My gun metal grey MESHUGGAH t-shirt invokes two types of responses – one is an awe-inspiring nod of approval and the other a curious grin. First reaction is from musicians and the second from older gentlemen who knows Hebrew. One is aware of the crazy genius of the band and the other knows meshuggah pretty much means crazy in Yiddish. Along with crossing genre boundaries, seems like even the typical demographic boundaries are blurred with this band.
The new album Immutable is pretty much signature MESHUGGAH, but mutating their unique mold in slightly new directions. Instead of the usual assault of mathematical precision riffs and polyrhythms, constantly slicing and exploding, we get blunt hammering of industrial tones, they are bordering on atmospheric. Even though these elements were always present, now they are shaping whole compositions. In short, while not completely immutable, they sound more or less settled in their ways. The band which discovered alien lifeforms like djent is now comfortable with their marginal revolutions.
Mark of a great genre or band is that ability to constantly chisel at the margins, and continuously evolve in surprising ways. Often illustrating layers and polycentric qualities. From that perspective MESHUGGAH has left their influence, obviously visible from their fanatic following. Then the question might be, can the world truly comprehend their crazy genius, can their disciples match and evolve the framework, even beyond the already dizzying benchmark set by the band.
The Silent Wedding has covered this song called “Diamonds and Rust”, for almost everyone that means Joan Baez, but for ageing metalheads it simply channels mighty Judas Priest. We all have our own aesthetic preferences, and The Silent Wedding successfully appeals to those very classic metal predilections. That essentially means, Ego Path is rife with melody, neo-classical shredding, NWOBHM riffs, and all the other essential signatures reminding us of that classic lineage.
It’s that time-honored sonic tradition running from UFO and Judas Priest, to 80s British heavy metal, eventually mutating into that melodic power metal path via the great Ronnie James Dio. Obviously, all these influences are not complete without those omnipresent progressive tendencies. Add those clean vocals with adequate range, meandering melodic ballads, and passages tailored for arena rock — The Silent Wedding becomes that exquisite expedition every classic metal fan and prospective classic metal fan seek!
It’s Dream Theater, so by default it has to be rich in melody and progressions. But, A View from the Top of the World is riveting too. Mike Mangini-John Myung duo crafts a razor sharp bass-drum framework – more than adequate to accommodate their typical musical complexity. And often tailored to precisely slice and frame this perpetual train of John Petrucci-Jordan Rudess orchestra. This balance in musicianship is striking — omnipresent melody, James LaBrie’s signature wails, and complementing bass-lines all live in systematic harmony. Resulting compositions are meticulously high grade.
Album revives and reinforces quintessential Dream Theater qualities, sometimes illustrating them in seemingly novel ways. For better or for worse Mike Portnoy was a captive of Neil Peart school of drumming. But Mike Mangini’s style allows them to evolve, beyond those ornate confines of Rush-metal blueprint. Clearly enabling that exhibition of seemingly novel influences from symphonic prog, and atypical passages often seen in their own side projects. Or at least we can now prominently hear those influences, which were merely latent in earlier works.
You may remember way back in January when we reviewed Australian band Lucid Planet’s sophomore album. It’s a great album, and now it will be coming to vinyl on November 5. Pre-orders are open now. With beautifully detailed album artwork, the large record sleeve will look great. A real eye-catcher.
One of our media contacts sent us the debut album from prog metal duo Athemon, featuring Adriano Ribeiro (guitars and vocals) and former Haken bassist Tom MacLean (bass, production), as well as guest Gledson Gonçalves on drums. Initial thoughts – quite good. Heavy and dark. Vocals run the metal spectrum with cleans and distortion. Their overall sound is a lot larger than the number of musicians might suggest. Definitely check them out.
Here’s the press release and a Bandcamp link at the end:
Progressive metal duo Athemon debut self-titled full length will release on October 11th, 2021 and will be available on Flyathemon.bandcamp.com and Spotify.
Crossing paths online during the beginning of the Covid global lockdown, musicians Tom MacLean (bassist/producer, To-Mera, ex-Haken) based in the UK and Adriano Ribeiro (vocalist and guitarist) based in Brazil, used the digital world to their advantage to give rise to their new band Athemon. “Adriano sent me his demo and it gave me goosebumps, so I was keen to get involved,” says MacLean.
From a significant evolution between demos to their final introductory recordings, MacLean and Ribeiro created a bonding friendship over musical interests that created the perfect environment to allow them to evolve and conceive their debut album. Formed as a gateway to express their art using progressive metal music, Athemon’s first release is a concept record that is meant to be heard as one long 50-minute track divided into nine parts.
“Full of dark and enigmatic atmospheres, this is a 50-minute concept album divided into nine songs, which tells a story about self-awareness. This is a creative release that seeks to forge the perfect alloy of darkness and beauty,” adds the band.
For the album’s recording, the duo invited a special guest drummer from Brazil, Gledson Gonçalves who added his percussionist touch to compliment each one of the nine tracks.
“As nobody goes alone in this world (even being totally alone inside one’s own mind), the songwriting process had a lonely beginning, but a very collaborative end. The beginning of this project was driven by Adriano, but nothing would fit so well if it wasn’t for the amazing connection the three of us have (Adriano, Tom, and our special guest on drums, Gledson),” says MacLean.
The lyrics for the album were written by vocalist/guitarist Adrian Ribeiro and were inspired by thoughts of how confusing reality can be if you are not taking care of your emotional side. “The thin line between what’s real and what’s not is an endless world,” adds Ribeiro.
New fans of Athemon, can expect much more to come from the pair as they already have plans to launch their second album by the end of 2022, which they are currently composing with promising results. As for the live spectacle of Athemon, for now, the band will let the music flow until the duo can connect from across the Atlantic for their first in-person jam session. Recommended for fans of Nevermore, Pain of Salvation, Opeth, Gojira, and Mastodon, Athemon’s self-titled debut is available on all digital platforms.
Prepare to be blown away by the best half hour of progressive metal you’ll hear this year. Los Angeles-based duo Bantamweight released their sophomore record, Sounds + Haptics, back in June, and it absolutely slays. My apologies to the band for not reviewing it sooner – it’s been a busy summer with my vacation time from my regular job spent doing another job.
I went back and checked out Bantamweight’s first release, 2019’s EP Fear, and it’s far more atmospheric. It’s still quite good, but it doesn’t have the progressive metal complexity, heaviness, and drive that Sounds + Haptics has. Nevertheless that first release has a lot of interesting synth elements and thick bass tones, which the duo have retained in the big step forward they’ve taken with their second release. With Sounds + Haptics, the band have firmly placed themselves in the halls of contemporary progressive metal. I hear elements of Haken, Pain of Salvation, Leprous, Caligula’s Horse, and the Devin Townsend “wall of sound” effect. With that said, Bantamweight make their own sound in a way that only a metal band made up of a drummer and bassist could.
Yes, that’s right – only drums, bass, and the synths/keyboards both members play. Max Kelly plays drums and keyboards (at the same time!) and Keith Shacklett slays on bass, vocals, and keyboards. Watch one of their music videos or live videos (see below) and be amazed. When playing live, Kelly plays the drums with his right hand and feet while he plays complex keyboard riffs with his left hand. That’s absolutely insane, and he does it all with more skill than most drummers or keyboardists have. Shacklett has a huge gritty bass tone that more than makes up for the lack of electric guitar. His playing style can be compared to someone like Connor Green (Haken), but the role his bass plays in the music is more comparable to Mariusz Duda from Riverside. His voice is perfect for this kind of metal. It has the grit needed in distorted moments, but the mid-range cleans keep their music from becoming overly aggressive.
On this short record, each of the longer, heavier songs is spaced out by shorter instrumental tracks that highlight their more atmospheric edge (except for “The Weight” and “Interim,” which are back to back). These tracks tie all of the songs together, helping it all to sound like one longer epic track. Those synth sounds, which also appear on their longer songs, give their music a fuller sound reminiscent of Riverside or Devin Townsend. But again, they sound like themselves. The syncopated drumming, complex bass riffing, and Shacklett’s distinct voice bring Bantamweight to impressive heights.
“The Weight” is probably my favorite track on the record. I can’t help but headbang to that heavy drumming. With that wonderful mixture of synths, drums, bass, and vocals, I don’t miss the lack of lead guitars. I love the way the song goes from heavy to calm in parallel passages.
“Hellion” and “Fall Away” are two more standout tracks, with musical complexity and catchy choruses abounding. In a nice handwritten note Max Kelly sent me along with the CD the band sent me, he noted that “Fall Away” has over 400 layers in the mix. That’s a Devin Townsend-level of dedication, and also where DT gets his “wall of sound” effect. And much like Hevy Devy, these guys can also play all of that live through the use of multiple synthesizers and sample pads. Most impressive.
I honestly can’t recommend Bantamweight highly enough. Sounds + Haptics is fantastic. It pulls far above its weight. The band name is fitting since there’s only two members of the band, yet they create a sound that larger bands have taken years to perfect. This is the prog metal album of the summer for me. Even though the band’s influences are clear, their sound ends up being totally unique because of the core drum and bass sounds. These guys could hold their own in a music festival featuring the top names in progressive metal. Record labels take note – Bantamweight could (and should) be the next best thing in prog metal. I can’t wait to hear what’s next.
Artamene, 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.
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.
I’ve been sitting on the promo CD for Ottawa, Ontario band The Rebel Wheel’s latest album, Simple Machines, for a while, although I’ve been listening to it a fair amount. The album has been a pleasant surprise for me. I’ve enjoyed it every time I’ve listened to it. The Canadian three-piece is comprised of Andrew Burns (bass, keyboards, vocals, producer), David Campbell (guitars, keyboards, vocals), and Alex Wickham (drums, keyboards, vocals).
While The Rebel Wheel have several albums and several decades under their belt, Simple Machines finds them making a few changes, with every band member contributing to the writing and a different band member producing it compared to past records. Their overall sound is hard to pin down, as it is rather varied. I think Primus must be a major influence for Andrew Burns, who produced the record. Skimming through their discography on Bandcamp, I definitely recognize some similar musical ideas, but a Primus influence sounds much more prominent on Simple Machines. I hear this in some of the vocals, particularly on “Inclined Plane” and “Wheelsuitewheel,” as well as in the funk-influenced brand of metal on the album. That influence is present in the music and vocals, but not in the lyrics, which are rather simple in their construction, yet still deep with meaning. Not surprisingly I also hear a Discipline-era King Crimson influence in the guitars and bass.
With those two prominent influences there is still plenty of room for innovation. Some of the music almost approaches metal, if we’re going to call what Primus does a kind of metal. But it’s probably more accurate to call The Rebel Wheel progressive rock with heavy a jazz influence. The drums are distinctly jazzy. The bass drives the songs with guitars adding the flourishes and the keyboards filling the soundscape. There are experimental moments too, such as on the eleven and a half minute-long final track.
Even though I’ve made the connections to both Primus and King Crimson, the resulting record sounds quite unique and fresh. A King Crimson influence might be common enough in the prog world (I mean, who hasn’t been influenced by them to at least some degree), but Primus not so much. With the more progressive synth sounds, the record takes on its own life. The vocal harmonies add a nice touch. There’s even some blisteringly heavy guitar at points that remind me of Rush, but I’ll leave that to you to find those moments in the album.
I highly recommend The Rebel Wheel and their latest album. It’s a welcome departure from the Neo-prog territory common amongst most straightforward “prog” bands today. It’s got a crunch and a pleasant quirkiness that doesn’t blend into a symphonic backdrop. It grabs your attention. You won’t find too many other bands making music that sounds quite like this.
Baltimore, Maryland-based progressive metal duo Intentional Trainwreck return in May with the release of the sophomore studio album “Smokestack of Souls,” a follow-up to 2014’s “The Accident.” Singer and guitarist Pete Lesko and drummer Patrick Gaffney speak for Progarchy about the new material, challenges, prog scene in 2021, and more.
You are about to launch a new full-length album with Intentional Trainwreck entitled Smokestack of Souls. How do you feel about the release?
PL: I feel great about the release. The material on it is solid and none of the tracks are filler. Everyone I’ve played it for so far has had good things to say at worst. I write material for this band which, as a fan of music, I would like to hear. And I think that comes through strongly in the compositions, production, and performances.
PG: We are definitely stoked for the release of Smokestack of Souls. We’ve made massive improvements in our musicianship, songwriting, recording and production. We’re using more online resources as a mechanism to reach a wider, more-specific audience. This is exciting because we know there are a lot of people who enjoy new and interesting music. We believe in the music, stand behind it, and endorse it passionately.
Where does the new record stand comparing to the debut album—2014’s The Accident?
PG: Frankly, Intentional Trainwreck has left the Accident in a pile of its own rubble and dust. Unfortunately, we still love playing songs such as “Lunchbox” and “Metric” so we can’t be in complete denial of the Accident’s existence. In comparison, Smokestack of Souls has a production which towers over the Accident and there are obvious improvements in the vocals, musicianship, and technicality of the songwriting. Smokestack of Souls is heavier; it’s more aggressive; the songwriting is more mature and it is a new beginning. This is certainly a professional effort and we made sure it is something that average listeners as well as those with a trained ear will get into.
PL: I think the new record blows the debut album completely out of the water. The writing and production on this record is more cohesive overall. I stopped smoking just before the Accident was released and began to focus a lot more on getting better vocals down, which it turns out is a lot easier to do when you can breathe! In general, we were able to avoid a lot of the mistakes that we made the first time around.
How much of a challenge was it to work on Smokestack of Souls?
PL: A massive challenge was avoiding the production pitfalls of the Accident while doing most of the recording and all of the mixing and mastering for the new album. There were so many points when I just wanted to throw in the towel. In particular, during the last year as the album was on the precipice of release, I was working in the healthcare industry which was not getting less busy but rather the exact opposite. My family was mostly stuck at home and, on top of this, I was doing guitar tracks and some vocal recordings for Isenmor’s Shieldbrother. So, things became rather chaotic to manage. This coupled with the challenges of writing guitar parts, lyrics, vocal melodies, and even bass parts! Because Mike was unable to record a number of bass parts, there are a few of tracks on Smokestack of Souls featuring me on every instrument except drums.
PG: Intentional Trainwreck always challenges itself to write better and more interesting music. It’s not a big deal because we are creative and constantly have new ideas to share. But we still needed to make sure that we held ourselves to a high level of songwriting. And, we know our audience likes to have expectations met and surpassed.
Another challenge was improving listenability. We know the Accident should have sounded better and we owe it to everyone to improve the production and sound quality on Smokestack of Souls. Pete spent a lot of time on his studio techniques for mixing and mastering. He ended up doing a fantastic job. Also, we never stopped rehearsing the parts, so you’ll notice better vocals, drums, and guitars all around.
And, the global pandemic was a huge challenge which delayed everything from rehearsals to live shows. We are extremely lucky in that we still have our health, but it has made things very difficult for rehearsing and mixing the music. And we’ve missed seeing our friends and fans during live performances more than words can say.
Speaking of challenges, have you set any in the early phase of what has become the final result?
PG: The most noticeable challenge associated with the finished product has got to be the way in which music is distributed, marketed, and obtained by the listener. The traditional process of creating CDs, sending them off for review and making a lot of noise to get people to buy them is no longer the norm. The new model involves digital distribution via online submission of files and artwork which all needs to have codes assigned so that royalties can be tracked across a myriad of social media and distribution platforms. And, marketing through videos and playlists is ever more popular and unavoidable. So, in many ways it seems like we’ve gone from a band creating an album to social media entity associated with music. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it increases the scope of work and schedule of an album release tenfold.
PL: That’s an interesting question, I don’t know that I had specifically or explicitly talked about it, but I certainly wanted to make sure is that the next album was going to be better than the first one. When I went into writing, I didn’t want to write songs that people say well that kind of neat, I went into the process with the intent of writing songs that hopefully would become some folks’ favorites that they slam on a loop.
Tell me about the topics you explore on these new songs.
PL: We explored a lot of dark places on Smokestack of Souls – the uglier parts of society that can crush a person into a tuna can. Inner-darkness tolls on a person. But we also explore some lighthearted subjects like the philosophical deconstruction of what quality is, and even one about playing dungeons and dragons.
PG: There are several topics presented in Smokestack of Souls, and they all come from places close to the heart. For example, the audience-friendly “Basilisk’s Gaze” is a story derived from one of Pete’s D+D games and takes the listener on an epic journey through a fantasy realm. The video for this song adds a level of surreal exploration. “Family and Friends” comes from real-life emotions and situations; some topics are based on political unrest (“Charismatic Agenda”) and some pertain to individual strife (“Kamikaze Tom”). “Phaedrus” involves metaphysical communication on the smallest levels. The subject matter of the songs usually comes about after the music has been written but the two become intricately tied together as a composition develops.
What is your opinion about the progressive rock/metal scene in 2021?
PG: The music scene in general is amazing. We are blessed to live in times when you can search for and find excellent new music in a matter of seconds. Sharing information and music is easier than it has ever been. The progressive rock/metal scene is alive and well albeit a slightly different one when compared to 20 or 30 years ago. There will always be extremely talented and innovative musicians out there; however, today you are more likely to hear music which is heavier and much faster at times than previously. Perhaps you’ll find new bands which are darker and edgier than before. And, the amount of technical shredding today seems to have surpassed that of the past prog-metal scene. But the classics won’t go away either. The founders of progressive rock and metal had something which, to this day, remains quite unique and inspiring.
PL: With the Internet these days, the number of options can be overwhelming! Lots of amazing music is being made right now and I have been trying to make a regular habit of listening to new music as much as I can. It’s a competitive field, but I’m hoping this is one that stands apart.
I’m well aware of Patrick’s involvement with Cerebus Effect, and one of my personal favorite acts in the last two decades—Deluge Grander. As someone who has been involved within the scene for a long time, would you say that the genre has progressed or did it reach its peak long time ago?
PL: Oh, that’s something I just don’t talk about, not since the accident.
PG: “Progress” can embed itself into music in many ways. And, what constitutes progress is subjective. Personally, I feel that progress lies more in whether things like your creativity, conceptual approach and efforts continue to grow and bring forth interesting results and likeable sonic passages. I feel there is an opulence of new music stretching the realms of progressive rock and metal. While certain bands and musicians may have reached their peak, in no way do I feel that progressive rock and metal are even close to stagnant. Sometimes, the distinction between music genres gets a little blurry but, in the end, there is a variety of thriving genres really close to and including prog rock/metal.
Let me know about your influences—the artists that in a way shaped and continue to shape the music of Intentional Trainwreck.
PG: This is a loaded question because I am continuously inspired. As mentioned, I believe the world of music is constantly presenting amazing works. None the less, when I was 11 or 12 years old, my older brother’s friend played Jeff Beck’s Blow by Blow, Dixie Dregs’ Freefall and Yes’ Fragile albums for me. That was the first time I’d heard anything outside of pop and classical music. I knew right away that my musical direction had changed forever. Since then, I am thankful for and motivated by so many. To name just a few drummers – Carl Palmer, Dave Kerman and Trilok Gurtu each took me to new levels of inspiration. I can’t say that my performances on Smokestack of Souls sound overtly like any other drummer; yet, without my influences I’m sure my drumming would sound less inspired.
PL: I draw in influences from bands like Mastodon, Gojira, and Devon Townsend Project, and the sound I try to go for is a cross between a few different guiding principles. I mean, it must be, if not heavy, something dark or scary or something like that. I want riffs that bring you time signatures, keys, and scales that you wouldn’t expect, but I like to find a solid grounding element in each song, a hook if you will. I like growly vocals sometimes, but only if they are decipherable? That’s important to me; I don’t want to be just another cookie monster sounding band, and most of the vocals on this album are melodic anyway. I like songs with a complex groove that follows something catchy enough that you could sing it around a campfire. That’s not to say that indecipherable vocals don’t have their place in the right context, but I think that’s not us for the most part. I have these bands that I listen to and I’d say that’s the kind of goal I’m going for, but I am all about pretty much every kind of music. My taste is eclectic in that I like pop, classical, metal, jazz, country, electronic, indie, soundtrack stuff, and more obscure outsider music. I try to do my best to pull from those influences and build that into what kind of strange, but digestible, heavy metal kind of music we do, because I want music that is… mmm, without boundaries, but still with boundaries? Quantum metal, if you may.
What are your top 5 records of all time?
Megadeth – Rust in Peace
Archspire – Relentless Mutation
Meshuggah – Destroy Erase Improve
System of a Down – Mezmerize
Alice In Chains – Dirt
Allan Holdsworth – Secrets
Univers Zero – Uzed
Watchtower – Control and Resistance
Jeff Beck – Blow by Blow
John McLaughlin with Shakti – Natural Elements
Besides the release of the album, are there any other plans for the future?
PG: Playing gigs is a huge future goal. We really have a connection to our audiences and want to get back in front of people. I love to play live because it gives me an opportunity to give back to all the musicians who have inspired me.
We have a ton of music just waiting to be formed into songs. So, technically, there is already an album in the works.
And, thanks to the hope of successful COVID-19 vaccinations, we will most likely be rehearsing and writing together…in the same room! There is a true element of brotherhood and comradery when we work together. It is indeed a friendship that also rocks out pretty hard.
PL: We’re hoping to eventually get back out and start playing some shows. But right this second, I’d like to reach into the riff box and start putting some new material together. The ideas have been sort of piling up. I just they just need some time to arrange them into songs instead of a heap of disorganized noodlings.
Any words for the potential new fans?
PL: Thanks for listening! I know that it’s not easy for everybody to find the time to listen to new things, and I appreciate them spending the time to check us out. We’ll be releasing some music videos, and I’ll be putting together some play through videos for social media once the album is released. Make sure to follow us on Instagram and subscribe to the Youtube channel!
PG: Please don’t judge us on our past so much as the present. We have come a long way and Smokestack of Souls is a perfect place for new listeners of Intentional Trainwreck to start. Write us an email or hit us up on a social media to let us know who and where you are. It’s nice to know your fan base and it gives us a good idea to where we might want to travel and perform. Also, if there are people reading this article who are unfamiliar with our Top 5 albums, listen to that stuff, too. Finally, be safe and take care of yourself.
“Smokestack of Souls” is out on May 15th. Follow Intentional Trainwreck on Facebook for future updates.
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.