Progarchy’s End of Summer Round Up

There has been a lot of quality prog released this summer. Overall I’d say there isn’t as much top tier level stuff (i.e., albums that rank with some of the best ever made in the genre), but there have been a lot of solid albums worthy of your attention released lately. This list won’t be exhaustive, but it should be a good starting point for people looking for some new music. Order is completely arbitrary. Ok maybe this first one is at the top for a reason.

Nad Sylvan – The Regal Bastard

Steve Hackett’s touring vocalist released his best solo album to date this summer. It is a little more accessible than the first two albums in the Vampirate trilogy, but it retains some of the same themes and motifs. Sylvan has a lot of talent, and this album stands above the crowd this summer. If you only listen to one album off this list, choose this one. And check out my interview with Nad from earlier this summer: https://progarchy.com/2019/06/30/the-vampirate-speaks-a-conversation-with-nad-sylvan/

Tool – Fear Inoculum

I’ve only ever passively listened to Tool, but I found this album to be quite good. Was it worth the wait for diehard Tool fans? I’m not sure, but this is a solid album that is heavy without being overpowering. Check out Rick Krueger’s review: https://progarchy.com/2019/09/01/tool-fear-inoculum/

Continue reading “Progarchy’s End of Summer Round Up”

District 97, Screens

Impossibly sick drum groove by Jonathan Schang: check.  Heavy unison guitar/bass riff from Jim Tashijan and Tim Seisser: check.  “Yep, that’s District 97. Now where was I?”

But then new keyboardist Andrew Lawrence joins in, steering opener “Forest Fire” in a head-snapping direction with cool, jazzy chords.  Cue Leslie Hunt, riding a thrilling vocal line over a cascade of progressions and textures  — including off-kilter breakdowns from Lawrence and Schang.  By the time the track climaxes with a powerhouse unison lick (all in under five minutes), my head’s where it belongs — in the music.

Screens feels like a fresh start for District 97.  The Chicago quintet’s trademarks — Hunt’s lush tone and oblique, syncopated melodies, Tashijan and Seisser’s thick crunch and odd-time riffage, Schang’s lateral ideas and heady polyrhythms — are all present, correct and on point.  But to me, Lawrence is the secret ingredient that’s taken them to a new level, bringing a love of jazz fusion and a rich sense of harmony to the party.

This edition of the band isn’t afraid to take chances with the new tunes — leaving more space, leaning into dynamic contrast, unexpectedly launching skittery, Zappaesque flurries of noise.  Which enables shorter tracks like “Sea I Provide”, “Trigger” and “Blueprint” to cover lots of ground, and the extended efforts “Sheep”, “Bread & Yarn” and “Ghost Girl” to feel like genuine epics. Everybody contributes to the writing and all the players solo — which makes the overall sound more unified and more expansive at the same time.

And all this gives Leslie Hunt more room to run than ever.  It’s hard to think of a vocalist in progressive music with so many tools at her disposal: a gutsy, versatile sound and technique; deeply expressive emotional range; a fertile, eclectic imagination powering her melodies and lyrics.  On Screens, Hunt simultaneously sounds fully unleashed and fully integrated into the band.  Focusing on the lyrical theme of isolation (self-inflicted in “Sheep” and “Shapeshifter”, imposed by others in “Trigger” and “Ghost Girl”), she makes a meal of it: throughout the album, she reacts, resists, reflects, rages — and when she can, reaches out (especially in the poppy “Sea I Provide” and the gorgeous ballad “Blueprint”).   She’s something else.

For all their obvious love of the genre, talent and energy (I’ve been bowled over both times I’ve seen them play to hometown crowds), I’ve sometimes felt that District 97’s music had trouble standing out in a crowded field, especially when they’ve leaned into the metal.  Trouble with Machines and In Vaults are fine albums, but over the years they  blurred together in my ears.  Gratifyingly, Screens busts out into new territory, stretching D97’s sound and style in refreshing, exciting ways, and setting the table for continued growth.  This one’s a winner that’s worth your time and attention.

Screens is currently available as a signed advance CD from the band.  The digital version (released October 4) can be pre-ordered at Bandcamp.  The regular CD (released October 11 in the US) can be pre-ordered at Amazon.

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— Rick Krueger

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Big 2019 Fall Prog (Plus) Preview!

What new music, live albums, reissues (regular, deluxe or super-deluxe) and tours are heading our way between now and All Hallows Eve?  Check out the exhaustive (and potentially exhausting) sampling of promised progressive goodies — along with other personal priorities — below.  Click on the titles for pre-order links — whenever possible, you’ll wind up at the online store that gets as much money as possible directly to the musicians.

 

 

  • August:
    • Dave Kerzner, Static Live Extended Edition: recorded at the 2017 Progstock festival.  Kerzner’s complete Static album in concert, plus selected live highlights & new studio tracks.  Pre-orders ship in late August.
  • August 30:
    • Sons of Apollo, Live with the Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony: recorded at Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s Roman amphitheatre (the site of previous live efforts from Anathema and Devin Townsend).  Available in Blu-Ray, 3 CD + Blu-Ray, and 3 CD + DVD + Blu Ray versions.
    • Tool, Fear Inoculum: Tool’s first album in 13 years.  Available via digital download, as well as “a deluxe, limited-edition CD version (which) features a 4” HD rechargeable screen with exclusive video footage, charging cable, 2 watt speaker, a 36-page booklet and a digital download card.”  Really. 

Continue reading “The Big 2019 Fall Prog (Plus) Preview!”

In Concert: Progtoberfest 4, Part 2

As I exited the CTA Green Line on a crisp, clear Chicago Sunday, Reggie’s Rock Club and Music Joint beckoned with the promise of Progtoberfest’s final day: twelve hours of sixteen bands on two stages. Constantly unfolding delight or endless endurance test? Only one way to find out.

(Notes for after the jump: links are provided to bands’ online presence — website, Facebook or Bandcamp pages — wherever possible.  An asterisk [*] by a band’s name means I bought one or more of their CDs at the event; A cross [+] means the band didn’t have CDs for sale — but their music is now on my want list.  Here we go …)

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Continue reading “In Concert: Progtoberfest 4, Part 2”

Progtoberfest: Day 1 Report

by Rick Krueger

On Friday, October 20, hundreds of dedicated proggers converged on Chicago from around the country — and even from across the globe.  The location: Reggie’s Rock Club & Music Joint on the Near South Side, only two blocks away from the former Chess Records, the birthplace of great discs by Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones and countless others.

Reggie’s has two main rooms, both dedicated to Progtoberfest this weekend.  The Rock Club is designed for concerts, with a raised stage, a main floor, an upper level mezzanine —and a wire fence decor motif throughout.  The Music Joint has a tinier stage tucked into the back of a narrow bar and grill.  This weekend, merch tables were crammed into every inch remaining on the main floor, and patrons less interested in the music (or needing a break from the density of the sound) took advantage of Friday and Saturday’s warm weather to eat and drink at sidewalk tables.  An upstairs space that held a record store until recently was turned into the VIP/Meet and Greet lounge for the duration.


Due to the usual complications of traveling to and around Chicago as the weekend starts, I got to my spot in the Rock Club just as Schooltree was taking the stage.  With only an hour on the schedule, they powered through highlights of their Heterotopia album, condensing the narrative to zoom in on its main character Suzi.  The set left no doubt that Lainey Schooltree is a major talent; her songwriting chops, keyboard skills and vocal versatility all came through loud and clear, grabbing and holding the audience’s attention.  The rest of the band bopped along brilliantly too, with the ebullient energy of Peter Danilchuk on organ and synth leading the way.


The crowd for Schooltree was solid, but hometown heroes District 97 were the first group to pack the place, filling both seats and standing room on the main floor.   The band took no prisoners, blasting right into riff-heavy highlights from their three albums that showed off every player’s monster chops.  Soaring above the din, Leslie Hunt pulled in the crowd with her astonishing vocal power and range.  New songs were mixed in that sent the audience head-banging and prog-pogoing with abandon.

Continue reading “Progtoberfest: Day 1 Report”

Progarchy Radio Episode 8

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Episode 8.

Welcome to our eighth podcast, recorded June 14, 2016.  This 2+ hour podcast features music from Cosmograf, Frost*, District 97, Steve Hackett, Gandalf’s Fist, Eric Gillette, Talk Talk, Traffic, Ordinary Psycho, Miles Davis, and Tears for Fears.

Winning the lottery with @District97

District 97 is such a great band. Here’s a taste of them live from their recent world tour. Notice how amazing Leslie Hunt is fronting the band. I love how she is so totally into the music. What a great way to draw the audience in. This is one of my favorite songs off of the last District 97 album. It’s so darn good.

“Snow Country” Live Video @District97 @LeslieHunt

The amazing Leslie Hunt rocks the house with District 97:

That was live at “De Boerderij”, The Netherlands, on April 3rd, 2016.

Now catch them live on their US tour:

May 13th, Chicago, IL (w/Tiles) @ Reggies Music Joint
May 15th, Westland, MI @ The Token Lounge (w/Tiles)
May 16th, Baltimore, MD @ Orion (w/Tiles)
May 17th, Dunellen, NJ Roxy & Dukes Roadhouse (w/Tiles)
May 18th Kennett Square, PA @ Kennett Flash (w/Valdez)
May 19th, New York City NY @ DROM NYC Prog Rock Night w/IZZ, Tiles, 3RDegree
May 20th, Akron, OH @ Musica (w/Tiles) http://liveatmusica.com/

DISTRICT 97
Leslie Hunt – Vocals
Andrew Lawrence – Keyboards
Jim Tashjian – Guitar – Backing Vocals
Tim Seisser – Bass
Jonathan Schang – Drums

On a Roll – 2015 Prog In Review

So you’re watching a baseball game. The pitcher for one of the teams has yet to give up a hit. In fact, he’s retired every batter that he’s faced, giving up not so much as a walk. And even as the game stretches into the latter innings, he’s not getting tired. He’s struck out six batters in a row and is just completely shutting down the opposition in a manner reminiscent of the way noted Rush fan Randy Johnson used to do. You look at that guy and think “man, he’s on a roll.”

Maybe it’s a team that has won a number of games in a row. Maybe it’s a business leader who has led his company into the stratosphere with one popular product offering after another.

Or maybe you are a fan of prog rock. In fact, you probably are just that if you’re reading this. You look back a few years ago, at 2012, and realize it was a good year, producing a number of excellent albums, including Echolyn’s “Windowpane” album, Glass Hammer’s incredible Perilous, and Gazpacho’s March of Ghosts (highly underrated if you ask me). Then 2013 comes along, and you think, “what an amazing year,” as your album collection grows with releases such as Ayreon’s The Theory if Everything, The Tangent’s magnum opus Le Sacre Du Travail, and Haken’s outstanding The Mountain. There is no letup at all in 2014, more new releases, many of them are “must haves”, such as IQ’s The Road of Bones and Cosmograf’s Capacitor among them. And now, here we are in 2015, and you’ve been deluged with more incredible music in what has been yet another great year in prog. And you think, “man, prog on a roll!”

Indeed it is.

Each December for the last several years, we at Progarchy have gushed about the abundance of great prog music coming out and the health of the current prog scene. We are getting to be like a broken record. But can you blame us? And would you rather it be different, like the early 90’s or so when the prog light was a dimly flickering candle?

What else can I say? Well, I can start talking about the albums.

Album of the Year:

In a year of stellar releases, my hands down album of the year with a bullet is Riverside’s utterly brilliant Love, Fear, and The Time Machine. I simply cannot overstate how much I love this album, or how good it is. Riverside has tamed much of their heavy metal side, moving in more melodic direction – while still retaining the dynamism and overall sound Riverside-coverthat is unmistakably Riverside. While the album still has some of their trademark moodiness, the darkness has been replaced with a mature, tempered, and realistic optimism that grows throughout. This album was quite a leap for Riverside in terms of direction, and yet they pulled it off flawlessly.

Other Notables:

Most others have put Steven Wilson’s Hand Cannot Erase at the top of their album of the year charts. I can’t do that, and I’m probably not quite asSteven_Wilson_Hand_Cannot_Erase_cover

much of a Wilson fan as most of the hardcore proggers are today. That being said, this was a pretty good album for me, if a bit depressing in subject matter. But musically, Wilson and his band are firing on all cylinders. Home Invasion/Regret #9 stands out as my favorite track on the album, although you really have to listen to the whole thing to get the gist.

One of my new discoveries this year was Nad Sylvan, and his excellent solo album Courting the Widow. Sylvan’s album builds on the album_coverclassic/symphronic prog sound of an earlier era, and yet sounds fresh and modern. It works especially well since Sylvan’s natural singing voice seems to be a perfect mix of Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins, making it no mystery as to why Steve Hackett selected him as a touring vocalist. Standout tracks on this album include the title track, Echoes of Ekwabet, and the excellent epic, To Turn The Other Side.

Gazpacho didn’t wait long after their release of Demon in 2014, coming back this year with an equally strange album Molok. Like its predecessor,

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this album is very strange – but don’t mistake that for a lack of quality. All the Gazpacho trademarks are there, the meticulous subtlety, the unusual structures that take time to reveal themselves, and the thin veneer of simple riffs on top with a staggering complexity underneath. Conceptually, this album is not easy to explain, and it’s best to read the band’s explanation put up on their Facebook page. It’s hard to pick out a favorite track since the album has to be taken as a whole … although Molok Rising provides a strong and satisfying end to the album.

Everything Arjen Anthony Luccassen touches turns to awesome, and The Diary by his project with Anneke van Giersbergen, The Gentle Storm. This Gentle Stormwas really two albums in one, a heavy version (Storm) with all the songs “metaled up” by Arjen, and a lighter version (Gentle) which relied more heavily on acoustic instruments and folky sounds. Both are excellent and it’s tough to pick on. Shores of India seems to work best in the Gentle form, while The Storm, appropriately, seems to work best in the Storm version.

I’m going to go slightly off script here into the realms of heavy metal, because my list would not be complete without a mention of Iron Maiden’s stunning album, The Book of Souls. Why am I only slightly off script? book of soulsBecause this album is the proggiest thing Iron Maiden has ever done, even though it retains their previous heavy metal elements. While this album is excellent from start to finish, the boys of Maiden are at their strongest here when they are on their proggiest – the 10 minutes plus title, track, the 13 minutes plus The Red and the Black, and the closing, 18 minute epic, Empire of the Clouds. For the shorter, more familiar Maiden, Speed of Light is a particularly strong track. I’ve always defended the members and the music of Iron Maiden as being more intelligent and thoughtful than that of their heavy metal peers, and this album is the best evidence yet of that. This is truly a crowning achievement on an amazing career.

Moving back into prog-proper territory, Andy Tillison and his band The Tangent followed up 2013’s outstanding Le Sacre Du Travail with an equallytangent1 excellent release, A Spark in the Aether. One of the things that really comes through on this album (and makes it so excellent) is that is sounds like Tillison was having tongs of fun in making it. The joy really shines through on one of my favorite tracks, Codpieces and Capes, a celebration of prog’s glorious past. Even better is The Celluloid Road, Andy’s insightful look at America through the lens provided in film, i.e. movies that is. It’s the highlight of an album full of highlights. Oh, and speaking of America …

Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue:

This year was an exceptional year for prog from this side of the Atlantic, Echolyn Coverbetter than I can remember in some time. For one, Echolyn returned with I Heard You Listening, which more or less picks up where they left off in 2012. There were no bad tracks on the album, but Messenger of All’s Right, Different Days, and All This Time We’re Given were especially strong.

District 97 returned with their eclectic and somewhat heavy brand of prog, bringing us In Vaults. The early part of this release starts out sounding similar to their previous release, Trouble With Machines, but gradually District-97-In-Vaults-e1433201699982evolves into new territory. I absolutely love the leadoff track, Snow Country, and am also partial to A Lottery and On Paper. The playing is top notch throughout. But what I like best about this album is the outstanding vocal performance of Leslie Hunt, who continues to make a strong case for the title of First Lady of Prog. Whether it’s her breathy jazz phrasing, her power vocals, or something in between, she hits it perfect every time.

Our favorite boys from Joisey, 3rd Degree, came out Ones and Zeros: Vol. 1. 3rdegreeI’m hoping that the Vol. 1 part of the title is an implicit stating that there will be a Vol. 2, because I definitely want more of this. A concept album that explores our relationship to technology (the digital world in particular), the lyrics are both clever and insightful. This one will be interesting to come back to five or ten years hence to examine the lyrics/concept in the context of how times will change.

The Ted Leonard era of Spock’s Beard continued apace with The Oblivion Spocksbeard_theoblivionparticle_coverParticle. I won’t mince words here – I think Leonard is the best vocalist Spock’s Beard has ever had, and I love where they are going with him at the mike. Bennett Built a Time Machine is an excellent track, and I love Minion as well (would have liked the move Minions to have worked a little prog into their soundtrack with this one …). They musicianship is as stellar as ever, and combined with Leonard’s voice, the Beard sounds as good as ever to these ears.

One final entry here is Dave Kerzner’s New World. Now technically, this david-kerzner-new-world-deluxealbum was initially released in 2014, but after many had already compiled their year-end best-of lists. It didn’t seem fair to me that such a fine album wouldn’t make the cut simply because of the timing of its release. So I’m going to include it here as a 2015 release and put it on my list – and on the merits it most definitely belongs.

And no, I haven’t forgot about Glass Hammer’s highly acclaimed Breaking of the World. But I must confess I haven’t gotten around to listening to this one yet. So much prog, so little time.

So another great year is almost in the books. What will 2016 bring? Well, if current trends continue, it’s going to be a pretty good year. For one, we will probably get the DVD of The Theater Equation, and I’m very much looking forward to that. Let’s just hope things stay where they’re at – on a roll.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 29

Welcome to day two of my ‘Album Of The Year 2015’ countdown. If you missed the opening instalment of what is a series that will either make or break me, you can check it out right here: Album of the Year 2015 – Number 30. Additionally, if you missed my similar countdowns from the past […]

https://manofmuchmetal.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/album-of-the-year-2015-number-29/