Posts Tagged ‘progressive metal’

InsideOut Music – 6th May 2022

Christopher Nosnibor

There’s been a lot of beefing and bitching about ‘authentic’ indie bands and labels in circulation of late, particularly about bands who have been blasted into the collective conscious seemingly overnight and questions being asked of their ‘indie’ credibility.’ The sceptics question, ‘how can a band go from nowhere, not even a handful of local gigs, to emerging, fully-formed on a national level? Surely there must be finance and machinations behind the scenes?’ Every story is different, of course: Benefits have truly emerged – against the odds – by sheer hard work and grass-roots support via word-of-mouth promotion. The Lovely Eggs have done it 100% DIY, but it’s taken forever for them to achieve the cult status they now have that means they can sell out 50-capacity venues. Wet Leg got snapped up by a large-scale independent label early on, because it happens, just as historically bands would send a demo to a major label and get signed for big money by some A&R dude seeking to be the one who discovered the next big thing (but for every five hundred bands signed, only a handful would even release a single before being dropped). And so it was that Royal Blood weren’t quite the from-the—bottom grafters they may seem, and even Arctic Monkeys weren’t purely word of mouth viral in their ascendency, despite their legend. But is it fair to begrudge bands reaching the audience they deserve? So many great bands have failed to make an impression simply because they’ve not had the backing or exposure required to puh them up to the next echelon.

And what of labels being acquired by majors? Is that selling out? Not necessarily: it depends on the deal, and more than an independent brewery being bought up necessarily means its beer will be brewed under license elsewhere and become more supermarket piss. So InsideOut may be owned by Sony, but they’re seemingly left to do what they do as a channel for all things prog, while benefiting from major-label funding and distribution, which is a win for all concerned.

It’s highly unlikely that Sony would have picked up and given a home to the debut album from Chinese purveyors of progressive metal, OU. Not because it isn’t any good – it is – it’s just a long way from being overtly commercial, and all the better for it, of course.

One of the reasons it’s so far from having mass appeal is because it’s simply too ‘different’. ‘Travel’, the first song of the eight, has many elements of electropop and the darker side of 80s chart rock, but the vocals are bombastic, soaring, everything all at once, incorporating the quirkiness of Bjork with choral stylings and flying at times completely over the top, and the song’s unpredictable structure sees the segments shop and change in a blink. You need hooks to get on the radio, not oddball noodling shit like ‘Farewell’, where Lunn Wu sounds like she’s possessed by the spirit of Billy MacKenzie fronting Evanescence covering Captain Beefheart in a technical metal style. Or a drum ‘n’ bass take on Yes’ back catalogue. Or something. Point is, there’s a hell of a lot happening either all at once or in rapid succession, and it’s a lot to take in, and sometimes it’s too much.

It’s very much the kind of prog that blends math rock and jazz to froth up something that’s busy, to the point of being dizzying. There are some decent tunes and pleasant melodies in the mix here – but they’re in the mix with whirling chaos and some kind of cerebral explosion.

When they do slow things down and bring down the manifold layers of hyperactivity, as they do in the altogether gentler and magnificently mystical mid-album interlude, ‘Ghost’, they reveal a real knack for atmosphere and ethereality. Haunting and evocative, it’s a magnificent piece. In contrast, ‘Euphoria’ begins as a pleasant, rippling piano-led piece that quickly evolves into what sounds like about three songs all playing at once, which is difficult to assimilate.

The musicianship is outstanding, but it sometimes feels as if they’re trying too hard to showcase their technical prowess, and just because you have ideas doesn’t mean you should play them all at once. It’s good, but it’s busy, and the twangy slap bass on ‘Prejudice’ is a little flimsy in the face of the full-on crunch of ‘Light’.

One is indisputably well-realised, both in terms of composition and production. But despite it seemingly being too much in parts, some of it leaves you yearning for more.

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Having played with big neo-prog acts like Riverside, Playgrounded are no strangers to outer limits of the contemporary merging of rock and electronica. Their upcoming album The Death of Death, released on 18th March, features compositions based from dynamic sound design structures by main composer Orestis.

Being self-produced these days is no exception, but it often results in subpar sounding records. However, with their upcoming studio album Playgrounded have created a masterpiece of modern metal production. New single “Tomorrow’s Rainbow” is an excellent example of how this Greek quintet are able to reveal the smallest of blips between the verses with extreme clarity while effortlessly transitioning to one of the biggest bass grooves this year will see. The band state,

"For yet another time in history we are witnessing the pinnacle of conflict between the rich and powerful of the East and West, resulting in suffering and death for the oppressed of this world. Under the darkest clouds our voice speaks for peace, dignity, solidarity and respect for one another. For finding what’s common.”

Watch the video now:

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thumbnail_5 Panos Iliopoulos

Greece has spawned countless instances of criminally underrated music acts in diverse genres ranging from black metal to electronic to avant garde pop music, and the sophomore album of modern progressive metal act Playgrounded titled ‘The death of Death’ is yet another striking example.

“Where did this come from?” you will find yourself wondering, while absorbing the stunning intensity and musical prowess on display. From the perfection of the production and the inherent innovation in defining heaviness by means of not only downtuned guitars, but also elements of electronica are the pillars of an intriguingly idiosyncratic, incredibly mature sound.

Hailing from Greece, but spending most of their time in the Netherlands, the musical pedigree of the members of Playgrounded is quite unprecedented in the metal/rock underground. Main composer and producer Orestis Zafeirou is a graduate from the Institute of Sonology of the Royal Conservatoire of The Hague, a department focused on electronic music education and production research. Additionally, he works in a synth factory. Vocalist and co-producer Stavros Markonis graduated from the Amsterdam conservatoire and is an award-winning composer for film and TV. Bass player Odysseas Zafeiriou and guitar player Michael Kotsirakis both work as computer engineers, while drummer Giorgos Pouliasis is a graduate from the Rotterdam Conservatoire, as well as a drum teacher and a popular session musician in Greece as well as in the Netherlands.

Starting out in 2007, Playgrounded have been together for over 15 years, playing both national and international tours, while also opening for bands like Riverside and even Nine Inch Nails in Amsterdam. Their first EP Athens (2012, Casket Music) portrays an already mature band playing modern prog rock influenced by Tool and Deftones. Their debut full-length In Time With Gravity (2017) shows the band in full flux, experimenting with extended compositions as well as influences from influential contemporary electronic music acts like Modeselektor and Moderat.

Playgrounded’s sophomore album lives up to the aspiration of its lofty album title. The death of Death is music that results from mastery rather than lacklustre exploration and experimentation. The album was recorded at MD Recording Studios by Nikos Michalodimitrakis, long collaborator of Stavros in film productions. Mixing was handled by C.A.Cederberg (Leprous, Shining, and more) in Kristiansand, NO, while the album was mastered by George Tanderø (Madrugada, Satyricon, Jaga Jazzist, and more) in Oslo, NO.

Guitarist Michael Kotsirakis comments on the album’s title track which the band shared today,

"The death of Death" is a study of unity in opposition, a disclosure of contradictory aspects of reality, an expression of their mutual relationship.  For the occasion of sharing this first taste of the album with the world we worked closely with director Dimitris Anagnostou and director of photography Yannis Karabatsos, the duo that we came to know from the award-winning short film Mare Nostrum for which Stavros composed the score.  The director’s idea about a "study of movement" using early cinematography techniques drew inspiration from Orestis’ dialectically composed lyrics and was eventually adapted into the clip’s script. We felt that Karabatsos’ sinister photography was the perfect means to explore the song’s contradictions… black and white, direction and diffusion, alienation and struggle, stillness and life.”

Watch the video for ’The death of Death’ here:

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Demonstrating a profound understanding of the glitches they produce, Playgrounded evoke a sense of the uncanny closely related to the cut-up movie fragments of sound artists like the German Orson Hentschel. “We start with dynamic sound design structures, most of the times initiated by Orestis,” explains guitarist Michael Kotsirakis. “We then work in pairs expanding the musical space and creating variations and flourishes. Sometimes the lyrics and vocals will dictate a change in quality, other times it’s one of the instruments. After many ideas are on the table Stavros and Orestis sit together and propose a song structure. After this loop has been repeated over and over we have a very good idea of all the parts. That’s when we hit the rehearsal space and refine the details.”

The result is a collection of songs that reveal Playgrounded as composers in the act of decomposition. The memorable guitar riffs and vocal melodies serve as gateways to a deeper layer of glitchy synth textures and liquid drumming, until the perspective of radical decomposition consumes one whole. “The shortest sound units become extended themes,” explains main composer Orestis Zafeirou. “Steady rhythmical blocks interact with unstable ones. Noise becomes tone and melody. Sonic grains gather to form masses, masses dissolve into a single entity. With every repetition, comes change.”

On The death of Death, Playgrounded analyse and take apart their surroundings, reducing reality to its smallest components, subsequently converting them into sound to create a new platform – a representation of reality from which they build their artistic vision. In essence The death of Death is dialectical, a study of unity in opposition. A disclosure of contradictory aspects of reality, an expression of their mutual relationship. From these contradictions the band manages to construct a brooding world of dark magnificence. The death of Death has the appeal of a film score that slowly starts to haunt you as the movie progresses. The more you listen to it, the more its sublime beauty becomes apparent.

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Playgrounded

DROTT have released hypnotic new single and video ‘Arch of Gloom’. The song can now be streamed/downloaded on all platforms . The video was directed and edited by Jens Kristian Rimau.

The band comments on ‘Arch of Gloom’: “At the end of a dark and bouncy road lies the Arch of Gloom. Through persistent bass and drums, Arch of Gloom is driven to the point of desperate collapse by a haunting guitar solo. Mesmerizing in its mystical attraction, it hypnotizes desperate souls into a surrealistic dance before they are lured down the abyss to face the verdict of Orcus.”

DROTT is comprised of Arve Isdal (Enslaved), Ivar Thormodsæter (Ulver) and Matias Monsen and hails from Bergen in the west coast of Norway. With their varied musical background ranging from metal and jazz to classical music, they create the genre which can only be described as DROTT. Inspired by forces of nature, superstition and spirituality the trio explores light within darkness through their music. 

The group, recently established (2020), released their self-titled EP in March 2021 and received great reviews. It established the Drott’s instrumental Progressive Rock sound as a breath of fresh air in the genre! Their first full-length Orcus album takes Drott in a new creative and artistic direction. With 10 tracks they dive deeper into sonic, experimental landscapes!

Check the video here:

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Pic: Jens Kristian Rimau

Ahead of the release of their upcoming album I, Awake, progressive, post-rock and general riff-heavy outfit Upcdownc have shared a new video for the track ‘Adrift (Parts 1 & 2)’. At just 1 min 27 sec in length it’s a short and sharp blast of intense heavy music.

Watch the video here:

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Upcoming live shows:

15th Sept – Birthdays, London
16th Sept – Sticky Mikes, Brighton
20th Oct – Hijack, Bolougne Sur Mer
22nd Oct – Music City, Antwerp