It’s hard to believe that our new feature is two months old! Welcome to the fourth installment of Review Rundown! This iteration brings you a healthy smattering of records from artists that we think you need to know across a variety of genres, from progressive rock to avant-garde black metal! As usual, artist names are linked to their Facebook or another official page, and the album titles are linked to Bandcamp or Spotify. Read on and enjoy!
Stockholm’s Oglin are a new progressive rock band, Leeches and Lowly Worms being their debut album. It’s basically a prog rock playground rife with rock guitar, organ, piano, synths, and surreal lyrics. It’s a concept album about a woman named Charlotte, ‘a fragile soul lost in the world’, the band says. Their sound is eclectic but clean. The songs have a poetic flow to them and they’re delightfully proggy.
If you’ve listened to some popular Pink Floyd material, you’re already pretty well-informed on Oglin’s finer stylistic moments. Organs establish tones nicely, like in the intros of “The Office Cockerel” and “Escape”. Calming and feathery guitar riffs repeat throughout “Customer of Culture”. “Mother” is a creepy track, vocally and lyrically vulnerable. Even though the next song is the album’s actual interlude (cleverly titled “Bridge”), this is the midway point and tonal low-point before the album’s busy climax. It’s cleverly paced, akin to a well-crafted film.
With an eerily abstract story and instrumental accouterments abound, this album fits the mold of artsy progressive rock, but, like all good bands in the genre, comes with a unique flair that’s hard to put into words. Check them out! Score: 8/10
Minneapolis’ indie trio Author chose to release their sophomore album IIFOIIC (an acronym for ‘Is It Far Or Is It Close’) on the first day of 2018. As such, it’s a nice atmospheric gem for us to admire early in the year. The band builds a great soundscape of dreamy, occasionally moody indie rock. It encompasses what I imagine the Midwest feels like with its blistering winters and a dash of natural whimsy. It’s apparent that they aim for an experience rather than just some audible accompaniment.
Your usual instrumental suspects are here: light guitar, drums (programmed and live), bass, synths. All are used rather effectively to paint pretty expansive aural pictures. The title track sounds like it was recorded on a mountaintop, the hum of a cool breeze blanketing the song. “Calm and Clear” has nice distorted crunch on guitars that adds an amount of grit to propel it into rock territory while maintaining lighter rhythms and soaring vocals. Fluttering synths and reverb permeate through “How to Feel” to give it an ethereal feel.
It takes something special to sell me on indie rock, and Author have got it. Genre fans, take a listen. Indie non-believers, listen anyway. Score: 7/10
This record starts with a low hiss, and if you listen closely, you can hear a faint inhalation before the terrifying vocal assault begins wreaking havoc. This one tiny moment really sets the tone for the record by letting the listener know that this ride is going to be not only extreme but pushing the performers to the limit. Made up of three songs, Loss still runs around fifty minutes. Each of these tracks are powerful retching things that wring every drip of extremity from the genres that are represented. Black, doom, noise, and a touch of death, this is metal that is not for the faint of heart.
With the length of these songs all at 14 minutes or more each, there is a lot to digest on every track. Each exists with respect to the others, but can also represent Yhdarl independently. All three are expertly composed and will keep you on the edge of your seat. The standout is the longest at nearly twenty minutes, “Despise – Pity”. This is a record that grabs you by the throat and dangles you over the edge of a cliff. Luckily, I like the view. Loss quickly made its way on to my AOTY watchlist. Score 9.5/10
Germany is home to a lot of great black metal, and one such band is Berlin’s own Verheerer. Their latest, Maltrér, is a galloping romp through some quality songs that are more rousing than most of the black metal I’ve heard this year. After a small instrumental prelude, “Kultyst” gets things going with a genuine rallying cry of a song. The guitars are relentless, and the additional accompanying instrumentation does play its part well. Listeners are treated to a solid production that toys with light atmospheric reverb and some black’n’roll leanings that make for an exciting listen. I even caught a breakdown or two on my listens through Maltrér.
There isn’t any real new ground broken here, but Verheerer are tending to the existing ground quite well. There are a few little issues that I have with the record: the production is a little thin here and there, and overall, some of the songs are forgettable. I did enjoy my time with the record, though, and will more than likely give it a few more spins as the Winter months linger on. I genuinely enjoy the vocal style here, and all in all, this is an approachable black metal record that is comfortable with the past and itself. Score: 7/10
Retrosphere were formed in 2015 with a full line-up, but the band has since dwindled down to a two-piece by the release of their debut full length album In Motion. The style of music here will be very familiar to most: upbeat and guitar-driven melodic instrumental prog metal inspired by Intervals, Polyphia, Sithu Aye, etc. The wailing guitar leads that form the majority of the album hit the mark most of the time (especially when weaved in with jazzy clean progressions). “Fast Forward”, “Viridian”, “Burst”, and “Rogue” have some of the strongest guitar leads, and are the best tracks on In Motion. “Waves” is a stunningly beautiful classical guitar duet, while the clean guitars and bass soloing on “Atmos” provide a fusion-y Animals As Leaders vibe that is also worth noting.
Despite having a tough road getting started as a band, it seems Retrosphere have recovered just fine. If you’re looking for a breath of innovation, you won’t exactly find it in In Motion. However, fans of any of the aforementioned bands should find much to enjoy within the catchy melodies of In Motion. Score: 7/10
For those who are looking for a little innovation in their instrumental prog, look no further than Tetrachromat. Tetrachromat presents a blend of seemingly conflicting concepts that the band has turned into a cohesive and pleasurable listening experience. 8-string guitars provide an extended range, and often hammer out drab and detuned djent riffs à la Vildhjarta, while peaceful atmospheric synths swirl in the background. These parts are usually performed at a slower tempo and add a bit of post-metal/rock to the band’s style (seebPelican, Russian Circles for reference). “Kodama”, my favorite track on the entire record, does not have any ‘metal’ in it at all, and instead delivers a chilled-out jazz feel that reminds me of when BTBAM head into similar territory. Add long stretches of ambient noise throughout the duration of this album, and you end up with a soothing atmosphere that is great chill/zone-out music.
Tetrachromat is an album that takes its time and has nothing to prove, and it is all the better for it. The band’s willingness to experiment without any seemingly preconceived genre restrictions has paid off well. This album is a deep and complex creation, and a warm embrace that I am eager to often return to. Score: 9/10
It’s been a while since I listened to an album which you could label as ‘djent’, and aside from initial misgivings over my choice, I found this record to be enjoyable, groovy, and well worth a listen for fans of the genre and bands like Monuments or Veil Of Maya. These comparisons can be drawn from the sick, but not over the top downpicking à la John Browne, and the raspy screams which reminded me of Veil’s last decent album Eclipse.
Full of gnarly breakdowns that you can see going down a storm live, my favorite track has to be the chunky “Pariah”. The cleans used – whilst heavily filtered – work well with the guitar sweeps that halt the relentless djenting of the band. The atmosphere created is worth a mention, and the production on the record is quality. However, I don’t think this EP is going to set the world ablaze because unfortunately, you’re somewhat flogging a dead horse with this kind of sound. Score: 6.5/10
As the name of both the album and the band suggest, you’re in for a nutty one. Psychic Lemon deliver heaps of fuzzy psych rock to your auditory doorstep. Their 2016 self-titled album was going down a storm, but I will firmly state for the record that I believe Frequency Rhythm Distortion Delay tops it easily, not only in musical quality, but pure damned trippiness too.
The closest band to this I’ve ever listened to would be Amplifier, with Psychic Lemon dropping what I can only really describe as a classic British psych guitar, which Amplifier use heavily in the mix. The jarring percussive work in “Hey Droog!” might be inaccesible to some, but those who appreciate heavy distortion and a wide soundscape will get on well with this album.
I really enjoyed listening out for the weird effects used throughout the album, and this kind of music really locks your attention into the sounds being played. Vocals feature slightly in the album, but you can see that Psychic Lemon are all about that trippy instrumental vibe, which many bands don’t focus on enough. Score: 8.5/10
Sporting a deliberately giddy name and a strong dose of psychedelia, this three-piece from the NYC tri-state area made a loose and casually fun album. Andromeda by Undercover Rabbis is the closest anyone can get to the sound of the 60s without having to listen to actual 60s music. That is a compliment.
While Undercover Rabbis eschew a lo-fi approach that would be all but too easy for ‘retro’ acts to use, they evoke the sound of the ‘flower power’ generation through attitude and playing style alone. They make liberal use of layered vocals and drone singing, a more traditional overdrive guitar sound, and open chords; and yes, they have an organ on some songs. Most importantly, Andromeda sounds like it was recorded without the benefit of a metronome. It takes superior musicianship to pull this off, and Undercover Rabbis definitely have it. Add in some sludge and some heavier, noisier moments, and the result is a balanced listening experience. Retro things tend to appeal to narrow audiences. The people who like that sort of thing will love Andromeda, but even the generally ‘rock-curious’ will find something to like on this album. Score: 7/10
A list of this band’s attributes reads almost like the weather report about a cliché storm: power trio from LA, groove-oriented, instrumental progressive post-rock/semi-metal, laden with samples to fill the void left by a lack of vocals. Night Verses almost have the deck stacked against them because of their chosen formula.
Night Verses offer quite a bit of variety in the Copper Wasp EP’s three songs (at 13 minutes total – it is more akin to an extended single than a true EP). The funky grooves set them apart from many instrumental bands; the guitars convey a number of moods with style and conviction. Every instrument gets its moment to shine. The guitars do this for the most part, but every song has a moment of drumming fireworks, and closing track “Vantablonde” has some amazing lead bass playing.
But make no mistake about it, Copper Wasp is formulaic. The EP’s songs are short jams, not sweeping progressive epics. As stated before, the guitar predominates, and the dialog samples so clearly were intended to fill in musical gaps that one cannot help but wonder why Night Verses did not just get a singer. Score: 6/10
And that’s a wrap! Thanks for stopping by, and we’ll see you all again in two weeks!