Job for a Cowboy – Beyond the Chemical Doorway (2024)
5/5. Starting this playlist is a band that I never had the leeway to listen to in the year 2014 when I was in my power metal-loving teens, due to their death metal (deathcore in their 2006 EP) sound. But now that I'm in my 20s and can handle that kind of sound, especially in their more progressive material like their new album Moon Healer, I'm up for more! It's just way too good to lose, and the bass sounds audible and groovy.
The Ocean – Permian: The Great Dying (2018)
4.5/5. My interest in this band seemed to have died out lately, but songs like this one still have their underrated greatness.
Ibaraki – Kagutsuchi (2022)
4.5/5. Violent yet melodic blackened prog-metal. How did I not hear this until now???
Intronaut – Prehistoricisms (2008)
5/5. And how perfect can this progressive post-sludge sound get?!
Periphery – Zagreus (2023)
5/5. This glorious highlight kicks the heaviness back to bloodthirsty brutality. This almost has a blackened vibe with the riffing and demonic growling. I haven't heard Sotelo sound so savage since when he guest appeared in Sikth's "Cracks of Light". Then the track closes with a cinematic orchestral ending.
Stortgern – Xeno Chaos (2023)
4.5/5. Standing out well is this track that bursts out more than a human-killing Xenomorph (unrelated). It truly is special as the progressive tech-death rises up in melody.
Charlie Griffiths – Arctic Cemetery (2022)
4.5/5. I hadn't listened to much Haken and Between the Buried and Me in the past couple years, but hearing the former band's guitarist Charlie Griffiths and the latter band's vocalist Tommy Rogers together is quite a treat where you get to hear a bit of BTBAM's signature deathly progressive metal sound.
The Human Abstract – Complex Terms (2011)
5/5. I just wish this band was still around. Their complex djent-ish neoclassical prog-metal sound rules, especially close to the one-minute mark then two minutes after.
Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name (2018)
4.5/5. This one is a bleak yet amazing song from another band that I should've listened to more of. The lyrics are some of the best here, and what makes it beautiful yet slightly laughable is the jazzy saxophone solos, one of them as early as the two-minute mark. Quite a groovy headbanger this track is! It will make you float out or orbit into the astral plane. I think I can hear where some of the more technical aspects of Lorna Shore came from!
Leprous – Contaminate Me (2013)
4/5. Horns up for one of the heaviest Leprous songs, featuring Emperor's Ihsahn!
Whenever there's experimentation, their results are often mixed reactions from many critics. The negative reception is due to those changes being suddenly different from the sound they're used to, whereas bands like Voivod take things slowly when gradually changing their sound for a fresh complex result. And on that same year, Metallica also released a more progressive thrash metal album before making their abrupt switch to the heavy/alternative metal that was received negatively. For Dimension Hatröss, only a few traces of thrash remain, those traces being just the fast thrashy tempos. Those tempos are dominated by all its changes every few measures. The band can go straight-on progressive without making a 20-minute epic, with many styles and influences all in dexterous textures in just an under 5-minute track. Some of the jazz influences come from the otherworldly diminished chords of Piggy (Denis D'Amour) (RIP). Their progressive sound would be fully solidified in their next album Nothingface. Their thrash was in the past, but their progressive metal would come in that's out of this world!
It seems that, like Swallow the Sun's "Moonflowers", Ihsahn has used a full orchestra as backing on his latest album and, like StS did on the "special edition" of "Moonflowers", included an orchestra-only version along with the full version.
I haven't given much thought to Ihsahn for a while now, but Saxy's review has piqued my interest and I will have to check it out sometime.
While I was the source for Ben picking up so many of the extreme metal game-changers that would stay with us for most of our lives, he would also open my eyes to exciting new bands at times too with bizarre Californian outfit Mr. Bungle being one of the more significant of them. Faith No More was a REALLY big band for Ben & his best mate Matt during the early 1990's with Mike Patton becoming nothing short of an obsession for Matt so I think it might have been him that initially brought Mr. Bungle's self-titled debut album to our attention before Ben purchased the CD. While I also loved me some Faith No More, Mr. Bungle sounded like none of my business on paper. I mean it's quirky, it's funky & it's consciously weird, none of which are characteristics I would usually be open to in my metal. But that's the true genius in this artist really i.e. the ability to do something so unusual but still achieve timeless hooks & eternal laughs that manage to immediately recall a time in my life with an effortless ease that few acts can achieve. It's been a while since I've revisited "Mr. Bungle" though & I really didn't have any idea how I might end up rating it in the modern day so it was with much anticipation that I pressed play on my long drive into work this week. What I found was that my passion for Mr. Bungle's freakish circus sideshow took very little time to rekindle too.
"Mr. Bungle" is very much a mishmash of disparate genres & ideas that somehow manages to sound cohesive & vital. Other websites will tell you that it's a blend of experimental rock, avant-garde metal & funk metal but I don't think that's quite right. I mean, there's very little actual rock on this album so calling it experimental rock is a little misleading in my opinion. There's certainly a lot more metal than there is rock here but even metal is just one of many tools that are used within a wider range of sounds & styles that include funk, ska, experimental, psychedelia, deep jazz, field recordings, circus-themed music & an array of other subgenres. Still... I think there's enough metal on offer to warrant the avant-garde metal tag given that metal provides somewhat of a platform for which to present the other quirkier sounds. Funk metal is a little bit more of a stretch in my opinion though as the funk & the metal rarely appear together & there's a lot more to "Mr. Bungle" than just funk. Regardless of these concerns, it's fair to say that "Mr. Bungle" sounds like nothing you've ever heard before so traditional tags are ineffective in preparing you for what's in store for you anyway.
The hero of the day is certainly Faith No More/Dead Cross/Fantômas front man Mike Patton as this record provides him with the ultimate showcase for his extraordinarily wide range of psychotic vocal techniques & noises. In fact, I find it entirely captivating to simply follow him through the record & observe just how fucking nuts he can be. Anyone that hasn't heard the extended "No Place Like Home" section on "Egg" or the "Redundant" part of "My Ass Is on Fire" really owe it to themselves to experience it & I challenge you to not let out at least the odd giggle (if not uncontrollable laughter) which is really saying something all these years later. Mr. Bungle are a seriously talents group of musicians too though & the way they manage to bring all of the whacked-out insanity together as a cohesive whole is really quite something. I tend to love the opposite extremes the most with the deeper psychedelic moments & the heavier metallic sections giving me the most joy but there's not a weak track to be found amongst the ten on offer with opener "Quote Unquote" & the previously mentioned "My Ass Is on Fire" both playing pivotal roles in my youth. Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn's contribution is worth mentioning as he shows himself to possess some pretty impressive chops with some of the funky bass lines he manages to pull off. The way that Faith No More/Asva/Faxed Head guitarist Trey Spruance manages to swap from the funkiest of clean ska or funk riff to the heaviest of metal dirge is quite an eye opener too.
"Mr. Bungle" is certainly not the sort of thing that you'll find me listening to all that often as I tend to take my metal music pretty seriously at times but it's refreshing to take a musical u-turn like this every now & then, particularly when it summons up so many memories of Ben & I rolling on his bedroom floor laughing until tears streamed down our faces. Mr. Bungle serve a very clear purpose in reminding me that I don't have to be quite so intense all the time &, for that reason alone, I think everyone should experience their debut at some point in their lives, particularly where weed is involved. Fans of the more avant-garde end of metal will almost inevitably see the genius in this record while those with a strong penchant for artists like Fantômas, Buckethead & Diablo Swing Orchestra may just rank it amongst their more elite releases of the time.
This experience has led me to update my Top Ten Avant-Garde Metal Releases of All Time list too with Dog Fashion Disco's "Adultery" album dropping out to make way for "Mr. Bungle":
01. Oranssi Pazuzu – “Mestarin kynsi” (2020)
02. Deathspell Omega - "Paracletus" (2010)
03. Kayo Dot – “Choirs Of The Eye” (2003)
04. Ad Nauseam – “Imperative Imperceptible Impulse” (2021)
05. Blut aus Nord - "777 - Cosmosophy" (2012)
06. Kayo Dot – “Moss Grew On The Swords & Plowshares Alike” (2021)
07. maudlin of the Well – “Leaving Your Body Map” (2001)
The 1991 sixth full-length from Connecticut progressive metallers Fates Warning would represent not only my introduction to the band but would also be the only one of their releases I'd dish out my hard-earned cash for with my purchase of the CD coming very shortly after its release & off the back of my experiences with the magnificent "Point of View" single which was being consistently flogged on late-night metal radio programming at the time. "Parallels" would also be the last Fates Warning album I'd ever bother to check out which is a little strange when you consider that I still regard it as being the best of the four records I'm familiar with from them. Still... better late than never I guess as I fully intend to get there eventually. It's been a little while since I revisited "Parallels" though so it's well past time that I got a well-informed rating up on the Academy for it. Let's see how I went.
Fates Warning's first three albums from 1984-86 were all heavily weighted towards a US power metal sound with the last two (1985's "The Spectre Within" & 1986's "Awaken The Guardian") also sitting amongst the most complex & ambitious examples of metal music released to the time. Their debut "Night on Bröcken" was merely a chance to break the ice & saw the band simply emulating their NWOBHM idols Iron Maiden but things got significantly more creative after that with their two 1980's classics taking a much more technically challenging road & achieving suitable notoriety as a result. I didn't mind "Night on Bröcken" & "Awaken The Guardian" but it was "The Spectre Within" that I found the most appeal in &, of the three, it's still the one that I go back to when I feel the inclination for 80's Fates Warning. Despite possessing clear prog credentials though, "Parallels" is a very different record from that trio of early works & it makes me wonder what I might have missed out on with the two albums in between "Awaken The Guardian" & "Parallels". The 1991 Fates Warning model is a much cleaner & more sophisticated one to the band's more aggressive roots, utilizing strong prog rock influences for a moodier result that leans hard on social issues for inspiration. Rush was no doubt a huge source of influence at the time with three or four of the songs feeling more like rock than they do metal. The more metallic inclusions see the instrumentalists flexing their rhythmic muscles through structurally complex time signatures & less riff-oriented textures which makes for a highly intellectual sound that I would imagine wouldn't appeal to some metalheads. For me though, it showcases a new level of maturity & creativity for Fates Warning over their early works & it worked a treat for me as a teenager.
The tracklisting begins in stellar fashion with the technicalities of opener "Leave the Past Behind" being balanced by some brilliant hooks & vocalist Ray Alder proving himself to be infinitely more capable than divisive original front man John Arch. In fact, Alder is so wonderful on this record that I have to question why he's not spoken of more often when discussing the great metal singers of all time, such is his range & control. But the opener would not be the only highlight to be included on "Parallels" with the two real classics being the previously mentioned progressive metal anthem "Point of View" & the splendidly atmospheric prog rock closer "The Road Goes on Forever", both of which would go on to become some of my very favourite tracks of the early 1990's. The rest of the tracklisting sees the quality levels varying a little with the fairly insignificant prog rock of "We Only Say Goodbye" being the only clear failure. Songs like "Life in Still Water", "The Eleventh Hour" & "Don't Follow Me" are all high-quality examples of their type while the hard rocking riffs of "Eye To Eye" are merely pleasant without taking the same grip on the listener's emotions that the better tracks so emphatically achieve.
While "Parallels" may be a little less metal than Fates Warning's 80's classics, there can be no doubt that it's still an inherently progressive release & it shouldn't alienate fans of the other two US prog metal heavyweights in Queensryche & Dream Theater in any way as there are easily enough points of comparison to satisfy the fan bases of all three classic bands. Alder's contribution puts him right up with Geoff Tate & James LaBrie in my opinion (perhaps even surpassing the latter) & I can't help but think that I may have missed a trick by not fully exploring the rest of the band's Alder-fronted back catalogue at some point. Perhaps I've just been a little fearful of what Fates Warning might become following the hints at more of a rocky direction on this record but I've certainly found my interest peaked by this revisit which has only firmed up my opinions on what was already my favourite Fates Warning release to begin with.
Anacrusis has reached a greater progressive height in their tech-thrash sound. Their two albums before this one showed subtle hints of progressiveness, but with Manic Impressions, they have reached their signature style that has put this album together with Coroner and Dark Angel's respective albums that year as the 1991 tech-thrash triptych! Manic Impressions shows a new vision for Anacrusis, along with a different drummer whose skills added to the complexity. Soft breaks and multiple time signatures have become more common than before, as are the mid-paced progressive aspects that would be in full force in their swan song album Screams and Whispers. With the songs and lyrics in cohesive flow, you can almost consider this a concept album when it isn't. Not every album has nothing but strong songs, but this album stands out as that. Kenn Nardi's talented voice (at least I think is talented) has improved significantly to flow with the dark atmosphere and intense heaviness colliding in a dramatic mix. The ominous riffing and melodic leads enhance the fast thrash that's balanced with the mid-paced sections surrounding, sometimes slowing down to heavier doom. All this and technical emotion in the music and lyrics show you what progressive tech-thrash is all about!
Animals as Leaders – Wave of Babies (from Wave of Babies)
4.5/5. Animals as Leaders is a prominent band in the wave of developing bands of djent alongside Periphery and Tesseract, and they made cool instrumentals like this one.
Extol – Shadow of Death (from Paralysis)
5/5. Extol's cover of this Believer classic is what got me into this band, and it's a total blessing! It's also a bonus track in the Japanese edition of Undeceived. Apparently, Cradle of Filth stole the song's opening riff for their own song "Dirge Inferno", though I didn't know that because I'm one of those people who prefer to listen to Extol rather than Cradle of Filth, although I'm not a Christian. I guess that proves that plagiarism has made its way into progressive death/thrash and gothic/black metal.
Madder Mortem – Convertion (from Mercury)
5/5. This eerie epic perfectly summarizes the desolate Autumn atmosphere of its original album and artwork. The distorted guitars, technical doomy drums, soft acoustic guitars, dreamy keyboards, and calm yet powerful vocals are all there. Truly hypnotic!
Periphery – Four Lights (from Juggernaut: Alpha)
4.5/5. "THERE. ARE. 4. LIGHTS!!!!" yells Captain Picard in "Chain of Command", a two-part special episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Amazing djent instrumental, though I would've loved to hear Spencer's vocals over those guitar rhythms. I love this almost as much as Zagreus.
Arjen Anthony Lucassen's Star One – The Eye of Ra (from Space Metal)
4.5/5. This ballad-ish 3-part epic breaks the earlier mid-tempo/fast pace and is so majestic, especially in the epic ending where all 4 vocalists plus background vocalist Robert Soeterboek sing in perfect harmony.
Tesseract – Cages - PORTALS (from PORTALS)
5/5. Holy sh*t, thank you Tesseract! They really give this song the perfect live treatment.
Fates Warning – Part of the Machine (from Perfect Symmetry)
4.5/5. Frank Aresti has performed mighty technical guitarwork here. The bass work by Joe DiBiase is also mind-blowing. If people could pay attention to notes more, this would've ended up on the radio at any given chance. The band also gave Dream Theater vocalist James LaBrie an earlier chance to shine in one of the songs from the next album Parallels, released a year before Dream Theater's Images and Words. At that point, their heavy metal from as late as Awaken the Guardian is already gone.
Caligula's Horse – The Stormchaser (from The Stormchaser)
4/5. A fun banger, but am I up to revisiting the band with the rest of their new album Charcoal Grace? Not right now...
Symphony X – Wicked (from The Odyssey)
4.5/5. An excellent wicked way to end this playlist, with great singing. I definitely like the bridge at the 3 and a half minute mark followed a minute later by a scream into the final chorus. And this is the same band with the neoclassical "Smoke and Mirrors"!
The frontrunner for The Infinite Release of 2023 Award are Ne Obliviscaris' "Exul', King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard's "PetroDragonic Apocalypse" & Periphery's "Periphery V: Djent Is Not a Genre". There's less than a week to go now so get those ratings in.
So with the start of a new year it's once again time to have a look at the covers for all the releases for each clan. I personally like to rate a whole stack of covers all at once, rather than doing them one at a time throughout the year, as it allows me to get a better feel for where each cover sits in comparison to others. With that in mind, I've just rated every cover for releases in The Infinite for 2023.
Below are the releases that are currently competing for the prestigious 2023 The Infinite Cover of the Year Award (i.e. they rate at least 3.7 and have 3 or more ratings). The winner will be announced on the 1st of February, so there's still time to get your ratings in.