Welcome to the April Progress Report. It’s safe to say that April has been an underwhelming month for progressive rock/metal. For yours truly, the best release of the month was Lonely Robot, covered in our Week of April 28 review column.
That being said, we’ve got a few more here to take a look at: a live album, an EP, a couple of prog-power releases, and a couple releases that don’t really know what they want to be.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Between the Buried and Me – Coma Ecliptic: Live (Metal Blade)
Between the Buried and Me (BTBAM) are leaders of the modern technical progressive metal movement, delivering intricate, complex records that consistently land near the top of prog-metal year end lists.2015’s Coma Ecliptic was no exception, as it was an excellent follow-up to 2015’s The Parallax II: Future Sequence.
Recorded live in October 2016 in San Diego, Coma Ecliptic: Live showcases BTBAM playing the entirety of their album in front of what seems to be a small, disinterested crowd. Admirably, the band pulls off all the technicalities of the songs with aplomb. With live albums, though, one hopes to hear bands push songs further than the originals, and here everything is played by rote. Perhaps the concert DVD is more interesting, but I’ll stick with the studio album for this one.
Labyrinth – Architecture of a God (Frontiers)
The first of our progressive-tinged power metal offerings, Labyrinth are an Italian band that have been around in one form or another since 1991. Architecture of a God is the band’s eighth full-length album, and first since 2010. It features a revamped keyboard/rhythm section accompanying longtime singer and guitarists Roberto Tiranti, Olaf Thorsen, and Andrea Cantarelli.
Architecture of a God features all the trappings of power metal that make it a fun sub-genre: fast riffs, galloping beats, and uplifting, inspiring lyrics. Progressive complexities tint most of the album, notably the epic title track, while top-notch production gives every instrument room to flourish. This is a fun prog-metal album that deserves a listen.
Eternal Oblivion is an EP release from Moonlight Prophecy, the project of black metal guitarist Lawrence Wallace. But don’t think for a minute black metal rears its head here. This is much more like old-school lightning-fast shredfests a la Yngwie Malmsteen.
The three songs on Eternal Oblivion are all under four minutes, and Wallace gets to the point instantly in them all, tearing through finger-smoking leads and accompanied by a fast, heavy rhythm section. “Spellbound” and “Witch Hunt” are instrumental, while “Eternal Oblivion” features poor vocals buried in the mix – they probably should have been left out. Overall a mildly interesting EP with some great axework, but not much else.
Of the Sun call themselves southern progressive metal, but I’m not sure if this Texas trio knows what sound they’re really aiming for. They claim to be influenced by bands ranging from Pantera to Primus. Before a Human Path is the band’s second album, following 2009’s A.M. Radio. I’m not sure what they’ve been working on this long, but they came up with five songs clocking in at 33 minutes.
The music is of a frenetic stop/start style, and features predominantly harsh vocals. All told, it’s a chaotic mess of ideas within each song, none of which lend the recordings any sense of continuity. Luckily this is just a five-song EP, but Of the Sun have a long way to go with regards to sorting out their identity and improving their songwriting.
Uneven Structure – La Partition (Long Branch)
Our French entry into the Progress Report is Uneven Structure, and La Partition is this sextet’s second album. As one might expect from a French band (think Alcest, Les Discrets), the music here is of an experimental progressive nature, with a lot of ambient guitar and keyboard work.
I wish I could say La Partition is a mesmerizing, hypnotic piece of work, but I honestly can’t tell. The production style is such that every instrument and vocal has an artificially high, sibilant sheen to it, effectively negating everything out in the mix. Most of the time it feels like only vocals and drums are audible at all, and the rare moments that guitars can be heard do not make me think of exceptional talent. I’d love to hear a better-produced version of this album, but as it stands it’s a pass for me.
Vandroya – Beyond the Human Mind (Inner Wound)
Much like Labyrinth above, our final album of the month is a prog-power number. These Brazilians have been around for quite a while but Beyond the Human Mind is only Vandroya‘s second album. The highlight of the band is unquestionably vocalist Daisa Munhoz, who has excellent range for this style of music, and is front and center throughout.
For the most part this is a solid, highly enjoyable progressive piece of power metal. The band writes catchy songs and backs Munhoz with enthusiasm, almost making this the pick of the column. However, the album goes off the rails twice in the back half with horrible ballads that are so saccharine and out of place I foresee purchasers of Beyond the Human Mind deleting them from their playlist. Outside of those two songs, though, this is a fun album that deserves a spin.