Review Summary: Breathing life into the still lungs of Instrumental Prog
In the vast sea of modern progressive releases, there is a specific undertow that seems to rekindle that musical style of Instrumental Prog, that so prominently branched out from Progressive Rock. Animals as Leaders and Scale the Summit belong to the present, third generation of bands that continue the legacy of instrumental prog - receiving the baton from other legendary bands in the genre, such as Spastic Ink and Liquid Tension Experiment. However, we are talking about fully-fledged bands, rather than a single artist showing their instrumental dexterity over a musical canvas.
It would require the post-modern flow of information brought by the extensive use of internet platforms, to uncover several technologically savvy instrumentalists, who would publish complete works from the comfort of their own bedrooms. Plini is of course the prime example of this trend, and one of the few success stories in the thousands of artists who see their output trampled under more and more and more
music coming out on YouTube and Bandcamp. However, solo artists have once again resurfaced, claiming their own portion of the pie: passionate musicians, technically competent, and informed on sound mixing. You’d bet this could be a ***ing fest for all us prog lovers.
If only most of that music wasn’t ***ing musak
Be it a fusion jazz approach, or a djent-y, aggressive one, most music in Instrumental Prog suffers from overproduction, boring tones and a complete lack of any atmosphere, trying too much to sound eclectic and refined, but ending up devoid of any character. And honestly, I’m fed up by generic djent-meets-ambient music who also pretends to be J A Z Z. Not that I despise Jazz, but seriously, if you’re not having vocals and some notion of song structure, at least try to be creative and have some sense of storytelling, instead of simply relying on aesthetics. Alas, trends follow their own rules, and I carried on my way, avoiding any prog name under the tag instrumental
That was, until the whimsical hands of faith grabbed me by the neck and sat me down to listen to Noppslyde’s Only for the Driven
. Now, I am not going to claim that this is a step further in Instrumental Prog, and I am not an expert to praise it in terms of its compositional proficiency. Certainly, there are dozens of albums more experimental and groundbreaking, but I doubt there are many albums that sound so fun
to listen to.
Noppslyde is a multi-instrumentalist from Canada, responsible for everything you hear on this album, and if that wasn’t noteworthy enough to make me wake up from my reviewing slumber, then his storytelling approach in composition certainly is. His musical skills are unquestionable: with his feet more into the pool of thrash and heavy metal, his guitar tone is crunchy, natural and groovy, while his approach strays from the improvisational labyrinth of jazz-wannabe, and gives the impression that tracks are comprised of movements. This keeps things fresh, due to the dynamic interplay of ideas, with opening track ''Golden Opportunity'' sounding like a metal overture of several themes, more so than a collage of solos and licks.
Throughout the album, there are some majestic moments, one of my favorites being the triumphant dual solo on ''Knotted'', that makes me imagine I just walked into a city riding my proud stallion, definitive king and conqueror, while the people cheer and throw white lilies to my men.
And while my imperialist fantasy fades away, I find myself perplexed by the hilarious little details in ''Maverick'', stunned by the intricate (programmed!) drumming on ''Insomniac Emblem'', or by the general grandiosity of the album’s magnum opus, ''The Night Sky Breathes'', starting with an ominous acoustic guitar and stretching its limbs slowly, until it completely unfolds in its almost ten minutes of exhilarating music. By the time ''Technophiles''’s last notes are heard, I feel the need to start over, as I find it having a ridiculous replay value for an instrumental album. But it doesn’t feel like one – that’s the whole point. The instruments sound focused, serving the music and the direction of the track, rather than overstaying their welcome with unnecessary wanking (although I wouldn’t mind if that crunchy bass came to the center more often!).
Now, of course there are flaws. For instance, I would prefer it if some songs took more time to end, rather than the curtain falling abruptly over them. I found some parts too similar with one another, and of course I think it's a pity that there’s not a real drummer featured, as the whole result would be elevated by the different dynamics of natural playing. But these remarks sound so petty when you realize how complete this sounds, how enjoyable it is to have instrumental prog that isn’t – for once – pretentious, and how easily this flows from start to finish. It’s an amazing album, even more so when you consider it’s a one-man project – a crowning achievement of DIY, for sure.
It is an instrumental prog epic that looks it’s contemporaries confidently in the eyes and proudly declares, I am not one to be played in elevators!