Metal Mondays: Iran’s Atravan – “The Grey Line”

Atravan, The Grey Line, 2021
Tracks: 
The Pendulum (2:35), The Perfect Stranger (6:45), My Wrecked House (6:05), Vertigo (5:09), Dancing on a Wire (6:01), The Grey Line (9:12), Uncertain Future (3:35)
Line-up:
Masoud Alishahi – Vocals
Shayan Dianati – Guitars
Arwin Iranpour – Bass
Marjan Modarres – Piano, Keyboards
Shahin Fadaei – Drums
Pedram Niknafs – backing vocals (tracks 2, 4) 

There’s a first time for everything, folks, and I think today’s Metal Mondays review is the first time we at Progarchy have ever reviewed an album from an Iranian band. I know it’s the first time I have. Tehran’s Atravan released their latest album, The Grey Line, about a month ago, and it has quickly become my favorite new release of 2021. It’s absolutely phenomenal.

Atravan can be best described as a progressive metal band with atmospheric elements. The songs are incredibly well-written, with the instruments all played expertly. The bass plays a prominent role – arguably more prominent than the guitars. The Grey Line isn’t particularly heavy, although it has its heavier moments. “Dancing on a Wire” for instance leans on a synth sound with acoustic guitars and soaring vocals. “My Wrecked House” has the same elements, but it has a much heavier sound with heavier drums and electric guitars. By the end of “The Perfect Stranger,” the band is pounding away in full-blown metal.

All of those elements remind me most of Riverside, especially on the aforementioned track. The bass and keyboards also play a central role in Riverside, with spacey guitars layered over the top. There are also moments that remind me of the atmospheric aspects of Porcupine Tree or even Devin Townsend (think “Deadhead”), but Atravan strike me as being rather unique at the same time. Maybe it’s the warmth and depth of Masoud Alishahi’s vocals (yes, the lyrics are in English). Maybe it’s the stunning Floydian keyboards. Maybe it’s the way the band builds a song gently but gradually through the combination of guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, and vocals. The drums are intricate throughout. Shahin Fadaei always plays to whatever the song requires in the moment. Sometimes that requires rapid-fire double-bass pounding, and sometimes it requires a more sedate Nick Mason-style beat. Careful with that axe, Atravan.

The keyboards provide unique sounds throughout the album that set a melancholic and contemplative mood. The opening of the nine-minute title track is all keyboards. The song slowly builds with added vocals before a loud but simultaneously gentle bass takes center stage. The song continues to build with additional instruments picking up. It takes about five minutes before they return to a really heavy sound, but everything works so perfectly that you end up appreciating whatever and however the band plays. None of the songs feel rushed, which is rather surprising in an album that’s only forty minutes long.

The electric guitars on the opening of the final track, “Uncertain Future,” have a spacey Gilmour-esque sound to them. They’re used sparingly as the bass, drums, and keyboards begin to take over. It’s a three and a half minute-long track, yet it still doesn’t hurry. It asks the listener to slow down with it and just enjoy the moment. It’s an instrumental track to help you unwind at the end, even though the album is on the short side. In closing it out this way, Atravan bookend the album, since the opening track was also a spacey instrumental piece that served to warm up the listener for the rest of the record. 

Definitely give The Grey Line a listen. I’m so glad the band reached out to us, because I probably wouldn’t have come across this album otherwise. I certainly wasn’t expecting it to become my favorite album of the year thus far. There’s a lot of 2021 left to go, but Atravan have set a very high bar for everyone else in the prog world to hurdle. Every track on this album is fantastic. I look forward to more from the band in the future. 

https://www.facebook.com/atravanband
https://atravan.bandcamp.com
Apple Music
Spotify

 

Storm of the Light’s Bane

Straddling Gothenburg death and Norwegian black metal, basically at the margins of what we might term as consonance and coarseness, resides Dissection. Crossing genre and aesthetic boundaries, Storm of the Light’s Bane prods the listener into conflicting paths. Responses could vary, from a nodding reverence of those exquisite guitar passages, to a chilling silence, or a morbid mosh-pit. Channeling those Scandinavian contemporaries, Dissection simply shapes their own brand of occult romanticism, often more despondent and atmospheric.

Extending the boundaries of aggression and poetry, these compositions are constantly shifting their contours, adequately complementing the drifts in lyrical prose. “I drown in the colour of your eye, for a black heart will only find beauty in darkness“– simultaneously conveys the elegance of an autumn night and dual guitar harmonies. With vocal textures reflecting the gloom in lyrics, Nödtveidt adds a layer of darkness unlike any other. Channeling divergent strands, and yet in perfect harmony, Storm of the Light’s Bane is one of those meticulous crafts. The rare ones illustrating extreme metal in all its glory and quirks. Describing in Nödtveidt’s own lyrics — “Forged in blood by tragedy” — album leaves a definite imprint.

Dissection_live_in_2005.jpg: Shadowgatederivative work: Elizabeth Bathory, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Ground Collapses

Sludge and death metal, both evolved from hardcore/punk and electric blues, but a sludge-death cross-over is so much more than their shared roots. Fifty years of metal evolution, hundreds of sub-genres and here Disbelief simply continues that very captivating trend of mutations. In this case – strands of hardcore, New Orleans sludge and death metal crafts an unusual atmospheric blend. The Ground Collapses is quintessential extreme metal – in other words it encodes those long running lineage of influences, but still manages to sound novel.

It’s that familiar doom like aesthetics, that essential low, but uniquely fueled by deathly compositions rooted somewhere in late 80s Florida or Sweden. A hardcore wall-of-sound, often severed by meandering leads, and layered with cross-over vocals, creating an atmosphere so dank, deathly and gloomy. In metal, cross-genre sound is not uncommon, but this elegant cross-over aesthetic is. This subtle blend of aggression and grief makes for an essential listen, ironically one of those pockets of bliss in a rather morbid year.

Silent Waters

Folk and some epic poetry can make for more than a few exquisite moments. And even with all that doom undertones, melody seems omnipresent. That’s not it – Finnish mythology, picturesque choruses, and deathly bass-lines – all layered in harmony. In other words, it’s rich, unmistakable, and Amorphis.

Music often complements that romanticism in lyrics — “Louhi spoke in riddled tones of three things to achieve, find and catch the devil’s moose and bring it there to me” – elegantly transitions to segments more appropriate for melodic-death. But, this is just one of those many instances of stunning coherence, on how their compositions accommodate hues, vibrant and diverse.

Elegant and melancholic, album does justice to the literature it adapts. “Pulled under the raging waters, my child, sank in the drowning currents, my son” — Amorphis unmistakably recreates Lemminkäinen’s tale. But now with compositions as sorrowful and gallant as his mythology, and with a “River of Death” Artwork as that fitting cover. Needless to say, exquisite and epic Silent Waters.

Stefan Bollmann, Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons

The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!

As always seems to be the case, there’s tons of great music coming out between now and Black Friday, November 27. Below, the merest sampling of upcoming releases in prog and other genres below, with purchase links to Progarchy’s favorite online store Burning Shed unless otherwise noted.

Out now:

Simon Collins, Becoming Human: after 3 solo albums and Sound of Contact’s acclaimed Dimensionaut, Phil Collins’ oldest son returns on vocals. keys and drums; his new effort encompasses rock, pop, prog, electronica and industrial genres. Plus an existential inquiry into the meaning of life! Available on CD from Frontiers Records.

John Petrucci, Terminal Velocity: the Dream Theater guitarist reunites with Mike Portnoy on drums for his second solo set of instrumentals. Plus Dave LaRue of the Dixie Dregs and Flying Colors on bass. Expect lotsa notes! Available on CD or 2 LP from Sound Mind Records/The Orchard.

The Pineapple Thief, Versions of the Truth: Hot on the heels of their first US tour, Bruce Soord and Gavin Harrison helm TPT’s latest collection of brooding, stylized alt/art rock, honing in on the post-truth society’s impact on people and relationships. Available on CD, BluRay (with bonus track plus alternate, hi-res and surround mixes), LP or boxset (2 CDs/DVD/BluRay) – plus there’s a t-shirt!

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, Alone Together: Sjöblom spearheads a thoroughly groovy collection on vocals, guitar and organ, with Petter and Rasmus Diamant jumping in on drums and bass. Heartfelt portraits of daily life and love that yield extended, organic instrumental jams and exude optimism in the midst of ongoing isolation. Available on CD and LP (black or deep blood red vinyl).

[Upcoming releases follow the jump …]

Continue reading “The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!”

Hedwig Mollestad’s Ekhidna: Heat, Light and Heart

Since 2010, Norwegian guitarist Hedwig Mollestad has been turning heads worldwide with her incandescent fusion of heavy rock and avant-garde jazz. The six albums by her eponymous trio (currently with Ellen Brekken on bass and Ivar Joe Bjørnstad on drums) recall Motörhead as readily as Mahavishnu John McLaughlin — crushing, distorted power chords tangled up with jagged shards of melody, furiously lurching ahead without regard for purist sensibilities of any stripe. Based on work commissioned by Norway’s Arts Council for the 2019 Vossajazz Festival, Mollestad’s latest album Ekhidna breaks fresh, fertile ground, triumphantly meeting the challenges inherent in writing for a bigger band and a broader sonic palette. It’s a bracing blend of tumbling rhythms, killer riffs and brain-bending improv that goes down remarkably smooth, but leaves a fiery aftertaste; this is masterful stuff.

Serious jazz-rock heads will immediately think of Miles Davis’ seminal Bitches Brew when they see this album’s lineup: Mollestad, Susana Santos Silva on trumpet, Marte Eberson and Erlend Slettevoll on electric pianos and synthesizers, Ole Mofjell on percussion and Torstein Lofthus on drums. To her credit, Mollestad’s new music doesn’t avoid expectations raised by that association, sometimes confronting classic fusion strategies head-on, sometimes blithely subverting them — and these players are impressively capable of tackling the challenges Mollestad mounts. Silva’s impressionistic tone and sense of line readily evokes Miles while forging her own path; Eberson and Slettevoll’s chunky chording and grumbling bass lines simultaneously thicken the midrange and sharpen the harmonic contours; Mofjell and Loftus’ churning beds of polyrhythms relentlessly propel the tunes forward while constantly shifting the ground under their collaborators’ feet.

“No Friends But the Mountains” kicks off the proceedings already simmering: Silva floats over clean Mollestad chords that morph into feedback, backed by sparse keys and atmospheric percussion. “A Stone’s Throw” ramps up the energy; the initial hard rock foundation gives way to a unison guitar/trumpet/synth head that struts atop cooking drums and percussion before slamming into an elegant melody that evokes, of all things, Pink Floyd. Then Eberson solos over Mollestad’s splintery, circular lick and the percussionists’ rhythmic curveballs — and when Slettevoll joins the fun with clustered chording, look out! The agitated rhythmic foundations of “Antilone” never quite settle, with change the only constant through slamming ensemble passages, Silva’s spiraling whorls of painterly color, Mollestad’s grinding breakdowns, and a taut, immense ensemble build to the final thematic restatement.

“Slightly Lighter” clears the air with a tentative trio, Mollestad gracefully leading Eberson and Slettevoll through the changes. Then “Ekhidna” serves up more polyrhythmic metal balanced with a melancholy long-note theme, Silva unleashing her inner Miles, Eberson wailing on synth over Loftus’ lightning reactions, the whole thing ending with a satisfying crunch!

But Mollestad and her crew save the best for last: the gorgeous “One Leaf Left.” A muted duet between Mollestad and Eberson evoke Soft Machine’s cyclical, interlocking counterpoint over Slettevoll’s sparse, insinuating bass; then Mollestad and Silva unspool a seemingly endless chain of melody. Silva stretches out long notes like taffy; synth clouds from Slettevoll lead into a final, raging Mollestad tour de force over a grungy ensemble stomp. Juggling downbeats, building outrageous howls of dissonance, confessing the blues like one possessed, she rides the storm that mounts beneath her, ending both the piece and the album with a fiery, climactic cry.

Named for the she-dragon of Greek mythology (also called “the mother of all monsters”), Ekhidna is monstrous in the best sense — a musical rollercoaster ride suffused with heat, light and heart, recombining the raw materials of classic fusion and extending the genre’s reach into realms of vast new potential. This is a real breakthrough for Hedwig Mollestad, and her best effort to date; it shouldn’t be missed! So check it out below.

— Rick Krueger

The End of Dormancy – EP

Often reminding us of 70s prog or jazz rock, and at times of their Motörhead roots, Voivod sound pretty much their usual self. Live recording adds some rough textures, but not enough to eclipse the classical symphony, or those intricate transformations, or even those strange lyrical plots. It’s also easy to notice that interesting contrast — two songs on the EP occupying slightly different ends of their musical spectrum. ‘The End of Dormancy’ reflecting their proggy sophistication, while ‘The Unknown Known’ rooted in their more dissonant past. Giving us all a glimpse into that unique set of influences only Voivod dares to blend.

Roman Horník / CC BY-SA

In Cauda Venenum

Post-Watershed, Martin Lopez and Peter Lindgren were conspicuously missing, but so was that musical coherence! It was complex progressive rock, but reflected very little of Opeth’s signature aesthetics. Even though all those vibrant influences were still present, a certain noticeable imbalance, especially in how they were composed! This is easily audible relative to In Cauda Venenum, here they bring back that all-immersive-experience of Blackwater Park and Still Life.

Their signature is exactly that ability to harmonize divergent strands. Funk to folk, jazz fusion to goth, all peacefully coexisting, a splendid harmony across discordant influences. It’s that harmony in discord when proggy riffs flawlessly transitions to strange ramblings in “Charlatan”, or when that further moves on to gothic blues of “Universal Truth”. That rich consistency in musicianship is also complemented by vocals– Åkerfeldt evokes a spectrum of emotions, almost reminiscent of Damnation.

Seems like Opeth was testing the waters with their first three prog rock records, and In Cauda Venenum is the consequence. Quite like an evolving organism, they are adding layers to their prog skeleton, bringing higher levels of coherence and texture. So, those underlying influences remain the same, but now they are gently cloaked beneath few exquisite layers of artistic splendor.

MrPanyGoff / CC BY-SA

Algorythm

Beyond Creation illustrates the same old genre influences, but in a remarkably novel way. With jazz fusion and layered signature progressions, these Canadians craft an atmosphere often too poignant for tech death. Channeling that proficient lineage running from Mahavishnu Orchestra to Atheist, Algorythm is tech death at its refined best. Demanding bass lines, odd drum patterns, and deathly grows — the band simply marvels in their unquestionable extreme metal territory.

With a structured ease and sophistication, songs bridge jazz rock segments with sheer death. Whether it’s “Surfaces Echoes” or the title track, these transformations are frequent, and happens with an Opeth like finesse. So it’s quite possible, when that atmospheric jazz fusion harmony fades into a passage as brutal as Suffocation’s, the listener might be too captivated to even realize the subtle, vital and stunningly exquisite nature of this symphony.

Image Attribution: https://beyondcreationofficial.com/gallery/