Prospectors – Proven Lands Review

If you make stuff, you probably make side-projects. No matter how much you like what you do, some things get too big, too stressful, to focus creative efforts on, and the creative urge trickles into one-offs that reflect what the main project cannot. Prospectors is one such oddity, formed by a couple black metal musicians leaning into their progressive tendencies. They take after Colin Marston projects—Krallice and early Behold… the Arctopus—but temper their oddities with more conventional structures. The result, though, is far from a diminution. Proven Grounds is sure-footed, driven by its members’ musical chemistry and realized by careful and detailed production.

Guitarist Michiel van der Werff and bassist Matthias Ruijgrok’s compositions run the gamut from suffocating doom to sprightly progressive metal, often within the same song. Opener “Ravelling Motion,” immediately crosses them, bouncing venomous riffs over a rollicking groove until they stretch out into something like Krallice doing surf-rock. “Descent into the Unknown” connects death-doom with the wiry black metal of Years Past Matter, buoyed by quirky drumming from session drummer Michiel van der Plicht (Pestilence). These choices inflect the grimace of extreme metal with a smirk of playfulness, livening the record in lieu of lyrics.

Proven Grounds’ most impressive feat is rejecting that absence. The trio continuously rotate through ideas and return to memorable riffs, keeping their music active and interesting without relying on a human voice as an anchor. They do so, however, with a real regard for their listeners. Unlike the work of Behold… the Arctopus, explicitly written to be as dense and demanding as possible on both the performers and listeners, Prospectors’ compositions are catchy and memorable. In “Vortex,” van der Werff slowly evolves a melody from mournful to triumphant in order to give Ruijgrok’s bass a well-earned solo spot. It’s his job, minutes later, to close the album with a meditative drone.

Given their influences, it’s no surprise that Prospectors went for a warm and organic production, which accentuates charming imperfections and lends Proven Lands a certain intimacy. One can hear the individual character of each muted note in the slow build-up of “Monolithic Structures,” and appreciate the little pick scrapes on up-strokes in its faster sections. These are amplified with a hefty natural grit, but the guitar shares space equally with Rujigrok’s bass, which burbles through solos and grounds the record with a round, understated tone. Van der Plicht backs these with detailed grooves and beats more reliant on cymbal work than snare and kick, keeping the record light on its feet. It’s his recording, mixed by van der Werff and mastered by Marston himself. The listening experience is just as fun as you’d expect.

Prospectors may indeed be on proven lands, but why search further afield when there’s so much to explore here? Their approach to instrumental progressive metal is unassuming but powerful, and the band seem charmingly free of egoism, eschewing obvious self-indulgences in service of writing enjoyable songs. It’s a modest record, but Proven Lands reminds me in some ways of my favorite progressive metal releases of the last few years: East of the Wall’s NP-Complete and Intercepting Pattern’s The Encounter. None of the three are particularly original works, but each wear their influences without shame, building something carefully from parts that they love. While Proven Lands isn’t likely to floor any listeners, it’s nonetheless an impressive album exploring a sound that’s likely to yield more gems in the future if tread with the greatest care.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 11 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Self-Released
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: November 12th, 2021

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