4 Prog Bands You've Been Sleeping On: The Best of Atlanta Prog - Part One
Having worked with progressive/experimental/art rock and metal artists in the Atlanta area for nearly a decade now, I've come to learn that the city is home to one of the richest, most vibrant, and most exciting prog scenes in the entire country. And this list (the first in a series I'll be contributing to GLS as the Summer winds on) will focus on just a few of its best bands.
Like deranged scientific geniuses from some H.P. Lovecraft story brought to life and toying with the fundemental laws of the cosmos, Preston Cobb (vocals), Greg Hendler (guitar), Archie O'Neal (bass), and Chris Deese (drums) – known collectively as The Figurant – have developed a reputation for challenging every constraint and convention that stands in the way of their maniacal musical experiments. The prog metal titans, who began their conquest of the Atlanta music scene in 2016, demonstrate a nearly unparalleled level of technical skill, as well as a distinctively eclectic approach to composition and songwriting, blending aspects of jazz, blues, metalcore, electronica, indie rock, musical theater, and more into a single unequivocally strange and undeniably powerful sound. The group's live shows are a spectacle, made all the grander, more captivating, and more memorable by frontman Cobb's stage theatrics and in-character vocal performances. Additionally, The Figurant's lyrical subject matter is richly diverse and imaginative, their songs conveying a multitude of different fantasy/sci-fi narratives (frequently based on world mythology and classic literature), all of which take place in a shared fictional universe.
Kucoshka is an artistic enigma – a mad musical collective whose work is meant to be enjoyed whether one fully understands it or not. In a manner similar to that of The Figurant, the four-piece employs a wildly diverse sonic pallette to create music that's every bit as indescribable as it is enjoyable. Melding together elements of jazz fusion, math rock, new wave, avant garde, and even metalcore and video game music, the progressive punk group's songs are sporadic, unpredictable, subversive, and brilliant. Guitarists/vocalists Nick Palmer and Tony Casanave, bassist Justin Edgar, and drummer Hayden Wall possess an immense level of creativity and talent. An incredibly entertaining live act on every level, Kucoshka is noteworthy almost as much for their antics as for their playing and songwriting. Adopting comical stage personas satirizing country/appalachian stereotypes, the group puts on a bizarre absurdist stage show at each gig, recently having even gone so far as to auction meat during their set at a local house show. They offer fans a truly unforgettable experience – one that will leave them shocked and confused, but above all else, impressed and grateful that the band calls the Atlanta scene home.
Four figures stand – or in one's case, sit – frozen in place, as if entranced, illuminated only by an array of blacklights. Behind them, otherworldly hand-painted psychedelic backdrops burst with vivid color, depicting grotesque alien landscapes. The stage is littered with large plastic mushrooms, and fog slowly drifts through the air. A thunderous, bellowing voice shakes the room, and the disembodied (animatronic) head of The Gnomonaut becomes visible, his derranged eyes emitting a sinister glow. Smoke billows from his pipe as he commands his “Earth minstrels” to engage in a mind-altering sonic assault on those in attendance. The quartet promptly obeys. What comes next is a long, strange, groovy interstellar journey from which none in attendance will return unchanged. The instrumental progressive/psychadelic/space rock band Gnomonaut – named after the protagonist of the band's tongue-in-cheek sci-fi concept album The Chronocosm (a character who also serves as their mascot and bandleader, as described above) – has been active for around 10 years. In that time, Jeremy Adams, Jonathan Beckner, Jeromy Dooyema, and Andy Snedden have collectively become a treasured fixture of the Atlanta scene. And this is not merely because they have a successful visual gimmick. Each member Gnomonaut is an accomplished, world-class musician with an impressive understanding of music theory and composition, which is reflected both in their studio recordings and in their live shows. Seldom will one find a group of players more in-tune with each other or one capable of putting on such an effortlessly flawless live show. With a sound that's been described as “the bastard three-way love child of Hawkwind, King Crimson, and Rush”, Gnomonaut's music is heavy, old-school, and bizarre, in the best way possible.
Ben Daniels, Mitch Pew, Keith Tuggle, Josh Padgett, Matt Mezzatesta, and Jeff Wheeler – the six driven and talented musicians who perform under the moniker Palpable Defeat – have quickly become Atlanta's leading purveyors of sleek, modern progressive alt-metal. Last December, the group released their debut studio album, an engaging and thought-provoking sci-fi concept LP entitled Dystopia that presents listeners with a chilling and nightmarish vision of the future; one in which the human race has completely stripped the Earth of her natural resources, and learned to cheat death by indefinitely preserving consciousness through technological processes. At the end of the same month, they made their [at least partial] live debut, the quartet of Daniels, Tuggle, Padgett, and Wheeler contributing a thrilling set of songs from Dystopia to 2017's installment of Prognosis. They've been highly active in the local scene ever since, and have attracted a devoted following with their striking sense of melody and considerable instrumental prowess. Most recently, the band played an electrifying set on the fourth and final night of the Georgia Local Spotlight Presents Series at the Masquerade.