Phantom Elite’s second album ‘Titanium’ – released via Frontiers Records in January 2021 – showed a huge leap in quality from their earlier ‘Wastleland’ release. In songs like ‘The Race’ they demonstrated a gift for a much bigger chorus hook and in terms of musicianship, some of the more complex elements seemed so much tighter than before. More importantly, an increased budget afforded the album a superior production job. Joeri Wamerdam’s drums finally came with a decent punch, and combined with a few heavy riffs, Phantom Elite finally sounded like a band with a lot of muscle.
When it comes to prog metal, Dream Theater always seem to take the bulk of the praise. It could say something about how unadventurous a core of prog/metal fans appear to be, especially since – perhaps with the exception of 2009’s ‘Black Clouds & Silver Linings’ – James Labrie and co. haven’t recorded a truly decent album since 1994’s ‘Awake’. There are other, much better practitioners of proggy metal fare out there. Symphony X are in possession of a far better vocalist than Labrie will ever be and the UK’s own Threshold are genuine masters when it comes to an actual tune.
One of prog metal’s most well-rounded acts, Germany’s Vanden Plas have it all. Their core sound revolves around fairly traditional Dream Theater/Fate’s Warning-ish fare, but as a band, they have never been afraid of experimenting with a Euro power metal stance and certainly haven’t been shy of an AOR inflected hook from time to time. Within their extensive back catalogue, you’ll find riffs and complexities aplenty; even a concept album or two. More importantly, you’ll discover a band with keen ear for a good melody. Somehow, though, the European band doesn’t get talked about anywhere near as much as you’d think.
In April 2020, Brazilian/American prog metal band Lufeh – named after their drummer Lufeh Batera – released their debut album ‘Luggage Falling Down’. Claiming to be for fans of Haken and Rush, the album displayed a strong balance between power, indulgence and melody.
In January, London based art rockers The Bloody Mallard kicked off the new year by sharing the heavy and complex ‘Subject To Entropy’. A month on, the band have returned with another taster for their upcoming album ‘Realm’.
In the band’s own words, the new single ‘Ceremonious Synapses (ii)’ “signals the most climatic point of the album”. From a listening perspective, it shows the band in a more melodic light than before, but without losing any of their riff-based strengths.
The sound of the third Godsticks album came as a bit of a surprise. At some point between the release of their second album ‘The Envisage Conundrum’ and the writing of 2015’s ‘Emergence’, things took a heavier turn. It wasn’t necessarily for the better. What had once been a fairly inventive prog band with a few harder moments was now a full on prog metal band. The lion’s share of ‘Emergence’ was rather…dull. Still, some fans seemed to take to the more aggressive sound and it undoubtedly attracted a few new ears. For better or worse, at least this was a prog band actually progressing.