Category Archives: Prog Metal

Favorite Metal(ish) Albums Of 2012

‘Tis the season for year-end lists of what everyone and their dog thinks are the best albums of the past year, as well as the incredibly pretentious and elitist mindsets that come with them. I’m not going to pretend I know what’s best for anyone, but I do know that there are definitely albums I enjoyed much more than others, despite some critical flaws in some of them. My tastes can be a bit whacky at times, but I’m pretty sure that there are at least a few people out there who will be curious to know what my favorites are, so I will be sharing them.

But not here.

Instead, I’ll be doing a series of posts over at Under The Gun Review that will double as a countdown to when we’re free of the holiday hell that is the month of December.

Because they’re happening one at a time, I’ll be posting the list as it goes live day by day over at UTG in list form here.

#25: RIITTIIR by Enslaved (read it)
#24: Results by Murder Construct (read it)
#23: Awakened by As I Lay Dying (read it)
#22: Ex Lives by Every Time I Die (read it)
#21: Failed States by Propagandhi (read it)
#20: Eremita by Ihsahn (read it)
#19: Dead End Kings by Katatonia (read it)
#18: Les Voyages De L’Âme by Alcest (read it)
#17: Autotheism by The Faceless (read it)
#16: All Hail The Void by Enabler (read it)
#15: Legend by Witchcraft (read it)
#14: Death Is The Only Mortal by The Acacia Strain (read it)
#13: No Matter Where It Ends by Black Sheep Wall (read it)
#12: Book Burner by Pig Destroyer (read it)
#11: Parallax II: Future Sequence by Between The Buried And Me (read it)
#10: Monolith Of Inhumanity by Cattle Decapitation (read it)
#9: Incongruous by Beneath The Massacre (read it)
#8: All We Love We Leave Behind by Converge (read it)
#7: CVI by Royal Thunder (read it)
#6: Danza IIII: The Alpha – The Omega by The Tony Danza Tapdance Extravaganza (read it)
#5: Hasta La Muerte by Xibalba (read it)
#4: A Flash Flood Of Color by Enter Shikari (read it)
#3: Yellow & Green by Baroness (read it)
#2: Koloss by Meshuggah (read it)
#1: L’Enfant Sauvage by Gojira (read it)

Obzerter – Absence of Colour [Review]

Obzerter - Absence of Colour

Remember a time when Static-X was actually a good metal band? Well, it’s a bit of a stretch, but at least they were halfway decent and interesting on their first couple albums with whatever style of music you’d pigeon-hole them into. Now imagine if they actually WERE a pretty good metal band, now wouldn’t that be something?

Enter UK-based band Obzerter. About a decade since Static-X’s last decent album (Machine, for those not keeping track), Obzerter has decided to build their throne on top of the foundation they built, and a mighty (albeit short) throne it is. It comes in the form of a five-song EP called the Absence of Color EP. It’s a rather lengthy EP, clocking in at just a pinch over thirty minutes (which is longer than the full album I had as my number one selection in 2008, for comparison’s sake).

While vaguely reminiscent of Static-X on the vocal front, continuing this weak comparison does Obzerter no justice at all. I would also imagine it’s just a huge coincidence that the vocal stylings on this EP are very similar to Wayne Static’s at times. It also does the band no justice because I’m sure there aren’t many people that feel as fondly as I do about Static-X’s first two albums.

Absence of Color is a fairly fresh amalgamation of a lot of very distinct styles of American metal. There’s a distinct feel of the “New Wave Of American Heavy Metal” in there with the amount of groove found in each song (even though they’re from London). Tempo changes, different styles of licks and riffs, this album has a lot of stuff on it. Even with the breadth of material this album has, it only loosely fits under the “progressive metal” umbrella.

The production is about what you can expect from an unsigned band recording an EP. It’s not terrible by any means, and the rawness really brings out the ferocity in a lot of the riff and vocal pairings.

Though it’s not the bet EP I’ve ever heard, it at the very least peaks my interests in what’s next for the band. It shows a ton of promise, so long as they can keep the pace. They’ve got plans to re-record Damage and prepare for a second EP. Check out “Absence of Colour” below and share your thoughts below!

The Ciem Show – Lifelike Scenes [Review]

When thinking of what the term “progressive” means in the metal world in 2011, it doesn’t really mean that the music it is attached to is really progressive, but rather that it fits into a certain sound or style loaded with technical proficiency. Bands like Dream Theater and Symphony X could be considered part of the reason for this. Some bands, however, are looking to atone for this watered-down meaning of the “progressive” label in metal.

Enter The Ciem Show and their 2010 release Lifelike Scenes. Sonically, the album might be able to find its home right alongside Dream Theater and Symphony X, but I’d be lying if I said that was the whole story. This album floats around through all sorts of metal styles; from the djent intro of “Scene II: Evolution Sickness: i. Existing Without Being / ii. Being Without Existing” to the melodically difficult “Scene V: Effects of Somnambulism” The Ciem Show aren’t afraid of mixing in whatever inspires them to their music.

Doom metal, power metal, heavy metal, djent: it’s all here in Lifelike Scenes. You even get a really good taste of the virtuosic playing that many prog-heads have come to love from their genre. The solo towards the end of “Scene VI: Theme for Lost Children” is fantastic, floating between jazz melodies and the heart-wrenching melodies found in some of the more somber heavy metal ballads.

There are really only two faults of Lifelike Scenes. First, the mixing makes it a bit difficult to hear and appreciate the intricacy of each of the instrumental layers on many of the songs. There are multiple instances on the album where the bass just becomes lost in the mix. The second is that the album just feels a bit short for a prog album, clocking in at only 36 minutes (seven songs).

Even considering the albums couple shortcomings, it’s still a great listen and worth checking out if you’re looking for some solid prog metal. You can pick the album up for free from The Ciem Show’s Bandcamp page. Let’s be serious, since you can get it for free, there’s no reason not to listen to it.

For fans of: Ayreon, Dream Theater, Symphony X

From Exile – Monolith [Review]

From the heart of the south, Atlanta metal band From Exile are one of the few bands out there that refuse to be pigeonholed. Self dubbed as “progressive thrash metal” they truly transcend that, touching nearly every style of melodic metal out there on Monolith, the band’s second full length album. Currently, From Exile is only comprised of two members, and the band is without a label.

From Exile Monolith

Instantaneously when I began playing Monument I knew I was onto something interesting. Upon the first guitar chord, my only thoughts were about how horrible the recording/mastering work on this album was going to be. Fortunately, it was just an adjustment/placement issue. Upon further listening, the sound of the album turned out to be the defining factor for the album. When I spoke with Eric (guitars, keys, vocals), he said “it is truly a massive record” – something I was immediately skeptical of. I wish that I could come up with some better way to describe the album as succinctly as Eric, but I can’t. I simply concur, and state: this is one massive record.

More interesting than the sound itself is the styles the band plays in, and the incredible songwriting on the album. Unlike band such as Opeth, metal bands regarded as incredible songwriters, From Exile does not need fifteen minutes to write an incredibly deep and engaging song. The whole album spans only a mere 32 minutes, but is some of the most dense and prolific composing I have heard in such as small time frame. Monolith features a substantial amount of complex guitar work, including guest solos from Eyal Levi and Emil Werstler (of Dååth). Among all the dense and complex musicianship on the album, there is a lot of material I feel as though I have heard before. Not in the sense that it is old and played out, but a warm and familiar way. From Exile have presented many themes from their various influences with a fresh take, almost in a nostalgic way at times.

Easily the most shocking part of the album is the incredible lack of vocals. Amidst the fourth track on the album, “Exhumed”, I realized I had only heard a small handful of vocal lines, none of which were memorable or recognizable, even after a few more listens. At such a short length, the lack of vocals is the biggest downside of the album, though does nothing to lessen the listener experience. In fact, the lack of prominent vocals on the album only solidifies the band in their niche among the “post-metal” and “instrumetal” acts that play off the ambience factor.

Even after sixteen listens through the album, I always run into the same problem: there needs to be more. When the last second of the last track ends, I am not ready or prepared, even given the feel of “In The Faded Silence”. During the album it feels stretched out and that more time has elapsed than really has, but upon finishing the album it is noticeably too short. This is not to say Monolith is an empty or incomplete work. Imagining anything else on this album would ruin it, much like it would ruin Cynic’s Traced in Air to add anything more to its 34 minutes of music. A full and complete work that is compelling enough to deserve more time, but leaves the listener unsatisfied enough to be hooked like a junkie.

Crushing blows followed by majestic and glorious guitar solos, this is most definitely an album that fans of quality shred must hear. For those who are fans of brilliant songwriting, this is also a must hear. For those people who like hook-laden and vocal-centric metal, there is nothing at all here for you. Little to no vocals or obvious hooks can be found on Monolith. When you put this album on, be sure that you have set aside time to listen to it in its entirety, both to do it justice, and because you won’t be able to stop listening until the album is over.

Track picks: “Apparition” and “Veritas”
For fans of: Kris Norris, Dååth, and good quality guitar work
Overall Score: 8 out of 10 devil horns

If this review has piqued your interests, you can buy the album from the band’s MySpace page for only $7.

Psyopus – Odd Senses [Review]

Odd Senses is the third full-length release from avant-garde/mathcore band PsyOpus, hailing from Rochester, NY. Odd Senses was released on February 17, 2009 on Metal Blade Records.

Psyopus Odd Senses

Psyopus. Holy hell. This band might be the craziest band I have ever listened to. Odd Senses is a very fitting album title. The lyrical and subject content on this album is very peculiar. Being somewhat familiar with Psyopus before hearing this album, I had a basic grasp of what I could expect but this album somehow still managed to chock me on my first listen through.

From the out of control time signatures and drumming to the incredible guitar licks to the strange and creepy voiceovers, this album can be a bit much at times. Then, without a moment’s notice there is a track like “A Murder To Child” – a nine minute jazz guitar and violin adventure with no lyrics, and is in a major key (something that is against the rest of the album’s sound). After that is an awesomely hilarious parody track in which, for two minutes it is one plain riff and they lyrics “One way ticket to hell” repeated over and over. For the remaining eighteen minutes of the track things just continue to get more off-the-wall and strange.

This might be the most technically impressive album I have heard in a long time, as well. Amidst all the craziness and non-sensical banter, there are some of the most well-written and performed bass, guitar and drum parts I have heard in a while. If I ever saw Chris Arp (the writer for everything on the album), aka “Arpmandude”, I would bow to him.

Odd Senses is really an album that is brilliant in the way that Primus is brilliant. Incredibly technical playing, lots of strange themes, and you never can be too sure what you’re getting into. Odd Senses is absolutely a must-hear. It really could scar you for life, and you will be sure to end the listen with a fried brain and a lot of confusion. The more listens you give this album the better it gets.

Track picks: “A Murder to Child” and “X and Y”

Overall score: 9/10 devil horns

Interview with Michael Romeo of Symphony X (4/4/08)

So, I know it’s a bit late to be posting something like this, but I found it kicking around my computer and realized it had not been posted anywhere. So, here she is:

Interview with Michael Romeo of Symphony X (Guitarist) – 4/4/2008

On a night at the Middle East (downstairs) in Boston where Symphony X was on the bill with Epica and Into Eternity , I sit in the dressing room/lounge area, waiting with my photographer for Michael Romeo . After a couple of minutes of listening to muddled sound checks, in walks Mr. Romeo, guitar-waving, half open silk shirt-wearing Michael Romeo. At first, I was unsure what to think, until he opened with the words: “Hey there, Michael Romeo. Jordan right? What magazine are you with?” So, I gave him a little preface, and we were off to the races.

[Jordan Munson] – So, we’ve got an interview here with Michael Romeo of Symphony X. So, first off, where did you get your name for Symphony X?

[Michael Romeo] – Where did we get the band name? Uh, well, the keyboard player, me, and the original bass player would pretty much jam in bands in high school. Well, me and the old bass player did at least. We got the keyboard guy later. And we decided to put this band together, and uh, we were writing songs and everything – not even thinking about a name. We didn’t even bother ‘til we had to, when one day we were like, ‘Oh, shit, we don’t even have a name’. So, we started kicking around some names, and to be honest, it didn’t even take much thought. We were more worried about the music, we were more worried about what we were doing. So, you know, the music we were coming up with had the keyboard thing and the guitar, and some classical elements, so the word ‘Symphony’ came up and, so the dramatic thing, you know? So then, somebody said ‘Symphony X’ and we were like, ‘yeah, that’s cool’ it is that kinda thing, and the ‘X’ is the unknown and all the other stuff we do. And so that’s what it was, We didn’t put too much effort into it, and we just went back to writing tunes.

[JM] – So, I read on your biographies that you guys have so many influences, like classical, progressive stuff, some metal and rock stuff back in the day, so do you find it hard to play to all of those influences?

[MR] – Eh, well not really. I mean every album that we do before we start we kinda talk about the direction of the record, you know? With the new record it was more like, let’s go back to some more metal stuff, the real stuff, like [Judas] Priest and [Iron] Maiden and Ozzy and all that stuff. So then for every album we do have a direction. So there wasn’t a need to have any other kind of influences except what is best for the song. And when we were talking about this record we wanted to have more metal tunes and more riffs and guitar-oriented kind of things but at the same time have some of the orchestral stuff you know, like the intro, so there’s a little classical influence on that thing, but you know, it’s a metal tune. It’s always different and you use what you need.

[JM] – So, I noticed all of your albums have their own distinct “flavor” like your last two albums have been themed about epic poems. Do you plan on doing this in the future, making themed albums?

[MR] – Nah, nah, it’s like we’ve been there and done it kind of thing, but it’s cool, though; it’s cool to write like that. Writing more like, for me anyway, you kind of have a direction, and with the material you have something you want to say. So, it is kinda cool, and it is easier for me as a musician, to say, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re gonna do this Paradise Lost thing’ and it’s gonna be the theme of the record, not a concept thing, we’re not gonna say you know, ‘the devil’ and that kind of thing, or try to tell some cheesy story but you know it is more about good and evil and betrayal, an revenge and that stuff so it kind of paints a picture of the music. The riff’s dark, and maybe some choirs, but we kind of did it already, so maybe next time on to something else.

[JM] – So, you’ve compared yourselves to the Pink Floyd’s and the Rush’s of back in the day, being really progressive and pushing the genre. Do you see yourselves down the road, say, 20 years still making records and touring?

[MR] – Well, we’ve been touring for about 12 years now, or something, 13 or whatever the hell it is. I mean, yeah, as long as we’re still passionate about it. You know, and I think we will be, we love what we’re doing. I mean, we don’t think about shit like that. You just have to think ‘Do we feel like doing this?’ or writing, does it do something for you? That’s all that matters.

[JM] – So how do you feel about the Europe tour you just finished up, like, do you think it went well?

[MR] – Yeah, it was good. Everything always gets better I think. You can seethe progress. Doing tours with bigger bands definitely helps. We did Gigantour here with Megadeth and then we went do do our own thing and you could see more fans and its the same thing in Europe. I mean, we always did well in Europe and Japan anyway. We just did a tour with Dream Theater over there, so going back now it was like, oh yeah, there’s a lot of new fans, a lot of new people coming in, it’s always good. And plus, we’ve been touring for a while and the albums were out, there before anyone else in Japan, so we already had a head start. Here we’re trying to catch up a little.

[JM] – How do you feel about the progressive metal and power metal genres these days?

[MR] – I always just look at it as metal, you know? Cause there’s so many bands and sometimes if you try to break it up too much in all the little sub-genres it’s like, like, to me I just look at it as the whole metal thing. We’re all kinda in it together, whether prog metal, or death metal, or whatever hell else there is, it’s our thing and like [Iron] Maiden and any other thing, yeah it’s different, but I try to look at it as a whole. Because then you have Rap and all this other garbage, but the metal thing is our thing. But, yeah, you see a lot of the bands that are doing the metal thing doing well. And you see bands like [Iron] Maiden coming back, and Heaven & Hell, Dio, you’re seeing stuff. I see a lot of younger kids at the shows, kids with the ‘Led Zeppelin’ t-shirts, you know? They’re just finding out about this stuff. It’s cool man.

[JM] – So, for some standard interview questions, do you have any songs that are your favorite to play live?

[MR] – I think I kind of have some favorites, and we’ll try to get ‘em in the set, but usually when we work out a set we try to find the overall set that feels good,you like the flow, we’ll be able to start strong, and maybe come down and play a few mellow songs, and some rockers at the end. We always want some kind of a flow. At that point, it doesn’t matter favorites or not. Whatever song is good. You know, and there are some nights too, where you see the crowd reaction and you know, like, maybe we’re not gonna play this tonight, but what the hell, and the reaction is great, so we’re like ‘shit we gotta play this song more often’. It’s just like we kinda know which one to throw in there. And some we’ll just try. We always try to break it up, too, tonight we’ll play some stuff tonight that we didn’t play last night or whatever.

[JM] – I gotta ask, do you have any crazy stories from the road?

[MR] – {Laughs] There’s just so much, so it’s like… To be honest, it’s not lately either. In the beginning a lot of stupid shit happened, we were young and reckless, we were not… smart about shit, you know what I mean? Doing stupid shit. I think now we’re pretty mellow, we’re pretty comfortable with everything, I mean, there’s always stupid shit that goes on, but there’s not one stories that’s just like ‘My god’ you know? We’re pretty normal dudes, we’re pretty … not too out of control. But we know when to put the reigns on, you know?

Midheaven – The Human Abstract [Review]

Midheaven is the second full album from L.A. Based band The Human Abstract. The band released the album August 19 on Hopeless Records.

The Human Abstract Midheaven

To be quite honest, I had never really heard of this band until a friend suggested I review the album after I asked for suggestion.

I got the album, and feel entirely indifferent about it. The Human Abstract simply try to do too much with this album. The line between too much and not enough is a very fine one, and these guys simply disregarded that there was a line to being with. They decided when writing this that it would be a concept album, and when founding member and guitarist A.J. Minette left, things changed entirely.

Now to get down to business. The vocals on this album are absolutely incredible at times, but utter rubbish at others. The opening track of the album (“A Violent Strike”), being by far the best track in my opinion, most clearly shows the great capabilities of Nathan Ells. Sadly, however, this is the only track where he lets loose on the vocals. “Procession of the Fates” is similar in it’s vocal soundscape, but is quite clear that he pulls the reigns in from what he is capable of.

The guitar work. Oh, where to begin with this. I’ll say this first: never have I heard a more stereotypically erratic and mediocre sound. I could swear that I have heard everything on this album a million times before, and most times in a better way. Sure, they’re fast, who isn’t these days? Oh, sweeps? Everyone can do it, and most people do. If you want to become truly progressive, stop picking bits and pieces from stuff you have heard in rock and metal before, and find influence elsewhere. Now, normally I will not criticize a band for doing something that is not “new and exciting” but I will not hesitate to criticize a progressive band for not being “new and exciting”. The whole idea of being progressive is to push the boundaries, and really have your own unique style, this normally including something entirely new/different. All this album does is smash every different style they have been influenced end-to-end, and in a choppy way at that.

The real strength of this album is it’s ability to appear to a wide range of emotions and people with different tastes. As a person who enjoys a wide range of musical styles, I could appreciate the small things that work well in this album, such as the keyboard parts in “Metanoia”. The soundscape of this album really is impressive, and a bit too much at times. As with many avant-garde, progressive, and mathcore albums the skill of the musicians feels forced all too often. With the mathcore nature of the guitar parts that are used throughout the album this is almost inevitable, with mathcore being the fickle beast that it is.

All in all, I enjoyed the album because of the fronts it was able to deliver on, but it simply is not that good. Mediocre at best.

Track picks: “A Violent Strike” and “This World A Tomb”

Overall Score: 5/10 Devil horns