Reviews Column 53: Prog Metal

Late, great Voivod founder and guitarist Denis ‘Piggy’ D’Amour knew precisely what he was doing when he kicked open his Pandora’s box of dissonance and subversion back in the mid-80s.

Thirty years on, California’s Dimesland are ankle deep in similar soil, with Piggy’s knack for jarring contrasts and melodic trickery writ large across every inch of their debut album Psychogenic Atrophy (DLR). There are shades of Watchtower and Botch lurking within these spine-wrenching grooves and abrasive textures, but the sum of those influences is something distinctive and subtly psychedelic, as extreme metal and a prog mindset collide in a shower of asymmetrical sparks. Great stuff, albeit worth approaching with a degree of caution if you like your prog smooth and shiny.

Mancunian prog metal crew Spires deserved far more attention for their Spiral Of Ascension debut and its acoustic follow-up Lucid Abstractions, but new opus The Whisperer (Eulogy Media) blows all previous efforts out of the water. Self-evidently one for those raised on the dark progressive hues of Opeth’s earlier albums, it’s an almost comically intricate and epic affair that bulges with moments of sublime melodic inspiration and concussive aggression. It culminates with a title track that haughtily breaks the 20-minute barrier without a single wasted moment.

Likewise, Australia’s Ne Obliviscaris are taking extreme metal into uncharted territory with rabid enthusiasm. Their second album Citadel (Season Of Mist) is audacious in its versatility and verve, as spiralling riffs and polyrhythmic propulsion erupt around a seemingly endless blaze of obtuse melodies and moods, all delivered with a level of technical dexterity that frequently defies belief. Progressive metal at its limitless and mind-boggling best.

It would be pointless to deny that Blind Guardian belong firmly in the symphonic metal realm, but such is the opulent girth, inquisitive spirit and dark fairy‑tale splendour of Beyond The Red Mirror (Nuclear Blast) that to deny its prog credentials would be as silly as splitting hairs on the arse of an enraged orc. With seemingly more choirs, layered guitars and moments of indulgent bombast than ever before, the Guardian boys’ determination to bring Tolkien’s unspoken nightmares to life has never sounded more convincing, or more joyously fearless.

Similarly, Whyzdom’s Symphony For A Hopeless God (Scarlet) takes grandiose metal as its starting point, but delivers its title’s extravagant promise by cramming a ludicrous amount of drama and invention into its 67 minutes, helped by the talents of mezzo-soprano Marie Rouyer.

Meanwhile, Brazil’s Kattah sound hell‑bent on messing with expectations. Second album Lapis Lazuli (Bakerteam) will send fans of Queensrÿche and Savatage into frothing raptures, thanks to sharp songwriting, plenty of muscle and countless inspired touches that point to a fervently international and liberated perspective.

Dom Lawson

Dom Lawson has been writing for Metal Hammer and Prog for over 14 years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He also contributes to The Guardian, Classic Rock, Bravewords and Blabbermouth and has previously written for Kerrang! magazine in the mid-2000s.