Oh man, this is one tough call today, as two bands step up to the battleground with very different interpretations of the word "progressive."
Haken win the cointoss, and at first blush Affinity should easily win my heart. How could it not, ceding as much metal ground as it does to faithful callbacks to mid-era prog and 80s synth rock, and reverberating with notes from Porcupine Tree, Karnivool, Asia, King Crimson, and Animals As Leaders? Do these guys know how to play to the judge or what! Sounds like a clear winner, right?
Well... Oranssi Vazuzu's Värähtelijä is not so easily dismissed. OV, originating as they did from a more traditional Scandinavian black metal milieu, have largely stepped out that constricting box. There's still a chilly forest's air lingering about this album, but much more prominent here are avant-garde strands of contemplative world music and dark trance; I'll just call out Lahja as one example, but it's by no means exhaustively representative of all the twists to be found. OV claim some of the same touchstones as Haken, but always from a different direction; their King Crimsom references aren't from Discipline, but rather Starless and Bible Black, their 80s nods to John Carpenter instead of The Buggles.
The scorecard is no help here (something that I suspect will happen more and more as the contest progresses). Both albums are fascinating, rewarding on multiple listens, and aspire to something greater than the band's respective backgrounds would have one believe. Affinity is hookier and more feel-good than Värähtelijä, but that's not necessarily a good or bad thing. However, Värähtelijä is less cohesive and more darkly fragmented than Affinity, which miraculously comes across as an asset, like a badly broken bone left to heal grotesquely on its own. It's this point of differentiation that gives OV the advantage over Haken, and they take the day. How will they fare against also-experimental Ihsahn on January 30th? Your guess is as good as mine.
That's it for Week 2 of the Arsies! Come back on Monday, when we'll answer the age old question: how do Painted Wives deal with Toothgrinder?