It was back in August 2010, that Prog Sphere Promotions released its first ever Progstravaganza compilation. After four years, twenty compilations, over 460 bands showcased and more than 65,000 downloads, the 20th and final edition, Landmarks, was released back in 2014 (review here).
DPRP reviewed seven of the series in a slightly different style, with up to four reviewers, having just one paragraph to give a view on each track. The general conclusion, was that there were always some unknown gems to be discovered, but you had to wade through an awful lot of rubbish to find them (often over 30 tracks lasting several hours)!
After a two-year-plus pause, Prog Sphere returns to the compilation game with Progotronics. This time it is a more focused effort, featuring 15 independent and largely-unknown bands, all of whom could be classified in various categories of the progressive metal sub-genre. It is certainly an up-to-date compilation, with every band having released something in the past few months. Almost all have full albums to check out on Bandcamp.
So sticking to a familiar formula, we invited five of our writers to sample the new Progotronics and give their verdicts in a short paragraph. Links are provided to fuller samples of every artist.
You can stream individual tracks of interest from the Progotronics 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.
01. Signals of Bedlam - The Fix (4:23) André de Boer: Aggressive but attractive up-tempo punk with some lovely, small riffing in the second half.
Andy Read: Band from New York mixing Mars Volta, Fair to Midland and Tool with unusual vocals and nice experimentation. I liked this. So I played it five times. Then I liked it even more.
Geoff Feakes: An appropriately fast-and-furious start to proceedings, bringing to mind Deep Purple's Fireball, which is no bad thing.
Guille Palladino : Alternative metal with progressive metal arrangements and structure, mixed in a messy way, which results in a musical proposal quite difficult to listen to. Not sure what audience it is oriented to.
Calum Gibson: Fast paced prog, reminiscent of Tool, especially vocally.
02. Synaptik - Esc Ctrl (7:19) André: Wouldn't mind listening to an EP of this interesting prog metal. Bravo!
Andy: Taken from their brand new Justify & Reason album, this metal fivesome from the east coast of England sits somewhere between thrash and tech metal with a very melodic singer. Promising.
Geoff: Aggressive, djent-driven metal with the obligatory shredding guitar solo and a dark, doom-laden finale.
Guille: An interesting band from the UK which mixes progressive metal, melodic death metal and math metal arrangements, reminding me of bands such as Queensrÿche, Textures and Scar Symmetry.
Calum: Clean vocals and a djent sound for guitars. Honestly not much that hasn't been done before. Good, but not ground-breaking.
03. Althea - Revenge (4:40) André: Amazingly clean 'n' loud and well produced. Might have set the definition of 'prog metal'.
Andy: Anyone like Dream Theater? If so then this Italian band's second album has just been released. This is a pretty good song.
Geoff: An incessant guitar riff laced with spacey sound effects, proves to be a compelling combination, helped by a memorable chorus and harmonies.
Guille: Influences from early Dream Theater are predominant here and that made this a great song, from a wonderful album. I like the way this Italian band arrange their music, and the singer's voice sounding like Mikko von Hertzen.
Calum: Early Dream Theater sound (reminds me of the Awake album). I like it.
04. Emperor of Mind - Some Funky Molecules (4:08) André: I don't know about funky, but this tech metal, combined with progressiveness ain't bad at all!
Andy: Some crazily manic instrumental djent techo wizzardry all the way from New York, via a seven-headed guitar and a bit of programming. This is the first single. Full album to follow soon.
Geoff: An incongruous instrumental hybrid of unrelenting industrial metal and ambient guitar interludes.
Guille: Math and technical metal influences take the main role in this instrumental/ambiental song with an undeniable influence from Textures. You won't notice how quick this song passes by.
Calum: A discordant and chaotic start. Some nice bits throughout but a lot of chaotic bits. Doesn't really work in my opinion. Lots of "duh duh duh duhduh"-s in it all.
05. Burnt City - Resurgence (5:44) André: it was fun to listen to some good ole hard rock. Progressive? Nay.
Andy: Title track from the debut EP by this Australian band. Great energy but the singer is too shouty pop metal for my tastes.
Geoff: The staccato power chords, histrionic guitar solo and Bon Jovi style vocal posturing gives this an 80s feel.
Guille: Classic progressive metal riffs and rhythms strangely combined with an alternative-influenced voice, which changes to a more harmonic approach for moments. The result could be better but still sounds good.
Calum: Nice pace, lovely bit of prog metal, good guitar work and proggy drumming. Almost a Megadeth-type feel to the solo though. Think them, but proggy and better vocals.
06. Increate - The Crawling Chaos (5:57) André: For guitar fetishists only.
Andy: Two guitars and blast beats. Lots of blast beats. Nothing but guitars and blast beats!
Geoff: Despite the absence of vocals, they manage to incorporate just about every metal cliché imaginable into this frantic but mostly forgettable instrumental.
Guille: Progressive metal done in a darker and melancholic way, with death metal rhythms which results in an instrumental track filled with various styles of guitar solos.
Calum: Another djent one, could be a Meshuggah b-side easily. Pretty good.
07. Farwatch - Water Turns the Wheel (7:07) André: Average female-fronted copy prog metal. Many would like it though.
Andy: Challenging and progressive metal from new US band, with a very good singer in Mary Flowe. Their debut 4-track album melds the mood of Lacuna Coil, the folk of Kingfisher Sky and the complexity of District 97. Piqued my interest.
Geoff: This has the distinction of being the only female-fronted song in this collection and is a welcome diversion into more melodic prog territory.
Guille: This is a great mix between neo-progressive musical structure, with a more progressive metal rhythmical approach and crowned with a beautiful female voice. Influences from Stream of Passion among other non-gothic bands of the same style.
Calum: Take prog, add in Nightwishstyle vocals and some lovely clean sections with impeccable bass work.
08. Cloudspeak - Storm Clouds (3:52) André: Quite nice, quiet, instrumental prog metal. Needs a little more pepper to become special.
Andy: Johnny Wright IV is a 21-year-old musician out of Chicago. This is jazzy instrumental metal fusion, for those who like a bit of mood with their shredding.
Geoff: Some fine, soaring guitar work lifts this instrumental above the ordinary.
Guille: Another common progressive metal proposal made by skilled musicians who made a great work but with a lack of feeling as a result. The keyboard arrangements could be more worshipped in order to add more variations to the music.
Calum: Some nice guitar work, but overall, fairly standard instrumental, modern "prog" track.
09. Konstant Singularity - Echo of Your Voice (7:32) André: Less is more. The experimental or even cinematographic side of prog. Great stuff!
Andy: Now we take the pace right down. Konstantin Ilin is a musician out of St Petersberg who knows how to let his guitar speak; not just shred.
Geoff: A slow burning instrumental that builds from laid back beginnings, taking in an articulate bass solo and elements of Black Sabbath along the way.
Guille: A more progressive rock approach which results in a lighter instrumental track, with guitar arrangements and solos taking the main role and adding some fusion and jazzy influences.
Calum: Again nice guitar work, a decent solo. But again instrumental and could have maybe done with being three and a half minutes shorter.
10. Sons of Ra - Antifragile (6:50) André: Complex and alternating instrumental prog metal, ending in a jazz-funky apotheosis. Pro's at work here!
Andy: After the calm; the storm (AKA the Sons of Ra from Chicago). Complex instrumental workout with horrible drums. An unpalatable noise.
Geoff: Fast and showy ensemble playing, especially the nimble drumming, elevates this above the metal norm into the class of Dream Theater.
Guille: Here is a more fusioned Progressive Metal song with important drumming arrangements that marks the complexity of the rhythm in balance with a more free-stylish, fusion-influenced structure. A little bit of a confusing song.
Calum: Instrumental, but it brings in some much needed metal. Elements of death in the drumming and mixed-in to the guitars. I like it, although a near seven minute instrumental is getting on a bit, even if the musicianship is brilliant.
11. Koronal - Usurper (5:14) André: Grunting and boring. Nothing special to be found.
Andy: I thought we were overdue some growls. These come from Poland. I hadn't hit the skip button once - until now. Skip!
Geoff: An incessant distorted guitar riff and death growl vocals. Need I say more?
Guille: A depressive guitar riff cheats on us and turns into a melodic death metal-influenced song with growling vocals and a slower rhythm, combined with more mathematical arrangements, resulting in a good song.
Calum: Djent again, but with a more death metal sound. Think Meshuggah, but with heavier vocals.
12. Sun of Gaia - Peril (5:44) André: Standard grunts combined with classical piano? Yes, they can. Would be great if more interwoven.
Andy: And now some grunts to go with the growls, from Australia. Skip again!
Geoff: More growls, although this time the arrangement is more imaginative, including piano and a touch of symphonic keys.
Guille: A more melodic death metal-influenced song combined with other influences. A band whose singer has a more versatile voice and whose wider dynamic range allows him to scream and growl, combining both death and black metal styles.
Calum: Progressive death metal with some symphonic elements. A lot like Breathing Process. Just what I like.
13. Aeonic Impulse - Existing Within the REM (8:20) André: Laid back jazz rock with ample vocals, like a sea of pleasing rest seamlessly merging into perfect chaos and back. A really fantastic, esoteric song.
Andy: These Californians could be signed to Kscope. Vocals could be a bit clearer and stronger but do get better amidst an interesting mix of ambient, noize and jazzy cinematic textures. A bit raw and muddled production, but promising.
Geoff: Spacey and atmospheric with lead vocals that echo Bono, let down by muddy production.
Guille: A dissonant song in a more ambiental mood, mixing both slower sections and more powerful arrangements. We have more spacial guitars as a background, and some fusion-influenced sections.
Calum: Sounds more mellow than we have had before, with a bit of a bluesy feel to it and elements of King Crimson
14. Second Horizon - Panoptikon (6:35) André: Lovely balanced prog metal, suitable to many ears. Love it.
Andy: Fates Warning meets Meshuggah in Germany without a singer. Oh, this could be so great with a vocalist.
Geoff: A deceptively subtle intro for an otherwise loud instrumental that reaches some genuinely powerful peaks.
Guille: A great progressive metal song that starts as a rhythmic guitar, which makes a crescendo until it explodes in a powerful riff with all the ingredients of the genre. I particularly miss some keyboards here.
Calum: An instrumental with a number of interesting sections and some decent leads.
15. Future Was Perfect - Traces Unknown (9:31) André: The longest track, starts promising and continues to amaze throughout with great composition and craftmanship, including clarinet.
Andy: Instrumental progressive rock from Bulgaria, where folk-meets-metal-meets-prog. A well-crafted song.
Geoff: Instrumental that makes full use of its near 10 minutes, with melodic guitar and bass passages sitting comfortably alongside powerhouse, bolero riffs.
Guille: Progressive metal combined with heavy metal riffs and influences, some arrangements remind me of Iron Maiden, not only in sound also in the song structure. The closing section with sax arrangements is wonderful.
Calum: Again an instrumental with a nice mix of clean and heavy parts, changes enough to stay interesting for nine minutes.
Geoff Feakes: Whilst there was never any danger of this compilation turning me into a diehard metal fan overnight (I prefer my prog more on the melodic side), I was pleasantly surprised by the profusion of instrumentals, scarcity of growled vocals and the high standard of musicianship.
Calum Gibson: Overall, too many instrumentals. Within prog, the instrumentals tend to get quite repetitive in my humble opinion. I'll definitely stick with a few bands and check out their other stuff, but that is about it for me!
Andy Read: Welcome back Prog Sphere compilations. Always great fun to listen to and at least four bands (out of 15) that I will explore further. In terms of overall quality, this must be one of the best so far (provided of course that you like prog-metal).
Top Three Songs
André de Boer 1. Future Was Perfect - Traces Unknown
2. Konstant Singularity - Echo of Your Voice
3. Aeonic Impulse - Existing Within the REM
Andy Read 1. Signals of Bedlam - The Fix
2. Synaptik - Esc Ctrl
3. Farwatch - Water Turns the Wheel
Geoff Feakes 1. Sons of Ra - Antifragile
2. Farwatch - Water Turns The Wheel
3. Althea - Revenge
Guille Palladino 1. Althea - Revenge
2. Farwatch - Water Turns The Wheel
3. Koronal - Usurper
Calum Gibson 1. Althea - Revenge
2. Burnt City - Resurgence
3. Farwatch - Water Turns The Wheel