Welcome back to TheEliteExtremophile’s Top 50 Prog Albums of 2019. If you missed Part 1, covering entries 50-26, you can read it here.
#25: Atsuko Chiba – Trace | Progressive rock, Post-punk | Bandcamp
Progressive rock has proven itself to be highly adaptable when it comes to melding with other genres. Trace blends dark new wave and post-punk influences with the structural complexities and instrumental skills of progressive rock. This is another album where my feelings improved a good deal after repeated listens. The band deploy moody synthesizers to great effect in the opening “A Heretic of Arrogance”, while “Pawn to King, Pt. II” borders on math rock with its tight, angular, and odd riffs.
#24: Perilymph – Deux | Progressive rock, Space rock | Bandcamp
Deux deals in contrasts between acoustic sparseness and early krautrock-style semi-electronica. The music glides along smoothly and incorporates some of the dreamier elements of post-rock. Rather than dwell on technicality, texture and atmosphere are the key instrumental elements. Repetition and gradual development are utilized to great effect, particularly in the closing movement of the album-ending “Le Voyage Atomique” suite.
#23: Ni – Pantophobie | Progressive rock, Avant-garde metal | Bandcamp
This is a claustrophobic, anxious album full of densely-tangled riffs and impressive fretboard gymnastics. The songs are full of strange, lurching rhythms that keep the listener disoriented. In addition to ample influence from the big names of the ‘70s RIO scene, modern flavors of doom metal and math rock abound in the form of chunky, technical riffs. Such distortion is prevalent on Pantaphobie, but there are moments of calm which act as effective contrast.
#22: Louis de Mieulle – Side$how | Jazz-fusion, Progressive rock | Bandcamp
My leeriness of instrumental albums has been a running theme on this blog, and doubly so if the music contains a lot of improvisation. New York-based bassist and composer Louis de Mieulle manages to avoid many of the typical traps associated with this style of music. Many details might be thought up on the spot, but the underlying structure is clearly premeditated. The songs feel purposeful, and even the brief interludes have a certain momentum to them. Interplay between de Mieulle’s bass and the two keyboardists is fun, engaging, and full of creative licks. The music also benefits from an infusion of elements from genres as diverse as krautrock, electronica, and zeuhl.
#21: Pyramidal – Pyramidal | Progressive rock, Space rock | Bandcamp
Pyramidal have diversified their sound more than ever on their self-titled fourth full-length release. Alongside their usual fuzzy space rock, they’ve incorporated influences from further afield, including jazz, krautrock, and North African folk. There is plenty of Hawkwind worship, as is to be expected from these guys, but it’s more dispersed. The astral explorations on Pyramidal flow in natural, logical ways while still being full of surprises.
#20: Blood Incantation – Hidden History of the Human Race | Death metal, Progressive metal | Bandcamp
This album is more of a death metal album than a prog metal one, but it’s still packed to the brim with tight, technical riffs and unconventional song structures. The album is only four songs long, but the compositions cover a huge amount of ground, and the listener is never quite certain which direction the music will take. The epic closing track of the album best exemplifies this; it’s 18 minutes of pure insanity which utilizes every element possible in the death metal vocabulary, as well as a few from outside it. The vintage sci-fi album art is brilliant, too, and it matches the album’s extraterrestrial theme perfectly.
#19: Orotoro – Of Manatee and Siren | Progressive rock | Bandcamp
I’ve run across all kinds of progressive rock fusions, but grunge is a genre that I’d never heard mixed with prog. That is, until I heard Orotoro’s debut record. They channel early Pearl Jam and pair it with Mastodon-style sludgy progressive rock. Contrasting against Orotoro’s driving, bass-heavy riffs are smart deployments of spacey, atmospheric elements. The musicianship is top-notch, and the epic lengths of the songs never bog the band down.
#18: Legendry – The Wizard and the Tower Keep | Progressive rock, Power metal | Bandcamp
Just looking at this album cover, I came in expecting spectacular amounts of schlock. The first couple tracks, while hardly cutting-edge, were more ambitious than expected. Once you get to the third song, though, it becomes clear that Legendry are not just another trope-reliant ‘80s metal revival act. Mellotron and Hammond organ play large roles on this album. Meat-and-potatoes speed metal blends amazingly with proggy riffs and song structures, and the mutual cheesiness of both prog and power metal complement each other.
#17: Flesh of the Stars – Mercy | Doom metal, Post-metal | Bandcamp
Flesh of the Stars juxtapose towering walls of down-tuned fuzz with delicate passages of clean guitar and piano, and it’s all packaged in the form of long songs that ebb and flow. The 22-minute title track traverses all of Flesh of the Stars’ strengths. The vocals are impassioned, and skillful, technical riffs are augmented with the occasional dash of synthesizer. Such a monolithic title track often threatens to overshadow the rest of the album, but Mercy’s other four songs are every bit as deftly composed. The music is impressive and shockingly pretty, considering its oppressive atmosphere.
#16: Dreams of the Drowned – Dreams of the Drowned I | Experimental metal | Bandcamp
Utilizing layers and layers of guitar effects is nothing new in the worlds of progressive rock and progressive metal. However, only rarely does anyone take it to the same extremes as this one-man project from France. Further enhancing this strange and disorienting atmosphere is the use of unusual chords and nonlinear song structures. The darkness and angst of post-punk can be heard amid the usual black metal musical vocabulary. The cosmic vocal effects make for an eerie, murky, mesmerizing experience you won’t hear elsewhere.
#15: Jambinai – ONDA | Post-rock, Korean folk | Bandcamp
I’ve written about plenty of fusions of rock music with global folk traditions. Jambinai, though, is the first example I’ve run across that uses Korean folk as its basis. Geomungo (a type of zither) and haegeum (a bowed string instrument) take the lead for much of ONDA, plucking and weaving melodies that cut through metallic distortion. The music on ONDA is often harsh and angular, but the vocals are delicate, offering the occasional moment of beauty.
#14: Hashshashin – Badakhshan | Psychedelic rock, Post-metal | Bandcamp
Australia’s Hashshashin blend Middle Eastern and Central Asian folk motifs with the stylings of post-rock, psychedelia, drone, and the occasional jolt of metal. String instruments from around the world complement the music’s rock backbone to create a hypnotic atmosphere. Every note on this album is played thoughtfully, and no moment is wasted. The songs evolve in surprising ways as disparate influences meld to create something truly unique.
#13: Jordsjø – Nattfiolen | Progressive folk, Progressive rock | Bandcamp
It’s somewhat rare for Scandinavian acts to tactfully incorporate their own folk traditions into their music. Sure, there’s the folk metal scene, but a lot of that is cheesy schlock. Jordsjø blend the folk traditions of their native Norway with progressive rock in inventive ways. Flute is prominent, and the melodies are unlike much of what is found in Anglo-prog. In addition to the flute, keyboards play a large role in establishing both melody and atmosphere; guitars tend to be quiet, though detectable. Jordsjø remind me a lot of fellow Scandinavian proggers Änglagård, but more focused and more decidedly folky.
#12: Jens Carelius – Opsi | Progressive pop, Progressive folk | Bandcamp
Overtly poppy albums are rare occurrences on this site. I may praise occasional pop sensibilities or pop hooks, but those are often in contrast to the larger sound of the album. Opsi, though, is roughly equal measures folky art-pop and ambitious prog-folk. Carelius’s distinctive style of acoustic guitar is versatile enough for straightforward cuts like the opening “Lay Me Down”, as well as the complex compositions of “All I Know” and “Bonefire”. That acoustic backbone is smartly contrasted against lush synths, subtle electronic influences, and jazzy basslines.
#11: WEEED – You Are the Sky | Psychedelic rock, Krautrock | Bandcamp
WEEED span a gap between two very different veins of psychedelic music. On the one hand, you have the folk-influenced fingerpicking and congas you might find in acts like the Grateful Dead. But then you’ve also got the motorik repetition you’d expect from Can, Neu!, or Ash Ra Tempel. You Are the Sky, WEEED’s sixth full length release, weaves between these two poles in a way that makes sense. Dreamy psych-folk verses give way to insistent, looping instrumental backdrops in a way that doesn’t feel jarring.
#10: Numidia – Numidia | Progressive rock, Psychedelic rock | Bandcamp
I liked this album a lot when I first heard it, and it’s only grown on me since. The reimagining of Erkin Koray’s “Türkü” set the tone: inventive, psychedelic, and Middle Eastern. Australia’s scene has proven to be shockingly fertile ground for bands like this one, as evinced by the earlier inclusion of Hashshashin on this list. Numidia, named after the Roman province in North Africa, deftly blended bluesy desert rock, unique progressive and psychedelic flavors, and smartly-deployed Middle Eastern influences to create a daring and powerful debut.
#9: Bent Knee – You Know What They Mean | Experimental rock | Amazon
Bent Knee are a band that I’d long thought was alright. Their albums had a lot of elements that I liked but never really seemed to gel in a way that spoke to me. Then I saw them live, and I understood the appeal. On You Know What They Mean, Bent Knee manage to effectively capture their rough, abrasive, and dynamic live atmosphere in the studio. The rhythms are atypical, the vocals are idiosyncratic and dramatic, and poppy hooks crop up amid walls of noisy guitar. Hints of early-2000s alt rock blend with influences as disparate as 80s art pop, electronica, and doom metal.
#8: Syrinx – Embrace the Dark – Seek the Light | Progressive rock, Heavy metal | Bandcamp
Mixing the sounds of traditional metal acts like Judas Priest with ‘70s-style prog, à la Yes and Rush, Canada’s Syrinx put out an inventive and attention-grabbing debut. Embrace the Dark – Seek the Light is full of hard, jagged riffs and striking vocal performances. The wedding between classic metal’s straightforward hooks and prog-rock’s ambitious songwriting and musicianship is near-flawless. Highlights include “Time out of Place” with its Geddy Lee-inspired synth lines and the jazz-flavored, multi-part suite “ZXY”.
#7: Dreadnought – Emergence | Progressive metal, Doom metal | Bandcamp
Dreadnought’s distinctive brand of progressive doom metal has always centrally featured textural contrasts. The band often turn on a dime between avalanches of distortion with shrieked vocals and pivot instead to jazzy moments led by piano and flute. One thing I’ve always appreciated about this band is that the keyboard parts feel well-integrated and essential to the band’s overall sound, unlike many acts who simply slap on a creepy texture for atmospheric effect. The compositions on Emergence are complex and multi-parted, demonstrating the members’ abilities both as songwriters and musicians.
#6: Emberside – Starborn | Progressive rock, Indie rock | Bandcamp
Emberside is a one-man project, which makes the scope and quality of this album all the more impressive. The songwriting is top-notch, and the music is played with a punky energy. The mastering is a bit on the muddy side, but that only makes this 72-minute album feel that much more heartfelt and intimate. Melodies are catchy, and the guitar parts lie somewhere between early Rush and XTC. Despite this album’s length, it remains accessible even to those who may not necessarily like progressive rock.
#5: Pervy Perkin – Comedia: Inferno | Progressive metal | Bandcamp
This album has the potential to be quite overwhelming for certain listeners. It’s a nearly non-stop assault of an astonishingly broad swathe of different styles of metal. Death metal is the primary backbone here, but there’s no shortage of black, power, traditional, and even doom metal influences. Ample touches of progressive rock and jazz are well-integrated. Despite the seemingly kitchen-sink nature of this onslaught, it comes together as a cohesive mass. The song structures are inventive and engaging, and the instrumentalism is top-notch. This sprawling album feels as if it zooms by; at no point does it drag, and the listener is left wanting more without feeling cheated.
#4: Pinkish Black – Concept Unification | Space rock, Zeuhl | Bandcamp
Pinkish Black are a band who defy easy categorization. They blend many of the sensibilities of funeral doom metal with space rock, zeuhl, and krautrock. This mixture is then pumped through an array of keyboard instruments. The music is gloomy and certainly befitting of the “doom” label. Despite being a duo, the music sounds huge; the different keyboard textures give an enveloping feel. Amid the sorrowful space-zeuhl, there are a pair of instrumentals which serve as apt palate cleansers. Based around droning, sequenced synths, they fall somewhere between Tangerine Dream, Vangelis, and John Carpenter. The closing “Next Solution” is the band’s best song to date, incorporating all their best attributes.
#3: PoiL – Sus | Zeuhl, Avant-garde rock | Bandcamp
Sus is an absolutely mad album, but anything other than madness from this Lyonnais trio would be a massive overhaul of their core sound. Across the two huge suites on this album, the bass crunches with metallic grit, electric piano and synthesizer weave schizophrenic leads, and the drumming is deft. The harmonized vocals are a highlight, as well. They’re sung in the band’s native Occitan, which gives it a unique character, particularly when the band incorporate folk melodies. Dissonance is a frequently-deployed tool in PoiL’s arsenal, always in a way that makes sense and serves to enhance the song.
#2: Garcia Peoples – One Step Behind | Progressive rock, Krautrock, Psychedelic rock | Bandcamp
The 32-minute title track of One Step Behind represents the biggest stylistic shift of any album I listened to this year. (Unless you want to count Tool’s shift from good to boring.) Blending krautrock, drone, prog, Americana, and roots rock, Garcia Peoples’ second album of 2019 is an engrossing astral journey, from its dreamy opening saxophone to the energetic climax of “One Step Behind” to the cosmic balladry of “Heart and Soul”. Influences from across the broad spectrum of rock music are represented here, and they are assembled and presented in a cogent, intelligent manner which feels harmonious and complementary.
#1: The Odious – Vesica Piscis | Progressive metal | Bandcamp
Vesica Piscis is a crushing, inventive album packed to the brim with complex riffs, sharp clean-distorted contrasts, and skillful vocal arrangements. Tight tech-death riffs coexist alongside somber folk-flavored meditations, and the two extremes only enhance their respective impacts. The bass playing is particularly noteworthy here; the tone cuts through thick walls of distortion with a biting, impactful twang. The flow of the album is perfect. The placement of each song feels natural, from the opening madness of “Repugnant” to the bitterness of the closing “Fix”. “物の哀れ” encapsulates all of the band’s best abilities. It grows from jumpy, clean guitars with multilayered vocal arrangements in the chorus to a snarling death metal monster.