Welcome to the March Progress Report. After a stellar February, there is bound to be a bit of a let-down. However, there are a couple of highly-anticipated albums in our column this month, along with a number of other releases that just might hold a surprise or two. In other words, March is another solid month with plenty to offer fans of all styles. Read on, and support all the bands you can.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Draken – Draken (Majestic Mountain)
Draken are a new power trio from Norway, and Draken is their eponymous debut. These guys rock hard, with a tone and feel reminiscent of bands such as My Diligence or Elder. One might say they specialize in earworm riffs and killer guitar solos: guitarist Even Hermansen is far and away the star of the show here, with some truly exceptional performances. “Grand General” in particular features a killer earworm of a riff.
Unfortunately, vocals sink this album, especially the truly bizarre harsh vocals, which thankfully only show up in “Way Down Low.” Clean vocals are enthusiastically shouted, but come off as grating after an entire album’s worth. If one can get past the rough vocal performance, the music is well worth investing some time in.
Dvne– Etemen Ænka (Metal Blade)
Dvne’s 2017 debut Asheran flew under the radar, meaning we heard it later in the year but didn’t get a chance to review it. Their progressive blend of stoner and sludge metal captivated many, making Etemen Ænka one of my more anticipated albums this year. And thankfully, this U.K. band does not disappoint. Dvne come exploding out of the gate on “Enûma Eliš” and rarely let up.
The monolithic power of “Towers,” the killer riff of “Court of the Matriarch,” and the nuanced performances on “Asphodel,” it’s all here in one massive, immersive package. If there is one quibble, it would be that despite a wide variety in vocal delivery, it doesn’t all work both cleans and harsh vocals are hit and miss, although Lissa Robertson’s guest spots are excellent. Musically, Dvne knock it out of the park here with a near-masterpiece that is our pick of the month.
Herzel – Le Dernier Rempart (Gates of Hell)
If you like your prog classic in an ’80s sense, and consider Queensryche, Heir Apparent, and Iron Maiden to be amongst your favorite bands, Herzel have a little something for you. This band hails from Brittany, and Le Dernier Rempart is their debut album. It features all the trappings of the early-mid ’80s prog scene and revolves around Brittany history conceptually.
There is definitely a heavy NWOBHM influence here. Iron Maiden-like gallops, melodic dual guitars, and classic high-pitched wails dominate the songs. At the same time, Herzel pay tribute to their heritage by singing the entire album in the Breton language, and embellishing tracks with some folk instrumentation. While the youth of the band shows in some rough arrangements, there is an undeniable charm about the songs that makes me want more. The sky is the limit for Herzel.
Stearica – Golem 202020 (Monotreme)
The creation of the oddly-entitled Golem 202020 is a little hard to describe. It seems to be based on an old silent horror movie, “Der Golem, wie er in die Welt kam.” Italian post-prog act Stearica recorded this album in 2014, perhaps as part of a soundtrack, added some overdubs in 2019, and now in 2021 have released Golem 202020 as an album in its own right.
The music is extremely well done, and exactly what one would expect for a soundtrack. The ten tracks are full of suspense and well-arranged, with plenty of tension throughout. Even without having seen the movie, the guitar and synth work in particular make Golem 202020 an evocative, immersive listen.
Turbulence – Frontal (Frontiers)
Lebanese prog metallers Turbulence have been around for a few years now, and Frontal is their second album. This style of music might be rare coming from Lebanon, but Turbulence aim to be the band to put their country on the prog metal map. And with Frontal, they just might be able to.
Frontal is a solid progressive metal outing featuring expressive vocals and dynamic arrangements. Standout track “Ignite” is a great example of what Turbulence are all about. At times singer Omar El Hage has a bit of Tom Englund in his delivery. There is plenty of intricate work from all instruments here, and with a number of engaging songs Turbulence show they can be a prog metal force on the world stage.
Much like Dvne above, we were late to the party with Wheel and their outstanding debut back in 2019 (another we didn’t review), and was determined not to make that mistake this time around. The Finnish act’s slick, Tool-influenced music is right in my wheelhouse (sorry), and Moving Backwards would likely have wound up on our Best Of list had we been in the loop.
Luckily, we are right on top of Resident Human, and it picks up where Moving Backwards left off. Dynamic, percussive, bass-driven songs with sharp riffs and vocals that are a slight step up from the debut permeate this album, most notably on the stellar title track. Wheel have crafted another excellent record and who knows, it just might pop up on a year-end list this time around.