Two More Best Prog Drumming Albums Of 2014
In our February 2015 issue we had a feature on eight drummers in the "The Best Prog Drumming Albums of 2014." We actually had ten in our original article and couldn't shoehorn two of them into the layout. So here you go, two more great albums, featuring Mike Portnoy and Dave Elitch.
Early psychedelic music of the late '60s — The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Pink Floyd, and the post-Sgt. Pepper's Beatles — spawned the very first progressive bands: The Moody Blues, Procul Harum, The Nice, Jethro Tull, and King Crimson. The floodgates opened in the '70s, with British bands like Genesis, Yes, ELP, and Gentle Giant joining North American counterparts Rush, Styx, and Kansas. Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, Fates Warning, The Flower Kings, and Porcupine Tree then emerged in the '80s and '90s.
The last two decades have breathed new life into the movement: Soundgarden, Muse, and System Of A Down straddle the prog-pop fence; Periphery and Animals As Leaders bring cutting edge rhythmic complexity; and The Mars Volta (though now defunct) wielded a fever-pitch brand of psychedelia.
A common thread found across these groups is freedom of expression. Unlike most rock music, prog tosses away conventions when it comes to lyrics, song length, song structure, time signature, chord changes, key changes, instrumentation, and dynamics — all in favor of innovation, while turning a blind eye to commercialism.
On the flip side, the word "prog" invokes a few slanted connotations. The music is self-indulgent. It appeals only to male listeners. The lyrics and themes resonante exclusively with science fiction and fantasy readers and those who play Dungeons And Dragons.
There may or may not be a grain of truth in those statements, but one thing is indisputable: Prog musicians are virtuosic at their craft.
In fact, the following examples culled from last year's crop of prog releases are full of sterling drum performances, both cutting edge and inspired by prog drummers of the past. It's worth your time to listen to these eight albums and study the highlighted examples, so dig in.
Newly formed band Antemasque definitely falls within the progressive umbrella, but with a post-punk 4/4 vibe. The group was founded by guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López and singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala (both formerly of The Mars Volta) and its self-titled album also features bassist Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) and drummer Dave Elitch (The Mars Volta, Killer Be Killed). Mars Volta fans may not approve of Antemasque's unique sound, and with only ten relatively short tracks on the record, others may feel shorted. However, this is an art piece, manipulating listeners through concentrated angst: One additional brush stroke might ruin the Picasso.
"4 A.M." is a meat and potatoes rocker with Elitch driving forward momentum from beginning to end. Antemasque channels Jimi Hendrix's "Fire" in "I Got No Remorse," and Elitch knows how to rock the fast eighth-note punk, breaking down the music into a series of well-conceived grooves. "Ride The Devil's Son" is a Jack White rocker over a tribal tom groove by Elitch. Accented sixteenths on the snare complete the song's circular structure, and later, when Elitch brings in the toms, brings Keith Moon to mind. "50,000 Killowatts" and "Momento Mori" are radio friendly (in an ideal world) and combine elements of Meatloaf, Squeeze, Jane's Addiction, The Cure, and The Clash. Elitch emotes with his broken hi-hat groove in the verse of "Momento Mori." "Drown All Your Witches" starts off sounding like The Stones' "You Can't Always Get Want You Want," but morphs into something quite different with Elitch's swampy brush funk and Bixler-Zavala's high-pitched vocals.
Spotlight On "I Got No Remorse"
Don't let the notation below fool you. At 183 bpm, the combinations of eighths and sixteenths are flying along and very challenging to play. Elitch's unique orchestrations and use of dynamics (accents and a crescendo) are key to his feel. During the tribal tom groove (in the first four measures), his right hand mostly rides eighths on the floor, but also moves to a crash and other toms. The left hand nails beat 3 on the snare to create a half-time feel, but also moves around to help create tom melodies. Measures five and six are all about tension and release, moving between a closed hi-hat and snare. The two-bar grunge pattern found in the third line has a six-beat-plus-two beat construction that fits perfectly with the guitar riff.
The fourth studio album from the prog supergroup — Neal Morse (Spock's Beard), Roine Stoit (The Flower Kings), Pete Trewavas (Marillion), and of course, Mike Portnoy (Dream Theater and Liquid Tension Experiment) — immediately sucks you into a fantasy vortex: mellow dreamscapes paired with epic-length songs. Portnoy navigates through a variety of complex feels, times signatures, and polyrhythms with ease. His dynamic control and chops allow him to build intensity within one section and throughout the course of an entire song.
Portnoy plays a dizzying array of fills, band hits, and grooves in "Into The Blue," 25 minutes of prog heaven. Listen for an almost imperceptible change from 4/4 to 7/8 in the instrumental interlude later in the song. At over seven minutes, "Shine" is a relatively short and corny (in a good way) '70s pop song. In "Black As The Sky," Portnoy drives an Adam Ant style tribal pattern leading into an infectious rock shuffle over a distinctively prog synth sound. Make it through the 32 minutes of "Kaleidoscope" and you'll be rewarded with a Gene Krupa lick, a "Hey Bulldog"-esque groove, and a funky Carter Beauford-like pattern.
Spotlight On "Hiding Out"
Keegan demonstrates awe-inspiring speed, power, control, phrasing, and most importantly, taste in this track. In the first two measures, crashes compliment the bass and guitar parts. Ghosted notes on the snare provide three-dimensionality and forward momentum, and then Keegan offers up a meandering, eight-beat fill of mostly thirty-second-notes. Six consecutive snare drum accents in measure four prime the pump. Keegan pulls in the reins in the next three measures, using space and long-duration open hi-hats. The last measure is a twist from the Gadd playbook: a six-stroke roll (R L R R L L) into a seven-stroke roll (R R L L R R L) between a closed hi-hat and a snare.
Pick up the March 2015 issue of DRUM! Magazine to read the rest of this article, which includes analysis of the latest releases from Thomas Lang (StOrk), Jimmy Keegan (Spock's Beard), Matt Lynch (Trioscapes), Edd Unwin (Empress AD), Martin Axenroth (Opeth), Dan Osbourne (The Pineapple Thief), Sean Flanegan (Enchant), and Ben Woolcott (Knifeworld). Go here to subscribe to DRUM! or here to buy the March issue.