The Progressive Souls Collective – Sonic Birth Review

Progressive metal in general can be a contested battleground. The genre and likely every single band within it has had the charge of pretentiousness levied at some point, and not always without reason. It is the terrain of 15 minute epics full of bloat, pseudo-intellectual lyrics that talk a lot and say very little, a small city worth of guest artists, and the paradoxical slavery to tropes first invented over 40 years ago. And there are no worse sinners than progressive supergroups. The Progressive Souls Collective, hereafter TPSC, is sort of mostly a supergroup but not quite, as project curator Florian Zepf is not known for any other prog outings, but he has roped in an impressive cast, including Derek Sheridian (Sons of Apollo, ex-Dream Theater) on keys, Conner Green of Haken on bass and even included world renowned Cuban percussionist Luis Conte. Can they dodge the supergroup traps and come out swinging?

No. No, absolutely not. Sonic Birth embodies all the prog sins listed above and then some. The style peddled here has bits and bobs of a bunch of classic prog acts, notably Rush and Dream Theater, but the primary inspiration is Devin Townsend, particularly his stately, uplifting grandeur type of music. This style is great when you have a message or a narrative concerning cosmic, universal, life-affirming topics, and when you are invested in what you want to convey. TPSC are mostly just invested in… well, making a prog album. They succeeded at that; this is indubitably an album of the progressive metal variety. But otherwise, they mostly seems content to throw around some big words and hinting at significant subjects and calling it a day. It’s an album with nothing to say, no feelings to convey. Quite telling how the promo sheet never mentions anything about the music at all; it’s just a summation of who’s in the project and what have they done before.

Of course the performances are fine. Vocalist Vladimir Lalic, of Serbian band Organized Chaos, employs a very similar timbre to Devin and occasionally tries his hand at the same sardonic tones. He does a respectable job and his range is admirable, but inviting comparison to the likes of Devin will always end in being seen as an off-brand version of the same. Green does a great job on the bass, Sheridian ditto on the keys. Surprising that Zepf’s own job, the guitar, largely falls by the wayside when it’s not solo time. Riffs are either a layer underneath a thick blanket of keys, choirs and queso, or when the album does decide to try and hit a little harder (“Hurt”), concerningly generic. The solos are great, and there’s plenty of them, but they can’t make an album by themselves.

Sadly, performances don’t give an album a soul, and that’s the central issue with Sonic Birth. On the surface, it’s a fine album of which most flaws are minor (the production is generic plus it’s too long and should have ended after the first climax of the itself overlong “Destiny Inc,” for instance), and the expert performances should ordinarily earn it a better mark than this. There’s some neat compositional tricks, like a recurring staccato riff used in different parts of the mix throughout the running time, that enhance the feeling of a concept album. But TPSC can’t make me care about any of it, because there isn’t any emotion to invest in, no substance to explore and no depth below the surface.

The Progressive Souls Collective is an annoyingly unwieldy name for an annoyingly unwieldy project that preens plenty on who is part of it but doesn’t know what it wants to do with them. It’s a ‘band’ in quotation marks, an artificially constructed gathering of musicians that have the skill and the professionalism to make an album that sounds perfectly fine, but don’t have the communal passion to make something special out of it. And yet, the result tries to scream from the rooftops that it’s so important, it’s so valid, it so has something to say. I don’t even like Family Guy, but listening to Sonic Birth, I keep coming back to a quote from that show: “It insists upon itself.”

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 6 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Metalville
Websites: | |
Releases Worldwide: September 11th, 2020

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