Welcome to the February Progress Report. After a paucity of releases in January, we are getting back on track here with a number of gems in a variety of styles. As we always try to, we have highlighted everything from ’70s prog to tech-death, from instrumental to post-rock, and more. And while none of these albums reviewed fail to hit the mark, there is one that stands head and shoulders above the rest. Read on to find out which one, and please remember to support the bands you like by buying their music.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Hex A.D. – Astro Tongue in the Electric Garden (Fresh Tea)
Norway’s Hex A.D. were formed in 2011 by drummer Rick Hagan and the late Chris Tsangarides, a world-renowned producer. Astro Tongue in the Electric Garden is the band’s fourth album, and first since Tsangarides passed away in 2018. The band has evolved from a sort of sludgy doom outfit to what we have today: a progressive doom group heavily influenced this time around by the late sixties and early seventies sounds of British prog.
Astro Tongue… is a thick and heavy album, loaded with deep bass and churning organs and Mellotron. At times it reminds one of the heavier moments of modern-era Opeth. Overall the songs are well written and performed, if slightly long. Hex A.D. keep evolving in the right direction, and this is a great step forward for the band.
Two years ago we reviewed Austin-based Runescarred’s debut EP, and were looking forward to their first full-length. Here we have it in The Distant Infinite, ten songs that cover the realms of thrash and power metal with plenty of progressive aplomb, and demonstrate that the band hasn’t exactly been sitting around the past two years.
Musically The Distant Infinite never disappoints, especially when it comes to Tim Driscoll’s guitar work. Most of the time, Ven Scott’s vocals are also excellent, evoking thoughts of Dio and Jason McMaster. What holds this album back from a higher rating is the overly loud, muffled production, which hampers our enjoyment (particularly of Scott’s vocals) to the point of distraction. Runescarred are just a producer away from putting out something amazing.
Thoren – Gwarth II (Drylands)
There’s plenty of progressive death metal out there, but not many instrumental variants. Detroit’s Thoren are just that, and their third album is entitled Gwarth II, which is the back half of 2018’s Gwarth I. Here Anthony Lipari (guitar) and Joseph Paquette (bass) are joined by Alex Cohen and Kenny Grohowski, who have drummed for Pyrrhon and Imperial Triumphant, among other bands.
The results on Gwarth II are exactly what one wants from a prog-death album: controlled chaos that draws as much influence from bands like Pyrrhon and Dysrhythmia as it does from the heavier, more discordant moments of King Crimson. Without vocals it can be tough to discern specific tracks, and at 27 minutes this hardly qualifies as an LP, but Gwarth II remains a strong prog-death album despite this.
Toundra – Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (InsideOut)
Another instrumental prog album comes our way courtesy of Madrid’s Toundra. Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari is the post metal band’s sixth album, hot on the heels of 2018’s well-regarded Vortex. Here the band takes on the daunting task of creating a soundtrack to the 1920 German silent horror movie of the same name.
Moody, atmospheric, foreboding, hypnotic – one can carry on ad nauseum with adjectives for this album. While I haven’t seen the movie, I can say that Toundra’s 71-minute epic soundtrack seems like a perfect companion for Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari. This is an album that is difficult to not pay attention to, even with that length in mind. Well done, Toundra.
At first I thought we were onto our third instrumental album in a row here, with drummer extraordinaire Virgil Donati’s solo album, but a number of these songs do feature vocals. Donati is a highly-regarded drummer and composer, and has worked with some big names, including Alan Holdsworth and Steve Vai. Here on Ruination, he has assembled a crackerjack band to bring eleven fusion-prog tracks to life.
The progressive styles on Ruination range from metal to jazz, from atmospheric to demented, and much in between. Donati’s drumming is beyond impressive, but his entire band shines throughout, with nary a weak track to be found. For fans of progressive music in the purest sense, Ruination is exactly what you need.
Xenobiotic – Mordrake (Unique Leader)
I didn’t know of Australian prog-death band Xenobiotic, but I sure do now. Mordrake is the band’s second album, and is a devastating, near-perfect example of progressive death metal at its finest. Going back to their debut for a frame of reference I found an extremely strong tech-death/deathcore release, but Mordrake tops it in every regard.
As one expects from this genre, the music is laser-precise and loaded with jagged riffs, massive vocals, and huge breakdowns that absolutely shred speakers. Xenobiotic don’t do anything new on Mordrake, but they write fantastic songs and perform them with unnerving excellence. One of the best production jobs of this young year is the icing on the prog-death cake here, and it all adds up to the best album of the month.
Other 2020 Progress Reports
January 2020 Progress Report