It’s always interesting how the chips fall when I do these reviews. This week’s edition offers a few albums which are a little bit on the ‘prog-lite’ side. Great prog sound, but with lots of restraint. This week you might actually avoid getting some weird looks at the office while listening to these albums which are mostly characterized by their strong vocal driven attitude and tight arrangements. If you’re looking for prog that you can tap your foot to a little more than normal, you’ve come to the right place.
Mangala Vallis – Microsolco
Hailing from Italy, Mangala Vallis presents to us Microsolco as their third album, the first with which I have become acquainted. For starters, this is an album that is incredibly easy to get into; it strikes a good balance between melodic and catchy, walking a great line between modern and retro compositional elements as the band seamlessly blends the classic sounds (tron, organ, moog) with music that a sensibility that sounds much more recent. “Easy Empire gives us a nice varied sound, going from solid odd meter grooves to powerful, symphonic rock with uplifting vocal lines. As the mellotron appears we get a great contrast of pop melody to the wonderful decrepit sound we all love from the tron before Mangala Vallis opens up with some ultra luch and unexpected chord changes. Another great track, “God’s of the XXI Century,” kicks it off with some great dreamlike sections before firing up the for some really great tron/moog driven melodic prog, while “Microsolco” delivers some fantastic agressive drumming mixed with a very narrative-like approach to the vocals, reminding me a bit of the latest Agents of Mercy. I lastly wanted to mention “21_12_12,” a track with a delightful tendency to bounce back and forth between dark and light moods and delivers lush tron and organ, all driven by great folky melodies and powerful vocals. With “Microsolco,” Mangala Vallis really delivers the goods; this is an album which should delight fans of prog without scaring any non-prog-fans off. Check it out.
Dissonati – Reductio and Absurdum
Hailing from Seattle, Dissonati carves out an enjoyable album with their debut, Reductio and Absurdum. It’s an album full of dark vibes, good groves, and shifts in mood that make it difficult to place this album in a particular period of prog, even though it has some elements which are very modern. The vocals have some good gravel in them, almost a sort of mobster feel, if you will, and at times the group vocals can be fantastically eerie, even uncanny. While Reductio and Absurdum had a number of very strong moments, it doesn’t quite land itself in my list of albums that knocked my socks off, however, it’s a solid album, especially for a debut, and shows strong potential for the band to take off and do great things.
Pendragon – Out of the Order comes Chaos
Honestly, I don’t have a lot to say about this particular album, except that if you like Pendragon, you’ll probably won’t be disappointed with this, their latest live release. The sound is big for a live recording; the drums and synths really deliver with power, while the guitar provides the extra attack needed. Vocals sound just like you’d expect from this classic neoprog act, and the songs are varied enough to keep things interesting, exhibiting bits from across their catalogue. Pendragon strikes with a heavy, dark sound on this record that should please fans of neoprog while also appealing to the prog metal crowd.
Magnum – On the 13th Day
Magnum is a band that probably doesn’t need any introduction. On the 13th Day offers more or less what we’d expect from Bob Catley and friends; simple hard rocking tunes with loads of melody and to spare, powerful and catchy choruses, and all around fun. Once again, the band delivers, and while I’m not a huge fan of the style, which has a strong 80’s rock vibe, the album delivers a number of enjoyable tracks, even if they are somewhat predictable. Standout tracks include the ballad “Putting Things in Place,” the moody, but heay “See How They Fall,” and the ever so catchy title track, “On the 13th Day.”