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

Atravan, The Grey Line, 2021
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)
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.
Apple Music


Metal Mondays: New Track from XSKULL8

Listening to the new track, “Your Final Act,” by XSKULL8 got me feeling a little nostalgic. This is the kind of metal I used to listen to more often about ten years or so ago, and while I’ve drifted more into strictly prog and prog metal territory, this song has just enough of a djent edge in the guitars to make it quite appealing. The vocals are rock solid in the cleans and in the distortions. It’s heavy, and it has a pounding groove. I think I would definitely enjoy a whole album like this track, perhaps with a little more musical exploration and extended instrumental passages. But XSKULL8 are a good reminder that rock and metal are far from dead.

Lucid Planet

Metal Mondays: Lucid Planet’s “II”

Lucid Planet, II, November 2020
Anamnesis (12:25), Entrancement (5:33), Organic Hard Drive (9:39), Offer (4:15), On The Way (9:38), Digital Ritual (4:57), Face The Sun (11:49), Zenith (9:56)

Perhaps I’m going out on a limb in calling Lucid Planet’s new album “metal,” but I’ve always had a pretty broad understanding of what metal can include. For instance I’ve long considered much of Rush’s output to be metal. But be not deceived. Lucid Planet’s sophomore album, II, released five years after their debut, is not Dream Theater progressive metal. Rather they remind me of Tool in many ways, especially in the rhythm sections on “Anamnesis,” “Organic Hard Drive,” and “Zenith.” 

Maybe “heavy prog” is a better term. The Melbourne, Australia-based band uses the terms “progressive,” “tribal,” and “psychedelic” on their website, and those are all good descriptors for what they do. They travel in and out of various styles and influences seamlessly. No one track limits itself to any particular style. The primal elements are particularly strong on “Entrancement,” which creates a psychedelic atmosphere through droning vocals and simple acoustic instrumentation. The song is a bit unexpected after the first track, but it works well in expanding the horizon of what the band does. Right away we know that this group plans to cover a lot of ground. The female vocals in parts of that track add a pleasant touch to what would otherwise be a rather dark song. The primal elements mesh well with their album artwork as well. 

Continue reading “Metal Mondays: Lucid Planet’s “II””

Metal Mondays: Vultress’ “Hypnopompia”

Vultress, Hypnopompia, 2020
1. Hypnopompia (0:35), 2. Cmdr Hall and wherewithal (4:56), 3. Tether (5:57), 4. Fall Into Then (4:13), 5. L’appel Du Vide (5:07), 6. New Sun (9:51)

It isn’t everyday that I get to feature a band from America’s great Midwest – much less a prog metal band from the Midwest. They hail from Valparaiso, Indiana, a mid-sized town on the far southeastern edge of what could be considered the greater Chicagoland area. The band is comprised of Jordan Gaboian (guitar), Paul Uhrina (drums) and Anthony Capuano (vocals/keys). Hypnopompia is their second album, following 2014’s Distance.

At just over a half-hour long, perhaps Hypnopompia would have been better billed as an EP rather than an album, especially since the album is rather inconsistent. “Tether” and “L’appel Du Vide” are from completely different genres, and “Tether” alone has multiple genres intermingling – some of which work and some which don’t. I also noticed a strong Dream Theater influence on their first album that I don’t notice in their new album.

Someone commented on Bandcamp that Capuano’s voice is reminiscent of both Claudio Sanchez (Coheed and Cambria) and Serj Tankian (System of a Down). This is a pretty fair assessment. Sanchez’s influence is most prevalent on “L’appel du Vide,” while the latter influence can be heard on “Tether.” There is a moment on their first album where it’s clear that he is channeling James Labrie circa 1994 – specifically the distortion Labrie used on “6:00.” Capuano doesn’t do that at all on this album, preferring instead more of a death metal growl in the brief moments when he does decide to use distortion. Most of his singing is clean, and it is pretty good, although it might take a few listens to adjust to it. However I think the music would be best served if he added the warmth from “L’appel du Vide” to their metal moments, like Claudio Sanchez does, and he should go with the mid-90s Labrie-style distortion rather than the growling, since it matches the music better.

I really wanted “Tether” to be my favorite track because it had a unique playfulness and heaviness that fits well with today’s prog-metal scene. It opens with heavy acoustic strumming before pounding into a deep metal riff. All good so far. Capuano mixes up the vocal styling a bit, which works when it’s the Tankian-style high-pitched notes, but it doesn’t work as well with the growls. The middle of the song does a hard shift into a traditional jazz section with saxophone, which the band performs extremely well. This brief section was one of my favorite parts on the album, in fact. However after that they go back into a really heavy drop-tuned section that includes saxophone playing in a less-orderly way than it was during the jazz section. To my ear this doesn’t work as well.

The fifth track, “L’appel du Vide,” is a bit of a surprise. It’s a ballad, which feels out of place on the album. However, Capuano’s voice shines. It has a warmth that could help on the metal tracks. Perhaps if the song morphed into a heavier chorus it wouldn’t feel so out of place, but it’s really a pop ballad without the rock that Dream Theater usually infuse into their ballads. The chorus could shine with electric guitar and drums, kind of like Dream Theater’s “Wither” or Coheed and Cambria’s “Here To Mars.” The song even builds up to that kind of moment, so it is a bit of a letdown when the calm acoustic guitar remains. About 2:45 in we get an electric guitar playing clean highs in the background, but the drums and bass are still playing as if it is a quiet ballad. Yes what I’m proposing is formulaic, but it is a formula that works for prog-metal ballads (see the aforementioned DT and C&C tracks). With a build up to a heavier wall of sound the song would fit a lot better in the album.

“Fall Into Then” is the most consistent song on the album musically and vocally. The style stays the same, and it keeps a heavy tone throughout.  It has a really strong driving guitar groove, with some Hammond-style organ highlights thrown in for good measure. Turn this one up – you won’t be disappointed. There is some really good bass drum pedaling along with a thundering bassline.

“New Sun” follows along a similar track, but it includes some weird electronic vocal distortions in the middle that don’t really work. The heavy synth section in the middle works well, even though it slows the pace, but the electronic vocals are really jarring. Apart from that it is an excellent longer-form prog metal song with some nice guitar moments. The keyboard work on this one is a nice touch as well.

Overall I’d have to say I enjoyed the track “A Chord From Heaven” off their first album a lot more than anything off Hypnopompia. Looking at both albums it is abundantly clear that all the pieces are here for something truly special. I think this album detoured a bit from the trajectory the band created with their first album. They could take elements from Hypnopompia and apply it to new music made more in the vein of their first album, and they’d be in great shape. With that said I still recommend you give this a listen.

Check out their first album, as well:

Metal Mondays: Remembering Where it all Started with Dream Theater

It has been a while since we have done a “Metal Mondays” here at Progarchy, and it has been even longer since I can remember reading anything online about Dream Theater’s first album, “When Dream and Day Unite.” Due to the absence of singer James LaBrie, this album is usually overlooked and forgotten by all but the most diehard fans of the band. Charlie Dominici, the band’s second vocalist (Majesty’s original vocalist was a guy named Chris Collins), was no slouch as a singer. He had the range and power necessary for someone in an 80s metal band, although he was 15 years older than the other members of the group. Dominici had a history singing music akin to pop rather than metal, and it quickly became clear that he wasn’t the best fit for a group intent on making music in the vein of Queensrÿche and Iron Maiden [1].

Despite its flaws, “When Dream and Day Unite” remains a listenable album almost 30 years after its release. The band even occasionally plays a few songs from it at live shows. The musicality is what we would expect from the musicians who would come to be known as some of the best in the world at their respective instruments. Mike Portnoy’s blistering kick drum on “Afterlife” and “Only a Matter of Time” was ahead of its time, yet it clearly bears the influence of Phil Ehart.

The journalistic laziness of the time claimed the band was merely a copy of Kansas and Rush, yet listening to the album now makes those comparisons sound cheap. Obviously Dream Theater has shown influences from both of those bands, going so far as to cover both groups (and many others) in special editions of their albums over the years. To dismiss “When Dream and Day Unite” as mere copying is far from the truth, in my opinion. There is too much originality in the musicianship to call it a copy of those groups. The influences are there, but Kansas and Rush never sounded quite like this.

I find “Ytse Jam” to be the most compelling song here. Perhaps that is because it is instrumental, and it is easiest to make the connection to James LaBrie era Dream Theater. John Myung’s bass is particularly exceptional here, but then again, when is it not exceptional? “Afterlife” is probably the best song with singing on the album. From the lyrics to the guitars, this song delivers on all fronts.

Is “When Dream and Day Unite” Dream Theater’s best album? Of course not. Does it deserve to be forgotten and ignored like it has been? No. It is a solid album given its time, and it serves as an interesting reminder of where the greatest band in progressive metal came from. Every group has their beginnings, and it is great to return to Dream Theater’s roots. This album is particularly hard to get here in America, so if you don’t already have it, you may have trouble finding it. Discogs appears to have plenty of used copies, and you may be able to find a copy via your local library or Inter-Library loan (where I got mine). For those who prefer to stream, it also appears to be available on Spotify, despite it not being for sale on iTunes. It may require a hunt, but sometimes the search is half of the fun.

[1] Rich Wilson, Lifting Shadows The Authorized Biography of Dream Theater (UK: Rocket 88, 2013), 63-64.

Metal Mondays: Sons of Apollo Bring the Heat

Mike Portnoy’s  new supergroup, Sons of Apollo, is the prog metal bombast we have been waiting from the legendary drummer ever since he left Dream Theater. While DT have struggled to define their sound moving forward, Portnoy has dabbled in seemingly disparate genres in an endless number of bands (all of them admittedly amazing). Sons of Apollo finds him coming home to the wonderful world of prog metal with a lineup of extremely talented musicians.

Featuring Portnoy on drums, Bumblefoot (formerly of Guns N’ Roses), on guitar, Derek Sherinian (ex-Dream Theater keyboardist circa “Falling Into Infinity”), Billy Sheehan (Winery Dogs) on bass, and Jeff Scott Soto on vocals. I initially was hesitant when I heard Sheehan would be playing bass, because I’m not the biggest fan of his heavily distorted bass tone, even though I think he is a brilliant player. However, in a heavy metal setting, his tone works quite well. Soto’s vocal range matches the music quite well. He can go from Brian Johnson-esque screams in the beginning of “Coming Home” to Steve Perry highs later in the same song.

In a way, Sons of Apollo reminds me of AC/DC if they were super proggy, super complex, and had a keyboard master. Sherinian really is a brilliant keyboardist, and I like that he uses more traditional organs rather than the nintendo theme-song keyboards that other DT keyboardists have overused. In the  music videos, it is clear that Sherinian is thrilled to be working with Portnoy again, and based upon the drummer’s Twitter feed, the feeling is mutual.

I kept my expectations pretty low for Sons of Apollo’s “Psychotic Symphony” because there seemed to be a lot of hype surrounding it. After listening to it several times, the album has grown on me, and I can honestly say the hype is justified. This is a fantastic metal album well worthy of any progger’s collection.

Metal Mondays: Testament Announce New Album

testament-new01Ok, so I’m a little late with this news, but I just saw that the San Francisco Bay area thrash legends, Testament, recently announced the release of a new forthcoming album. The Brotherhood of the Snake will be released via Nuclear Blast on October 28, 2016.

I really enjoyed their last album, 2012’s Dark Roots of the Earth. Testament is a metal band that has become better and better since their inception in the 1980s. They brilliantly combine their style of thrash with straight-up metal and a few toned-down heavy rockers. They are very similar in style to Metal Allegiance, which isn’t surprising since guitarist Alex Skolnick plays for both groups.

The band has said that this album will be even thrashier than their previous albums, with about half of the songs being thrash metal. The album will see singer Chuck Billy singing in his signature heavy voice, while avoiding the death vocals of their earlier albums. Basically, if you liked Dark Roots of the Earth, you’re probably going to like the new album.

Check out their website for more details.

Thrash on, Progarchy, and enjoy your Metal Monday.

Metal Mondays – Montrose

Technically, I don’t know if this really qualifies at metal.  It’s more just standard fare mid-70’s American hard rock, simple and straightforward.  And very good for headbanging and air guitar.  You can probably skip over  50 seconds to avoid the unnecessary intro, which I refer to as the “sick pterodactyl” section of the song.  But once it gets past that, it puts the pedal to the metal (pardon the pun) and does not let up until the end.

Metal Mondays – 30 Years of Dream Theater – Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory

medium_ScenesFromAMEmoryAs Dream Theater quietly celebrates their 30th anniversary as a band this year, I bring you a look back at what is likely the group’s best album, Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory. Many might argue that Images and Words is their best, but I believe that Dream Theater reached unmatched levels of brilliance on their 1999 album. It is also one of the greatest albums ever created, in my humble opinion.

In the grand scheme of things, I’m a very recent fan of Dream Theater. I didn’t really “get into” the band in earnest until early this year. Somehow, though, I feel as if I have been listening to the band for years. Their music seems to transcend time and emotion, particularly on Scenes from a Memory. This album manages to capture so much emotion, feeling, and spirit through both the lyrics and the music itself. From the seemingly strange concept of a man discovering he is a reincarnation of a woman murdered in the 1920s to the blisteringly brilliant musicianship, Scenes From a Memory grabs the listener and doesn’t let go. The album also manages to reach back to the band’s first album with James Labrie, 1992’s Images and Words. As many of you know, Scenes From a Memory is an extension of the song, “Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper,” and the album manages to include and build upon many of the themes and musical motifs introduced in that song. Continue reading “Metal Mondays – 30 Years of Dream Theater – Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From a Memory”

Metal Mondays: Revisiting Dream Theater’s “Black Clouds and Silver Linings”

04blackcloudsAs Dream Theater celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, it seems only fitting to take an in depth look at some of their music. 2009’s Black Clouds and Silver Linings marks a huge turing point for the reigning kings of progressive metal, for it was Mike Portnoy’s last album with the band. It is clear that no one knew that at the time of recording, not even Mike, because this album finds the band at the height of their technical ability and creativity. In fact, this album was probably their best output since 1999’s Metropolis Pt. 2 Scenes From a Memory, which is one of the greatest albums of all time.

For all those that complain that Dream Theater “lacks soul” or “sucks,” I have a question for you: have you listened to Black Clouds and Silver Linings? I mean actually listened to it, and not just once, because this album has more “soul” than a gospel singer at a revival meeting! It also has enough head banging, window shattering, old-people enraging heavy metal to please even the most obsessive of metal enthusiasts. It has enough prog to fascinate the proggiest of prog fans. It has enough heart wrenching lyrics and moving solos to make a man weep, as I’m sure it did to those who wrote them.

Interestingly, the first time I listened to this album, I didn’t think all that much of it, apart from “The Count of Tuscany.” The whole thing seemed too overly loud and inaccessible. However, I soon became hooked by “Wither,” and then by the moving “The Best of Times.” Soon, I gave the whole album repeated, thorough, listens, and it was like a revelation! I finally realized this album for the brilliance that it is, and it is one that I now regularly return to.

The album gets off to a rather dark start, with the 16 minute long “A Nightmare to Remember,” a story about someone getting into a horrible car accident during a bad thunderstorm. The story ends well enough, with the band revealing that “its a miracle he lived; its a blessing no one died.” Supposedly, this song, which was written by guitarist John Petrucci, is based upon a childhood experience. Nevertheless, it sets the album with a dark tone, which only makes sense considering the circumstances. Mike Portnoy’s father was dying of cancer during the process of making the album. Mike wrote “The Best of Times” as a tribute to his Dad before he passed away. The band has never performed this song live, because it was too painful for Mike to play after his father passed. The song features what is arguably John Petrucci’s best guitar solo. Long, epic, and soaring, it is everything a rock fan could want in a guitar solo. It is like David Gilmour’s “Comfortably Numb” solo on steroids. He combines his technical shredding capability with the soul of the late, great BB King. It is awe inspiring to listen to. Petrucci also thrills the listener with a quiet, moving acoustic guitar piece at the beginning of the 13 minute song.

The entirety of the album contains the best elements from all of Dream Theater’s previous albums. The album contains conceptual pieces, driving metal songs, and heartfelt rock ballads, something Dream Theater is incredibly gifted at crafting, albeit underrated. “Wither,” is the shortest song on the album, at 5:26. It is a ballad written by Petrucci about his personal process of songwriting. “A Rite of Passage” is, strangely enough, about freemasonry, and “The Shattered Fortress” completes Mike Portnoy’s twelve-step suite spread across several albums. The twelve-step suite is about Portnoy’s earlier struggles with alcoholism, and it references Alcoholics Anonymous’ twelve-step program. The songs in the suite are: “The Glass Prison,” “This Dying Soul,” “The Root of All Evil,” “Repentance,” and “The Shattered Fortress.” In their entirety, all the songs were originally supposed to create a single concept album across multiple albums.

When listening to the album, “The Best of Times” seems like the natural end of the record. However, as soon as that song ends, Dream Theater blows us away with the nearly 20 minute long “The Count of Tuscany.” This song is like Rush’s 2112, in that it is both brilliant, conceptual, and around 20 minutes long. While the concept is nothing like 2112, and it didn’t have nearly as great an effect on Dream Theater’s career (at that point, DT were firmly established, while it can be argued that 2112 was a make-or-break album for Rush), it contains many similar elements of musicality. The song is supposedly about an actual encounter Petrucci had while visiting Tuscany, in Italy. I won’t make an effort to describe the song, because I would never be able to do it justice. All I can say is, it is brilliant.

Black Clouds and Silver Linings finds Dream Theater at their musical best. They perfectly balanced their heaviness with their technical skill. At many points in the album, the band utilizes the jazz staple of members performing individual instrumental solos before passing the solo off to someone else. It is almost as if they are playing live on the album. The band shows off their thundering bass, outstanding drum work, blistering guitars, and wizardly keyboards, and it is a thrill to listen to. Portnoy’s drums are just so good that words cannot describe them. It doesn’t seem humanly possible that he can be doing so much at one time, but he does it! Outstanding.

James LaBrie’s vocals are good, with some points stronger than others. His voice is definitely better on their 2013 album, Dream Theater. It is remarkable how long it has taken for his voice to completely heal from that incident in the 90s. He stated during their last tour that his voice feels better than it has ever felt, and it showed on their last album. On Black Clouds and Silver Linings, there are points where he chooses to sing in a more violent manner, rather than his more natural high notes. That can likely be attributed to the heavier nature of the music, along with his lack of confidence in his voice at that point. Never fear, though, because it doesn’t detract from the album at all. If anything, it simply adds to the heaviness of the music. I must add that Portnoy and Petrucci offer excellent backing vocals to the album. They are probably more involved vocally than on any other album.

Black Clouds and Silver Linings sadly marks the end of the Portnoy Dream Theater era, but he went out in style. The album finds the band on a musical high note. They created one of the best records of their career, demonstrating the maturity of their musicianship and the creativity of their songwriting. It is a long album, but it never drags on. Everything is just as it should be, and the hidden nods to Rush throughout the album are a treat for the careful listener. This album demands repeated listens, and it demands them loudly.

Rock on, Progarchy, and enjoy your metal Monday.