Bryan’s Best of 2016

2016 has been a pretty horrible year: terrorism, deaths of way too many musical heroes, the recent loss of Prog magazine and the total screwing of all Team Rock employees, personal inability to find a job… Yeah, this year has sucked.

Thankfully, despite these trials, progressive rock has continued to be the most creative and innovative genre in the music business. I always enjoy writing a “best of” list, mainly because it gives me a chance to look over the best music of the year. We prog fans really are spoiled.

Like last year, my 2016 list will be pretty big, and the order is completely arbitrary. I have a numbered top 4, but my top 3 picks for this year are essentially tied for first place. Without further ado, my favorite albums of 2016:

Continue reading “Bryan’s Best of 2016”

Chevelle Release Another Winner: The North Corridor

Chevelle, The North Corridor2016 (Epic Records)

Door to Door Cannibals (4:36), Enemies (3:29), Joyride (Omen) (3:37), Rivers (3:59), Last Days (4:12), Young Wicked (3:06), Warhol’s Showbiz (4:30), Punchline (5:11), Got Burned (3:39), Shot From a Cannon (8:12), A Miracle (CD only bonus track) (5:32)

chevellethenorthI’ve been a fan of Chevelle since I was in 7th grade (2007 or so), and while they aren’t prog, neither are they your typical mainstream rock or metal band. They are often compared to Tool, who are often lumped under the wide prog banner, but I can’t really comment on that since I am unfamiliar with Tool. All I know is, Chevelle has been consistently making very interesting and compelling rock music since 1999.

I absolutely loved their last album, 2014’s La Gárgola. It had such an awesome horror and heavy feel to it. In my review of that album, I said that it was the band’s best album since 2002’s Wonder What’s Next. Well, The North Corridor is a more than worthy successor to La Gárgola. It is heavy, but not in the same way as the last album. The guitar and vocals are distinctly heavier, while the last album had a thematic heaviness. There is a clear distinction between the two styles, yet the music is still familiar.

Continue reading “Chevelle Release Another Winner: The North Corridor”

Bryan’s Best of 2014

Without a doubt, 2014 has been a great year for Prog. It seems as if we have been barraged by great music from all sides.  The string of excellence continues. This list is my arbitrary ordering of what I liked best from this year. I’m really not a huge fan of “best of” lists because I don’t think you can really judge art in that way. So, consider this a list of what I enjoyed. The order of numbers 10-3 is relatively interchangeable.

10. Dream the Electric Sleep – Heretics 8530215

I should have reviewed this album when it came out back in January, but I’m lazy. This was a fantastic sophomore release by the Lexington, Kentucky prog outfit. Their first album, Lost and Gone Forever, was an excellent concept album. These guys do a fantastic job of combining classic prog influences with a harder rock edge. The beginning of the album sounds almost Pink Floydian, and there are definite nods to The Wall. The singer also sounds a bit like Roger Waters. Heretics is another concept album, and it clocks in at over 70 minutes in length. Check these guys out – they are ascending as a band and are making some great music.

http://www.dreamtheelectricsleep.com

9. Cosmograf – CapacitorCapacitor

Robin Armstrong’s latest offering, combined with the efforts of such wizards as Andy Tillison, Nick D’Virgilio, and Matt Stevens, is a fresh take on prog rock. As of right now, I haven’t listened to any other Cosmograf albums, but this one is quite good. I’m sure there are others here at Progarchy that could tell you more about the band, and I’ll wager they would be more than happy to. Capacitor is definitely worthy of any 2014 “top 10” list.

http://www.cosmograf.com

8. Bigelf – Into the Maelstrom Into the Maelstrom

Three words – Mike freaking Portnoy. He teamed up with Bigelf to drum on their latest album, and it was insane. He has to be the hardest working musician in prog. This isn’t the last we shall hear from him on this list.

Bigelf’s breed of prog metal is unlike anything I have heard before. Maybe it’s lead singer Damon Fox’s awesomely bizarre vocals, or their fantastic combination of metal and classic rock, or maybe it’s Portnoy. Or all of the above. Whatever it is, Bigelf has created something special with Into the Maelstrom. They have been around since the early 1990s, have four studio albums, and have toured with Dream Theater, so they know their way around the business. Certainly worth the time for any Mike Portnoy fan, as well as any fan of prog metal.

https://www.facebook.com/bigelfmusic/info?tab=page_info

http://www.bigelf.com

7. The Gift – Land of Shadowscover

London’s The Gift masterfully combine prog metal with symphonic metal and Gabriel-era Genesis prog. This album is refreshing in its tonal clarity and its thematic prowess. It is definitely an album worth listening to over and over again through the years. Here’s my review of it from several months back:

https://progarchy.com/2014/07/20/the-gift-land-of-shadows/

http://www.thegiftmusic.com/index.php

 

6. Voyager – Vimage013

Australian prog metal outfit Voyager have released a very solid album this year. While I feel like it could have been more tightly constructed and some of the songs featured unnecessary repetition, there are some awesome riffs to be found here. This band rocks, and they rock hard. Many comment that the second half of the album is a let down, but I think it is just the opposite. Voyager ventures into the wonderful void of prog in the second half of V, including some softer songs. Time Lord wrote a very nice review of the album earlier this year:

https://progarchy.com/2014/07/05/voyager-v/

http://voyager-australia.com

5. Transatlantic – Kaleidoscope Kaleidoscope (Kaleidoscope)

I told you Mike Portnoy would be heard from again on this list. Supergroup Transatlantic cranked out a fantastic album this year. Made up of Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Roine Stolt, and Pete Trewavas, Transatlantic has several albums under their belt, and they continue to impress. Kaleidoscope was my first introduction to Transatlantic, and it was an excellent first impression. The cover songs found on the accompanying special edition are all excellent. Anyone who can cover Yes, King Crimson, Elton John, Focus, Moody Blues, and a few others while still sounding entirely unique deserves immense respect. The live album, KaLIVEoscope, that came out in October, was equally brilliant, with three hours of musical genius. The collective talent in this band is shocking, and it clearly shows on Kaleidoscope.

http://www.transatlanticweb.com

4. Chevelle – La GárgolaLaGargola

No, this isn’t a prog album. However, Chevelle released one of the best albums of their career with La Gárgola. Their heavy, yet not overly heavy, style of metal has been a staple of contemporary hard rock over the past 15 years. Their excellent vocals, steady bass, clear guitar, proficient drumming, and haunting lyrics makes Chevelle one of the most interesting metal bands of the 21st Century. I found this album to be an excellent return to their heavier beginnings, while simultaneously exploring new and more complicated territory.

http://getmorechevelle.com/home.php

https://progarchy.com/2014/08/26/chevelle-la-gargola/

3. Pink Floyd – The Endless RiverThe Endless River

Is Pink Floyd even capable of making an album that isn’t good? Their latest (and final) album combines extra recordings from The Division Bell with recordings from David Gilmour and Nick Mason, as well as studio musicians. Mainly instrumental (only one song has singing), this album hearkens back to the instrumentation found in Wish You Were Here and Animals. The one thing missing, in my opinion, is Roger Waters’ bass. I feel like his involvement in this album would have made it even more spectacular, as well as thrill millions of fans. Even so, this is clearly Pink Floyd, and any fan of psychedelic prog will love this album. The album serves as a worthy sendoff for Richard Wright.

http://www.pinkfloyd.com/index2.php

http://www.pinkfloyd.com/theendlessriver/

2. Vanden Plas – Chronicles of the Immortals – Netherworld397022

Vanden Plas’ latest album might very well be the best progressive metal album I have ever heard, with no disrespect to Dream Theater’s Images and Words. It is just that Netherworld so beautifully captures the intricacies of metal, “high prog,” and magnificent story telling. There have been some excellent albums released this year, but few reach the brilliance of Vanden Plas. Having listened to some of their previous work, this album is not out of the ordinary for them. One of the nicest things about this band is the vocals are not your traditional “metal” vocals – there is no screaming, yelling, whining, etc. Andy Kuntz’s voice is beautifully melodic and mysterious, and it is perfect for this album. Vanden Plas perfectly crosses over between the worlds of full-on head banging metal riffs and quieter, classic progressive rock. This album also has one of the best beginnings and endings of any album I have ever heard. There is a clear and definite start and resolution – you aren’t left hanging or wishing there was more. It is perfect just as it is.

Check out Gianna’s and Time Lord’s reviews of Chronicles of the Immortals – Netherworld.

http://www.vandenplas.de

1. Flying Colors – Second NatureSecond Nature

Mike Portnoy again. The guy sure does get around. Neal Morse again too. Go figure. Also in the band are Steve Morse, Casey McPhersen, and Dave Larue.

Second Nature is one of the best albums I have ever heard. Flying Colors combine prog rock and pop rock in a way not seen since the glory days of Styx and Kansas. Seeing them live merely solidified my position on the matter. Catchy yet complicated riffs abound, as well as thoughtful lyrics. If prog wants to become mainstream and popular again, then bands need to take note of Flying Colors.

Check out my review of Second Nature, as well as my review of their live show.

http://flyingcolorsmusic.com

***

Well, there’s my top 10 of 2014. A fair mixture of metal, prog metal, and straight up prog. Honorable mention should go to Ian Anderson’s Homo Erraticus, Fire Garden’s Sound of Majestic Colors (which I thought had far too much of a “garage band” mixing to make my top 10 list), Fractal Mirror’s Garden of Ghosts, Salander’s STENDEC, and Glass Hammer’s Ode to Echo. Special mention goes to Haken’s recent EP, Restoration EP. Had this been an album, I would have placed it in my top 5. Dishonorable mention goes to Yes’ Heaven and Earth.

Top concert of the year goes to Dennis DeYoung. His voice has not changed in 40 years, and his backup band and vocalists are better than Styx. He also has a singer who sounds better than Tommy Shaw did 40 years ago. Runner up for best show goes to Flying Colors, from their brief Second Nature tour. The reason I’m not placing them as best live show of the year is because of the audio problems they had during the show. The sound system for Dennis DeYoung’s show was superb, with no feedback issues during the show. I also had a wonderful time at the B.B. King concert, as well as seeing the CSO perform the music to Return of the King live. It was a great year for concerts!

I would also like to mention Dream Theater’s self-titled album as one of my most listened to albums of 2014. Everything about this album was fantastic, including the live album on Blu-Ray they released a few months back. From the metal virtuosity to the lyrics, this album will be on the rotation for years to come.

2014 has been another fantastic year for prog, and I look forward to more of the same in 2015. Neal Morse’s next project, The Neal Morse Band The Grand Experiment, comes out in February. Take a wild guess at who the drummer is. Muse will also be releasing an album in 2015, one which they claim will return to their rockier roots. There is also talk of a Rush 41st anniversary tour (I think there is, anyways). Much to look forward to in the coming year, and much to appreciate from 2014.

Prog on, Progarchy!

 

Chevelle – “La Gárgola”

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Chicago rock band Chevelle released their seventh studio album back in February of this year, and boy is it good. Don’t get me wrong, in the fifteen years since their first album, Point # 1, Chevelle has yet to release a bad album. La Gárgola (which means the gargoyle in Spanish) just happens to be amazing. While Chevelle isn’t prog, it is certainly very good hard rock/metal music. Interestingly enough, they have been compared to Tool for years, so they sort of have a Prog connection, although I don’t really hear the similarity. Chevelle has also released a few “concept” albums, most notably 2009’s Sci-Fi Crimes and 2014’s La Gárgola. By concept, I mean the whole album more or less revolves around a particular theme. In Sci-Fi Crimes, it was aliens, supernatural beings and other cool stuff like that. In la Gárgola, it loosely draws upon themes that a gargoyle might conjure up.

So who are Chevelle? Pete Loeffler – guitars and vocals. Sam Loeffler – drums. Dean Bernardini (Pete and Sam’s brother-in-law) – bass and backup vocals. Chevelle has always been a family affair, with Pete and Sam’s brother Joe originally playing bass for the band until 2005. All are very proficient with their instruments, and Pete’s voice is incredibly unique. He has a great range, and when he screams, it is not “cookie monster” screaming. His screams come from passion and anger, and never just to please screamo fans (Chevelle in no way, shape, or form resembles anything remotely related to screamo). His voice, instead, is very mellow yet powerful. One of the things that I like best about Chevelle is they, unlike many metal bands, are not obnoxiously or overly loud. While they are loud, you can still hear each individual instrument, which is great for someone like me who loves to hear and feel the bass. It’s also difficult to believe that their sound can only come from three musicians, because the interplay between the guitars, bass, drums, and Pete’s voice make it sound like so much more. Very impressive indeed.

LaGargola

Earlier I said that Chevelle have yet to release a bad album. While I believe this is true, I think that La Gárgola is their best album since their second album, 2002’s Wonder What’s Next, which was brilliant in its heaviness. 2007’s Vena Sera came close (in fact it is probably their most popular album), but La Gárgola is the only album to equal Wonder What’s Next. This album beautifully combines elements from each of their albums. It brings in the raw edge from their first album, the heaviness from their second, third, and fourth albums, the idea of a “concept” and the ability to do quieter songs from Sci-Fi Crimes, and the drive of 2011’s Hats Off to the Bull. It is as if Chevelle took the best bits from their past and matured into a totally new sound that is still very familiar.

La Gárgola also sounds more technically complicated than their previous albums, especially in the percussion department. Sam (and Dean, who recorded drums on one of the songs) certainly experimented with different drum sounds and instruments. The guitar takes you on all kinds of wild adventures throughout the album, but the driving bass keeps you grounded. From songs like “Take Out the Gunman,” which addresses the recent media attention at different mass shootings, to “One Ocean”, which is by far Chevelle’s best quiet(er) song, it is hard to get bored listening to this album. La Gárgola has so much to offer, from heavier metal songs typical of past Chevelle albums, to quieter rock songs which force you to really think about what is being said.

One of Chevelle’s best traits is the lyrics, written mainly by Pete Loeffler. Unlike so many rock bands, who are blatantly obvious with what they are talking about in their songs, Chevelle’s lyrics are cryptic, yet simple with repetition of certain lines throughout the song. I know some people don’t like repetition, but the way in which Chevelle work it, it really doesn’t feel like there is any repetition at all. While some bands use expletives to convey that they are… well, pissed off, Chevelle conveys that through tone of music and lyrical undertones. Chevelle rarely swears in their songs, unless it is absolutely necessary, and none of their songs (in any album) are labeled as explicit. Also, Chevelle is not one to talk about relationships and dating and crap like that. They prefer to keep their lyrics conceptual and open to interpretation, which forces the listener to think. La Gárgola certainly continues the Chevelle tradition when it comes to lyrics.

While Chevelle certainly isn’t prog, they come close in many respects, and they deserve respect from progressive rock fans. Chevelle is one of several bands throughout the early 2000s, along with Disturbed, Avenged Sevenfold, System of a Down, Three Days Grace, and many others, who were able to keep rock and metal popular even while the musical atrocities of the pop and country genres rose in popularity. Chevelle have been very successful, yet they have never sacrificed what they do best – rock. So far, La Gárgola is one of my favorite albums of 2014, and I will certainly be listening to it for years to come. If you like metal, hard rock, and prog, give Chevelle a listen. They have many great songs across their expansive catalog, and their albums are a joy to listen to.

Dream Theater: A Metal Anomaly

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The second half of 2013 sucked. So did the first few months of 2014. I’d rather not get into the reasons why, but needless to say, one of the high points of last year for me was becoming a Progarchist. I say that because being apart of this awesome site has given me the opportunity to listen to music and bands that I otherwise would have never heard, and I have loved it. One of those bands is Dream Theater.

I first heard Dream Theater when my roommate was playing it towards the end of the spring semester of 2013. At first, I didn’t really like it, mainly because of LaBrie’s voice, but I couldn’t complain since I was the one that got my roommate into the “prog” genre in the first place. I didn’t think much of Dream Theater again until I became a Progarchist and received a review copy of their recent self-titled album. All I can say is, WOW. LaBrie’s voice grew on me, and I wondered how I had not discovered this band years earlier. What had I been missing? The technical skill of the musicians astounded me, and I found the vocals haunting. Little did I realize how their lyrics would profoundly touch me over the coming months.

As I said, the last several months haven’t been the best. Most of my family and friends wouldn’t (or don’t) understand it, and that’s ok. Regardless, I found myself drowning in music. I couldn’t/can’t get enough of it. It became an escape for me, and the go to genre when I’m really feeling down seems to be metal. I turned to the heavy metal albums from personal favorites of mine such as Avenged Sevenfold and Disturbed. I connected with the anger and the desperation, especially with Avenged Sevenfold’s 2010 album, Nightmare, featuring former Dream Theater drum god, the great Mike Portnoy (coincidence, I think not). Nightmare is dripping with anger and frustration, as the band struggled to cope with the recent death of their drummer, Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan, who was probably one of the best metal drummers ever (you don’t believe me? Listen to the albums “Waking the Fallen” and “City of Evil”). I also was drawn to the punky pissiness (pardon my French, as it were) of the bands Three Days Grace and System of a Down. I soaked in the mysterious lyrics and awesome rock of Chevelle, which has been one of my favorite bands for a long time (their latest album, La Gárgola, is fantastic). I found myself being drawn into this world of angry rock, while simultaneously withdrawing from the people around me.

I actually enjoy the loud, obnoxious, sometimes screamy sound produced by many of these bands. It has always been a good release for me. But, something is missing, especially from Disturbed and Avenged Sevenfold. Hope. Hope is missing. The closest thing any of these bands have to hope is Three Days Grace’s song “Never Too Late.” The rest of it focuses on the darkness they think they find themselves in. That’s ok at first, but after a while, it can drag you down, if you let it. I let it.

This is where Dream Theater comes in. I listened to the their latest album, and I heard the song “The Bigger Picture.” I heard these lyrics and was blown away, as corny as it sounds:

Would you talk me off the ledge
Or let me take the fall
Better to try and fail
Then to never try at all

You look but cannot see
Talk but never speak
You live but cannot breathe
See but don’t believe

Wounds that never heal
A heart that cannot feel
A dream that’s all too real
A stare as cold as steel

I’ve listened to the stories of resentment and disdain
I’ve looked into the empty eyes of anger, fear, and shame
I’ve taken blood from every stone
And traveled every road

When I see the distant lights illuminate the night
Then I will know I am home

Those seemingly simple lyrics rocked me. Then I heard “Along for the Ride” :

I can’t stop the world from turning around
Or the pull of the moon on the tide
But I don’t believe that we’re in this alone
I believe we’re along for the ride
I believe we’re along for the ride

Then I heard “Illumination Theory” :

To really feel the joy in life
You must suffer through the pain
When you surrender to the light
You can face the darkest days

If you open up your eyes
And you put your trust in love
On those cold and endless nights
You will never be alone

Passion glows within your heart
Like a furnace burning bright
Until you struggle through the dark
You’ll never know the joy in life
Never know, never to know
You’ll never know
You’ll never know

I couldn’t explain it, but the lyrics spoke to me. I heard “Another Day” off of Images and Words, and that spoke to me as well. These songs offered hope, not despair. They did not wallow in the gloom, but looked forward to the light. Dream Theater may receive flack for not having deep lyrics or cohesive albums, but to me, it doesn’t seem to matter, because the band accomplished what I believe they set out to do. They wanted to reach somebody and share their hope with that person, and it worked. The best part: not once do Dream Theater sacrifice musical talent to get their message across!

Through the cold and endless nights, I felt alone. I had drifted from my faith in God, and I was in a dark place. Then I heard “Illumination Theory” calling me to open my eyes and to put my trust in love, and if I did, I would never be alone. Growing up, I was always told that God is love, and that He is always there for His children. It clicked for me, and I could finally see the light. It was a rough few months (where the only thing I could find purpose in was my studies, which thankfully I did well in), and I had a hard time relating to the world around me. But, Dream Theater was able to touch my soul in a way that the other metal bands couldn’t. Metal, on the whole, is rather devoid of hope and joy, and that is why I see Dream Theater as an anomaly. They don’t play by everyone else’s rules – they write their own, and for that, I am grateful.

It may seem lame that Dream Theater had such a profound effect on me during those dark days, and I really can’t explain why they did. All I know is that I believe I’m along for the ride, and it’s a ride I’m proud to say I’m now happy to be on. Thanks Dream Theater.