Yes, I tried to make a stupid time signature joke in the title; sue me! Anyway, The Prog-nosis used to be a monthly column but then a bunch of stuff happened (like ~50% of the editorial body becoming dads), so I had to decrease its frequency to a quarterly issue. Between you and me, this isn’t a huge a problem because the volume of worthwhile progressive music releases isn’t a torrent anyway. In fact, I think this format suits the column even better because now I can really take my time and focus on the cream of the crop of progressive music. Sounds good? Awesome, let’s go!
CLOSER TO THE HEART (TOP PICK)
The Dear Hunter – Antimai
There’s one super-fan of The Dear Hunter on the blog and it isn’t me but don’t let that distract you from the fact that I really like The Dear Hunter! However, I’ve always felt like I wanted the band to do something a bit different, something that would unlock the full love for them that I had always felt was creeping around in my heart, somewhere. After all, it’s a classic “Eden” band; they are not afraid of cheese, grandeur, and emotional outlet, plus they make forward-thinking, unexpected, and colorful music.
I could never quite place what was missing though. That is, until Antimai came along and I finally realized that what I wanted from The Dear Hunter is for them to move away entirely from their indie trappings and fully embrace progressive rock. Antimai is the result; this is The Dear Hunter by way of Big Big Train, Casey’s signature orchestral compositions funneled through the rose-tinted lens of The Flower Kings. Insert other unapologetic prog-rock band here! Comparisons aside, Antimai is a joy to listen to, both for its fully fleshed-out and consistent concept (no, I’m not planning on writing a Prognotes. for it, I’m too old for that stuff…maybe) and for its incredible composition and execution.
That latter supercharges the already technicolor palette of The Dear Hunter with progressive rock excess, causing the colors to explode into a veritable rainbow. From the scintillating introduction of “Poverty”, through the haunting choirs of “LoTown”, the febrile excess of “Patrol” and, finally, all the way to the sociopathic villainy of “Tower”, Antimai is constantly painting with massive brushes. The strings are sweeping, the vocals inflected with a million layers, the bass is loud and present. Everything is just turned up to eleven, constructing the city of Antimai before our eyes with its largesse, industry, misery, greediness, ambition, hope, and defeat.
Of course, the linchpin which props up this thousand-layer cake are Casey’s compositions. His ability to move music from the sweeping heights of expression to the intimate confessional, to effortlessly recall leitmotifs to convey story progression, and to somehow make massive music be relatable and effective is truly second to none. In that regard, Antimai actually “fixes” progressive rock, solving one of its essential problems: how do you make music that is far out there, galactic in scope, but still human and approachable? On Antimai, The Dear Hunter have done jus that, creating an album that’s in equal measure an ambitious, lofty work of art and a danceable, sing-able, relatable piece of music.
POLYPHONIA (FURTHER LISTENING)
Parius – The Signal Heard Throughout Space
If this is the first time you’ve heard of Parius or this album, you are in for a treat. While this release has certainly been making noise online (get it), Parius have been around since 2015. However, their previous albums could rightfully be placed more in the genres of technical death metal, among other. Regardless, The Signal Heard Throughout Space sees them fully embracing progressive metal, weaving in an epic sci-fi concept, redolent synths, and off-kilter groove section/guitar interactions to create a joy of an album. If you’re looking for metal writ large, unapologetic, and complex enough to keep you glued to your headphones, this one is for you.
Fallujah – Empyrean
Look, at this point you don’t need me to explain why Fallujah‘s new album is excellent; we’ve spent a few thousand words doing that on the blog. However, I do want to take a second and focus on one aspect of the album that is especially pertinent for this colum: Fallujah’s shift on it from technical death metal to progressive death metal. If you recall (and it’s here if you don’t) I wrote an editorial about the unique case for the sub-genre and Empyrean is a fantastic example of it. On Empyrean, Fallujah have moved from the heavier, “colder” trappings of their earlier albums, which first placed them somewhere around the brutal death/deathcore labels and then firmly within the technical death metal spaces, to a more chromatic, more varied, emotional and aesthetical palette. Keeping musical complexity in the music, and indeed enriching in order to suit this broader aesthetic approach, lands Empyrean fully in the realms of progressive death metal and explains the uniqueness and definition of the oft-misunderstood sub-genre. Also the album is very, very good.
Cara Neir – Phantasmal
Not including the wildest, most eclectic, and the most unique album of the quarter in this colum would have been a grave mistake. Garry Brents continues to push the Cara Neir formula to the limit, mixing his staple elixir of furious experimental black metal with chiptune, emo, grindcore, punk, and some other green, bubbly stuff that’s very hard to fit into any taxonomy. If you’re looking to be challenged, if you’re looking for music that will make your head spin with how hard it performs its heel-turns, if you’re looking for music that still manages to pull cohesion, direction, and momentum out of intense experimentation, then there is simply no other album for you this quarter. Or this year. Or this decade, if we’re being honest.
Birth – Born
I’ve already written my fair share about this album on the blog but if you’ve made it this far and you’re looking for some 70’s progressive rock to soothe your aching ears, this is the album for you. This one is for long, Saturday afternoons spent with a cold drink, closing your eyes and letting your mind wander to distant places. This is for that place in you that first heard Yes, Hawkwind or King Crimson and made your heart beat a bit faster.