Generally I don’t have much to say about new music so early in the year, but there have been some interesting things out so far, and other interesting things are on the horizon. Several strong albums have already been released despite the risk of being forgotten by year’s end, and there are singles from what may be promising albums. I also want to comment on a couple things I missed from last year.
In terms of those albums — it is a strangely proggy year for me so far. I spend a lot of time complaining about modern prog and here I am ready to talk about modern prog. Go figure. And two of those albums are (at the moment) head-to-head contenders for Album of the Year. Yes it is early, and there always do seem to be surprises, so we shall see how things play out.
This Year so Far:
The big news so far has been the release of the new Riverside album, after a four-year wait and the official induction of Maciej Meller as guitarist, and what an album it is — a Riverside album to be sure, but full of surprises. ID.Entity has demonstrated that the 20-year-old band still has vision aplenty and a willingness to push the boundaries, even at risk of alienating a fan or three, releasing an album that yet again takes a new direction while maintaining the band’s fundamental — yes, identity. It is fierce and heavy and angry, with overt nods to past genres; I have already reviewed it here. Needless to say, it’s up for Album of the Year.
Katatonia: Sky Void of Stars
This album carries on in the direction Katatonia has taken over the past few years, focusing on melodic melancholic metal. It is briefer than the last one (The Fall of Hearts), and it is heavier, and both of these work in its favour: Katatonia is far more interesting as a heavy band. However, while the album does have some eminently listenable tracks on it, and it is a decent addition to the discography, it doesn’t really stick with me — I don’t get the urge to play it.
I first heard Klone with their 2015 album Here Comes the Sun, a surprisingly lush and orchestral offering that managed to avoid the worst of the prog tropes and tricks, and I liked it a whole lot. However, the next one (Le Grand Voyage) was very much in the same vein, and while decent, didn’t add anything new or interesting. For that reason, I wasn’t in a great rush to listen to Meanwhile. Eventually I did fire up the first single, and it certainly sounded like Klone, but again, it didn’t really grab me. I think the second one caught my attention enough for me to consider buying the album, and I ended up getting a digital copy from Bandcamp.
To say that this album was a grower is an understatement. I played it, and liked it, played it some more and liked it some more, and all of a sudden it just hit me: this really is a great album!
The funny thing is, it is hard to explain exactly why. Meanwhile retains the dense, intricate, orchestral Klone sound, but it has acquired a hard edge: the music and the vocals are infused with a subtle, angry heaviness that was absent in the previous albums, and that definitely has made it a much more compelling album to listen to. As well, it is strong and consistent across all the tracks; while not all the tracks are equally heavy they all are carefully considered — frankly, this album’s melodic sweep and strong consistency may put that other angry entry, Riverside’s ID.Entity, in danger of losing the top spot.
Music Inspired by Slavs (release date: April 21)
Music Inspired By is an outfit made up of Robert Szrednicki, (half of the duo who runs Studio Serakos where most of Mariusz Duda’s projects are recorded), Artur Szolc, and Kris Wawrzak, and over the decades they have released at least two other thematic albums, one Inspired By Zodiac, and the last Inspired By Alchemy; they are largely instrumental, atmospheric albums, with some guests (Mariusz Duda provided vocal sounds on Alchemy). This year the band has been Inspired By Slavic folk and traditional music, and it is interesting how such folk-themed albums have popped up over the past few years: Lindy-Fay Hella’s Seafarer, Myrkur’s Folkesange, and Lunatic Soul’s Through Shaded Woods, for example. There must be something going around. The two singles released have a lot of promise: on the last album the tracks were very brief — more like snippets and undeveloped ideas, but these new ones are fully-realized, complete tracks, with vocals, richly moody and evocative. The guests on this one will include, fittingly, Lunatic Soul.
DieHumane: The Grotesque (release date: May 5)
A couple guys, one formerly from Exodus, the other ex-Type O Negative, got together and made a band at the end of 2020, and some other guys joined them, and they called themselves DieHumane. They have released three singles: one is a rather standard and not-very-interesting slow rocker — but the other two!! Insane mashups of intense industrial doom metal, thrash, bluesy balladry and apparently anything else that the guys can think of, and somehow it all works. The tracks are crazy heavy, the directions the songs take unexpected, and I will definitely be keeping my ears open for this album.
From Last Year:
I was surprised by this offering that was recommended to me, instrumental jazz/prog fusion from a Polish band who has been around for a few years. While I have, over the decades, acquired a few albums of the style, from Soft Machine to several The Long Hello albums to Seven Impale’s City of the Sun, it is not a genre I tend to spend much time with, and one I wouldn’t normally seek out.
So yes, I am surprised at how much I have grown to like this album. It is very smooth and accomplished, nice and melodic; there are heavy bits and more contemplative bits, and the production is top-notch. At no point does it descend into self-indulgent meandering about and noodly bits, so it manages to keep my interest for the entire album. I’ve found myself playing it quite a lot.
The Smile: A Light for Attracting Attention
Thom Yorke and Johnny Greenwood and Tom Skinner made a band and released an album in 2022, and it was Steven Wilson’s favourite album of that year. I must confess that sometimes his playlists and favourite albums have contributed important artists to my own collection (namely Necro Deathmort and Cardiacs), so I cannot discount his musical tastes. On the first listen this really did sound like something special– short, gentle art-pop, sometimes acoustic, sometimes electronic, and it is certainly accomplished; but turns out that after a couple more tries my interest in it waned. It is just a bit too much of everything: too deliberately eclectic, too fey, too self-consciously artsy. Now, I won’t deny there are some very nice tracks (say, “Open the Floodgates”, or “Skrting on the Surface”), but it is not an album I’m likely to play in its entirety.