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.
Band: BaK | Album:Crater | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive metal | Bandcamp
BaK is a bombastic Australian act which blends the sound of acts like Pain of Salvation and Dream Theater with Middle Eastern instrumentation and rhythms. The closest parallel to BaK is probably the Tunisian power metal act Myrath, though some of the weaker moments on this EP do remind me of Grorr. The integration of those more exotic influences is done better than most acts who attempt similar genre fusions, but it’s still really tough to not come off as corny.
Artist: Christian Cosentino | Album:Lawn | Genre: Progressive metal | Bandcamp
This proggy atmospheric black metal album makes extensive use of lush, programmed orchestration. Many parts of this record feature piano as a co-lead instrument alongside guitar, and strings are almost always present. Normally I’m not the biggest fan of this type of arrangement, but I credit the success here to the fact that he went in a more atmospheric direction, instead of something more traditionally proggy, technical, and overblown.
The lockdowns of the last year-and-a-half interrupted many musical acts’ touring and recording plans. But at the same time, the sudden forced sedentary setup offered many opportunities to write and record at home. Hanford Tape Sessions is one such of those recordings.
UK-based duo Hanford Flyover recorded all this music on a few portable cassette home recording devices. That technological limitation forced the band to keep things pared-back and straightforward, and the contrast to past releases’ lush sounds is obvious. The songs on this album are mostly short and to-the-point, but there are some interesting sonic experiments with satisfying structures.
Band: Caligonaut | Album:Magnified as Giants | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
This solo project from guitarist Ole Michael Bjørndal features members of Wobbler in supporting roles, most notably in backing vocals. The vocal arrangements, combined with the Mellotron-focused compositions, make this a very Wobbler-y album. This project is what I had hoped Dwellers of the Deep would have been. While no individual track rises to the same level as “Merry Macabre”, this is a far stronger overall release. The four songs sound well-planned and finely-honed. It’s hardly groundbreaking stuff, but it is consistent, enjoyable, and well-formed progressive rock in the classic Anglo-prog vein.
Band: Coevality | Album:Multiple Personalities | Genre: Progressive rock, Jazz fusion, Math rock | Bandcamp
All the individual songs on this record are strong in their own right. The musicianship is fun and flashy without being too indulgent, and the band draws from a nice tonal palette. However, when packaged into a full-length record, it just feels too long. After about 10 or 15 minutes I find myself losing interest. Perhaps someone more into jazz would enjoy this record more than I do.
Bobby Shock is a New Jersey-based composer and multi-instrumentalist, whose last album—The Unforeseen—was a pleasant surprise for me last year. It was lush, diverse, and bass-forward. The compositions were unquestionably smart and progressive, but the music was still accessible.
Shock’s latest release continues with that general trend. The obvious focal point of this album is its 20-minute title track, but the other four songs are no less enjoyable.
Band: Grorr | Album:Ddulden’s Last Flight | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive metal | Bandcamp
Grorr are clearly trying to conjure up vaguely “Eastern” aesthetics on this album. The band’s logo evokes Chinese seals, and the album art draws from Chinese and Japanese styles. This continues in the music, though the influences are muddled and slapdash. The opening track is mostly scene-setting, but it give the listener musical whiplash by swirling together the entire continent of Asia. It’s got throat singing (from Mongolia and southern Siberia), sitars and tablas (from the Indian subcontinent), and the melodies are stereotypically “Chinese.” (Instruments which sound like guzhengs and erhus can be heard later on the album.) Moving beyond this mish-mash, Ddulden’s Last Flight is an alright album. The metal is melodic, and there are some inventive riffs. I’m especially impressed with the textures and timbres deployed here. After a while, though, the Oriental instrumentation becomes distracting. I absolutely hated the sitar by album’s end. And that’s unfortunate because Grorr demonstrated that they’ve got a creative vision and that they’re capable of composing some strong cuts. Ultimately, this record’s overbearing and half-baked Asiatic flare is what does it in. I really wish they would have toned it down a bit, or at least shown a bit more geographic restraint.
Artist: Jean Pierre Louveton (JPL) | Album:Sapiens – chaptire 2/3: Deus ex Machina | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive metal, Jazz-fusion | Bandcamp
When I saw JPL is the leader of the band Nemo, I didn’t get my hopes up. Nemo is an alright act, but I classify them in the same group Spock’s Beard and other schlocky, overblown retro-prog acts. Thankfully, this album wound up being a pleasant surprise. Sapiens is a bit more metallic than Nemo’s usual fare, and while there’s plenty of pomp and show-off-y instrumental moments, it mostly avoids needless indulgence. Jazzy touches are present throughout, and the overall bloat is minimal.
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.
Deleted Scenes is the second album from Oakland prog-pop outfit Once and Future Band (hereafter called OAFB). I was introduced to them via their self-titled 2017 album, which was their first full length release. Their self-titled is a sunny slice of prog-pop with ample jazz and folk touches. However, almost every song on that album felt one to two minutes too long.
One moment this album is brimming with squirmy, atonal synthesizers with eerie vocal arrangements, and the next it’s mellow, artful pop rock. Despite hailing from Chicago, there’s a very British sense of weirdness to Cheer-Accident’s work, most comparable to the inimitable Cardiacs. Strains of post-punk and folk merge seamlessly with progressive and pop rock to create something truly distinctive.
Band: Dai Kaht | Album: Dai Kaht II | Genre: Zeuhl | Bandcamp
I like Magma a lot. They’re one of my favorite bands, and I’m positive I’ll eventually do a Deep Dive entry on them. However, their shadow is nearly inescapable in the world of zeuhl (outside Japan, at least). Dai Kaht are a Finnish act who draw a huge amount of influence from Magma. Their sound is more guitar-centric than Magma ever were. On a technical level, the musicianship and compositions are complex. For all its oddness, it’s surprisingly catchy, and it is somewhat unusual for a zeuhl act to have guitar as its main instrument. But in the end, this release mostly sounds like an updated version of Attahk. If you like zeuhl, give it a listen, but don’t expect anything groundbreaking.