This year has been an interesting one for me musically. For much of the middle of the year I was absorbed by older progressive metal music, primarily diving into back catalogs for Meshuggah, Pain of Salvation, TesseracT, and Caligula’s Horse. I found that I wasn’t as compelled by more traditional “prog rock,” at least not in its shorter forms. I did find myself enjoying some of the longer form tracks, like Lobate Scarp’s “Flowing Through The Change” and Ryo Okumoto’s “The Myth Of The Mostrophus.” Much of my favorite new music leaned towards post-progressive music, with a few more traditional picks thrown in as well. I’ve reviewed a lot of music this year and listened to far more, some of which would have made a best-of list in years past where I listened to less music. Alas.
The following order is relatively arbitrary apart from my top album at the end.
Glass Hammer – At The Gate
The third record in Glass Hammer’s Skallagrim trilogy of fantasy albums doesn’t disappoint. In fact in may be the best of the trilogy. Equal parts heavy and proggy, I think my favorite parts are when the band goes full Rush. You don’t hear many bands really showing a mature Rush influence (as opposed to hearing elements of a Rush sound), and it was great to hear it on this album.
The Tangent – Songs From The Hard Shoulder
The Tangent returned this year with a collection of prog epics (and one R&B, disco, funk track), sure to thrill longstanding fans and possibly scare away the uninitiated. Check out my review of the album: https://progarchy.com/2022/06/28/album-review-the-tangent-songs-from-the-hard-shoulder/. Check out Rick Krueger’s interview with Andy Tillison, as well: https://progarchy.com/2022/05/27/andy-tillison-the-progarchy-interview/.
Lobate Scarp – You Have It All
This record was a long time in the making for Lobate Scarp and it’s mastermind, Adam Sears. The record masterfully blends prog with pop sensibility, all while bearing a strong Spock’s Beard influence. My favorite song is the 17-minute “Flowing Through The Change.” Beyond that, I’ve found many of the uplifting lyrics from other tracks running through my mind over the course of the year. Check out Time Lord’s review: https://progarchy.com/2022/05/06/album-review-you-have-it-all-by-lobate-scarp/.
Dave Brons – Return to Arda
Dave Brons recently released a follow-up to his 2020 Tolkien-influenced record, Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost. Return to Arda looks at nature within Tolkien’s “Middle-Earth” through a celtic progressive rock lens. Featuring vocals from Sally Minnear, and mixing by Dave Bainbridge. Check out the album on Bandcamp: https://davebrons.bandcamp.com/album/return-to-arda.
Gabriel Keller – Clair Obscur
I reviewed quite a few albums from France this year, and this record was my favorite of those. It contains a blend of English and French lyrics with multiple vocalists. The album has a variety of styles, gradually getting darker and heavier as it goes along. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2022/11/13/gabriel-kellers-stunning-musical-journey-clair-obscur/.
Inhalo – Sever
I reviewed this debut album from the Dutch proggers for the Dutch Progressive Rock Page earlier this year, and it was a very pleasant surprise for me. It reminded me of TesseracT if they were playing just hard rock and not metal. Very atmospheric with a mature sound. I love their wall-of-sound approach. It’s a solid record, and I look forward to more music from the band. Check out my DPRP review: https://www.dprp.net/reviews/2022/071.
Big Big Train – Welcome To The Planet
This record was bittersweet, being the final Big Big Train record to feature David Longdon on lead vocals. It was also an album of change for the band, with new member Carly Bryant taking a more prominent role on the record compared to Common Ground released a mere six months earlier. The record contains a pleasant blend of the band’s more accessible bits as well as their proggy moments. “Capitoline Venus” is a touching love song, while “Oak and Stone” fits in a long tradition of Big Big Train’s pastoral contemplative tracks. The title track is a bit unlike anything we’ve heard from the band, at least during Longdon’s tenure, reflecting Bryant’s new influence. It took me a few listens, as it took me by surprise at first. But once I “got” it, I really came to enjoy it. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2022/01/19/album-review-big-big-trains-welcome-to-the-planet/; and check out Rick’s review too: https://progarchy.com/2022/01/21/ricks-quick-takes-for-january/.
Big Big Train – Summer Shall Not Fade
The band’s 2018 performance at the Night of the Prog in Loreley, Germany, has been a bit legendary amongst the band’s fans for years, and I suspect the band decided to release it this year due to Longdon’s tragic passing last year. The concert finds the “classic” lineup of the band playing at or near their best in front of a very large crowd. We’re reminded of how great a frontman Longdon really was. It’s a pleasant way to remember this part of the band’s history. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2022/11/05/big-big-train-summer-shall-not-fade/.
Bjørn Riis – Everything To Everyone
This record dominated my listening early in the year. Riis is an excellent guitarist, and his atmospheric rock is always compelling. Every one of his solo albums is worth listening to for his music, vocals, and lyrics. His albums are melancholic, like most of the progressive rock I’ve heard from Norway. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2022/05/09/album-review-bjorn-riis-everything-to-everyone/.
Devin Townsend – Lightwork/Nightwork
Devin may have gone quieter on Lightwork, but the album displays his talent as well as any of his records. His skills as a mixer, writer, composer, guitarist, and singer are on full display. The companion album, Nightwork, has some heavier moments, perhaps to soothe parts of his fan base. Either way, both records are great. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2022/12/22/devin-townsend-lights-the-night-lightwork-and-nightwork/.
Meshuggah – Immutable
It has taken me close to a decade of listening to progressive metal before I was able to finally get into Meshuggah, and it happened this year! I’ve long known about them and respected them, but I just couldn’t get it. Maybe me getting into Devin Townsend’s more extreme side over the past couple years helped open that door, but I’m now a big Meshuggah fan. I could even hear a Meshuggah riff (from “Demiurge”) coming from my knife and cutting board when I was chopping celery last week. “Immutable” is a fantastic record, finding the band tweaking their sound a bit without changing their substance at all. “Broken Cog” is heavy, brooding, and atmospheric. The scream of “broken cog” close to the end is absolutely epic. Check out Mahesh Sreekandath’s review: https://progarchy.com/2022/11/25/immutable/.
Porcupine Tree – Closure Continuation
I didn’t get into Porcupine Tree until after their hiatus following 2009’s “The Incident” and subsequent tours. I had no real expectations for this record, since Porcupine Tree has played a lot of different styles over the course of their long career. I kept an open mind, and I was highly rewarded. This album is pure Porcupine Tree without feeling like it’s trying to create a certain sound. It’s just what came about from the members writing and playing together on occasion over the past decade. Upon reflection, I think my dislike for some of Steven Wilson’s poppier solo work might be tempered if he continues to make music like this in other outlets. Check out Rick Krueger’s review of the band’s live show in Chicago: https://progarchy.com/2022/09/23/porcupine-tree-in-concert/.
Marillion – An Hour Before It’s Dark
Another record that dominated my listening early in the year. This record is almost as good as 2016’s F.E.A.R. Perhaps not quite, but it is close. It’s one I’ll likely enjoy for years to come. Well written music and lyrics (for the most part – I have my beefs with one track) that ponder the turmoil of the last few years. It’s a hopeful album that has some calls to reflect and change our ways. In the end, it makes you think, as all good art should. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2022/03/27/we-still-have-time-marillions-message-of-hope-an-hour-before-its-dark/.
1. Oak – The Quiet Rebellion Of Compromise
Oak never disappoint me. Their latest record finds them evolving their sound a little bit, but it is still definitively Oak. Their layered soundscapes, haunting vocals, and thoughtful lyrics have kept them at the top of my list of favorite newer bands since I first heard them in 2016, and they’ve only confirmed that for me with this record. They’re a band that deserves far more recognition from the prog world. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2022/12/14/oaks-third-masterpiece-the-quiet-rebellion-of-compromise/.
My favorite prog book of the year was Steven Wilson’s Limited Edition of One. Breaking the mold of rock artist memoirs, Wilson (and Mick Wall, who helped him in the writing process) created a post-modern masterpiece. I typically dislike anything deconstructive (in an academic sense), but Wilson turned it into an art form. He combines memories with lists of his favorite music, books, and movies along with more philosophical commentary on his career and on music in general. Check out my full review of the book: https://progarchy.com/2022/05/08/more-than-a-memoir-steven-wilsons-limited-edition-of-one/.
I only went to one concert this year: Steve Hackett. Interestingly, Hackett was the last concert I saw before governments shut everything down for Covid. The band played the Seconds Out setlist, along with some of his solo tracks. It was a brilliant show, with Hackett clearly demonstrating that his band is the best thing touring right now. He even released a live album from the tour that is well worth checking out. Check out my concert review: https://progarchy.com/2022/04/27/live-again-steve-hackett-plays-st-louis-4-26-22/. And check out Rick’s concert review too: https://progarchy.com/2022/05/06/steve-hackett-in-concert-from-spectral-surrender-to-seconds-out/.
This best-of list feels woefully incomplete considering how much excellent music was released this year… Muse, The Flower Kings, Six by Six, Ryo Okumoto, The Bardic Depths, Cosmograf – all great records, but the above list really captured my attention for one reason or another.
Hopefully 2023 will be another great year for prog. As usual for me, music has been an escape, a sedative, a lighthouse in the storm. With 2022 being one of the most difficult years of my life, music provided much needed comfort and direction over the course of the year. I suspect that will continue in the new year.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone. Thanks so much for reading.