Finding a standout instrumental progressive metal album in today’s current climate is a bit of an ask, thanks to the multiple Plini & CHON copycats laying siege to the genre. In my own recent experience, it seems like every bit of instrumental prog metal I’ve lent my ears to has been overly complicated, structure-less, MIDI-gasm’s, which neither excite nor groove enough to really put on a pedestal for the world to enjoy. Thankfully Kyle Schaefer (and with him his solo project Archaeologist) has awoken from a two-year slumber, to bring you what I consider one of the hottest instrumental albums of the summer, if not the year.
Jam-packed full of tight guest solos, hard-hitting, punchy grooves and superb composition, this 30-minute EP is, for me, deservedly resting alongside one of my favourite InstruProg records of the last few years, Sithu Aye‘s stunning Set Course For Andromeda. The succinctly powerful word which has kept on creeping into my thoughts as I jammed this album is ‘refreshing’, and just from the very first track on, it’s easy to see why this adjective applies to Archaeologist‘s new EP. Whilst drawing some influence from the aforementioned bands (and featuring Sithu Aye on the third track), this release stands out from the crowd, bringing to the table a great blend of songs which explore a number of facets of instrumental prog, while staying true to the project’s core sounds.
The opening track “Sojourner” gently eases you into the album; I almost like to think of it as a heavier but compact version of Plini‘s three part split. With a splintering solo from Yvette Young (following her violin intro), this track oozes raw, confident style, thankfully not overstepping its limits and being too chock-full of guitar wankery in the process. I feel balance between structure and showmanship is key in instrumental albums; bands like Polyphia shred like a flock of vultures on a dead hippo, with the dead hippo being their metaphorical songwriting talent. Yet Schaefer has truly created something magical here, blending the two effortlessly.
This talent really hits home when you hit track #2, which, as you’re about to find out, is my favourite track from the EP, and possibly one of my top jams of the year. “Vesuvius” erupts in your face with a screeching riff, landing you smack dab in the middle of the signature groove, which reprises throughout the song to magnificent effect. The layering that Archaeologist has popped into this number is magnificent, his lead guitar ever present and the key driving force behind the music. In between the reprising groove, there are excellent bits of climbing guitar, almost as if you’re following the eruption skyward. Thankfully the song doesn’t finish at a point at which you expect it to. Another spectacular solo appears, from Chris Lee of Kinetik fame, before that thundering groove puts the song to bed.
Cue another style switch-up, this time to two fun, boppy tracks, which lead the mind all over the place to be brought back in with tasty servings of distortion. Worth mentioning at this point is the great production on the EP and how tight all the instruments sound in the mix, something Kyle should take pride in seeing that he recorded it himself. Everything sounds clean, with no overbearing instruments, and focus given to the right ones at the right time.
A prime example of this is when you get your ears around the final track of the EP “Quiver”. The guest spot was lent to Gavin Castelon from The Dear Hunter this time, who played keys and synths on the album. His solo was that of the synth variety, and it was great to hear it cut through the mix like a hot knife through butter, tying off what is a fantastic EP. These instruments don’t sound gimmicky, and fit nicely with the structure of the song, which is a hard achievement nowadays, with lots of bands using, for example, gimmicky sax solos.
Something I’d like to see from Kyle next time is more of the chaos that crept up in “Vesuvius”, a little less of the Plini-esque intros and a slightly longer EP. I feel like it was missing a grander finale too, however I am an absolute stickler for crushing fade-outs. Overall I really enjoyed this EP, and I certainly think it should be blasting on everyone’s speakers for the foreseeable future. It’s refreshing, it’s fun, it’s vibrant, what more do you want from your instrumental prog?
Notable Tracks: “Vesuvius”; “Sojourner”; “Quiver”
FFO: Plini, Sithu Aye, Intervals