With a good friend and fellow musician recently finishing a master’s degree in composition, I have been trying to come up with the perfect ‘prog’ way of congratulating him. While his compositional accomplishments have been great, what has really caught my attention from his time in graduate school is his desire to push prog forward in academia by writing an extensive annotated bibliography on progressive rock.  This begs the question: What album do I buy him to essentially tell him “thanks” and “you’re massively cool”? I would hope that the readership would give suggestions in the comment areas below this humble article. Until then, I’m sure that my dear friend will enjoy the fantastic albums accompanying this week’s micro-reviews.

La Maschera di Cera – La Maschera di Cera and Il Grande Laberinto
Most fans of progressive rock, especially Italian prog, will already be familiar with the name La Maschera di Cera. Those who are will already know the brilliant contribution that Fabio Zuffanti has made to the scene, bringing back the true 70’s Italian sound in recent years. La Maschera di Cera recently reissued their first two records. If you haven’t heard them yet, be ready for a truly nostalgic, but never stale, experience loaded with mellotron, moog, and long, complex compositions. If you are already familiar with these albums, you will recognize already that they are gems to be held dear to the heart for any and all symphonic prog fans. For those of you who are new to the work of Mr. Zuffanti, this is a fantastic place to start.

El Doom and the Born Electric – El Doom and the Born Electric
El Doom and the Born Electric gave me the initial impression of, “this is what I wish Mastodon sounded like.” In other words, all the good parts of Mastodon without the potentially annoying. In reality, as you get deeper into this album, it’s much more. There’s a range of sounds here (I’ll avoid the word influences since I don’t know if these bands influenced them) , Mastodon already being mentioned, and the album has a sort of transgenerational feel. As already pointed out, there’s the modern influences, the kind of sludgy postrock-ish modern prog bits, but there’s also a good dose of 70’s heavy prog, gothic rock, and lots of classic hard rock too, calling to mind Rainbow era Ronnie James Dio. The composition is smart, whether they’re using bluesy riffs or odd time signatures with dissonant chords, it also seems to work out very naturally. El Doom & the Electric proves to be a quality album with a little bit for both the modern and the old school heavy rock fan. Don’t be expecting symphonic prog here, just good heavy guitar driven progressive rock.

Quantum Sphere – The Space Adventures of a Pyjama Boy
As can be expected by the name Quantum Sphere, this album is extremely technical, instrumental progressive metal, following in the vein of great bands like Planet X. This piece is extremely heavy and ridiculously rhythmically complex. The incorporation of jazz elements and spacey keyboards is quite pleasing, making Pyjama Boy more than “just a guitar album.” However, as you can figure out after just a few seconds of listening, Quantum Sphere is all about the insanely technical riffing. This doesn’t mean that the compositions aren’t pleasing; all the opposite would be true. If you listen carefully you’ll notice that each piece actually is pretty unique and that it isn’t just a bunch of guys who decided together to show off their jobs through a mind (and ear) bending blend of jazz fusion meets Meshuggah.  If I had one small complaint, it’s that the drum production makes the kit seem like it’s programmed. I’m guessing that they used replacement on a lot of the drums to give them punchier sound, but who knows. In the end, you start getting into the compositions, like I did, and it won’t really bother you at all. Overall, The Space Adventures of a Pyjama Boy is a very solid album for those of you who like technical fusion metal. Even though I’m not the biggest fan of that genre, I still found this album extremely enjoyable. You can has one too!

Rak –Book of Flight
Listening to Book of Flight was one of those experiences where my opinions on the album were constantly evolving and changing. “The Ascent” starts off with a very strong symphonic/neo-prog approach on a large scope, but what starts off as really awesome at some point in the track starts to get a bit redundant and it feels like the composition is not offering anything fresh or at least any moments that wow us. For the next couple of songs it’s a lot of the same, but then all of a sudden, about half way through the album the sound dramatically changes; it goes from a symphonic approach to a very modern almost Pain of Salvation kind of sound, but in my opinion, not in a good way. The vocal style feels very forced and the modern pseudo prog-metal elements aren’t quite strong enough. That said, the end of the album starts to head in a good direction with “The Descent,” featuring cool synth and piano elements, and then finishing off strong with “The Great Machine,” which is what I consider to be the most consistent and interesting composition on the album, starting from a basic point that the melodies are memorable and the song combines both symphonic and modern elements in fun ways, primarily the manner in which the organ meets the rhythmic guitars. Overall, Book of Flight is a mixed bag, going from good to monotonous, then to bad but ending great. I’d recommend checking this one out and deciding for yourself; I see it as being an album that could potentially draw polarizing opinions. On a side note, I absolutely loved the artwork, which made me think of a space opera version of some of Miyazaki’s steampunk flying ships.