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TECH/EXTREME PROG METAL

A Progressive Rock Sub-genre


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Tech/Extreme Prog Metal definition

This category lists technical Progressive Metal bands that have roots in Extreme Metal or that are strongly influenced by it. The style developed by the end of the 80s in the Thrash Metal scene when a number of bands stretched the boundaries of their sound by including elements from Progressive Rock. Death Metal followed a similar path in the 90s and by the 2000s, also Black Metal and Metalcore saw an increasing amount of bands taking in Prog influences.

Certain bands like EPHEL DUATH and UNEXPECT developed a style that largely abandoned their extreme metal heritage in favour of a highly eclectic jazz-influenced Avant Metal style. These bands are listed under Experimental Metal.


Progressive Thrash Metal
By the end of the 80s Thrash Metal had diversified its sound significantly to an extent where the originally very direct and uncompromisingly aggressive style had become more sophisticated, boasting challenging technical skills and ambitious song structures frequently surpassing the 6 minute mark. The best known examples are METALLICA and MEGADETH.

The bands listed in this section went one step further and embraced notable influences from Progressive Rock, replacing much of the typical Thrash Metal riffs and rhythms with a more progressive and melodic riffing style, influenced by KING CRIMSON and RUSH. The most well-known of these early bands was VOIVOD, who also brought the early psychedelic sound of PINK FLOYD into their unique mold. Important pioneering albums were released by WATCHTOWER, CORONER, MEKONG DELTA, as well as the debut album of SIEGES SEVEN.
More recent examples of Progressive Thrash are SPIRAL ARCHITECT and VEKTOR


Progressive Death Metal
Death Metal further built on the sound of the most extreme bands of the Thrash scene. Next to the brutal sound, blast beat drumming, complex song structures and multiple tempo changes, the most notorious feature of the style is probably the growled vocals. Death Metal is generally highly technical, making the dividing line between Technical Death Metal and Progressive Death Metal sometimes rather faint.

The bands considered for Prog Archives are those that show significant influences from Progressive Rock and/or Fusion. One of the landmarks in the style is "Elements" from ATHEIST, who mixed their hyper-technical Speed Metal with fusion. Other early albums include "Focus" from CYNIC and "Spheres" from PESTILENCE, where progressive riffing, polymetrics, fusion influences and atmospheric keyboards complemented their brutal Death Metal. Also DEATH, the popular founder of Death Metal, incorporated fusion and progressive elements on their later albums.

A different flavour of Progressive Death Metal came from the European continent, when half-way into the 90s leading death and doom-death bands started expanding their basic metal sound. The most significant album relevant to this section is "Crimson" from EDGE OF SANITY. In typical Scandinavian fashion, their epic approach wasn't fusion oriented but less technical and more melodic, introducing the now typical alteration between brutal Death sections and more melodic breaks with clean vocals; an approach perfected in the next decade by OPETH.


Progressive Black Metal
Unlike Thrash and Death metal, Black Metal is not a technical genre. Originally it was even purposely non-technical and low-fi. By the end of the 90s the genre had developed into various sub-styles, of which some incorporated elements from progressive music.
The bands listed in this section are Black Metal bands that traded the minimalism of Black Metal for a more progressive, technical or experimental approach. This distinguishes them from the Black Metal bands that fleshed out their sound with either post-rock and/or shoegaze influences. Those are listed under Experimental/Post Metal.

One of the earliest and best known example of this style is ENSLAVED, who maintained the harsh atmosphere and aggression of classic Black Metal but extended this with a more textured psychedelic sound, chromatic riffing and odd time-signatures, citing influences from PINK FLOYD, VOIVOD and KING CRIMSON. Also IHSAHN, front-man of EMPEROR, should be mentioned here.

Most artists in this section are Symphonic Black Metal-oriented bands with progressive and experimental influences, but without fully crossing over to either Prog or Avant Metal as they remain oppressively dark, harsh, often dissonant and inaccessible. Their strong ties to Black Metal is why they are featured under Tech/Extreme Prog Metal and not in Avant Prog Metal. Examples are DEATHSPELL OMEGA, MOONSORROW, NEGURA BUNGET and the slightly more accessible theatrical Symphonic Black Metal of ARCTURUS.


Modern Phase
In the 2000s trends became more diffuse, introducing bands that had some of their stylistic features in common with the extreme metal genres without fully belonging in any of them. Some of them continued the strong fusion element and hyper-technical approach from ATHEIST and CYNIC. Instrumental acts such a as EXIVIOUS, CANVAS SOLARIS and BLOTTED SCIENCE received lots of critical acclaim from progressive metal fans.

A new trend was set by MESHUGGAH, one of the most defining bands of this era. At the end of the 90s their eclectic mix of Death, Thrash, Avant, Fusion and Prog laid down the groundrules of Extreme Metal for the next decade. Another well known band to take a similar eclectic approach to Extreme Metal was GOJIRA.
In the second half of the 2000's, many young bands copied MESHUGGAH's guitar tone and rhythmical riffing style, giving rise to the so-called 'djent' movement. Many of these bands belong in Tech/Extreme, such as ANIMALS AS LEADERS, CHIMP SPANNER etc.


Progressive Metalcore
The second half of the 2000s also saw the rise of a new generation of Progressive Tech/Extreme acts with roots that lay in Metalcore, Mathcore and Technical Sludge, rather then the 'classic' Extreme Metal genres. Their music is inherently technical and complex and has quite a number of formal features in common with Progressive Metal such as odd time signatures and non-standard song formats.
Prog Archives only lists these bands that go beyond the default expectations of the genre and bring in distinct non-extreme Prog influences. Some of the most eye-catching bands in this area are BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME, PROTEST THE HERO, BURST, DILLINGER ESCAPE PLAN and MASTODON.


--- Definition by Karl and the Progressive Metal Team, January 2012 ---

The Progressive Metal Team
Karl (bonnek)
Kevin (Necroncommander)
Alex (Rune2000)
Thanos (aapatsos)
Dave (Prog Sothoth)
Louis (rdtprog)

Tech/Extreme Prog Metal Top Albums


Showing only studios | Based on members ratings & PA algorithm* | Show Top 100 Tech/Extreme Prog Metal | More Top Prog lists and filters

4.31 | 1491 ratings
STILL LIFE
Opeth
4.25 | 1436 ratings
GHOST REVERIES
Opeth
4.25 | 1536 ratings
BLACKWATER PARK
Opeth
4.36 | 154 ratings
OBSCURA
Gorguts
4.26 | 427 ratings
CRIMSON
Edge of Sanity
4.24 | 492 ratings
SYMBOLIC
Death
4.28 | 251 ratings
NOTHINGFACE
Voivod
4.26 | 284 ratings
UNQUESTIONABLE PRESENCE
Atheist
4.19 | 494 ratings
FOCUS
Cynic
4.23 | 250 ratings
ELEMENTS
Atheist
4.20 | 384 ratings
THE SOUND OF PERSEVERANCE
Death
4.16 | 971 ratings
PALE COMMUNION
Opeth
4.27 | 164 ratings
DIMENSION HATROSS
Voivod
4.25 | 171 ratings
OM
Negura Bunget
4.17 | 334 ratings
HUMAN
Death
4.39 | 71 ratings
KIVENKANTAJA
Moonsorrow
4.17 | 251 ratings
THE PARALLAX II - FUTURE SEQUENCE
Between The Buried And Me
4.21 | 172 ratings
BACK TO TIMES OF SPLENDOR
Disillusion
4.12 | 479 ratings
TRACED IN AIR
Cynic
4.33 | 81 ratings
DEATH'S DESIGN
Diabolical Masquerade

Tech/Extreme Prog Metal overlooked and obscure gems albums new


Random 4 (reload page for new list) | As selected by the Tech/Extreme Prog Metal experts team

LEAVING LOTUS
Counter-World Experience
1980
1980
CITRINITI
Citriniti
MEASURING THE ABSTRACT
Terminal Function

Latest Tech/Extreme Prog Metal Music Reviews


 Nothingface by VOIVOD album cover Studio Album, 1989
4.28 | 251 ratings

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Nothingface
Voivod Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by Luqueasaur

5 stars Farewell, thrash my love... for I now am progressive: 9/10

Beginning with the simplicity of speed metal, the Canadian band VOIVOD developed a lot through its musical journey, being able to output something as complex as NOTHINGFACE. It is certainly less abrasive than its predecessor, DIMENSION HATR'SS, yet, simultaneously, harbors a much more technical style. This happens because NOTHINGFACE is more equally balanced on its progressive and thrash metal proportions, differently than its predecessor which visibly weighs to the latter's side.

In fact, this is VOIVOD's most significant release for the fact it demarked the band's entrance into progressive metal properly. Easily observable materialistically: fluid shifts of time signatures and intricate rhythms permeate the album; experimentative usage of dissonant chord progressions - which have always been the band's watermark - is intensified; a crystallization of VOIVOD's unique storytelling, coupling it with unusual song structures; there is even a track influenced by the Igor Stravinsky's THE RITE OF SPRING. Technicality? Check. Experimentation? Check. Unconventional song structures? Check. Classical influence? Check. Objectively, NOTHINGFACE is progressive.

Departing from this satirical "objectivity" analysis and going to more subjective waters, I'd say that VOIVOD in certain aspects reminds me of MEGADETH. Both initiated their trajectory as speedy and abrasive bands; both developed - especially on a technical level - astoundingly and were important enough to be part of a "Big Four"; both have two magnum opuses (PEACE SELLS/RUST IN PEACE and DIMENSION HATR'SS/NOTHINGFACE) where the first is rawer whereas the second is more polished and widely revered as superior, and both bands kick ass like hell. I consider both bands' first magnum opus better (I like their crude aggression). Both vocalists have pretty similar timbres but, unlike Mustaine, Denis B'langer actually knows how to sing (not like this makes him better, I love Mustaine's sloppy and ducky vocals) and in many moments seems to mimic the American thrasher. Both second magnum opuses offer legendary and catchy riffs but, unlike MEGADETH, VOIVOD's have an absolutely lackluster amount of solos and when they happen are weak (it sounds like alternative metal at best, Denis. Where's DIMENSION HATR'SS' shredding and spectacular harmonic pinching?).

Aside from the scarce amount of solos, another complaint I found whilst listening to NOTHINGFACE is that, in a certain way, the songs sound a little too similar. I think the issue lies in melody because rhythmically/structurally/lyrically they are individually unique and easily distinguishable from each other.

But hell even this wasn't enough to prevent me from headbanging vigorously to NOTHINGFACE's several anthems like I didn't do in a long, long time. If you're looking for quality, slightly eccentric, technically impressive (impressive, not mind blogging) and mildly extreme metal, look no further. NOTHINGFACE, which lies in the frontier between progressive and thrash, will suffice to appease your thirst - and make you headbang like a nut.

 Clairvoyant by CONTORTIONIST, THE album cover Studio Album, 2017
4.64 | 19 ratings

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Clairvoyant
The Contortionist Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by ingmin68

5 stars "Clairvoyant" - a great music prog metal work, varying from more intricate parts to ,catchy mellower "songs (almost-pop, in a good term)", to minisuites. Great vocals - similar in approach to Echolyn ones, though maybe with a little less extension. The sound and production quality is top-notch - a highly enjoying listening experience on cloud speakers or earphones The intro of Monochrome with thunderous-heavy drum beat led me to think about a tech/extreme metal (not my cup of tea)...but it's just a good misleading initial trick: from there the music expands and get mellower ...in the vein of Pain of Salvation. Then just transition well into "Godspeed" fast intro - energic and upbeat song. From here on, you've treated with a continuously different set of music, with the catchy "Reimagined" The top-class "Clairvoyant" uses some of Maudlin-of-the-Well-like heavy chords, then evolves again from min.4:00 to a milder section and then brilliant section with great guitar, keyboard and vocal harmonies, full-band feast of great music. All next songs continues to surprise and show off moment of great musical ideas (ex. the intro of Relapse - remind of something from Riverside). I'm just finishing with the ending "Mochorome (pensive)" - a superbmini suite-slow building till the epic final - I do love these pieces...

Recap: no doubt - one the candidates for Best Album of the 2017. "The contortionist" Bravi, indeed!! 5 stars? Maybe on 9/10 would fit better

 The Best of Atheist by ATHEIST album cover Boxset/Compilation, 2017
5.00 | 1 ratings

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The Best of Atheist
Atheist Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by aglasshouse

— First review of this album —
5 stars Ever wanted to own a major chunk of Atheist's discography without needing to purchase 2005's The Collection for upwards of $60? Fear not, a solution is here!

After seven long years following Atheist's last studio album Jupiter, the band finally decided to digitally release their first ever compilation album to date- and what a compilation it is! In true-to-form fashion Atheist grab the most sonically insane and cosmic songs from their studio albums (as well as a live version of 'Mother Man' from Live At Wacken 2009) in a massive 22-track corpus. Forthright this puts The Best Of leagues ahead of other death metal contemporaries' works like Death's Best Of in '92 or Nile's Legacy of the Catacombs in '07, granted both rather good releases, simply from the vastness of the song selection. Especially considering Atheist's relatively small discography, 90 minutes of pure action may seem a bit hefty at first, but for only $10 (roughly ?8.50 for you Europeans) from Bandcamp it is a fairly free-and-easy deal compared to another compilation that would front you the same price but with half the content.

This album is a perfect introductory release for beginners and also a good pickup for familiars. The only gripes I have with it are the fact that there's no physical release, because I prefer lending actual tangible material to a hypothetical beginner depending on the circumstances, and the fact that my favorite song 'Why Bother?' from Piece of Time is not present. Maybe they took the title a bit too literally?

 Lazarus Bird  by BURST album cover Studio Album, 2008
4.18 | 58 ratings

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Lazarus Bird
Burst Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by ElNapalmo

4 stars Swedish band Burst is back with a new studio record. Three years after the last delivery, they return with a strong opponent for the amazing debut "Origo". Instead of playing safe and recording an "Origo Pt. 2", the quintet focused on composing "Lazarus Bird," a more mature and technical album, with lots of interesting details. If the confirmation had already been made with the previous album, "Lazarus Bird" is the step forward (or indeed, two steps forward, I would say). They are more progressive, more psychedelic, more attractive. The chaos / calm duality, strength / fragility, heavier sound / melody, remains present and undoubtedly omnipresent in this new collective effort. And I really mean collective effort because the whole band is at a higher level. The voice is much more versatile; the guitars are fabulous with superb riffs / solos / melodies; the rhythm section is powerful but always with that progressive and technical side. The fusion of Hardcore, Metal, Progressive Rock and Psychedelic Rock will please fans of Opeth, Mastodon, Porcupine Tree, Anathema, Amorphis, Isis, The Mars Volta, Botch or Coalesce, among others. Very good!
 Clairvoyant by CONTORTIONIST, THE album cover Studio Album, 2017
4.64 | 19 ratings

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Clairvoyant
The Contortionist Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by BrufordFreak
Collaborator Jazz-Rock / Fusion / Canterbury Team

5 stars This Indiana-based band has matured and, if truth be known, mellowed over the seven years they've been recording and releasing excellent Metal-oriented heavy Prog albums, but this is their best. They have mastered individual restraint and understated performances in favor of group chemistry, group composition, and seductively gorgeous heavy prog music. Simply stunning.

1. "Monochrome (Passive)" So many creative computer/Hal 9000/synth openings on this album, of which this is the first. As it amps up into heavy guitar and bass distortion it fits! It works. Then the song settles into a softer, almost nujazz groove, with some great guitar and keyboard interaction. I haven't heard this creative and innovative keyboard work in years! (10/10)

2. "Godspeed" (3:14) fast opening and abrasive, settling into great weaves to support Michael Lessard's restrained vocal. Amazing subtle effects and contributions throughout--especially the restrained yet virtuosic guitar work. Michael actually lifts his voice in that last minute just before the guitar does the same. Awesome! (9.5/10)

3. "Reimagined" (3:17) gorgeous heavier song on the KARNIVOOL or VOTUM scale of latently heavy prog. (9/10)

4. "Clairvoyant" (7:37) is the first true metal, djenty song on the album (IMHO)--complete with chorale-styled vocal sections and machine gun bass drum pedal play. Really gorgeous transitions and chorus sections; nothing too difficult or abrasive but all played to group perfection. Also the most diversified and chameleonic song on the album. (9/10)

5. "The Center" (7:34) a smooth, gorgeous song that continues to build while Michael Lessard seduces us with his incongruously sedate vocal. Is he the new Maynard James Keenan? Just brilliant! Reminds me of my favorite song from last year by THE MERCURY TREE. (9.5/10)

6. "Absolve" (5:12) brilliant restraint shown on this vocal despite the yearnings of the music to soar! Makes for a great tension between the two. At 5:05 the song shifts, kind of cuts out, while a spacey, post-esplosion synth- concerto slowly builds and (9.5/10)

7. "Relapse" (6:14) opens as an odd synth experiment with spacey vocal for the first 1:30 before the heavy rock instruments enter. Synth washes and sliding power chords finish off the first half before a piano-based, computer- paced section with Lessard saying "They're clairvoyant." Interesting sliding-tremolo guitar solo in the fifth and sixth minutes. It even gets a little djenty at times. (9/10)

8. "Return to Earth" (6:15) spacious and atmospheric genius that lets loose at the 1:25 into a heavier (though simple) and still gorgeous and inviting prog song. Vocalist Michael Lessard has the silky smooth pipes to keep the listener engaged despite the frenetics of his mates--like a mellower version of LEPROUS. (8.5/10)

9. "Monochrome (Pensive)" (9:24) very nice song that, unfortunately, takes seven and a half minutes to finally soar to the heights one might expect from a nine and a half minute "epic." (9/10)

A five star a masterpiece of gorgeously woven heavy prog. My nominee for Most Improved Band and Best Heavy Prog album of the year--and maybe Most Creative Keyboard Player in Eric Guenther.

 Thrice Woven by WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM album cover Studio Album, 2017
3.31 | 4 ratings

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Thrice Woven
Wolves in the Throne Room Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by Lewa

3 stars

A return to their black metal roots, with more ambience and soft passages.

With this album WitTR overall leave behind sound on their last album Celestite and return to their black metal roots, albeit with softer sections, more synths, more ambience and guest musicians.

The production seems clearer than on earlier albums and the singing seems less buried in the mix.

The black metal is as atmospheric, raw and good as ever and the softer passages add some variance to the sound, which is half of a good thing.

Unfortunately, the ambient noises don't always add much to the songs in my opinion. I could very well do without nearly two minutes of sea noises at the end of Fires Roar in the Palace of the Moon and I understand them to be just one very long outro. The transitions between metal and ambient passages don't seem to work very well. Rather, transitions seem to be missing and they often just play metal passages and ambient passages after each other. This can make the songs seem disconnected.

As far as variance and transitions go, the pagan folk passages integrated into the black metal work much better, in my opinion. There are also more synth touches than on earlier albums, a fact that I also quite like. The added variance in singing, with some clear (guest) vocals works very well. In the Old Ones Are With Us these three things are added to the WitTR sound to great effect.

This is a strong album that I don't find quite as exciting as their run from Two Hunters to Celestial Lineage. As such it gets a good but non-essential rating from me.

Maybe this sound and style just worked better 10 years ago, as black metal has been quite thoroughly explored in the meantime.

 The Eternal Reign by BORN OF OSIRIS album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2017
2.14 | 2 ratings

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The Eternal Reign
Born Of Osiris Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE & JR/F/Canterbury Teams

2 stars After their short EP debut studio release "The New Reign" which appeared in 2007, BORN OF OSIRIS roughly released a new album every two years but somewhere along the way the band decided that they just weren't happy with their debut EP and it desperately needed to be re-recorded and repackaged, retitled and released once again. Come ten years later and the newly named THE ETERNAL REIGN accomplishes this goal by taking all eight tracks back to the studio and polishing them into deathcore perfection with even a bonus track in the form of "Glorious Day" to finish it off with bringing the new playing time to a whopping 23 minutes and 50 seconds.

Well, what can someone exactly say about a brutal deathcore band trying to re-record and album. How about?. REALLY? Ok, first of all, i'm rarely a fan of any band re-recording an album because of nitpicky imperfections no matter how legit they may be due to the fact that for every inch of error is erased, so too is a pound of passion that made the album stand out in the first place. However in the case of BORN OF OSIRIS who utilize a brutal deathened core sound designed to bang your head and make your ears bleed with slight touches of sugary atmospheric keyboards to make the bitter just a little sweet, i have to shake my head and ask the obvious question: WHY BOTHER?

To the casual listener this won't sound a bit different as all the growly screams, all the distorted guitar riffs, solos, drum blasts and metal accoutrements are pretty much following down the same path. Where this second rendition of the EP does differ is in the "extras" department namely in the ambience and keyboard effects that add new riffs here and there and stand out as more prominent features of the band sprinkled across the album but nothing added makes this a substantially better album where it counts, namely in the songwriting department where all the tracks sound just as average as they did the first time around. I have to admit that the percussion has improved over the original.

Perhaps it would've been a better idea to focus on new music instead. The only redeeming aspect of this album is that there is one new track titled "Glorious Day" which is the best track on the EP which only serves the purpose of showing how far the band has come in its technical prowess and ability to make tracks more interesting. Hmmm, maybe that's the point? I dunno but this track shows a more adept ability of blending all the core elements with more classic metal sounds, more sophisticated atmospheric embellishments and even the drum parts are more diverse than elsewhere. Unfortunately it lasts a mere two and a half minutes so hardly worth tracking this down for a mere bonus track which is good but not outstanding. Nah, this is mostly a waste of time.

 The New Reign by BORN OF OSIRIS album cover Singles/EPs/Fan Club/Promo, 2007
2.65 | 10 ratings

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The New Reign
Born Of Osiris Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE & JR/F/Canterbury Teams

3 stars The Chicago based deathcore band BORN OF OSIRIS had quite the difficult time choosing a name as in a mere short period from 2003- 07 they chose and rejected the names Diminished, Your Heart Engraved and Rosecrance before finally settling on the Egyptian deity who was the Egyptian god of the afterlife. During that time they produced a few demos under all those names but wouldn't release their debut studio EP - THE NEW REIGN until 2007 as BORN OF OSIRIS. Although the band started out more as a metalcore outfit they began adding more death metal elements such as the abrasive growled vocals as well as the expected rhythmic breakdowns more suited to the death metal scene however all those core elements are retained. This band somehow latched onto the progressive world as it seems to pop up as such although the progressive touches take a back seat to the brutal metal aspects in the forefront.

BORN OF OSIRIS deliver a typical death metal meets metal ore = deathcore sound with the expected death metal riffs and blast beats while retaining all those core breakdowns with all the hardcore punk infused energy and brutality, however what sets this band apart from the rest of the pack is that it utilizes atmospheric keyboards to create a backdrop of ambience and also throws in a few unorthodox sound effects on the side. Ronnie Canizaro's vocals are nothing out of the ordinary nor are the staccato riffs of Lee McKinney however Matthew Pantelis dishes out some melodic lead guitar parts along with squeals and little tricks and trinkets to add a sprinkling of more class metal to the mix including a few solos here and there.

The percussion seems to be the weakest part as i'm not hearing the OMG drum abuse i would expect for a deathcore band, or at least not to the extend that i would prefer. Yeah, there are blast beats now and again but generally the percussive parts are fairly by the books and not overly exciting. Overall the tracks are all fairly similar with only the keyboards and lead guitar differentiating them in any significant ways. Deathcore is certainly not my favorite subgenre in the metal universe and BORN OF OSIRIS doesn't dish out a whole lot of originality to make me change my mind on that one. This debut is a nicely delivered near 22 minute display of metal energy with some atmospheric elements thrown in but in the end it's all fairly predictable and doesn't even come close to blowing me away.

 Cosmogenesis by OBSCURA album cover Studio Album, 2009
3.96 | 48 ratings

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Cosmogenesis
Obscura Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by FragileKings
Prog Reviewer

4 stars Brain knot music. The term just popped into my head as I was reading reviews of this album. I have listened to it a few times plus given randomly picked songs extra play time and although I am of the sound and sure opinion that I like it (enough to consider buying another album by Obscura), I am finding it very difficult to stride into a review.

As anyone will tell you, this album, as well as Obscura's style, is very technical metal. There seems to be something going on constantly and the band are rarely prepared to ease back and let something playout for a bit. I admit to having a certain fondness and admiration for technical bands like Decrepit Birth, Augury, and now Obscura too, but there is that challenge to make sense out of the music of each track and, for that matter, to learn to distinguish one song from another. All instruments are moving often at great speeds and sometimes in seemingly disparate directions except that you understand that the music is actually quite coherent and the instruments intelligently integrated.

What makes Obscura and this album stand apart from much of my previous technical metal listening experiences are a couple of things and that would be the use of slower tempos and even clean and beautiful parts with acoustic guitar or a kind of Steve Vai-like soloing style and the delightful use of bass guitar as an instrument that can hold its own and even stand out in the music. I have a great appreciation for metal and prog music that gives the bass a lead melody or frequently casts the spotlight on that wonderful instrument (which I don't play, in case you were wondering).

Because of the attention served to these aspects of the music writing, it becomes rather easy to begin to remember tracks for their standout parts rather than be doomed to be remembered as an intriguing and exciting tangle of rapid-fire, aggressive drumming, multi-single-note convoluted guitar riffs, and tangles of shredded solos with pinch harmonic wails that seem to drive through the music like hailstones in a thundershower during a baseball match. No, Obscura make it a little easier to say, "I really like the lead guitar melody here," or "Good use of clean guitar here to add something to the song," or "This acoustic passage is very pleasant and unexpected." Interestingly for me, shortly after acquiring "Cosmogenesis" I got "Focus" by Cynic and I could see the possible influences this older album had on Obscura's musical style. There is even a bit of vocoder vocals on "Cosmogenesis" as if in salute to "Focus".

The production is very clear and that is something I appreciate for such complex and often speedy music. My one criticism might be that the growls and sore-throat screams strike me as not being necessary throughout the whole album. It's not the first time that I was very impressed with the music but felt something more could have been done with the vocals in that the brutal style doesn't always seem to be the best approach.

And now it looks like I have managed to write just over a page-worth of words in review of this album. Technical. Highly-skilled. Creative. Effective. Challenging.

Delightful brain knot music!

 E by ENSLAVED album cover Studio Album, 2017
4.10 | 10 ratings

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E
Enslaved Tech/Extreme Prog Metal

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE & JR/F/Canterbury Teams

4 stars It's always an exciting day when one of your favorite and most consistent metal bands releases an album and continues that exciting thrill of anticipation of whether they will continue their lengthy run as ambassadors of the extreme metal scene after more than two decades on the scene or the unthinkable of botching their rein and utterly teeter off that precarious precipice that they ride like a skateboarder sliding down a staircase railing. As the decade runs closer to its end Norway's ENSLAVED took only two years to craft yet another installment into their progressive black metal universe after the release of 2015's "In Times" which left more than a few loyal fans divided over exactly where they saw the band was heading next. While true that the album continued down the path of the expected quality material, there was still that lurking nagging feeling that perhaps ENSLAVED is just one tiny step away from completely derailing into pools of stagnation and ultimately becoming the feared and dreaded parodies of themselves. In 2017 the band emerge from their cocoon of secrecy and let loose their 14th full-length studio album E.

With an album title so truncated to one mere letter, it automatically triggers that WTF response and thankfully Ivar Bjørnson has explained this nebulous concept to smother any possible misconceptions in their nascency. E apparently has a dualistic meaning, firstly being a letter of the Latin alphabet but is also a reference to the rune Ehwaz which is depicted as our letter M (note both letters on album cover painted by long time associate Truis Espedal.) Ehwaz simply means horse and the relationship with humankind's most endearing animal friend that celebrates one of our longest cross-species collaborations. Once you get past all the horse symbology, the title and tracks included expand further into the symbolisms of the duality of humankind and nature as well as fear and subconscious drive all wrapped up in the expected Viking imagery constructed through poetic prose in both gurgling raspy utterances as well as clean Gregorian chant inspired harmonies that exude a beauty and beast combo effect only this is bro style.

As evidenced from the sneak peak video for the first track "Storm Son," ENSLAVED have entered new sonic arenas indeed and have once again taken all the different styles they've accumulated over their vast career and simply expanded them into new territory as if they take their Viking expansionist roots and simply apply those principles to conquering new musical territory. As E begins, i was expecting the immediate bombast of heaviness before meandering into softer passages of folky and ambience atmospheric touches but E takes a totally different approach than past offerings. This one begins with the sensual sounds of birds and the blowing of a gjallarhorn before horses whinny and clomp along insinuating a battle scene to come, however the track unexpectedly delivers a clean dreamy guitar riff that delivers the ultimate head scratcher making me wonder if these guys have pulled an Ulver on us and went post-rock or some non-metal direction as the repetitive riffs churn on augmented by an atmospheric ambience swirling around every arpeggiated note. Goodbye black metal ENSLAVED, hello progressive rockers who have always lurked beneath the noisefest. Oh, wait there's those raspy vocals on top of the clean angelic choral. (then once again the riff ratchets up in intensity but this isn't quite the metal i was expecting) as Grutle Kjellson takes the lead with his raspy evil-as-[%*!#] vocal style. As the synthesizers swirl around and the staccato guitar riffs pound on like Teutonic marches on Prussian plains it seems that ENSLAVED has gone Opeth on us and finally divorced the black metal aspects that have carried them this far into the 21st century minus those raspy vocals of course. But wait! This is progressive black metal and nothing happens too quickly in this world. Finally at seven minutes in the black metal guitars and bass kick in with synchronized drums and yeah baby! Oops, i jumped to conclusions. This is black metal for PATIENT fans :p After a rough start things seem on track once again although the atmospheric synths and staccato guitar riffs are totally uncharacteristic of the ENSLAVED sound. This band has decided to carry on into new even more progressive arenas. Will the fickle black metal fans like this? Probably not. As "The River's Mouth" takes the baton, the black metal groove is back at first but alternates substantially with the progressive metal segments that sound more like something out of a post-metal sludge band's canon than anything ENSLAVED has tackled. It doesn't take long to figure out that this is a band always looking for parameters to overstep while breaking rules and worshipping runes and on E the floodgates have opened.

Many surprises lurk on E which is of course the key ingredient (surprise that is) to keep things spiced up. For example, "Sacred Horse" begins like a hippie dippy folk track for a few seconds but then bursts into the more familiar extreme metal sound of past glories. "Axis Of The Worlds" has a very different sort of groove than the band is used to with a much more sophisticated labyrinthine and circuitous riffing methodology that ratchets up their progressive rock aspects even further and with the mellotron organ sounds that accompany may raise the red flag for a progressive pollen attack for those allergic to the world of progressive rock but somehow once again the band walks that thin line between the black and prog worlds all the while including some bizarre electronica sputtering in the background reminiscent of electropop bands like Röyksopp whose cover they tackle with the rhetorical self-directed question "What Else Is There?" "Fathers Of Eolh" is probably the most un-ENSLAVED sounding track on E with its heightened 5/4 timing sludgy riffs, ambient shoegaze backdrop and liturgical proggy vocal styles mostly delivered in a clean, clear yet turgid display of interweaving compositional parts that are laced together in various alternating ways. "Hiindslight" is yet another progressive metal behemoth that tackles hitherto unexplored arenas as it churns out complex guitar riffs that range from brutal to sensual and graced by the raspy vocals of Kjellson. This is the track that will for sure act as the sunlight that scares the black metal vampires into their coffins as it incorporates a whirlwind of progressive features including the unthinkable use of flute and saxophone. "Djupet" is another more traditional track tacked on to appease the hardcores.

You may be wondering just how progressive can they possible get. Well before you get your knickers in a twist and cry out that they've totally gone Opeth on us, it should never be forgotten that ENSLAVED was always a progressive black metal band which began with their debut album "Vikingligr Veldi" and despite tamping down the progressive qualities on their next three albums, "Frost," "Eld" and "Blodhemn" they nevertheless persisted under the surface before finally erupting once again in full pent-up fury on 2000's "Mardraum: Beyond The Within" only to have the progressive aspects outweigh the black metal from "Monumension" and the albums that followed. The fact is that unlike Opeth who utterly abandoned their extreme metal roots to focus exclusively on progressive rock, ENSLAVED never for even a single album smothered the black metal out of their overall sound. While it's true the black metal has taken a back seat to the progressive side of the coin, it's more akin to the band having a new lover move in while banishing the ex to the basement only to be chained up but kept around because she's still useful for all those chores around the house.

Yeah, the black metal may be the ugly ex-wife who is forced to perform as an indentured servant but she still has a role to play while ENSLAVED's promiscuous Hugh Hefner tendencies take on a musical libido all their own. Keep in mind that the band's name is ENSLAVED and not "Emancipated." Set free the black metal and we're left with an Age of Aquarius la-la-la singalong feel good album. Now that wouldn't be very metal now would it? While ENSLAVED has not gone Opeth on us, it can be argued they've followed in the same footsteps another fellow Norwegian and gone insanely Ihsahn on us instead. You don't believe me? For anyone who has kept up with Emperor's frantic frontman as a solo artist, you will hear lots of parallels with albums ranging from "The Adversary" to "Arktis," not only in the highly complex time signature rich riffing styles but in the addition of unorthodox metal instruments with the inclusion of flautist Daniel Mage and sax blower Kjetil Møster on the tracks "Hindsight" and "Feathers Of Eolh" and also the inclusion of fellow Norwegian Einar Kvitrafn from the Nordic dark folk outfit Wardruna. OK, i lied. There is one moment of going Opeth and that is the short use of mellotron style keyboard sounds at the end of "Sacred Horse." This is probably one of the parts of the album that doesn't exactly sound like it's at home here and i concur that this should have been aborted before birth, but we should never let a few moments of awkwardness destroy the big picture.

Ultimately i'm finding E is about contrast and tension. There are simple clean parts that are unlike anything the band has done but somehow after slowly emerging elements, the band always resolves itself with the heavier and more frantic dynamics delivering fairly balanced compositions that perhaps can carry on a wee bit too long at points but still never entering the extremities of the uncomfortableness zone. It goes without saying that ENSLAVED alienated the one-dimensional kvlter-than-thou crowds long ago when the scales tipped in the progressive metal direction and with E, the band challenges their fans once again and therefore the close-minded, musically illiterate and those who simply get complacent in a particular phase will probably piss all over this one, however if dissected like a laboratory rat in order to scrutinize the inner parts, E is actually the logical next frontier for ENSLAVED to venture into. As the band continues to mature it would be pathetic for them to linger in pastures already explored and personally i much prefer a band to delve into new arenas despite less than perfect results than stagnate in festering doldrums of inertness. E may not constitute the absolute pinnacle of the career of ENSLAVED but i'm finding this to have much more of a return value than "In Times" and offers yet another creative and excellent rung in their long ladder of musical development since their humble beginnings during the second wave of early black metal.

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1980 France
7TH NEMESIS France
A.I.(D) France
ABIGOR Austria
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ABSORBED Spain
ACHOKARLOS Spain
ACID DEATH Greece
ACOLYTE United Kingdom
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THE ADVENT EQUATION Mexico
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THE ZYGOMA DISPOSAL Belgium

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