2023 Best Progressive Metal/Rock Albums

Welcome to our eighth 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).

Honorable Mention

Arriver – Azimuth
AVKRVST – The Approbation
Blindfolded and Led to the Woods – Rejecting Obliteration
The Gorge – Mechanical Fiction
Riverside – ID.Entity
Steven Wilson – The Harmony Codex

Season Of Mist

10. TEMIC – Terror Management Theory (Season of Mist)

The four players comprising TEMIC harken from such acts as Devin Townsend, Haken, Mike Portnoy, and Neal Morse. They have a strong pedigree and now on Terror Management Theory, the group’s debut, they get the chance to break out of the shadows and strut their stuff. They take full advantage of the opportunity.

Terror Management Theory epitomizes modern progressive metal. There’s plenty of virtuosity on display, especially from guitarist Eric Gillette, but there’s equal amounts of melody, emotion, and power on display. Fredrik Bergersen has a killer voice tailor-made for prog, and each song presented here is impeccably arranged and produced. This is a killer prog album.

9. Trailight – Mirrors (Self)

Trailight is a one-man (sort of) act hailing from Canada’s west coast, and Mirrors is the band’s sixth release. Mastermind Omer Cordell didn’t catch our attention until last year’s Chasing Daylight release, but we’re sure glad we know of his project now. Mirrors continues on in the same manner as Chasing Daylight, but Cordell’s game has been upped here.

Not really a one-man act here, Cordell has guests (not the least of which is Devin Townsend) assisting on everything but bass and vocals. From a songwriting, arrangement, and production perspective, he’s knocked it out of the park on this release, with eight killer songs that are each as stunning as the previous. Give this a listen; hopefully this isn’t the only year-end list Mirrors appears on.

Pelagic Records

8. The Ocean – Holocene (Pelagic)

Progressive post-metal juggernauts The Ocean took a slight left turn in the closing track “Holocene” off their fantastic 2020 album Phanerozoic II. It was a pensive song dominated by electronic flourishes, and it also happens to be the name of this album, which closes off the band’s paleontology-themed album arc which began way back in 2007. On this final outing, clean singing, electronic atmospheres, and haunting melodies envelop the listener.

For the most part this is quite a departure for The Ocean, but they do still bring the heaviness at times, particularly on the second half of the album. Listeners willing to allow the band to go beyond the heavy post-metal they are known for will be handsomely rewarded. Tracks such as the “Atlantic” – “Subboreal” pairing brilliantly bridge old and new sounds into truly stellar material, and the epic track “Unconformities,” with haunting vocals from Karin Park (Årabrot), is mesmerizing and, in the back half, furious. All told, this is another fantastic outing from one of post-metal’s best bands.

InsideOut Music

7. Haken – Fauna (InsideOut)

Esteemed prog rockers Haken are back with their seventh album, Fauna. The British band welcomes back Peter Jones, their original keyboard player, and the addition reaps immediate dividends. Across nine songs and more than an hour, the band brings in aspects of all six of their past albums to great effect. Jones’ keyboard flourishes bring a warmth to the recordings that we didn’t know we needed until listening.

Whether it is the chugging djent of recent releases or the lush prog of past classics like The Mountain, Haken fire on all cylinders with a diverse, wonderfully arranged group of songs. Capped with the mammoth track “Elephants Never Forget” (I’ll see myself out), Haken explore their entire discography without dwelling on any one era, resulting in an exceptional set of songs that will please all fans.

Season Of Mist

6. Alkaloid – Numen (Season of Mist)

It’s been five years since Alkaloid’s excellent Liquid Anatomy graced our column, so it is safe to say we’ve been anticipating Numen, the German band’s third album, for quite a while. Comprised of members of bands such as Obscura and Triptykon, Alkaloid push the boundaries of progressive death metal in their music, lyrics, and concepts.

Numen further expands upon the band’s sound, throwing in acoustic passages, female backing vocals, jazz, and more in a compelling amalgamation of styles. The album does run a bit too long – a theme this year seems to be bands throwing a much-too-long song on the end of an album – but this is forgiven due to the overall quality on display.

KScope

5. Obsidian Tide – The Grand Crescendo (Kscope)

A scheduling snafu prevented us from reviewing The Grand Crescendo when it came out back in September, but this second album from Israeli prog metallers Obsidian Tide did not go unnoticed. Much like their 2019 debut, Pillars of Creation, The Grand Crescendo is a modern prog metal epic. And much like their debut, this follow-up lands high on our year-end list.

Obsidian Tide doosn’t so much up their game here; what they do is play to their strengths, with more dynamic arrangements, more emotion, and (once again) superior musicianship. For just over an hour the band graces our ears with fantastic songs that fit in well stylistically with The Anchoret and Omnerod while displaying the band’s own unique style. Two albums into their career (like Sermon), Obsidian Tide are clearly leaders in the prog metal world.

Season Of Mist

4. Ne Obliviscaris – Exul (Season of Mist)

Ne Obliviscaris are one of the truest symbols and the definition of an extreme metal band. Six years after the acclaimed album Urn, they have once again created a gigantic theatrical stage to direct their musical show with the utmost epicness and passion.

Every moment and every second of Exul is surrounded by carefully designed songwriting, tremendous emotions and sensational power. Violin-driven songs create dramatic and thought-provoking moments, and the complexity of melodies with the silky operatic voice of Tim Charles and the roar of Xenoyr’s growls, combining melodic/progressive death metal with melancholic yet overwhelming death doom metal. This combination touches a new frontier that the band has not approached in such an impressive way in previous albums. Exul is an extraordinary achievement, a glorious renaissance in creating emotion out of chaos.

Willowtip Records

3. The Anchoret – It All Began With Loneliness (Willowtip)

Progressive metal group The Anchoret started out as musician Eduard Levitsky creating demos by himself before enlisting help from various people around the world. This morphed into It All Began With Loneliness, which has all the technical craftsmanship expected from this style of music with extra pizazz. That comes from the inclusion of saxophones, flutes and gospel vocals.

There’s a death metal influence in a few moments, channeling a group like Opeth, which amplifies a momentary bout of hostile energy. Put that alongside the alluring closer “Stay,” with its mellow pianos and touching vocals, and The Anchoret prove to be capable of carrying an array of emotions that avoids becoming cumbersome.

Prosthetic Records

2. Sermon – Of Golden Verse (Prosthetic)

Sermon stormed critics’ charts back in 2019, when the band’s debut Birth of the Marvellous was our top pick of the year. Now finally the band is back with Of Golden Verse. Featuring a similar lineup as their debut (James Stewart on drums, and Him on guitars/keys/vocals, but now with Lawrence Jenner pitching in on bass), the band has had four years to concoct an appropriate follow-up.

Of Golden Verse will quickly be recognizable to fans of Sermon. The style and vocal melodies remain the same, but this time around there is a more primal feel to the songs. Perhaps these tracks come from a slightly angrier place, but Of Golden Verse is certainly slightly darker and more aggressive than Birth of the Marvellous. Despite (or because of) that, Sermon have again crafted a masterpiece; 49 minutes of visceral, taut, climactic metal.

1. Omnerod – The Amensal Rise (Self)

Wilderun fans, pay attention here. The Amensal Rise is Belgian prog-death outfit Omnerod’s third and most ambitious album. Clocking in at seventy minutes (that’s over just seven songs), The Amensal Rise is a daunting listen both in length and complexity, but boy is it rewarding. Each song on this album screams “epic,” and draws from modern and classic influences alike, resulting in an album at once familiar yet different and captivating.

Much like Wilderun, Omnerod specialize in richly layered, intricate compositions. Arrangements and instrumentation are spot-on. There’s not a weak spot to be found across the album, aside from the daunting song lengths. In this case, though, the songs all flow wonderfully, making The Amensal Rise a rare long album that begs to be enjoyed in its entirety. Put it all together and you’ve got a prog-death album that’s done exactly the way I love them, and one that I came back to repeatedly all year. Well done, Omnerod!

Other Annual Best Progressive Metal/Rock Lists

2022 Best Progressive Metal/Rock Albums
2021 Best Progressive Metal/Rock Albums
2020 Best Progressive Metal/Rock Albums
2019 Best Progressive Metal/Rock Albums
2018 Best Progressive Metal/Rock Albums
2017 Best Progressive Metal/Rock Albums
2016 Best Progressive Metal/Rock Albums

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