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.
I’ve been a fan of Kekal since about 2008 or so. I don’t recall where or how I ran across them, but they were promoting themselves by offering free downloads of four of their albums. (That offer still stands on their site, by the way.) Three of those albums are varying degrees of good, with 1000 Thoughts of Violence perhaps being my favorite of their releases. On the other hand, Audible Minority is simply bad. And it’s that inconsistent track record that always makes me a little apprehensive when Kekal release new material. I absolutely loved their 2018 album, Deeper Underground, but the album which preceded that—2015’s Multilateral—was inconsistent and muddled.
When I first heard Quantum Resolution, I was a little nervous, as it just wasn’t quite clicking with me. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but this did not feel like one of Kekal’s better efforts. After giving the record a few spins, though, it has grown on me substantially. I’m used to certain artists’ releases growing or wearing on me. That’s bog-standard for me with Inter Arma, Steven Wilson, and Enslaved; but I usually know how I feel about Kekal after the first listen. That’s why I’m glad I decided to give this album another chance.
Band: Guruh Gipsy | Album:Guruh Gipsy | Genre: Progressive rock, Gamelan music | Year: 1977
From: Jakarta, Indonesia | Label: Paramaqua
For fans of: Yes, Genesis, ELP
In Lesser-Known Gem entries, I’ve explored acts that combined progressive rock with Orthodox chants, flamenco music, and country and honky-tonk. The act I’m writing about today also blends progressive rock with the music of their homeland. That homeland, though, is Indonesia (specifically Java and Bali), which is quite far from progressive rock’s European homeland.
Guruh Gipsy were a one-off project. All the music was written by artist Guruh Sukarnoputra (a son of Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno), and he worked with the band Gipsy to record the material. Unlike the previous acts I’ve written about, Guruh Gipsy’s sole album was a widely-acclaimed and highly-influential success upon its release in Indonesia. However, as of the time of publishing, I’ve had exactly zero Indonesian readers of my blog, according to WordPress’s stats. It’s probably a safe bet that this is a rather unknown album to most of my audience. Continue reading “Lesser-Known Gem: Guruh Gipsy – Guruh Gipsy”→
Kekal have been around for two decades, but this may be their best album yet. The band’s signature sound of complex black metal, catchy pop sensibilities, and wonky electronics comes together in a way more balanced than anything else I’ve previously heard from them. This is a huge improvement over their last release, 2015’s Multilateral, which was an uneven effort. Throughout much of this band’s discography, they’ve often had a hard time getting the black metal and electronic influences to meld effectively.
Here, however, Kekal have dialed back the electronic elements of their sound. Bloops and bleeps are saved for interludes and building texture and atmosphere. It’s rare for synthesizers to take the spotlight for any extended period of time. This isn’t some purely black metal shredfest, either. Yes, a lot of the metal here is extreme, but the band also mixes in gentler sounds, ample interludes, and surprisingly accessible moments. Continue reading “Album Review: Kekal – Deeper Underground”→