Welcome to the March Progress Report. We’ve got plenty of variety this month – something we always strive for but don’t always achieve. We’ve got big label music and self-released music, heavy tech-death and eloquent prog rock, debuts from new bands and umpteenth albums from seasoned veterans. And most importantly, these are all pretty decent albums that deserve a spin. So as always, read on and hunt down any albums that turn your crank.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Arkaik – Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts (The Artisan Era)
Northern Californian tech death trio Arkaik start things off for us this month. Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts is the group’s sixth full-length, and quite possibly their most ambitious. The group are joined by Inferi’s Malcolm Pugh on bass guitar, rounding out their sound nicely. While there’s nothing earth-shatteringly original here as far as tech death goes, that’s just fine; Arkaik have written and arranged some excellent material here, and the execution is top notch.
There are moments of genius in every song. Death metal brutality is perfectly offset with symphonic moments, electronic/production embellishments, and more, but never at the expense of the music’s heavy underpinnings. Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts is quite simply eight great songs that never let up, each with their own twists and turns that keep listeners engaged and excited. This is top-notch tech death.
Day Of Departure – Day Of Departure (Bravemusic)
The first of two self-titled debuts in our column this month, Day Of Departure comes to us courtesy the Washington, DC-based quintet. Sporting a mix of progressive rock, post-rock, and ambient music, the band wants to lead us through our planet’s destruction and out the other side towards survival and evolution.
Led by guitarist Matt Kozar (Brave) and singer Michelle Schrotz, Day Of Departure is an expansive, almost cinematic experience, with songs ranging from rockers (“Pierce the Sky (Conflict)”) to ambient tracks (“The Future Has No Form”). Schrotz’s voice adds an ethereal quality to some of the songs, but she could be higher up in the mix. Overall this is a very interesting debut, fun to listen to, and a great first step for Day Of Departure.
The Flower Kings – By Royal Decree (InsideOut)
Boy, do The Flower Kings ever write a lot of music. Let me emphasize: A LOT. By Royal Decree is their third double-album in four years. It’s a gargantuan amount of material to sift through, and let’s be honest, there are very few bands in the world that have that much quality material. The Flower Kings are no exception, as past releases, while full of excellent prog rock, have definitely suffered from bloat.
So why the high rating? Despite the mammoth girth of By Royal Decree, by and large it is ripe with strong songwriting. Eighteen songs is far too many, but a dozen of these are high quality jazz-tinged prog rock tracks, full of excellent musicianship. A bonus for fans of the band is the return of Michael Stolt (brother of Roine), who adds bass and vocals to some tracks. There’s a lot to digest here – too much, to be sure – but the gems outweigh the chaff, and prog rock fans will be mostly delighted with the results.
Marillion – An Hour Before It’s Dark (earMusic)
When most people think of veteran British neo-prog act Marillion, they inevitably think of the Fish years. That is a grave injustice to the band; Fish only sang their first four records, while Steve Hogarth is now on his fifteenth with the band. In fact, the band’s lineup has been intact since 1989, and on the excellent An Hour Before It’s Dark, that chemistry really shines.
Essentially comprised of three songs and four extended suites, An Hour Before It’s Dark is Marillion at their best. The music is melodic, beautifully produced, and well-arranged, and Hogarth’s singing is totally on point. Despite mostly dour lyrical content pertaining to mass consumerism, viruses, and the environment, An Hour Before It’s Dark still manages to convey a sense of optimism for the future. This is a top tier album from Marillion, and our favorite of the month.
Oddland – Vermilion (Uprising!)
Finnish progressive metal outfit Oddland have been around for nearly twenty years, but Vermilion is only their third album. That’s a shame, as these guys write and perform some pretty sweet tunes. The band has a style that has hints from Tool to Scale The Summit, from older Leprous to the djenty side of VOLA, but with the emotive vocals of Sakari Ojanen they manage to create their own sound.
Consisting of a main “Vermilion” suite and three other songs, Vermilion is not a long album, but there’s plenty going on. Much like Oddland’s first two albums, this one is immaculately produced and loaded with dynamics. If you’re into the slick modern approach to prog metal and don’t mind the djent and Tool influences, Oddland will hit you right in the sweet spot.
Denver’s WarCrown enter the fray this month with their self-titled debut. The quartet plays an interesting blend of doom and progressive metal, but that doesn’t mean this is a slow or ponderous album; in fact, opening track “Black Blood” is outright thrashy. As well, the eight songs on WarCrown are not long, as one might expect from doom metal. These guys get to the point and then hammer you with it.
There is strong variety and great ideas present throughout WarCrown. The overall feel of the album reminds me of another progressive doom band, Bull Elephant. This is a big, chunky, in-your-face album, at its best when singer “Grisly” Chance changes up his vocal delivery on tracks such as “Wizard” and “Power Supply.” This is a fine debut from a band that shows plenty of promise – keep an eye on WarCrown.