Welcome to the May Progress Report. It was another strong month for progressive music, and the six albums we chose to review are all worthy of your attention, from the blackened prog of Tómarúm to the jazz fusion of Soft Ffog. Check out the brief writeups below and, as always, go listen to the albums and support the bands that click for you.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Famyne – II: The Ground Below (Svart)
Famyne hail from Canterbury, England, and have been plying their trade for eight years now. II: The Ground Below is the band’s second full-length album, and they intend to take all they learned on their first EP and debut, hone their work to a razor point, and unleash 45 minutes of epic music upon us.
Famyne might remind listeners of another fantastic progressive doom band from the U.K., King Goat. II: The Ground Below is loaded with epic arrangements, stellar riffing, and dramatic vocals. The overall package is still a little rough around the edges, but that just leads one to believe these guys are not far away from releasing something mind-blowing. Get on the bus before it gets too crowded.
Gramma Vedetta – The Hum Of The Machine (Mandrone)
After releasing two recent EPs with clear stoner and grunge influences, U.K. duo Gramma Vedetta are here with their second full-length, The Hum Of The Machine. While hints of the EP styles are present throughout these nine songs that focus on a man trying to be unique in a world where compliance is everything, this time around the pair bring a healthy dose of prog to the party.
“The Electric Game” features a killer bass riff before turning into a raging rocker, “Starlight Portal Show” is an absolute blast, and “The Future of the Past” is a slow-burning, churning number. Gramma Vedetta do a superb job of bringing a handful of genres together, writing great songs, and then performing and producing the hell out of them, turning The Hum Of The Machine into one of the month’s more pleasant surprises.
U.S. trio Iris Divine have released three albums to date, the latest being this month’s Mercurial, which sees the band joined by new drummer Scott Manley. He joins bassist Brian Dobbs and singer/guitarist Navid Rashid. As with past releases, the style in play is an alternative metal version of prog. Think of Galactic Cowboys or King’s X with a dose of Alice in Chains.
Mercurial sees the band continue to refine their output, with a number of great songs that have a catchy immediacy to them (“Sapphire”) without compromising on technical chops. You want technical? Check out the instrumental blazer “Death by Consensus.” While Rashid’s vocals still have a ’90s alt-grunge vibe to them, it doesn’t hold the band back. Mercurial is a great next step for Iris Divine.
Sadist – Firescorched (Agonia)
Italian progressive death metal veterans Sadist have been lurking around since 1993, and Firescorched is the band’s ninth studio album. Founding guitarist Tommy Talamanca claims this is the band’s most extreme and progressive album to date, and with the help of ex-Necrophagist drummer Romain Goulon and Obscura bass wizard Jeroen Paul Thesseling (along with vocalist Trevor Sadist) that’s a pretty accurate statement.
Firescorched’s nine songs are loaded with technicality, Middle-Eastern feel, and jazz-tinged arrangements. Despite that, however, many of the songs are also heavy on the groove side, courtesy of stellar riffs and coherent drum arrangements (meaning the blast beats are there, but not overwhelmingly so). These songs stick with the listener and make the album an engaging, head-banging blast.
Soft Ffog – Soft Ffog (Is it Jazz?)
Soft Ffog’s eponymous debut album also happens to be the debut album on new label Is It Jazz? Records, an offshoot of Karisma Records (home of excellent bands such as Wobbler and MEER). The goal of this label is to bring to light more jazz-oriented progressive bands, and boy have they succeeded with this inaugural release. Soft Ffog are a Norwegian quartet that push progressive jazz to wonderful places.
The lineup is a standard drums-bass-guitars-keyboards blend, and all four musicians are outstanding on these four long-form improves. However, the guitar work of Tom Hasslan must be singled out. The man can hold his own with the best of them, and by that I’m referring to Robert Fripp. Soft Ffog is a fantastic debut, and if mind-bending King Crimson instrumentals are your thing this album fits perfectly in your wheelhouse. Go get it!
Tómarúm – Ash In Realms Of Stone Icons (Prosthetic)
Ash In Realms Of Stone Icons is the debut album from Atlanta duo Tómarúm. The seven songs are spread across sixty-one minutes, a deft blend of technical death metal and progressive black metal. With the focus on themes of mental illness, it is a heavy-hitting album, both musically and lyrically.
This is an incredibly well put together debut, considering the length and scope of the material. Tómarúm blast their way through dense walls of black metal, dextrous displays of tech-death, with plenty of modern embellishments along the journey. Kyle Walburn (guitars, vocals, programming) and Brandon Iacovella (guitars, vocals, contrabass) display an immense amount of talent, although the contrabass could be more defined in the mix. While there’s still room for improvement, Ash In Realms Of Stone Icons is a fabulous debut, and our pick for the month.