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! 

 

 

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

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. 

https://www.facebook.com/atravanband
https://atravan.bandcamp.com
Apple Music
Spotify