Band: Børeal | Album:Las Mariposas Agitan Sus Alas | Genre: Progressive rock, Alt-metal | Bandcamp
The debut EP of this Colombian four-piece combines the gritty, dirty guitar tones of early-‘00s alt-metal with engaging melodies, and diverse song structures. “Homo Homini Lupus” is a highlight, with its rolling rhythm and descending chorus. The band’s eponymous song closes out this brief release, and it’s my favorite of the bunch. This song is weird and draws the most heavily from modern metal. Some moments on this EP are a bit too evocative of the weaker elements of alt-metal, and some of the catchier melodies feeling incongruous against the harsh backing. Overall, it’s an enjoyable release.
Band: Dancing Sun | Album:Heart Tales | Genre: Progressive metal, Psychedelic rock | Bandcamp
There’s a lot of variance in the styles and discernable influences on these individual tracks. While a somewhat heavy album overall, some songs go all-in on metal influences, while others draw from jazzier corners. Heart Tales’ longer songs are the obvious high points. The extra space allows Dancing Sun to have the most fun with structure. I’m not wild about the vocals on this album, but if you’re able to move beyond it (like I was), or if you wind up enjoying them, there’s some very good music here.
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.
Band: Alustrium | Album:Insurmountable | Genre: Death metal, Progressive metal | Bandcamp
The music on this EP is played with incredible precision, and the density of riffs-per-minute is impressively high. However, it also feels like this band’s main goal was to play as fast as possible, and even across such a short EP, that gets exhausting. There’s also nothing particularly unique about this release; this is rather boilerplate tech-death.
This band heavily channels Porcupine Tree in just about every regard. It’s a skillful facsimile, right down to the tones of the individual instruments, and the songs are well structured. There is also the occasional outside influence, such the odd jazzy lick here or there. On the downside, this album is pretty long-winded. Only one of the six songs comes in under eight minutes, and most cuts could have benefitted from some trimming.
Band: Giraffes? Giraffes! | Album:Rite of Summer | Genre: Post-rock, Math rock | Bandcamp
Giraffes? Giraffes! is one of my favorite math rock bands, and this EP—consisting of just one 15-minute song—more than lives up to expectations. As is to be expected from this duo, the guitars are nimble, the drumming is deft, and the multi-parted composition keeps you guessing. The sounds range from blazing, finger-twisting licks to mellow psych-folk, and it all works beautifully.
Band: Firelink | Album: Firelink | Genre: Atmospheric black metal, Progressive metal | Bandcamp
I like Firelink’s self-titled sophomore album, but it doesn’t do too much to stand out from similar acts. The songs are well-constructed and well-played proggy black metal with atmospheric leanings, but nothing about it differentiates it from the rest of the rather saturated black metal field. Every now and then, I’m just in the mood for some good ol’ black metal shredding, and this is great for that. Just don’t go into this expecting anything all that distinctive.
Band: Arcade Messiah | Album:The Host | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive metal | Bandcamp
Arcade Messiah is a one-man project out of Ireland that mixes progressive rock and metal with earworm melodies and intriguing electronic touches. Hints of post-rock and stoner metal permeate this album, and each song works wonderfully with the next. This release reminds me a lot of ADHD-era Riverside with its strong hooks, varied textural palette, and adventurous spirit. The Host artfully threads the needle in a way that many acts are unable to. This album strikes a balance of metallic bombast and smooth melodicism.
I’ve previously discussed this Cretan trio, and I found their blend of Greek folk melodies, progressive songwriting, and sunbaked fuzz truly refreshing. In lieu of guitar, the lead instrument in this band is a modified electric lute, which imbues the songs with a unique timbral quality. The Martyr took a bit longer for me to get into than their previous album, but it gradually grew on me over several listens. This distinctly Hellenic stoner metal kept drawing me back in with its uncommon melodies and well-structured compositions. Compositions range from charging to plodding, and that diversity of atmosphere serves this record well.
Band: Abstracción | Album:Abstracción | Genre: Progressive rock, Psychedelic rock | Bandcamp
The debut EP from this Spanish septet draws heavily from the sound of Jethro Tull’s early material, and the liberal inclusion of sitar adds a late-‘60s psychedelic folk feel to the mix. Swirling Hammond organ and echoing electric guitar lines keep the atmosphere lush, while vocalist Catalina Requena’s willowy delivery occasionally bleeds into the instrumental elements. Each song is distinct, but the tonal continuity between the pieces keeps this recording cohesive and coherent.
Band: Ars de Er | Album:La Métamorphose | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
I’ve run across more Belarusian prog bands while writing for this site than I ever anticipated. The latest of these is the one-man act Ars de Er, which incorporates hefty doses of classical and jazz. Strange harmonizations predominate on La Métamorphose, drawing comparisons to the original big names of avant-prog and RIO. Heavy, metallic guitar lines underpin moments of furious soloing and chaotic rhythms. The atmosphere on this record is oppressive. The strange, diminished chords and haunting keyboard textures make for an anxious, claustrophobic feel.
I’ve largely been unimpressed with Opeth’s pivot away from death metal. A lot of their recent output has felt flaccid and derivative in an oversaturated retro-prog scene. However, the full-length debut of Greek act Guppy Fish covers the territory I’d always hoped Mikael Åkerfeldt and his crew would. The Fall of Man isn’t exactly a metal album, though it often flirts with the territory. The music is both grand and gloomy. The shadows cast by the giants of the genre are readily evident, but this album stands on its own.
This album’s title track aptly sets the mood as its opener. An eerie, watery guitar arpeggio bursts forth from its quiet beginning into the looming verses. A jagged, irregular riff is deployed to great effect between verses. Two-layered vocal arrangements are utilized both here and throughout the rest of the album to add a layer of depth. Continue reading “Album Review: Guppy Fish – The Fall of Man”→
Custard Flux is the brainchild of Detroit-based multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Gregory Curvey, and this is one of the more unique acts currently active in the progosphere. Custard Flux is a (almost) fully-acoustic band, with electric instrumentation being limited to a small number of guitar solos on this band’s first two albums. Acoustic guitar and harmonium have been the primary instruments this act’s sound has been built around.
Oxygen is Custard Flux’s third album in as many years, and it’s their best and most diverse yet. While the sound is still primarily acoustic, it’s been augmented with ample saxophone and violin. Electric guitar—in its rare appearances—feels more integral to the compositions, rather than being a solo laid on top of a fully-acoustic piece. The compositions are also the most daring and progressive they’ve recorded yet. Continue reading “Album Review: Custard Flux – Oxygen”→
Over the last few years, Elder have established themselves as one of the most interesting acts in progressive rock. Their albums Lore and Reflections of a Floating World deftly blended prog and psychedelia with a stoner metal backbone, and their 2019 EP The Gold & Silver Sessions saw heavy incorporation of krautrock and jam band influences.
The recording of Omens, Elder’s fifth full-length release, marked several major changes for the band. The most obvious of which was that the band underwent their first-ever lineup change to introduce a new drummer and guitarist/keyboardist. The band also relocated from Boston to Berlin, and the press for this record leading up to its release emphasized this state of change. Sonically, the most obvious change over previous releases is the widespread incorporation of synthesizers. Overall, though, Omens doesn’t stray that far from Elder’s typical sound; all in all, they’ve just added a few baubles. Continue reading “Album Review: Elder – Omens”→
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.
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.