The further we get into the 21st century, there seems to become a finer and finer line distinguishing musical genres. Prog, being one that has always inherently straddled the barriers between types and schools of sonic entertainment and art as a rule, seems to be ever expanding its definition of what it is or can be called prog. It amazes me how this happens in ways that never cease to surprise me. Part of me wants to be a traditionalist and maintain that prog is associated only with a certain sound that has already been put in place, in other words, the more symphonic or jazz oriented rock music. However, great albums containing more modern elements fall into my lap from time to time and force me to be more inclusive in what I call prog. For better or for worse, I present four albums which span that spectrum. Whether it’s Falloch effectively melding prog, post-rock, and metal, Spock’s Beard with their 90’s pop rock brand of symphonic, Cross’s neo-prog leanings, or the noise and grit of Spiral, I see bands taking prog in a number of directions but somehow always bringing them back towards the symphonic and epic. Happy listening.
Falloch – Where Distant Spirits Remain
There’s some albums that just spill over you in a relaxing sort of way, they carry you to dreamy landscapes where you get lost in a sea of sound. Falloch’s Where Distant Spirits Remain had precisely this effect on me. While I would mostly call this album a post rock album with atmospheric prog elements, there’s a bit of metal in there too I suppose. Ok, there is. Take “To Walk Amongst the Dead,” for example. You get some really heavy guitar and in your face drums, however, by the time the vocals come in it totally backs off and leaves you with light, whispy vocals and extremely haunting textures. Falloch somehow screams out Agalloch and later Moonsorrow without containing all the heavy or brutal elements of these bands. Phenomenal use of keyboards, grim folky sections, and great atmospheric production push Where the Distant Spirits Remain to the fine line between majestic beauty and evocative harshness.
Spock’s Beard – The X Tour Live
I’ve never been a Spock’s Beard fan. If you like them, you’ll probably like this live CD, unless you can’t handle hearing Neal Morse’s voice. Honestly, I think the new singer is an improvement, but anyways… Although this album started out with most of the things that I dislike about Spock’s Beard (aka, lots of 90’s radio rock influences), I got more and more sucked into the album as it went on. I think they had in mind that they didn’t want to lose their less prog-oriented fans at the beginning of the show, so they started off light and got more ‘proggy’ as the show went on. This produced a great effect for me because it made it feel like I was enjoying the album more and more.
If you like live albums, you won’t be disappointed here by the recording quality. It’s quite nice, feels realistic, not overproduced, but good; it’s so clear that you can hear all the instruments come through in the mix very nicely. No one gets left behind. From a performance perspective, the band really has a good feel for interpretation. From the great groove in 7 towards the end of “From Darkness” to the proggy instrumental “Kamikaze” and the melancholy and haunting emotions of “Jaws of Heaven,” the band really delivers a nice show.
Just to put in a final plug, just in case you were a skeptic at first, like me. There’s lots of great mellotron on here. Yeah, I know, that’s not a good reason for liking an album, but it certainly helps.
Cross – Wake Up Call
My initial reaction from the opening moments of Wake UP Call was a feeling of neo-prog with a catchy melody and lots of focus on harmony, but very conservative, which isn’t a bad thing in this case. As the album goes on, it maintains a neo-prog feel, however, it starts to branch out more and more compositionally and you get some really nice symphonic progressive rock which is sometimes dark but very uplifting at other times, maintaining a nice balance in feel and dynamic across the record. While Wake Up Call never really does anything to blow my mind, it’s an enjoyable listen from start to finish and fans of the band will be quite pleased, in my opinion. When it comes to epic conclusions, the track “Waking Up” brings it in full force, almost Flower Kings style, as they construct a moving tapestry of symphonic keyboards which take on a chord progression that really lifts you to the heavens as the trumpets ring out. As it explodes and calms at the end, you really sit back and grin, telling yourself, “now that was an ending.”
Spiral – The Traveler
Let me start out by saying that there are some people who like this type of music. I’m not one of them. Gritty, dirty, and sloppy are some of the words that come to mind. Spiral focuses on long songs with simple guitar riffs and a bit of post rock ambience while mixing in awful vocals. The production is somewhat poor and sloppy, recalling early punk at times in kind of modern ‘crappier is better’ indie mentality. Although some of the transitions for the extremely long songs (long being relative to how much you like something) didn’t really seem to mesh, there were little moments of brilliance where the Spiral really changed moods by stretching great use of organ, dirty guitar, and synths of moving chord changes in an ambient and epic sort of way. Overall, my experience with The Traveler was mostly unpleasant intersparsed with moments of glory. We’ll see what their next album brings. There are definitely some people who are into this kind of thing, but I’m the kind of person who finds it hard to digest.