Welcome to the October Progress Report. This is the last really big month of releases, as November will see a winding down of albums, and December will be our Best Of column. So this month we’ve got a bonus for you: seven reviews. Some good, some bad, and one downright scary. As usual, we try to scrounge up something for everyone in every dusty corner of the Prog Haunted House. Okay, enough Halloween references. Read on, and see if anything here grabs your attention.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Agusa – Agusa (Laser’s Edge)
Let’s start the month off with a rather calming influence, shall we? Agusa are a Swedish instrumental prog rock outfit, and this self-titled album is their third. Side note: the promo sheet describes organist Jeppe Juul as “living in the deep woods of southern Sweden in primitive circumstances.” Now that is something you don’t hear every day.
Instrumental albums of any kind can be tough to pull off, let alone the self-indulgent realm of progressive rock, but Agusa know their stuff. All five of the songs on Agusa are engaging from start to finish, with excellent musicianship showing throw via brilliant production. While the album has a bit too much flute for my liking, there’s no denying this is the best instrumental prog release of the year.
Remember good, bad, and downright scary? Well, here’s the bad for you. Dark Waters End are a Philadelphia progressive death metal outfit, and Submersion is their debut LP. With influences such as Converge and Dillinger Escape Plan, it should have potential.
Sadly, that potential is not reached. Song structures are unmemorable and/or awkward, vocals are poor, and honestly Submersion plays more like a metalcore album with death overtones than prog-death. Song titles like “Velocirapture” and “Up the Dose” accurately depict the music within.
Godsticks – Faced with Rage (Kscope)
Here’s a band I’d never heard of, Godsticks. Faced with Rage is this UK outfit’s second album, and first with KScope (Anathema, Steven Wilson). Being on that label automatically gives the band a certain level of cred. The addition of Gavin Bushell (Pineapple Thief’s touring guitarist) further increases the interest level.
The music on Faced with Rage has more in common with Tool than any of the artists listed in the first paragraph, and that’s a good thing. Godsticks can pull it off, with aggressive playing and solid vocal performances. Solid production tops off the album, making this one to definitely check out.
Hällas – Excerpts from a Future Past (The Sign)
Excerpts from a Future Past is the debut album from Sweden’s Hällas. It follows their 2015 EP, and is a concept album telling a story of a powerful seer in an alternate universe. Sounds like your typical cheesy prog rock concept album, and with this record being self-produced by the band’s keyboard player, I was ready for the worst.
Kudos to the band, though, for putting out an engaging record filled with excellent heavy progressive rock that hearkens back to the late ’70s/early ’80s, with some medieval elements thrown in. Sadly, the vocals here are an unintelligible mess, rendering the concept irrelevant. Better singing and this would be the album of the month.
Premiata Forneria Marconi – Emotional Tattoos (InsideOut)
No, Premiata Forneria Marconi are not an Italian law firm, but rather a legendary Italian prog rock outfit. InsideOut continue their “we never release bad music” mantra with Emotional Tattoos, the 19th studio album from this collective. PFM have been around literally forever (well, since 1970), but their music still has a youthful vibrancy about it that draws the listener in.
Emotional Tattoos is a double-CD, but not really: Disc 2 is the same as Disc 1, but sung in Italian rather than English. The album features eleven excellent prog rock songs, expertly played and with Franz Di Cioccio’s smoky, expressive vocals. “The Lesson” is shaping up as one of my favorite tracks of the year, and is an example of how good the album is, with a funky bass groove, slinky guitars and keys, and great singing. English or Italian, this is the best album of the month.
Here’s the scary, and thank goodness Egyptian Blue is only a three-song EP, because more of this would be too exhausting. Prostitution bring their Brooklyn heritage into play with a blackened avalanche of hardcore progressive metal that obliterates the senses from the opening salvo right to the end.
Even the more psychedelic interludes in these songs don’t offer much respite, as the band crashes through even the most pensive moments with unbridled aggression. Vocals are primarily harsh, with some clean moments, and the musicianship is top-notch. Scary, yes, but all in a good way if you like your prog metal mostly fast and definitely furious.
Sons of Apollo – Psychotic Symphony (InsideOut)
Okay, we’ve all heard of supergroup Sons of Apollo, so let’s end the column with a look at their debut album, Psychotic Symphony. For those unaware, the band consists of ex-Dream Theater members Mike Portnoy and Derek Sherinian, Billy Sheehan, Bumblefoot, and former Yngwie Malmsteen vocalist Jeff Scott Soto. That’s a lineup rife with potential.
Thankfully, the band comes through with an excellent release. Musically Psychotic Symphony is very similar to the more aggressive, older Dream Theater releases, with much better vocals and a complete lack of pretension. I found myself playing this album a lot more than I thought I would. Hopefully Sons of Apollo stick together and keep it up.
Other 2017 Progress Reports
The Progress Report: January 2017
The Progress Report: February 2017
The Progress Report: March 2017
The Progress Report: April 2017
The Progress Report: May 2017
The Progress Report: June 2017
The Progress Report: July 2017
The Progress Report: August 2017
The Progress Report: September 2017