Bryan’s Best of 2020

Looking back at 2020, it’s hard to believe that we lost Neil Peart at the beginning of the year. That loss hit me pretty hard, since Rush’s music has been central to my life from an early age. I talk more about that in my tribute to Peart: https://progarchy.com/2020/01/12/neil-peart-a-misfits-hero/. I start off my year-end review list with a reminder of the loss of Neil because it seems like a fitting way to remember 2020. Peart’s loss represents what so many people have lost this year, whether it be family members and friends due to the virus or jobs lost due to draconian forced business closures that haven’t actually accomplished anything in slowing the viral spread. Not to mention the emotional distress that physical separation is causing many people.

Another thing we lost this year was live music from our favorite bands. Big Big Train had their first North American tour planned for late spring this year. Canceled. Devin Townsend was in the middle of a glorious North American tour with Haken when everything blew up. Canceled. Obviously this list could be expanded to every band that tours. Losing live music makes it even more difficult for bands in a niche genre to spread their music to more people.

But enough lamenting. We still got a lot of great music this year. The following list is in no particular order apart from my number one album at the end. I include both new albums and live records.

Haken – Virus
I was a little surprised that I was the only person over at the Dutch Progressive Rock Page to include this one in my top ten list for their annual list. Maybe people were really sensitive about the name of the album, but it was clear that the album was written and completed before the novel coronavirus was a known entity. The music is fantastic. It’s probably their heaviest album to date, but it still has some of their calmer moments. It’s Haken through-and-through, and it makes a wonderful companion to 2018’s Vector. We also get to hear some more about our old nemesis, the cockroach king. It’s pretty cool how they worked in some of those themes. Fantastic album that should’ve received more attention than it did. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2020/07/23/haken-goes-viral-virus-album-review-haken_official/

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Paint of Salvation band members

Healing Our Time: Pain of Salvation’s “Panther”

Pain of Salvation PantherPain of Salvation, Panther, Inside Out Music, August 28, 2020.

Tracks: 1. Accelerator (05:31), 2. Unfuture (06:46), 3. Restless Boy (03:34), 4. Wait (07:04), 5. Keen to a Fault (06:01), 6. Fur (01:34), 7. Panther (04:11), 8. Species (05:18), 9. Icon (13:30) 

Members: Daniel Gildenlöw – lead vocals and lots of stuff; Johan Hallgren – guitar and vocals; Léo Margarit – drums and vocals; Daniel Karlsson – keyboards, guitars, and vocals; Gustaf Hielm – bass and vocals 

Apparently I’m about two and a half decades late to the Pain of Salvation game. Better late than never, I suppose. I know I’ve listened to some of their more recent work when it came out, but at the time it didn’t grab me. Panther grabbed me, and now listening to a bit of their back catalog I’m starting to get it. Pain of Salvation have their own unique corner of the progressive metal market. No one else sounds quite like they do, at least on this new album. Pain of Salvation is just more proof that Scandinavia has the best bands.

Panther deals with tensions between those who fit into society and those who don’t. As someone who probably fits with the latter (and I imagine many progressive rock fans and musicians also would), the overarching concept certainly appeals. There are also dystopic overtones throughout, especially on “Unfuture.”

Welcome to the new world… a better and improved world for our mankind. – “Unfuture”

On the concept, Daniel Gildenlöw comments, “Because we live in a time where we’re more aware of people not fitting the norm and we’re doing everything we can as a society to acknowledge all of these individuals, but at the same time, they’re more disowned than ever, more medicated than ever. The album is painting pictures of a world, I guess. If this was a movie it would be scenes from a city. It’s set in one city, and it’s populated by dogs and the panthers, the so-called normal people and the spectrum people. That’s the setting for the entire album.”

Conceptually this is an album that will stand the test of time. It deals with timeless issues, in a similar way to Steven Wilson’s lyrics from both his Porcupine Tree and solo careers.

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