Reviews Column 57: Prog Metal

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When you consider that The Great Discord have only existed as a band since 2013, the sheer magnitude of ambition and achievement on new album Duende (Metal Blade) is even more startling.

Fiendishly difficult to pigeonhole, theirs is a sound that incorporates everything from twinkly-eyed AOR to jaw-rattling extreme metal, with every feasible prog trope in between amply covered. Singer Fia Kempe’s extraordinary range and seismic delivery is the icing on the cake, but everything else here resounds with the same fearless abandon. The pitch-black farewell of Ephemeral may well break your heart.

Liturgy are loved and loathed in equal measure in the black metal world. Their progressive approach and almost scholarly dismantling of cherished musical values makes The Ark Work (Thrill Jockey) a natural fit in the prog dimension. Only slender threads of their metal heritage remain, in the form of stifled blastbeats and an overall air of chaos, but the Americans’ genre-shredding verve still takes them to some extreme places, albeit tempered by eccentric arrangements worthy of Henry Cow. Frankly, if metal doesn’t want them, we should nick them immediately.

Sigh are another band that have made a habit of bending the metal rules, as proved by their large catalogue of extreme kaleidoscopic craziness. Graveward (Candlelight) is a less wilfully bizarre affair than 2012’s In Somniphobia, but the Japanese crew’s gleeful knifing of metallic taboos and unerring knack for mashing seemingly incompatible elements together into a vibrant, mad-eyed whole means that barely a minute goes by without some form of prog-friendly perversity erupting from between the scything riffs and multi-layered vocals. Opener Kaedit Nos Pestis crams more ideas into its 277 seconds than many supposedly progressive bands manage across entire albums, so even though the frostbitten extremity of Sigh’s black metal beginnings may still scare away traditionalists, the madness on display is very much in the symphonic and experimental spirit.

Observant fans of mantric doom and ritual sludge will already know Italy’s Nibiru, but the band’s first two albums – Caosgon and Netrayoni – were disseminated largely beneath the radar, which means that Padmalotus (Argonauta) will be most people’s introduction to these untamed and soundly weed-whacked improvisers. A more aggressive and, at times, linear creation than its predecessors, the band’s third journey into the sonic void uses drones and distortion as a weapon of magick, as Nibiru’s rhythm section whip up a whirlwind of shape-shifting pulses and grooves. Somewhere between a downhill bike ride with no brakes and a bad acid trip on the moon, these are sprawling collisions between turbo-charged, rock’n’roll physicality and spectral illumination via altered states of fuzzy consciousness. All in all, quite an experience and a must-have for anyone who thralls to the bubble of the cosmic bong.