About a year-and-a-half after their dull-as-dirt twenty-second studio album, The Quest, Yes has returned with a new release. At times, I question whether or not this band really is “Yes,” though. They’re a bit like the Ship of Theseus at this point. Jon Anderson was booted from the band in 2008, following a severe asthma attack. Chris Squire was the last remaining of the original members in the band, and he passed away in 2015. Then last year, Alan White, the band’s drummer since 1973, also passed away. Steve Howe’s still with the band, though he did have a 16-year absence from the band from 1981-1997. Keyboardist Geoff Downes was briefly in Yes in the early ‘80s before returning in 2011. And Bassist Billy Sherwood was a longtime friend of Squire’s who has collaborated with the band since the mid-90s. My distaste for vocalist Jon Davison should be evident from my last Yes review.
Philosophical conundrums aside, I haven’t been shy about dragging big-name acts through the mud when they put out a bad record. The Quest was terrible, and I mentioned that I liked Heaven and Earth even less in that review. I’m not a fan of The Zealot Gene, and I gave RökFlötea lukewarm rating. (And that RökFlöte review prompted someone to send me a downright apoplectic email full of typos and shoddy reasoning. It really was funny how bent out of shape that person got.) I’m both looking forward to and dreading my eventual Dream Theater Deep Dive; if you think I went hard on The Wall’s sophomoric storytelling, just wait ‘til I talk about The Astonishing!
I went into this record with low expectations. The members of Yes seem to have simply gotten kinda lame in their old age. I was not particularly impressed with the first single, and the fact that this is another of those stupid disc-and-a-half money-grab releases also didn’t do much to give me hope. Despite all that, I wound up being pleasantly surprised. Mirror to the Sky is Yes’s best album since Magnification, and I’m willing to unambiguously call this album good. Not great, but good.
Arkitekture is a South Korean progressive rock band that plays a lush variety of progressive rock augmented by strings, winds, and reeds. Jazz, classical, and chamber music influences are prominent across this instrumental album. The individual tracks are well-constructed and full of powerful, emotive playing. If you’re looking for something grand and dramatic, this one is for you.
Band: Entropia | Album:Total | Genre: Progressive metal, Black metal | Bandcamp
Entropia’s new album is full of icy, biting riffs. The guitar passages are intricately layered and full of irregular rhythms. They’re often repeated in a krautrock-like way as minor changes accumulate. Though they’re hardly the focus, I love the way keyboards are deployed on this album; they add drama and depth whenever they’re included. The 15-minute title track includes some nice flavors of post-metal here and there. This is a really exciting record, and if you’re into acts like Oranssi Pazuzu or Inter Arma, I would especially strongly recommend this release.
A little over a year after their unimpressive return on The Zealot Gene, Jethro Tull is back with another record, RökFlöte. For this record, Ian Anderson stated he drew inspiration from Norse mythology, and the word “Ragnarök” is where he got the idea for this album’s title. Each of the twelve songs on this album is based off a character or concept from Norse mythology.
Going into this, I did my best to keep an open mind. Yes, I’d found The Zealot Gene unnecessary, disappointing, and soulless; but Tull has bounced back from bad records before! Minstrel in the Gallery followed the unfocused hodgepodge of WarChild, and Roots to Branches came after the tepid blues rock of Catfish Rising (and their middling ‘80s hard rock). Martin Barre continues to be absent from the band, so I tried to calibrate my expectations for the guitarwork accordingly.
After nearly a decade of silence, British math/progressive rock band Plank (alternately stylized as Plank! on Spotify) returns with a new record. Their last release was 2014’s Hivemind, an insect-themed album with some absolutely killer tracks on it. “Grasshoppers from Mars” demonstrated the band’s ability to be flashy yet catchy and melodic, and “Khepri” was a beautiful example of how to execute a build-up.
Their new release, Future of the Sea follows in a similar sonic palette. This instrumental record is built around weird, complicated riffs, where both crunchy guitar and glimmering synths get their chance to shine.
I’ve discussed the Canterbury sound on this site a number of times. Its heyday–like much of progressive rock–was back in the early 1970s, but even then it was somewhat niche. Despite that, there are a few acts still keeping this sound alive, and Zopp is one of the best ones.
Zopp’s 2020 self-titled debut wound up being one of my top albums for the year, though I never reviewed it before my year-end best-of list. It wasn’t some late-in-the-year surprise for me; I just never got around to covering it. But I don’t want to have that be the case again. The two pre-release singles for Dominion had both been great, so I went into this record with pretty high hopes. On their Bandcamp, the band describes this album as being closer to Yes or Marillion than any Canterbury act, but I have to disagree. If I’m looking for good comparisons, I’m still going to cite Soft Machine, Gong, and (especially) Caravan.
Welcome to the first half of The Elite Extremophile’s Top 50 Prog Albums of 2022. This article covers spots 50-26, and the top 25 can be found here!
Full disclosure: the label of “2022” is not entirely accurate. The music featured here covers December 2021 through November 2022. Trying to find new music in the month of December is a fool’s errand, as much of my time during that month is occupied with writing and editing this list.
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 affects the composition of this list. But if you’ve got recommendations, do not hesitate to shoot them my way.
2022 wound up being a decent overall year for prog. It felt as if the year started off slowly, and there definitely were fewer albums that truly knocked my socks off, as compared to other years. However, there was still a lot of super-solid prog, psych, and otherwise-weird and experimental music to be heard. And I listened to more albums than ever before, which allowed me to draw from a larger pool. That meant I had to make some tough decisions about the final composition of this list, and deciding on the final order was challenging. Outside of the top 7 or 8, most of these albums could have easily been placed several spots higher or lower, depending on my mood.
Band: Call Me Ishmael | Album:Cosmic Travellers | Genre: Progressive folk, English folk | Bandcamp
This is some pretty enjoyable prog-folk, with a very heavy emphasis on the folk part. I’m not an expert in the folk music of the British Isles, but when I think of “English folk music,” something not too far off from this pops into my mind. Mixed into that, though, are smart, inventive structures and melodies. And aside from a rather regrettable synth-brass tone on one track, the tonal choices are pleasant. This album does feature the eight-millionth version of “The Unquiet Grave,” though, and this band doesn’t bring anything new to the table there.
Artist: Paul Gunn | Album:The Ludwig Suite | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
This is a lovely little EP. The music incorporates bits of jazz and classical music, and Gunn has a distinctive voice. I get echoes of acts like Gentle Giant, Bubu, and Magma throughout, and I appreciate that this release doesn’t try to do too much. It’s 15 minutes of thoughtful progressive rock that focuses on a few strong ideas. Most of this release is instrumental, but those cuts maintain a strong sense of purpose while weaving together diverse influences
Band: Ahleuchatistas | Album:Expansion | Genre: Math rock, RIO | Bandcamp
Ahleuchatistas are something of an outlier when it comes to bands I like. I’m often not a fan of improv-heavy acts that sound like they’re constantly on the verge of falling apart, but this trio always manages to thread the needle of tight, complex riffs and wonky, off-kilter meters with loose improv. Expansion feels a bit more composed than some of their past work, and that pays dividends here. The riffs are weird and wild and wiry, and the songs have an odd, shambolic energy to them. This is a bizarre and rewarding album.
Band: Fren | Album:All the Pretty Days | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
Had I known Wiosnawas a single off an upcoming album and not an EP, I wouldn’t have reviewed it. But alas! All the Pretty Days is Fren’s second full-length album. Much like their debut, it’s melodic and dramatic instrumental prog. The songs are engaging and attention grabbing, and despite their length, there is very little bloat here. This reminds me of Änglagård’s best work while also being distinct. Hints of jazz pop in from certain piano lines, giving flashes of Magma’s lighter moments.
Band: Audio’m | Album:Godzilla | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
This album consists of just one 43-minute, kaiju-sized song. Though it doesn’t have the city-destroying fury of kaiju-themed thrashers Oxygen Destroyer, this French septet’s newest release is quite strong. The music is often swirling and otherworldly, with the band’s two keyboardists weaving together complementary moldies and textures. Hints of jazz and Baroque music are sprinkled throughout this release, and that diversity of influences keeps this opus interesting.
Band: The Bronze Horsemen | Album:IV | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp
This is some solid, enjoyable progressive rock. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but rather than detracting, it adds a homespun charm to it. This allure is especially evident when considering the combination of certain folk and bluegrass elements. This band roots its sound in the 1970s, with particularly strong Camel flavors. While it’s not groundbreaking, there’s a lot of heart and creativity here, and it’s definitely worth your time.