Welcome to the July Progress Report. The heat of summer is here, which means there’s a bit of a lack of available albums for review. Still, we’ve dredged up six releases we found interesting, and here you go with some reviews. For the most part this is a mellow month, with a handful of progressive rock releases, but we’ve still got some heavier material as well, so don’t lose hope!
Ratings are on a five star scale.
The pleasant surprise of the month (and our top pick) goes to Arctic Sleep and their seventh full-length release, Kindred Spirits. The mastermind of Arctic Sleep is Keith D, who plays everything except drums here. A couple of guest vocalists augment the sound as well, giving added dimension to this atmospheric progressive doom album. For comparison’s sake, one might look towards Pink Floyd and Anathema a bit.
Kindred Spirits is a beautiful, expansive, vibrant album, full of emotional heft. Musical movements range from delicate to heavy and everything in between. Kevin D displays a deft hand when it comes to arrangements, making each song an engaging, captivating force. One added dimension that sets Arctic Sleep apart from some contemporaries is D’s excellent use of the cello, which adds even more scope to an already impressive album, and one that will be seeing repeated spins in the future.
Black Passage are a Bay Area band comprised of members of Behold the Desecration, Anisoptera, Wolf King, and Fallujah, and they take sounds and influences from all of those bands and weave them into a single force here on their debut album, The Veil. The variance in styles on The Veil is similar at times to Between the Buried and Me, with extreme metal interlaced with melodic prog throughout.
For a group featuring members of this many other bands, the chemistry on display is impressive, and the overall sound and style of the band is enticing. Production-wise, Black Passage have a great sound going (although the drums come across as overtly aggressive and artificial). The Veil is a promising debut that has this band firmly on my radar going forward.
Nad Sylvan – The Regal Bastard (InsideOut)
The Regal Bastard is the final album in Nad Sylvan’s vampire trilogy of albums. We reviewed its predecessor, The Bride Said No, a couple years ago, and were impressed on all levels. Here, Sylvan brings the story to completion over seven songs (and two unrelated bonus tracks), and does so in fine fashion.
Most of the individuals involved in The Bride Said No are here again, and Sylvan is behind the controls, so you know The Regal Bastard is going to sound as pristine as that record did. What it lacks in immediacy and heaviness, or riffs, it makes up for in lush arrangements and a more conventional, slightly R&B approach. Sylvan’s trademark smoky vocals shine again. The Regal Bastard is an enjoyable conclusion, and solid album in its own right.
Nightmare Scenario – Beyond What is Real (Hogweed & Fugue)
Dan Briggs is Between the Buried and Me’s bass player, and a prolific musician in his own right. In addition to his BTBAM work, he plays bass or guitar in a handful of other bands, and now he has created Nightmare Scenario, which is his first solo outing. Beyond What is Real is a six-song EP, and aside from some brass and woodwind work, Briggs plays and sings everything.
The music on Beyond What is Real is not at all like one might expect from Briggs based on his BTBAM pedigree, but that’s a good thing here. This is atmospheric, electronic, jazz-tinged prog, more akin to Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel. Brigg’s ethereal vocals are also a welcome surprise, and help make this a highly enjoyable EP. Hopefully Briggs finds the time to produce more in this vein.
Pattern-Seeking Animals – Pattern-Seeking Animals (InsideOut)
Pattern-Seeking Animals are a group assembled by writer-producer John Boegehold. Here he enlists the aid of Jimmy Keegan, Ted Leonard, and Dave Meros (all current or former Spock’s Beard members) for the band’s self-titled debut. With all four members being part of the Spock’s Beard family, one might assume this would just be a SB album in a different guise.
That’s not completely so, though. Leonard is given room to excel on guitar, and Keegan takes on some vocal duties. Additionally, Boegehold’s synth work varies greatly from SB sounds. While some of the songs here are rote prog rock, there are a handful of more adventurous numbers which make Pattern-Seeking Animals an engaging prog rock debut.
Valis Ablaze – Render (Long Branch)
UK progsters Valis Ablaze cap off the month with their second full-length release, Render. This quintet focuses on adding a very textured, full-range, epic sound to their alt-metal take on progressive music. Vocalist Phil Owen stands out here, with his impassioned delivery towering over climactic melodies drawing us fully into each song.
Valis Ablaze have spent time touring with a lot of prominent bands over the last couple of years, including two that they sound a lot like: Vola and Dead Letter Circus. If you like your prog slightly metallic and very melodic, with soaring vocal lines and a thick, layered, pristine sound, Render could be your album of choice this summer.