Trailight – The Primitive Mountain

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What are you supposed to do when you’ve got a love of Rush, progressive metal, Tool and all things prog? That’s right, you head off and make one of the most immersive and complete prog rock escapades that you are likely to hear this year. The musical talent in question here is Vancouver’s Omer Cordell, who, like many of his Canadian brethren, spent his formative years aping Neil Peart on his own drum kit, doubtless dreaming of emulating his teenage hero. A formative career in photography has now morphed into bringing his passion to life; the results, the ambitious ‘The Primitive Mountain’ (Independent/Bandcamp) are never less than interesting and, occasionally, absolutely terrific.

As can often be the case with prog, new records can be worn down by the sum total of their influences. Given prog fans ability to spot a minor chord change on one record and know that it’s previously appeared on a King Crimson b-side from 1969, it’s often a minor miracle that new records bring additional nuance and verve to the overloaded musical table. Trailight‘s debut The Primitive Mountain does that. And how.

Cordell has surrounded himself with some seriously talented musicians and whilst the phrase, ‘supergroup’ isn’t something that should be uttered in polite or serious company, there is some significant CV quality from the likes of former Annihilator vocalist Dave Padden and drummer Ryan Van Poederooyen who spends a lot of time with that other Vancouver based polymath, a certain Devin Townsend. This is the sort of group where one’s instinct would suggest that these guys know exactly what they are doing. Your instinct would be right.

There is a joy and a happiness to the songs on The Primitive Mountain that is infectious. From the Tool like strains of opening track ‘Open Doors’, down through the prog metal powerhouses of ‘We Are The Ocean’ and ‘Frail Human Form’, this is a record that revels in its inventiveness, positively lies back on its metaphoric chaise lounge, offering us new idea after new idea like an over enthusiastic confetti thrower at a wedding. The title track acts as a veritable tent pole for the whole album: reflective and ambitious, both of the personal life described therein and the musical soundtrack that has been created. Three minutes of introspection give way to second half that is determined, driven and resilient.

‘Passer By’s melody and the harmony of ‘A Thousand Years’ are both songs of delicate loveliness whilst the acoustic strains of ‘Navarino’ will have the hairs on the back of your neck standing proudly on end. Closing track ‘Beyond the Rubicon’ is an absolute highlight, a brilliant distillation of the album’s themes and tenor, a soundtrack with a third party narrator that ruminates on man’s plundering of his environment which is by turns reflective, philosophical and plaintive.

There is a hoary old cliche of records being a bit of a “grower” which is often shorthand for a writer not paying enough attention to the record in the first place or changing their mind about a record’s quality because their mates now love it. Let’s be clear about this: The Primitive Mountain delivers immediately and then delivers even more upon repeated listens because it’s a record made with care and consideration. It’s a record made with love, for goodness sake. Sometimes you need to scratch that itch.

 

8.5/10

MAT DAVIES

The Tangent – A Spark In The Aether

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Over the course of their thirteen year history, UK prog rockers The Tangent have undergone several personnel shifts and taken altered musical paths, including their previous 2013 album Le Sacre du Travail (InsideOut) which took a melancholic turn into more orchestral territory; an effort which was as grandiose as it was difficult to delve into for newcomers.

Now after yet another lineup dissolution, founding and sole original member (and leader) Andy Tillison has brought in a few familiar faces in the shape of Jonas Reingold, Theo Travis, Luke Machin and Morgan Agren; and a new album that sees a return to their classic prog rock roots. To give its full title A Spark In The Aether: The Music That Died Alone – Volume Two (InsideOut) represents a nod to their debut, and the influential artists of prog’s golden era.

Where their previous album was a much more sullen affair than usually expected, A Spark…is strikingly upbeat and colourful. Opening track ‘A Spark In The Aether’ is a particularly joyous number, with its immediate and familiar synth tone and buoyant tempo. What’s also prominent is how immediate the album is, even despite its unwavering excess that classic prog is notorious for. Only one track goes past the 20 minute mark; the glorious ‘The Celluloid Road’ which still captivates throughout.

There are signs of a loose concept about prog rock, and in particular its golden era of the 70’s, notably over ‘Codpieces & Capes’ and the following ‘Clearing The Attic’. The former clearly pays homage to the cartoonlike but endearing characteristics of the likes of Jethro Tull, whilst lyrically it follows the loyal prog fan as he wonders whether one’s prog idols care, making reference to both the past and present. It even throws in a cheeky reference to Neal Morse’s relatively new found Christianity. The latter also references the state of prog, even incorporating intricate, seemingly improvised jazz elements.

All throughout A Spark… proves the perfect blend of classic sounding progressive rock, which has the warmth of the classics but does so with its own sense of identity. All the while making clear, uncryptic references to such music sonically and lyrically; both tongue in cheek and celebratory. A magnificent return for one of contemporary prog’s stalwarts.

9.0/10

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CHRIS TIPPELL

Barren Earth – On Lonely Towers

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All too often bands are saddled with the ‘Progressive’ tag simply by sharing musical qualities with those few truly evolutionary bedrocks of our musical realm, without actually delivering anything unique or revolutionary whatsoever. Thank fuck for the likes of Barren Earth who are at least trying to offer something new, with their hybrid sound which shows signs of pushing a few boundaries and moving the band into a territory of their own.

Now on a leading label in the form of Century Media, these melancholy merchants have upped their game even further with On Lonely Towers, truly showcasing their diversity in sound. With gloom ridden doom metal at its foundation, this also encompasses 70’s progressive rock’s adventurous side and a contrasting death metal ferocity; perfectly veering from extremity and pace through a moody crawl, with even hints of a more folk-like, colourful atmosphere in part.

Jon Aldara’s vocals are a true highlight and prove the band’s real trump card; at times giving a particularly expressive harsh growl, before pitching to a dark, Scott Walker like croon; all immersed in sincerity and unbridled emotion. Impressively despite this sheer range going on, everything flows and fits superbly, never feeling forced or out of place, but wholesome.

The prog tag is too often afforded to those who merely ape rather than set new ground; but it is bands like Barren Earth that hold the candle to forward thinking and keep it burning. Whilst not being an entirely radical departure from the status quo for some it adopts the mantra against the tried and tested, and, even more startling, even hints at further ambition to come. A band that have never really grabbed the headlines but have always been a formidable presence; and with On Lonely Towers they have shown themselves as surely one of prog metal’s brightest lights.

9.0/10

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CHRIS TIPPELL

Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar

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The emphasis on metal music emanating from outside of the Western world has become an increased focus in recent years, and is rightfully celebrated as highlighting our music world’s inclusiveness to all forms of society and regions. Israel as one such example has shown in the last few years a plethora of prog-minded metal acts, from homegrown titans Orphaned Land to lesser known but equally special acts like Distorted Harmony.

Having actually been existent since 1997, Subterranean Masquerade are hardly a new band to add to the list, but their not so prolific back catalogue means they will be an unearthed gem for many; a notion which will hopefully change with their latest album.

The Great Bazaar (Taklit) is the band’s first full length release in 10 years (their second in total) and sees a new singer in Kjetil Nordhus, and a new feeling of energy, being described by guitarist TomerPink as finally feeling like a band and not a project; and it is noticeable.

Their sense of diversity on record is still present but it all feels all the more cohesive than before, like they have really found their feet. At its core this takes influence from the 70’s greats of Prog, intertwined with Eastern instrumental elements and modern death metal; with a major Opeth vibe present in style and how it flows, vocally and sonically through cleaner melodies to visceral heaviness without warning. Look a little deeper and there are even more traits slightly hidden away, for example opening track “Early Morning Mantra” has an underlying Ska current, but without sounding daunting or out of place; whilst instrumental piece “Nigen” sees the flute taking the spotlight.

It is very easy to pick out their influences throughout, and at times it does sit very closely to other band’s formulas so is far from being completely revolutionary; but Subterranean Masquerade certainly execute it all very well, and with tremendous fluidity which makes it all seem wholesome. It may have been a long time coming but The Great Bazaar is a strong effort which further highlights the progressive mindset is present further afield.

7.0/10

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CHRIS TIPPELL

Year Of The Goat – The Key and the Gate

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It’s been two years since Swedish retro rockers Year of the Goat released their debut album, Angels’ Necropolis and the band is back with a new release, the three track The Key and the Gate EP (Napalm)

Fans of their debut will be pleased to know that their brand of Satan-themed retro pop-rock is still firmly in place, and this EP suggests the next album will be more of the same and up to the same standard.

Featuring a classic NWOBHM twin-guitar lead, the opening title track is very melodic and hook driven. Frontman Thomas Sabbathi’s smooth croons the catchy choruses, while there’s a host of infectious riffs and impressive solos. It’s fun but a bit lightweight. The seven-minute ‘Magic Mountains’ is a slower, blues-inspired classic rock number. Anyone who liked Graveyard’s Light’s Out release will enjoy its haunting power. Filled with classy solos, it’s a great track and easily the highlight of the EP. Closer ‘Non-Euclidean Calculus’ may sound promising, but in reality is little more than a glorified outro; a 70s prog style instrumental of atmospheric keyboards and moogs, it’s a long wind down from an enjoyable but not overly exciting EP.

6.0/10

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DAN SWINHOE

Taake – Stridens Hus

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They’ve left it a bit late to try and muscle in on everyone’s end of year lists, but Norwegian Black Metal outfit Taake’s new album might just cause a few people to have a rethink. Stridens Hus [‘Battle House’] (Dark Embrace) is Taake’s sixth album since 1999 – which are always released at three year intervals – and it’s a corker.

The one man project from Hoest has fashioned a mix of traditional nasty black metal with an aura of accessibility. The production values are good – raw, but not unlistenable, while the music itself features a variety of different textures that need multiple listens to really appreciate.

Opener ‘Gamle Norig’ combines Hoest’s evil, rasping vocals with riffs parts reminiscent of Still Life-era Opeth (Peaceville). The song peaks and troughs, swinging from abrasive to almost melodic guitar work. The six-minute ‘Orm’ starts as a fairly standard Black ‘n’ Roll number before belting out some solos that wouldn’t sound of place on 70s prog album and then morphs into an epic blackened doom monster featuring monk-like chanting. It’s exciting, heavy and enjoyable.

What makes Stridens Hus so listenable is the variety on offer. Taake have a whole host of ideas crammed into each song, where so many others would only have one or two. The seven minute ‘Det fins ens Prins’ combines blasting drum beats with chanting, spoken word, quiet interludes and epic passages. There’s flourishes of thrash moments that recall Volcano-era Satyricon, and a few that bring to mind Dark Medieval Times (both Moonfog)

Plenty of focus on the music – long guitar-focus parts; the instrumental ‘En Sang til Sand om Ildebrann’ could almost pass for classic melo-death before leading straight into the pure filth of ‘Kongsgaard bestaar’; which combines the soul-shrivelling blast beasts and rasping screams at the start with a host of melodic guitar solos the end. There are times when how a song starts is completely at odds with how it finishes, but it just adds to the journey.

In an overcrowded and samey scene, Taake are one of the few bands to stand out. Stridens Hus is an excellent album – combining the traditional themes and sounds of Black metal and mixing them up with elements to create something familiar yet refreshing.

8.0/10

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DAN SWINHOE