Top Prog EPs of 2020

Welcome to the first installment of my 2020 best-of lists, TheEliteExtremophile’s Top 5 Prog EPs of 2020. Expect the two-part Top 50 Prog Albums list next week.

Prog is a pretty long-winded genre, so the number of EPs I listened to was low, somewhere in the 12-15 range. However, there were some absolutely killer releases, and trimming this list down to 5 was tough.

As I stated last year, I’m sure there are some excellent releases not included. 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.

#5: ORM – Mit Blod | Black metal, Avant-garde metal | Bandcamp

The two songs on this Danish act’s 2020 EP are both fantastic. The 15-minute title track opens by channeling the progressive melodic black metal of Agalloch, along with gentler folk and psychedelic moments. The final minutes of the song features gorgeous guitar textures and a jazzy trumpet solo, which ties it all up perfectly. The 9-minute “Notes to You” is more restrained, utilizing huge crushing walls of indistinct guitar and layered vocals to create a looming, ominous work.

#4: Giraffes? Giraffes! – Rite of Summer | Math rock, Post-rock | Bandcamp

This duo has been remarkably consistent with the quality of their releases over the years. This EP, consisting of just one 15-minute suite, showcases all their ambition as composers and their skill as musicians. The riffs are tight, complex, and creative, and the whole piece has a certain sense of drama that keeps the listener invested. They also released a version of this piece with each instrumental track broken out, if you’re looking to make your own remix or have an 11-part Zaireeka experience.

#3: Frogg – A Reptilian Dystopia | Technical death metal, Progressive metal | Bandcamp

I’m often dismissive of ultra-technical acts, as it’s common for them to put 100% of their focus into matters of sheer complexity. But while Frogg’s instrumental prowess is always on display across these four songs, they don’t neglect things like melody and song structure. These cuts are absolutely pummeling, but there’s always a clear sense of what’s going on, and the throughline never gets lost.

#2: Sutrah – Aletheia | Death metal, Progressive metal | Bandcamp

Aletheia’s structure follows a pattern. The first and third songs are slower, more melodic instrumentals which incorporate significant post-metal influence; the second and fourth songs demonstrate the band’s death metal bona fides. Amidst the expected guttural vocals and roaring guitars are interesting textural experiments, especially in the epic closer, “Genèse”. That song incorporates a gamelan (or some other sort of chimes) in an absolutely brilliant way, and themes from earlier in the EP are revisited in new, organic ways.

#1: Kesem – Kesem | Progressive rock, Progressive metal | Bandcamp

These 21 minutes of mind-melting prog are truly impressive. The five songs on Kesem’s self-titled debut release are hugely varied, which shows incredible ambition. Within the first minute of the first song, there’s a smooth transition between black metal shredding and languid, galactic psychedelia. Trumpet is deployed in creative ways, acting both as a lead instrument and as a textural element when needed. This release never relents; it’s an exhilarating ride that leaves you hungry for more without feeling cheated.

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