Today is the most auspicious date of 21/12, so tradition demands we share our Top 10 Prog Albums of 2019 with you.
So, without further ado, the list below proceeds in chronological order, listing the ten albums that we listened to the most as each successive month in 2019 passed:
Steve Hackett, At the Edge of Light, is a highly addictive disc that can be returned to again and again with much enjoyment. Who would have thought that Hackett — even more so than Gabriel, Collins, Rutherford, or Banks — would become the Genesis member with the greatest longevity and prog productivity? But the facts are inescapable. Denizens of Progarchy must salute the mighty Hackett, who proudly flies the prog flag and who this year delivered one of the most impressive slabs of satisfying musical excellence. Prog on, Steve, prog on!
The Neal Morse Band, The Great Adventure, is one of the greatest things Neal Morse has ever done and one of the greatest concept albums ever. Remarkably, the entire composition can be seen as musical variations on the song “A Love That Never Dies” which is an incredibly impressive achievement: the album is not episodic (a familiar concept album failing) but rather an amazingly integrated artistic whole, one sign of which is the intricately unified musical composition itself.
Big Big Train, Grand Tour, shows that BBT, like the Neal Morse Band, maintains its place at the forefront of prog excellence. It’s not all reruns and remakes of Genesis and Yes, as the cynics could complain about prog. No, prog is indeed a mighty tradition, and we salute the greatest originators and practitioners within that tradition, as we always must. But we also recognize the new originals and finest craftsmen of our day. BBT remains firmly in that camp, and Progarchy was born out of a shared love for their greatness. So, we are pleased to report that this year they continue to have still never wavered. No, they steadily prog on in glory.
IZZ, Don’t Panic, bursts forth with a blaze of early Yes-inspired tribute, and soon morphs into its own distinctive quirky and whimsical prog idiom. The musicianship and wonderful vocals here are a source of never-ending happiness. This album repays repeated listens and firmly established itself on our short list of the most loved.
Whiteside’s Daughter, The Life You Save, is a short but stunning concept album with a highly compelling story about physical and spiritual abuse. Its high impact hard rock is established with perfect guitar riffs and a Southern metal idiom. The terrifying grip of “Abomination, Exorcism” highlights the dramatic crux. The album ends with a climax that could be read either way: hopeful resurrection from the ashes, or tragic demise. In any case, the definitive articulation here is the undeniable power of rock and roll within the economy of real salvation.
District 97, Screens, exhibits D97 from every appealing side of this truly multi-sided and musically accomplished group. While it starts off by showing us the D97 we already know and love, soon it shows the D97 that is still growing greater and more unexpectedly bliss inducing. The track “Bread and Yarn” stages an ambush on the listener’s expectations and, for this reviewer at least, become one of the most thrilling musical adventures of the year. No less than Bill Bruford has endorsed this band’s prog cred, so if you are not yet a listener, then why are you still depriving yourself of so much joy?
Tool, Fear Inoculum, blew us away with its devastating sonic blast. There is so much happening here that must be celebrated. It is not only the greatest thing Tool has ever done, it attains the heights of the greatest and most compelling prog metal of all time. If one album were to be chosen as the favorite of the year (as hard as that is to do with so much excellence this year to choose from), we would most likely ratify the judgment of Progarchy’s Rick K. that Tool has indeed here given us the album of the year.
Opeth, In Cauda Venenum, is another remarkable prog metal achievement. Yet again, here we have another venerable collective of artists who have unexpectedly delivered their finest album to date. The depth and richness of this stunning album will be savored for years to comes. For those who would choose this as their album of the year, the judgment is most understandable. Tool only wins out in our own heart because of the even more relentless heaviness of their metal, whereas Opeth here unveils a tenderly delicate sophistication in many quiet and even jazzy moments.
Flying Colors, Third Degree, offers us their third album which surpasses their second and comes close to regaining the heights established by their first. The bonus track that begins the second bonus disc, “Waiting For the Sun,” is actually our favorite track from the entire panoply. On our playlist, we place it as track one, and then the rest of the album falls into place in regular succession. So, if you do not yet have the special box set edition of this album, you have to get it, because without it you are lacking what is, in our opinion, a magic key for unlocking and opening up your own most proper disposition to the glories of the musical gifts contained within. Besides, you get coasters, and why don’t more bands have collectible coasters for your beer? Megadeth is doing it right, by actually creating their own craft beer, and you would think more prog bands would be open to doing this creative thing. As usual, BBT is already doing it, but alas we cannot obtain their BBT beer in the New World. But we are pleased to report that Megadeth’s A Tout Le Monde beer is most delicious: a formidable saison ale that also looks good on our Flying Colors coasters.
Yes, From A Page, was unexpected in terms of just how much it stunningly measures up to the greatest of Yes’s historical output. The four new studio tracks unveiled here have us convinced that in some alternate corner of the multiverse, Benoit and Oliver are rightly the prime movers of late-era Yes. The vocals and keyboards here are absolutely perfect and an unforeseen source of never-failing delight. Yes is truly one of the greatest prog collectives of all time, and here we have revealed the shining example of two largely untapped sources within the Yes tradition of boundless creativity and musical joy. Well done, gents. To be musically surprised by a band name that has been around this long is a welcome gift. Prog on indeed.