque at times, Devin Townsend at others, and perhaps even unintentionally The Who (the intro to “Unity”). Prog rock, black and death metal, power metal, symphonic, you name it and it’s in here, often in the same song. Instrumentally Massie pulls it all off flawlessly, with just the occasional shaky vocal to rein in. “Unity” happens to be one of the coolest songs of the year. Guided To An Imperfect Light is teetering on the brink of a 4, and if it wasn’t for Charlie Griffiths it could be our album of the month.
The Tangent – Songs From The Hard Shoulder (InsideOut)
Another year, another super-long prog rock opus from The Tangent. As mentioned three times in the past five years, Andy Tillison and crew never disappoint, dropping on average more than an hour of music per outing. Songs From The Hard Shoulder is no different. The five tracks (if you include the bonus “In the Dead of Night”) add up to 76 minutes.
This album consists of four main tracks, only one of which is less than sixteen minutes long. Styles range from mellow cool jazz-prog to a pure prog outing with plenty of shifts in style, to an excellent extended instrumental jam. The album closer is a short R&B number that doesn’t really match the style of the trio of long songs, but is fun nonetheless. While this album might not be quite as strong as the last couple, it’s still a solid entry in The Tangent’s catalog.
Tim Bowness – Butterfly Mind (InsideOut)
This column’s third review of a Tim Bowness album comes in the form of Butterfly Mind, his seventh solo outing. Once again Bowness works with many familiar faces and nearly a dozen guest musicians, ranging from Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull) to Peter Hammill (Van Der Graaf Generator), all with the aim of pushing his art-rock/prog-pop amalgamation forward.
There is a bit of variety in the material on Butterfly Mind, but for the most part this is an album of melancholic, soulful ballads, often bordering on the saccharine. With the exception of the haunting opening/closing tracks and a couple of more engaging, faster-paced gems, it’s a bit too much of the same thing and very similar to Bowness’s last album, Late Night Laments. I’ll stick with Flowers At The Scene for now.