Earlier this year, I questioned whether or not 2018 was going to be a poor year for prog. It seemed like the the progressive rock community took a few months to stop and take a collective breath… but that was only the breath before the plunge. The second half of the year saw many excellent new releases. The following are some of my favorites from 2018, in no particular order (my top two at the bottom of this list are tied for first place).
Birzer Bandana – Of Course It Must Be
I thoroughly enjoyed this album. The lyrics and music both excel, and the album gets better with repeated listens. Check out my DPRP review of the album here.
Spock’s Beard – Noise Floor
Noise Floor is more prog brilliance from one of the most important bands of “third wave” prog. The album sees original drummer, Nick D’Virgilio, return to the fold, which is obviously a great thing. If you’ve liked Spock’s Beard’s last few albums, you’ll enjoy this.
Mike Kershaw – Arms Open Wide
Mike Kershaw gets better and better with every album. The guitar work from Gareth Cole on this album is a major gem – his guitar solo to close out the album is absolutely fantastic. Kershaw’s lyrical themes focusing on fear are appropriate considering the times in which we live. He is one of prog’s great cultural critics. Check out my DPRP review here.
Mystery – Lies and Butterflies
This band is hard not to like. Their melodies, musicianship, and lyrics all demand that I return for repeated listens. It is every bit as good as their last album, if not better.
Glass Hammer – Chronomonaut
Glass Hammer has always been hit or miss for me. I always like what I hear, but it never sticks with me. I don’t know why. Chronomonaut is good though.
Haken – Vector
This album is exceptional. It isn’t perfect, but it features some of the best songs Haken has ever made. If it had a better ending, it would be perfect. This album will be on rotation for years to come. Check out my DPRP review here.
The Pineapple Thief – Dissolution
For some reason, this album has largely avoided my attention since I first listened to it when it came out, but listening to it right now proves to me that it should be on a year-end list. I’ll give it closer attention in the year ahead.
Stryper – God Damn Evil
This may not be prog exactly, but it is metal at its finest. Stryper are better in 2018 than they were in 1985. Their songs are better musically, and Michael Sweet has better control of his vocals. This band is outstanding.
Yes – Fly From Here – Return Trip
I had never heard this album before (I have since listened to the original), but I now love it. The Fly From Here suite is one of the best things Yes ever wrote. Trevor Horn sounds as good in 2018 as he did in 1980.
Ayreon – Universe Live
I’m not an Ayreon aficionado, but I like “their” music. This live version is exceptional, and the master even makes an appearance to sing and play guitar. If you’re an Ayreon fan… well you probably pre-ordered this.
Kino – Radio Voltaire
This album is a great mix of progressive rock with a more popular styling. This is the sort of thing that would sound really good on contemporary rock radio if DJs did their jobs well.
Big Big Train – Merchants of Light
Big Big Train live? Yes please. Fantastic versions of Meadowland and Mead Hall in Winter. This is one that should be in everyone’s collection.
Steve Hackett – Wuthering Nights Live in Birmingham
Both the CDs and the DVD are brilliant. Hackett is at the top of his game, and this live version of classic Genesis songs and selections from Hackett’s solo career (including some from his last album) proves it.
Haken – L-1VE
This was the best live album of the year. It is brilliant and perfect in every respect… musically. The light show in the Blu-ray is a bit jarring, and some of the editing choices were suspect, such as the decision to include video from two different shows in the final product. The music by itself, though, is magnificent. The “Aquamedley” is a brilliant 20 or so minute interpretation of Aquarius. Check out my DPRP review here.
And now for my top two, tied for first place as my favorite albums of 2018:
Riverside – Wasteland
This album is brilliant. Even after the tragic loss of their guitarist a few years ago, the band managed to regroup and make something absolutely stunning. The metal moments and the contemplative sections combine to create a masterpiece. Here are my brief thoughts about the importance of this album in a world that needs this band: https://progarchy.com/2018/10/27/true-art-eschews-politics-even-in-the-wasteland/
Oak – False Memory Archive
Oak is the best new band since Haken. Their first two albums are perfect. Their music builds and swells with amazing precision and emotion. Classical and electronica, prog and heavy rock all mix together into a cohesive whole. This is what truly progressive rock looks like in 2018. Check out my Progarchy review of it here.
And there we have it, folks. Another stand-up year for prog in 2018, even if it took it a while to get rolling. I finally got to see Yes for the first time – I even got to see both versions. Check out my reviews of their fantastic shows:
I also saw Roger Daltrey perform The Who’s Tommy. That was an amazing show:
Here’s to an equally outstanding 2019. In the not-too-distant future we can expect a new album from Steve Hackett. I’ve heard an advanced copy, and it is even better than Wolflight and The Night Siren. More from the Neal Morse Band in the new year, and there are rumors of a new Nad Sylvan solo album. Mike Portnoy has also laid down some drums for a new Flying Colors album. We have a lot to look forward to.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everybody.