Welcome to the September Progress Report. As always we try to bring you a variety of releases here, from established bands and independents, from whimsical to extreme. There is one thing four of this month’s selections have in common, though: they run at or over an hour. The other thing these four albums have in common is that the runtime does them no favors. Whether it is shorter songs or cutting some of the less compelling tracks, these long-running records could all have benefitted from having ten to twenty minutes chopped out. But don’t let that stop you – these are still strong albums, they just could have been even better.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Alkaloid – Numen (Season of Mist)
It’s been five years since Alkaloid’s excellent Liquid Anatomy graced our column, so it is safe to say we’ve been anticipating Numen, the German band’s third album, for quite a while. Comprised of members of bands such as Obscura and Triptykon, Alkaloid push the boundaries of progressive death metal in their music, lyrics, and concepts.
Numen further expands upon the band’s sound, throwing in acoustic passages, female backing vocals, jazz, and more in a compelling amalgamation of styles. The album does run a bit too long – a theme this year seems to be bands throwing a much-too-long song on the end of an album – but this is forgiven due to the overall quality on display. Numen might be a bit much, but it’s worth the time and is our pick of the month.
Bruce Soord – Luminescence (Kscope)
Bruce Soord is best known as leader of The Pineapple Thief. Luminescence is the singer/songwriter/producer/musician’s third solo outing, and lyrically it explores the challenge of finding inner peace in the modern world. Clocking in at a svelte (this month) forty-one minutes, Luminescence finds Soord taking on all aspects of recording save the string arrangements, making this a true solo outing.
Luminescence is subdued, melancholy, and quiet much of the time, but the electronic touches, strings, and Soord’s emotive singing all add intriguing layers to what at first seems to be a simple album. In fact, this is a great headphones album. Listening closely to all the tracks reveals depths that a casual listen will miss and make this both a charming and engrossing album.
The Chronicles Of Father Robin – The Songs & Tales Of Airoea – Book 1 (Karisma)
Next up we find The Chronicles Of Father Robin, a rather odd name for a band. This is a Norwegian folk-prog group that’s been in theoretical existence for decades. The band members moved on over time to form or join bands such as Wobbler, Tusmørke, and The Few, and are now together for their debut The Songs & Tales Of Airoea – Book 1, the first of a trilogy of albums.
If you’re familiar with the band names dropped above you know what Book 1 is going to sound like – lush ‘70s prog with folk accents, wonderful playing, moments of quirkiness, and an altogether charming aura. This is nostalgic prog with modern production, resulting in an earthy, captivating album. Books 2 and 3 (due before next June) should be promising additions.
This is the third time Hats Off Gentlemen It’s Adequate have appeared in our column, and they have never disappointed us. The Light Of Ancient Mistakes keeps the band’s momentum going, with plenty of stellar musicianship, strong production and interesting, topical lyrics.
Much like past efforts, the band’s seventh album keeps the influences of artists such as Genesis, David Bowie, and Pink Floyd at the fore, all while delivering some killer playing and catchy, pop-sensible choruses. This is yet another overly long album, though, and just might have been our pick of the month if it was twenty minutes shorter. But don’t let that scare you off; this band is flying way too far under the radar, and deserves a much broader audience.
Psygnosis – Mercury (Season of Mist)
Not only is Mercury another in a line of overly long albums this month, French quartet Psygnosis up the ante by releasing a twelve-minute single to kick things off. And while this band has been around for fourteen years, they underwent a big change midway through life, ditching vocals in favor of a cellist. Psygnosis are now a rather unique band.
Technical death metal, electronic ambience, and swirling cello passages all add up to something not really heard anywhere else. Psygnosis have the songwriting chops to back up their technical prowess as well. The five songs on Mercury are all different and compelling in their own right. No song is shorter than 8:44, which makes this a more challenging listen, but definitely worth it.
Southern Empire – Another World (GEP)
Not the longest but unquestionably the most ambitious album this month is Another World, the sixty-one minute epic release from Australian prog rockers Southern Empire. For those who have followed the band, Another World sees them welcoming a new vocalist to their ranks. Shaun Holton sounds as though he’s been in Southern Empire forever – there is great chemistry here.
Another World sees the band pushing their progressive limits, especially on the nineteen minute epic “White Shadows.” They tend to mix in progressive rock, modern metal, jazz, voiceovers, and more to craft something grandiose in nature. However, at times these efforts reach a bit too far, and the cohesiveness of songs is weakened by the unpredictable arrangements. That being said, one gets the feeling Southern Empire are just a few touches away from releasing a modern-day classic.
Other 2023 Progress Reports
January 2023 Progress Report
February 2023 Progress Report
March 2023 Progress Report
April 2023 Progress Report
May 2023 Progress Report
June 2023 Progress Report
July 2023 Progress Report
August 2023 Progress Report