Records like this one are why I’m glad I decided to lump music released in December 2021 with 2022 for my year-end list-making purposes. I’m often in a bit of a rush getting my draft lists off to my editors, and trying to find new music in the midst of that is a fool’s errand. Somalgia’s debut album–Inverted World– was released in mid-December, and it’s a fantastic blend of genres, including progressive rock, black metal, trip-hop, and psychedelia.
Somalgia is an English duo who go so far as to label their music “post-genre.” It’s certainly a diverse release, especially as far as progressive rock and progressive metal go; but they’re not doing the stereotype of pretentious prog-rockers any favors with this sort of posturing. The lyrics are also a bit 14-year-old-who-just-saw-The-Matrix-and-is-now-a-conspiracy-theorist for my taste. The band has used the NPC wojak meme multiple times on their Instagram, as well as engaging in some 5G conspiracy. I get the feeling it would likely be unproductive for me to engage in political discussions with whomever wrote the lyrics.
Political gripes aside, Inverted World has a lot of fantastic music on it; and it’s situations like this one where I’m glad I’m good at just tuning words out most of the time.
Searching “progressive rock” or “progressive metal” on Bandcamp (my primary means of finding new music) will yield an abundance of stoner acts labeling themselves as prog. Most are nothing special. Songs running 19 minutes does not a prog record make. To be sure, though, there are examples of bands that take the stylistic trappings of stoner rock and successfully meld it with the technical skill and structural ambition of progressive rock. Elder is probably the best-known example, but I’ve covered others, such as Howling Giant and Little Jimi.
Humanotone, a project based out of Chile devised by sole member Jorge Cist, is another strong example of a stoner metal-based act that makes complex, intelligent music. Compared to their rough-around-the-edges 2017 debut, A Flourishing Fall in a Grain of Sand is much more refined. The songs are put together well, and the individual elements of these long compositions flow together smoothly.
Artist: Stewart Clark | Album:Journeys | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
Stewart Clark draws noticeably from the classic prog giants, most obviously Yes and Genesis. The music is rich and grand, and though the playing is hardly flashy, the songs are creatively and thoughtfully structured. The folk elements are especially nice. Some cuts do drag on a bit, but this is an overall enjoyable release.
Band: Cyril | Album:Amenti’s Coin – Secret Place Pt. II | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
If you’re looking for some well-made progressive rock in the vein of acts like Transatlantic or The Flower Kings, these guys aren’t a bad choice. It’s highly melodic with a lot of strong instrumental performances. The band does occasionally veer into overwrought balladry, and I can’t say there’s anything particularly novel being said here. Despite that, sometimes you just want some lush, classic-style prog.
An Isolated Mind is a one-man project based out of San Francisco. This act plays a chilling, lonely-sounding variety of experimental rock and metal. At one moment, the music may be a screaming wall of Arctic-cold guitars; and the next, it may be a gentle acoustic passage with alluringly warm keys and woodwinds.
I covered their debut album, I’m Losing Myself, in 2019, and I quite liked it. I was not the biggest fan of the pair of long drone experiments at the end of that record, but the preceding music was strong enough that I still put it on my year-end best-of list. A Place We Cannot Go is in the same musical vein, but there are obvious distinctions. This new release is less metallic, more contemplative, and better-focused.
This Welsh quartet has a unique history. Originally formed in the late 1970s, they played live shows for several years but never released anything. After disbanding in 1981, Retreat from Moscow entered a (nearly) 40-year period of hibernation. In 2019, the band’s core reformed and started to record both old and new material. The result of those sessions is Life as We Knew It.
This band’s debut, four decades in the making, is a fun, punchy bunch of prog rock cuts. Many of the compositions certainly feel rooted in late-70s prog, with no shortage of flashy instrumental passages and arena-rock grandiosity; but the production is quite modern-sounding, and certain riffs border on metallic.
Krallice, a New York-based quartet, are stalwarts of the experimental/progressive black metal scene. From their self-titled debut in 2008 to now, they have consistently put out high-quality music, and each album has had its own distinctive hallmarks.
Crystalline Exhaustion is the band’s eleventh full-length release. I haven’t listened to their previous album (2021’s Demonic Wealth), but I did enjoy their 2020 release, Mass Cathexis. Crystalline Exhaustion continues in their general vein of spaced-out, proggy black metal.
Bands: Elder & Kadavar | Album:Eldovar: A Story of Darkness & Light | Genre: Progressive rock, Heavy psych | Bandcamp
Even though I wasn’t wild about Omens, I would consider myself an Elder fan, so I was intrigued when I saw the announcement for their new project. Kadavar, though, was a complete unknown to me. Had I not been told that this was a collaboration record, I likely wouldn’t have guessed it was anyone other than Elder, aside from the vocals on certain tracks. Eldovar has lots of spaced-out prog and psychedelic melodies, and it’s mostly pretty strong. There is almost no metal on this record, with the overall sound being rooted more firmly in classic prog.
This instrumental album tactfully blends progressive rock with folk and jazz flavors for an enjoyable experience. The 24-minute title track is especially strong, featuring jagged guitars and buttery-smooth saxophone in wonderful complement to one another. I would recommend this album to fans of Agusa or Änglagård.
After the better part of two months of writing nothing, I’m back! The first half of January was all my best-of-2021 stuff, after which things got really busy at work, and then Pokémon Legends: Arceus came out (that took up and continues to take up a lot of my free time). But anyway, you don’t come here for my personal goings-on; you come here for reviews of albums that came out several months ago in an unpopular music genre!
For the record, I was actually pretty quick with covering this one. Jethro Tull has put out their first album since 2003! (Though their Bandcamp seems to ignore their 2003 release, The Jethro Tull Christmas Album, as it states this is their first album in “over two decades,” which signals that Ian Anderson considers 1999’s Dot Com to be the last proper Tull album.)
Welcome to the first installment of The Elite Extremophile’s Top 50 Prog Albums of 2021. This article will cover places 50-26 on my list, with the top half set to follow on Thursday.
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 affected the composition of this list. But if you’ve got recommendations, do not hesitate to shoot them my way.
As I referenced in my Scheduling Note back in November, this list only addresses albums put out between January 2021 and November 2021. Next year’s list will cover December 2021 through November 2022.
Though it felt as if it started off fairly slow, 2021 wound up being a very strong year for progressive rock and metal. Finalizing this list took longer than usual, especially nailing down the specific order.