Top Prog EPs of 2021

Welcome to the third installment of The Elite Extremophile’s Top Prog Releases of 2021. We’re starting off with the Top 5 Prog EPs of 2021. The Two-part Top 50 Albums list will be posted next week.

I listened to more EPs than usual this year, but it was still a relatively small crop, so I decided to keep this list limited to five entries.

As I have stated in the past, I’m sure that I’ve missed some excellent releases. This site is my personal pet project, and I simply cannot listen to everything that gets released. I also have my personal biases against some rather popular trends in prog, which affected the composition of this list. But if you’ve got recommendations, do not hesitate to shoot them my way, either through this site, email, or my Facebook page.

As I referenced in my Scheduling Note back in November, this list only addresses EPs put out between January 2021 and November 2021. Next year’s list will cover December 2021 through November 2022.

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Odds & Ends: December 27, 2021

Band: Band of Rain | Album: The Sun King | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp

This is decent, mid-tempo prog that goes more for atmosphere than technicality. (That’s not to disparage the bandmembers’ instrumental chops, though.) The overall sound is lush, and the band skillfully layers different textures and melodies. I also appreciate the many touches of jazz scattered throughout this record. The vocals come off as fairly weak, unfortunately, which does hamper this release, along with a general sense that everything here is too long.

Score: 65/100

Band: Fanatism | Album: Inverted Evolution | Genre: Progressive rock, Krautrock | Bandcamp

Inverted Evolution has an unhurried pace which allows the band to stretch out and weave wonderful atmospheres. This Swedish act draws heavily from ‘70s hard rock in a lot of their musical vocabulary, but elements of jazz, post-punk, and gothic rock are readily evident, too. Eerie synths, hypnotic rhythms, and progressive song structures are hallmarks of this album. The ending is a little weak (though not bad), but beyond this hiccup, it’s a strong release.

Score: 77/100

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Odds & Ends: December 20, 2021

Artist: Waqas Ahmed | Album:A Perpetual Winter | Genre: Progressive metal | Bandcamp

This is a fun little EP from Pakistani-born, Romania-based guitarist Waqas Ahmed. It’s a bit cheesy, but in such a small dose it’s pretty enjoyable. Sometimes, I’m just in the mood for some flashy guitar work over a solid instrumental backing. A Perpetual Winter is strongly reminiscent of Dream Theater, so if that’s your cup of tea, I’d recommend this release as well.

Score: 79/100

Band: Chafouin | Album: Toufoulcan | Genre: Krautrock, Progressive rock, Math rock | Bandcamp

Toufoulcan overall has a stark sound, relying on ragged (mostly) clean guitars and odd, imposing riffs and rhythms. The mood varies from sinister to sunny, but those extremes never feel out of place. Synth embellishments flesh out the sound, and Chafouin utilizes repetition well to give each song a clear sense of build and direction. The individual tracks tend to be fairly short, and that adds a strong feeling of forward momentum.

Score: 81/100

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Odds & Ends: December 6, 2021

Band: Devour Every Star | Album: Antiquity | Genre: Progressive metal, Trip-hop | Bandcamp

This is certainly one of the more distinctive genre fusions I’ve run across. Buzzy black metal merges with spacey instrumental hip-hop passages to forge a distinctive sound. It’s spooky and laid-back, and it’s definitely worth looking into. As a whole, it feels a little long; I think this style may be better suited to a 20-minute EP. Nonetheless, it’s quite unique, and this act shows ability beyond simply being a curiosity.

Score: 70/100

Artist: Ehsan Gelsi | Album: Ephemera | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp

This instrumental piece was commissioned by the city of Melbourne to celebrate Melbourne Town Hall’s 150th anniversary, thus it prominently features the town hall’s grand organ as its primary instrument. Ephemera is grand and majestic in its harmonious marriage of reedy organ and lush, liquid synthesizers. The whole album is quite warm, and it feels midway between Mike Oldfield and Rick Wakeman. Elements of classical and electronic music are regularly incorporated, making this a surprisingly diverse record despite its limited sound palette.

Score: 80/100

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Album Review: Creature – Eloge de l’Ombre

Band: Creature | Album:Eloge de l’Ombre | Genre: Progressive metal, Avant-garde metal | Year: 2021

From: Bretagne, France | Label: I, Voidhanger Records

For fans of: Arcturus, Cynic, Öxxö Xööx

Bandcamp

France has long embraced a distinct weirdness and experimentalism in their rock music. Magma are probably the most germane example for this site, though there was a whole microcosm of uniquely French prog acts in the ‘70s, such as Ange, Memoriance, and Mona Lisa. This spirit can be seen today in numerous extreme metal acts, like the bizarre symphonics of Öxxö Xööx or blackgaze pioneers Alcest.

Creature, the one-man project of Raphaël Fournier, has put out a striking, bold release that continues in this tradition of adventurous Francophone rock and metal. (It’s also another strong release from Italy-based experimental metal label I, Voidhanger; I strongly recommend checking out their catalogue.) The music is dense and replete with synthesized vocals and engaging rhythms. Fournier is also quite verbose, demonstrating downright Springsteenian levels of wordiness. So, if you speak French, there’s likely a lot for you to analyze here.

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End-of-Year Scheduling Note

Hello everyone! 2021 is rapidly drawing to a close, and with that, I’m diligently working on my year-end best-of lists. I’ll be posting two more full length reviews this month. In December, I will only be posting Odds & Ends in an effort to address as many albums as possible before I post my best-of lists. I currently have three posts scheduled for December (I will be on vacation one Monday), but a fourth may sneak in if I’m prolific enough.

I’ll be posting my best-of lists (Top EPs and Top Albums) in early-to-mid January. The music in these lists will only cover the span of January-to-November 2021, so as to not screw over strong albums released in December. Going forward, my annual best-ofs will cover December of the preceding year through November of the current year.