Category Archives: Editorials

Heofon – “5th Key”


Well, tonight, I have another wonderful sounding band and album to offer for exploration. Heofon is the name of this British Columbia, Canadian band. They have released their debut album, 5th Key, this year, in the same year as Tool’s long-awaited magnum opus, Fear Inoculum. Why that is important, will become crystal clear…soon.

Heofon is made up of multi-instrumentalists: Simon Haiduk, on bass, cello, synth, guitar, drum programming, mixing, and mastering: Chris Niebergall, on electric and acoustic guitars, Didgeridoos, synth, and mixing; and Tim Niebergall, on drums. The band has been playing together since 2008. Unlike Tool, they have been working on 5th Key, since 2016. The album was recorded in 432Hz tuning, and it was released June 21, 2019. Three months before Fear Inoculum.

The cover art was created by Simon Haiduk. Song iterations were created by Chris Niebergall and Tim Niebergall.

Heofon describes their music as ‘Mystic-Prog’. Heofon means, the home of God, or heaven. Their influences include Tool, King Crimson, and Pink Floyd, among others.

On “Embers”, it sounds as though Heofon had been in the studio, listening to Tool shape and mold Fear Inoculum. The deep bass as lead electric guitar, playing amongst the synths and keyboards sounds a lot like Tool’s opening title track. Only 5th Key was released three months before Fear Inoculum. That deep, pounding bass with drums is just perfect. Primal like Tool, yet with enough imagination and originality of its own. A strong opener and killer symphony of metal. The only thing missing here is a lead singer like Maynard James Keenan. But this symphony is good enough without words.

“Blue Ripple”, opens with cool synths and buzzes. Silent and slow-moving synths and bells welcome you to track two. More of that powerful bass and drumming as the rhythm builds. The lead electric guitar on this track is one of the best on the album. But that bouncing bass is irresistible.

“5th Key”, is the title track and it opens with cool bell chimes and syths, along with that menacing bass. Those guttural drums and bass are joined by the backing of Didgeridoos and some wonderful keys. When the lead electric guitars fire up, the entire soundscape moves like a force charging ahead to victory.

With a title like, “Nusku Talks”, meaning the spoken word of the ‘god of fire and light in ancient Babylonian, Girru’, you know this track is gonna rumble with power. And so, it does. Those deep bass chords hit the floor and drop below. The banging drums only help them sound heavier.

“3rd Key”, is an alternative to the title track. This track is lighter, and airier. Keys and symbols, percussion, and yes that bass thud. The keyboards are soft and light.

“Ambrosia”, surprises you at the opening with brilliant light rays of keyboard sunshine, before warm electric lead guitar chords fill the air. The deep bass is still present, but cool Dave Fielding/Reeves Gabrels/Robert Smith guitar sounds fill the air. One of the best songs on the album.

 

“Vortexed”, is just what it sounds like it would be. Full of cool keyboard and syth effects at its opening. It builds a little like the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Quasar”, however, they do not unleash the raw power of the guitars, like the Pumpkins. Instead, this song grinds slowly, with punctuated bass.

“Omniscience”, is full of stars and wonders keyboards and synth effects. Deep space sounds a plenty. One of my favorite tracks.

“Hero’s Journey”, is a deep, standing bass concerto, before the strings, keys, and drums enter the soundscape. More bass and deep sounds than I have heard in one song this year. An over 9:40 epic journey of sitting bass, cello, Didgeridoos and synths. The best and longest song on the album.

“Amenti”, is full of beautiful space keys and what sounds like electric waves of ocean. Pulsating space sounds fill the soundscape and bring to close, one of the best instrumental albums I have heard all year.

No, Heofon is not Tool. And that is a good thing. I hear many similarities between the two bands, only with the use of the standing bass and the cellos, this album may be even deeper sounding than Fear Inoculum. Get this album and let it take you away like it did me. The journey is worth the price of admission.

Track List

  1. Embers – 8:45
  2. Blue Ripple – 5:36
  3. 5th Key – 9:10
  4. Nusku Talks – 6:55
  5. 3rd Key – 6:51
  6. Ambrosia – 7:00
  7. Vortexed – 9:14
  8. Omniscience – 2:37
  9. Hero’s Journey – 9:43
  10. Amenti – 1:56

www.simonhaiduk.com

www.featherlore.net

www.spiritedceramics.com

https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=435183877323386

https://heofon.bandcamp.com/album/5th-key

https://music.apple.com/us/album/5th-key/1474427747?app=music&ign-mpt=uo%3D4

Odd Logic – “Last Watch of the Nightingale”


Last Watch of the Nightingale, is Odd Logic’s eighth album. Their last album, Effigy, back in 2017, was my introduction to the band. I reviewed that dynamic album and learned of the power and extended influence of this band.

Odd Logic is a Washington state progressive metal band. The members of the band also play live in a local cover band, that plays primarily Dream Theater, (Forsaken Fortress).

For Last Watch of the Nightingale, the band members include: Sean Thompson, on guitar, bass, keyboards, and vocals; and Pete Hanson, on drums and guttural vocals. The album will be released on September 28, 2019.

Odd Logic began writing and recording the music for Last Watch of the Nightingale, back in 2017, just after the release of their killer album Effigy. In fact, almost 80% of the album was completed in early 2018. The final track was cut on September 1, 2019, meaning the band had spent at least 190 days creating this epic.

The Last Watch of the Nightingale, is another great concept album for Odd Logic. In summary, the story involves, “a long-time ship captain of trade, Jengu, who departs from his wife for one last journey on his faithful ship the Nightingale. Each song brings he and his crew deeper into an unusual storm, eventually bringing the captain to a state of anxiety and comatose dreaming. At the point of the ship’s submersion, he uses his last energy to release his caged nightingale, (bird), that his wife, Anlia gave him for protection on his long sea voyages. The bird arrives home, and because it has reappeared, Anlia knows the fate of her husband”. By the way, the band notes: “More than one nightingale is not a flock, it is a “watch”.

The CD artwork includes “journals and shipping records that were recovered for both husband and wife. They are key to filling in the rest of the story”.

The album opens with, “Last Watch”, an over 6-minute epic instrumental, featuring innovative electric guitar, bass, and power drumming, after the opening orchestration and effects. The opening piano and strings are wonderful. The pace builds until, the full gamut is unleashed. Power hammer drums, grinding guitars, and overwhelming bass create a blistering anthem-like drum and guitar attack that few bands have accomplished this year. Every once in while they give you keys and orchestration, but they continually return to that torrent of merciless seas of guitar and drilling drums. A very serious opening track to start this epic album. The only thing that I can remember that is remotely close is Dream Theater’s “Caught in a Web” or “The Mirror/Lie”, but this song is heavier! I think those tracks might have been the inspiration to drive harder. That diving bell at the end is epic!

“Garden of Thorns”, comes at you full pace. Electric guitar, bass, and in your face drumming, with keyboards flowing behind. Then Sean Thompson’s first vocals, “All this time away at sea. Torn between the loves of my life. Point me south when my journey’s done. Imagine me close to home, will you. But navigate until then. We must sail on”. A rugged captain willing to sail on. Soft keys rain down as he sings. More of the power of “Caught in a Web” or “The Mirror/Lie”, emerges, only this time set to a story of navigating a stormy sea. Later, Thompson sings, “Oh, midnight on a sea so still. The world has never been so real”. Another power driver of a song filled with storied lyrics and emotion.

“Absence”, opens with a drum salute, then Thompson sings, “I’m sitting on a tall ship thinking of you. Would you notice that I’ve got a clean pair of shoes? If I could say anything, just look at the stars. It’s a perilous journey but I’ve come this far”. Later he sings, “Riding the ocean, I feel alive and well”. Grinding guitars and great vocal harmonies teamed with expert counterpunch drumming, bass and supporting keyboards.

On “Chance of Gods”, Thompson sings, “What does it mean if I see no stars. Help me to breath if I labor to sound the call. Sun fall and dreams, fog and mist, it’s day 5. In deep thought below, sail and deck, tonight”. Rain and stormy conditions increase, as do the melancholic piano sounds, deep bass and low guitars. One of the most dramatic moments on the album occurs as Thompson unleashes and epic scream, “How will this night end?” Then, “Now I know, and I know very well. That my soul belongs to the chance of Gods”. Power music follows. The band eclipses the power of Awake, as Sean’s vocals and the relentless torrent of guitars and drums outlast Dream Theater.

“Dreaming in Color”, opens with beautiful piano, before Thompson sings, “I know my eyes are not certain. Blinded by scenery. Corridors of water lead my way.
Shout your name to get me through this night. It is the first time dreaming in color”. The dream sequence music is quite unique and otherworldly.

“Of the Nightingale”, is full of cool drumming, more keyboards, with unique signatures. Then, the grinding guitars begins to roar. And so, does Pete Hanson, with those guttural vocals. Then Thompson sings, “Some things refuse to change. Some things are lost in the world. Some things return the same. Like circles”. Then he sings, with quiet piano pounding out the cadence, “Faith, repent, please, exception forgive, regret, these may be my last words”. This keyboard driven song is wonderful.

 “Sorrow”, is an enormously emotional instrumental song full of passionate music following the sad storyline.

“Boundary Division” is a 23-minute epic closer, the likes of which I have not heard so far this year. It opens with what sounds like a gong. Then crushing drums, riveting electric guitars and bass. A thunderstorm of musical sound. Thompson sings, “Full go into the storm, it is now or never. I know the longer we go we will reach the moonlight shining. Embrace the quickening pace, we will use its power.
We face the eternal race to sail right through the eye”. Then, quietly he sings,
“Hello, my hands, we know the meaning of our life. Breathe in, breathe out, we’ll find the boundary division”. The music in between the story lyrics is full of passion and power. I refuse to divulge the full storyline. Sean closes the song with a wonderful closing paragraph, “Hello, to all who know the meaning of their life.
To those who dare to find the boundary division. You know we never know the fate of every night. So, go on and… Welcome home!”

Last Watch of the Nightingale is testament to the ever-growing musical ability of Odd Logic. If this album gets the right exposure globally, they should be drawing crowds the size of Dream Theater. I am a Dream Theater fan, and Odd Logic’s music is much more engaging than Dream Theater’s latest. They just don’t have a major label supporting them, like DT. Sean Thompson’s voice is comparable to James LeBrie’s. The musical ability that fills this album should be heard by a wider audience. I hope those in the music industry that have the power to help bands grow, will take heed of this call and pick up this album, and appreciate it in its completeness. Please listen to this on CDBaby or the band’s Bandcamp site and then go get it, and experience it in full surround sound. It is one of the best albums I have heard this year.

Track List

  1. Last Watch – 6:17
  2. Garden of Thorns – 6:17
  3. Absence – 5:31
  4. Chance of Gods – 6:27
  5. Dreaming in Color – 8:03
  6. Of the Nightingale – 8:16
  7. Sorrow – 4:09
  8. Boundary Division – 23:00

Thomas Ewerhard, created the artwork, design and layout. Kevin Hunter, prepared the preliminary/conceptual consultation, and Ben “Jammindude” Straley, provided additional consultation.

The album was mixed, mastered and produced by Sean Thompson at Offseason Studios.

http://www.oddlogic.band/news

https://oddlogicrock.bandcamp.com/album/last-watch-of-the-nightingale

https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/oddlogic8

https://www.facebook.com/OddLogicband/

PRoPoRTIoNS – “Vision from a Distant Past”


PRoPoRTIoNS is a progressive rock band, with jazz fusion influences. The band members come from different parts of the world and their music sounds, at times, like it is actually beyond the realms of this world.

I found the band’s second album, Vision from a Distant Past, available for listening on CDBaby.com. The album was released on September 1, 2019. Their debut album, Reboot, was released last year. Their music is a wonderful blend of Pink Floyd, Alan Parsons, and Larry Fast, with some definite jazz influences. The music is mostly instrumental, with keyboards and guitar playing the most prominent roles.

The band is made up of: Lennart Ståhle, (from Sweden), on guitars, flute and keyboards; Tomas Stark, (from Sweden), on keyboards, electric and acoustic guitar; Denis Boucher, (from Canada), on drums and percussion; and Andy Kubicki, (from the USA), on bass, keyboards and orchestration.

On Vision from a Distant Past, PRoPoRTIoNS uses special musical guests:
Jeremy Cubert, on Chapman Stick, on “Double Barrel”, and synthesizer on “Telemetry Drizzle”; John Eyre, on vocals for “Seagull’s Call”; Pierre Bordeleau, on vocals for “Open Door”; Stefan Kubicki, on electric guitar, on the tracks, “Floorcare” and “Colors of Light”; Richard Sheehy, on electric guitar, on “Temporal Induction”; and Dayron Luis San Juan Muguercia, on congas on “Floorcare” and “Pangaea”.

Every song on this album is absolutely innovative and entertaining to listen to from beginning to end.

“Temporal Induction” sounds like a Larry Fast computerized song until it changes completely into a Pink Floyd – like instrumental. It goes from completely outer space to inner space in minutes. Richard Sheehy, on electric guitar, takes over midway through the song to help give the track its David Gilmour – like edge. One of the best tracks on the album, and one of the best keyboard-oriented tracks I’ve heard this year. Absolutely mind-blowing and dynamic.

“Double Barrel” opens with fast moving computer-like keyboards. Jeremy Cubert, on Chapman Stick keeps a wonderful beat and rhythm. Some of the sounds reminds me of Steve Hackett’s carnival – like influences. The keyboards are wonderful throughout.

“Seagull’s Call” is my favorite song on the album. Kind of an ole English tale, by the seaside, with gull sounds and waves of the ocean. The acoustic guitar work and John Eyre’s vocals were perfect. The flute work is “Tullriffic”! The deep acoustic guitar is so warm and enchanting.

“Sticks in the Head” opens with soft flute and sorted percussion. Along with the deep piano, they create a deep, trancelike, Middle Eastern rhythm that begins to draws you in. Hypnotizing and at the same time wonderfully exotic and unique. A banquet for the ears.

“Floorcare”, slides in with orchestration, keyboards and synths, followed by Stefan Kubicki, on electric guitar. There is this Eastern Asian feeling to the opening, before the synthesizers take over and plunge you deep into an electronic realm of consciousness. The organ work towards the ending adds additional dimension to a very dynamic song. Kubicki’s guitar towards the end brings back many memories of Steve Hackett’s best. They add flute near the end with bells and chimes to top the cake.

“Colors of Light”, opens with some Hackett-like acoustic guitar and stunning piano. Percussion and drums add to the soundscape and power the song to another level. The guitar work is innovative and different than anything you may have heard this year. The “fireworks” display at the end is awesome!

“Open Door”, is full of deep sounding keys and great guitar and percussion. Pierre Bordeleau on vocals describes a world full of opportunity and achievement, if we only realize that there is an open door. “The open door, makes us free forever”. The drums and guitar solos are dramatic and inspiring.

“Telemetry Drizzle”, opens with cool percussion and drums. The climbing and cascading guitar work is memorable. This is the most jazz-influenced keyboard show on the album.

“Grift”, is a keyboard and drum workout. Then some excellent electric guitar soloing is added to take the song up a notch. Searing cool synths join in to take me back to the feel of “Hot Buttered Popcorn”, if anyone, besides me, even remembers that fun song.

“Splendid Illusion”, is full of splendid piano and synth effects.

“Pangaea”, is another beautiful piano, synth, and guitar concerto. The congas and birdsong add so much magic. As do the thunder, rain and atmospherics.

“Temporal Finale” is an absolutely wild space adventure. Arjen Lucassen would love this…I think. Unfortunately, it ends too soon.

Despite being a mostly instrumental album, every song is engaging and full of entertaining rhythm and music. Many of the tracks are danceable. When was the last time you read that in a progressive rock review? This band is absolutely original and playing what I think might be at the next level of progressive rock. The synthesizer work throughout this album and all of the music takes progressive rock in a new, and I think interesting direction. Please give PRoPoRTIoNS’ Vision from a Distant Past, a try.

Track List

  1. Temporal Induction – 4:18
  2. Double Barrel – 3:06
  3. Seagull’s call – 6:34
  4. Sticks in the Head – 5:16
  5. Floorcare – 6:04
  6. Colors of Light – 7:02
  7. Open Door – 4:31
  8. Telemetry Drizzle – 3:58
  9. Grift – 3:10
  10.  Splendid Illusion – 8:04
  11.  Pangaea – 4:44
  12.  Temporal Finale – 1:21

All music was written by PRoPoRTIoNS, except for “Splendid Illusion”, by Craig Clark.

Vision from a Distant Past was recorded at Board Potato Studio, USA; Studio Tan, Sweden; Old Road Studio, Sweden; and Studio ON|Reflexion, Canada.

Vision from a Distant Past was mixed by Andy Kubicki at Board Potato Studio, and mastered by Denis Boucher at Studio ON|Reflexion.

The album cover art was created by Alexis Kubicki. azkubicki.com

https://propsreboot.bandcamp.com/album/visions-from-a-distant-past

https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/proportions2

Thijs Van Leer got It Partially Right

Thijs Van Leer – Focus

Focus founder Thijs Van Leer recently made headlines when he stated in an interview in the new issue of British publication Prog Magazine that “All the bands who call themselves that [progressive] today, to me, are more regressive rock.”

Indeed, many current acts that are described by labels and publicists as prog or progressive are in reality regressive rock, a term we like to use.

Interestingly, the organizers of an event called Radar Festival came to the defense of certain current acts. This gathering will feature a set of heavy metal acts: Animals As Leaders, Monuments, VOLA, Valis Ablaze, Toska and Sumer. These are all prog metal bands, one of the most regressive genres out there.

Where Thijs Van Leer got it wrong is that there are currently some truly excellent acts making various forms of progressive rock that are forward thinking and metal free: Infinien, Big Big Train, The Tangent, Syndone, The Knells, Gleb Kolyadin, Yuka & Chronoship, Dave Kerzner and many more.

Thankfully, progressive rock is well and alive, featuring pioneering masters as well as young talents. We’ll keep you informed about superb new recordings.

The Atlantic Publishes Loathsome Attack on Prog Rock

Following an ignoble tradition, James Parker, a contributing editor at the Atlantic (a well-known American magazine), has published an article where he trashes progressive rock. This type of of attack is nothing new. For decades, pop music critics in the UK, USA and other countries have taken delight in trashing a musical genre they dislike and clearly don’t understand.

James Parker begins his flawed premise with the title of the article, a fallacy called “The Whitest Music Ever.” Under his uninformed Anglo-Centric perspective, Parker clearly demonstrates that he is unfamiliar with the tremendous diversity of progressive rock: flamenco and tango-rooted, Afro-Cuban, Japanese, Indian, Indonesian, Brazilian, Peruvian, Venezuelan, and so forth.

An example of Afro-Cuban prog rock:

 

 

And here is one of the best current acts from Japan:

 

 

The reason why progressive rock is back in the mainstream media is thanks to a book by David Weigel titled “The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock.” Parker references how Weigel and 3,000 other progressive rock fans embarked on a five-day progressive-rock cruise. In classic despicable fashion, Parker calls it “a floating orgy of some of the most despised music ever produced by long-haired white men.”

 

The Show That Never Ends: The Rise and Fall of Prog Rock

 

Parker asserts that prog rock “ruled the world for about 30 seconds in the early 1970s before being torn to pieces by the starving street dogs of punk rock.” Obviously, he needs a lesson in musical history. Some progressive rock acts like Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes and Genesis were extremely popular in the early 1970s and former punk rock musicians went on to make second and third generation progressive rock so his statement is clearly inaccurate.

Parker mentions he likes Queen, which is not a prog rock group. He likes the single from Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells used in The Exorcist (good choice) and mentions that he dislikes Rush. Although Rush had one or two albums that ventured into progressive rock, Rush is essentially a hard rock band. Naturally, Palmer trashes one of Yes’ masterpieces, Tales From Topographic Oceans.

The spurious verborrhea continues, defaming prog rock as “hated, dated, sonically superannuated.” We already know many pop critics hate it; old news. Dated? Has Palmer even heard the third or fourth generation trailblazing progressive rock acts who have added dark folk, trip hop, contemporary jazz, world music and many other innovative elements?

Palmer’s tirade goes on and on… And then we get to what he considers the good stuff, the punk rock he loves so much. The difference between individuals like Palmer and those of us who write about progressive rock is that even if we don’t like a genre such as punk rock, we don’t write about it and enjoy trashing it.

Parker thinks he’s witty with all his insults and nastiness, but he just sounds like someone who really does not appreciate innovative music and the time and effort it takes to be a skilled musician. For a history of progressive rock visit: progressive-rock-history/

 

Incomplete Rise of the Keyboards

The MiniMoog D

This week I watched a documentary titled Rock’N’Roll Inventions, Rise of Keyboards. I love keyboards so it sounded right up my alley. The first part of the documentary was pretty interesting. The producers gave a brief background of the history of the modular synthesizers, the mellotron and the Minimoog. Keyboard wizard Rick Wakeman appeared several times, providing insightful information.

The early 1970s went by very quickly, with brief references to Keith Emerson and Pink Floyd. This is where it was clear that this documentary was not really focused on keyboards and musicians. Totally ignored innovators like Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul and Herbie Hancock. And, even though Rick Wakeman was featured, the focus was on his work with David Bowie and his solo projects rather than Wakeman’s remarkable work for Yes.

It was also clear that this documentary was very Anglo-centric. While it’s true that German band Kraftwerk was featured, essential German artists like Tangerine Dream and Klaus Schulze, were ignored. Also left out were the highly influential Greek artist Vangelis (who brought electronic music to the masses through Blade Runner and other popular movies), the highly successful French artist Jean-Michel Jarre and Japanese musician Kitaro, who became a worldwide sensation thanks to his soundtrack for the Silk Road TV series.

For some reason producers opted to include punk rock, which has nothing to do with keyboards. And then the documentary became about British pop rather than keyboards. Most of the guests were British pop critics and producers. Very few musicians were interviewed and not all were keyboardists.

The techno era portrayed was all about British pop, ignoring highly influential American acts like Devo.

There were references to a well-known (innovative at the time) keyboard called the Fairlight, but they didn’t bother to show it or explain what it was. Instead, the reference was negative, totally unnecessary. Samplers were scarcely mentioned.

On the other hand, drum machines got a short feature, which is somewhat puzzling because a drum machine is not a keyboard.

Brian Eno was featured in the context of Roxy Music, a darling of pop critics, but his groundbreaking ambient work was overlooked. I heard an interview with Brian Eno on the BBC not that long ago and he’s a fantastic guest. And there was barely any information about Electronic Dance Music, chill out and other keyboard-based electronic styles.

This was a wasted opportunity. We clearly need more documentaries that portray a more inclusive and accurate history of modern keyboards.

The Rise of Regressive Rock

Arena - Seventh Degree of Separation, a good example of a former progressive rock band shifting to heavy metal
Arena – Seventh Degree of Separation, a good example of a former progressive rock band shifting to heavy metal

It is now common to see the term progressive rock associated with all kinds of genres and artists that really belong in other musical categories. One of the most bizarre associations is the pairing of heavy metal with progressive rock known as prog metal or progressive metal. It’s like putting garlic on ice cream. Sure, you can eat it, but does it taste good? I’m calling it regressive rock.

Before going any further, let me state that I have nothing against heavy metal. I liked it as a teenager and it’s a totally respectable music genre. However, heavy metal has little in common with progressive rock. Head banging and skull crushing rudimentary guitar riffs are really distant from the progressive rock aesthetic. How did progressive metal, a heavy metal subgenre, loaded with loud, repetitive riffs, mysteriously become a progressive rock subgenre? It’s very simple, if you follow the history, and marketing has a lot to do with it. If you repeat the same erroneous information numerous times, it will stick.

Since the 1990s, heavy metal and Adult Oriented Rock (AOR) bands that had no connection with progressive rock (other than having former progressive rock musicians) were aggressively marketed to the progressive rock community through advertisements and record label publicity.

Leading progressive rock publications like Progression in the United States started publishing ads from labels such as Magna Carta, Laser’s Edge and Insideout. Despite the objections of many longtime fans, Progression and other publications started to review heavy metal recordings that were rebranded as progressive rock or progressive metal to make them more appealing to the progressive rock fan that normally stayed away from head banging music.

One certainly understands that the steadily flow of heavy metal album advertisements helped cash-starved progressive rock publications survive, but, unfortunately, the process also boosted the progressive metal intrusion into the progressive rock realm.

Progressive metal sounds like a category invented by record companies and publicists. Add fantasy artwork here, occasional keyboard melodies there, and sometimes a concept album and, what do you know?, heavy metal has been transformed into progressive rock. Now you can sell it to heavy metal fans and progressive rock fans alike. With a larger market pool; bigger profits.

From the very beginning, progressive rock has been a genre that looks forward, that seeks new frontiers and experiments with music and sound. Progressive rock is known for incorporating classical music, jazz, folk, funk and electronic music, and blending it in a highly creative way. Heavy metal, on the other hand, is pretty much the same old formula over and over again; the same skull crushing and blistering riffs.

Metal is a safe formula that is also used in other genres like smooth jazz, Nashville-style country music (which is pop), romantic Latin pop and many other music categories. Genres that are predictable, heavily formatted and easy to market.

Progressive metal may use brief moments of progressive rock creativity with short-lived interesting keyboard work and semi-decent guitar shredding, but the best moments are frequently ruined and drowned by the heavy metal riffs that appear too often, used over and over again ad nauseam. There is no exploration and very little jazz, classical, folk or electronic music. It’s rudimentary and regressive, which is the opposite of the progressive rock spirit.

Progressive metal has spread like wildfire, even among some progressive rock musicians who had originally nothing to do with heavy metal. Bands that have crossed over into full blown heavy metal include former progressive rock British acts Galahad, Pendragon and Arena.

Opeth - Pale Communion
Opeth – Pale Communion

It’s disappointing to listen to potentially beautiful epic pieces ruined with the heavy metal guitars, steady pounding drums and loud vocals or growling. Listening to all these prog metal recordings we receive for review, I’ve started to wonder if it would be worth proposing to artists and labels the release of two separate mixes for these albums: a progressive rock mix that leaves out the metal and a metal mix for those who want to hear loud, crushing metal.

On the bright side, we have groups like former doom metal band Anathema making splendid post rock with symphonic rock elements and Opeth who recently recorded a superb progressive rock album titled Pale Communion, that left out the heavy metal riffs.

AOR Miles Away From Progressive Rock

Cover of Asia’s debut album
In the last couple of weeks, a new tour by AOR band Asia has been generating articles that associate the band’s music with progressive rock. Naturally, AOR is not progressive rock, but rather a simpler form of rock music.

First, the background. What is AOR?

AOR is defined as either Album Oriented Rock or Adult Oriented Rock. It’s a musical genre that surfaced in the late 1970s and was popular as a radio format. Major record labels and FM radio stations loved the genre because songs were short, had pop hooks and conformed to commercial radio standards. While many classic rock bands had a blues base, the AOR bands incorporated keyboards, harmonies and even fantasy artwork, appealing to an adult rock audience. Some of the best known acts included Asia, Foreigner, Boston, Toto, Journey and Saga, as well as recent newcomer Circa.

Why does a commercial pop format form of rock get associated with progressive rock? The reason is very simple. Asia was formed by progressive rock musicians, who had played in legendary acts like Emerson Lake and Palmer, Yes and King Crimson. However, the music they made under Asia had nothing to do with progressive rock. They wanted to play simpler music that would appeal to large audiences and had better chances of getting radio airplay than a fabulous 20-minute epic.

Another well-known AOR band, Foreigner, also included a former King Crimson member. This led to confusion among some critics and music fans, who kept using the term progressive rock whenever they commented on Foreigner, Asia and other AOR bands.

Fast forward to 2012. Fueled by nostalgia, many bands from the 1970s and 1980s are reforming. AOR is dead as a radio format. Commercial radio is a vast wasteland focused on formulaic hip hop, pop and country. Labels and publicists see an opportunity in the progressive rock niche market and re-file the AOR bands as progressive rock. So now, press releases go out and clueless local writers and gullible music fans accept this information and, voila, by art of magic, a simplistic form of pop has been transformed into progressive rock. Some lazy bloggers copy and publish the press release as is, therefore perpetuating the incorrect information.

We can only hope that music fans and music journalists do a little more research before accepting what is fed to them. Enjoy AOR if you wish, but please don’t call it progressive rock.