Welcome to 2018’s final Progress Report, where we highlight the best of the year. 2018 saw a wide variety of high-quality releases, and this list reflects the range of styles the genre covers. That means there’s also a ton of albums that didn’t crack the Top Twelve, so don’t feel bad if your favorite isn’t listed.
Let us know what you think with a comment; there’s always a chance I didn’t hear your favorite album, and adding it to the comments will give me a chance to dig even deeper than the 100+ prog albums that graced my speakers this year.
Without further ado:
12. Monotheist – Scourge (Prosthetic)
It has been eleven years since Florida prog-death band Monotheist last released a full-length LP. The band originally pushed a vision of Suffocation/Death-style music mixed with jazz and classical influences. It’s a grand vision, and one that for a variety of reasons the band was unable to execute on until eleven years later, with Scourge.
The wait was worth it, though, as the band have delivered a magnum opus. Scourge features seven songs that retain their technical death metal structure while perfectly fusing classical, jazz and world music elements. It all ties in and flows seamlessly in what is one of the top progressive death metal releases of the year.
11. Long Distance Calling – Boundless (InsideOut)
German post-rockers Long Distance Calling have had an interesting history. After three well-regarded instrumental albums, they brought in a singer for two records. Boundless, their sixth full-length, sees them returning to their instrumental roots, and taking a more spontaneous approach to the songwriting.
Labeling this band simply as post metal would be a disservice. The music on Boundless is very progressive, and displays plenty of krautrock influence. It even has a western-tinged number, “Like a River.” All of it works to wonderful effect, resulting in the best progressive rock instrumental album of the year.
10. Alkaloid – Liquid Anatomy (Season of Mist)
Loosely described as technical death metal, Alkaloid are a supergroup of sorts, featuring ex- and current members of Obscura, Necrophagist, Aborted and more. Technical death metal is too limiting of a term for this quintet, and they are certainly as progressive as they are technical (a very fine line in this genre).
The eight songs on Liquid Anatomy, their second album, cover such a broad musical spectrum that the best description is really just experimental extreme metal. Progressive death metal is a huge part of their repertoire, interwoven with strikingly clean, jazzy passages, thrashy Megadeth-like riffing, a healthy sense of humor, and more. Through it all, Alkaloid hold onto our interest like few other albums did this year, earning a spot in our top ten.
9. The Tangent – Proxy (InsideOut)
The Tangent are a pretty prolific supergroup – just last year we reviewed their album, The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery – and gave it high marks. Andy Tillison is the band’s leader, and members of bands such as Karmakanic, The Flower Kings and Soft Machine join him. Sadly, last year I neglected to include their album in our Top 12; I won’t make that mistake this year.
Proxy is nearly as good as last year’s excellent album was. Tillison and crew are masters of jazz-infused prog, and in fact the star of the show here is Jonas Reingold on bass, laying down tremendous licks and solos. The chemistry and energy in the band is palpable, and even with some songs exceeding sixteen minutes, our attention never wanders. Once again, The Tangent have dropped an excellent prog rock album.
8. Gazpacho – Soyuz (Kscope)
Forget for a moment that these guys might have the worst band name in music – cold soup. More important is the fact that Gazpacho’s music is some of Norway’s best progressive rock today. Their last two albums, Demon and Molok, have been underrated and exquisite works of art.
Soyuz is an album which of course takes meaning from the ill-fated Soviet space expedition, while also paying tribute to any beautiful moments that pass throughout life. The band’s high standards of songwriting and musicianship are intact and expanded, with many electronic elements contributing to their sound. A hint of Muse still exists, but make no mistake: Soyuz is one of this year’s standout progressive rock albums.
7. Obscura – Diluvium (Relapse)
Coming in at our seventh spot, we have veteran German technical death metal band Obscura, and the end of their four-album concept in Diluvium. Chock full of the most technically complex drumming, stellar guitar solos and virtuoso fretless bass playing, the band ups the ante throughout Diluvium.
Obscura bring all the goods here: stunning brutality, amazing finesse, and everything in between. Not only that, they never lose sight of the most important facet of music: writing good songs. The technical death metal style here is augmented by a Cynic-like progressive bent. Aside from the marginally cheesy overuse of Vocoder effects in a few songs, Diluvium is the killer album that fans of the genre (and band) have been aching to hear.
6. Madder Mortem – Marrow (Dark Essence)
Madder Mortem’s seventh album in twenty years has the band fully realizing their potential. Led by the powerhouse, nuanced vocals of Agnete Kirkevaag (who delivers one of the greatest vocal performances of the year here), the band has produced one of the most varied yet cohesive albums on our list.
Marrow has it all: touching ballads, down-tuned modern metal pounders, and off-kilter progressive numbers, all wrapped up in a precise, brilliantly-produced package. Kirkevaag’s charisma pulls us into each song, and the band matches her step for step with excellent performances, making this a prog metal gem.
5. Haken – Vector (InsideOut)
As you may or may not recall, Haken’s 2016 masterpiece Affinity was our Progressive Album of the Year, and it was my personal number two album. So naturally I was expecting big things from Vector, their fifth album. The band’s melodic nature is offset by a heavier feel; something that took many fans by surprise, but works wonderfully.
On Vector, Haken have managed to amp up the metallic nature of these compositions without compromising their trademark deft, delicate touch. Vector is an album written with riffs as central themes, and a conscious decision to move into heavier realms. While Haken have had heavy moments on previous albums, Vector is their heaviest overall record to date – a full-on progressive metal gem by one of progressive rock’s most outstanding bands.
4. Between the Buried and Me – Automata (Sumerian)
Released in two parts this year, Automata as a whole establishes itself as one of Between the Buried and Me’s best pieces of work. While each part of the album was fairly short, combined they equal ten songs and nearly seventy minutes of top-notch modern progressive metal. Over the years, BTBAM have evolved away from their hardcore roots to a degree, and into a more mature progressive sound.
While the front half of Automata (Part I) is more traditionally BTBAM, with tension and dynamics playing wonderfully off each other, the second half is where the band stretches out more, incorporating some demented Diablo Swing Orchestra jazziness into their arrangements. The entire album ties together conceptually and musically, though, making it one of the more complete BTBAM recordings in recent years and a progressive metal standout.
3. Riverside – Wasteland (InsideOut)
Nobody can quite predict how tragedy will affect a band. When Riverside’s founding guitarist Piotr Grudziński passed away suddenly two and a half years ago, even they didn’t know what would come next. 2018 sees the band releasing their seventh album, Wasteland, and first as a confirmed trio. Not filling Grudziński’s shoes means that singer/bassist Mariusz Duda pulls a lot of double duty here on Wasteland, although there are a handful of guest appearances to bring a bit more skill to the solos.
Wasteland features some of Riverside’s heaviest and most emotional music, and both types of songs are stunningly effective. Duda’s performances vocally and instrumentally are outstanding, the songwriting can’t be beat, and the production and arrangements are impeccable. It all adds up to one of the best prog rock releases of the year.
2. Michael Romeo – War of the Worlds Part 1 (Mascot)
It seems odd that Symphony X founding member and guitar virtuoso Michael Romeo has never released a solo album, but in this case, better late than never. For War of the Worlds Part 1, a concept album based on the H.G. Wells novel, Romeo pushes his compositional boundaries, infusing his SX progressive/power leanings with orchestral embellishments and electronic effects.
Combine those elements with Romeo’s neoclassical guitar work – epic, masterful solos, and some massive, intricate riffs – and musically you have a fantastic prog-power recording. But what tops this one off is the work of newcomer vocalist Rick Castellano, whose voice is the perfect mix of power and finesse for this kind of music. Castellano is a diamond in the rough, and pushes War of the Worlds Part 1 over the top, making it my surprise prog album of the year, and #2 overall.
1. The Ocean – Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic (Metal Blade)
It has been five years since the patron metal band of geologists, The Ocean, gave us the excellent Pelagial, a masterpiece that deftly combined post metal, prog, hardcore, and doom into an earth-shaking tour de force. Big things were expected of part one of a two part double album, Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic.
Phanerozoic I is a master class in vocal production, and marrying the voice to the feel and intention of the song, but that’s not to take anything away from the other five members of the band. Each track here is meticulously arranged, with new bassist Mattias Hägerstrand and drummer Paul Seidel laying down a primordial foundation for founder Robin Staps to interweave aggression and subtlety with his guitar. Peter Voigtmann joins the band on synth, adding another layer of intricacy to the puzzle, and of course Dalai Theofilopoulou’s cello playing adds eerie overtones in many places.
Progressive post metal doesn’t get any better than The Ocean, and they once again prove themselves to be the leaders of the genre with Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic. Distilling the best elements of bands like Neurosis, Cult of Luna, and (this time, anyhow) Katatonia, and combining those elements in impeccably arranged and produced songs, gives us our top prog album of the year.
Previous 2018 Progress Reports
The Progress Report: January 2018
The Progress Report: February 2018
The Progress Report: March 2018
The Progress Report: April 2018
The Progress Report: May 2018
The Progress Report: June 2018
The Progress Report: July 2018
The Progress Report: August 2018
The Progress Report: September 2018
The Progress Report: October 2018
The Progress Report: November 2018