Welcome to the November Progress Report – our final report of the year. Next month we will present our Best Of list for your perusal and ridicule. This month, though, we’re taking a look at not six but seven albums, just to end the year with a bang. Will any of these albums make it onto next month’s list? You’ll have to check in and find out. In the meantime, check these offerings out, and if any hit that sweet spot for you do the artists a favor and support them with a purchase of some sort.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Arcana – Letters From a Lost Soul – Act I: The World One Forms (Self)
Arcana is the latest project from ex-Red Cain bassist Rogan McAndrews. This Calgary, Alberta based outfit aims to deliver progressive rock/metal in the vein of Leprous, and Act I (the full title is nearly as long as the review itself) of this concept is the band’s debut EP.
Comprised of four songs, the first two songs are instrumental and hint at the style and structure of the rest of the EP and future work. There are plenty of orchestral flourishes, female and male vocals, and intricate arrangements. However, the vocals are on the tepid side and the music is all a bit too safe and bland. There are seeds of good ideas here, but Arcana need to let go and create with abandon.
Contrarian – Only Time Will Tell (Willowtip)
Turmoil is the name of the game for American prog-death quintet Contrarian. On their fourth album Only Time Will Tell, guitarists Jim Tasikas and Brian Mason are joined by an almost-new cast of band members. Veterans Bill Bodilly and Bryce Butler join on bass and drums, and original vocalist Cody McConnell is back for the first time since the band’s debut.
This may or may not be the reason for the songs here to be less old school. Production is clean and modern, the dynamics are greater, and the songwriting is more varied and melodic. McConnell brings a more subterranean growl to the songs than ex-drummer George Kollias. This might be Contrarian’s most accessible album, but don’t let that scare you off: this is a top-notch progressive death metal offering.
Dark Quarterer – Pompei (Cruz Del Sur)
Italy’s Dark Quarterer have been around since the early ’80s, and Pompei, a concept album about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, is the band’s eighth album. The eight lengthy songs here are all an enticing blend of doom, epic metal, and progressive metal, well arranged and produced. If looking for similar acts, think of King Goat or Khemmis.
Singer/bassist Gianni Nepi is obviously singing as many characters, which isn’t always the greatest idea as he often goes way over the top. In fact, one of the characters is the volcano itself. Musically, the songs run the gamut from epic and apocalyptic to pensive, delicate, and piano-driven. There are some excellent songs on Pompei, at times buried by the over-enthusiastic vocals.
Lunatic Soul – Through Shaded Woods (Kscope)
Mariusz Duda may be better known as the singer of progressive rock veterans Riverside, but he’s plenty prolific on his own, when he performs as Lunatic Soul. This is his seventh solo release (and first where Duda plays all instruments), and Through Shaded Woods harkens back to Duda’s earlier, folk-rooted base, but with plenty of electric and electronic moments to spice things up.
Through Shaded Woods is a deft mix of hypnotic beats and delicate yet upbeat moments. The songs convey an overwhelming sense of optimism, and the arrangements keep the listener engrossed despite some of the song lengths. While based in Scandinavian folk sounds, there are still moments of electric guitar and the throbbing rhythms can be spellbinding. The limited edition CD version comes with a second disc of equally compelling material.
Our Oceans – While Time Disappears (Long Branch)
Our Oceans are a Dutch trio comprised of former members of Cynic and Exivious. You might expect While Time Disappears to be a prog-death album, but you would be wrong. Our Oceans write hauntingly heart-wrenching progressive rock tunes, and here on their second album they take things to another emotionally dynamic level.
Featuring the raw, at times tragic vocals of Tymon Kruidenier, the songs on While Time Disappears are powerful, poignant, and dynamic, if at times a bit out of control. There’s a lot to sink into here; at times it seems as though the band wants to move into heavier territory but they show admirable restraint, leading to tension-filled compositions that for the most part keep us riveted to the speakers.
Pyramaze – Epitaph (AFM)
Danish progressive power-metallers Pyramaze have been through a few vocalist changes over the years (anyone remember the Matt Barlow album? Well he and original singer Lance King return here on the final track), but here on their sixth release, Epitaph, the lineup remains unchanged since the band reconvened in 2015. This is the current group’s third album together, and they have a lot to live up to, as Disciples of the Sun and Contingent were excellent releases.
Thankfully, Epitaph maintains that streak, with the perfect blend of power metal and progressive arrangements. Producer Jacob Hansen (who also plays in the band) lends the album its requisite force and clarity. A stunning contribution from Unleash the Archer’s Brittney Slayes on “Transcendence” and a sneaky tip of the hat to “Bohemian Rhapsody” in “Final Hour” are just a couple of neat features on an overall very strong prog-power release – one that just happens to be our pick of the month.
Sealand Airlines – Sealand Airlines (The Sign)
Here’s a very cool debut album: Sealand Airlines, the eponymous release from a retro Ukranian progressive rock quartet. These guys bring their love of all things ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s musically, and add in healthy dollops of sci-fi, B-movies, pop culture, and more to create a groovy eight-song album.
The charm Sealand Airlines bring to these songs is undeniable. Whether it’s the bass-heavy grooves, the airy washes of synth, the playful guitars, or the laid-back vocal delivery, it all adds up to an entertaining feel-good romp through the decades of yore. Of course, one has to craft strong songs for retro-anything to pay off, and these guys do just that, with songs such as “We Have What We Have” and “Sailing Girl” being virtually irresistible.
Other 2020 Progress Reports
January 2020 Progress Report
February 2020 Progress Report
March 2020 Progress Report
April 2020 Progress Report
May 2020 Progress Report
June 2020 Progress Report
July 2020 Progress Report
August 2020 Progress Report
September 2020 Progress Report
October 2020 Progress Report