Nothing feels better than when you pick up an album not really having expectations and it gives you that warm fuzzy feeling inside. On the other hand, I think we’ve all experienced the sorrow having high expectations only to have those high expectations ruin it for us, whether the album was truly bad or even worse: it was decent, but you couldn’t get into it because you expected more. Well fellow proggers, all I can say is that I have experienced just that on these reviews, having found some of these albums a joyful little delight when not really expecting much, and in other situations, wishing for more from an album I was looking forward to reviewing. All in all, it’s been a good batch with a little something for everyone.
Alphataurus – Alphataurus (by Markus Cueva)
As a journalism graduate, I’ve made it a priority to be fair and balanced as much as possible. This usually doesn’t happen when it comes to the music I’m so passionate about, but when I found out that the self titled debut from Alphataurus, released in Italy way back in 1973, was on Progstreaming, I suddenly had a test for my unbiased side: could I fairly grade this album? After all, Alphataurus is largely unknown and forgotten in the Prog community, overshadowed by dozens of other Italian bands in that rich 70’s era of music, but those who have come across this album have praised it as one of the greatest Italian releases of all time. Think of it like a supremely well-done cult classic in the Prog music scene.
So, I tried to scrutinize it like a stuffy critic, considering it within the context of its era as well as today’s compositions… and I still type before you like a gooey tween princess who just got out of a Justin Bieber concert. Alphataurus deserves every one of those 5 stars. Be prepared for soaring vocals and long, rich tracks filled with creativity and, well, balls. Translate the lyrics on Google Translate (or, if you’re Italian, just read them) and marvel at the depth and introspection. And that’s before you even get to the music, which sounds like a more organized version of the great works from Il Balletto di Bronzo and De De Lind, plus probably the finest keyboard work from a person who you can’t name. A must listen for everyone.
Netherland Dwarf – May the Piper (by Matt Di Giordano)
The anonymous Japanese one man project Netherland Dwarf makes its second appearance, a very distinct but equally pleasing follow up to last year’s album, Moi Moi. This time around it’s a splendid EP titled May the Piper. Don’t let the EP thing scare you away though; this little guy is entertaining from start to finish, and it’s also FREE! Yes, you heard me, go to their website (http://totokokolabel.com/releases_030) and download it with zero hassle. More than free, however, “May the Piper” is extremely fun. Essentially what it delivers is eight tracks of neoclassical music played for the most part on toy piano and Mellotron with small amounts of percussion here and there. What’s captivating about this album is precisely the kids’ toy like aspect of the sound; I know that sounds weird, but the composition is the perfect thing for this medium. I found myself captivated by what might have sounded inconsequential any other contexts. Dancy pieces like “Urban Tango” will get your toes tapping right away while the neoclassical tron/toy piano duet will make you grin from ear to ear. Make sure to check out the remix version of “May the Piper” at the end of the EP. This is not just another rendition of the track, but rather, a whole new creation that you’ll very much enjoy. I gotta hand it to Netherland Dwarf, they sure made a fun little album of music here. Don’t expect something grandiose here; the instrumentation is minimal and timbres are childlike; however, be prepared to be surprised by how much fun can come in so little a package.
Katatonia – Dead End Kings (by Matt Di Giordano)
Unfortunately, I didn’t realize til I began writing this article that this album is no longer streaming on Progstreaming. Consequently, I didn’t take notes on it, hoping I’d give it a couple more listens first, and since I haven’t picked it up yet, I lament that this review will be very short and undetailed. I do want to say that Dead End Kings was a fantastic listen. It’s an album that is has very somber overtones and that, while being heavy, is somewhat relaxing. On this latest release, there is a perfect mix of dark and heavy composition with mild, clean vocals that is attention grabbing and easy to get into without being cheesy. I highly recommend this album for both the prog and the metal fans out there.
Threshold – March of Progress (by Matt Di Giordano)
Ok, so I’m giving this album three stars since I think fans of the band or of Damion Wilson in general will probably like it, but I am so torn because from my level of enjoyment of it, it was a two star album (in other words, mediocre). Let’s get down to why, because there’s plenty which I loved about the album but plenty which also dissappointed me. From the first 10 seconds of the album I immediately felt deceived; the prog metal legends were appearing to deliver radio friendly hard-rock. What was even worse, Wilson’s voice sounds phenomenal, which made tore me in two, loving his vocal sound on this track but hating the composition. Granted, this would be really good radio rock, and it does have prog elements, but I felt like something was going seriously wrong. I’m glad that it didn’t stay like that throughout the album.
As March of Progress continued I can honestly say that I enjoyed a number of tracks. Although “Return of the Thoughts Police” followed in a poppy vein, the course is powerful and makes you want to jump into a protest. “Staring at the Sun” is a fantastic, inspiring, and melancholic track with great odd meter grooves, reminding me of the Headspace album, Anonymous. There are other tracks which are catchy in a very good way and you won’t mind them stuck in your head, like “Liberty, Complacency, Dependency” and “Colophon” with its fantastic riffing and terrific lyrics present in such a way as only Damion’s crystal clear voice can interpret. These songs all contained strong elements that made them an enjoyable metal experience.
Then there’s tracks like “Don’t Look Down” and “Ashes” that made me question whether the band was just trying to include a few hits that could get them the big bucks. Not that that’s a bad thing necessarily; we all know that one has to make a living and that music is a very noble way to do so. I just couldn’t help but feel that we had lost the spirit of making art on these ones. While most other tracks have their high moments, I can honestly say that most songs had moments that I thought were low as well. A model example of this would be “The Hours,” with its moody, haunting intro and guitar riffs that recall some of the great moments from the album Hypothetical, but when the vocals come in it gets destroyed momentarily by a sharp contrast that the pop element brings. Once it develops a bit, you get used to it, but I felt like this type of thing was a common occurence on the album; lots of moments that I cheered for and not a lack of moments that were sort of a turn off.
I suspect that March of Progress will be successful commercially, as it is a very accessible album to those outside the prog and metal world. In the end though, I think it’ll also be an album that might alienate a few fans. Not that it’s bad, but it might not be what some of us prog fans were hoping for.