Welcome to the November Progress Report – the final review column of the year, as December’s will be our Best Of feature. This is the last chance for bands to put out something great that sticks with us and lands on lists, so let’s see how they all do.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Kanaan – Earthbound (Jansen)
Norwegian instrumental trio Kanaan dropped Earthbound, their fourth album in four years, this month. I’m not familiar with their earlier work, but a quick jaunt into their catalogue revealed plenty of psychedelic jazz exercises. Not so this time around: Earthbound possesses some of the thickest, fuzziest riffs this column has ever seen. Think of Kyuss and Hawkwind jamming together and you’ll be close.
Ignore the opening “Prelude,” it’s not needed and detracts from the meat of the album, which is cool, hypnotic, driving psych rock led by fuzz-drenched guitars and augmented with space age keyboards. The epic “Mudbound,” although thirteen minutes long, keeps us riveted the entire time and is one of the year’s best instrumental tracks. Earthbound is an entrancing romp through hazy, psychedelic fields.
Obscura – A Valediction (Nuclear Blast)
Three years ago German tech-death stars Obscura topped one of our columns with Diluvium, the final album in a four-part conceptual series. Three years later, and now on Nuclear Blast, the band is beginning the relatively less expansive task of starting an album trilogy with A Valediction. Not only has the record label changed; band leader Steffen Kummerer has convened an entirely new version of the band, two members of which were present in earlier versions of Obscura.
A Valediction is less progressive and more straightforward than Diluvium, but no less technically appeasing. The fretless bass lines are sadly absent but the speed and aggression of the arrangements somewhat make up for it. It might not have the dynamism and variance of Diluvium, but A Valediction is still a very strong tech death release that fans of the band and genre will happily dig into.
Kill Your Servants Quietly is a bittersweet release. It is Old Man Wizard’s third album, but also their final release before the band is retired. Perhaps because of this finality, this is an ambitious album, with songs ranging from moody and melancholic to upbeat and propulsive, all painted with a wistful, subdued production and a sense of finality that is both uplifting and poignant.
This album just might represent leader Francis Roberts’ best work, be it in writing, guitar playing, or singing. With a variety of progressively-bent songs that tap into folk music, hard rock, and even a hint of new wave, Kill Your Servants Quietly is a well-constructed, touching finale for a band that deserved a little more attention over the last ten years.
Ross Jennings – A Shadow Of My Future Self (Graphite)
Best known as the vocalist for prog bands Haken and Novena, Ross Jennings steps away from his bands on his debut solo disc, A Shadow of My Future Self. The album sees Jennings explore a number of different musical styles, as well as play guitar. With help from Simen Sandnes (VOLA) on drums and Nathan Navarro (Devin Townsend) on bass, Jennings takes a personal look at his musical influences.
From the wistful singer/songwriter style of “Catcher in the Rye” to the power pop of “Rocket Science,” Jennings turns in deft performances and catchy songwriting. “Young at Heart” is a piano-based groovy jazz foray, and “Words We Can’t Unsay” would be at home on albums from Steven Wilson or Anathema. This is a well done album, but at 14 songs and 80 minutes it’s far too long. Jennings could have put aside a few songs for his next album, but that’s a minor nitpick.
Sea Sleeper – Nostophobia (Metal Assault)
Nostophobia isn’t a new release for November; Portland’s Sea Sleeper released this digitally back in February, and now it is seeing physical release. This quartet plays hard-hitting and relentless death metal, with numerous progressive and technical nods throughout. There are hints of bands like Mastodon and Gojira scattered in here, but Sea Sleeper make the sounds their own.
The music on Nostophobia rarely lets up, as relentless aggression is the name of the game. Occasional clean vocals and kinks in the arrangements hint at the band’s progressive tendencies, especially on “Mountain Carver.” On the other hand, “Coffin Salesman” is a more basic and catchy death metal cut. This is a great debut and Sea Sleeper display plenty of potential. This is a band to keep an eye on.
TDW – Fountains (Layered Reality)
Not content with having an album in our January Progress Report, TDW (Tom de Wit) also has to squeeze one into our final report of the year. Fountains is the band’s eighth album, once again with the same strong supporting cast the last album had, but this time with song idea input from fans who funded The Day The Clock Stopped – a pretty cool idea if TDW can make it work.
Luckily they can. Whether it’s the fan ideas or just your everyday inspiration, TDW have put together quite the variety here, from the modern prog metal of the last album to swing jazz, to some almost world music-inspired moments. A more concise and varied album means a better album, too, and Fountains steps it up a notch from The Days The Clock Stopped, making it our pick of the month.
Other 2021 Progress Reports
January 2021 Progress Report
February 2021 Progress Report
March 2021 Progress Report
April 2021 Progress Report
May 2021 Progress Report
June 2021 Progress Report
July 2021 Progress Report
August 2021 Progress Report
September 2021 Progress Report
October 2021 Progress Report