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.

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Odds & Ends – December 21, 2020

Artist: Andre LaFosse | Album: Karma Suppression Index | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp

This instrumental album is full of twisting, groovy guitar lines and pulsing electronic rhythms. I’d recommend this album to fans of later King Crimson, especially The Power to Believe. However, despite the strengths of this album—I love the various tones LaFosse utilized, and it’s very well-produced—it does fall victim to the same pitfall as many other instrumental albums: it winds up feeling too long. Most songs don’t have a particularly clear arc or momentum, and a good groove will only carry you so far.

Score: 67/100

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Odds & Ends – December 7, 2020

Band: Alustrium | Album: Insurmountable | Genre: Death metal, Progressive metal | Bandcamp

The music on this EP is played with incredible precision, and the density of riffs-per-minute is impressively high. However, it also feels like this band’s main goal was to play as fast as possible, and even across such a short EP, that gets exhausting. There’s also nothing particularly unique about this release; this is rather boilerplate tech-death.

Score: 68/100

Band: Esthesis | Album: The Awakening | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp

This band heavily channels Porcupine Tree in just about every regard. It’s a skillful facsimile, right down to the tones of the individual instruments, and the songs are well structured. There is also the occasional outside influence, such the odd jazzy lick here or there. On the downside, this album is pretty long-winded. Only one of the six songs comes in under eight minutes, and most cuts could have benefitted from some trimming.

Score: 70/100

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Album Review: Wobbler – Dwellers of the Deep

Band: Wobbler | Album: Dwellers of the Deep | Genre: Progressive rock | Year: 2020

From: Oslo, Norway | Label: Karisma Records

For fans of: Yes

Bandcamp

Wobbler are indisputably one of the top dogs of the modern progressive rock scene, and I quite like them. However, I view them as one of the most overrated acts out there. They’re certainly not bad, not by a wide margin. Nevertheless, From Silence to Somewhere (their 2017 release) is ranked 28th all-time on Prog Archive’s list of the top prog albums, which is ridiculous. It’s a very good record which cracked my personal Top 10 that year, but it certainly ain’t the 28th-best prog album of all time. At time of writing, Dwellers of the Deep ranks 52nd on that same list, and that’s even more egregious. (That list, aggregated off user reviews, has all kinds of other odd inclusions and exclusions, and I’ve got my own gripes about that site’s users’ biases.)

I also find the progosphere’s eager deference to this band off-putting, and I’ve witnessed an awful lot of hand-waving at just how Yes-y they’ve become over their last few albums. Their Yes-iness isn’t an inherently bad thing. Rites at Dawn is my favorite of their records, and that is arguably their most blatantly Yes-like release. But after a while, such obvious aping of another act’s sound does begin to wear thin, and Yes varied their sound more than Wobbler have. To reiterate: I like Wobbler, but I don’t view them through the same irreproachable lens that many other prog fans seem to hold.

Now that I’ve gotten my expository rant out of the way, I can address the album at hand. Dwellers of the Deep is this Norwegian quintet’s fifth full-length release. Upon first listening to it, I was struck by the fact that I could identify no appreciable differences between this album and From Silence to Somewhere. The sound palette hasn’t been shaken up, the albums’ structures are similar, and the melodies feel too familiar—bordering on re-trod. However, the strength of Wobbler’s baseline sound is such that even with these considerations in mind, Dwellers of the Deep is still a pretty good record. Not amazing, but pretty good and worth listening to.

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Odds & Ends – November 16, 2020

Band: Arcade Messiah | Album: The Host | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive metal | Bandcamp

Arcade Messiah is a one-man project out of Ireland that mixes progressive rock and metal with earworm melodies and intriguing electronic touches. Hints of post-rock and stoner metal permeate this album, and each song works wonderfully with the next. This release reminds me a lot of ADHD-era Riverside with its strong hooks, varied textural palette, and adventurous spirit. The Host artfully threads the needle in a way that many acts are unable to. This album strikes a balance of metallic bombast and smooth melodicism.

Score: 89/100

Band: Babel Trio | Album: The Martyr | Genre: Stoner metal, Progressive metal, Greek folk | Bandcamp

I’ve previously discussed this Cretan trio, and I found their blend of Greek folk melodies, progressive songwriting, and sunbaked fuzz truly refreshing. In lieu of guitar, the lead instrument in this band is a modified electric lute, which imbues the songs with a unique timbral quality. The Martyr took a bit longer for me to get into than their previous album, but it gradually grew on me over several listens. This distinctly Hellenic stoner metal kept drawing me back in with its uncommon melodies and well-structured compositions. Compositions range from charging to plodding, and that diversity of atmosphere serves this record well.

Score: 80/100

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Album Review: Acid Mess – Sangre de Otros Mundos

Band: Acid Mess | Album: Sangre de Otros Mundos | Genre: Psychedelic rock, Progressive rock | Year: 2020

From: Asturias, Spain | Label: Spinda Records

For fans of: Mezquita, The Mars Volta, Fuzz

Bandcamp

I’ve discussed Spinda Records and their consistently high-quality underground prog and psych before. Moura’s self-titled debut—released by Spinda in March—might just wind up being my album of the year, but my year-end list is still taking form. The latest release from this label is the third album from Acid Mess, Sangre de Otros Mundos (Blood of Other Worlds).

The album opens with “El Reflejo de Su Piel” (“The Reflection of Your Skin”). The first half of this song is slow and atmospheric: clean guitar echoes as a squiggly, fizzy synth line winds its way beneath. That suddenly erupts into a distinctly Spanish guitar riff imbued with metallic aggression. Handclaps add a distinct textural element, and swirling organ, though low in the mix, makes everything feel fleshed-out.

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