Of Progressive Metal and Win

Lately I keep trying to write blogs and never quite manage to figure out why I can't particularly think of anything except reviews. I've got a Top 50 Idol Solos list on the go as a counterpart to my old top 50 Idol Metal songs, but I'm increasingly finding it to be quite frustrating. I also had a blog lined up of "things idols do after they stop" to which my answer was, increasingly, "go and do more idol things". I might still do these, but at a later date.

So instead, I'll recommend some Prog Metal. Some of you may disagree on what I class as Prog Metal, but oh well. This has mostly been brought on by a realisation that once again this year the top of my album ratings will be prog metal, after having finally heard Ruud Jolie's Prog side project For All We Know, and the fact that Opeth have a new album coming out. I'm leaving out anything by Arjen, otherwise it'd just be an Ayreon Festival.

Now, I know this is supposed to be mostly "Metalheads take on Japan" or something, but frankly I need to spew pure metal. Or, in some cases, not.

Mayhem - Grand Declaration of War

Now, this one will be slightly controversial if not outright laughed at. Mayhem? Well, to be honest, from the start they were pretty progressive. Second wave of Black Metal was, at the beginning, quite eclectic. I doubt one could say Mayhem, Burzum, Darkthrone, Tormentor, Immortal and Thorns sounded particularly alike (until Attila, Snorre Ruch and Varg joined Mayhem anyway), and Deathcrush had a Conrad Schnitzler piece on it. Granted, De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas wasn't particularly innovative (the tremolo riffs were mostly by Snorre, and Attila's vocals were exactly the same as they were in Tormentor), but the circumstances surrounding the album and Mayhem's growing underground popularity made it the benchmark against which black metal was measured. So, after the hype over Varg, Snorre and Euronymous had died down, and they got back to making music, they didn't make DMDS part 2, for which I'm grateful. First followed Wolf's Lair Abyss, which was starting to show some signs of increasing technicality by way of new guitarist Blasphemer (much as Euronymous was a lynchpin for Black Metal, I don't rate him particularly well as a guitarist nor a composer). Then in 2000 hit Grand Declaration of War. Black Metal purists hated it (to be kind), which was well as anything Black Metal purists hate tends to be better than most of the stuff they actually like (which can probably only be counted on one hand anyway). It was certainly more explorative than anything that had been heard in "pure" black metal before (Emperor's last gasp Prometheus and Thorns eventual debut didn't come until 2001), and to me it's quite easily the best thing Mayhem have ever released. Blasphemer's riffs go on for ages without repeating themselves, Hellhammer's drumming is triggered to hell and technical as anything, and Necrobutcher and Maniac didn't bring the material down nearly as badly as people thought. Granted, Maniac's dictator voice can become grating, but hell, it suited the album. The triphop song and song of complete silence added both nothing and everything, and generally screwed people's heads up brilliantly. If that's not progressive, I don't know what is.

After the reaction they got, their next album Chimera was a boring, grim black metal album. The album after, Ordo Ad Chao, was also proggy as hell, but the production was so murky it just couldn't be appreciated.

Sigh - Imaginary Sonicscape

Now, I know Henkka swears by Hail Horror Hail, but I just can't overlook this frankly insane masterpiece. They're probably Japan's biggest "black metal" export, but they haven't been full on BM since 1995. Infidel Art was pretty screwed up for BM, and Ghastly Funeral Theatre only went further in their weirdness. Then came Hail Horror Hail and fucked with everyone's brains. This was in 1997, which I'm aware, is before Grand Declaration of War (as was Scenario IV, but I digress), but I can't really count it as black metal as it's just so out there. Scenario IV added a more classic rock element to Hail Horror Hail's carnival weirdness, and then came Imaginary Sonicscape, which just added weirder and weirder things. There's reggae; there's triphop; outright pop, jazz, and disco in the space of one song; classical (of course) and Industrial, all linked together with no small level of skill through black metal and progressive ramblings. The next album, Gallows Gallery, tried to be even more crazy, but failed in the face of mix issues and some controversy over whether they actually used sonic weapons or not. The albums post-Gallows are rather less experimental, thus I see Imaginary Sonicscape as their peak. Definitely worth a listen if you don't mind having your mind blown.

Lykathea Aflame - Elvenefris

What? Who? I hear you ask. Well, if you've not heard of Lykathea Aflame, I suggest you go to Youtube and listen to some (as you're highly unlikely to find this album anywhere). Hailing from kvltest Czech Republic (where they don't even need vowels to form sentences) comes this trio (yes, trio. Three people made this). This album is, frankly, the single greatest Technical Death Metal album ever made. Fuck Cryptopsy, fuck Necrophagist, fuck Nile. This is probably equal parts prog and techdeath, but the music is (even when 240bpm, gravity blasted and riffing in complex scales and timesigs) beautiful. Ptoe's vocals aren't anywhere near as clear as Mike Akerfeldt's deathgrowls, but if brutal's your thing he puts Corpsegrinder to shame at times. You really need to get on and listen to this, because no matter what I try and say I can't do it justice. Basically, it fuses techdeath, Slavic folk and Egyptian/Arabic scales to pull out something even Nile haven't managed. And all the while, the lyrics are all about being nice to each other and living happily. Aww...

Akercocke - Words That Go Unspoken, Deeds That Go Undone

Akercocke have always been proggy and bizarre even in the midst of their black/death/tuxedo wearing combo, but this album takes the cake. I got into them in 2004 when I picked up Chronozon because it had ass on the cover. What followed was possibly the second most scary album experience I've ever had. It was fusing death metal, Satanism and electronica and prog and I don't know what. After that I picked up their Goat of Mendes album and found it wasn't anywhere near as good. Then the next year they released Words... To say I was blown away was an understatement. To me it was by far the best album released in 2005. In fact, the song Shelter From The Sand is probably among my top five songs of the 00's. The album is equally heavy, progressive and insane. Shelter From The Sand sticks it all into one song and just wins. Again, one that needs to be heard.

Ephel Duath - Painter's Palette

This album is fucked up. Ephel Duath are some Italian dudes, who must all have escaped from an asylum. Hardcore Punk, Prog, Jazz and Black Metal, all in one insane album based on colours. If you like jazz give them a shot. If I had to name their genre it would be Jazzcore. It does seem similar in chaos to Dillinger Escape Plan, but with more outright obvious jazz influences. At times it even hits on Funky Jazz Punk. If that's not a cool sounding genre I don't know what is.

Fantomas - Delirium Cordia

If there's ever a scarier album I don't want to hear it. This album (one track, 74 minutes long) is apparently an aural rendition of surgery. The booklet is helpfully illustrated by medical photography to enhance the effect. Featuring Mike Patton, Slayer's Dave Lombardo, and Buzz Osbourne from The Melvins, it's undoubtedly both insane and violent. Less music than open heart surgery with no anasthaesia. Protip, never listen to after midnight when in bed whilst ill.

Green Carnation - Light of Day, Day of Darkness

More actual prog than general genre fuckery, this album (another one song album, 60 minutes) by ex-Emperor bassist Tchort was written after the birth of his son. The album drifts between old school prog rock and modern prog metal with ease, fluidly flowing between sections and even having a female scat vocal/saxophone duet, along with one of the most amazing guitar solos ever. I still prefer it over the older and newer stuff, though Acoustic Verses is an amazing album in its own right.

That's about it for full writeups, but for some additional recommendations:

Ayreon - everything
Emperor - Prometheus: The Discipline of Fire and Demise
Haken - Aquarius
Ihsahn - After
The Meads of Asphodel - The Murder of Jesus The Jew
Meshuggah - I
Opeth - everything
Star One - everything
Symphony X - Paradise Lost
Thorns - Thorns
To-Mera - Delusions


  1. Great picks. Lykathea Aflame is a new one to me, checking out youtube clips right now, crazy.

    Sigh eventually admitted the "sonic weapons" thing was made up because the album was originally delayed or something. Think it was in Giant Robot, I'll try to find it.

  2. Really cool list man! Thanks for the post, and don't worry about the non-Japaneseness. I don't think that's really a requirement much anymore. :)

    In any case, to look at your picks a bit. I was surprised at the inclusion of Mayhem because, truthfully, though I've heard Grand Declaration of War (like, twice), if it was proggy it completely escaped my mind at the time because it was busy occupied with going "wait a minute... this is completely different from De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas... hmmm..." I should go ahead and give it some repeated listens seeing as you recommend it so!

    And about Sigh, I have to say right off the bat that though Hail Horror Hail is a cool album, I've come to make the same observation as you: Imaginary Sonicscape is definitely their best work. (Second up for me is probably their less-experimental Hangman's Hymn from 2007, and maybe third is HHH.) In any case, Imaginary Sonicscape is a bitch of an album. A really good-looking bitch. Mm-hmm.

    And as for Lykathea Aflame, that album is fucking insane. Fucking... intense. I wanted to tell all my friends about it when I first heard it, but no one heard my cries. I'm glad you like them as well! Listening to that album, my mind was essentially blown when the first track kicks in. I was sold within the 30 seconds that it was an awesome album.

    Ephel Duath and Fantomas, not really a fan of, but I know fellow contributor skald swears by them both, especially Ephel Duath. I don't know, not really my thing. One of my other friends swears by the Green Carnation album and, after listening to it once, it's forever since been in my list of "need to listen to this more to determine its value."

    Akercocke is the only one whose music I'm not familiar with. I've heard the name thrown around a lot but always seemed avoid them because they have "cock" in their name. Anyway, I'll have to check out "Words". Thanks for the rec as always mate!

    Also nods of approval to most, if not all, of your additional recs.

  3. Here is the part of the Sigh interview from Giant Robot 46 that explains the "sonic weapons" (2nd column):

    Here's the first part: