As the DPRP Prog Rock Radio Show passed into its seventh year, our listenership continued to grow and I got to hear more music, from more counties than ever before.
In 2014, I’ve played music from around 400 different albums. Add to that, I’ve reviewed around 100 different albums for DPRP, and as reviews editor, I’ve sampled another 400. Thus, there are not many Progressive releases that I have not heard.
This is the fourth time that I’ve compiled a listing of my own favourite albums of the year. I feel that 2014 offered an incredibly large number of high quality discs, especially from independent artists. So much so, that I’ve had to expand the list to a Top 30!
Amazingly, bands from 17 different countries feature in this year’s chart. Having listened again to all of these records over the past few weeks, I must say there is very little to separate my Top 12 in terms of quality. Equally, numbers 13-22 are also of a very similar standard.
Bandcamp and Spotify are increasingly becoming my first port-of-call for new music. To help you sample the albums here that you haven’t yet heard, I’ve posted a video of a song from each, plus a link to where you can listen to each album for free. From the link at the bottom of this page, you can also download the two-part radio show, in which I run through all of the Top30 albums.
And as ever, please support any of this music you enjoy, by buying the albums from the bands or their labels. Happy listening…
30. Malpractice – Turning Tides
I kind of liked Deviation From the Flow, whilst Triangular was my top album way back in 2008. So I was eagerly awaiting this, the sixth release from this enduring Finnish quintet. With both feet firmly planted in the old skool of metal, this is an album for those who like to hark back to the early days, when ProgMetal was a finding its feet, having been born from the seeds of Heavy Metal and Thrash. Turning Tides is not as good as the last two, but has enough appeal to keep me happy.
29. Disforia – The Age of Ether
Disforia is another sad example of the perilous state of the metal scene in the USA. A European-based band with a sci-fi themed debut album of this quality, would have been snapped up by at least one of the independent labels, if not one of the bigger houses of metal. Hailing from Salt Lake City, this young quartet had to rely on crowd-funding to complete the recording of this, their debut full-length disc. About half the tracks place the Power Metal stylings to the fore (Blind Guardian’s Hansi Kursch guests), the other 50% gives a greater emphasis on the progressive. It’s a nice mix, well played and produced and with some strong melodies from a band with huge potential. European metal labels please take note!
28. Silent Call – Truth’s Redemption
If you like you ProgMetal to be familiar and fulfilling, then this is the album for you. Ten slabs of efficient and effectively-written musical muscle, with melody and riffage to the fore, this concept disc is a real enjoyable ride. Sitting somewhere between Redemption and Seventh Wonder, Andi Kravljaca puts in his best performance yet (sadly he’s just announced he’s left the band!). Truth’s Redemption is easily the best thing Silent Call have done.
27. Black Fate – Between Visions & Lies
This album is complete and utter Khan (Kamelot/Conception) worship. They really have got everything down to the finest detail. Plagiarism, tribute band or just filling a void for those who miss those riffs and unique Khan melodies? All three for me, but singer, Vasilis Georgiou (Innosense) is absolutely amazing and nails every Khan nuance.
26. Axial Lead – Of Infamous Credentials
It’s been a great year for independent releases. This is one such album that features in my Top 30. I occasionally dabble in the avant-garde and for a debut, this concept album has plenty of rewards. A Romanian band, they are all over the place influence-wise, yet always with a central melodic core.
25. Triosphere – The Heart of the Matter
Only two female-fronted bands in my Top 30 this year – and how different could they be. This, the third album from Norwegian ProgPower metal outfit Triosphere, is elevated that extra bit higher than average, thanks to the powerful, edgy vocals of Ida Haukland. She’s a rarity in metal, when female vocals usually mean light and airy, or operatic. An aggressively elegant triumph.
24. Scintilla Project – The Hybrid
After four decades fronting one of Heavy Metal’s most legendary bands, Saxon vocalist Biff Byford has decided to try something a little different. A ProgMetal album based on a sci-fi film by the same name, produced by Balance Of Power drummer Lionel Hicks. (It’s an album inspired by the movie – not a soundtrack). At the tender age of 63, I have to admit that Biff has done a rather good job, employing a restrained, richer lower range than he is famed for. Out of his comfort zone? Yes. Out of his depth? No. Indeed the whole album is a rather splendid slab of melodic ProgPower Metal.
23. Evergrey – Hymns for the Broken
There aren’t many bands, where over a long period, I’ve enjoyed every album they’ve released, but the Swedish Kings of Morose Metal continue to entertain. I’m not as enthusiastic about this as some. It’s a bit lightweight for my tastes (and certainly no return to the style of their first three albums). However it has many great moments and is worth hitting the ‘play’ button just to listen to Tom S Englund’s exquisite vocal performance.
22. Mother of Millions – Human
If ‘complex’, ‘diverse’ and ‘melodic’ are three adjectives you seek in describing your favourite albums, then this debut from a quintet out of Athens should go straight to the top of your “Must Buy” list. Mother of Millions has an innate ability to write songs that shift in an instant, from almost extreme metal to whimsical folk. Some excellent use is made of ProgRock motifs, acoustic passages as well as traditional Mediterranean folk styles. A much more aggressive version of early Pain of Salvation could be one comparison. ‘Sophisticated’ is the word.
21. Coshish – Firdous
ProgMetal-lite sung entirely in Hindi and signed to a major record label (Universal) in India! I was initially attracted by some great hooks, but the clever musical layering, engaging vocals and chameleon-esque use of time signatures, warrant and reward repeat listens. The wonderful artwork and packaging is an added bonus.
20. Never Awake – Underground
Debut album from a band emerging from Portland in Oregon. On a first listen, I thought that this was little more than a decent metal album, with a grungy tone to the guitars. However on repeated plays, the eight songs began to unravel their layers. Underground manages to be catchy and accessible, yet complex and aggressive. Every song has an addictive melodic hook at its core, yet with a myriad of rhythmic layers, patterned by short solo bursts. This isn’t progressive metal Dream Theater-style with endless, widdly solos. This is modern metal with a progressive intent.
19. Teramaze – Esoteric Symbolism
I liked it, but did not love, Anhedonia, the previous album from this Aussie outfit. This fares much better. Gone are the thrashier elements, replaced by a more djenty vibe which suits the vocalist much better. This album is for those who seek strong melodies and in-yer-face riffage, with a moderate level of proggy complexity. First half of the disc is better than the second.
18. Need – Orvam: A Song For Home
Every year Greece has an amazing habit of handing me one new top quality band of this ilk. Last year is was Until Rain, who combined powerful vocals, intense, deep riffing, some great melodies and just enough complexity and variety to keep things interesting. This disc, Orvam, is getting a lot of love amongst the Power and ProgMetal communities. Top track: Lifeknot reminds me a lot of late period Fates Warning, mixed with the early discs from fellow countrymen Wastefall.
17. Paving The Labyrinth – Polyopia
There’s a growing underground progressive scene in South Africa and this mesmerising debut, by a quartet from Johannesburg, is one of the best newcomers of 2014. Polyopia is a big album. A finely-judged, virgin cocktail of post rock and alternative soundscapes, with jaw-droppingly exquisite guitar detailing and colourful sprays of jazz and metal. Reminds me in parts of Australian bands Caligula’s Horse and Arcane.
16. Amoral – Fallen Leaves and Dead Sparrows
I can’t believe this used to be a Death Metal band! Sounds just like early Circus Maximus to me – which is a very good thing. Apparently the change in styles came about with the recruitment of a former Finnish Idol contestant who has a set of lungs to envy and does a fabulous job jostling for attention amid some wonderfully compelling instrumental showmanship. Would have been Top10, if wasn’t for one horrible, growly throwback song and a second half that doesn’t quite hit the same heights as the first.
15. Vanden Plas – Chronicles of the Immortals – Netherworld
This leading German ProgMetal quintet continues its journey into more theatrical landscapes, with the initial unfolding of a two-part tale written by one the country’s top authors. Personally I prefer their earlier albums (Beyond Daylight & The God Thing) but there is no denying the great melodies and storytelling to be enjoyed here.
14. Rainburn – Canvas of Silence
Never before have I bought an album by a band from India. This year there are two in my Top 30. Prog is spreading to new lands. Hailing from Bangalore, this 5-track EP is more a case of heavy, modern, progressive-influenced rock, with an occasional dash of metal. However I sense a very bright future for this young quartet, who seem to be carving out a unique sound of their own. The track Refuge has a harmonic-hook-from-heaven which made it my most played song of the year.
Listen to the album promo on Soundcloud (or the full EP on YouTube below)
13. Veni Domine – Light
Known as a ProgDoom outfit, with six albums under their belts, the new release from this Stockholm quintet wouldn’t have got my interest, unless I’d read a review announcing less emphasis on Doom and comparing the singer to (early) Geoff Tate. Light sits somewhere between Wolverine, The Barstool Philosphers and the acoustic side of Operation Mindcrime. The riffs do have a doomy tone but this is all about restrained, reflective atmospheres and some utterly fabulous vocals. The 12-minute opener, In Memorium, is one of my songs of the year. Sadly the band announced their decision to split shortly after the release of Light.
12. Sanctuary – The Day The Sun Died
You gotta love any CD, that when you open it, out drops a free cloth patch for your leather jacket! Four years after announcing their reunion, we now have the third release from legendary Seattle metal band, Sanctuary. Formed in 1985, Refuge Denied and Into the Mirror Black were albums acclaimed by fans and critics for pushing the boundaries of the genre. Then came grunge and the plug was pulled. Sky-high singer Warrel Dane and bassist Jim Sheppard went on to form Nevermore until announcing the reformation of Sanctuary, with all but the original guitarist. I’d never heard this band before, so I had no expectations, but this offers some of the most aggressive and memorable metal songs I heard all year.
11. Distorted Harmony – Chain Reaction
Utopia, the debut album from this Israeli band, seemed to split opinion. Some loved it. Others like me, thought it had too much of a Dream Theater complex. This second album could be from a different band. Chain Reaction mixes a major chunk of modern sounds into the mix. We’ve some djent, Porcupine Tree atmopsherics, electronica and a few growls, amidst mature compositions, effective guitar playing and immediate hooks. Singer Misha Soukhinin is more pop than metal – in a good way. It reminds me a lot of the Being album, Antropocene, which sits a little higher in my Top 30.
10. Stamina – Perseverence
Every year I seem to find a couple of melodic heavy rock albums that bring me back to my early days of listening to music. This third release from Italian band Stamina and the Dynazty (Renatus), were my two driving albums for the French summer. Royal Hunt is the closest comparison for the addictive mix of melodic rock, prog and neo-classical plus some sensational keyboard riffs. There’s great variety across this disc, helped by four different singers including Göran Edman (ex Yngwie Malmsteen et al) and Nils Molin (Dynatzy – see the clever link!).
9. Soen – Tellurian
A Prog ‘supergroup’ featuring former Opeth drummer Martin Lopez, ex-Death, Testament and Sadus bassist Steve DiGiorgio, Willowtree vocalist Joel Ekelöf and guitarist Kim Platbarzdis. Their addictive debut album, Cognition, wove a rich tapestry of the heavy, intricate, rhythmic and melodic. It easily made my Top10 albums of 2012. Tullurian sits somewhere in the musical world occupied by Opeth, Karnivool and Tool but with an immediately distinctive sound of its own, plus a vocalist and drummer at the top of their game.
8. Opeth – Pale Communion
This album completed Opeth’s journey from death metal to prog. I never enjoyed them, until Heritage saw the growls disappear. On a first listen, this under-whelmed me. It sounded too clinical. Listening to it was more like an endless game of spot-the-classic-prog-band-this-sound-was-taken-from. However over time, the sheer grandeur of it all, and the world class production and performances won me over.
7. iamthemorning – Belighted
Those who know me, will recognise the bulk of my musical appetite leans towards the more aggressive, metallic side of prog. The power of guitars, vocals, strong melodies and strident lyrics is what presses my musical buttons. However I do have a softer, more reflective side. Increasingly I value the space, the reflection, the gentle caress, the lighter emotion that is to be found in music such as to be teasured on this album. Featuring Conservatory-trained classical pianist Gleb Kolyadin and self-taught vocalist Marjana Semkina, the buzz about iamthemorning has grown almost entirely through the best recommendation of all – word of mouth. So mark my words: this album is a thing of rare organic beauty. The best late-night headphone music to be found on Planet Earth!
6. Mindslave – Secular Indulgence
Excellent trad-style ProgMetal from Argentina that mixes some chunky riffage with more proggy sections. A well done debut that rewards repeat plays, Mindslave’s debut album, has the potential to appeal to a wide range of the progressive community. Secular Indulgence has a great mix of modern guitars with retro keys, a very listenable, smooth vocalist, lots of extended symphonic interplay, and dynamics, from the acoustic to the metallic. This is top quality ProgMetal, with all the bells and whistles.
An unforgettable band name hails the debut album by Doug Harrison – singer with the wonderful Canadian crossover Prog band Fen. This is a natural progression from the last two Fen albums but with a lot of different vocal textures and lyrical intensity, which I really love. Opener Bringer Of Doom is one of the most gorgeous songs of the year; In The Dark With Divinity has hit potential; Summer 99 offers unforgettably wistful storytelling, whilst the anti-war Long Live The Night allows the songwriting to stretch itself.
This was one of my first positive reviews at the start of the year and has stuck fast to my playlist ever since. Anthropocene is a debut offering by this band from Florida which mixes some djenty riffs, with a fluid mixture of more traditional ProgMetal stylings, poppy vocals and lush swathes of electronic atmospheres. Think Periphery and Tesseract heading for a spacey Fair to Midland. Don’t take my word for it: it’s been around the top of the Bandcamp best sellers list all year.
I really don’t know why there hasn’t been more of a buzz about this album. Hot on the heels of Orvam, Until Rain and Mother of Millions, this is another great find from Greece. This is how Evergrey could have sounded if they’d headed in a more progressive metallic direction after In Search of Truth. The melodies and riffs just stick, and demand repeat spins up and down the air guitar. Check out Curious Tomorrows (featuring the real Tom S Englund!)
I’m back in love with this bunch of Swedes. After the Desert Island Disc that was Remedy Lane, Daniel Gildenlow lost me with the pretentiously-obtuse Be and then a handful of good songs spoilt by retro stylings on Scarsick and the Road Salts. This album offers largely acoustic reworkings of songs from those three albums and they are all bathed in a gloriously new spotlight. The jazz-bar cover of Dio‘s Holy Diver is truly memorable.
After all the heavy stuff, it is something a little more mellow which has been my stand-out discovery of the year. As the title suggests, this is the debut offering from a Mexican band with a rich, deep, smooth and eclectic European Prog sound. Big kudos to Sergio Sunga, who provides an accent-free lead vocal to go with some sublime guitar leads, clever-yet-unfussy songwriting and bursts of a gloriously-raunchy sax … I haven’t been able to stop playing this. The band plans two new songs in the New Year, followed by a full length album. I can’t wait.
Thanks for reading. You may also like to check out:
Listen to a special edition of the DPRP Progressive Rock Radio Show playing this entire Top 30 (in 2 parts)