Sometimes you have to accept that you’re a nerd and give into the lure of progressive rock. As a prog man myself, I mean that in the best way possible. Despite not having a new Opeth or Porcupine Tree album, 2010 saw the release of a number of quality prog record. Many were long delayed and highly anticipated releases, some more than five years in the making. They may not be from the biggest names in the genre, but here are ten worthwhile albums for the prog fan in all of us.
A progressive rock album with some electronic and art rock influences, Demians’ Mute builds on the promise of 2008’s Building an Empire, and is one of the year’s best progressive albums. Nicolas Chapel, the multi-instrumentalist behind Demians, is quickly becoming an exceptional songwriter. He layers his songs with subtleties, both lyrically and instrumentally, and his voice has improved dramatically since his last release. There is a lot to like about Mute, and it’s a great album for any fan of progressive music.
After the incredible Tick Tock, it’s not at all surprising that Gazpacho has released what may be the best progressive rock album of 2010. Missa Atropos is an outstanding prog album that is simply impossible to describe in less than a paragraph. This is gorgeous music, reminiscent of bands like Radiohead, Porcupine Tree, and Pink Floyd in how combines simple beauty with experimentation and a wide of variety of influences outside of just rock and metal. Anyone who likes progressive or art rock should absolutely give Missa Atropos a listen. It’s an outstanding album, and one of the best records of 2010.
Aquarius is the type of album that uses progressive music’s ambiguous boundaries to its advantage. It's possible to mix just about anything into prog music if done right, so while their core sound is similar to familiar progressive rock and metal, Haken mix things up when you least expect. There are some jazz sections, heavy riffs and growls that seem to come out of nowhere, and even some interesting Middle Eastern influences. More than half of the seven songs exceed the 10 minute mark, so Haken build these unique sections into their songs quite well. The tracks have a ton of variety as a result, and it makes for a very interesting listen.
Ihsahn’s voice is clearly starting to fade, but the former Emperor frontman is still one of the best songwriters in metal. After is a progressive death metal album, somewhat similar to modern-era Opeth. However, if it was just a black metal Opeth clone with a worse vocalist it wouldn’t be much of anything. That’s where Ihsahn’s songwriting talent comes in. He plays to his strengths, using his faded growls at the most opportune times, and then singing when the melody is at its strongest. He also employs Jørgen Munkeby to play saxophone on the album, which is as epic as it is odd. After has its flaws, but it’s an interesting and unique album that earns a recommend to fans of heavier prog music.
Valley of Smoke
Sludge metallers Intronaut have turned into a progressive metal band on Valley of Smoke, an album that seamlessly blends prog and sludge music. About half of the album is made up of cleaner prog rock, while there are still moments of heavy sludge and distortion. Think of it as a more lo-fi version of Mastodon’s Crack the Skye, with a slightly better emphasis on the sludge elements. The mix works quite well, and it keeps Intronaut’s somewhat generic (though still entertaining) sludge from getting old. This is a step in the right direction for the band, and an exceptional album in its own right.
Lunatic Soul II
Lunatic Soul is the more atmospheric side of Riverside frontman Mariusz Duda. Riverside has moved father into the realm of traditional progressive rock, so it makes sense that Duda has put his ambient influences into a solo project. Lunatic Soul is still progressive rock, but it’s stripped of some of Riverside’s heavier influences, and instead focuses on the aforementioned atmospheric side. These influences were used much better in Riverside’s early albums, but it’ still great to hear this side of Mariusz Duda. He’s an exceptionally talented musician and songwriter, and as a result he makes Lunatic Soul II work.
The Obsidian Conspiracy
It’s always interesting to hear which direction a band takes after making the album they’ve built up to their whole career. Nevermore reached that point with This Godless Endeavor in 2005, and The Obsidian Conspiracy sees the band not really changing direction at all. This is simply more Nevermore, and while it doesn’t reach the same level of mind blowing epic prog metal of their last album, more Nevermore is always a good thing. They are still one of the most unique bands in modern metal music, mixing together progressive, thrash, power, and traditional heavy metal. The Obsidian Conspiracy is a solid album, and one that can be enjoyed be any metalhead or prog fan.
The Never Ending Way of Orwarrior
Orphaned Land is another prog band coming off a masterpiece. 2004’s Mabool was an absolute gem, and one of the best albums released last decade. It took six years for the long delayed follow up to finally be released, but The Never Ending Way or Orwarrior does not disappoint. This is an exceptional release from the only band that can be classified as “Jewish progressive folk death metal.” Yes, Orphaned Land is band that combines elements of prog, folk, death metal, and traditional Jewish music. The contrasting influences never sounds forced, each song is different from the last, and most of the album is strangely accessible. It doesn’t come close to Mabool, but The Never Ending Way of Orwarrior is an album that can be recommended to just about anyone.
The Great Escape
Seventh Wonder’s fourth studio albums has somehow managed to surpass the last three. The Great Escape is an absolutely incredible prog metal release, marked by impressive vocals, amazing solos, and an extraordinary amount of variety. The first six tracks are excellent, but the biggest highlight here is the epic 30 minute title track. That song could be very well be the best of 2010, and it’s one of the most impressive prog epics of modern day. Take notice prog fan. Seventh Wonder have reached incredible new heights, and The Great Escape is one of the year’s best albums.
Spock’s Beard have a hard time making up for the loss of lead songwriter Neal Morse. The three studio albums since his departure have been ranged from bad to mediocre at best, so it’s a both a surprise and a relief that Spock’s Beard have return to form with their tenth full length album. X is a return to the melodic prog of early Spock’s Beard, and a more importantly a return to actual songs. There are a fewer moments of showing off, something that plagued the last three albums, making this legendary prog band sound like a poor man’s modern Dream Theater. Instead the songs incorporate actual emotion, and the band has managed to do this without removing the impressive instrumentals. As a whole, X is a very solid album, and easily the best Spock’s Beard album since 2002’s Snow.