Welcome to the January Progress Report, and happy 2018! May this be the year of years for all of you out there. For us here at Heavy Music Headquarters, and the Progress Report specifically, we’ll be trying to unearth as much excellent music as we can for you. January is off to a bit of a slow start in that regard, but here are six albums that all show a variety of merit.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Race Against Time is the debut album from Canadian instrumental prog trio The Dead Centuries. Think of the musical chops of bands like Scale the Summit and Protest the Hero and you’ve got an idea as to what can be expected.
With an overall sound (and album cover) that harkens back to the 1980s, the songs on Race Against Time are exactly what we want from instrumental prog – engaging arrangements with a perfect balance of groove, riffs, and virtuosity, and enough variation to keep us listening through all ten tracks. This is a great start for The Dead Centuries.
Howling Sycamore – Howling Sycamore (Prosthetic)
Howling Sycamore can be thought of as a supergroup of sorts: guitarist Davide Tiso (Ephel Duath), singer Jason McMaster (Watchtower, Dangerous Toys), and drummer Hannes Grossmann (Obscura, Necrophagist) form the core of the band, and are joined for guest appearances on the sax by Yazuka’s Bruce Lamont and on guitar by Dysrhythmia/Gorguts’ Kevin Hufnagel. Quite the disparate and talented lineup.
Blast beat drumming, virtuoso guitar playing, demented sax solos, and “crazy Dio” vocals don’t sound like a good mix on paper, but the band has put together an extremely interesting prog metal platter, loaded with energy, changeups galore, and superior songwriting. Howling Sycamore is the best prog metal album of January. Hopefully this is the band’s debut, and not just a one-off.
Hyvmine – Earthquake (Seek and Strike)
This band is the opposite. L.A.-based axe wizard Al Joseph leads this group, and also steps out front with lead vocals. Joseph has a couple solo albums to his credit, along with two Guitar Hero Ballads albums. Earthquake is Hyvmine’s debut, and promises to be a progressive hard rock offering.
Living up to promises isn’t always easy, though, and while Joseph is without doubt an insanely talented guitarist, his vocal skills lag behind, as does the songwriting. The collection presented, aside from the excellent guitar solos, are primarily tepid, poorly produced (especially the drum samples) hard rock/corporate metal like Adrenaline Mob or Nickelback.
Another instrumental prog metal album, but with a twist: each song on Into The Great Divide‘s self-titled album has a spoken-word narrative prefacing it, describing the track we are about to hear. That’s a big risk to take, breaking the flow of these ten songs with what amounts to five minutes of talking. For yours truly, the gimmick doesn’t work. I’d rather just have liner notes.
But the music is another story. Zack Zalon does excellent work on the guitar, and Dream Theater’s Mike Mangini lays down superb drum tracks, giving us an album of compelling and varying instrumental prog metal. Without the ten intro tracks, this would be an excellent release. Kudos for trying something different, though.
Perfect Beings – Vier (InsideOut)
Another Los Angeles band, Perfect Beings are relatively new to the scene, with two other albums to their credit the past five years. Vier is their third, and is a double-LP, with each side comprised of one composition. Despite being new, the band plays classic prog rock, and they play it well.
Vier features intriguing instrumentation, compelling songwriting, and excellent vocal work. The only real downside to Vier is the mix: the album is entirely lacking in bottom end, as if the mixing board’s high pass filter was horribly abused. The songs and performances here deserve to be heard with much more power. That being said, this is a band to watch out for.
Sages – Sleepwalker (Seek and Strike)
California is a popular home base this month! Sages are from Sacramento, and Sleepwalker is their debut album. It was independently released late last year but now sees a label release, and the final slot in our January Report.
Much like Hyvmine, Sages aim for the hard rock/prog rock sweet spot. In this case, though, they come much closer to hitting the mark, with influences ranging from Deftones, Chevelle (especially vocally), Tool, and Periphery all in evidence. Sleepwalker is an unpolished but very promising start worth giving a spin.