Welcome to the March Progress Report. This month, I took a different approach: I grabbed seven albums from artists I had never heard before. On paper that’s not the best idea ever, but read these reviews and check the bands out. You will find that what we’ve come up with this month is seven excellent albums in a variety of styles – ’70s prog, power-prog, extreme, instrumental – but with one thing in common: their ratings. In short, an excellent (and lucky!) month for The Progress Report.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Borealis – The Offering (AFM)
I hadn’t heard Borealis’ music before this, but the Canadian band have been putting out albums for ten years, and it shows. This fourth album, The Offering, is a very polished, well-written and performed, power-prog platter. Fans of bands like Symphony X and Kamelot will be all over Borealis.
As is often the case in progressive metal, The Offering is a concept album, following the life cycle of a cult that sacrifices children. Not the greatest topic ever, but musically this is a record that fans of progressive power metal will love. It’s got massive anthems, soaring ballads, and outstanding performances from all members, and will prove to be one of the best of its sub-genre this year.
Conjurer – Mire (Holy Roar)
Mire is the debut album from extreme prog band Conjurer. These Brits take their cues from the heavier moments of bands like Mastodon and Gojira, creating a pummeling, brutal attack that also features an abundance of nuance and dynamics, holding our interest all the way through.
The two vocalists in Conjurer mainly stick to the harsh style of singing, although there are a few moments of respite. Mire is an album one would expect from a band in its prime, so the fact that it’s these fellows’ debut album is remarkable. For fans of modern, heavy prog, Mire will be a big hit and sets Conjurer up for a bright future.
Malady – Toinen Toista (Svart)
Finland’s Malady are dedicated to faithfully reproducing the sound of Lizard and Islands-era King Crimson – or at least, that’s the impression one gets when listening to their second album, Toinen Toista. Information is scant about this release, but I’m pretty sure the band even makes use of a Mellotron. If that’s not authentic, nothing is.
Toinen Toista is only five songs long, but closing track “Nurja puoli” is 23 minutes long, which would take up all of side two of a vinyl offering. It’s a great song as well, as are the other four, featuring all the instrumentation and complex, layered arrangements we expect of the style. If early ’70s prog rock is your thing, this is your album.
The most conventional of our offerings this month, Mile Marker Zero are from Hartford, CT, and The Fifth Row is their second album, a concept recording centered around the theme of how advances in technology and AI are impacting our lives.
Musically, the band is influenced by artists such as Tool, Muse and Rush. They’ve got a great, accessible sound, and Dave Alley shows himself to be an outstanding vocalist. While the albums newsy soundbites can come off as a bit hackneyed, and not every song is strong, overall The Fifth Row is a really good prog metal album that’s worth checking out.
Monotheist – Scourge (Prosthetic)
It has been eleven years since Florida prog-death band Monotheist last released a full-length LP. The band originally pushed a vision of Suffocation/Death-style music mixed with jazz and classical influences. It’s a grand vision, and one that for a variety of reasons the band was unable to execute on until eleven years later, with Scourge.
The wait was worth it, though, as the band have delivered a magnum opus. Scourge features seven songs that retain their technical death metal structure while perfectly fusing classical, jazz and world music elements. It all ties in and flows seamlessly in what is sure to be one of the great progressive death metal releases of the year.
Sammal – Suuliekki (Svart)
Our second entry from Finland this month, and just as fantastic. Suuliekki is Sammal’s third album, and this Finnish foursome put their own spin on the lush ’70s prog sound. They feature a wide range of instrumentation and emotion-filled singing in their native tongue, and the variety of arrangements make for a mysteriously engaging release.
The nine tracks on Suuliekki breeze by in 44 minutes, but you’ll be quick to hit repeat. The title track is a fantastic driving ’70s prog number, while “Ylistys ja kumarrus” is propelled forward with the glorious Hammond organ/Leslie cabinet combo. The album also features beautiful production, putting us in the studio with the band as they play.
WuW – Rien Ne Nous Sera Épargné (Prosthetic)
Our instrumental addition to the Progress Report comes courtesy of French duo WuW. These brothers are classically trained percussionists, and Rien Ne Nous Sera Épargné is their debut offering. The two entered the studio with the goal of recording quickly, with few overdubs, to capture their spontaneity.
The two men play a variety of instruments here – in addition to percussion instruments from a multitude of countries (including oddities such as African bells played with goat nails), WuW jam on old synths and organs. The results are highly experimental progressive numbers tinged in psychedelia and krautrock. Rien Ne Nous Sera Épargné is truly an invigorating listen.