Four Months, Four Albums – 2021’s Best Thus Far

There has been a lot of music to wade through thus far in 2021. Most good. Some not so much, depending on who you ask. Despite the title of this post, I don’t think my four favorite albums of the year thus far represent each month, but who cares. Let’s go!

Atravan - The Grey LineAtravan – The Grey Line 

This album was the biggest surprise of the year, so far. Out of the blue back in January, Shayan Dinati of Iranian prog-metal band Atravan contacted us about a review of their album. I gave it a listen and immediately discovered this was worth spending a lot of time with. They dwell in the area of prog metal perfected by Riverside – atmospheric and brooding with thoughtful lyrics. Sure, they’ve got room for improvement to reach the heights of Riverside, but this is a great album in its own right. I was hooked right away, and I highly recommend the album. The Dutch Progressive Rock Page had similar praise for Atravan: https://www.dprp.net/reviews/2021-032 

Steve Hackett Under A Mediterranean SkySteve Hackett – Under A Mediterranean Sky

When I heard last year that Mr. Hackett was working on an acoustic album, I was very excited. I’ve really enjoyed his recent solo output. His last three rock albums are some of the best from his entire solo career. But I also really like his acoustic moments, and he doesn’t disappoint on Under A Mediterranean Sky. He takes us on a grand instrumental tour of the Mediterranean, something sorely needed in an age of travel restrictions. The combination of his stunning guitar work, Roger King’s masterfully arranged symphonic notes, and various world instrumentation make this a beautiful and contemplative album. It isn’t rock, but it’s gorgeous. Check out Rick Krueger’s review: https://progarchy.com/2021/02/02/steve-hackett-under-a-mediterranean-sky/

Nad Sylvan Spiritus Mundi album_coverNad Sylvan – Spiritus Mundi 

Nad Sylvan’s latest solo album is a slight departure from his last three albums, but it’s just as good an album, if not better. Putting the poetry of William Butler Yeats to music may not be a new idea, but Nad has done a wonderful job with it. The album has its rock moments, but it also has pastoral tones that haven’t been as prevalent in his work. His voice is top notch with a versatility that shows he is so much more than a Gabriel or Collins sound-alike. Check out Rick Krueger’s recent interview with Nad, and check out my review.

And now for my favorite album of the first four months of 2021…

Soen - IMPERIALSoen – Imperial

Swedish prog metal supergroup Soen can do no wrong, it seems. I first became cognitively aware of Soen a couple years ago through one of the editors at the Dutch Progressive Rock Page, who frequently sang their praises in reviews and best-of lists. I quickly became a fan of their last couple of albums, and I was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled across their new release back in January. I was listening to their 2019 album, Lotus, one Friday evening when I wondered if they had any new music coming out soon. It just so happened that they released Imperial that very day, so I dowloaded it and have been happily enjoying it ever since. It’s heavy when it needs to be, but it can recede to quieter moments when necessary.

Joel Ekelöf has one of the best voices in metal, and he really sets Soen apart. They have a heavy guitar crunch that’s more typical of mainstream metal and hard rock bands, but the music is distinctly progressive. Their melodies and lyrics are catchy yet intelligent. My only complaint with the album is that it isn’t longer. It’s 43 minutes, but I could easily listen to much more. Great stuff. 

https://soenmusic.com

Hopefully the rest of 2021 will be full of more excellent music! 

 

 

The Peaceful Beauty of Nad Sylvan’s “Spiritus Mundi”

album_coverNad Sylvan’s latest solo album, Spiritus Mundi, is one of the finest records released thus far in 2021, and I expect it to be one of the top albums of the year come December. Sylvan brought his vampirate trilogy to a close with 2019’s The Regal Bastard. Spiritus Mundi, which is Latin for “spirit of the world,” departs from the more classic prog sound on his previous three albums, but it hasn’t quite set sail for new genres. Rather it explores different musical territories, including classical, folk, acoustic, and rock, all befitting the beautiful poetry of William Butler Yeats which serve as the lyrics. The musical elements from his previous albums are all here, but they are interpreted in a different way. In an interview with Progarchy’s very own Rick Krueger, Nad expands upon the development of the record and his collaboration with Vermont-based musician Andrew Laitres, so I’ll direct you to that for more info about how the album came to be. 

As it should be, Nad’s voice is the centerpiece on the record. All of the musical elements serve to frame his voice and the lyrics, bringing the poems to life through varying sounds. The baroque elements found on Nad’s vampirate trilogy pop up now and again, such as on “Cap and Bells” and “The Realists,” which I think adds a flavor that is uniquely Sylvan. Laitres also provides some lead and backing vocals, which adds some variety.

Musically the album is more open and relaxed than Sylvan’s previous records. It doesn’t have the heavier rock moments that those albums had, but the lyrics don’t call for it. Nad plays most of the keyboards, as well as some of the acoustic, electric, and bass guitars, and the orchestration. Jonas Reingold and Tony Levin also appear on bass, along with Steve Hackett on the 12 string. The Flower Kings’ Mirkko De Maio appears on drums. There are a few other guests too, but this should give you a sample of what to expect. It seems fitting that Nad, who’s become well-known for his work with Steve Hackett’s touring band, releases this sort of more acoustic and classically inspired record soon after Hackett released a beautiful acoustic album, Under a Mediterranean Sky

I’ll readily admit I’m frequently skeptical when an artist says they’re going in a new direction on their next album. While I didn’t have particular reservations about this album going into it, I was admittedly curious about what that different sound might be. I didn’t expect him to move into some sort of techno-pop trash like Steven Wilson, and thankfully he didn’t. Instead he leaned more heavily into the folk and classical elements that already existed in his music. At times the music is reminiscent of Big Big Train, and at other times I hear bits that remind me of Jethro Tull. The rock is still there though, with a fantastic bass line and slide guitar on “The Fisherman.”

Spiritus Mundi is a well-rounded album that offers a breath of fresh air in a very dark time in our world. Perhaps that is fitting since many of Yeats’ poems offered a similar freshness to the broken and hurting world of the early twentieth century. Nad Sylvan may have taken an unusual path to rock stardom in his 50s and early 60s, but that seems to have brought a maturity to the music he makes. This album is well-crafted, and it is both a fitting tribute to Yeats’ poetry and a wonderful introduction of that poetry to new audiences a century after it was written.

Sylvan is one of the most creative people working under the broad umbrella of progressive rock today. He seems to get better with each passing record. I only hope he gets the chance to tour his own music someday. Check out Spiritus Mundi along with his other solo albums. You won’t be disappointed. 

https://www.nadsylvan.com
https://www.facebook.com/Nadsylvanartist
https://twitter.com/sylvanofficial

Signed albums available from Nad’s webstore: https://www.nadsylvan.com/cd-shop
Or purchase from Burning Shed: https://burningshed.com/tag/Nad%20Sylvan&filter_category_id=261