Prog and doom metal have long made cosy bedfellows. As a result, the sublime symbiosis between the two genres on Avatarium’s third album Hurricanes And Halos (Nuclear Blast) sounds wonderfully natural and instinctive, as those big Sabbath-via-Heep riffs collide with vocalist Jennie-Ann Smith’s imperious delivery across a bewildering backdrop of old school keys and dashes of theatrical psychedelia. Plus, it rocks like an absolute bastard.
Boston’s much-vaunted stoner warriors Elder have always taken an expansive approach to their fuzzed-up freakouts: fourth full-length Reflections Of A Floating World (Stickman) simply but joyously refines the formula. Woozily psychedelic throughout, they strike a shrewd balance between acid-fried indulgence and riffs heavy enough to make bong water bubble, peaking on the sprawling grandeur and swirling Hammond of the 13-minute Blind.
Almost the malevolent flipside to Elder’s earthy doom, Drug Honkey’s genuinely terrifying Cloak Of Skies (Transcending Obscurity) is a dizzying riot of distorted ooze, perineum-wrenching sub bass and deranged atmospherics: doom metal filtered through the avant-garde, perhaps, but eminently more threatening and compelling than that sounds.
A lugubrious drift through spectral dimensions, powered by the riff but fervently transcendental in delivery and design, Volur’s Ancestors (self) will delight fans of Om, Sunn O))) and Bong, or anyone that would rather surrender to the cosmos than put the bins out. Getting monstrously stoned before listening is not obligatory, but one suspects the band would be totally cool with the idea.
A mere five years after their second album Time I, Finland’s Wintersun are neck deep in progressive ideas on The Forest Seasons (Nuclear Blast). Comprising four epic and extravagant tracks that veer from vicious but ornate melodic death metal to long, mellifluous instrumental detours, it’s an ambitious display of untamed imagination. If you can get past main man Jari Mäenpää’s bilious rasp, it’s muscular prog metal nirvana.
For those with a penchant for the wilfully demented, Igorrr’s Savage Sinusoid (Metal Blade) will definitely give your synapses a robust slap. The French crew continue to blend extreme metal, opera, Balkan folk music and skittering electro-beats, but the remorseless insanity makes a strange sort of sense and the end result is a blizzard of bright-eyed, wildly entertaining lunacy.
Best of the lot is the expansive and extremely welcome return of British dark metal mavericks Akercocke. Renaissance In Extremis (Peaceville) is the band’s first album in a decade and it’s a dazzling display of reborn creativity as the Londoners’ mastery of balls-out death metal collides with esoteric textures, exuberant prog sensibilities and gleeful abstraction. It’s simply unmissable for rampaging opener Disappear and the horror of Familiar Ghosts, and for its voyages through prog’s scariest shadows.