Welcome to the first installment of The Elite Extremophile’s Top 50 Prog Albums of 2021. This article will cover places 50-26 on my list, with the top half set to follow on Thursday.
As I always say, I’m sure there are some excellent albums not included in my list. 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.
As I referenced in my Scheduling Note back in November, this list only addresses albums put out between January 2021 and November 2021. Next year’s list will cover December 2021 through November 2022.
Though it felt as if it started off fairly slow, 2021 wound up being a very strong year for progressive rock and metal. Finalizing this list took longer than usual, especially nailing down the specific order.
Band: Agusa | Album: En annan värld | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
This instrumental Swedish act does a great job of weaving themes and ideas together into a coherent, engaging whole. The first of these two epics draws noticeably from the rich jazziness of Camel, and there’s an engaging blues jam which hearkens back to Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother era output. The second song starts as a slow organ jam, again reminiscent of early Pink Floyd. Swedish folk motifs are woven in artfully, and the whole listen is quite satisfying.
Band: A Formal Horse | Album:Meat Mallet | Genre: Progressive rock, Avant-prog | Bandcamp
The sophomore album from this English act has plenty of strange musical passages and striking vocals. Progressive metal influences are obvious in the powerful, hard-hitting riffs. Many of these songs have a sense of impending doom to them, with their vague lyrics and aggressive atmospheres. Despite the many unorthodox riffs, strange word choices (look no further than the song “I’m a Lasagne”), and overall unpredictability, I don’t think this album would be off-putting for someone new to this style of music. The band clearly has a good ear for catchy hooks and surprising twists that keep the listener invested.
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.
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.
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: 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: The Garin | Album:The Garin | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
The Garin hail from Kazan, Russia, and the band mixes prog, psych, and indie rock into an enjoyable package. This EP has four songs which bounce and twist energetically. Jazzy rhythms frequently crop up, and cosmic synthesizers often get a starring role. The vocals are a bit weak, but beyond that, the compositions are strong. “Yurei” is simultaneously influenced by shoegaze and ‘80s thrash metal, which makes for a unique experience, and “Duomo” closes the recording out with a guitar solo that evokes the best moments of ‘90s Pink Floyd.
Band: Hail Spirit Noir | Album:Eden in Reverse | Genre: Progressive metal, Progressive rock | Bandcamp
Hail Spirit Noir have been one of my favorite metal acts since they debuted with Pneuma in 2012. Mayhem in Blue, their 2016 release, was the only album to give Terminal Redux a run for its money in my personal best-of list for that year. Their unique synthesis of black metal and late-60s psychedelic rock and folk has been nothing short of brilliant. On Eden in Reverse, HSN has brought their sound up to the mid-1980s, with rich, creepy synthesizers taking over where swirling organ once dominated. While most of the album is quite strong, it’s definitely their cleanest album to date. I really missed the raw, abrasive black metal fury which was more prominent on their earlier records. The glossy synthesizers often only underscore just how slick everything sounds.
Band: Guranfoe | Album:Sum of Erda | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
Guranfoe are an instrumental act who draw heavy inspiration from the ‘70s prog giants, most notably Genesis and Camel. They’re good at keeping the momentum up on this album, and the songs are chock-full of neat little flourishes and some great solos. Folk and jazz touches are deployed to great effect. However, as with many instrumental albums I cover, most of these songs feel too long, and some of the extended solos, in particular, leave me looking at my watch. If the band were to tighten up the songs a bit, I think they could put out a really great album.
Band: Karfagen | Album:Birds of Passage | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
Antony Kalugin is an incredibly prolific Ukrainian composer and multi-instrumentalist, and Karfagen is one of his myriad projects. Birds of Passage is Karfagen’s 11th album in 14 years, and most of it is focused on the 44-minute title track. It’s mostly bright, sunny prog in the style of acts like Spock’s Beard and Moon Safari. Organ and synthesizer dominate on the first half, while the second half reduces the bombast (initially, at least). It can feel long-winded at times, but the songs have enough distinct movements that that’s only an infrequent issue. If you’re a fan of the 21st Century brand of symphonic prog, definitely check this album out.
Normally, I try to cover albums released within the last year or so on this site. I do make exceptions, with my occasional entries in my Deep Dive and Lesser-Known Gem series. This particular album, however, falls into something of an odd spot. Released in mid-2014, Muzykal’nye Vibratsii isn’t quite old enough for my completely arbitrary cut-off date of 20 years for Lesser-Known Gems. But it is certainly lesser-known, and it’s definitely a gem.
Looking at this album cover and listening to the music on this record, it’d be understandable if you mistook this for some underground, avant-garde release from somewhere between 1978 and 1985. But that is an aesthetic multi-instrumentalist Konstantin Zed purposely cultivated on his debut album. The Bandcamp page for this album describes it as art-punk, which, despite few punky moments, is oddly fitting. It draws heavily from the artsier side of post-punk and new wave.
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”→