Welcome to the November Progress Report – our last one of the year (December’s will be our Top Prog Albums of 2018 list). We’re ending the year on a rather mellow note: no progressive death metal, and three progressive rock albums. There are albums from wily veterans as well as fresh young bands, all of which have moments of greatness and show plenty of potential. Check them out and see what you think, and see you in December with our Top Ten.
Ratings are on a five star scale.
Divine Ascension – The Uncovering (ViciSolum)
I’ll admit, when I grabbed this album I didn’t know who Divine Ascension were, and I was prepared for the worst. Female-fronted progressive power metal can sometimes tread in cliché territory. However, on The Uncovering, the Australian band’s third album, my worries were almost immediately put to rest.
The Uncovering sounds great, with tight, punchy, aggressive music and extremely solid arrangements. Jennifer Borg has an amazing set of pipes, and takes each song to the next level – even when Evergrey’s Tom Englund pitches in on one song, she isn’t overshadowed. If you’re looking for a prog-power album that ticks all the boxes, you don’t have to look any further than this.
Four Stroke Baron – Planet Silver Screen (Prosthetic)
Four Stroke Baron are one of the more unique bands to grace the Progress Report this year. Planet Silver Screen is the Americans’ second album, and showcases their odd blend of new-wave, grunge, sludge, and stoner metal in a crazy progressive package. As you can imagine based on those styles, this is a band that is hard to categorize.
There are moments of blasting riffs, video game electronics, and even a guest appearance from Shining’s Jorden Munkeby, who provides some off-kilter saxophone work on the final track. All of this weirdness is anchored by the new-wave, plaintive-sounding vocals of Kirk Witt. Planet Silver Screen is an album you might not be able to stop listening to.
KOSM are a modern progressive metal band from Vancouver, Canada. Citing bands such as Tool and Mastodon as influences, it’s pretty easy to guess what direction the music will take, and the band are faithful to their vision of modern prog metal. Cosmonaut is their debut album.
Musically, Cosmonaut demonstrates top-notch skill and moments of compelling songwriting. Guitarists Mike Slater and Erik Leonhard lay down inventive riffs and solid leads. Jessie Grace has a powerful voice, but too often devolves into harsh vocals, and those harsh moments are by far the weak points in the album. Cosmonaut is a solid debut, but KOSM need to not try to do too much at once, especially in the vocals department.
Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly – Friendship (InsideOut)
The first of three sort of interrelated bands, Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly have toured with and share a record label with the next two bands. Sjöblom is better known as the leader/singer of prog rockers Beardfish; Gungfly is a side project of his, and Friendship is the band’s fourth album.
As expected, we’re presented with lush, immaculate progressive rock, with friendship as the key theme in all songs. Friendship was inspired by an old photograph of Sjöblom atop a treehouse as a youth, and thoughts of friends both past and present. There’s some odd pacing – the title track, which is the second cut, is a thirteen minute instrumental, followed by a song that’s almost country – but overall this is a slick, tight offering.
Roine Stolt’s The Flower King – Manifesto of an Alchemist (InsideOut)
Roine Stolt is in about a hundred bands, notable The Flower Kings, Kaipa, and Transatlantic. Manifesto of an Alchemist is ostensibly a solo album, loaded with guest musicians who will be known to prog fans everywhere – Marco Minneman (Steven Wilson) on drums, Jonas Reingold (Karmakanic) on bass, and some vocals courtesy Nad Sylvan (Steve Hackett).
Not dissimilar to Friendship, Manifesto of an Alchemist is sleek, immaculately mixed, and well produced. Influences from bands such as Yes and Camel are obvious. Unfortunately, the seventy-minute run time combined with songs that ultimately don’t stay with the listener results in a great-sounding but unmemorable record.
The Tangent – Proxy (InsideOut)
The Tangent are a pretty prolific supergroup – just last year we reviewed their last album, The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery – and gave it high marks. Andy Tillison is the band’s leader, and members of bands such as Karmakanic, The Flower Kings and Soft Machine join him.
Proxy is nearly as good as last year’s excellent album was. Tillison and crew are masters of jazz-infused prog, and in fact the star of the show here is Jonas Reingold on bass, laying down tremendous licks and solos. The chemistry and energy in the band is palpable, and even with some songs exceeding sixteen minutes, our attention never wanders. Once again, The Tangent have dropped an excellent prog rock album.
Previous 2018 Progress Reports
The Progress Report: January 2018
The Progress Report: February 2018
The Progress Report: March 2018
The Progress Report: April 2018
The Progress Report: May 2018
The Progress Report: June 2018
The Progress Report: July 2018
The Progress Report: August 2018
The Progress Report: September 2018