Welcome to the March Progress Report – possibly the best Progress Report in the column’s history. Not the writing – that’s pretty much the same as always. Rather, the quality of these releases is outstanding across the board. Every one of these albums should be added to your collection, and while we do like to choose a “best of” each month, all six of these could be that album in many of our previous months. This month two might stand above the rest, but not by much. As always, check these bands out and support the ones you like.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
This one might be the most challenging listen of the month. Azimuth is a complex, unrelenting mix of prog, sludge, doom, and post-metal, executed for the most part brilliantly by Chicago outfit Arriver. This is the band’s fourth full-length across more than fifteen years, and they have honed their craft nicely over that time.
Overall, Azimuth is certainly the heaviest and most extreme album in the column this month, but not continuously. Bestial growls permeate the songs but there are plenty of strong clean vocals as well. Musically there is also plenty of contrast, resulting in an album that deftly explores many moods and feelings and does so superbly. A crisp production and organic mix only serve to enhance these eight tracks.
Haken – Fauna (InsideOut)
Esteemed prog rockers Haken are back with their seventh album, Fauna. The British band welcome back Peter Jones, their original keyboard player, and the addition reaps immediate dividends. Across nine songs and more than an hour, the band bring in aspects of all six of their past albums to great effect. Jones’ keyboard flourishes bring a warmth to the recordings that we didn’t know we needed until listening.
Whether it is the chugging djent of recent releases or the lush prog of past classics like The Mountain, Haken fire on all cylinders with a diverse, wonderfully arranged group of songs. Capped with the mammoth track “Elephants Never Forget” (I’ll see myself out), Haken explore their entire discography without dwelling on any one era, resulting in an exceptional set of songs that will please all fans.
Ice Age – Waves Of Loss And Power (Sensory)
This one came as a bit of a surprise. New York’s Ice Age came to light back around the turn of the millennium, and their last album was 2001’s Liberation. Now the band has been thawed out and have dropped their third record, Waves Of Loss And Power. With more than two decades to write an album, one might come to it with either dread or anticipation.
Luckily, these fellas know what they are doing and have written some great songs. One can hear bits of prog greats like Genesis and Kansas, and maybe even more metallic bands such as Fates Warning. The vocals at times are reminiscent of last year’s new band SiX by SiX, which is a good thing. With three songs clocking in over ten minutes the album might be a touch long, but regardless this goes down as the comeback of the year.
Redemption – I Am The Storm (AFM)
Redemption’s last album, 2019’s Long Night’s Journey Into Day, saw the band replacing longtime vocalist Ray Alder (Fates Warning) with Evergrey’s Tom Englund. The change went more smoothly than many expected, and now on I Am
The Storm, the band’s eighth album and second with the same lineup, the group settles in and hones their sound.
I Am The Storm is an aggressive, guitar-heavy record, loaded with energy and plenty of slick guitar solos. The band attempts to go epic a couple of times, with two songs breaking the twelve-minute mark, and could definitely have pared back these and other tracks, but self-editing issues aside Redemption have given us another outstanding record to add to their impressive but underrated discography.
Sermon – Of Golden Verse (Prosthetic)
Sermon stormed critics’ charts back in 2019, when the band’s debut Birth Of The Marvellous was our top pick of the year. Now finally the band is back with Of Golden Verse. Featuring a similar lineup as their debut (James Stewart on drums, and Him on guitars/keys/vocals, but now with Lawrence Jenner pitching in on bass), the band has had four years to concoct an appropriate follow-up.
Of Golden Verse will quickly be recognizable to fans of Sermon. The style and vocal melodies remain the same, but this time around there is a more primal feel to the songs. Perhaps these numbers come from a slightly angrier place, but Of Golden Verse is certainly slightly darker and more aggressive than Birth Of The Marvellous. Despite (or because of) that, Sermon have again crafted a masterpiece; 49 minutes of visceral, taut, climactic metal that makes it our pick of the month.
The second of our one-man (sort of) acts is Trailight. Hailing from Canada’s west coast, Mirrors is the band’s sixth release. Mastermind Omer Cordell didn’t catch our attention until last year’s Chasing Daylight release, but we’re sure glad we know of his project now. Mirrors continues on in the same manner as Chasing Daylight, but Cordell’s game has been upped here.
Not really a one-man act here, Cordell has guests (not the least of which is Devin Townsend) assisting on everything but bass and vocals. From a songwriting, arrangement, and production perspective, he’s knocked it out of the park on this release, with eight killer songs that are each as stunning as the previous. If Of Golden Verse is our choice this month, Mirrors is only a hair behind. Give this a listen; it will definitely be on a lot of year-end lists.