There are a lot of proggy melodic death metal bands from Sweden. Many can run together or simply sound like Opeth clones, but there are some acts that manage to stand out from the crowd. One such band is An Abstract Illusion. In addition to all the genre hallmarks, this band does an excellent job of integrating bits of non-metallic styles to keep their songs fresh and interesting.
Woe, the band’s second full-length release, is a massive hourlong piece subdivided into seven more-digestible tracks. The sound palette of this album ranges from archetypal melodeath guitar leads to hints of dark jazz, dashes of electronica, and classic prog flashiness.
Band: Artificial Brain | Album:Artificial Brain | Genre: Technical death metal, progressive death metal | Bandcamp
I remember there being a lot of hype around this band’s last album–2017’s Infrared Horizon–but it just never quite clicked with me. Their new self-titled album, though, is great. The riffs are blistering, dizzying, and mind-bendingly dissonant. The songs are well-built and feature some wonderful hairpin turns. Amid the mucky morass of gurgling vocals and growling guitars, lead guitar lines are often surprisingly melodic.
Band: Bess of Bedlam | Album:Dance until the Crimes End | Genre: Psychedelic folk, Canterbury sound | Bandcamp
This album varies between idyllic folk with psychedelic tinges and some Canterbury-leaning prog-pop. There’s a lot of good music here, but unfortunately, there’s also a fair amount of unspectacular indie-folk-pop. The weak moments are never bad, per se–just dull. And it’s usually quickly counteracted with a good song. If you’re looking for something arty but light, this isn’t a bad option.
Band: Cró! | Album:Buah! | Genre: Progressive rock, Psychedelic rock | Bandcamp
On such a short album, this Spanish quartet manages to cover a huge amount of territory. The title track strongly reminds me of classic Italian acts like PFM or BDMS, and “Coia” is slow-moving and creepy. Other songs touch on alt-rock, funk, and jazzy art-rock. It’s a wonderfully diverse release, and all those different styles are played excellently.
Band: Envy of None | Album:Envy of None | Genre: Post-rock | Bandcamp
Envy of None is Alex Lifeson’s new band, and it sounds absolutely nothing like Rush. I went in expecting that, based off the lead single. I knew it was going to be a lot spacier, more atmospheric, and mellower. And while there are a few good songs on the album (“Look Inside”, “Spy House”, “Dog’s Life”), most of this album is a bore. It reminds me of trip-hop–a genre I’m really not crazy about–but without much creativity. Most songs are slow and relatively unvaried. This might be good background music, but I was hoping for dynamism.
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: Band of Rain | Album: The Sun King | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
This is decent, mid-tempo prog that goes more for atmosphere than technicality. (That’s not to disparage the bandmembers’ instrumental chops, though.) The overall sound is lush, and the band skillfully layers different textures and melodies. I also appreciate the many touches of jazz scattered throughout this record. The vocals come off as fairly weak, unfortunately, which does hamper this release, along with a general sense that everything here is too long.
Inverted Evolution has an unhurried pace which allows the band to stretch out and weave wonderful atmospheres. This Swedish act draws heavily from ‘70s hard rock in a lot of their musical vocabulary, but elements of jazz, post-punk, and gothic rock are readily evident, too. Eerie synths, hypnotic rhythms, and progressive song structures are hallmarks of this album. The ending is a little weak (though not bad), but beyond this hiccup, it’s a strong release.
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: 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.
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.
Band: Ars de Er | Album:Other Side | Genre: Progressive rock, Avant-prog | Bandcamp
Ars de Er’s last album leaned heavily into avant-prog and RIO, but Other Side is a little more grounded in “traditional” prog. There are especially strong echoes of Porcupine Tree’s heavier stuff, like Fear of a Blank Planet. This album still has plenty of influences from jazz and modern classical music, which makes the overall palette well-balanced and diverse.
This is a loud, unsubtle record. The mixture of metal, rock, and electronic elements are utilized to pummel the listener. It’s an intense listen, so in this case the album’s short runtime (only 29 minutes) is a virtue. A runtime of more than 30 minutes would have run the risk of becoming too exhausting. Beyond the intensity, the compositions are creative and full of great textural contrasts. The vocals are powerful and impassioned, and the array of synth tones are able to conjure a wide ray of moods and emotions.
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: 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.