The Progress Report: May 2021

Welcome to the May Progress Report. Things have taken a turn to the lighter side this month, with these albums more on the progressive rock side of the dial. Don’t let that frighten you, though, as we’ve got some good selections here. Oddly enough, none of these albums are debuts, so the fun thing is seeing how these bands have progressed from the earlier works to these new releases. Check out the reviews, go listen to the music, and support the artists you like if you can.

Ratings are on a five star scale.

InsideOut Music

Frost* – Day And Age (InsideOut)

“Enjoy yourselves, you scum” is how Day And Age (both the album and the song) sets us up before launching into an almost A-Ha-style beat, with sinister synths beneath glistening guitars. The twelve-minute epic opens Frost*’s fourth album, and first without a set drummer. Here they use three: Pat Mastellotto (King Crimson), Kaz Rodriguez (Chaka Khan), and Darby Todd (The Darkness). If you are familiar with their previous albums, you know what to expect.

The trio of Jem Godfrey, John Mitchell and Nathan King specialize in exquisitely powerful and polished progressive rock, with strong vocal arrangements and engaging songs. Day And Age is no exception, with each song drawing on the previous and easily holding our attention. From short and immediate tracks to lengthy and complex, Frost* have managed to put together a stunning prog rock album that is both dark and uplifting at once.

Rating: 4

InsideOut Music

Kayak – Out Of This World (InsideOut)

The elder statesmen of this month’s column are Kayak, a Dutch progressive rock band that have been around for nearly fifty years. Out Of This World is the band’s eighteenth album, and focuses more on the softer side of prog through most of its lengthy 70-minute runtime. Kayak have never been the kind of prog band to push any boundaries, and here they tack very closely to the sound of early ’80s AOR.

As with all of Kayak’s music, the production is crystal clear, allowing us to hear everything perfectly. But aside from the adventurous “Critical Mass” in the middle of the album, we are treated to a class in very pleasant and harmless songwriting. Kayak may be in their best form as a band since the loss of Pim Koopman twelve years ago, but the material presented on Out Of This World is not their finest.

Rating: 2.5

Totem Cat Records

Lucid Sins – Cursed! (Totem Cat)

Glasgow duo Lucid Sins, who formed the core of local rockers Moon Unit, return with their second album Cursed!, which follows up their 2015 debut Occultation. Lucid Sins could sort of be considered prog-adjacent, as they play a sort of occult-tinged version of ’70s psychedelic rock with a hint of prog in the vein of Wishbone Ash, or maybe the trippier early Blue Öyster Cult work.

The songs on Cursed! center on simple riffs, and are built up and augmented with slinky organ solos and some classy guitar leads. Wonderfully meandering organ solos. Andreas Jonsson’s vocals have a definite old-school vibe to them. Another modern band in the same style would be Australia’s Butterfly. This is fun, catchy, and light-hearted rock that’s definitely worth a spin or two.

Rating: 3

Hostile Media

The Vicious Head Society – Extinction Level Event (Hostile)

The Vicious Head Society (a brilliant name, by the way) is the creative vehicle of Irish guitarist Graham Keane. Extinction Level Event is his second album, and again Keane is assisted by a number of friends on other instruments and vocals (Nathan Maxx), as well as Overoth’s Andy Ennis on harsh vocals.

Harsh vocals are really the only glaring oddity on Extinction Level Event – they aren’t needed at all, and don’t fit with the material. This is a varied modern prog metal approach, pleasing fans of bands ranging from Dream Theater to Tool and more. There’s even some Middle Eastern influence scattered in on “Judgement.” What this album might lack in originality it makes up for in execution, particularly Keane’s guitar work. Extinction Level Event is a worthy addition to anyone’s modern progressive metal library.

Rating: 3.5

Mascot Records

VOLA – Witness (Mascot)

Witness is the third album from Danish prog outfit VOLA, after two excellent and highly-regarded releases. Darker in tone than 2018’s excellent Applause Of A Distant Crowd, and complex in its layers (in fitting with the subject matter being the failed relationships between leaders and followers), Witness brings forth somewhat of a Katatonia vibe to some songs, Muse to others, but always with an unmistakable VOLA signature.

“These Black Claws” is embellished with weird electronics and additional vocals courtesy of hip-hop artist Shahmen. The songs on Witness are as varied as past albums, with hard-hitting metallic numbers (“Head Mounted Sideways”) and touching ballads (“Freak”). There isn’t a weak moment to be found. VOLA continue to demonstrate the fact that they should be considered heavy hitters in the prog world. This is our pick of the month.

Rating: 4

The Wring – Wring² Project Cipher (Self)

Canada’s The Wring is essentially guitarist/composer Don Dewulf’s project. With the help of a seasoned cast of musicians, Dewulf brings melodic progressive metal to bear. Wring² Project Cipher is The Wring’s second album, following 2017’s self-titled release. Dewulf was previously unknown to me, but truly shows off his guitar and songwriting talents here, and drummer Thomas Lang (Robert Fripp, Peter Gabriel) is an absolute monster on the kit.

One can hear the influence of many classic prog metal bands on Wring² Project Cipher, most notably Tool and modern forerunners Soen. Marc Bonilla (Keith Emerson, Glenn Hughes) provides strong vocals and Dewulf’s group of session players bring plenty of depth to the material. While only clocking in at a paltry 30 minutes, The Wring show that they are capable of laying down some serious prog riffs and melodies. Definitely worth checking out.

Rating: 3.5

Other 2021 Progress Reports

January 2021 Progress Report
February 2021 Progress Report
March 2021 Progress Report
April 2021 Progress Report

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