Welcome to the May Progress Report, and a fine month it is. In any other month, no less than three of these releases could vie for the top spot. This month, though, competition is tight, as we have top-notch releases in the realms of progressive rock, psychedelic rock, modern crazy progressive metal, and even a highly-anticipated stoner rock album. We are even graced by some amazing cover art. As usual, there’s something for everyone, and all the records here are worth checking out.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Forming the Void – Reverie (Ripple)
Forming the Void first impressed us back in 2017, when we reviewed Relic and loved the band’s fuzzy take on progressive rock. Rift came along in 2018 and also garnered favor, although maybe not as much. Regardless, when these Louisianans drop an album we all perk our ears up. Reverie is the band’s fifth release, and picks up where the previous albums left off.
Reverie is a short album, but the seven songs are laid down in impressive fashion, featuring majestic, anthemic riffs, a beautifully solid rhythm section, and more great vocals from James Marshall. While the album lacks the big epic tracks of yore, every song is immediate and catchy, and plants Forming the Void at the front of this month’s column.
The Hirsch Effekt – Kollaps (Long Branch)
I’m not exactly sure if there is a Hirsch effect, but 2017’s Eskapist made me keep an eye open for German trio The Hirsch Effekt’s next album. And here we have it, in Kollaps. Shorter than Eskapist, and missing a couple of instrumental segues, it’s a solid example of the chaotic yet catchy style I remember from 2017.
Fans of modern progressive metal such as BTBAM, or the more mathy, slightly insane meanderings of the now-defunct Dillinger Escape Plan, will enjoy Kollaps. The Hirsch Effekt are skilled at creating songs with a variety of seemingly unrelated textures that comes together in crazy fashion. “TORKA” may be my favorite extreme metal single thus far in 2020.
This self-titled progressive death metal album is Edmonton band Omniarch’s debut release. This quintet is a brand-new entity, having just formed last year, so dropping a seven-song debut this quickly is quite a feat. Musically, Omniarch is a blistering, bludgeoning journey through technical death metal’s halls.
As with many new bands, vocals will need time to mature and develop. The band makes use of virtually every vocal style known to man, which can be unsettling when they all feature in the same song. Musically, there are impressive displays of prowess throughout, notably by the guitarists. It does seem like Omniarch could have let these songs percolate a bit longer, perhaps honing them for a while in a live setting, but nonetheless this is a solid debut and I look forward to hearing more from this almost-local band.
Pattern-Seeking Animals – Prehensile Tales (InsideOut)
It has been less than a year since we reviewed the debut album of progressive rockers Pattern-Seeking Animals. It was a competent foray into prog rock, just far enough out of the Spock’s Beard influence (most of the members are or were in that band) that their sound drew me in. Now here with the cleverly-named Prehensile Tales (and a very cool album cover to go with it), the group show us that even just a few months together has resulted in tighter chemistry and more adventurous writing.
Keyboardist John Boeghold composes most of the material, but the band really comes together on this album, playing everything with obvious joy. Epic tracks like the glorious “Lifeboat” and album closer “Soon But Not Today” drip with progressive rock glory, while changeups such as the Latin-flavored “Why Don’t We Run” work far better than they should. Prehensile Tales has set itself up to be one of the top progressive rock albums of the year.
Pile of Priests – Pile of Priests (Extreme Metal/Rockshots)
Another self-titled progressive death release, this is Denver trio Pile of Priests’ sophomore release. It’s a concept album, centered upon the tale of an exiled prince seeking to overthrow his father. The songs flow and transition wonderfully from one to the next, making this a complete album listening experience.
Musically, the eight songs presented (not counting a superfluous piano intro) are strongly written and played accessible death metal, featuring a solid foundation of riffs and rhythm. Pile of Priests’ vocals are a touch on the iffy side, and guest vocals from Adrienne Cowan in a couple of songs absolutely torpedo those numbers. Still an album definitely worth a spin, though.
Shaman Elephant – Wide Awake But Still Asleep (Karisma)
I picked this last album based purely on the band name, and sometimes luck is on my side. Norway’s Shaman Elephant play a psychedelic style of ’70s progressive rock, and Wide Awake But Still Asleep is the follow-up to their 2016 debut, Crystals. This quartet can hang with the best of today’s improv bands, throwing jazz, psych, and prog at us in effortless fashion.
Alternating between trippy instrumental passages, hypnotic verses, and rocking choruses, Shaman Elephant never let us settle in for a ride. An apt comparison could be Finland’s trippy psychedelic band Superfjord. If one band surprised me this month, it would be these guys, with a slick, fun, trippy, and all-around awesome take on the genres listed that made me immediately go buy their debut. This is the third of three excellent releases in this month’s Progress Report.