Dagg’s Favorite Progressive Metal of 2013
Here we go again with another top prog list. However, unlike last year, this list will not include progressive rock. It’s not because I haven’t been listening, there’s been some absolutely wonderful releases from Steven Wilson, Spock’s Beard, and others. However, my ability to cross-compare genres has gotten even worse, and I don’t feel right trying to shoehorn comparisons between two genres against each other. Without further ado, here’s my fifteen favorite progressive metal albums I heard in 2013.
15. Dream Theater – Dream Theater
Dream Theater stayed about where I expected them to be. Adding Mike Mangini to the mix has saved them from some of the musically awful directions that they seemed to be going in before Mike Portnoy headed for greener pastures. All the same, Dream Theater is still the progressive metal band with a confoundingly long career almost completely devoid of reinvention. You’ve got to take the good with the bad, and even if you’ve already heard it a few times before, it still adds up to a pretty good record.
14. Empyrios – Zion
There are a few trends I’ve been talking about this year, and if I ever get around to it, they might make it to a podcast. One of those trends that I noticed and enjoyed this year was the tendency towards djent influences in progressive metal. While this wasn’t the best of those albums, it was probably the heaviest in djent influences, and certainly the heaviest overall. I love the riff quality here, and it’s pretty sound with melody to boot.
13. The Ocean – Pelagial
This album is interesting in that it comes with an instrumental and a vocal mix, and unlike when bands tack on instrumental mixes as filler, The Ocean’s instrumental mix got quite a lot of buzz. At first I was only drawn to the instrumental, but over the past few months I’ve really come to notice how incredibly unique the experience of each version is. While it’s a very versatile vocal mix (There’s bound to be a style that you hate somewhere on there), it’s also really, really impressive.
12. Tragodia – Mythmaker
Even with all of these new frontiers ablazing, I have to respect a completely solid work of good old melodic progressive metal. Here’s to Tragodia for just absolutely nailing it.
11. Ayreon – The Theory of Everything
I had sort of counted Ayreon as dead after their last album. 0101101 was very well written and produced, but Arjen seemed out of ideas. After his abysmal solo record last year, I was all but ready to bury hope, but The Theory Of Everything changed all that. Even if Arjen is still out of ideas, he’s embraced that and given us an album, like 0101101, that’s well written and produced, but also one that feels more authentic. Perhaps he’ll always be the worst storyteller in prog, but at least the music is back on course.
10. Persefone – Spiritual Migration
While harsher vocals aren’t being represented as heavily on this year’s list, Persefone’s Spiritual Migration breaks my overall trend. Not sure how I dodged writing a full review for this during the year, but given that it’s readily available to hear on Spotify, I must highly endorse a full listen through this album.
9. New Keepers Of The Water Tower – Cosmic Child
Here’s one of my more underground picks. This is a very doom-oriented record from a band with a pretty awful back catalog. Despite that, Cosmic Child has some of the most impressive songs and atmospheres I’ve heard in years. The strength of this is in its stark contrasts, and incredibly strong vocal performance.
8. Scale the Summit – The Migration
So another trend I was impressed with was bands that I had sort of given up on or dismissed impressing me, as mentioned above (Ayreon). I heard Scale The Summit back in 2009, and for all their technical prowess, they seemed very dry and heartless. The Migration feels much more tasteful than their early work, and I’m really coming around to this band’s greatness.
7. Intronaut – Habitual Levitations
Another djent-influenced album, but also in line with the more vocal-oriented prog that’s dominated the final spots of this list. This is another album worthy of commendation for great fusion of technicality and taste. It’s also among the more distinct releases I’ve heard on the year.
6. TesseracT – Altered State
So as far as djent-progressive metal fusion goes, this was really the kingpin on the year. This is the album people will be pointing to five years down the road when djent is fully integrated into the progressive metal machine as the turning point. That’s all deserved commendation, even though it hasn’t happened yet. This is a downright addicting album, with a stellar vocal performance to boot.
5. Jolly – The Audio Guide to Happiness Pt. II
Some days I feel like Jolly doesn’t even belong in the progressive genre. Those are the days when I’m so distracted by the strength of their integration of addictive pop melodies that I’ve lost track of the insane cross-genre canvas that they’re painting those melodies onto. I probably overscored the first half of the Audio Guide, losing track of its weaker points in favor of the stronger ones. Part II, on the other hand, is completely solid front to back.
4. Caligula’s Horse – The Tide, The Thief, and River’s End
Last year, even though I didn’t realize it at the time, I had three Australian releases in my top 20, and if I’d made a top list for 2011, Australia’s Voyager would make a strong showing in the top 3 or 4. For a huge land mass, there’s not a great quantity of progressive music in Australia, but what I’ve heard thus far has been absolute quality. Caligula’s Horse reminds me quite a bit of Voyager’s melodic style, but mixed with touches of Evergrey and Opeth. In addition to the great djent-prog fusion occurring, I expect the Australian prog renaissance to totally be a thing by 2018.
3. Votum – Harvest Moon
So instead of an under-inspired Riverside album, I decided to go with a Polish prog metal outfit that was doing the Riverside style actual justice. This was in some ways carried by Maciej Kosiński’s strong vocal performance, and in others carried by excellent songwriting, which is a trend for all three entries in the final 3 spots.
2. Haken – The Mountain
Haken was certainly my most anticipated release of the year, and there was a change in style that really took me off guard at first. The Mountain isn’t as strong as Visions, but it isn’t far off. “Pareidolia”, “Falling Back To Earth”, and “Cockroach King” are three of the best songs I’ve heard all year.
1. Leprous – Coal
It took me about two listens through Coal to determine that it was without a doubt the best progressive metal album I would hear this year. So it’s fitting that this album is not only the best of the year, but most emblematic of what I loved in all of my favorite prog metal. Every song on Coal is masterfully written, but the packaging and delivery all focuses upon the vocals. Whereas the Dream Theater school of progressive metal’s idea of great songwriting was intertwined complex instrumental passages that only really had a vocalist out of some sense of obligation, Leprous and others take a different approach. This style still allows for complex, intertwined instrumentals, but their purpose is more to paint the backdrop that allows the vocalist to be the most distinct and dynamic piece of the band.
Divided Multitude– Feed On Your Misery
Odd Dimension– Last Embrace To Humanity
Fates Warning– Darkness In A Different Light
Witherscape– The Inheritance