In this week’s special edition of The Italian Staff Presents: Bite-size Prog I present to you five reviews of albums, all of which were good and thereby not awful; however, none of them caused my brain to explode in such a way in which my dear wife would be required to clean up them from our brown shag carpet. Thank goodness. I would like to say, however, that despite the fact that my brains remain unblown, there are some seriously fun albums on this list. Be prepared, especially if you like a small amount of heaviness in your prog.

Arena – The Seventh Degree of Separation
The UK band Arena needs no introduction, although I’m not sure if this is exactly a typical Arean album. Although the band is generally known for its heavy brand of neo prog, The Seventh Degree of Separation goes even a bit darker. I wouldn’t call it a metal album exactly, but it comes very close. The first thing that jumped out on this strange little album was the scary album cover that somehow kind of fits the mood of the album. Overall, the album had some gargantuanly awesome parts, a few let down tracks, and some stuff that was, well, different…in a good way. The opening track to the album really hooked me with its mega-creepy mood and awesome vocals. I also really enjoyed the rhythmic talking over the slowly marching chord changes of “Ghost Walks;” not quite rapping, but something close, but well done (not like when it happens in Dream Theater). “Thief of Souls” is another track that leapt out because of the great vocals that straddle the line between neo prog and power metal with a sort of Iron Maiden sensibility. To sum it up, really great vocal melodies drive this album in a very strong direction. There is a deep sense of narrative, sorrow and tragedy in the way the singer presents the words through melody and expression. His theatrics are just right and it’s paced perfectly to where you feel like he’s actually speaking to you as the intended listener; “Catching the Bullet” is exemplary of this kind of feel. The Seventh Degree of Separation shows a very logical progression in the evolution of Arena’s music and I believe it won’t disappoint their fans.

Acid Empire – Acid Empire
Acid Empire is a difficult album to describe. It’s got a lot of the usual elements: some metal, some ambient, and a lot of orchestration. But somehow, this album still ends up sounding pretty different. In the end, this was a good thing and made for a very enjoyable listen once I started to catch on to what was happening on this somewhat ambitious album. The opener is a killer, super ambient, dark, and moody intro. Somehow when the guitars come in it instantly recalls Riverside, perhaps because of the ambience and mode choice, however, as the song continues it seems to walk the line of being prog metal without doing all those cliché things that prog metal so often does. There’s some great dark sections like on “Only the Weak” and “Finale that really give this album a certain character. However, what really seems to define this album is its atypical symphonic approach. The incorporation of the symphonic elements is not your standard prog metal approach. There’s almost a sort of videogame soundtrack kind of feel at times, which I’m a sucker for, and gets to the point of extremely epic, like on “Would You Do it Again,” or uplifting like on “1000 Days.” The amazing thing about the arrangements is that it manages to be very melodic in a unique way without having to use avante-garde methods to do so.  If you’re still not sure if you want to listen to it, let me say one more thing: Damion Wilson on “into the void.” Wow, he does such an amazing job as guest vocalist!

Yuka & Chronoship – Water Reincarnation
Water Reincarnation by Yuka & Chronoship is an album that really took me by surprise. For some reason I wasn’t expecting a lot, perhaps prematurely judging a book by its cover, but once I started playing the album, the fresh sound of this Japanese quartet really hooked me. Perhaps what caught my attention is the fact that this band has a pretty distinct sound. To me they did not sound like they were ripping off anyone, which is rare in music. What they offer is a cool blend of electronic and new age elements which mix with classic progressive rock and a tad bit of pop too. The synths are very prominent and grooves are really great. In a good way, this album seems like it would be great to put on in the background. It’s not ultra-distracting and provides great ambience, rhythm, and mood. I look forward to hearing more from Yuka & Chronoship in the future.

Telergy – The Exodus
This album was deceptively awesome at first. The good thing is that it has lots of people playing traditional instruments and its incorporation is quite nice. On one side, the arrangements are all fantastic, however, the downside is that it doesn’t really feel like it’s going anywhere. What seems like a great idea at first, a grandmother narrator telling the story of the exodus to a grandson, seems to drag and get old after a while. The narrations start give the album a sense of interruption, even though at first it gave each track a tone poem-ish feel, letting you know what the instrumentals would represent. I would describe the music as symphonic progressive metal with the incorporation of many middle-eastern elements (a la Amasseffer), and each individual song element is usually fantastically composed and performed, even brilliantly at times as they seek to incorporate a full range of metal to folk. But, like I said, by the end I felt like this was a good album that could have been a great album if there had been more of a feel of continuity throughout.

DeeExpus – King of Number 33
I think I expected more from this album than what I got after reading the raving reviews on Prog Archives. I’m not saying its bad, but I wasn’t really moved; if you’re super into this type of music you’ll probably dig it. For my tastes some of the sections were a little too groove oriented and kind of bugged me, recalling 90’s hard rock with somewhat mundane vocals and some keyboards thrown in. The rest seemed kind of like a blend of Muse and Dream Theater with a healthy amount of heavy neo-prog. Although the guitar riffs were often a bit too  ‘chugga-chugga’ for my tastes, there were some clever interweaving of melodies and some great bursts of emotional moments such as at the beginning of “King of Numbers 33 (i).” In the end, while the melodies and riffs flow nicely from one to another, I never get the feeling that they were going somewhere in order to work together to productively create a cohesive whole.