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.
Continue reading “Top 50 Prog Albums of 2020, Part 1: 50-26”
Band: Slift | Album: Ummon | Genre: Space rock, Krautrock | Year: 2020
From: Toulouse, France | Label: Vicious Circle and Stolen Body Records
For fans of: Elder’s new stuff, Can, Ash Ra Tempel, Fuzz
Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music
Slift are a French trio who combine the ethos and aesthetic trappings of garage rock with cosmic atmosphere and mantra-like repetition. I was introduced to them via their 2018 album, La Planète Inexplorée. That album was great, and Ummon took everything I loved about it and cranked it up even harder.
Ummon is not a record for the faint of heart. It’s 72 minutes of garage-kraut-doom (or maybe doom-garage-kraut) with barely any breathing room. Huge, abrasive walls of guitar dominate this record, while chaotic bursts of noise pummel the listener. The band members themselves give fair warning on how key repetition is to this album’s sound on their Bandcamp page (or, as they phrase it, “r r e e p p e e t t i i t t i i o o n n”). With all this in mind, if you’re willing to give it a shot, this album is highly rewarding. Continue reading “Album Review: Slift – Ummon”
Band: Ak’chamel, The Giver Of Illness | Album: The Totemist | Genre: Krautrock, Psychedelic folk | Bandcamp
The Totemist is a swirl of ritualistic atmosphere and repetition. The murky aura augments the contrasts between the sharp notes of the acoustic instruments and the omnipresent, sinister drone. The compositions morph in naturalistic ways, and subtle touches of jazz are worked in amid the faux-shamanic folk, resulting in something quite creative.
Band: Cthulhu Rise | Album: Last | Genre: Progressive rock, Jazz-fusion | Bandcamp
This instrumental Ukrainian band reminds me a lot of Liquid Tension Experiment. The roots of the act’s sound clearly derive from Dream Theater-style melodic prog metal, but jazz plays a large role here too. The individual musicians flaunt their chops on the three songs here, but the soloing always comes off as purposeful. Each track is full of surprising twists and turns, with few ideas sticking around for more than about a minute at a time. Somehow, it avoids feeling disjointed.
Score: 84/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – March 9, 2020”
Welcome back to TheEliteExtremophile’s Top 50 Prog Albums of 2019. If you missed Part 1, covering entries 50-26, you can read it here. Continue reading “Top 50 Prog Albums of 2019, Part 2: 25-1”
Though this blog is only about a year old, I’ve been publishing music-oriented year-end lists on my personal Facebook since 2010. Those lists have usually covered all releases—albums and EPs—as well as music from genres outside the progosphere. Since starting this blog, I listened to more new music in 2019 than I had in any previous year, and it was even more skewed toward prog and prog-related output than in years past.
To save myself from having to write (and you from having to read) a 100-plus-entry list full of mediocre releases, I’ve instead opted to publish TheEliteExtremophile’s Top 50 Prog Albums of 2019. This post will cover entries 50-26. Part 2, covering the top 25, will be published on Monday.
I’m not publishing album scores here, and past album scores should not be read into too much. Reviews generally reflect something of a first impression, and after months of listening, albums’ standings rise and fall. This list also features some very good albums which I just never reviewed in full.
As a disclaimer, I’m sure there are some excellent albums not included. This 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, either through this site, via email, or through my Facebook page. Continue reading “Top 50 Prog Albums of 2019, Part 1: 50-26”
Band: Legendry | Album: The Wizard and the Tower Keep | Genre: Power metal, Progressive rock | Bandcamp
For all the hackneyed, cliché, sword-and-sorcery heavy metal imagery Pittsburgh’s Legendry evoke in their artwork and lyrics, the music is ambitious and inventive while remaining surprisingly accessible. They walk a fine line straddling traditional metal, power metal, and progressive rock with their speedy riffs, dramatic vocals, and soaring solos. The Hammond organ adds a distinct character that helps Legendry stand out from other traditional metal acts.
Score: 84/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – December 2, 2019”
Welcome to the third installment of Deep Dive, where I take an in-depth look at the studio discographies of some of the giants of progressive rock and progressive metal.
For those who don’t feel like reading this massive entry, I’ve included a TL;DR and ranking of albums at the end. I’m opting to explore albums chronologically, as opposed to a ranked-list format. The context in which albums were made is important, and this is an element often missed in a ranked list.
My first two entries in this series focused on some of the giants of progressive rock’s 1970s heyday. For this entry, I wanted to focus on something heavier, which means someone more modern. After weighing a few options and starting Deep Dive entries on a couple other artists, I settled on Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson.
Porcupine Tree covered a wide style of music until their disbandment in 2010, ranging from space rock to art pop to progressive metal. Wilson has maintained that experimental spirit in his solo career, covering similar ground across his five solo albums. The early-21st Century progressive rock renaissance we’re currently enjoying may not have happened at all, had it not been for the wide success of Porcupine Tree, which opened the door for many, many other acts.
As a disclaimer, this essay does not cover all of Steven Wilson’s myriad musical projects. The man is too prolific for me to reasonably address all those projects in this one essay. I am solely focusing on Porcupine Tree and his solo material. No-Man and Bass Communion don’t fit this site’s purview; and while Blackfield and Storm Corrosion may fall under the margins of progressive rock, I simply don’t like their output and would not enjoy reviewing them in-depth. I also do not plan to discuss his remastering work on classic prog albums. I do highly recommend his King Crimson remasters, though I’d avoid his work on Too Old to Rock n Roll: Too Young to Die!, as mentioned in my Jethro Tull Deep Dive. Continue reading “Deep Dive: Porcupine Tree & Steven Wilson”
Band: Garcia Peoples | Album: One Step Behind | Genre: Psychedelic rock, Progressive rock, Krautrock | Year: 2019
From: Rutherford, (NJ,) USA | Label: Beyond Beyond Is Beyond
For fans of: The Grateful Dead, Gong, The Moody Blues
Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music
Garcia Peoples’ 2018 debut album, Cosmic Cash, easily made my personal top 10 of last year, with its mixture of inventive song structures, psychedelic textures, and fun, loose garage rock atmosphere. Their album from March of this year, Natural Facts, while enjoyable, didn’t quite hit the same highs as their debut. It was more overtly folk-influenced, with significant touches of Americana. It seemed they were charting out a trajectory reminiscent of the Grateful Dead. With this context, this album took me by surprise.
One Step Behind is nearly 40 minutes long but contains only two songs, one of which stretches over half an hour. There remain ample doses of Dead-like jangly guitars, but the band have also included krautrock-like meditation and repetition, as well as technical guitar and keyboard lines I would expect from the likes of Yes. Continue reading “Album Review: Garcia Peoples – One Step Behind”
Band: Sonora Sunrise | Album: The Route through the Canyon | Genre: Psychedelic rock, Krautrock | Year: 2019
From: Barnaul, Russia | Label: Trail Records
For fans of: Hawkwind, Can, Ozric Tentacles
After running across this band, I’m starting to doubt if the American Southwest puts out any desert rock. I’ve previously discussed acts from Venice, Sydney, and The Netherlands that draw inspiration from the arid lands of California and Arizona, and now I’ve found this band from Siberia. Perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised; the band name would be a bit too on-the-nose for a group actually from the region. It’s not as if the Altai region is entirely dissimilar to the Southwest. It’s mountainous and semi-arid in places, albeit much, much colder.
Despite the desert imagery in the band’s name, and despite the fact that the music itself on this album evokes desert imagery, Sonora Sunrise don’t rely much on the blues. Instead, they opt for a more expansive, meditative sound full of lush synth pads and cosmic guitar arpeggios. The individual songs are unhurried yet mostly feel to be appropriate lengths. There’s also an impressive amount of sonic diversity. Krautrock, space rock, stoner rock/metal, and ambient music all get their own turn to be in the foreground. Continue reading “Album Review: Sonora Sunrise – The Route through the Canyon”
Artist: Louis de Mieulle | Album: Side$how | Genre: Progressive rock, Jazz fusion | Year: 2019
From: New York, USA | Label: Dalang Records
For fans of: Return to Forever, Magma, Brainticket, Probably a lot of those jazzy instrumental metal acts I don’t like
Buy: Bandcamp | Apple Music
I’ve been pretty open in my general hesitance toward instrumental albums. I’m not the kind of person to pay attention to lyrics, but the human voice adds so much character to music, which can be quite difficult to make up for with just instruments. I don’t believe I’ve discussed it in any great detail on this site—though I’ve made a few comments about it on Reddit—but I am also not a fan of the current zeitgeist of jazzy, instrumental rock and metal epitomized by acts like Intervals, Plini, and Sithu Aye. So much of it just sounds like aimless, speedy noodling. Thank God this album avoids those pitfalls magnificently.
French-born bassist and composer Louis de Mieulle’s newest album, Side$how, is a constantly-engaging blend of ambitious instrumental progressive rock with many trappings of jazz. Touches of electronic genres and krautrock crop up throughout this release’s 41-minute runtime. Consisting of eight songs, titled “Bed of Nails, Part 1-8”, the music was mostly improvised and recorded live by de Mieulle, a pair of keyboardists, and a drummer. Continue reading “Album Review: Louis de Mieulle – Side$how”