Category Archives: 2012
Returning after a twenty year break, Änglagård doesn’t skip a beat. This is an album of lengthy instrumental progressive rock that refuses to be modern in any way. Flute, mellotron, hammond organ, and more make this feel like it came straight out of a bygone era. The mood is dark and chilly, but less in a creepy Halloween way and more in a long winter’s night way. It sounds almost exactly like their original output twenty years ago, to the extent that I’d bet some people probably wouldn’t be able to guess which songs were produced then and now if they were all shuffled up. That lack of originality might be a downside to some but it was never what the band was about in the first place, and when it comes to recreating ‘70s prog bliss, they still can’t be beat.
Guitarist Jonas Engdegård tells you how to pronounce the track names here.
1. Ur Vilande2. Sorgmantel3. Snårdom4. Längtans Klocka
My favorite EP of 2012 came from Sweden’s The Royal Concept. They hail from Stockholm.
You can download almost all of the EP for free from their page at SoundCloud.
Five great songs:
1. Gimme Twice
3. Knocked Up
5. In the End
File under: New Wave Prog?
Your move, Phoenix!
The final album in my Top Ten for 2012 is Halestorm’s The Strange Case of …, on which Lzzy Hale showcases her stadium-calibre rock voice and her split personality (“Mz. Hyde“): just as the album title alludes to Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the theme here is how a jaded maneater’s tough outer shell (tracks 1-4 and tracks 8-12) encases a true romantic hidden inside (tracks 5-7: the thermonuclear love ballads “Beautiful With You”, “In Your Room”, and “Break In”). This meta-concept album thereby allows Lzzy to showcase her softer side and reveal how her well-rounded, multifaceted rock talent has her destined for mega-stardom.
It’s been a massive year for Halestorm and they’re ending 2012 with a bang! It was just announced that the group and their song ‘Love Bites (So Do I)’ off of their latest album ‘The Strange Case Of…’ were nominated in the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance category for the upcoming 55th annual Grammy Awards, taking place Feb. 10, 2013, in Los Angeles.
The accolades for Lzzy and her band are well-deserved. Her talent even registered on (my fave) Mike Portnoy‘s radar, as this year Lzzy sang with Adrenaline Mob on their impressive Omertà album, doing guest vocals on the track, “Come Undone” (which is a hilariously deadly reworking of the Duran Duran song).
I had reserved the last slot on my 2012 Top Ten list for Soundgarden’s new album, King Animal. But in the end, the album just didn’t make the cut. Carl has a great review of the album, and his analysis of the lyrics (through the lens of T.S. Eliot!) will no doubt have me revisiting the album in the months to come and reconsidering, since I pretty much paid attention only to the music and not to the lyrics. Hence it was the absence of killer guitar solos on King Animal that led me to give it the boot. That whole anti-guitar solo grunge mentality is too anti-prog in my books, and therefore a fatal flaw.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge Chris Cornell fan, but I like his Audioslave oeuvre the best, as well as his solo work. (Where does Soundgarden ever have the left-field magical moments of Audioslave’s Tom Morello guitar solos?) And I note that Carl’s review of King Animal spends way more time referencing great Audioslave moments than it does King Animal! For me, that was just confirmation that I was right to give Soundgarden the boot from my Top Ten.
For a while, The Cult’s unexpectedly amazing 2012 disc, Choice of Weapon (be sure to buy the bonus track version at the same price), was a strong contender for my Top Ten, thanks to standout tracks like “Lucifer”, “A Pale Horse”, “The Wolf”, and “For the Animals”. Only because The Cult is the band from the past and Halestorm is the band from the future do I give the nod to Lzzy over Ian. But both albums are solid, upper-echelon material.
I also toyed with the idea of putting Adrenaline Mob’s Omertà in the last slot of my Top Ten, because it has some tremendously accomplished metal. Mike Orlando’s guitar solos are astonishing, especially when combined with Mike Portnoy’s drumming. But the album is also a mixed bag. I found that I would carve it up into an EP for my playlists, because the only tracks that could consistently hold my musical interest were “Indifferent”, “All on the Line”, “Feelin’ Me”, “Come Undone”, and “Believe Me”.
So Omertà had to get the boot because it wasn’t solid from front to back. Yet by giving the final slot in my Top Ten to Halestorm, I get the best of both worlds — because Adrenaline Mob still gets paid an indirect tribute by way of my choice, thanks to their own recognition of Lzzy’s amazing talent (via “Come Undone”).
2012 has been a great year for music! A big thank you to all my fellow Progarchists for sharing their musical experiences here, thereby expanding my own.
I’ll see you back here on New Year’s Day, when I will reveal the name of my fave EP from 2012 — since EPs do not count towards the Top Ten list, which (in good prog fashion) I always dedicate to the recognition of the best contributions towards the keeping alive of The Art of the Album (and we all know who wins the top title for 2012 in that regard — Best Album of the Year).
Nick is right to call this “top-class prog metal.” It’s the sort of thing that is right up my alley.
But what makes this disc a cut above all the others in its class, and truly worthy of being in the upper echelon in that beloved genre, is the outrageously distinctive jazz sensibility that Leslie Hunt brings to these songs.
In fact, it is hard not to classify Trouble with Machines as the best jazz album of the year!
Just listen to all those wildly intricate jazzy vocal lines that Leslie does. Totally mind-blowing. And all in perfect coordination with her bandmates.
I was going to put Map of the Past by It Bites into this slot in my top ten, but Trouble with Machines won out instead. Partly this is because of my own metallic predilection, a longstanding gravitation towards riff-tastic guitar work.
But mostly this is because the prog-pop excellence of It Bites was eclipsed for me by the more purely pop perfection of Bend Sinister, which won a spot in my Top Ten this year instead. Beautiful as Map of the Past is, the purer power pop perfection of Small Fame wins out.
In other words, for me the prog on the It Bites disc is less innovative than District 97′s prog-giness, and the pop less perfect than Bend Sinister’s pop-iness. But darn it, this was a tough call to make.
I love how District 97 has a bunch of my all-time favorites as their prog influences: e.g., you can catch them live doing eminently satisfying covers of Rush and Genesis. But then they transcend all that and do something amazing: i.e., they are able to be their own audaciously unique selves.
What a great album this is. Don’t miss it. I think it exhibits a magical truth of prog: viz., how a truly great group must be one that is made up of extremely talented individuals but who then become something even greater than the mere sum of their parts.
Moreover, this amazing group is arguably what jazz was always meant to become, in order to articulate the maximum impact of its full musical potential. At least that’s what their amazing jazz metal is for a guy like me.
Together with Rush and Leah, Bend Sinister joins the Canadian artists on my list this year. Like Leah, they are also local talent, located here in British Columbia. (Don’t miss their upcoming show, if you need a good idea for a Christmas vacation destination!)
The band takes its name from that book by Nabokov. (Ha! Reference to The Police there, for the quick-witted.)
I don’t want to put words into his mouth, but I think Carl‘s longstanding complaint with Rush is that their songwriting (not their musicianship) leaves something to be desired. (I assume he is talking about their most infamous four- and five-minute forays, not their prog masterpieces. Out of respect, I won’t name names here, but feel free to pile on in the comment box below with your own nominations. Rush does have some real stinkeroos, which are of course handily eclipsed by all their best and greatest.)
The great thing about Bend Sinister is that they are superb craftsmen of song. Above all, their talent at songcraft shines forth magnificently with this wonderful release, Small Fame.
For those would say that there is not enough prog here for their tastes, I would only point to “Quest for Love,” which proves that Bend Sinister could be as prog as they want to be, any time they would choose. But what I admire about them is how they always put their musical talents in the service of truly excellent songs. In other words, if someone wanted to complain, the complaint would have to be the opposite of Carl’s quarrel with Rush: be more prog!
Well, I will leave it to Bend Sinister to be just what they want to be. Because what they are is amazing. They could be full-on crazy prog, if they wanted to be. But arguably they are something much, much better than that.
Masters of the song.
I’ve taken the plunge and chosen my top albums of 2012. My top 6 came to me quite quickly. The rest took some time to rank but I finally managed it. I’ve also ‘mentioned in dispatches’ a few other albums that I either like and/or think are worth having a listen to if you haven’t already. 2012 has been a very good year indeed for the Prog world.
No 12 First Stage Zoltan by Zoltan
Wonderful cinematic soundscapes that would make John Carpenter proud. It’s all analogue and sounds great on a good hi-fi system. For lovers of atmospheric film scores.
From their eponymous titled album released earlier this year, this is a spontaneous blog following the posting of a Youtube link by a few other Echolyn admirers. This is not only my favourite track from the album but it is also one of my favourite tracks of all time. For me there are few songs through which I have had an IMMEDIATE and TOTAL connection. I am not usually a lyrics/song-orientated person as I like getting lost in very long instrumental tracks (typically prog but also classical or jazz). Sometimes I find lyrics (or more to the point singing, particularly bad singing) act as an obstacle to my enjoyment of the quality of the musicianship. However, there is no doubt that a song containing a combination of wonderful lyrics, a great voice and superb melodies and musicianship is difficult to beat.
When I first heard Past Gravity it literally sent shivers down my spine, in fact my whole body. The lyrics evoked memories and feelings within me that rarely surface. In fact when I listen, especially as the singing reaches a crescendo, I am usually welling up with tears. From the very first line I was hooked….’Love is a ghost in a room when she has turned away into the empty night’…. How many of us have felt this in our lifetime I wonder?
This song transcends music, it is pure beauty. If you haven’t heard it then I really hope you will enjoy it, and if you have, then listen again!
Another one of the albums in my Top Ten for 2012 is Leah’s Of Earth & Angels.
First, I heard her track “Ex Cathedra” and was immediately intrigued by the mix of medieval Latin and symphonic metal.
Next, I encountered the lovely track “Ocean,” which sealed the deal.
Buy your copy of this superb album today and support this talented artist; then you will remember 2012 as the year you discovered Leah:
The art of LEAH is one of diverse influence: Haunting celtic melodies, mysterious eastern vibes, heavy symphonic rhythm, and most of all… A voice that will utterly enchant and inspire you.
Listen to LEAH and you may hear a touch of Loreena McKennitt, a glimpse of Enya, or of something darker like Lacuna Coil or Nightwish. Mostly you will hear something unique from this emerging artist from British Columbia, Canada… And it will please your senses.
LEAH has accumulated a catalog of original songs. When you hear her work, you agree her song writing knows no limits: From symphonic metal, to organic singer-songwriter ballads, to ethereal electronica—she does it all—almost effortlessly. She specializes in the darker, more mystical melodies which gives Christmas carols and ancient Irish poems a haunting and tantalizing twist.
LEAH also has a work ethic that much of the young generation is missing. As a homeschooling mother, writer and prolific songwriter, she knows how to get things done—and done well.
A few footnotes:
At Christmas, I have always considered “Silent Night” one of the most musically boring carols ever; so I will always welcome a clever makeover. Now, here is Leah, doing the unexpected and making it sound truly incredible. Enjoy!
Corrales is similar to Matt Stevens (another Progarchy favorite) in that he likes to lay down a bed of rhythm using delays and samples while playing beautiful guitar filigrees on top of it. His style is much simpler than Stevens’, however, as he stresses the groove above all else. The bottom line for me is that his music makes me feel happy when I listen to it. (Which makes sense if you read the band’s name backwards!) Snatches of wordless chants swim in and out of the mix, Anomie Belle adds her siren vocals to several of the songs, Eno-esque audio effects burble along, and the percussion percolates with a world music feel. All of this creates an overall atmosphere of relaxed bliss. This is music for a sunny Sunday afternoon.
Yppah’s bandcamp site states,
Drawing on a cultural heritage that took in My Bloody Valentine alongside hip hop and heavily influenced by various forms of electronic music, psychedelic soul and rock, his music often mixes guitars shoved through massive reverbs/delays, keyboards/synthesizers, live drums, and other techniques.
Can hip-hop influenced music find a place in the prog music universe? Listen to “Happy To See You” below and decide for yourself. Beginning with a nice little guitar riff, the swelling synth background soon takes over and we are soaring through the clouds pictured on the album cover. There’s a brief detour to listen to a children’s chorus sweetly chanting us along our journey before the guitar comes back, turbocharged this time, to shoot us into the stratosphere.
If you’re interested in more, watch the in-studio performance below. A word of warning: Anomie Belle does some rapping in the second song, “Film Burn”, but it’s quickly followed by some beautiful violin work (she’s a classically trained violinist). And hey, if Rush can rap in “Roll The Bones”, then I guess it’s OK, right?