For the last few years, the London based label Bad Elephant Music has been truly flying the flag for independent prog rock acts. They’ve made a name for themselves by releasing and helping to promote albums by The Fierce And The Dead, Sanguine Hum, Fractal Mirror, Jem Godfrey, The Gift and many other underground bands.
Of the many great bands that formed the 80s prog rock revival, Marillion, IQ and Twelfth Night are arguably the most loved. Twelfth Night might not have had quite the same levels of commercial success as some of their peers, but throughout their career, they were unafraid to progress. From the early years playing huge instrumental jams, through the classic prog sounds of 1982’s ‘Fact & Fiction’ album, to the pop oriented Virgin Records years, their catalogue always brought something of interest.
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.
Between a world of cancelled and postponed gigs and time spent in lockdown, 2020 has been a troubled year, but nevertheless, time marches on. Unbelievably, we’ve reached December and our traditional countdown to Christmas has begun.
Following a gruelling tour for their complex ‘Relayer’ album in 1975, the members of Yes took time out to work on solo projects. Steve Howe’s ‘Beginnings’ and Chris Squire’s brilliant ‘Fish Out of Water’ most closely resembled the directions the a Yes album could’ve taken, while Jon Anderson’s ‘Olias of Sunhillow’ opted for something far more experimental. Its forty five minutes blended pseudo-science fiction lyrics with ambling new age and prog rock sounds. Although loved by fans, it didn’t offer much in the way of actual songs. Despite its lack of commercial potential, the album reached #8 on the UK album chart, making it the most successful of the Yes solo discs.
By the time Yes reconvened in 1977, they adopted a much leaner approach to songwriting. On their next album ‘Going For The One’, the indulgent epics that had dominated their three previous albums were largely sidelined in favour of something more accessible. This saw them applying their usual prog traits to something more rock based on the title track, exploring Jon’s new age pop on ‘Wondrous Stories’ (a surprise UK top 3 hit), and in the epic ‘Awaken’, there was even a chance to appease the die-hards who pretended to enjoy ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’. In many ways, ‘Going For The One’ is the archetypal Yes album – it showcases the broadest range of the musicians’ talents while offering something for almost every interested listener. 1978’s ‘Tormato’ followed the same formula but yielded a lesser result, but still contained a few genuine gems. Nearing the end of the decade and having survived changing musical fashions, Yes seemed to be on a roll. Things then fell apart when tensions arose during the demo stage for the next recording. Keyboard player Rick Wakeman left the band for the second time and – potentially more devastating – vocalist Jon Anderson, one of Yes’ most distinctive contributors – followed him. Looking to pastures new, Jon quickly embarked on other projects. Sessions with keyboard virtuoso Vangelis (who’d missed out on a Yes job in the mid 70s and worked with Jon on his own ‘Heaven & Hell’) resulted in a very successful album, ‘Short Stories’ and a huge hit single in ‘I Hear You Now’. Armed with a couple of old demos and a whole world of ideas, Anderson then set about crafting what was to be his second solo LP.