Top Prog EPs of 2021

Welcome to the third installment of The Elite Extremophile’s Top Prog Releases of 2021. We’re starting off with the Top 5 Prog EPs of 2021. The Two-part Top 50 Albums list will be posted next week.

I listened to more EPs than usual this year, but it was still a relatively small crop, so I decided to keep this list limited to five entries.

As I have stated in the past, I’m sure that I’ve missed some excellent releases. 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.

As I referenced in my Scheduling Note back in November, this list only addresses EPs put out between January 2021 and November 2021. Next year’s list will cover December 2021 through November 2022.

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Odds & Ends: December 20, 2021

Artist: Waqas Ahmed | Album:A Perpetual Winter | Genre: Progressive metal | Bandcamp

This is a fun little EP from Pakistani-born, Romania-based guitarist Waqas Ahmed. It’s a bit cheesy, but in such a small dose it’s pretty enjoyable. Sometimes, I’m just in the mood for some flashy guitar work over a solid instrumental backing. A Perpetual Winter is strongly reminiscent of Dream Theater, so if that’s your cup of tea, I’d recommend this release as well.

Score: 79/100

Band: Chafouin | Album: Toufoulcan | Genre: Krautrock, Progressive rock, Math rock | Bandcamp

Toufoulcan overall has a stark sound, relying on ragged (mostly) clean guitars and odd, imposing riffs and rhythms. The mood varies from sinister to sunny, but those extremes never feel out of place. Synth embellishments flesh out the sound, and Chafouin utilizes repetition well to give each song a clear sense of build and direction. The individual tracks tend to be fairly short, and that adds a strong feeling of forward momentum.

Score: 81/100

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Odds & Ends: December 6, 2021

Band: Devour Every Star | Album: Antiquity | Genre: Progressive metal, Trip-hop | Bandcamp

This is certainly one of the more distinctive genre fusions I’ve run across. Buzzy black metal merges with spacey instrumental hip-hop passages to forge a distinctive sound. It’s spooky and laid-back, and it’s definitely worth looking into. As a whole, it feels a little long; I think this style may be better suited to a 20-minute EP. Nonetheless, it’s quite unique, and this act shows ability beyond simply being a curiosity.

Score: 70/100

Artist: Ehsan Gelsi | Album: Ephemera | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp

This instrumental piece was commissioned by the city of Melbourne to celebrate Melbourne Town Hall’s 150th anniversary, thus it prominently features the town hall’s grand organ as its primary instrument. Ephemera is grand and majestic in its harmonious marriage of reedy organ and lush, liquid synthesizers. The whole album is quite warm, and it feels midway between Mike Oldfield and Rick Wakeman. Elements of classical and electronic music are regularly incorporated, making this a surprisingly diverse record despite its limited sound palette.

Score: 80/100

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Album Review: Creature – Eloge de l’Ombre

Band: Creature | Album:Eloge de l’Ombre | Genre: Progressive metal, Avant-garde metal | Year: 2021

From: Bretagne, France | Label: I, Voidhanger Records

For fans of: Arcturus, Cynic, Öxxö Xööx

Bandcamp

France has long embraced a distinct weirdness and experimentalism in their rock music. Magma are probably the most germane example for this site, though there was a whole microcosm of uniquely French prog acts in the ‘70s, such as Ange, Memoriance, and Mona Lisa. This spirit can be seen today in numerous extreme metal acts, like the bizarre symphonics of Öxxö Xööx or blackgaze pioneers Alcest.

Creature, the one-man project of Raphaël Fournier, has put out a striking, bold release that continues in this tradition of adventurous Francophone rock and metal. (It’s also another strong release from Italy-based experimental metal label I, Voidhanger; I strongly recommend checking out their catalogue.) The music is dense and replete with synthesized vocals and engaging rhythms. Fournier is also quite verbose, demonstrating downright Springsteenian levels of wordiness. So, if you speak French, there’s likely a lot for you to analyze here.

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Album Review: Kayo Dot – Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike

Band: Kayo Dot | Album:Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike | Genre: Progressive metal, Gothic metal | Year: 2021

From: Brooklyn, USA | Label: Prophecy Productions

For fans of: maudlin of the Well, Kekal, Neurosis

Bandcamp

Kayo Dot are back with their tenth full-length release two years after the totally-okay Blasphemy. That album continued the band’s recent trend away from metal and toward Gothic rock with some experimental leanings. Kayo Dot has always been difficult to nail down with precise genre descriptors, frequently operating in nebulous grey areas between assorted experimental rock and metal subgenres.

Bandleader Toby Driver has often worked with a rotating crew of musicians for Kayo Dot, but for Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike, he recorded with the original lineup of his previous band, the critically-beloved maudlin of the Well. The musicianship is expectedly top-notch, and the fusion of experimental metal with subtler influences is sublime. This might just be my new favorite Kayo Dot record.

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Odds & Ends – November 1, 2021

Band: Duke Grey Fox w/ The Striped Bananas | Album:A Trilogy of Six | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp

This instrumental record has interesting textures, ideas, and rhythms in spades. I’m especially fond of many of the synthesizer tones. However, like most instrumental records, this one feels too long. This release indeed feels like a trilogy of six; almost every song which tops three minutes feels dragged-out.

Score: 65/100

Band: Goat | Album: Headsoup | Genre: Psychedelic rock, Krautrock | Bandcamp

This is a fuzzy, buzzy psych record that is heavily inspired by the early works of King Gizzard and similar acts. The individual cuts are all fairly enjoyable, with a lot of folky inclusions. Certain instrumental excursions are better-plotted than others, though. My main issue is that this album feels somewhat aimless. There’s very little on this album that I’d consider unenjoyable, but more focus and cohesion would have been beneficial.

Score: 71/100

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Album Review: Dream Theater – A View from the Top of the World

Band: Dream Theater | Album:A View from the Top of the World | Genre: Progressive metal | Year: 2021

From: Boston, USA | Label: Inside Out Music

Buy

Well, it’s been two years. Time for a new Dream Theater album. A View from the Top of the World is the too-many-th release from these prog metal stalwarts. After the passable but unremarkable Distance over Time, I wasn’t really expecting much from these guys. Then again, I didn’t get into them until I was in college, after their prime, so I’ve never really expected much from them.

Dream Theater has their very specific sound, and with the exception of the bafflingly terrible The Astonishing, they have been super consistent and predictable. Everything is always masterful from a technical standpoint. However, it often comes off as soulless, and I frequently point to Jordan Rudess and John Petrucci as some of the most masturbatory musicians in the notoriously onanistic field that is prog metal. Much of their output over the last two decades has been uninspired, but now and again we have gotten the occasional flash of brilliance.

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