Prog Rock

All posts tagged Prog Rock

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

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Artist: Alex Hall’s Figurehead

Album: Alex Hall’s Figurehead (EP)

Release Date: 6/2/15

Rating: 9/10

Lengthy jams. Infectious grooves. Soaring vocals. Wailing guitars…

It’s not easy to capture all of these elements at one time, in one place. For many, it takes years and years of honing one’s craft before such a bold attempt can not only be made, but mastered. Not to mention carrying the lofty tag of “Progressive Jam.”

However, Youngstown independent act Alex Hall’s Figurehead has somehow managed to wrap their head around this concept while simultaneously blowing ours.

With their three-song self-titled EP, AHF has taken a perfect snapshot of what their band is all about; see above. Recorded at Central 8 Studios in Akron, by the band along with Nathan Doutt, AHF are carrying on the tradition of area mainstays Jones For Revival and Vibe and Direct, only with a unique signature twist. The band channels complex arrangements more akin to the heyday of Bachman-Turner Overdrive and Yes than the Grateful Dead or Phish, only condensed down into a powerful, more conventional run time. Add in some good vibes and soulful lyrics, and you have one of the area’s hottest up-and-comers, Alex Hall’s Figurehead!

Alex Hall's Figurehead performing live in 2015. Photo Courtesy of facebook.com.

Alex Hall’s Figurehead performing live in 2015. Photo Courtesy of facebook.com.

The EP opens with the pounding Reggae-like rhythms and ripping guitars of “Perform.” The track swings back and forth from an attention-grabbing rocker to a more chilled-out jammer, climaxing with an elevated, melodic guitar solo on par with that of David Gilmour. From there, the psychedelic riffs and organs of “Credit Hole” take a listener on a blues-heavy groovin’ trip. The shifting middle section gives way to yet another soulful guitar solo. Finally, the EP concludes with the Doors-esque “Shakespeare,” with exceptional instrumentation by a band who sounds very comfortable together.

All in all, Alex Hall’s Figurehead is a very rare debut in the fact that it showcases a band firing on all cylinders from a very early point in their career. The band has set the bar rather high for itself, leaving the listener wanting more, and in anticipation for the next release! The only disappointment is in there only being three tracks on this EP.

Alex Hall’s Figurehead is set to perform the Friday, Oct. 9, at Cedars West End in Youngstown, Ohio, along with Sleepy Hahas and Knife Fighters.

 

Rush circa 1977.

Rush circa 1977.

By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)

Progressive rock, lovingly referred to as “prog,” originated in England and developed in the rest of Western Europe (reverse of classical music) in the late 1960’s and 1970’s. It developed from the aforementioned experimental, psychedelic, and space rock genres, all of which are sometimes associated more broadly nowadays as forms of art rock. Musicians/composers all of these attempted to recreated music in a more  artistic way drawing from visual art as inspirations for themes and concepts as well as literature… Much like how opera was always composed along side a libretto (script) as well as various other visual art forms like costume design.

Though the Beatles’ baroque pop elements and The Who’s rock opera reintroduced classical terms back to us, earlier in the 60’s and 70’s, progressive rock kept expanding on the overall musical complexity of the aforementioned which the flavors and textures instrumentation of the avant-garde instrumentations of experimental, psych and space pioneers. The standard 3-4 minute song that some of those pioneers still tried to adhere to turned to unabashed musical trilogies, epics that often stretched to 20 minutes (roughly equivalent to about one side of an album) or even 40 to 60 minutes in length (a whole album) like symphonic and jazz records in which one piece could possibly take up one whole side of a record or a whole record.

Indeed, artistic and literary concepts contributed to the eventually commercially successful psych/space rockers Pink Floyd, it was artists like Jethro Tull, The Moody Blues, Yes, King Crimson and Emerson, Lake & Palmer that brought this term to even the radio, though the music was spliced into smaller parts or movements to accommodate radio play.

Perhaps the most imperative aspect of this first period in prog rock is the use of other instruments besides the standard guitar, bass, drums line up of most of rock’s history up to this point. The first most obvious is keyboards which each of its precursors re-established as well. (Brian Eno, experimental; Ray Manzarek, psychedelic; Richard Wright, space.) These keyboardists as well as the undeniable guitarists of the 60’s and 70’s such as Hendrix and Clapton (particularly his work in Cream) that were already established as great musicians kept fostering the reverence for virtuosity on said instruments but others as well.

This aided in the eventual symphonic accompaniments of Tull’s work and caused people to reexamine works such as The Moody Blues’ Days of Future Passed which ended up becoming a commercial success for them and subsequently paved the way for classics such as Yes’ Yes Album and Close to the Edge, King Crimson’s In the Court of the Crimson King and Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s self titled debut LP.

In North America, few bands followed this movement but the ones that did saw great respect. Bands such as Starcastle, Happy the Man, and highly recommended pick, Crack the Sky, had seen limited success relatively speaking but still have devoted fans to this day. Alan Parsons Project and the Electric Light Orchestra saw more success as they were a bit more radio friendly and as even more radio friendly hybrids inevitably came about like Southern rock-prog such as Kansas, arena rock from many regions like Boston, Styx, Journey, GTRForeigner and Queen came about. It was in this roar of the arena rock movement of the pinnacles of prog, its sub-genres arena and math rock combined, Canadian band, RUSH.

Rush’s numerous epic albums moved prog rock back to some of its purest forms. They raised the bar for this genre as well as the aforementioned sub-genres that came about and most importantly to the soon to develop, Heavy Metal. In fact, besides the other obvious proto/traditional metal acts such as Black Sabbath (and arguably Led Zeppelin) which shaped its heaviness it was bands such as Rush that shaped the technicality and speed that would find themselves prime features of what most people think of when they think of metal in its broadest, or perhaps most popular, terms.

Meanwhile, in Germany, Kraftwerk put out their famous lengthy epic, Autobahn, and then several Italian and French acts followed those sort of prog rock waves. In fact prog rock in its most pure form still enjoys a following attracted by even the most obscure of European bands. However, nothing was as successful as bands like Rush who remained steadfast all through the second and third waves of prog rock as well as many the greats from the first wave who continued to record all through the decades and influenced much rock and metal into the 80’s and 90’s such as QueensrÿcheDream Theater, Tool, and modern acts as varied as Mastodon and Opeth, all of which I look forward to examining in my next series on the sub-genres of Metal. Stay tuned…

Jethro Tull – Thick As A Brick (Part 1)

Crack the Sky – Sea Epic

Emerson, Lake & Palmer – From the Beginning

Rush – The Temples of Syrinx

Dream Theater – A Mind Beside Itself II: Voices

Tool – Parabol/Parabola

 

Killer Be Killed. Left to right: Max Cavalera, Troy Saunders, Dave Elitch and Greg Puciato .

Killer Be Killed. Left to right: Max Cavalera, Troy Saunders, Dave Elitch and Greg Puciato .

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

The earth shook for fans of the Prog Rock/Metal community last year. When it was announced that members of The Dillinger Escape Plan, Mastodon, The Mars Volta and Soulfly were uniting for a secret project called Killer Be Killed, the buzz was immediate. As leaders of both modern progressive and heavy music, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Mastodon and The Mars Volta are held in high-regard as innovators. Coupled with the legendary Max Cavalera of Sepultura, Nailbomb and Soulfly fame, Killer Be Killed has been hyped as the supergroup of the generation for many.

The roots of Killer Be Killed were planted as early as 2011 when Cavalera and Dillinger Escape Plan vocalist Greg Puciato announced that they would be working together on a collaborative project. Shortly thereafter, Mastodon bassist Troy Saunders and former Mars Volta drummer Dave Elitch hopped on board, and the project was officially born.

As many feel the popularity and impact of heavy music has severely dwindled in American over the last 10 years, this project promises the best of the best of what America has to offer. And while many of the genre’s contemporary heavy hitters are popping up from across the Atlantic (France’s Gojira. Poland’s Behemoth, etc.), Killer Be Killed may serve as the United States’ best representation of heavy music in over a decade.

Cavalera is no stranger to the international metal scene. For nearly 30 years, his long-standing influential presence has been felt, beginning with Brazilian thrash and Nu Metal pioneers Sepultura, and continuing with his current project, Soulfly. Puciato and The Dillinger Escape Plan have been captivating audiences since the late 90’s, successfully bridging the gaps between punk, post-hardcore, metal and progressive with their extreme brand of music. The Mars Volta rose from the ashes of the post-hardcore movement and successfully carried the torch of Prog Rock throughout the 00’s, and Mastodon have served as possibly the biggest heavy act of the last decade, slaying audiences with their Tool-meets-Metallica brand of sludgy, thrashy Progressive Metal.

In March of 2014, Killer Be Killed released two tracks from their upcoming self-titled debut via Nuclear Blast Records. “Wings of Feather and Wax” and “Face Down” are first glimpses into what these Prog titans have laid upon the world. Both tracks lean more toward the styles of thrash, reminiscent of older Mastodon and Sepultura records, and far cries from another The Mars Volta or The Dillinger Escape Plan have ever released. Still, the musicianship is tight, and the music is heavy! Both Saunders and Puciato share vocals on these particular tracks, and their vocal harmonies match surprisingly well.

“It’s a bit of Sabbath-y doom, a bit of thrash, a bit of hardcore and punk,” said Puciato in a press release. “Of any of our bands, it sounds the furthest from mine.”

With elements of tried-and-true classic heavy metal with modern touches from some of the genre’s finest, Killer Be Killed is set for genre domination, as well as to make a bold statement for American music, perhaps to inspire more contemporary acts away from trendy and “core” sub-genres and back to original heavy music influenced by many of its modern offshoots. At any rate, Killer Be Killed is the sound of now.

Killer Be Killed’s debut is set to be release May 13 via Nuclear Blast. As of press time, no announcements of live dates or a tour have been made.