2016 has been a pretty horrible year: terrorism, deaths of way too many musical heroes, the recent loss of Prog magazine and the total screwing of all Team Rock employees, personal inability to find a job… Yeah, this year has sucked.
Thankfully, despite these trials, progressive rock has continued to be the most creative and innovative genre in the music business. I always enjoy writing a “best of” list, mainly because it gives me a chance to look over the best music of the year. We prog fans really are spoiled.
Like last year, my 2016 list will be pretty big, and the order is completely arbitrary. I have a numbered top 4, but my top 3 picks for this year are essentially tied for first place. Without further ado, my favorite albums of 2016:
Steven Wilson – 4 1/2
I find it amazing that a mini-album of rejects from Steven Wilson’s solo catalog can be this good. “My Book of Regrets” definitely should have been included on Hand. Cannot. Erase. Regardless, this little collection of songs is a must have for Steven Wilson fans. Check out Brad Birzer’s review.
Rhapsody of Fire – Into the Legend
The latest album from these kings of symphonic metal blew me away. It is heavy yet majestic, and Fabio Lione has one of the best voices in all of metal. This particular album also has more to offer metal fans that may have been turned off by elements of fantasy in the band’s earlier albums. Check out my review over at the DPRP.
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
The first three songs on this album are pure prog brilliance. While I think the album drops off after that, it is still a relatively solid album. I look forward to more from Nick Beggs and company. Check out Tad Wert’s review.
Fractal Mirror – Slow Burn 1
Another outstanding album from Fractal Mirror. This band brilliantly combines progressive overtones with exceptional songwriting. This is an album I can listen to over and over again. Check out Brad Birzer’s review.
Mike Kershaw – What Lies Beneath
This is Kershaw’s best album to date, and it features appearances by Fractal Mirror. Kershaw’s best asset is his songwriting and lyrical talent. I think too many people discredit his work because of his vocals, but if you dig beyond them into the lyrics, you will be richly rewarded. Check out my review.
Anderson/Stolt – The Invention of Knowledge
This album is what the most recent Yes album should have been. Jon Anderson and Roine Stolt proved that you can make an album in 2016 that sounds like it could have been made in 1973, yet still have it sound completely fresh. Anderson’s vocals are still amazing, and his lyrics are as cryptic as ever. The only drawback is the missed opportunity the group had to include Stolt’s vocals. If the two decide to make another album, I hope they use Stolt’s voice with Anderson’s, because that would be majestic. Check out Paul Watson’s review.
Red Bazar – Tales From the Bookcase
This album was my introduction to the band, as well as my intro to vocalist Peter Jones. His voice is simply stunning, and the lyrics of Red Bazar truly make this album an enjoyable listen. It is definitely an overlooked album. Check out my review over at the DPRP.
Chevelle – The North Corridor
Chevelle continue to make albums that stand out from their metal and hard rock brethren. This album is definitely one of the best of their career, which I think is saying a lot since basically all of their albums since their second album have been excellent. They journeyed into proggy territory with the cd-only bonus track, “A Miracle.” Check out my review.
The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
This album is my introduction to the veteran proggers. I am amazed at how much Bruce Soord’s voice sounds like Steven Wilson’s, which I consider to be a very good thing. In fact, this album reminded me of Wilson’s solo work, which is probably why I like it so much. Please don’t think Your Wilderness is a copy of Wilson, though. Far from it. Check out Brad Birzer’s review and Iris’ review.
The Neal Morse Band – The Similitude of a Dream
While I think there’s a little too much copying in this album, both of Morse’s back catalog and other classic prog bands (*cough, Styx, *cough), it is a solid album. The story is great, and the music is exceptional, but so much of it sounded familiar. However, I actually think this album would be a good introduction to Neal Morse’s music because it presents him doing what he does best. As usual, Mike Portnoy is a beast, and Eric Gillette is amazing on the guitar. I could do without Hubauer’s vocals, but that is a pretty minor complaint. The band’s live album, Alive Again, is also quite good. Check out Brad Birzer’s review of TSOAD.
Frost* – Falling Satellites
What can I say? A great album that was long overdo. This band is certainly unique in the prog world, but in a good way. Check out Brad Birzer’s review.
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Robin Armstrong is certainly a perfectionist. I love his sci-fi infused musical stories, and while I may not listen to them often, I am always rewarded when I do. Check out Brad’s review.
And now, for my top 4 albums of 2016:
4. Big Big Train – Folklore (hi-res audio tracklist version)
Big Big Train is a very special band. In thirty years, we may look back on them as being the best band of this era of progressive rock. While Folklore doesn’t quite match The Underfall Yard, it is still excellent, particularly the expanded tracklist version released on vinyl and high resolution audio. “Along the Ridgeway/Salisbury Giant” and “Transit of Venus Across the Sun” are just a sample of the brilliance in this album. Needless to say, I am very jealous of the British fans of BBT who get to see them live again next year. Check out my review of Folklore, and make sure you listen to their amazing live album, A Stone’s Throw From the Line.
3. Marillion – F.E.A.R.
I’m a little ashamed to admit that F.E.A.R. is my introduction to Marillion. The more I listen to this album, the more I love it. This album masterfully summarizes the political turmoil of our present day, and it does so without alienating anybody. I don’t think I could review this album because there is just so much going on. Plus, this album simply defies words. It has to be listened to and experienced.
2. Haken – Affinity
Affinity is Haken’s Awake (Dream Theater). It is honestly that good. After having been spoiled by the band with The Mountain and Restoration, not to mention seeing them live on their ResTouration, I wasn’t sure if the band could exceed their own standards. Somehow, they managed to change their sound while still maintaining a distinct style. I hope these guys make it big, because they really deserve it. They make great music, they work hard, and they rock out live like few other bands. Check out Time Lord’s review.
1. Oak – Lighthouse
I can hear all of you readers now – “who the deuce are they?” Well, Oak is a mind-blowing band from Oslo, Norway, making some of the very best atmospheric progressive rock I have ever heard. From the first time I listened to this masterpiece, I was blown away, and I am continually blown away after each listen. Think of the best of the atmospheric side of Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson solo, add some slightly more positive lyrics, and you have Oak. The lyrics are anything but obvious, which makes them interesting with every listen. One of the best aspects of this album is the way it will go from spacey, calming walls of sound to hard rock bombast, and the change works really well. Give this unknown band a listen for yourself, and you will not be disappointed. Lighthouse is one of the most interesting albums I have heard in a long time, and it was definitely the musical surprise of 2016. Check out Nick’s excellent review.
Despite being a heartbreaking year with the loss of so many amazing musicians, 2016 was still a solid year for prog rock. Honestly, I can’t think of a better tribute to people like Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, David Bowie, Piotr Grudzinski, and many others than to carry on the musical tradition that they had such integral roles in creating and developing.
Merry Christmas, Progarchy. May 2017 be a better year in every way than 2016.