Various Artists - Progstravaganza XX: Landmarks
The compilation is accompanied by the official Progstravaganza website where all the artists have profiles plus interviews and reviews of their releases.
As before, the aim of this "review" is not to provide a detailed analysis of each track but a brief comment to signpost songs which may be worth further investigation. At the end, 14 of the 32 tracks get selected as worth further investigation by at least one reviewer.
With such a broad compilation, we have again provided four differing viewpoints from Andy Read, Roger Trenwith, André de Boer and Basil Francis.
You can stream individual tracks of interest from the Progstravaganza 20 Bandcamp page whilst you read through the comments. You can also download the entire "album" via Bandcamp in the usual different audio formats under the "pay what you want" format. There are also profiles for the featured artists on the Progstravaganza webpage.
01: Jason Rubenstein - Walking on Hot Sand (4:37)
Andy Read (AR) If you like heavy, groovy instrumental Prog fusion then you will enjoy this.
Roger Trenwith (RT) Bluesy, driving hard rock rifferama. Reminiscent of Jeff Beck's early 70s work. Some compliment!
André de Boer (AdB) Very enjoyable Rubenstein stuff with stunning guitar and a bit of Hammond.
Basil Francis (BF) A very decent start to the compilation. Jason Rubenstein delivers a cracking instrumental based around a single groovy riff of changing time signatures. Originality points are lost however since Rush employed exactly the same pattern of 6/8 - 7/8 - 6/8 - 8/8 in Cygnus X-1, Book I: The Voyage.
02: Forgotten Suns - Nanoworld (12:30)
AR Promising, groove-laden prog metal from Portugal in the vein of Speaking To Stones, spoilt by an over-long 6-minute instrumental mid-section devoid of any connection to the main song or its component parts. Would make a great 7-minute song if you edited most of the widdly bits out.
RT Thankfully only five out of the 32 tracks are over ten minutes duration on the Progstravaganza merry-go-round this time, and this is one of them, and it should have been half the length. A chest-beating prog metal exercise with keys. Decent chops, but I've heard it all before.
AdB Too long track, with some great moments that would have made a perfect five-minute song.
BF I don't know what it is about these Portuguese symphonic metal pedlars, but for some reason, they just seem to do it for me. I was initially intrigued by the sci-fi nature of their song and then hoped that the band would prove themselves from there. My hunch was correct; after a few harmless verses, the band deliver a blistering instrumental. In fact, the chorus at the end serves as something of an anticlimax I'm afraid to say!
03: Fëdor Kahlil Kramer - The Wake of Urizen (6:58)
AR No-man mixed with OSI with odd vocals, spacey keys and some lovely guitar pieces. The initial idea then meanders towards a drawn-out ending.
RT Psychedlic space rock that sounds like a prolonged intro... which it probably is, given that the title is also the title of the album. Promising.
AdB Interesting, slow-paced psychedelic song by this Italian multi-instrumentalist.
BF The husky vocals over wailing guitar just isn't doing it for me. Oh, and then there's the weird percussion; it sounds like a pair of shears opening and closing (a-)rhythmically. On the plus side however, there are some pretty cool synth noises towards the centre and end, although this only goes halfway towards creating a spooky atmosphere. The song would have done much better with a loud finish.
04: Chris Timms - No Longer Welcome Pt. 1 (5:11)
AR Strained vocals, bedroom production, and guitar hero histrionics mar this solo prog metal workout - almost saved by a good mid-section.
RT Soulless metal. Next.
AdB High-paced display of known guitar riffs that does not add much news to the prog metal scene.
BF Guitar hyperactivity from second one. I had an open mind through the intro, but the generic verses and choruses turned me off completely. Let's hope Part 2 is better! I'll leave it to another reviewer to make a joke about the song title.
05: Almost Human - Obey, Consume or Disappear (5:51)
AR This screamo Soundgarden is too plodding for my tastes.
RT Swiss metal band with OTT vox and ssslllllooow, doomy riffs. Disappear, I think.
AdB Swiss grunting death metal as we have known it for years and years.
BF Almost Human continues Progstravaganza's penchant for subpar prog metal. Growly vocals, blast beats and you fill in the rest.
06: Anuryzm - Breaking the Ballot (8:08)
AR Growls share airtime with clean vocals amid a lot of musical variety on this well-done tune which sounds like it comes from a concept album.
RT Read their name again... see what they did there? Hailing from Lebanon/UAE, via Canada is the most interesting thing about this grunting metal band. Dull.
AdB Fine prog metal with some grunts from Dubai that suits five instead of eight mins.
BF I have to say, it's quite cheeky to make a hard-working reviewer wait over a minute before you begin playing your music, especially when you're just going to waste their time with seven minutes of bland prog metal that brings absolutely nothing new to the table.
07: Brian Kahanek - Copperhead (4:20)
AR A bluesy fusion guitar solo.
RT "Brian Kahanek creates music + shepherds everything audio" apparently. He's on the lam but he ain't no sheep? Possibly, but melodic hard rock/metal with squalling geetar certainly.
AdB With a handful of solo albums to his name, this again is a guitar-driven instrumental rock special
BF Well, it ain't prog metal, but it isn't Prog either as far as I can make out; simply a rock instrumental. Points definitely docked for the quality of the drum audio, especially given that Mr. Kahanek has spent "over a decade at Disney Worldwide Post mixing, recording and editing".
08: Knightmare - Unity Through Chaos (short version) (4:15)
AR A modern metal band from Australia that has plenty of the right ingredients but lacks a killer hook, with a drummer who loves his double-kick technique.
RT More metal... zzzz...
AdB Hard rock from Australia. Solid but without imagination.
BF "The band has a simple goal: Create songs that defy being bound to a single static genre and that spans [sic] from a vast array of influences, not just including extreme and diverse forms of metal but music from all walks of life." Well, there's certainly none of that going on here. Very grateful that Progstravaganza has only included the short version.
09: Oceans of Slumber - Memoriam (5:27)
AR Soundgarden (again) mixed with some Nickelback and Suvvern vibes plus ambient and Death sections! A dish where the ingredients just don't blend well together.
RT Texan metal band which at least offers some dynamic shifts... And there's a guy in the band called "Dobber". What more could you ask? My other half has just shut the door to my office saying the cotton wool she has in her ears is not enough to block out the "racket". After all this dreadful metal nonsense on this compilation so far I can only sympathise.
AdB If you like metal the progressive way, this is a song to seriously check out.
BF Oceans of Slumber's music is "adventurous progressive metal" only in that it careers from one side of the genre to the other unpredictably.
10: Røsenkreütz - Signals in the Water (7:18)
AR A big Kansas, Asia, Cannata 80s vibe but with a darker mid section and lots of proggy goodness wrapped around superb hook and delightful keyboard riff. The most complete and enjoyable track on this compilation.
RT I never thought I'd find neo-prog a pleasant relief...
AdB German-style pop? Wrong sampler for that; although it might have some light prog elements it's a pop song to me.
BF Røsenkreütz plan to build a "crossover sound between classic british [sic] seventies prog and modern style" and create a "virtual bridge" betwixt the "golden years of prog and current world". Don't make me sick. They have got something right though: those really are the golden years of prog if this lame and uninspired pap is being produced nowadays.
11: The Moonling - D.ex.M (8:09)
AR Musically, I could produce this - and that isn't a compliment. I lost the will to continue after 5 minutes.
RT Sci-fi art rock from Zurich, part of a concept album. For some reason it reminds me of Human Menagerie-era Cokney Rebel. Probably better in the context of the album it came from.
AdB Swiss "art rock" of disputable quality, more practise needed.
BF Oh gosh, that GCSE in German seems to have paid off! I understood every word in the opening monologue. This Major Tom band has ideas, but sadly not the means or the technical prowess to be able to fulfil them, and the resulting music sounds desperately amateur.
12: Monsterholic - Enter the Hero (5:03)
AR Alt rock with a vocal style I don't like.
RT Worst Band Name Award, jointly with Anuryzm. Plodding metal-ish prog.
AdB Spanish translation of "prog metal" that starts off interesting but gets stuck in the mud.
BF Plodding post-rock thingamajig with fairly bleak overtones. Thoroughly forgettable.
13: Abodean Skye - Ancient Souls (8:35)
AR Metaaal!! Dragonforce meets Crimson Glory. Very good until they try to go more proggy. The singer can't do low and the keyboards sound like a Casio Mini. Stick to the tight trousers metal.
RT More chest-beating metal. Yawn...
AdB High speed straight metal without surprises or even a frown.
BF The first few seconds scream Dragonforce-wannabes, as do the remaining eight and a half minutes. You have to be technically talented to play this music; it's disappointing to see such talent thrown to waste in being so utterly uncreative.
14: AnovA - Ride This Squall, Part 3 (3:31)
AR Electronica, guitar and off-beat vocals create some interesting textures. Would like to hear more of this online trio from USA, Wales and Japan.
RT A mix of metal, electronica, and classical piano. At least it's slightly different...
AdB Prog metal that does draw attention and certainly worth a listen.
BF Oh great, a "Skype band"; a band that lives in various parts of the globe and composes music through Skype and emails. These sorts of bands invariably lack that spark you get when you get several musicians in a room together. AnovA sound cold and clinical, nothing more.
15: Contemporary Dead Finnish Music Ensemble - Black Mist (14:03)
AR One of only five bands I'd ever heard of before on this compilation. This is a wonderful mix of White Willow, early Paatos, Illumion, and Panic Room. This ebbs and flows chameleon-like with great vocals and subtle grooves. Second best song here.
RT Best Band Name Award, no contest. If this is a quarter of an hour of imagination-free metal I'm giving up. It's not! Bet you wished it was, eh? Art rock with female vocals, musically guitar-dominated. A tad earnest, but not bad, actually holds the attention for most of its length, too. There's a more than decent guitar break near the end if you stick with it, that unfortunately cuts out abrup...
AdB Hail this Finnish band with this extremely beautifully crafted and recommended prog song!
BF According to their press release, the Ensemble wanted to "bring back some of the more ambitious and progressive music that had to go literally underground in the 1980s and - 90s." Literally? Where did it go? Down a rabbit hole? At 14 minutes, this track is certainly ambitious, but, to repeat a theme of much of my writing, more prog than progressive. Wallpaper prog at that; the track could do with a bit more excitement and grandeur.
16: The Main Sequence - Noon to Evening, Dome Sector 4 (18:13)
AR If you share my musical taste, you will not enjoy this improvised drone prog.
RT An ambient, meditative mantra recalling ancient Kosmische music, featuring looped instrumentation and sequencers. Anyone who lists Fripp & Eno, Tangerine Dream, Popul Vuh, and Sunn 0))) as influences is OK by me. I have no doubt it will put at least one of our other reviewers to sleep, but I like it!
AdB Fine ambient track that takes 18 minutes of my precious time.
BF Lovely ambient music. Not my usual cuppa per se, but perfect background music and an excellent pastiche of krautrock bands such as early-Tangerine Dream and Cluster. Builds on a 'happy' theme and slowly slides to a more negative atmosphere. Thumbs up!
17: Chronologist - Cartographer (instrumental) (3:56)
AR Take a short time to go nowhere. Djenty instrumental bands like this are now two-a-penny from Bandcamp. Dull.
RT The relief was never going to last, was it? This is a directionless metal racket with harmony guitars that sounds like 78 snippets of other riffs pasted together. The only redeeming feature is its short length. Still 3:56 too long.
AdB Beautifully played instrumental guitar driven track.
BF If there's anything worse than second-rate prog metal, it's second-rate prog metal with dreadful, compressed sound quality. Shredding and thrashing without any real direction and it sounds as if it was recorded with a sock.
18: D Project - Out of Range (9:34)
AR From the singer/songwriter school of prog in the vein of Camel and BJH with bursts of flute and metal. Some good bits in this song.
RT Mostly melodic neo-prog with an unnecessarily dramatic and occasionally slightly off-key vocalist. The middle section gets a bit feisty and is interesting in itself, but sounds like it was spliced in just to make the song a "prog-friendly" length. With the last section featuring an histrionic guitar solo, the thing ends up sounding like three songs stuck together. A bit of a mess to be honest.
AdB Lenghthy song of poppy Canadian prog that cannot enchain enough.
BF What am I hearing? "It's not easy to be Frisian!" A rather confusing ditty by these self-confessed neo-proggers, but some good bits to boot, especially that bass in the instrumental. The lyrical bits let it down somewhat, but it still warrants a listen.
19: Plague of Purity - Realization (3:50)
AR Growls. Pass.
AdB This translation of purity means a plague to me indeed, heard it a 1000 times before.
BF Plodding death metal. No prog whatsoever.
20: Flares - Crystal Math (6:14)
AR Chugga chugga guitars over atmospheric keys. Post pock instrumental roadworks.
RT "Crystal Math" - ha! Apparently this band weaves influences into "their exuberant sound carpets". While I try to think up bad jokes involving Wilton or Axminster, think instrumental, mid-period Porcupine Tree or Oceansize. Heard it all before, sorry.
AdB Not interesting post rock that bores after 30 seconds.
BF A track name like Crystal Math would make one expect this piece, to be of that most soulless of genres, the so-called "math rock". Not at all! Or at least, not really. Flares gives a passionate and engaging performance that lends a very credible argument for combining prog rock and post rock. The bleak yet substantial themes are held together by some incredibly tasteful drumming.
21: Jackal - Big Top (7:58)
AR Weird, random, psychaedelic noise with a singer who grates.
RT Grungy but not grunge, metallic but not metal, this sounds like Black Francis' throat-shredding in front of The Groundhogs playing Budgie covers. Their old-but-new sound must stem from living in the isolated corner of Earth that is New Zealand. A fabulously untrammelled racket!
AdB Horribbly uninteresting effort, toes got cramped to hear this one out.
BF Black Sabbath features prominently in the band's press release, and it's easy to notice the influence, though Jackal are nowhere near as heavy. Not too proggy this one; the band does seem to have spirit, though none of the technical ability to go with it. This would probably fare better on a stoner rock compilation.
22: Curtis Basque - Requiem (4:06)
AR Good singer. Some nice ideas and clever use of backward loops. This song needs a second phase to properly develop the idea.
RT One-man multi-instrumentalist from Canada makes intricate and well produced anti-war song in a modern prog stylee... better than a lot of this compilation for sure.
AdB Curtis' voice is somewhat questionable. The song itself is fun to listen.
BF Hilarious press release typo here: "Curtis Basque is an independent musician, composer, lyricist, producer and recording artist. from Canada." The unwanted emphasis brought about by the misplaced full stop made me hoot with laughter. Unfortunately, the rather tame prog that followed didn't leave me so jolly.
23: Heylel - The Prophet (4:24)
AR Female-fronted doomy metal. The great voice is too dominant though in the mix, relegating the instruments to a backing dirge.
RT Gothic, atmospheric prog metal-lite with female vox from an album that is a bit all over the shop according to my colleague over at The Progressive Aspect (here) Sounds a tad under-produced to me.
AdB FFPM from Portugal, not renewing but very well performed.
BF Oh lawdy, this is just plain weird! Gothic music, but with unappealingly thin production. There's a thick bass line at the beginning of the track, but that gets completely lost in the choral drone that follows. This track is like that one very awkward guy at the party who stands alone and tries to look cool.
24: Tacita Intesa - Periodo Refrattario (4:13)
AR Retro-keyboard instrumental with an annoying over-use of effects. Bit like an arcade game from the 70s.
RT Italian instrumental retro-prog with a lovely keyboard sound and a hint of very early Heep.
AdB Sorry I've got a personal weakness for Italian bands like these, and I favour this one too. It's got soul.
BF You may be Italian, but you'll have to do a lot more than simply play in 5/4 and 6/8 to impress me! Oh look, they even throw in 7/8 at the end too.
25: Space Debris - Colossus Stranded (20:40)
AR Epic keyboard-driven retro krautrock which builds at the rate of a stalagmite. Too long by about 19 minutes.
RT Colossus Stranded starts off like a Syd trip, morphs through Zappa-esque guitar freakouts, to Nektar-like Hammond backed cosmic voyaging, ending up like MKII-era Purps on the Moon. As jam bands go, it ain't bad, although too long by half for a compilation.
AdB Twentyone minutes of almost nothing. Come on...
BF A truly retro organ solo near the beginning of this spacey track makes me sit right up. This is interesting! Slowly but surely, the band builds up tension by adding more sonic layers. Incredibly, there seem to be no real repeats. We're on a journey here; who knows what the destination is? A little bit unwieldy at 20 minutes, but still great train-of-thought music.
26: Dinosaurs Are Not Gone - Spinosaurus, or, Being Lured Like Moths To A Street Light Except They Seek Freedom And It Burns Their Wings (12:39)
AR From the 'Elvis Lives' school of band names comes this unlistenable example of poor production and metalcore growls from a guy called Dave.
RT Track Title Award, obviously. Apparently has politically-engaged lyrics, which is something that prog in general shies away from. Kudos for that, but unfortunately the muddy production and fullsome grunting means you can't tell what's being said anyway. The music is all-over-the-place-metal... I've invented a new genre!
AdB And 13 minutes of metal trash (watch the order of these words).
BF A satisfyingly adventurous number from a metalcore band whose other hits include, but are not limited to Compsognathus, or, Endeavors and Velociraptors, or, Grow a Spine and Cleanse Your Skin of the Dirt. It ain't my normal brew, but it's refreshing to see a metal band who can show originality as well as virtuosity.
27: Atma Nova - Life in Film (9:05)
AR 37 minutes since I heard a decent singer.. and here's another chugga chugga instrumental. Some nice drum rhythms but this song doesn't evolve quickly enough or well enough.
RT Spacey, repetitive guitar figures from one man band. Nice production, but much of a muchness.
AdB Extremely slowly this post rock track builds up its tension without losing grip.
BF This group has excellent atmospheric vibes that fill the room as they play in lolloping, odd time signatures. No complicated symphonic composition, just patterns that will fill your head. Very agreeable for the commute to work!
28: Untold Faith - Greed Feast (5:14)
AR Metal. Some inventive phrases but too chugga chugga for me.
RT Look at that song title, guess what it sounds like? To be fair, it does actually show a lot more imagination than most of the others of the metal persuasion on this compilation.
AdB I like the eccentric way of composing, nut the resulting song fails.
BF Progressive death metal from Transylvania. Seems appropriate really! This track really belongs in the first half of the compilation with all the other stuff for those who are metal (dross or not) inclined.
29: The D/A Method - Alvida (3:49)
AR This is a beautifully composed, acoustic, Pakistani Prog instrumental which is (and I'm not just saying this) crying out for a singer at the two minute mark. Good song but could have been great with some vocals.
RT "The D/A Method is a progressive rock band from Pakistan" Blimey, now that is unusual, although reading the PR blurb it would seem that living in London and mucking about on guitars is where this is really coming from. A melodically pleasant, if fairly inconsequential three-minute instrumental that for once is not long enough to develop properly. Can't see much, if any influence from their mother country, which is an opportunity missed.
AdB Pakistan is not the only unique element to this calm and unique song!
BF Very nice melodic guitar solo from this Pakistani outfit. A brave choice to put this subdued track on the compilation, but it certainly shines out amongst the crowd who are jostling to be the most complex, the most heavy and the most 'prog'.
30: Ontologics - Dug Until the Rest Could Drink (7:33)
AR World music, rap, electronica but no prog here. An okay listen.
RT Intriguing combination of world music influences, complicated time signatures and intricate interplay, with singing that is almost rapping. Interesting!
AdB Can't make anything out apart from the constant rap style being used.
BF Ahh, great! A fusion of hip hop and progressive music, something I've always wanted to hear. No sarcasm! Bring your popcorn, it's an interesting ride.
31: Grus Paridae - Passes By (5:38)
AR Acoustic AOR with two singers and a nice guitar solo. Nice but not prog.
RT Finnish duo plus a violinist guest make some light, Scandi prog. Yes, I know Finland isn't part of Scandinavia, but it fits the sound. The tune has all the atmospherics one expects from that prolific area. Some nice harmony work obscures the very slightly flat lead voice, but unless you have perfect pitch - a curse I live with! - you probably won't notice. Some nice violin touches add to the swirling mists.
AdB Beautiful and interesting approach to progressive music. Needs a full album in order to get a better view.
BF Plodding neo prog from Finland. No excitement whatsoever. Who let these guys near a microphone?
32: XYAX - Are We Alone (6:18)
AR Are we Alone? If you ever play a concert; probably.
RT Grrrrnnnnnnnnnaaarrgghhh plus the sound of disembowelment at the bottom of a well, morphs into a sci-fi drama with prolonged grunting. Apparently, this duo "came up with a pretty unique method to record guitar without actually touching a real guitar". Why they bothered is anyone's guess. A hideous racket to end with.
AdB Whoops, the needle scratches the record here.
BF The Cookie Monster presents the final manic djent number here. Amazingly, the tracks raw power and sheer impenetrability does evoke something in me. I wouldn't want to listen to much more than six minutes of this though!
AR Plenty of genre variety on this 20th edition. Only five bands I'd heard of before. Only two new bands I will check-out further. Only two songs I'd personally put on a compilation to showcase progressive music. A lot of demo quality material and over-long songs, around half of which has very little to do with the progressive genre as I recognise it. But that seems to be the modus operandi for this series. Always an interesting listen though.
RT This compilation improves vastly in the second half, daring to vary from the prog metal or indeed, straight metal path. Yet again, metal of one type or another proves to be the musical vehicle of choice for those bands who lack anything even slightly original to say, bereft of the merest hint of a soul with which to say it. Pre-internet, at least half of this lot would not have got further than their dad's garage. On the plus side, as ever there are one or two treats here, and we've hopefully saved you having to trawl through the densely-packed, floating detritus to find them.
AdB Where the previous Progstravaganza sampler pleased me with lots of great new bands and music, Landmarks just doesn't. Still there are a few songs that are way over average and are listed below to investigate. Top three is safe, the rest of the sampler is at your own risk. Enjoy!
BF A compilation that is best heard backwards if you ask me, as the best stuff all lies in the second half. The metal side of these compilations is always quite hard to bear, but Landmarks does represent a well-rounded view of modern prog and its many niches. From an international perspective, Progstravaganza has done well to find music in places as unfamiliar as Romania and Pakistan; the latter of these two was one of the shining moments of the compilation. More importantly though, the long tracks - and I mean really long - are actually pretty decent, and produced some rather interesting listening. There's nothing worse than hearing the bland, incessant whinings of a band which tries too hard to make a 20 minute song. All in all, I enjoyed it, but one listen was certainly enough.
Top Five for AR
1. Røsenkreütz - Signals in the Water
2. Contemporary Dead Finnish Music Ensemble - Black Mist
3. Forgotten Suns - Nanoworld
4. The D/A Method - Alvida
5. AnovA - Ride This Squall, Part 3
Top 5 for RT
1. Ontologics - Dug Until the Rest Could Drink
2. The Moonling - D.ex.M
3. The Main Sequence - Noon to Evening, Dome Sector 4
4. Jackal - Big Top
5. Jason Rubenstein - Walking on Hot Sand
Top 5 for AdB
1. Contemporary Dead Finnish Music Ensemble - Black Mist
2. Jason Rubenstein - Walking on Hot Sand
3. The D/A Method - Alvida
4. Tacita Intesa - Periodo Refrattario
5. Heylel - The Prophet
Top 5: BF
1. Flares - Crystal Math
2. The D/A Method - Alvida
3. Atma Nova - Life in Film
4. Space Debris - Colossus Stranded
5. Jason Rubenstein - Walking on Hot Sand