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Progressive Metal

@ Fopp

Progressive metal blends the attack, volume, and aggression of metal with the grandiose, pseudo-classical ambitions of prog rock. Of course, certain bands emphasize one influence over the other but they all shared this one basic ambition. At Fopp we’re delving into the history of prog metal by offering the seminal and contemporary bands of the genre.

 

Ayreon

Ayreon is a musical project created by Arjen Anthony Lucassen, a Dutch multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter, arranger, and producer. His music is usually defined within the parameters of progressive metal, or progressive rock, but also features interwoven strains of power metal, folk, electronica, experimental, and classical music. The majority of Ayreon’s albums are dubbed “rock operas” (or “metal operas”) because they contain complex plot lines and large casts of characters — each represented by a unique vocalist — performed by a revolving-door, international cast of top-flight musicians. Ayreon’s grandly conceived third album, 1998’s Into the Electric Castle: A Space Opera, wed Greek mythology to science fiction and featured no less than eight singers, Fish and Anneke van Giersbergen among them. 2004’s The Human Equation included symphonic strings and another large cast of vocalists. Lucassen even flew Mayan leader singer/violinist Marcela Bovio from Mexico for the sessions. 2008 saw the issue of 01011001, a concept outing that desired to trace the “secret history” behind ASCII binary text characters. 2017’s The Source proved Ayreon’s most grandly conceived spectacle to date, in studio and on tour. The enormous cast of the musical-theater-meets-progressive-metal production asserted a relatively straightforward sci-fi profile, though its labyrinthine concept narrated an actual prequel to 01011001 – some of the current songs included lyrics that were sung in binary code.
Essential Listening:   Into the Electric Castle: A Space Opera  CD  £18  LP  £38


Between the Buried & Me

Between the Buried and Me are a thinking man’s metal outfit from Raleigh, North Carolina. Their ability to move seamlessly from death, prog, technical, death, and math metal to the blues is unique. On 2003’s The Silent Circus they ground through the warehouse of extreme music’s subgenres. They referred to 2007’s Colors as “a 65-minute opus of non-stop pummeling beautiful music….” and critics agreed. 2015’s relatively accessible Coma Ecliptic revealed that BTBAM had widened their creative circle to the degree that critics lauded them as a “progressive metal” band. They underscored this impression with 2018’s conceptual two-part Automata, which offered stylistic shifts amid panoramic production aesthetics. In 2021, the band issued Colors II, a sequel to its 2007 cult classic.
Essential Listening:  Colors II  CD  £12  LP  £32


Caligula’s Horse

A hard-hitting and shape-shifting Aussie progressive metal/alt-rock unit based out of Brisbane, Caligula’s Horse was founded in 2011 around the talents of vocalist Jim Grey, lead guitarist Sam Vellen, guitarist Adrian Goleby, bassist/vocalist Dave Couper, and drummer Josh Griffin. Taking a cue from bands like Coheed and Cambria, Haken, Dream Theater, and Circus Maximus, the band released their full-length debut, Moments from Ephemeral City, not long after forming. Their sophomore effort, 2013’s The Tide, the Thief & River’s End, was preceded by an EP, Colossus, and in 2015 they released their breakthrough LP, the Inside Out Music-issued Bloom, which made a strong showing on the Australian charts. 2017 saw the band drop their highly anticipated fourth studio long-player, the narrative-driven In Contact, again via Inside Out. The bands most recent effort Rise Radiant was released in 2020.
Essential Listening:  Rise Radiant  CD  £13


Diablo Swing Orchestra

A Swedish avant-garde metal ensemble with a penchant for combining elements of jazz, swing, classical, and progressive rock with Marshall stack-powered sonic might, Diablo Swing Orchestra was founded in 2003 — the group wryly cites a lineage that dates back to the 1500s. Originally conceived as a sextet, the band issued an EP, Borderline Hymns, in 2003, with their first full-length outing, The Butcher’s Ballroom, arriving in 2006. A sophomore effort, Sing Along Songs for the Damned & Delirious, arrived in 2009, and they expanded to an eight-piece for 2012’s Pandora’s Piñata. Pacifisticuffs arrived in 2017, and marked their debut for Finnish metal giant Spinefarm Records. Following up in 2021 the group released Swagger & Stroll Down the Rabbit Hole, the album was acclaimed by critics for its uniqueness, blend of genres, and songwriting.
Essential Listening:  Swagger & Stroll Down the Rabbit Hole  CD  £13


The Dillinger Escape Plan

The Dillinger Escape Plan create maniacally intense, crushingly metallic, and decidedly hardcore punk-infused jazz-time-signature-invoking compositions displaying an unparalleled musical bravery, precision musicianship, meticulously thought-out and complex structuring, and rigorous physical endurance. The band’s guitarists and drummer are regular features in publications geared toward the guitar- and drum-playing set. The depth of extremity and mental challenge presented by their music virtually defies description, at once recalling the mind-wandering spirit of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, the complex heavy metal of latter-day Death, Cynic’s solitary death metal achievement, and the progressive hard rock of Rush. Their performances bring to mind the anarchic charge of early Guns N’ Roses shows, and the sophistication that drives their craft should awe fans of classy art rock bands like Radiohead.
Essential Listening:  Ire Works  CD  £8


Dream Theatre

Long Island, New York’s Dream Theater are the globally celebrated standard bearers for progressive metal in the 21st century. Their ability to deliver tight, melodic, musically sophisticated songs and thematic concept recordings encompassing elements of hook-based hard rock, riff-fueled metal, syncopated prog, and refined lyrics have made them the act others are measured by. Their second album, 1992’s Images and Words, established their sonic signature, while 1994’s Awake and 1999’s Metropolis, Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory cemented their place in metal’s pantheon. Dream Theater is well known for high-energy concert performances. While they’ve released several 21st century live albums — Live at the Marquee, Live in Japan, and Live Scenes from New York — they remain one of the genre’s most bootlegged bands. For 2016’s The Astonishing, a double-length dystopian sci-fi opera, they were accompanied by the Prague Symphony Orchestra and three choirs. In 2021, the band issued A View from the Top of the World.
Essential Listening:  Images and Words  CD  £7  Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From A Memory  CD  £7  Awake  CD  £7


Gojira

Taking their name from the original Japanese pronunciation of Godzilla, French heavy metal quartet Gojira have risen from the utmost obscurity during the first half of their career to widespread global recognition in the second. Combining elements of thrash, death, math, groove, progressive, and post-metal with philosophical and environment-themed lyrics, the band found mainstream favor in 2012 with the release of their fifth long-player L’Enfant Sauvage and doubled-down on that success with 2016’s Grammy-nominated Magma and 2021’s hard-hitting and versatile Fortitude.
Essential Listening:  L’ Enfant Sauvage CD  £13  Magma  CD  £10  LP  £28


Intronaut

First conceived in 2004, Los Angeles, California’s Intronaut started out as a friendly but loose side project concocted between Anubis Rising vocalist/guitarist Sacha Dunable and then-Uphill Battle drummer Danny Walker (also ex-Exhumed). When their songwriting started to bear impressive fruit — based upon the aggressive and progressive new sound made popular by Mastodon and, to a lesser degree, their own groups — the duo called in fellow Exhumed guitarist/vocalist Leon del Muerte and bassist Joe Lester to help them cut the Null EP, released in early 2006 by Goodfellow Records. Barely six months later, Intronaut returned with that EP’s logically named follow-up and debut studio long-player, Void. Del Muerte left the group the following year to focus on Murder Construct, and was replaced by Dave Timnick, who would make his studio debut with the group on its 2008 Century Media-issued sophomore full-length, Prehistoricisms. Valley of Smoke arrived in 2010, followed in 2013 by Habitual Levitations (Instilling Words with Tones). The band issued its fourth studio LP, The Direction of Last Things, in 2015. Their most recent effort 2020’s Fluid Existential Inversions was met with critical acclaim.
Essential Listening:  Fluid Existential Inversions  CD  £15  LP  £25


Liquid Tension Experiment

Liquid Tension Experiment is an American instrumental prog rock “supergroup.” Founded in 1997 by drummer Mike Portnoy, then a member of Dream Theater, their sound offers complex compositions — sometimes of protracted length — wedding riff-laden hard rock and heavy metal to knotty jazz fusion, and meaty funk with constantly shifting dynamics, rhythms, time signatures, and textures. The lineup also includes King Crimson bassist/Chapman Stick master Tony Levin, and Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess and guitarist John Petrucci. The band’s self-titled debut album was cut over five days and released by Magna Carta in 1998. They issued Liquid Tension Experiment 2 in 1999 to greater critical and commercial success. A compilation entitled Spontaneous Combustion by Liquid Trio Experiment was released in 2007, composed of improv tapes cut during the LTE2 sessions by Portnoy, Rudess, and Levin. During a 2008 concert, Rudess left the stage due to keyboard malfunctions, and his bandmates continued to play, improvising for the rest of the concert; he eventually returned to play guitar. The improvised concert was released in 2009 as When the Keyboard Breaks: Live in Chicago. After more than a decade apart, the band reunited in Dream Theater’s studio during the late summer of 2020. They emerged with LTE3 in April 2021.
Essential Listening:  LTE3  CD  £13  LP  £30


Mastodon

Atlanta’s Mastodon are one of the most original and influential American metal bands to appear in the 21st century. Their wide-angle progressive approach encompasses stoner and sludge metal, punishing hardcore and metalcore, neo-psych, death metal, and more. The group’s playing style incorporates technically complex guitar riffs, lyric hooks, long, melodic instrumental passages, and intricate, jazz-influenced drumming with syncopated time signatures. Their second album, 2004’s Leviathan, was a concept offering based on Moby Dick, Herman Melville’s iconic novel of whaling and obsession, and became the band’s commercial breakthrough. The record is regarded critically as one of the most important albums in genre history. 2011’s conceptual The Hunter reflected the band’s embrace of prog; it channeled disparate influences ranging from King Crimson to Opeth. 2017’s Emperor of Sand debuted inside the Top Ten and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Album — the single “Sultan’s Curse” took one home for Best Metal Performance. Change and evolution (Mastodon’s raison d’être) are as integral to their musical identity as their personnel. 2020 saw the issue of Medium Rarities, featuring live cuts, covers, and instrumentals. In 2021, Mastodon returned to proper studio recording with the double-length Hushed and Grim.
Essential Listening:  Crack the Skye  CD  £5  The Hunter  CD  £7  Leviathan  CD  £13


Meshuggah

Offering a complex form of metal that combined the sweeping adventurism of math rock, the oddball tempos of experimental jazz, and the stunning brutality of thrash metal, Meshuggah raised the bar for metal bands everywhere upon their debut.  After signing to Nuclear Blast they issued the full-length Contradictions Collapse in 1991. Second guitarist Mårten Hagström was recruited for 1993’s None EP, followed two years later by Selfcaged; in the interim, however, the group was forced to maintain a low profile — first guitarist Thordendal severed a finger in a carpentry accident, then drummer Haake injured his hand in a mysterious grinder mishap. Destroy Erase Improve appeared later in 1995, and won over critics with its heady tempos and abstract approach. In 1997, Meshuggah returned with The True Human Design EP; that same year, Thordendal’s side project, Special Defects, released their LP Sol Niger Within. Meshuggah reunited for 1998’s Chaosphere, a thunderous album that was unbearably dense in its songwriting and scope. Several successful tours followed, and their incredible abilities were starting to be recognized by mainstream music magazines, especially those dedicated to particular instruments. Once they left the touring circuit, Meshuggah were surprisingly quiet, cooking up new material for a few years while a rarities disc marked the time. But in the summer of 2002, they released Nothing, a masterpiece of atmosphere that added psychedelic touches to their ever-tightening sound. Unique in almost every way, the album didn’t make much of a mainstream impact but had metal fans banging their heads to 7/4 tempos and esoteric lyrics. A good word from Ozzy Osbourne’s son Jack scored them a spot on the annual Ozzfest tour, where they flourished on the second stage, often stealing the show with their original and savage math metal. After a brief break, Meshuggah released the I EP in 2004. Composed of a single epic track, the complex arrangements of I were just a hint of what was to follow. Their next album, Catch Thirty-Three, was released the following year and proved to be their most ambitious to date. A remastered re-release of Nothing with a bonus DVD arrived in 2006. The same year, Meshuggah returned to the studio to record the album that would become obZen, their sixth, which was released in March of 2008 in advance of a world tour that began in the United States with the band in the opening slot for Ministry’s final jaunt before moving to Europe, Asia, and Australia as a headliner. Their seventh album, Koloss, was issued in 2012 followed by the single and video for “I Am Colossus” and “Pitch Black” b/w “Dancers to a Discordant System (Live),” the following year. The Ophidian Trek, live audio and video packages were released in 2014. In the summer of 2016, the band and Nuclear Blast released 25 Years of Musical Deviance, an anniversary vinyl box set limited to 1,000 copies. It was a precursor to the band’s studio offering, The Violent Sleep of Reason, in the fall. The bands most recent studio effort Immutable is set for release April 2022.
Essential Listening:   obZen  CD  £10  LP  £28  Destroy Erase Improve  CD  £9  LP  £25


Opeth

Since their arrival in 1990 as the self-proclaimed “most evil band in the world,” Sweden’s Opeth have become one of the most influential heavy metal groups in all of Northern Europe. Though their musical beginning was rooted in occult-saturated, doomy death metal, as evidenced by 1995’s Orchid and the following year’s Morningrise, by the time they issued 1998’s globally acclaimed My Arms, Your Hearse, they were already threading progressive elements into their music. As the band’s individuals grew musically and personnel shifted, their approach and sonic palette expanded. 2001’s groundbreaking Blackwater Park may have drawn heat from purist death metal fans and critics, but global prog-metal fans championed it. By the time they issued 2005’s Ghost Reveries, a foundational fusion of death and prog metal, they were charting in dozens of countries, including the Top Ten in their native Sweden. In the 2010s, Opeth pursued full-on prog-cum-folk-metal for 2011’s Heritage, an album that signified the band’s long-expected departure from the death metal aesthetic; they underscored it with an exclamation point on 2015’s Pale Communion, which sold more than 19,000 copies during its first week of release in the United States.  Opeth signed to Nuclear Blast in June of 2016 and announced a new album titled Sorceress with the release of a teaser video. In July, they issued the first of eight YouTube webisodes, revealing that the album had been recorded in 12 days at Rockfield Studios in Wales — the same location where the group cut Pale Communion. The result was Sorceress, released at the end of September during the middle of their American tour. Opeth returned to Park Studios in Stockholm to write and record the emotionally flamboyant In Cauda Venenum (Latin for “the poison is in the tail”). The goal of the set, according to guitarist Fredrik Åkesson, was to “be as epic as possible.” While firmly ingrained in the prog-metal genre, it was, according to Åkerfeldt, the band’s “heaviest album.” In Cauda Venenum was released in Swedish- and English-language versions simultaneously; the former appearing on the group’s Moderbolaget label and the latter on Nuclear Blast.
Essential Listening:  Blackwater Park  CD  £4  LP  £32  Ghost Reveries  CD  £8  In Cauda Venenum  CD  £8  LP  £25


Periphery

With a sound that pushes at the boundaries of progressive metal, Periphery are at the forefront of the “djent” movement, utilizing detuned, extended-range instruments to create a sound that’s as technically dizzying as it is heavy, joining in with the growing ranks of artists who are taking the framework laid down by bands like Meshuggah and running wild with it. Periphery started in 2005 as the recording project of guitarist and producer Misha Mansoor. Mansoor had already made a name for himself in the progressive metal community through his production abilities with his project Bulb. He created Periphery as an evolution of his earlier work, taking the music out of the studio and onto the road; he fleshed out the band with a lineup that included guitarists Alex Bois and Jake Bowen, bassist Tom Murphy, drummer Matt Halpern, and, after running through a few vocalists, singer Spencer Sotelo. Periphery released their self-titled debut in 2010 on Sumerian, then quickly went out on the road, touring the U.S. and Canada, as well as making stops in Australia and the U.K. The following year, the band released their first EP, Icarus. Leading up to 2012’s Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal, Mark Holcomb replaced Bois on guitar and Adam Getgood replaced Murphy on bass. The album earned positive reviews from critics, and debuted just outside the Top 40 on the main Billboard albums chart. By 2015, the band had readied a double album for Sumerian. Comprising two halves, Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega both appeared on the same day in January 2015, earning yet more positive reviews for the band and even higher chart placements, topping out at number 22 on Billboard. Although Juggernaut took six months to record, the group wasted no time reentering the studio to record the follow-up. The resulting full-length, Periphery III: Select Difficulty, appeared in July 2016, and was nominated for Best Metal Performance at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards. In 2018 the band split with Sumerian, and in 2019 they issued their sixth studio long-player, Periphery IV: Hail Stan, on their own independent label 3DOT Recordings. The following year saw the group release their first concert LP, Live in London.
Essential Listening:  Periphery IV: Hail Stan  CD  £9


Protest the Hero

Combining technical metal and post-hardcore instincts, Whitby, Ontario’s Protest the Hero are comprised of Rody Walker (vocals), Tim Millar (guitar/vocals), Luke Hoskin (guitar/vocals), Moe Carlson (drums), and Arif Mirabdolbaghi (bass/vocals). Starting as many bands do — with a common musical passion found among high school friends — Protest the Hero worked hard on developing their own identity, and their sound soon became reminiscent of a combination of Coheed & Cambria, At the Drive-In, and Every Time I Die. They released the 7″ Search for the Truth on Canada’s Underground Operations in 2001 and followed up two years later with the EP A Calculated Use of Sound. Their music was getting noticed around the country, and they won Best Indie Metal Band at the 2004 Indie Music Awards in Toronto and had multiple appearances on the Canadian music channel MuchMusic. Relentless touring continued with a range of bands from Korn and Limp Bizkit to Bigwig and Sum 41. Protest the Hero issued their debut full-length, Kezia, a sort of concept album referred to by the band as a “situationist requiem,” in 2005. Signing with Vagrant in early 2006, Kezia was re-released in the United States that April. In 2008, the band released its second album, Fortress, which received near universal critical acclaim. Scurrilous, the group’s third long-player, arrived in March of 2011. 2013 saw the amicable departure of original drummer and co-founder Moe Carlson. It also saw the release of the band’s much anticipated fourth studio long-player, Volition, which was entirely crowd-funded via Indiegogo. Bassist Arif Mirabdolbaghi left the fold the following year and was replaced by producer Cameron McLellan, who would come on as an unofficial member. In 2015, the group announced that their next release, an EP called Pacific Myth, would be subscription-based, with the six tracks to be released through Bandcamp once per month to paid subscribers until March 2016. Their fifth LP, Palimpsest, arrived in June of 2020, embracing the band’s outspoken politics with reflections on contemporary U.S. issues from propaganda to imperialism.
Essential Listening:  Pacific Myth  CD  £12  Palimpsest  CD  £14


Queensryche

Although they were initially grouped with the legions of pop-metal bands that dominated the American heavy metal scene of the ’80s, Queensrÿche were one of the most distinctive bands of the era. Where their contemporaries built on the legacy of Van Halen, Aerosmith, and Kiss, Queensrÿche constructed a progressive form of heavy metal that drew equally from the guitar pyrotechnics of post-Van Halen metal and ’70s art rock, most notably Pink Floyd and Queen. After releasing a handful of ignored albums, the band began to break into the mainstream with the acclaimed 1988 album Operation: Mindcrime. Its follow-up, Empire, was the group’s biggest success, selling over two million copies due to the hit single “Silent Lucidity.” Queensrÿche never sustained that widespread popularity — like most late-’80s metal bands, their audience disappeared after the emergence of grunge. Nevertheless, they retained a large cult following well into the ensuing decades.
Essential Listening:  Operation Mindcrime  CD  £10  LP  £30


Sikth

Cited as one of the more influential bands in the djent branch of the progressive metal movement, versatile English rockers Sikth formed in 1999 in Watford, Hertfordshire, but didn’t settle on the core lineup of dual vocalists Mikee Goodman and Justin Paul Hill, Dan Weller (guitar, piano), James Leach (bass), and Dan Foord (drums, percussion) until 2001. Sikth issued a pair of well-received EPs, Let the Transmitting Begin and How May I Help You?, before releasing their debut studio long-player, The Trees Are Dead & Dried Out Wait for Something Wild, in 2003. International support slots for Anthrax and Killswitch Engage followed, as did high-profile appearances at festivals like Download and Fuse Leeds, and in 2006, Sikth released their sophomore full-length outing, Death of a Dead Day. In 2007 Goodman and Hill announced that they would be leaving the group to pursue other projects, and in 2008 the band ceased operations. The ensuing years saw Sikth’s reputation in the underground metal community grow exponentially, and in 2013 they announced that they would be re-forming and headlining the Red Bull Stage at the following year’s Download Festival. Rumblings of a possible studio reunion began to swirl as well, and in early 2015 the bandmembers announced that they would be releasing a crowd-funded EP, Opacities. Two years later, the band dropped their hotly anticipated third long-player The Future in Whose Eyes?
Essential Listening:  Death of a Dead Day  CD  £5  LP  £28


Sleep Token

Enigmatic British band Sleep Token combine post-rock, post-classical, and post-metal tropes with soulful indie pop vocals into a blend that sounds like nothing else. They released their innovative debut album, Sundowning, in 2019. The group appeared in 2016 with the self-released single “One.” Their schtick was unique, to say the least: Fronted by a mysterious masked figure known only as Vessel and professing to worship an ancient deity called Sleep, they framed themselves as a kind of cult whose songs were all acts of worship to the deity. Sleep Token’s music was equally original, blending tranquil post-rock instrumentation and soulful falsetto vocals with sudden eruptions of tech-metal brutality. Frenzied online speculation ensued as to the identity of the members, with the likes of Sam Smith, Hozier, and Bastille’s Dan Smith being put forward as candidates.  Sleep Token signed to Basick for their 2017 single “Two,” then self-released a few more singles in 2018 before making the move to the Universal-distributed Spinefarm for their 2019 debut full-length album, Sundowning. In an unusual move, every track off the LP was issued as a digital single prior to its release, over a period of six months. With a bigger budget than before, the album presented a widescreen version of the band’s sound, with more electronic elements, a pronounced R&B edge to the vocals, and a sludgier post-metal feel to the heavier parts. A deluxe version of Sundowning featuring four extra tracks appeared in 2020.
Essential Listening:  Sundowning  CD  £12  This Place Will Become Your Tomb  CD  £12


Soen

Soen is an experimental prog metal band from Northern Europe whose music has been rightly characterized as “melancholic bliss.” Their sound is adorned with lush production, melancholy atmospherics (even at their most aggressive), and instrumental melodicism, and Joel Ekelöf’s clean vocals deliver psychologically complex, spiritually probing, sophisticated lyrics. On their 2012 long-playing debut, Cognitive, they displayed a complex musical persona by dazzling critics with three distinct playing styles in as many tracks, from nearly gothic post-punk (“Fraktal”), prog metal (“Fraccions”), and punchy, chug-and-churn riffage (“Delenda”). Their intense, theatrical live performances drew an immediate fan base. With 2014’s Tellurian, they shifted their focus toward a busier, rhythmically complex, and syncopated prog attack, while doubling down on aesthetically attractive melodicism. 2017’s Lykaia, which combined elements of their previous outings, was celebrated for its musical qualities.
Essential Listening:  Imperial  CD  £13


Tesseract

A pioneering force in the djent scene, English progressive metallers TesseracT weld the technical to the conceptual in sprawling yet well-articulated recordings. The band issued a handful of demos and EPs before releasing their debut album, One, in 2011. Originally started in 2003 as a solo outlet for guitarist Acle Kahney, who at the time was playing in the band Mikaw Barish, TesseracT eventually became early adopters of the djent style, which relies heavily on tight, palm-muted riffs that sound much like the word itself, and was coined by Meshuggah guitarist Fredrik Thordendal. TesseracT released their debut EP, Concealing Fate, in 2010, followed by their first long-player, One, in 2011. The Perspective EP, which featured a cover of Jeff Buckley’s “Dream Brother,” arrived in 2012, and was followed by their second full-length studio outing, the Century Media-issued Altered State, in 2013. Vocalist Daniel Tomkins — who had appeared on their earliest EP and album — returned for Polaris, their third — after two other singers had come and gone. The record was released by K-Scope in the late summer of 2015. To coincide with a U.S. tour with Gojira in the fall of 2016, the band re-released Polaris with a bonus second disc entitled Errai that included four reworked tracks from the album — “Survival,” “Cages,” “Tourniquet,” and “Seven Names.” In the summer of 2017, they released a stand-alone single titled “Smile.” Early the following year, TesseracT announced the April release of Sonder.  Sonder melded the harsh abrasiveness of 2011’s One and the progressive ethereal elements of 2013’s Altered State with the pop accessibility of Polaris. It was preceded in February by the single “Luminary,” described by vocalist Tompkins as “conceptually exploring a deep and devouring sense of insignificance, which ties into the overall theme and meaning behind Sonder.” The single was backed with an extended, reworked version of “Smile.” In addition to the conventional stereo recording, a special edition of the album was issued as part of a limited deluxe package that included a 360-degree binaural listening experience designed by Klang. Following Sonder’s release, Tompkins embarked on a solo career, delivering two albums, 2019’s Castles and 2020’s Ruins. At the end of 2020, TesseracT reconvened — albeit without drummer Jay Postones due to COVID-19 isolation — for an online “live cinematic experience.” Dubbed Portals, the two-hour-plus show saw the band work through tracks from their back catalog. A digital and physical release of the show was issued the following year.
Essential Listening:  Altered State  CD  £13


Therion

Therion is a pioneering Swedish symphonic metal band founded and led by multi-instrumentalist, composer, and vocalist Christofer Johnsson. Originally designed as a death metal band, Johnsson took the name from the Celtic Frost album To Mega Therion. By the time they issued their third album, 1993’s Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas, Johnsson remained the only original member and Therion’s sound began an evolution toward doom metal with electronic and avant-garde elements. For 1996’s Theli, the band’s sound adopted Persian modes and scales, and was performed by a rock quintet, two classical choirs, a simulated orchestra, and an army of keyboards. 1998’s Vovin found Johnsson recording with completely different musicians than he toured with, while 2001’s Secret of the Runes was based on lyric themes from the nine worlds of Norse mythology. Johnsson inexplicably added covers of the Scorpions’ “Crying Days” and ABBA’s “Summer Night City” to that concept album. In 2004, the band released Lemuria and Sirius B simultaneously — 171 musicians participated in the recording sessions, including the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra and a 32-voice classical choir. 2007’s conceptual Gothic Kabbalah featured five vocalists — three females and two males — amid their most ambitious musical settings and prog rock production tropes yet. 2010’s Sitra Ahra was a perfect meld of Therion’s classical aesthetics and doom metal. 2012’s Les Fleurs du Mal consisted of covers of French chansons and pop songs performed in the band’s symphonic style. In 2017, Therion issued the three-hour rock opera Beloved Antichrist. Their grandest conceptual statement yet, it included no less than 29 vocal characters. In January 2021, Therion issued Leviathan. Written by Johnsson and Vikström, it was conceived to give fans a solid, end-to-end collection of “Therion hit songs,” even though they were all current. The set’s personnel lineup featured the return of Koleberg on drums, and included a guest vocal appearance from Nightwish bassist and vocalist Marko Hietala.
Essential Listening:  Leviathan  CD  £13


Tool

Tool established themselves as one of America’s most enduring and unpredictable acts with an ever-evolving brand of muscular but mind-altering sonics, a wry sense of humor, and a mystical aesthetic that attracted a cult-like following of devoted fans with just a handful of albums spread across decades. Their greatest breakthrough was to meld dark underground metal with the ambition of art rock, crafting multi-sectioned, layered songs as if they were classical composers. While embracing the artsy, they also paid musical homage to the relentlessly bleak visions of grindcore, death metal, and thrash. Even with their post-punk influences, they executed their music with the sound and feel of prog-rock, alternating between long, detailed instrumental interludes and lyrical rants in their songs. Debuting in the early ’90s with Undertow, they were initially lumped in with the nu-metal contemporaries of the time, which made them a hit on rock radio with their sophomore effort, 1996’s Ænima. However, they soon broke away from those associations, evolving beyond the confines of traditional song structures and song lengths, crafting epics that often clocked in past the ten-minute mark on LP head-trips Lateralus (2001) and 10,000 Days (2006). After a lengthy 13-year hiatus, they returned to the fold in 2019 with their fifth opus, the chart-topping, Grammy-nominated Fear Inoculum.
Essential Listening:  Aenima  CD  £9  Lateralus  CD  £14


Vola

A boundary-pushing Danish-Swedish progressive rock group, VOLA stands boldly at the nexus of art-metal, electronica, rock, and djent. Emerging in 2008, the band issued a pair of EPs before unveiling their metal-forward full-length debut, Inmazes, in 2015. They began incorporating more electronic elements on 2018’s Applause of a Distant Crowd and continued to expand their sonic palette on 2021’s dynamic Witness. Founded in 2006 by vocalist and guitarist Asger Mygind, VOLA eventually coalesced into a five-piece featuring Mygind, guitarist Niels Dreijer, bassist Jeppe Bloch, keyboardist Martin Werner, and drummer Niklas Scherfig. That lineup was responsible for the band’s 2008 debut EP, Homesick Machinery. Personnel was retooled for 2011’s Monsters EP, which saw Bloch and Scherfig depart, making way for Nicolai Mogensen and Felix Ewert. Dreijer left the fold shortly after that, making Vola a four-piece. By this time, the group had adopted a more progressive rock-minded approach. Citing influences like Porcupine Tree, Meshuggah, Opeth, and Mew, they self-released their debut full-length effort, Inmazes, in 2015. The album caught the attention of Warner imprint Mascot Label Group, which reissued Inmazes the following year. The band supported the re-release with a European tour in support of Katatonia. In 2018, VOLA issued their sophomore long-player, the more electronics-forward Applause of a Distant Crowd, which marked the studio debut for new drummer Adam Janzi, and was followed by their first headlining tour. 2020 saw the arrival of the single “Head Mounted Sideways,” ahead of the release of the band’s third album, Witness, which appeared in 2021.
Essential Listening:  Witness  CD  £15


Volumes

An American metalcore unit based out of Los Angeles, California, Volumes were early practitioners of the groove-laden/palm-muted djent scene. Emerging in 2010, the band issued the full-length Via in 2011, which like subsequent efforts No Sleep (2014) and Different Animals (2017), found favor with metal audiences worldwide. Despite enduring myriad lineup changes throughout their tenure — bassist Raad Soudani has served as the band’s sole constant member, Volumes have persevered with their signature blend of punishing breakdowns and tense melodic riffage with nu-metal flourishes. Founded in 2009 by guitarist/songwriters Diego Farias and Daniel Braunstein, the band eventually grew into a six-piece with the additions of dual lead singers Michael Barr and Diego’s brother, Gus Farias, bass player Raad Soudani, and drummer Chris Khoury. Braunstein departed prior to the release of their 2010 debut EP, The Concept of Dreaming, and was replaced by Daniel Schwartz. The following year saw the band embark on a North American tour alongside contemporaries Arsonists Get All the Girls, the Contortionist, and Structures, culminating in the release of their full-length debut, Via, which was released by Mediaskare Records. Also in 2011, Khoury and Schwartz left the fold, with new drummer Nick Ursich joining the band shortly thereafter. No Sleep, the band’s sophomore long-player, dropped in 2014, and was supported by the group’s first full U.S. Vans Warped Tour. Vocalist Barr left the group in 2015, and was replaced by ex-Bury Your Dead singer Myke Terry, who made his debut on 2017’s well regarded, Fearless Records-issued Different Animals. In 2019 the band released the Coming Clean EP, which saw the return of vocalist Michael Barr and the departures of Gus Farias and co-founder Diego Farias, the latter of whom passed away at the age of twenty-seven just one week after leaving the band.
Essential Listening:  Happier  CD  £13  LP  £28


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