I started The Prog Mind for two reasons. First, I wanted a place where I could muse over the concepts in prog music. Second, though, I wanted to create a place where I could share lesser known bands. Nowadays, because of time constraints, the second reason is the primary reason I do this; and I love hearing all the amazing music coming from bands that really need a boost in exposure, even when their music is absolutely fantastic. I feel this is very important. I recently came into contact with The Vicious Head Society, a project headed by Irish guitarist Graham Keane. Graham expressed his frustrations with getting people to listen to his music. So, here I am reviewing it, and I am here to tell you that you need to hear his debut album “Abject Tomorrow”, releasing on March 24th.
The Vicious Head Society is definitely a solo act from Graham. He provides the mind-blowing guitar work on this album and also wrote everything, but he is also joined by Nathan Pickering and Wilmer Waarbroek on vocals; Derek Sherinian and Nathuel Ramos on keys; Kevin Talley and Klemen Markelj on drums; Pat Byrne on bass; and Karen Kelly on violin. The style they perform is unabashed progressive metal through and through; huge and hefty. I would put them in the range of Ayreon, Pathosray, and Symphony X. Due to the experienced status of all these guest musicians (their credits are pretty amazing), the musicianship on show is quite astounding, although that isn’t the sum of the album. So, we get razor-sharp guitars, thundering drums and bass, sublime electronic accents, epic key passages, and over the top vocals on par with any other such album you’ve heard.
As you can see, this project features multiple vocalists, and the performances are generally very good. For the most part, they will remind you of the more theatrical side of prog metal, such as Russell Allen, Damian Wilson, or even Dio. You will also hear a significant amount of harsh vocals which land solidly in the raspy style. You will also hear lots of whispering that almost seems like monologue. It honestly sounds really cool, similar to the style of THE DEADSTATION’s original EP.
The guitars and keys on this album are absolutely stunning. Guitars are heavy with loads of dueling riffs coming from all different angles, not to mention the satisfying solos. Sometimes, the guitars feel more like Symphony X, as in thrashy and epic. Other times they are significantly darker and more guttural in tone, such as like Meshuggah. Keys come washing in like the tide, flowing around and through the hefty guitars to spine-tingling effect. I’m honestly in love with the instrumentation here.
This is a huge album; absolutely massive. At 70 minutes in length, it’s definitely a long album, but I’m more referring to the scale and power that the music presents. Giant riffs, sweeping keys, glorious vocals, and a pounding rhythm section are all used to push us up the emotional summit that is this album. It’s clear that a lot of love and passion went into this sprawling epic.
The album’s concept surrounds a dystopian future where humans are required to have implants that remove their emotional capacity. In the midst of this stark grey world, one man’s implant begins to malfunction, and so the story follows his journey to feeling the world in all new ways. He sees so much more, and he experiences life on a deeper level than he ever thought possible; whether that be joy, love, fear, etc. The album follows this story arc rather well; with early songs feeling more visceral and heavy, and then latter songs projecting these discoveries with towering keys and just this sense of hope and joy. There also seems to be this dichotomy between lush melodies and digital tones, and the story seems to follow that arc, too, with this contrast between his organic emotions and the digital and robotic sensations of the people around him.
My favorite tracks include the amazing opener “The Syncophants” with its riff-heavy instrumental; “Abject Tomorrow” with its vicious guitars and 80’s hair metal vocals (I love 80’s hair metal); “Gods of the New Age” for its upbeat tone and huge scale; and the closer “Analogue Spectre” for its beautiful chorus. I also really like “Downfall”, a sweet track that begins with an electronic wave but ends with this classical violin melody. Wilmer provides vocals here; and, damn, does he sound like Damian Wilson. Apparently, Damian is aware of him and says that he himself can barely tell the difference sometimes. A final track to mention is “The 11th Hour” for its place in the story: Tears flowing from the protagonist’s eyes, we get to see the conflicting and sudden emotional journey in his head.
Overall, this album blows away much of the metal I’ve heard so far this year. The production values are high, the performances are epic, and the concept is emotional. Graham has really put his heart and soul into this album, and so that deserves your attention. It’s not just his passion, though, but also the fact that this is a fantastic progressive metal experience. I’m very interested to see where he goes from here.