Welcome to our seventh annual Top Progressive Albums column, where we highlight the best of the year across the progressive music board. From folk to death, from jazz to instrumental, these are the albums we liked the most from what we were able to listen to this year. There’s a good chance your favorite isn’t on this list or isn’t high enough on it: that’s great! Make sure you comment on social media with your favorites so we can go give them a listen over the holiday season. There’s probably another fifty or sixty albums that are easily worth your attention (and dollar).
Birth – Born
Big Big Train – Welcome To The Planet
Pure Reason Revolution – Above Cirrus
Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds Part 2
Derek Sherinian – Vortex
Soft Ffog – Soft Ffog
Threshold – Dividing Lines
Virtual Symmetry – Virtual Symmetry
12. Hällas – Isle Of Wisdon (Napalm)
Swedish retro/psychedelic prog-rockers Hällas dropped their third full-length Isle Of Wisdom back in April. I was worried about the band’s trajectory; I loved their 2017 debut Excerpts From A Future Past but thought follow-up Conundrum was a weaker effort. I’m happy to say the quintet have returned to form here, with eight top-notch tracks of old-school “adventure rock.”
In many ways Hällas are similar to Wobbler: smoky, unique vocals and a love of analog sounds from the ’60s and ’70s. Hällas tinge their work with sci-fi themes (their band name is the name of the protagonist of their songs), and on Isle Of Wisdom they flash the energy and catchy songwriting that their debut was known for. Fans of ’70s acts such as Genesis and Camel (and the aforementioned Wobbler) will love this album.
11. SiX by SiX – SiX by SiX (InsideOut)
One of the most unexpected collaborations in recent years has to be the new international trio SiX by SiX. Featuring Ian Crichton (Saga) on guitar, Nigel Glockler (Saxon) on drums, and Robert Berry (3, the Berry/Keith Emerson/Carl Palmer collab) on bass, keys, and vocals, this eponymous effort is the band’s debut. The band makes sense though, as the three have played together occasionally over the years. They bring their not inconsiderable skills and songwriting to bear on SiX by SiX with ten guitar-driven classic prog tracks.
Here’s something you don’t say about prog too often: these are catchy songs. From the three-minute “China” to the eight-minute “Reason to Feel Calm Again,” each track is instantly recognizable on its own. This is largely due to Crichton’s amazing guitar lines and Berry’s perfect “classic rock” voice, but Glockler’s drumming performance also cannot be overlooked.
10. Kaipa – Urskog (InsideOut)
It has been fifteen years since we heard from legendary Swedish outfit Kaipa, but now they return with Urskog, their fourteenth album. The six songs here were written for the most part four years ago by longtime band leader Hans Lundin and are meant to immerse us in the Swedish wilderness through the changing seasons.
There is no instant gratification to be found on Urskog. The shortest song is over six minutes long, while the longest clocks in at just under nineteen minutes. That being said, the music and vocals are spectacular, the album is impeccably produced, and Lundin’s ability to convey mood through music is stellar. This is a daunting album but definitely worthy of your attention.
9. Charlie Griffiths – Tiktaalika (InsideOut)
Charlie Griffiths is the guitar player for prog superstars Haken, and Tiktaalika is his debut solo album. It gives Griffiths the chance to stretch his wings in a few non-Haken directions, particularly when it comes to instrumentation; here he focuses on 6-string guitar rather than 8-string. Guest vocalists who help bring these songs to life include Tommy Rogers (Between the Buried and Me), Daniel De Jongh (Textures), Neil Purdy (Luna’s Call), and Vladimir Lalic (Organized Chaos).
Tiktaalika is a prog metal album, loaded with technicality and blistering guitar work, plenty of clean and harsh vocals, and a number of detours ranging from thrash to King Crimson influences. Griffiths shines on guitars, bass, and keys, with some help from Jordan Rudess, drummer Darby Todd, and Rob Townsend on sax. It’s a captivating, energetic album that lands at number 9 on our year end list.
8. Psychonaut – Violate Consensus Reality (Pelagic)
Belgian progressive/post-metal trio Psychonaut return with their second album, Violate Consensus Reality, a loose concept album based on the idea of creating a new civilization based on a new human identity – not a bad idea considering the last few years. If you missed out on their debut Unfold The God Man, or singer Stefan de Graef’s other band Hippotraktor, don’t let this one slip by.
Psychonaut have mastered the dynamics needed to create compelling progressive post-metal. The eight songs here never let our attention slip, from the varied vocals (mostly harsh, but with some strong cleans as well) to the hypnotic and aggressive music. Guest vocal appearances from Stefanie Mannaerts (Brutus) and Colin H. van Eeckhout (Amenra) on the massive title track add just the right amount of variety.
7. Tómarúm – Ash In Realms Of Stone (Prosthetic)
Ash In Realms Of Stone Icons is the debut album from Atlanta duo Tómarúm. The seven songs are spread across sixty-one minutes, a deft blend of technical death metal and progressive black metal. With the focus on themes of mental illness, it is a heavy-hitting album, both musically and lyrically.
This is an incredibly well put together debut, considering the length and scope of the material. Tómarúm blast their way through dense walls of black metal, dextrous displays of tech-death, with plenty of modern embellishments along the journey. Kyle Walburn (guitars, vocals, programming) and Brandon Iacovella (guitars, vocals, contrabass) display an immense amount of talent, although the contrabass could be more defined in the mix. While there’s still room for improvement, Ash In Realms Of Stone Icons is a fabulous debut
6. Marillion – An Hour Before It’s Dark (earMusic)
When most people think of veteran British neo-prog act Marillion, they inevitably think of the Fish years. That is a grave injustice to the band; Fish only sang on their first four records, while Steve Hogarth is now on his fifteenth with the band. In fact, the band’s lineup has been intact since 1989, and on the excellent An Hour Before It’s Dark, that chemistry really shines.
Essentially comprised of three songs and four extended suites, An Hour Before It’s Dark is Marillion at their best. The music is melodic, beautifully produced, and well-arranged, and Hogarth’s singing is totally on point. Despite mostly dour lyrical content pertaining to mass consumerism, viruses, and the environment, An Hour Before It’s Dark still manages to convey a sense of optimism for the future. This is a top tier album from Marillion, and one of our favorites of the year.
5. O.R.k. – Screamnasium (Kscope)
The one album on our list that we never reviewed this year is the fourth album from international supergroup O.R.k. Comprised of Pat Mastelotto (King Crimson), Colin Edwin (Porcupine Tree), Carmelo Pipitone, and LEF, this quartet distills the best of all their past bands, along with a nice helping of Soundgarden/Audioslave, to deliver their best album yet.
Screamnasium is a master class in heavy alternative prog. Edwin and Mastelotto anchor the songs as one would expect, and Pipitone’s guitar playing is mesmerizing and masterful, but LEF steals the show with a tour de force vocal performance, equally crooning and belting his way through the excellent material. If you’ve never checked out O.R.k., now’s as good a time as any to get on it.
4. Wilderun – Epigone (Century Media)
Critical darlings Wilderun are back with their fourth release, Epigone. Three amazing independent releases garnered them a ton of label interest, resulting in this album being their first with Century Media. Huge fan expectations coupled with the move to a big label have never disappointed, have they? Will they here?
Luckily, not. Epigone might take a while to get going (it is alarmingly subdued for the first eight minutes) but once it does oh boy, hold on to your hats. While this might not be our choice for album of the year, I’m confident in the declaration that this is the most ambitious album we got from anyone. Soaring, epic, all-encompassing, full of folk influences, Opethian moments, and sprawling yet engrossing compositions, Epigone could very well be the epitome of epic progressive metal.
3. An Abstract Illusion – Woe (Willowtip)
Woe is Swedish trio An Abstract Illusion’s second album, following their 2016 debut. At their core, the band is a progressive death metal act, but on Woe they bring so much more to the table. Adding elements of death, black, prog, electronic, and classical to an ambitious 60-minute song is a bold exercise, and thankfully they pull it off.
Broken up into seven acts, Woe delivers massive helpings of brutality, riffs, atmosphere, and poignancy. Piano solos are interspersed with guitar solos, some voiceovers and female clean vocals offset the main harsh vocals, and the song arrangements are impeccable. It is easy to get fully immersed in this album and have an hour of your day disappear.
2. Disillusion – Ayam (Prophecy)
Despite forming nearly thirty years ago, Ayam is only Disillusion’s fourth album. The German melodic/progressive death metal band’s 2019 album The Liberation stormed its way upon the scene, making its presence felt on multiple year-end lists. Now a mere three years later (the last gap in albums was 13 years) the band is back with Ayam, and they aim to show us that not a single step has been lost.
The album kicks off with one of the best songs of the year, “Am Abgrund,” and barely lets up after that. One can hear plenty of influence from Katatonia to Amorphis, but Disillusion wrap it all up in their own style – majestic, epic, emotional, and quite simply beautifully executed. Even if you don’t want to, you can’t help but stop what you’re doing and just listen to the entire album. Ayam was easily our pick of November as well as one of the best albums of the year.
1. Persefone – metanoia (Napalm)
Five years ago we reviewed Persefone’s excellent fifth album Aathma, a superb platter that made its way up to Number 4 in our year-end list. A well-deserved feat for this group of talented Andorrans, and here they are with metanoia, the much-anticipated follow-up. As with past releases, metanoia is a vast, all-encompassing epic album. It is also excellent, featuring stellar performances from all musicians and versatile vocalist Marc Martins Pia.
Persefone show why they should be at the forefront of the modern progressive metal movement. The music is cinematic in scope, painstakingly arranged and perfectly executed. The biggest surprise on this excellent album is “Consciousness (Pt. 3),” a stunning addition to the two Spiritual Migration songs. metanoia was hands-down our pick for the month of February, and it held off all challengers to become our album of the year.
2022 Progress Reports
January 2022 Progress Report
February 2022 Progress Report
March 2022 Progress Report
April 2022 Progress Report
May 2022 Progress Report
June 2022 Progress Report
July 2022 Progress Report
August 2022 Progress Report
September 2022 Progress Report
October 2022 Progress Report
November 2022 Progress Report