Welcome to Part One of TheEliteExtremophile’s Top 50 Prog Albums of 2020, this site’s second-annual best-of list. It’s also my tenth year of writing year-end music roundups. The first eight were posted on my personal Facebook. Check out Part 2 here.
2020 was a banner year for progressive rock and progressive metal. There were so many fantastic albums released, and paring this list down to just 50 was often a painful process. Even more difficult was deciding on the exact order of these albums.
Like I said last year, I’m sure there are some excellent albums not included. 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.
Back in the early days of progressive rock, Italy was second only to the UK in the scope and vibrancy of their prog scene. The Italians infused Anglo-originating prog with native folk and classical influences, they sang in their native language, and their use of uncommon scales and modes made them stand out. Not many of these bands found success beyond Italy’s borders, though, perhaps due to just how intensely Italian the music was.
Homunculus Res, then, have somewhat subverted prog tropes. Andiamo in giro di notte e ci consumiamo nel fuoco (We Go around at Night and Consume Ourselves in the Fire) is Homunculus Res’s fourth full-length release. This Sicilian quintet plays a variety of progressive rock strongly inspired by the Canterbury scene. The sound of the Canterbury scene was intensely English, and that’s why it was so surprising to find an Italian act in that vein.
Band: Catapulco | Album:Pulpo | Genre: Progressive rock, Hard rock | Bandcamp
Pulpo, the second album from German band Catapulco, opens with the 17-minute suite “Sina”. On both this song and the rest of the album, Catapulco clearly draw inspiration from early ‘70s hard rock acts, and the vocalist’s delivery has an almost Southern twang to it. Much of Pulpo sounds like Molly Hatchet trying to do prog rock. There are some neat ideas on this record, and overall I enjoyed it, but at points it is derivative enough to be distracting. The lyrics also are distractingly trite, but as these guys are non-native Anglophones, I’m more than happy to cut them some slack.
I avoided this record for the better part of a month because I confused this band’s name with that of Astronoid, a group I emphatically dislike. Once I realized this mix-up, I gave this a listen, and I was glad I did. The music is pummeling, sludgy, melodic, and exciting. I’m especially impressed with the vocal performance here. My one complaint is that this record feels a tad long. Even if they would have chopped off one song or maybe shaved 30 seconds off every song, I would have enjoyed this release more.
Diagonal’s 2008 self-titled debut is one of the strongest progressive rock records of the ‘00s. And the ‘00s were the best decade for progressive rock since the ‘70s, so that’s saying something. It was an enthralling blend of folk, prog, jazz, and Canterbury sounds presented with a fresh and modern energy. Their 2012 follow-up saw the band going almost fully instrumental after a personnel shake-up, much to their detriment. Alex Crispin’s vocals were one of my favorite elements of their debut, being far more soulful than most other vocalists in the genre.
I wasn’t even aware Diagonal were still together—it had been seven years since their last album. So, it was a pleasant surprise when I learned about their forthcoming third album, Arc. I was even happier when I listened to the first pre-release song and found they’d decided to reintroduce vocals to their music. The jazz influences on Arc loom large, in both the rhythms and the textures. The drumming is deft and often light, while organ and electric piano tend to be the lead instruments. Continue reading “Album Review: Diagonal – Arc”→