Enslaved – “Utgard”

For me, Enslaved can do no wrong. But still, many artists have come to disappoint me (you know who they are). Fortunately with “Utgard,” Enslaved continue to be one of the great bands of our time. The band seems to evolve just a little bit on each album while maintaining the core of their sound.

With their latest album “Utgard,” Enslaved incorporate the progressive expansion of “E” with the stripped down approach of “Vertebrae.” It’s like taking pieces of each album and creating their next step. The result is a 45 minute masterpiece of progressive metal. They trimmed away some of the fat and leave the listener with the perfect combination of complex yet almost direct music that Enslaved have ever made.

One highlight of the album is the clean vocals of keyboardist Håkon Vinje, who joined the band prior to “E.” Vinje has grown profoundly and even has a grit and rasp to his voice that was not present before. His performance just adds another layer to a rich album. Of course his keyboard work is stellar as is was on “E.” Vinje really shines on both vocals and keys on two of my favorite tracks, “Sequence” and “Distant Seasons.”

Let’s not forget the band had to replace long time drummer Cato Bekkevold so they called on co-producer Iver Sandøy to join them. Sandøy understands Enslaved’s music well, so the band never miss a beat (sorry about the pun). The band still maintain their black metal roots thanks to bassist Grutle Kjellson and his dry choked out harsh vocals. There are many harsh vocalists that I just can’t take anymore but Grutle is not one of those. He can shift from a violent growl to a sinister grumble without losing power. Plus his vocals just make the clean vocals even more powerful.

The album kicks off with “Fires in the Dark” which starts with chants, an acoustic guitar and eventually a guitar line that sounds exactly like Robert Fripp. Yep, Enslaved. The song has the feel on a march that Grutle is preaching over. The song takes off and you are swept away. The clean vocal by Vinje immediately shows the power he now has. It’s a killer opener in the great Enslaved tradition.

The band has so far released 3 tracks prior to release: “Jettegryta,” “Homebound,” and “Urjotun.” “Jettegryta” is a snarling beast of a track which lets everyone know that Enslaved still have their edge. “Homebound” is the prog/groove metal track which ramps up to hyperspeed from time to time. It made an excellent first single. This is one of the songs that shows the raspy vocal approach that Vinje has now. So much more emotion and power! The song also has a killer guitar solo. “”Urjotun” starts out with some new age synths and a rattling bass line from Grutle. This is a track that I could hear on “Vertebrae.”

In the middle of the album is the short, spoken piece “Utgardr.” I’m not a huge fan of that sort of thing but this piece is eerie and powerful. It’s a nice bridge between the first half of the album and the second half. “Flight Of Thought And Memory’ is an all out blitz on the verses while being lush and grand on the chorus. It’s classic Enslaved. And I love “Storms Of Utgard” which has a Maiden style gallop mixed with a ton of atmosphere. Enslaved are the kings of dynamics and this track underscores that.

I am always thinking that Enslaved will somehow run out of amazing ideas and music, yet they never do. “Utgard” is easily one of their best albums and that’s saying something because Enslaved have so many masterpieces to their credit. The lineup may have changed but the band never stop putting out incredible extreme prog metal. This is a candidate for album of the year.

Rating: 10/10

Tracklist:

1. Fires In The Dark
2. Jettegryta
3. Sequence
4. Homebound
5. Utgardr
6. Urjotun
7. Flight Of Thought And Memory
8. Storms Of Utgard
9. Distant Seasons

Label: Nuclear Blast

Bandcamp: https://enslaved.bandcamp.com/album/utgard

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Jakko M. Jakszyk – “Secrets & Lies”

2020 has been a terrible year. Fortunately the music of 2020 has been amazing. InsideOut has released a lot of great albums this year and here’s a look at one of the latest. Current King Crimson frontman Jakko Jakszyk took avantage of the lack of Crimson touring to record another solo album, “Secrets & Lies.” Jakszyk is a talent in his own right so it’s great for him to get the spotlight.

Jakszyk has an amazing voice which is all about the rich tone and his ability to emote. Of course he is one of the guitarists in Crimson so yes he is an amazing player as well. The music on “Secrets & Lies” is very much about the song versus some great virtuosity. Sure there’s amazing playing. You have Robert Fripp, Gavin Harrison, Tony Levin, and Mel Collins of King Crimson plus Mark King (Level 42) and Peter Hammill (VDGG), so there’s all kinds of musicality.

But there’s memorable hooks and great melodies as well. “Before I Met You” is a menacing opener and a great tune with Levin on bass. “The Trouble With Angels” could have been on the “A Scarcity Of Miracles” album which he recorded as part of Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins. That project led to Crimson’s reformation. “Fools Mandate” has a Peter Gabriel vibe while “The Rotters Club Is Closing Down” is just a great ballad. The latter has some very tasty guitar lines…and isn’t that Fripp in the background?

“Uncertain Times” actually reminds me of something off of the Sylvian / Fripp album “The First Day.” Harrison’s drumming on the whole album is amazing but he adds something very Crimson to this song. There isn’t a way to escape the amount of Crimson DNA that’s all over and through “Secrets & Lies.” This especially comes from Jakszyk. It goes even beyond that he has been a member. The influence is a part of him which is why he has been a great fit for the band. Another highlight of the album is the chorus of “It Would All Make Sense” which would not sound out of place on a John Wetton album. The guitar solos on that song are also stunning.

“Secrets, Lies & Stolen Memories” has some stellar orchestration by Nigel Hopkins which provides a bed for Jakszyk’s guitar to lift off and soar from. It’s a well placed instrumental and points out that he could have a soundtrack career. “Under Lock & Key” is very Gabriel-esque rhythmically, and has another great vocal too. It was written with Fripp and has his fingerprints all over it.

The mostly a capella “The Borders We Traded” has layers and layers of backing vocals which shows yet another side of Jakszyk’s talent. This leads to “Trading Borders,” a song written by his daughter, Amber, who also plays piano on the song. It’s a lovely instrumental with a Celtic slant to it. The album closes with the Fripp / Jakszyk song “Separation.” It sounds like King Crimson because it was written for the band. Add in the band plays on it…you have a Crimson song in all but name. A definite highlight.

It goes without saying that if you love King Crimson, you really need to check out “Secrets & Lies.” But this also makes an excellent way for prog fans who have never checked out that band to get a safe entrance. “Secrets & Lies” is the not a King Crimson album but like any member of that band, the music has a flow and vibe that is unmistakable. We may not have a new King Crimson studio album but this will definitely do.

Rating: 9/10

Tracklist:
1. Before I Met You (05:41)
2. The Trouble With Angels (05:30)
3. Fools Mandate (04:13)
4. The Rotters Club Is Closing Down (04:06)
5. Uncertain Times (05:00)
6. It Would All Make Sense (05:25)
7. Secrets, Lies & Stolen Memories (02:45)
8. Under Lock & Key (04:06)
9. The Borders We Traded (03:05)
10. Trading Borders (02:32)
11. Separation (06:43)

Label: InsideOut Music
Release Date: October 23rd, 2020


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Rob’s Recommendation Roundup: Volume 22

Albums that you should consider checking out. First is the latest from the German collective Panzerballett called Planet Z. The main difference on this album versus past albums is the use of guest drummers. The list of drummers is quite impressive too: Marco Minnemann, Virgil Donati (Planet X), Grammy Award winner Morgan Ågren (Zappa), Gergo Borlai (Tribal Tech) and Hannes Grossmann (Alkaloid, Blotted Science). You might think that shifts like this would cause the album to not flow well. Consider that this is Panzerballett so crazy changes are common.

Leader/guitarist Jan Zehrfeld ensures that the signature jazz prog metal sound is always present. He also chooses great songs for each drummer. And each drummer is able to put his own stamp on the song as well. Personal favorites are the opening track Prime Time with Donati and Open Your Mind with Ågren. But my two top favorites are the ones with Borlai, “No One is Flying the Plane” (incredible track) and the closer “SOS.” Perhaps he just FITS Panzerballett the best? The bottom line is that “Planet Z” is essential if you love instrumental prog with amazing playing. And if you are sick of bedroom guitarists with their computerized drums.

Next up is a one man project by the multi-talented John Bassett (of Kingbathmat fame) called Arcade Messiah. Arcade Messiah started out as an instrumental band but has evolved into something more akin to his main gig by adding vocals to it. “The Host” is the first album not to be named with a number. Musically, it doesn’t differ to much from the previous albums.

Bassett can write a good riff and this album does have quite a few of those. While I did enjoy when Arcade Messiah was all instrumental, Bassett has a great voice so it’s nice to hear it on “The Host.” My only complaint is that the drumming is not as over the top as the guitar work and tends to lag a bit behind. Sorry. But overall, this is a fine addition to the Arcade Messiah catalog.

Finally, while they aren’t “prog” I am LOVING the new album by Doves called “The Universal Want.” The band remind me of a cross between Elbow and Thrice. Since I love both of those bands, Doves are a new love. They mix alt rock with art rock and a bit of post prog as well. The songs on “The Universal Want” are all top notch: great hooks, great melodies and  a ton of atmosphere! This album will definitely be one of my favorites of 2020.

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Ihsahn – “Pharos” EP

Ihsahn decided on releasing two EPs versus one album. He split the tracks into two buckets: heavier and more melodic. The first EP was “Telemark” which was released earlier in the year. That was the heavy one. Now we have “Pharos” which is the more melodic one. Now this doesn’t mean each EP doesn’t have elements of both sides on each. Ihsahn isn’t that one dimensional. Rather, I would say “Telemark” sounds overall like he tends to sound, while “Pharos” is more of a leap.

And because of that leap, I think “Pharos” is one of the best things that Ihsahn has done. For those who just can’t handle harsh vocals or any sort of black metal, this EP is a great way to understand why Ihsahn is so great. All three original tracks are great SONGS. “Losing Altitude” starts off mellow before finding a cool groove midway through. And yes it also has a really cool, weird ass riff to keep things interesting.

“Spectre at the Feast” is ridiculously catchy, but still very much an Ihsahn song. I think his clean vocals are often passed over because of his great harsh vocals. This guy can fucking sing. This song proves it. The title track veers from ballad to…well it has this sway to it, and then it gets really gothic. There’s a lot to unpack on this song which is one of the things Ihsahn is good at. He can take you so many places and never lose you.

Just like “Telemark,” “Pharos” closes with two covers. The first cover is the Potishead track “Roads.” The cover is very true to the original which means it pushes Ihsahn into his upper register vocally. And he nails it! It’s a beautiful cover of a beautiful song. The other cover is even more interesting, a-ha’s “Manhattan Skyline.” For this one, Ihsahn taps out on vocals and brings in his good friend Einar Solberg of Leprous. Ihsahn is a massive a-ha fan as it turns out and he does a faithful version which songs incredible. It also closes out a perfect EP.

Those of you who prefer Ihsahn stick to his black metal roots might want to just revisit “Telemark.” But if you are like me, you enjoy when Ihsahn pushes the envelope. An EP like this might not seem edgy for the average prog musician to release but “Pharos” is a showcase of the creativity and genius of Ihsahn!

Rating: 10/10
Label: Candlelight/Spinefarm
Release Date: 11 September 2020

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The Pineapple Thief – “Versions of the Truth”

Let’s get this out of the way. Having been a fan of Bruce Soord and the Pineapple Thief since 2002 or prior, I’ve yet to not love every album released. The new album “Versions of the Truth” is no exception. TPT is so reliable as a band that I can pre-order an album such as this one without having heard a note and know I will enjoy it. The question is just how much will I enjoy it.

Where does “Versions of the Truth” stack with the other albums, especially the last 2 that have had Gavin Harrison on them? I really like “Your Wilderness” but I LOVE “Dissolution.” It was a bit more varied and wasn’t afraid to get in your face as needed. “Versions of the Truth” is somewhere between those albums for me. In fact, it feels like a combination of them.

“Your Wilderness” had a mellowness, a subtlety to it…sometimes to a fault. “Versions of the Truth” does bring that back more into the sound. The title track is a prime example. It glides and doesn’t pound. Harrison is able to add more to a highhat than any drummer I know of. Ok there aren’t those massive fills but he finds a way to inject life into a song.

The songs on “Versions of the Truth” remind me a bit of classic TPT as well. Many are more direct and to the point with only “Our Mire” being somewhat “sprawling” at 7 and 1/2 minutes. So this album is definitely about the songs, and the topics of the lyrics. I won’t go into too much detail about the lyrics since I think listeners should have a chance to interpret as they wish. However, the title track addresses when opinions are more important than actual facts. People prefer a point of view they agree with to any sort of facts that don’t support said view. So is there one truth? “It’s not how I remember it.”

On “Break it All,” Soord asks “What version of yourself have you been listening to?” I love the riff on this track, it has some pop to it which underscores the venom in the subject matter. “Demons” was the first of the 4 singles released from the album thus far. Musically, it’s a bit funky and has an awesome groove. It’s songs like this that show the depth that this band (and Bruce Soord) have always possessed. “Driving Like Maniacs” would fit in well on “Your Wilderness.” This is the more mellow side of the band.

“Leave Me Be” is an acoustic based track which, though a mellow, does have some moments of power and the guitar solo is very cool. I mentioned “Our Mire” because it was the longest track and since this is a “prog” site, I figure people are curious about that sort of thing. The song isn’t about noodling since that’s not what TPT does. Rather this song has great playing and awesome dynamics. This is definitely my favorite track on the album and ranks with anything the band has done.

Yes, the album does have more space in it. Meaning, there aren’t too many instruments or layers to clutter things up. Stripped back a bit maybe? “Stop Making Sense” is a good example. You can hear each instrument and how they interact with each other. Plus I love vibes. Who doesn’t? I do wish the band would have cut loose a bit more but again, TPT don’t follow a pattern. This is not the same as their last album yet it “Versions of Truth” has plenty of the band’s DNA all over each track that you know who it is. That’s what I love about bands that I find to be special. YOU KNOW WHO IT IS! This is the Pineapple Thief and “Versions of Truth” is a great album by them.

Rating: 9.5/10
Labe: Kscope
Release Date: 4 September 2020
Buy here: https://burningshed.com/store/thepineapplethief




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Simon Collins – “Becoming Human”

“Becoming Human” is the fourth solo album by Simon Collins, also known as Phil’s son. It comes after the 2013 release of a stellar album by Sound of Contact “Dimensionaut” on which Simon was the lead vocalist and drummer. Former SoC colleague Kelly Avril Nordstrom joins Simon on “Becoming Human.” While there’s a hint of SoC here and there, this album is not a follow up to “Dimensionaut.” Instead, it embraces electronica way way way too much. Robbie Bronnimann is listed as keys, programming, and sound design. Two things that I do not need: a lot of programming and sound that needs to be “designed.”

While Simon sounds great vocally, his drums often don’t sound like he is playing them. Yes in some cases it’s clearly programming but in other spots the drums sound incredibly flat. I don’t expect the gated drum sound of his dad but this is really dull. Songs like “The Universe Inside Of Me” are so over run with technology they are more annoying than listenable. And while “This is the Time” does survive the overuse of programming, it makes me wonder just how great the song would be in Bronnimann had never shown up for the sessions. “I Will Be Waiting” reminds me a bit of “In the Air Tonight” but again, there are so many beeps and blips that the song is really wrecked. The drums sound good at the 4 minute mark at least. Oh well.

The 9 plus minute closer “Dead Ends” start off with excellent use of synths to give atmosphere. The start of the song is great! Well, until the shitty electronica shows up once again to rip the heart out of what could have been an awesome song. “Becoming Human” is a rather ironic title since the album is dominated by computers and tech. Simon Collins – “Becoming Synthetic” would be more appropriate. The songs underneath all of this clutter are pretty good but when you have to deal with headache inducing technology, it prevents any real enjoyment from happening. Again this is NOT Sound of Contact…unfortunately. That ship has sailed whilst this ship sank under it’s own weight.

Rating: 3/10

Label: Frontiers Music s.r.l.
Release Date: 4 September 2020

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Exist – “Egoiista”

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Other than the music itself, I suggest making the purchase this week as the release date was 8/28/2020 and first week sales do make a difference therefore please support the East Coast progressive metal of Exist!

Are you looking for a sign that you should purchase the new Exist recording entitled Egoiista?  This is that sign.  This is progressive metal that reminds me why I tracked down used Cynic, Watchtower and Fates Warning CDs pre-Amazon in the mid-90s.  Wine takes too long to age for this metaphor; I’ve listened to these songs for a month and these songs are finally starting to come into focus.

Guitarist/vocalist Max Phelps, bassist Alex Weber, and new drummer Brody Taylor-Smith will satisfy your need for old-school Cynic as well as present what progressive metal sounds like in 2020.  

(background of Max Phelps and his association with Cynic and Death tribute Death To All omitted because you probably already know that)

I appreciate the multiple vocal deliveries with obvious influences from Cynic & Death.  One aspect I want to hammer on is how the songs have a focus on the slower-side of the tempo range (not necessarily doom or sludge) versus frenetic speeds which some prog-metal veers toward.  Four of nine songs are around 9 minutes or above but that doesn’t mean there are 78 concepts in a 10-minute song.  

It’s hard to put into words… if Exist intended to write long-ish songs that don’t feel long, have strong melodic hooks and rhythmic qualities that grow over time and fall into place like Tetris, mission accomplished.  For me there is something satisfying about listening to a song for the 5th or 6th or 16th time and “understanding” something about it that is new this time around.  How I hear a melody from a vocal line played on guitar in a not-obvious place in the song; Easter eggs the kids today might say.

Hat tip to Anup Sastry (Devin Townsend, ex-Intervals) and Mike Semesky (Ordinance, Raunchy, ex-Intervals/The HAARP Machine) for drum and vocal production respectively and Adam Bently for the excellent mix.

There are chill-quiet-melodic sections, deliberate techy riffs, jazz metal solo breaks, layered vocal harmonies, sporadic (read: tasteful) blast beats, really everything I know you require from your music.  

Rating: 8.75/10

Bandcamp: exist.bandcamp.com/album/egoiista

Label: Prosthetic Records

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Traveling back to 1997!

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Over the course of the last…how many years have I been doing my internet radio show…let’s say 5 years, 6 years, I have done shows that focus on specific years. I’ve done all of the 70s individually. I did a show on the 80s as a whole in an effort to prove that prog survived that decade. I have done various shows from the 90s to present day. One year that I haven’t focused on is 1997.

When I decide to do a year, I immediately think that there won’t be enough music to cover 2 hours. Somehow I always have enough and it turns out that there’s a ton of great music from 1997. No I am not going to tell you what I am playing. You need to tune into www.metalworldradio.com on Sunday August 30th at 10am EDT, 3pm UK for the LIVE show! If you can’t make it, the show gets rebroadcast on www.deliciousagony.com on Tuesday September 1st at 8pm EDT. PLUS, I post all of the shows to mixcloud.com/progressivemusicplanet so there’s no excuse to miss this!

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Fates Warning reveals details for new album, ‘Long Day Good Night’

Very exciting news from Metal Blade Records and Fates Warning! Here is the press release.


fatesFates Warning have been a formidable presence in progressive metal for more than 35 years, helping to shape and drive the genre without ever compromising their integrity or losing relevance. They return in 2020 with Long Day Good Night, the most epic and longest album of their storied career – mixed by Joe Barresi. “The styles of music we’ve written distinguish this record from the rest of our catalogue,” states vocalist Ray Alder. “There are some songs with electronics and some with a nice ethereal feel, as well as some pretty straightforward grooves, at least for us. And there are also some pretty heavy songs. We tried to give the listener a host of different things to listen to, as opposed to an album where every song sounds the same.” As such, the album is something of a rollercoaster ride, moving through various moods and making for perhaps their most vital release to date.

Guitarist Jim Matheos began writing the album in mid-2019, working closely with Alder for about a year, honing the songs, completing 13 for their 13th full-length – which un-coincidentally has a total running time of 72:22. Despite their long history of making records, Alder makes it clear that the songs take a lot of work to realize. “Like all albums, nothing comes easy. It’s quite a process to go from the idea to the actual finished song. Sometimes you think you’re done with it, then you hear something else and you have to try that. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but you at least have to try it just so you know that in the end you’ve done everything possible to make it as good as it can be. Jim and I spent practically every day for the last year writing this album. I am very happy with the outcome, and with the blend of styles. I guess I could say that this album represents all of the years that we have been together.”

The record also features guest appearances from touring guitarist Mike Abdow, who contributed some solos, plus Porcupine Tree/The Pineapple Thief drummer Gavin Harrison plays on “When Snow Falls”, and “Under The Sun” sees the band incorporating a full string section for the first time. The result of all the hard work put in by all involved is undeniable, and with Long Day Good Night, Fates Warning once again take a bold step forward into the next phase of their exhilarating career.

Long Day Good Night track-listing
1. The Destination Onward
2. Shuttered World
3. Alone We Walk
4. Now Comes the Rain
5. The Way Home
6. Under the Sun
7. Scars
8. Begin Again
9. When Snow Falls
10. Liar
11. Glass Houses
12. The Longest Shadow of the Day
13. The Last Song

Fates Warning online:
http://www.fateswarning.com
http://www.facebook.com/FatesWarning
https://twitter.com/fateswarning
https://www.youtube.com/user/fateswarningvideos

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The Tangent – “Auto Reconnaissance”

The TangentAuto ReconnaissanceI’ve been into The Tangent right from the release of “The Music That Died Alone.” Since that amazing debut album, the band have been very “up and down” for me. Good album, average album, great album, bad album. So I am always a tad concerned about a new album, especially if I liked the last one. And I did like “Proxy.” One thing that boded well for the new album “Auto Reconnaissance” is that the lineup is the same as the last album and I am not sure that’s ever happened before! Other than bandleader Andy Tillison, the band has had more turnover than King Crimson or Yes or…well you get the idea!

With that stability, The Tangent definitely benefit musically. The songs are strong and the performance is top notch. Bassist Jonas Reinhold (The Flower Kings) shows off his abilities on the opener “Life on Hold.” Great song! The problem with “Jinxed in Jersey” is not the music, which is very jazzy and proggy. The problem is way way too much spoken word. Tillison is telling a story which is humorous to be sure (he’s good at that) but being someone that detests talking over music, it gets old really fast. Now I know Tillison is not the greatest singer in the world but it’s better than listening to a story that I won’t need to hear again. Oh well.

“Under Your Spell” showcases the melodic side of The Tangent, wait…they have one? This is somewhere between Philly soul and prog. I do enjoy it too. I hear a bit of Spandau Ballet too. The guitar solos by Luke Machin are so tasty and serve the song. The Tangent aren’t always concerned about serving the song so it’s nice to hear that they can focus more than usual. Theo Travis adds some sweet sax work to the track as well. Very nice. “The Tower of Babel” reminds me a little bit of Steely Dan musically. The song has that jazz groove that they are/were known for. It does have an odd melody but well that’s just how Andy is. It’s a wise choice for a first single/video.

The Tangent are known for their epics and “Auto Reconnaissance” has some. “Jinxed in Jersey” is 16 minutes but “Lie Back & Think of England” is over 28 minutes. Poignant then jazzy and of course over the top. Tillison reflects on his homeland which is relatable on a global level. The samples really work well on this one. Remember that whole spoken word problem I have? Well an over use of samples can fall into that bucket but fortunately these work well with the mood that’s being set. What seems like the chorus 5 minutes has a solid hook within the myriad of notes that are firing all around. The bottom line is that this epic is very good. It doesn’t rank with some of the early epics that Tillison penned but it is a great centerpiece for the album as a whole.

“The Midas Touch” is more “bit sized” at just under 6 minutes. And it’s actually funky! Reinhold gets a great groove going. I LOVE the synth used on it. Musically, it’s my favorite song…ok it’s my favorite song on the album period. “Proxima” is the 12 and 1/2 minute bonus track. Why anyone would buy an album without the bonus tracks baffles me! Unless the tracks are shitty demos or something. “Proxima” is part ambient, part jazz and all great! This instrumental shows the various sides of the band and is amazing stuff.

It’s great to hear The Tangent on a creative roll. “Auto Reconnaissance” breaks the trend that I have had with them and it’s as good as their last album “Proxy.” It ranks along side other releases like “A Spark in the Aether” and “A Place in the Queue.” If you’ve ever enjoyed Andy and the band, I think you’ll like this one too. The Tangent wear the prog badge proudly and mix the current prog sound with tons of classic musical references.

Rating: 8.5/10
Label: Inside Out Music
Release date: August 21, 2020

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