Riverside is one of the bigger names in the progressive music world. They’re a progressive metal act based out of Poland that came to prominence in the early 2000s. Their first decade or so of existence was great, with 2009’s Anno Domini High Definition being one of the best records of that decade. Moving into the 2010s, though, the band faltered a bit. Shrine of New Generation Slaves didn’t quite land, in my opinion, and I disliked Love, Fear and the Time Machine so much, I didn’t even give their 2018 album, Wasteland, a listen. So, when I saw they had a new record coming out (their first since I started this site), I was viewing it comparably to how I view Dream Theater: something I’m pretty much obligated to cover; something I’m not that jazzed about; but something I’m willing to be surprised by.
When I first heard “Friend or Foe?”, the album’s opening track and leadoff single, I had a rather negative reaction to it. Those blooping faux-80s synth lines usually summon a visceral revulsion from me. I don’t like synthwave or most of the other ‘80s pastiches that have been in vogue for what feels like at least a decade at this point. It can be fun as an interlude to switch things up, admittedly, like BTBAM did on Colors II. “Friend or Foe?” isn’t even a bad song; I’ve warmed up quite a bit to it. But there’s a difference between tossing in some contrast two-thirds of the way through an album versus leading an album off with such a decision. I was worried this would wind up being something of a mission statement for the record, but thankfully it isn’t.
Years ago, I ran across a poll on the ProgArchives forums asking what the most important instrument in a (progressive) rock band is. It’s obviously not guitars or keys, as ELP and mid-career King Crimson demonstrate, respectively. Neither Van der Graaf Generator nor Atomic Rooster had a bassist in their classic lineups. So that’s why I ultimately chose “drums” in that poll. What makes rock music rock music is its rhythm. Ditch the percussion, and it’s difficult to make something feel like rock music.
I bring this anecdote up because for about the first twenty-ish minutes of Light’s debut album, The Path, there is almost no percussion. (Side note, the generic nature of the names of both the band and the album made this a bit of a challenge to find.) This album opens in a manner which feels more like classical or chamber music. As the record progresses, though, more traditional prog influences are brought in.
Hammers of Misfortune is a progressive thrash four-piece currently based somewhere out of Montana. Every source outside of their Bandcamp listed their location as San Francisco, but Bandcamp said they’re based in Montana. So I’m guessing a relocation occurred somewhat recently.
Geographical unclarity aside, they’ve got a distinctive sound. Female-fronted acts outside of power and traditional metal are somewhat rare, and this band is quite keys-forward, especially for a thrash band. The vocals remind me a lot of Detente, and the rich synths and organs could fit in perfectly with any classic prog band. The riffs are fast and complex, though, and the music overall is uncompromising.
Welcome to the first half of The Elite Extremophile’s Top 50 Prog Albums of 2022. This article covers spots 50-26, and the top 25 can be found here!
Full disclosure: the label of “2022” is not entirely accurate. The music featured here covers December 2021 through November 2022. Trying to find new music in the month of December is a fool’s errand, as much of my time during that month is occupied with writing and editing this list.
As I always say, I’m sure there are some excellent albums not included in my list. This site is a one-man operation (in relation to reviewing, that is; my editors, Kelci and Dan, have been tremendously helpful), and I simply cannot listen to everything that gets released. I also have my personal biases against some rather popular trends in prog, which affects the composition of this list. But if you’ve got recommendations, do not hesitate to shoot them my way.
2022 wound up being a decent overall year for prog. It felt as if the year started off slowly, and there definitely were fewer albums that truly knocked my socks off, as compared to other years. However, there was still a lot of super-solid prog, psych, and otherwise-weird and experimental music to be heard. And I listened to more albums than ever before, which allowed me to draw from a larger pool. That meant I had to make some tough decisions about the final composition of this list, and deciding on the final order was challenging. Outside of the top 7 or 8, most of these albums could have easily been placed several spots higher or lower, depending on my mood.
Welcome to the fourth installment of The Elite Extremophile’s Top Prog Releases of 2022. We’re starting off with the Top Prog EPs of 2022. The two-part Top 50 Albums list will be posted in the coming days.
I’ve never settled on a firm number for this list, but the last three years have all been Top Fives. This year, though, I listened to many more short releases than usual, and there are nine in particular that I want to highlight.
The difference between an EP and a short LP can often be murky. A number of these releases could have feasibly been included in the Top Albums list (and at least two initially were). However, upon thinking it through, I’m comfortable with this list. Aside from being fairly short, I don’t have firm criteria for differentiating LPs and EPs. It’s very much an “I’ll-know-it-when-I-see-it” situation.
So, without further ado, let’s jump into the list!
Barış Manço (pronounced roughly BAR-ish MAHN-cho) was a Turkish composer and musician. He was one of the founders of the Anatolian rock movement, along with guitarist Erkin Koray and the bands 3 Hür-El and Moğollar. I’ve mentioned Anatolian rock a few times on this site, but I haven’t given it its own entry before now.
Anatolian rock blends the sounds of psychedelic and space rock with Turkish folk melodies and instrumentation. There was a lot of variation in this field, with Moğollar being on the folkier end of things and 3 Hür-El remaining rooted in fuzzy psychedelia. To this day, Anatolian rock persists as a micro-genre, though it had its heyday in the late ‘60s and through the ‘70s.
I’ll be the first to admit that 2023 isn’t exactly the least-known entry in this series, but it’s an opportunity I couldn’t pass up! (For those of you reading this in the future, check the date this review was published.) Manço was the spaciest and most overtly proggy of the major Anatolian acts. His lush keyboards and wind instruments call to mind acts like The Moody Blues and late-’60s Pink Floyd.
This Norwegian quartet plays a melodic variety of post-metal and post-rock with strong alt-rock influences. Tool is an obvious comparison, but there are also flashes of Isis and even Soundgarden. They do a good job at balancing harsh and clean passages, and I appreciate the subtle touches of jazz they incorporate. Some songs (and the album as a whole) run a little long. This is nothing groundbreaking, but it’s solid and enjoyable.
Band: The Dunning-Kruger Effect | Album:Psychik Adventures in Stereo | Genre: Krautrock | Bandcamp
This Irish duo plays music very strongly influenced by early electro-kraut acts like Tangerine Dream and early Kraftwerk. Loops and insistent rhythms help push the songs forward, and the unfolding synth textures give the listener something to focus on. There’s nothing particularly innovative here, but if you’re looking for some spacey music to have on in the background, this is a pretty decent choice.
Band: Call Me Ishmael | Album:Cosmic Travellers | Genre: Progressive folk, English folk | Bandcamp
This is some pretty enjoyable prog-folk, with a very heavy emphasis on the folk part. I’m not an expert in the folk music of the British Isles, but when I think of “English folk music,” something not too far off from this pops into my mind. Mixed into that, though, are smart, inventive structures and melodies. And aside from a rather regrettable synth-brass tone on one track, the tonal choices are pleasant. This album does feature the eight-millionth version of “The Unquiet Grave,” though, and this band doesn’t bring anything new to the table there.
Artist: Paul Gunn | Album:The Ludwig Suite | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
This is a lovely little EP. The music incorporates bits of jazz and classical music, and Gunn has a distinctive voice. I get echoes of acts like Gentle Giant, Bubu, and Magma throughout, and I appreciate that this release doesn’t try to do too much. It’s 15 minutes of thoughtful progressive rock that focuses on a few strong ideas. Most of this release is instrumental, but those cuts maintain a strong sense of purpose while weaving together diverse influences
Band: Ahleuchatistas | Album:Expansion | Genre: Math rock, RIO | Bandcamp
Ahleuchatistas are something of an outlier when it comes to bands I like. I’m often not a fan of improv-heavy acts that sound like they’re constantly on the verge of falling apart, but this trio always manages to thread the needle of tight, complex riffs and wonky, off-kilter meters with loose improv. Expansion feels a bit more composed than some of their past work, and that pays dividends here. The riffs are weird and wild and wiry, and the songs have an odd, shambolic energy to them. This is a bizarre and rewarding album.
Band: Fren | Album:All the Pretty Days | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
Had I known Wiosnawas a single off an upcoming album and not an EP, I wouldn’t have reviewed it. But alas! All the Pretty Days is Fren’s second full-length album. Much like their debut, it’s melodic and dramatic instrumental prog. The songs are engaging and attention grabbing, and despite their length, there is very little bloat here. This reminds me of Änglagård’s best work while also being distinct. Hints of jazz pop in from certain piano lines, giving flashes of Magma’s lighter moments.