Metal Mondays: Iran’s Artamene Give Protest Rock a Whole New Meaning

Artamene_ZigguratArtamene, Ziggurat, 2021
Tracks: Infinite Escape (5:27), Fear of Darkness (4:11), Heavy Motion (3:55), Mayhem (3:51), Shining Black (5:24), Inshushinak (6:01), Rain of Paradise (2:56), Petrichor (5:39)

Persecution is still disgustingly widespread in the world today. There are millions of people in countries across the globe who face imprisonment, torture, and death for their religious beliefs, their ethnicity, political beliefs… the list could go on. Iran is one such country. America has experienced childish backlash against heavy metal (Tipper Gore and her Parents Music Resource Center in the 1980s as one example) in the past, but American musicians have never feared imprisonment just for making and performing metal music. This threat is real for Iranian metal musicians, and Artamene wants the rest of the world to know that awful truth. 

Artamene was formed in Iran in 2017 by brothers Pedram (lead guitar) and Pooya Shitrah (drums) along with Soheil Avakh (vocals) and Ali Karimi (rhythm guitar). Their album, Ziggurat, also features Yahya Rahmani on bass. Pedram and Pooya grew up listening to and playing metal with each other, and they decided to form Artamene. The problem is the Iranian government thinks metal is inherently Satanic, and they have thrown bands in jail for making metal. Members of the bands Confess and Arsames have been sentenced to prison on charges of “Satanism,” although thankfully the musicians were able to escape the country. 

I don’t hear anything Satanic on Artamene’s Ziggurat, so hopefully the band will be safe from those accusations. They are allowed to play live concerts, although the behavior of the audience is strictly regulated by the government. They actually get 200-500 people at their concerts.  

Artamene_Live

The music itself is quite good. There are a lot of thrash metal elements, but there are also some more atmospheric metal moments and certainly progressive flares. Thrash metal in general often has a lot of progressive metal elements, minus the keyboards usually. On Ziggurat there are heavy distorted guitars, clean solos, and clean rhythm sections. The bass is clear, heavy, and distinct throughout. It shines in the mix. The drums are intricate and pounding with a prominent double kick, reminding me of the brilliant Gene Hoglan (Strapping Young Lad, Testament). 

The vocals are heavy and distorted, but they’re not black metal vocals. Thrash tends to have its own sort of yelled distorted vocals, along with cleans. Avakh’s vocals follow that trend, and his voice works very well with the music. It helps that the lyrics are in English. At times Avakh’s voice reminds me of M. Shadows from Avenged Sevenfold. 

https://youtu.be/YqT2DnTQi0A

Continue reading “Metal Mondays: Iran’s Artamene Give Protest Rock a Whole New Meaning”

Single Premiere: Fungi -“Third Eye” Off Upcoming Album “Into the Void”

FungiWe’re excited to be able to premiere the first single from Fungi’s upcoming album, Into the Void. The song, entitled “Third Eye,” is the opening track on the record, and it gets the album off to a pounding start.

The album has touches of progressive metal with a particularly fresh spin. There are elements of hard rock and metal, reminiscent of bands like Chevelle or Tool. At just under forty minutes, the album flies by leaving the listener wanting more.

Into the Void has a youthful energy that reminds me of the early days of Dream Theater, particularly in the quieter moments, such as on the second track, “Passengers III.” It doesn’t necessarily sound like Dream Theater, but it has that sincerity and intensity. Fungi allow their sound to develop and shift over the course of the songs. For instance, part of the third track, “Parallels,” has a Genesis vibe, with an acoustic guitar and light flute in the background. The song opens with a heavier riff but alternates between quieter and heavier passages. The ten-minute long final track, “Genesis,” takes on some symphonic elements while maintaining the heavy guitars, pounding drums, and soaring vocals.

Regarding the album’s concept, the band tells Progarchy:

Into the void is a progressive rock album that talks about the transition process we go through when you get to a point in your life where you need to step up or upgrade to your new version/Self. The main idea is the a part of you has to die in order for other to be born, and that process, that tends to be tough and confusing, is only clear and understood, once you get to the other side, meanwhile you can feel altered, lost, confused, seeking help, angry, but then at some point you kind of get that feeling of familiarity, reconnection with something very deep, you feel as if you were back to your true self (your inner kid, your creative self, your spiritual self); after feeling that strong reconnection strong feeling of glory, power and freedom is reached. And so you can now start your new journey as your new self, walking towards your future next transformation process, which will be wearing another undistinguishable disguise. We go through these processes a lot of times in our life but somehow we fail to recognize when we are going through the process. Maybe by hearing this album, people can identify more clearly and easily when they are going through these processes.
Everything is written from a point of view of a made up story of a man mysteriously walking through a highway, who gets tired, walks down a path that gets him to a river with trees and shadows, so he lays to drink water and find something to eat.. the only thing he sees are a bunch of mushrooms, which he then eats and lays to rest, as he starts having visions, and hearing voices, represented in the verses of the songs. Choruses are mostly him thinking to himself, reflecting on what he heard from the voices, making his own conclusions. The music emulates the trip of a mushroom starting with Intense euphoria, rapid changes in mood, reflexion, followed by an afterglow and a sense of liberation.
Into the Void packs a lot into forty minutes, but its brevity makes it easily digestible. It brings to the table many of the aspects of prog that make the genre so appealing. It has storytelling, heavy rock moments, and quieter musical passages. We highly recommend you give Fungi’s “Third Eye” a listen, and look out for the upcoming release of Into the Void.
Follow them on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thisisfungi/
Fungi_IntotheVoid

Four Months, Four Albums – 2021’s Best Thus Far

There has been a lot of music to wade through thus far in 2021. Most good. Some not so much, depending on who you ask. Despite the title of this post, I don’t think my four favorite albums of the year thus far represent each month, but who cares. Let’s go!

Atravan - The Grey LineAtravan – The Grey Line 

This album was the biggest surprise of the year, so far. Out of the blue back in January, Shayan Dinati of Iranian prog-metal band Atravan contacted us about a review of their album. I gave it a listen and immediately discovered this was worth spending a lot of time with. They dwell in the area of prog metal perfected by Riverside – atmospheric and brooding with thoughtful lyrics. Sure, they’ve got room for improvement to reach the heights of Riverside, but this is a great album in its own right. I was hooked right away, and I highly recommend the album. The Dutch Progressive Rock Page had similar praise for Atravan: https://www.dprp.net/reviews/2021-032 

Steve Hackett Under A Mediterranean SkySteve Hackett – Under A Mediterranean Sky

When I heard last year that Mr. Hackett was working on an acoustic album, I was very excited. I’ve really enjoyed his recent solo output. His last three rock albums are some of the best from his entire solo career. But I also really like his acoustic moments, and he doesn’t disappoint on Under A Mediterranean Sky. He takes us on a grand instrumental tour of the Mediterranean, something sorely needed in an age of travel restrictions. The combination of his stunning guitar work, Roger King’s masterfully arranged symphonic notes, and various world instrumentation make this a beautiful and contemplative album. It isn’t rock, but it’s gorgeous. Check out Rick Krueger’s review: https://progarchy.com/2021/02/02/steve-hackett-under-a-mediterranean-sky/

Nad Sylvan Spiritus Mundi album_coverNad Sylvan – Spiritus Mundi 

Nad Sylvan’s latest solo album is a slight departure from his last three albums, but it’s just as good an album, if not better. Putting the poetry of William Butler Yeats to music may not be a new idea, but Nad has done a wonderful job with it. The album has its rock moments, but it also has pastoral tones that haven’t been as prevalent in his work. His voice is top notch with a versatility that shows he is so much more than a Gabriel or Collins sound-alike. Check out Rick Krueger’s recent interview with Nad, and check out my review.

And now for my favorite album of the first four months of 2021…

Soen - IMPERIALSoen – Imperial

Swedish prog metal supergroup Soen can do no wrong, it seems. I first became cognitively aware of Soen a couple years ago through one of the editors at the Dutch Progressive Rock Page, who frequently sang their praises in reviews and best-of lists. I quickly became a fan of their last couple of albums, and I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled across their new release back in January. I was listening to their 2019 album, Lotus, one Friday evening when I wondered if they had any new music coming out soon. It just so happened that they released Imperial that very day, so I dowloaded it and have been happily enjoying it ever since. It’s heavy when it needs to be, but it can recede to quieter moments when necessary.

Joel Ekelöf has one of the best voices in metal, and he really sets Soen apart. They have a heavy guitar crunch that’s more typical of mainstream metal and hard rock bands, but the music is distinctly progressive. Their melodies and lyrics are catchy yet intelligent. My only complaint with the album is that it isn’t longer. It’s 43 minutes, but I could easily listen to much more. Great stuff. 

https://soenmusic.com

Hopefully the rest of 2021 will be full of more excellent music! 

 

 

Riverside: This Sweet Sweet Shelter of Mine

Riverside_Waste7and_01Over the last few weeks I’ve found it hard to find the motivation to dig into the growing pile of CDs I’ve received for review. Not that there’s anything wrong with those albums. They’re actually all quite good. It’s just that I keep finding myself returning to Riverside’s music. There are very few bands that have produced such high-quality music on every single one of their studio releases. Whether they’re playing metal or more atmospheric prog, everything Riverside does is brilliant.

Seeing them live on their Wasteland tour helped open my eyes to just how good they are. Everything about their performance was astounding: from the mind-blowing musicianship to the endearing way Mariusz Duda interacts with the crowd. They’re a band that should be playing in concert halls that seat thousands, yet here in the US they’re forced to play in bars with stages in the back with room for maybe 300 people. If someone un-initiated in the wonders of progressive rock asks me for new music recommendations, Riverside is one of my top recommendations. 

Riverside jumped into the prog metal scene in 2004 with the extremely mature-sounding Out of Myself. This was a band with a developed sound right from the start. They didn’t have a sophomore slump either, releasing the moody and emotional Second Life Syndrome a year later. 2007’s Rapid Eye Movement completed the Reality Dream trilogy of albums, and taken together as a whole the three albums are some of the finest music in the history of progressive rock. The slow but steady build on “The Same River” to open Out of Myself showed that Riverside wasn’t afraid to take chances. Not many bands are willing to open their debut album with a 12-minute epic. Even fewer bands are able to pull it off so well with compelling melodies, storming bass, and a unique guitar tone.

The band’s 2009 album Anno Domini High Definition showcased their heavier tendencies, proving that they could go toe-to-toe with the heaviest bands in prog. Their next release, Memories in My Head (2011), foreshadowed lyrical themes they would cover at greater depth on 2018’s Wasteland, after the tragic passing of their brilliant guitarist Piotr GrudzińskiShrine of New Generation Slaves (2013) has some of their best and most poignant lyrics. “The Depth of Self-Delusion” and “We Got Used to Us” frequently run through my head… ha voices in my head. Love, Fear, and the Time Machine found them at perhaps their most Floydian. Wasteland found the band retaining their identity even after the loss of Grudziński in 2016. It also found them willing to experiment. The musical tribute to Ennio Morricone and the music of the spaghetti westerns on “Wasteland” was unexpected, but it fit the theme of the album so well. As a fan of those Clint Eastwood films, I absolutely love it. 

Riverside’s music absolutely nails everything for me – the heavy, the quiet, the atmospheric. But without brilliant lyrics Riverside wouldn’t be what they are. Duda is one of my favorite lyricists. There’s no nonsense with him. He’s open and honest in his lyrics, but he’s also a cutting cultural critic. Not in the same way that Andy Tillison is, though. It’s much more subtle with Duda. New Generation Slave is a precise critique of modern society without being in your face. 

Continue reading “Riverside: This Sweet Sweet Shelter of Mine”

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 pure Norwegian black metal, basically at that margin of what we might term as consonance and coarseness, resides Dissection. Crossing genre and aesthetic boundaries, Storm of the Light’s Bane simply prods the listener into conflicting paths. Responses could vary, from a nodding reverence of those exquisite guitar passages, to a chilling silence, or just 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. Described 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!”