Bryan’s Best of 2022

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.

GH-2022-cover-1080px-PREVIEWGlass 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.

tangent-hard-shoulderThe 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 AllLobate 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/.

a0006828710_10Dave 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 ObscurGabriel 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/.

8716059014463-cover-zoomInhalo – 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 PlanetBig 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 FadeBig 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 EveryoneBjørn 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/.

dt-lightwork-front-coverDevin 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-immutableMeshuggah – 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-ContinuationPorcupine 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-ahbitd-1Marillion – 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/.

Oak - The Quiet Rebellion of Compromise1. 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/.


steven-wilson_limited-edition-of-one_bookMy 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.

Devin Townsend Lights the Night – “Lightwork” and “Nightwork”

Devin Townsend, Lightwork, 2022, Inside Out Music/Hevy Devy Records

Lightwork Tracks: Moonpeople (4:44), Lightworker (5:29), Equinox (4:39), Call of the Void (5:53), Heartbreaker (7:00), Dimensions (5:23), Celestial Signals (5:12), Heavy Burden (4:23), Vacation (3:10), Children of God (10:06)

Nightwork Tracks: Starchasm, Pt. 2 (4:34), Stampys Blaster (0:38), Factions (5:13), Yogi (3:57), Precious Sardine (10:14), Hope is in the World (4:16), Children of Dog (6:45), Sober (4:37), Boogus (3:33), Carry Me Home (4:04)

Devin Townsend seems to be the most eclectic artist operating in what could broadly be called the progressive music scene. He’s most well known for his work as a metal artist, having some of the finest clean and distorted vocals in the business. He’s also a stellar guitarist and an even better producer. Beyond the metal, he’s long dabbled in ambient music, and as of late he’s been blending the two together to marvelous effect. 2019’s Empath was a masterpiece demonstrating that extreme metal, musical theater, opera, and ambient music can blend into a powerful and moving epic.

Last year he released The Puzzle, a minor release that is primarily ambient with vocals serving more of an instrumental role, meaning it was more about the sound than the actual lyrics. That record reflected Devin’s mind as he processed the Covid-19 pandemic, especially the early phases of it. At the same time he released Snuggles, a shorter ambient album whose goal was to calm and soothe the listener. I can state from personal experience that it does just that. It’s a great antidote to anxiety and depression.

Last month found Devin releasing his latest “major” release, Lightwork, along with its slightly heavier companion album, Nightwork. His intention was to go lighter on this record, although the metal elements still pop up now and again, especially in the vocals, which vary from clean to distorted depending on what the songs need. It’s a very different record than Empath. I hesitate to call it “pop,” as that might conjure up images of Steven Wilson’s The Future Bites. I think there are some interesting parallels between Townsend and Wilson that are worth exploring in a future article, but Townsend’s approach to pop (for lack of a better word) is far more introspective than Wilson’s. Wilson often wears his influences on his sleeve, while still creating a signature sound. Townsend creates his own sound, incorporating elements from myriad genres to make music that sounds like no one else. If Lightwork can be called pop, it is because it is more accessible than some of Townsend’s other work. It still remains complex in its layering, lyrical themes, and overall sound.

Lightwork has less of a flow to it, with the focus being more on the actual songs. With the wall of sound approach Devin is known for, there is some blending together between tracks, so it never feels disjointed. There is a loose overall theme to the record of love and light – a port in the storm, as it were. Musically it ebbs and flows. “Lightworker” has some epic soaring vocal moments with orchestral layers and backing vocals, not dissimilar from bits of Empath. Devin holds nothing back vocally.

“Equinox” sees Devin delving into his more atmospheric rock side while incorporating memorable melodies. The use of distorted vocals in parts of the song is a contrast to the spacier elements of the music, but since Devin’s distorted vocals are easy to understand (one of the reasons he’s my favorite metal vocalist), it works really at conveying the emotion of the lyrics.

The world is gonna turn without you baby
Don’t worry about a thing it’s all a game

Just as it’s falling apart, I’ve fallen for you
Just as I tear it apart, I’ve fallen for you

Though we try to pretend that it’s not the end
It keeps us calm now babe

“Equinox”

This is easily my favorite song on the record. It’s relatively simple, but the intricate layers and vocal work draw me in every time. I feel like I’m standing in a giant open space surrounded by stars and a dancing aurora as the music swells over my head. Perhaps that’s a testament to Devin’s unmatched skill on the mixing board.

From the very beginning going back to his Strapping Young Lad days, Townsend has always been blisteringly brutal and honest in his lyrics. Those lyrics reflected his emotional state at the time. His lyrics today are equally emotional and honest, but they’re so much more uplifting and hopeful. “Call of the Void” calls the listener to maintain composure in the face of the world’s insanity. Devin’s voice leads the charge with soulful grit.

Cause whеn you see the world’s insane reaction
To follow your hеart, the worst reaction is to freak out
So don’t you freak out
Cause when you feel the urge to feign reaction
Just follow your heart, the worst reaction is to freak out
So don’t you freak out
 
You want them to see the world the same as you and
To feel the pain the same as you
But everybody in the world’s different point of view
Can never see the world the same

“Call of the Void”
 

“Dimensions” is a heavier track with an industrial sound. The bass, courtesy of Jonas Hellborg, dominates. The song is metal, but not in a traditional sense. It’s closer to a band like Rammstein than Iron Maiden. The screamed section is sung over a quieter section of music, and when his vocals step into the background, the music gets louder. An interesting back and forth. The song also features a guitar solo from Mike Keneally.

“Celestial Signals” follows it with a much larger and more open sound, flinging us back amongst the stars in swirling guitars and swelling vocals from both Devin, the choir and Ché Aimee Dorval and/or Anneke van Giersbergen (both sing on both records, and usually it’s easy to tell the difference, but the backing vocals on this track are set pretty deep into the mix).

The final track, “Children of God,” is the longest at just over ten minutes. It also has a large and open sound with lyrics dancing on a cliff of blended sounds, with drums being the most distinct.

Lightwork is hard to nail down as any one “thing.” There’s so much going on. “Vacation” is in direct opposition to “Heavy Burden,” and yet somehow it works. Devin’s quirkiness keeps you on your toes.


While Nightwork may be a companion album, it’s every bit as good, or maybe better. As the name may imply, the album is heavier than Lightwork. It opens with a more straightforward “Devin” metal track. Blasting drums (thanks Morgan Ågren), crunching guitars, and both Devin and Anneke on vocals. Steve Vai also contributes “additional instrumentation” to “Starchasm, Pt. 2.” For those curious about “Pt. 2,” “Starchasm” is a track on last year’s The Puzzle. “Stampys Blaster” picks right up with a 38 second bit of uplifting heavy metal bordering on extreme metal with intense blast beats, all while Devin sings “I love you all.”

“Factions” is another blistering metal track with brilliantly complex drumming and Devin’s signature crunchy guitars and vocals. It’s lightyears away from Lightwork, yet it’s right at home in the Devin universe. The atmospheric screams of “Sorry… I’m sorry…” over a wall of drums is eminently relatable. The song has two neoclasslical style shredding guitar solos that sound different from Devin’s playing, but the album notes don’t say they were played by anyone else, so…

Nightwork does bounce around in style, though, with “Yogi” being a different animal entirely. Quirky, bouncy, not metal at all, but still definitely Devin. “Precious Sardine” reminds me of The Puzzle, with various musical styles and vocals acting more like background instruments. “Hope is in the World” and “Children of Dog” (a reworking of “Children of God”) are more upbeat tracks like Lightwork. They retain metal elements, but they’re brighter songs.

“Sober” is my favorite track off both albums. It is atmospheric, spacey, and intensely emotional. The backing sound of waves add to the ebb and flow of the song. The lyrics are profoundly moving, reflecting the confusion and desperation of addiction as it relates to relationships:

How can you want me, if I can’t stay sober?
And how could you leave me in this state?

I can’t help these feelings that have come into my life
I can’t seem to be the one I used to want to fight

How can you want me, if I can’t stay over?
And how could you leave me in this place?

Time is falling into silence
I’m already tired
All the dreams we had are dying
You’re not even trying

It’s alright

How can you want me, if I can’t stay sober?
And how could you leave me in this state?

How could you leave me?

“Sober”

It’s a very reflective song, which is slightly disturbed by the next song, “Boogus.” “Boogus” is a very fun song made in a distinctly 1960s style reminding me of The Munsters sound track. It’s very fun, and not a style you hear much anymore. But, I think it should have been placed somewhere else on the album, with “Carry Me Home” following “Sober” to close the record. “Carry Me Home” is a peaceful track reflecting the realities of a couple’s love after many years into a relationship:

But oh, I hope you understand
I still love you now the way I did back then

“Carry Me Home”

Mental health has been a prominent theme in Devin’s lyrics in the past, especially in more recent years with his positivity seemingly meant to uplift his listener’s spirits.

‘Cause it’s so hard to give when it’s hard enough to live
And you wanna die, defeat flat on the floor
Well, the nights go by, and still we try to keep some sense of this
Give me hope
Home, on the way home
And I wonder why I ever left at all
Carry me home, all the way home
Let’s simplify and get right back to it all
Carry me home…

“Carry Me Home”

Sometimes life is just hard, and we need someone to carry us home.


In many ways, Nightwork is my favorite of the two records, despite it being a companion. Perhaps the heaviness of the first few tracks is more my speed, or the atmospheric brilliance and honesty of “Sober” and “Carry Me Home” keep running through my head. I find it hard to separate the two albums. I bought the fancy special edition in a vinyl gatefold-sized package (2 CDs, 1 blu-ray) with colorful artwork for days, and my iTunes automatically put Nightwork as disc two of the deluxe edition of Lightwork, rather than a separate album.

The variety of musical sounds on these albums might not be for everyone, but I appreciate the art Townsend is making. He’s making the music he feels like making, even if he knows (and worries) that it may upset some people. His sensitivity shines through, and if you keep an open mind, you’ll find a lot to enjoy while broadening your musical horizons. For those turned off in the past to Devin’s heavier side, Lightwork is a must-listen. I think you’ll find it much more accessible, and perhaps you too can come to more fully appreciate the brilliance of Devin Townsend. He is, after all, one of the most interesting artists in music. Everything he makes is worth paying attention to. As such, I recommend you get one of the editions that includes both albums, rather than just Lightwork.

https://hevydevy.com
Merch: https://www.omerch.com/shop/devintownsend

Bryan’s Best of the Decade, 2012-2022

As we here at Progarchy continue to celebrate our tenth anniversary, we’re moving from talking about our favorite artists of the decade to our favorite albums. Since 2014 I’ve compiled a “best of” list highlighting my favorite music of the year. Looking back, I still stand behind my lists because they represent where I was with music at the time. But now as I look back and try to compile a top ten for 2012-2022, my list looks a little bit different. The following list reflects my views and tastes regarding the last ten years as they sit right now. It’s all very fluid and subjective.

But enough blathering. On with my top ten. The only limit I put on myself was I didn’t want to repeat artists, because otherwise it would all be Big Big Train or Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy. Limiting myself to one album from each of those artists was difficult, but I’ll steer you back to my yearly best of lists at the end of the article, for those artists abound in those lists.

[Headline links, for those that have them, link to Progarchy reviews, articles, or interviews associated with the album.]

10. Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light Of Day (2017)Pain of Salvation - Passing Light of DayI missed this album when it came out, although I remember reading about it in Prog magazine. I came to appreciate Pain of Salvation with their 2020 album, Panther, which was my top album of the year. I finally started to dig into their back catalog this summer, and I’ve been blown away. In The Passing Light Of Day is a brilliant tour-de-force of emotions. Some of the lyrics I think are too sexually explicit, which is primarily why I rank it at number 10 and why I almost kicked it off my top ten. But the music and melodies are so good, and most of the lyrics are incredibly profound. I also think Ragnar Zolberg brought a lot to the table and was a great balance to Daniel Gildenlöw.

9. The Neal Morse Band – Innocence and Danger (2021)
The Neal Morse Band Innocence & DangerIt was hard to pick one of the MANY albums made by Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy  over the past decade. They’re all just so good, so I took the easy way out and picked the most recent. I think this is the most well put-together of all the Neal Morse Band albums. “Beyond the Years” is one of the finest pieces of music to come out of the last several years.

8. TesseracT – Portals (2021)
tesseract-portalsPortals is a brilliant album. It is unique on this list for being a live release, but it is also unique for being a live-in-studio release – a product of the pandemic. I suppose that’s why I don’t rank it higher on this list, but I’ve been listening to it a ton since it came out. I even broke down recently and bought the fancy deluxe CD/DVD/Blu-ray edition. I think most of the tracks on here sound better than they do on the original albums. The album also introduced me to the band, as well as to the world of djent. The way the band blends djent riffs with Floydian spacey motifs is just perfect. One of the finest bands in the world right now.

7. Haken – The Mountain (2013)
haken mountainI go in spurts when listening to Haken (like I do with many bands). The Mountain has a magnificent blend of metal with splashes of 70s golden age prog. Songs like “Atlas Stone,” “The Cockroach King,” “Falling Back to Earth,” and “Pareidolia” have become prog metal classics, in my book. I’ve come to think Haken isn’t as compelling in their quiet tracks as bands like Riverside of TesseracT, but this entire album is still very listenable nine years later.

6. Marillion – F.E.A.R. (2016)
arton33729Marillion’s F.E.A.R. was my introduction to the band, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed diving back into their catalog. I’d have to say I think this is one of their best with Hogarth. Their latest album, “An Hour Before It’s Dark,” comes very close to it, but “Reprogram the Gene” knocks it down a peg for me. F.E.A.R. combines musical prowess with cultural critique to wonderful effect, even if I may disagree with Hogarth at points.

5. Riverside – Shrine of New Generation Slaves (2013)
riversideI had a hard time deciding which of Riverside’s three studio albums from the past decade to choose. Love, Fear and the Time Machine and Wasteland are both brilliant, and if I had allowed myself to choose multiple albums from the same artist in a top ten, Wasteland would probably be here too, but I think Shrine edges both of them out. It’s heavy, both musically and lyrically. Several of the songs turn into real earworms for me, and I’m never disappointed when I return to this record. And it’s another one on this list that I discovered several years after its release.

4. Oak – False Memory Archive (2018)
Oak false memory archiveOak is my favorite new band of the last decade. Both their 2013 (2016 release on CD) album Lighthouse and 2018’s False Memory Archive are brilliant albums, if not perfect. This record was my top album of 2018, and Lighthouse was my top album of 2016 (I didn’t realize at the time it had been released digitally earlier). The Norwegian melancholic aesthetic is dripping from both albums. It was hard to pick one of the two, but the closing track on False Memory Archive, “Psalm 51,” is one of the finest album closers I’ve ever heard. I think that gives this record the edge.

3. Devin Townsend – Empath (2019)
Devin Townsend - EmpathI was blown away by Devin Townsend’s Empath when it came out – so much so that I bought the 2CD deluxe version that year and the super deluxe version when Inside Out funded that project the next year. The record masterfully blends all the aspects of Devin’s career into a truly unique and truly Devin experience. It has the heavy bombast of Strapping Young Lad at points, yet it’ll soar into orchestral and even operatic highs elsewhere – or even at the same time. Pure musical theater in the best way. Devin’s vocal performance on “Why?” is stunning, and the message of hope on “Spirits Will Collide” is always a pleasant reminder that life is worth living. The production side of things, with Devin’s famed “wall of sound,” is unmatched in his career, or anyone else’s for that matter.

2. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase. (2015)

Steven_Wilson_Hand_Cannot_Erase_coverHere we come to one of the truly great albums of our time. I would certainly rank this in a top 10 best albums of all time. Back in 2015, this album was my number 3 pick, with The Tangent’s “A Spark in the Aether” coming in at number 1. Now I still think that’s a great record, and I wrestled with whether or not to include it in my top 10, but I think over time Wilson’s masterpiece has proven to be a generational album. Both the music and the story sound fresh, even seven years and many listens later. The themes of isolation and loneliness in city life (or life in general) will always be relatable. Someone 100 years from now could listen to this record, and while they may miss some of the references (even I still miss some of them), the underlying theme will still connect. That’s what places this record up there with the likes of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

1. Big Big Train – English Electric: Full Power (2013)
Big Big Train English Electric Full PowerThe defining band and defining album for the last decade of prog. Looking back, this record was the one that got me into the contemporary progressive rock scene. Returning to it today is a special treat, as I hope it always will be. It contains everything you might want out of a quintessentially “English” progressive rock band. It has the rock, the folk elements, the complex musicality, the well-told stories. And then there’s David Longdon’s voice, showing us his command of the material and his command of the upcoming several years in the prog scene. When I traveled to England in 2015 (which to me felt like a longer distance between its release than it feels between now and that visit – it’s weird how your perception of time changes as you grow older) I really wanted to listen to this album while being out in the hedgerows and fields. I can still remember sitting on a bus traveling between towns listening to English Electric (I wrote more about this in a piece back in 2016). There are a lot of good emotions connected to this record for me. But beyond that, Big Big Train showed us all that they were THE powerhouse in the new generation of prog bands. They were who all the younger bands were going to look up to for the next decade, and they did it all themselves. Sure, the journey began when Longdon boarded back in 2009 for The Underfall Yard, but English Electric was where they really picked up steam. Every album since has been magnificent, with many topping my best of lists in the ensuing years, but this one will always be the quintessential Big Big Train album for me.


As a coda to this review of the past decade in the best of prog, I want to give you the albums I picked as my favorites for the years 2014-2021 (I didn’t start my best of lists until ’14). I’ll include links to those lists as well. I find it interesting how I’ve “discovered” albums and bands even within the last year that have soared up my list, even if I missed them when they came out. Better late than never.

  • 2014Flying Colors – Second Nature  – I saw them live right after this was released. It’s a great record and a great band, but the poppier edge doesn’t stick with me as much as the records on my list above do.
  • 2015 – The Tangent – A Spark in the Aether – I shared above how Wilson’s Hand. Cannot. Erase. has grown in my estimation. I still think this is one of The Tangent’s finest records.
  • 2016 – Oak – Lighthouse – Even if its original release was 2013, this record still dominated my listening in 2016 and was my album of that year.
  • 2017Big Big Train – Grimspound, The Second Brightest Star, London Song, Merry Christmas EP – Enough said. Brilliant band. Brilliant music. Brilliant year for them.
  • 2018 – Oak – False Memory Archive
  • 2019 – Devin Townsend – Empath
  • 2020 – Pain of Salvation – Panther – I still think this is a great album. I listened to it yesterday at work, in fact. It was my intro to the band, and maybe I was shocked by how different it was from everything else I had been listened to in the genre. I’d still rank this record extremely highly, but I don’t know if I would put it at the top of the list if I were making a 2020 list today.
  • 2021 – Big Big Train – Common Ground – What can I say? I like Big Big Train.

Thanks for reading through all this. If you’ve been a prog fan throughout this past decade, I hope this brought back some good memories. If you’re new to prog, consider every album mentioned in this post as your homework over the coming weeks. Prepare to be blown away.

Here’s to hoping the next decade is even better.

Bryan’s Best of 2021

We’ve come to the end of another year, and what a horrible year it has been. Really the only positive thing I can think of from this year is the music. In addition to all the non-music nonsense that has gone on this year, we lost from legends in the prog world, none hurting more than the tragic and completely unexpected death of David Longdon. That one will hurt for a long time.

I usually write my best of lists in no particular order, with my top pick(s) at the end. So without further ado…

Robby Steinhard Not in Kansas AnymoreRobby Steinhardt – Not In Kansas Anymore

Robby Steinhardt was another prog legend we lost unexpectedly earlier this year. He hadn’t been active in music for quite some time, but that was about to change as he was finishing up his first solo album and had plans for a tour. Sadly the latter was not to be, but we did end up getting his solo album in the fall. It’s a great record, and it shows what a key player he was in Kansas. His vocals are stellar, and his violin playing is second to none. This record has a bit of the magic that I think Kansas lacks without Steinhardt. There are more musical influences at work than just Kansas on this record. It’s not a solid 10/10 throughout, but it is a very good record. Check out my review and my tribute to Robby.

Devin Townsend Galactic QuarantineDevin Townsend – Devolution Series #2 – Galactic Quarantine

Devin Townsend has been a busy bee this year. In addition to working on three new records this year, he released two minor releases of live material. The first is an acoustic album (see my glowing review) from a show he did in Leeds in 2019. It’s a raw and emotional take on his music. The Galactic Quarantine album is one of his live-streamed albums from 2020 with the musicians playing live on green screens across the world. The music is blisteringly great, with a surprising amount of Strapping Young Lad material played. Devin humorously engages with his virtual audience, which makes the music come to life a bit more. This has been one I’ve returned to quite a bit this year. Perhaps an unorthodox release, but it would make a really good entrance point for the uninitiated to the heavier side of Devin’s music. Check out my review.

8250379_e4a1fc34c7Soen – Imperial

It turns out we never reviewed Soen’s latest album, which was released in January. The Swedish prog-metal supergroup can do no wrong. Their songs are catchy, memorable, and thoughtful. They can be both heavy and contemplative, and in my book they rank in the upper echelon of progressive metal. This record has been on repeat all year.

Atravan - The Grey LineAtravan – The Grey Line

Sticking with the progressive metal theme, Atravan was a pleasant surprise at the beginning of the year. This is the first Iranian band we’ve ever reviewed here at Progarchy, and they’re fantastic. I’m so glad the band reached out to us. They make metal in the vein of Riverside – heavy, spacey, wall of sound. Definitely a band that deserves recognition, although I worry what too much recognition could do for them with the repressive Iranian regime. Check out my review.

Continue reading “Bryan’s Best of 2021”

Devin Townsend Provides Video Update About Upcoming Albums

Devin Townsend released a video on his YouTube channel today updating us all on his upcoming albums – Puzzle, Snuggles, and Lightwork. Sadly due to supply issues for plastic, the release date is being pushed back to December 3, 2021. Townsend continues to work on the new Lightwork album as well, with the finished record due to the label right before the new release date for the two other projects. More from the man himself:

https://youtu.be/L9t17ldEb44

A Hevy Devy Year: Devin Townsend’s “Galactic Quarantine”

Devin Townsend Galactic QuarantineDevin Townsend, Devolution Series #2 – Galactic QuarantineInside Out Music, 2021
Tracks: Velvet Kevorkian (02:28), All Hail The New Flesh (05:32), By Your Command (08:18), Almost Again (03:42), Juular (03:50), March Of The Poozers (05:25), Supercrush! (05:15), Hyperdrive (03:42), Stormbending (05:21), Deadhead (07:55), Aftermath (06:51,), Love? (05:21), Spirits Will Collide (04:35), Kingdom (05:05), Detox (06:20)

Just a few months ago I pontificated about the sheer brilliance of the mighty Devin Townsend. I’m happy to announce that Devin has since surpassed my already high expectations with the release of the second volume of his Quarantine Series, this one formally entitled Devolution Series #2 – Galactic Quarantine.

Over the last year many music artists turned to the Internet when their ability to tour was cut off. None did it better than Devin Townsend. I’m not sure when he started live streaming, but I know I saw him announce impromptu live streams on Twitter pretty frequently as he worked on mixing various things. With his tour cut short, he began working on several live stream concerts, many of which raised money for hospitals in the UK and Canada in the early days of the pandemic.

This particular show originally aired on September 5, 2020 with musicians contributing from around the US and Canada. How anyone could pull this off to the extremely high level that he did it is astounding. It’s one thing to live stream yourself performing music, but it is another thing entirely to incorporate musicians from around the world and merge them onto a single screen. 

The setlist is a what’s what of some of the best music from Devin’s career, be it solo music, Devin Townsend Project, or Strapping Young Lad. It’s all good, and it’s all really really heavy. Sure, there’s plenty of cursing, but that’s par for the course with Devin and his music – particularly the Strapping stuff. Less so in his other work after Strapping. Besides, those Strapping songs have a level of rage that befits the world we live in. It’s also nice to hear Devin play that music again, especially since it seemed for a while like he wasn’t going to be returning to those songs or that style of music. He’s been very open about how it took a very toxic mindset for him to write that music all those years ago, but hopefully playing it doesn’t bring up those same emotions. For me, listening to it is rather cathartic. 

“Deadhead” is always a favorite when it gets included in his live sets, with its Floydian atmospherics and the gut-tearing crunch of Devin’s vocals. The sweetness of the clean vocals mixed with the grittiness of his distorted vocals perfectly represents the struggles of love that he sings about in the lyrics. 

He may end the live album with one of SYL’s most intense songs (“Detox”), but he also gives us the beautiful “Spirits Will Collide” off of Empath near the end of the show. There’s so much hope in those lyrics – really in that entire record. In that regard, this live show has some very disparate lyrical themes, but our lives are full of conflicting emotions. Why shouldn’t our music be full of that too. It can’t or shouldn’t be happiness and sunshine all the time, and likewise it shouldn’t be doom and gloom all the time. Balance is key. 

Musically the whole show is perfect. Guitars, drums, wall of sound… the mixing is fantastic, and many of the songs sound better than the original album recordings. Townsend’s vocals seem to get better with age, which makes for a thoroughly enjoyable listening experience. He’s one of those few artist’s that I would almost rather listen to live, in part because of his voice but all because of his sense of humor. 

This is yet another great minor release from Devin Townsend that any fan will certainly want to check out. This particular release would also make a good entry point for Devin’s music, since the tracklist features songs from across the heavier side of his career. Highly recommended.

http://www.hevydevy.com
http://www.facebook.com/dvntownsend
http://www.omerch.com
https://www.instagram.com/dvntownsend/
https://www.youtube.com/user/poopynuggeteer/featured

https://youtu.be/4rOhiHLPT9Q

 

The Unmatched Brilliance of Devin Townsend

In the documentary for his album Empath, Devin Townsend commented that many people have trouble understanding much of his musical output because his albums vary drastically in style. His work with Strapping Young Lad was as extreme as metal can get. On other albums he shows prog, classical, country, and even pop influences. He explained that he doesn’t play only one type of music because he would get bored. He doesn’t listen to only one kind of music for the same reason. 

I share Townsend’s sentiment. Why on earth would you want to listen to only one kind of music? Perhaps that’s why I’ve never really seen myself as a real metalhead, even though I really enjoy metal. You go to a metal concert, and many of the people in attendance only listen to metal. That’s fine – people can listen to what they like. I happen to get bored by listening to one kind of music, which is probably why I like progressive rock so much since it includes a broad array of sounds. But even within contemporary prog you’ll get those fans who will only listen to Spock’s Beard, Dream Theater, Marillion, etc., or those folks who still only listen to Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, etc. and haven’t bothered to dig into the music being made today.

DevinTownsend_DevolutionTo those people who aren’t familiar with Devin Townsend (which includes Steven Wilson, by his own admission), you’re missing out on perhaps the most creative genius working in the music industry today. In the Empath documentary he talked about working with Mike Keneally, who has worked with many brilliant people, including Frank Zappa. Townsend says he would never dream of comparing himself with someone like Zappa, but I would. Townsend is every bit as creative, albeit in different ways. That documentary, which I believe is only available on the super deluxe version of Empath that Devin released last year, helps shed some light on Devin’s creative process. It also shows him in a very open and honest way. His new acoustic live album, Devolution Series #1 – Acoustically Inclined, Live in Leeds, was his attempt to strip away all the fluff from his stage shows and connect with audiences in a very open way. 

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Have a Very Merry Prog Christmas

I’d like to strike the next person who says “Christmas this year will look a bit different.” Well it doesn’t have to sound different. If you find yourself alone this Christmas Eve/Christmas (like me), there’s plenty of Christmas-related prog to keep you entertained.

Devin Townsend’s Christmas livestream
A couple hours ago Devin Townsend released a Christmas-themed live stream. If you’ve ever wanted to see the mad genius imitate a crooner, you’re in luck. Mostly he plays his own music spanning his career, and his whole demeanor is incredibly calming. It’s an acoustic set and a one-man show, so if you’re not as big a fan of the extreme side of his career, then this is the show for you. Ok it’s Devin so there are a few screams, which are almost comical considering he’s playing an acoustic guitar. The acoustic version of Strapping Young Lad’s “Love” is pure gold in that regard. The man has a golden voice no matter how he’s using it.

Dream Theater’s “The Holiday Spirit Carries On”
The mighty Dream Theater released a Christmas medley track a couple weeks ago to raise money for their live crew. It’s $2.99, and all the proceeds go to their crew. If you’ve ever wanted to hear James LaBrie sing “Fa-la-la-la-la la la-la la, then you had better buy the track soon because it’s only available during the month of December: https://dreamtheaterofficial.bandcamp.com. Here’s a brief sample:

Neal Morse’s “Last Minute Christmas Album”
Neal Morse decided to write a Christmas album over the last couple weeks, and it is available for download over at his label, Radiant Records. It’s his singer-songwriter side of things rather than his prog side, but it’s still Neal Morse. https://www.nealmorse.com/2020/12/19/download-now-neal-morse-last-minute-christmas-album/

Big Big Train’s “Merry Christmas” and “Snowfalls”
Big Big Train released the single “Merry Christmas” along with the even-better B-side “Snowfalls” back in 2017. They’ve become two of my favorite tracks of the season, and I would love to hear a whole album of original Christmas music from them, along with their take on some classic Christmas carols.

Jethro Tull’s Christmas Album
“The Jethro Tull Christmas Album” has been a favorite of mine for several years now. I listen to it every Christmas season.

LEAH’s “Ancient Winter”
It’s been a while since we’ve heaped praises upon the head of Canadian Leah McHenry. Last year she released “Ancient Winter,” a wonderful album celebrating the winter season. This album leans more into her Celtic influences than her metal influences, which fits the season. Definitely worth a listen or two.

There’s other Christmas prog out there, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. May you have a blessed holiday in spite of everything going on in the world. Christmas is a time when we remember that God humbled Himself to be born as one of us so that He could live like us before sacrificing His very life so that we might live forever if we follow Him. His burden is light when compared to the weight of our sin, and if 2020 has taught us anything, it is that we’d all be better off bearing that burden than the weight of the world. There’s always hope in the world, no matter what’s going on. This music is just a little glimpse of the goodness available to us even in the darkest moments.

Merry Christmas.

Devin Townsend Announces Live Album – “Order Of Magnitude – Empath Live Volume 1”

Great news from Inside Out music for all of us who missed Devin Townsend on his most recent tour – and for everyone who missed shows that were canceled because of the pandemic. He is also doing a live online show on September 5. More on that below.

The following courtesy of Inside Out:

Devin Townsend will release ‘Order Of Magnitude – Empath Live Volume 1’ on October 23rd, 2020, a document of his Winter 2019 European tour that saw him taking on possibly his most ambitious live show to date.

Recorded in December 2019 in London, UK on the penultimate night of the tour in support of his latest album ‘Empath’, this run of shows saw Devin joined by an incredible line-up of musicians. The band was made up of guitarists Mike Kenneally (ex-Frank Zappa) and Markus Reuter (Stick Men, The Crimson Project), drummer Morgen Agren (Kaipa, Mats & Morgan, Frank Zappa), bassist Nathan Navarro, Haken keyboard player Diego Tejeida, and guitarist/vocalist Ché Aimee Dorval, as well as vocalists Samantha & Anne Preis and Arabella Packford.

Devin’s plan for the Empath touring cycle was to divide it up into three ‘Volumes’, and this was Volume 1. The idea behind the shows was a simple one: none of the backing tapes or click tracks that had long been necessary to bring the kaleidoscopic cacophony in his head and on his records to life in the flesh. This would just be Devin Townsend and a band of genius-level musicians getting up there and trying to keep it from spinning off into outer space. Or maybe just letting it spin-off into outer space for the sheer hell of it.

The whole objective was that I wanted to make that statement: This is by the seat our pants,” he says. “Because it’s important to me to represent this hyper anal-retentive music that I’ve made over the years, but in a human way. Rather than it just being, ‘Well, here it is, perfectly done.’

I was overwhelmed by the fact that all these brilliant people that I have so much respect for were willing to come together and play this weird shit with me,” says Devin. “I had these unique players and this interesting instrumentation that allowed us to interpret the music in different ways. It was clear to me that I could just have fun and be me and know that they would be effortlessly be able to follow that.

Continue reading “Devin Townsend Announces Live Album – “Order Of Magnitude – Empath Live Volume 1””

Bryan’s Best of 2019

Here we are at the end of another year. As you’re probably well aware, 2019 has been the latest in a string of great years for progressive rock and metal. Overall it didn’t blow me away like other years have (a few particular albums did however), but I think that’s more because of how my year has gone. I finished up grad school in the spring, and I spent the entire year job-searching before finally starting a new job at the beginning of this month. A couple of important people in my life died this year as well, so overall it has been a year full of challenges. My ability to properly soak in all the great music that has been released understandably suffered. But nevertheless, I found much to enjoy this year, and the following are some of my favorites. They are in no particular order except for my top three down at the bottom of this list.

Rise Twain – Rise Twain

The first album by Philadelphia-area duo Rise Twain is a stellar example of what popular music should be. Brett Kull and J. D. Beck are excellent songwriters and equally talented musicians. They combine the simplicity of a good song with the more technical aspects of prog. While it may be hard to call this a “prog” album, it certainly has many varied influences that make this a solid showing. Check out my review and interview with Brett Kull here: https://progarchy.com/2019/08/30/a-conversation-with-brett-kull-of-rise-twain/

Soen – Lotus

This is a magnificent album. Beautifully heavy, as any metal album should be, it retains an ability to move int0 peaceful contemplative spaces. When this album rocks, it rocks hard, and it keeps an upbeat tone that so many metal albums often lose. “Lotus” delivers musically, lyrically, and vocally. Check out Time Lord’s review here: https://progarchy.com/2019/01/09/album-preview-soen-lotus-soenmusic/

Continue reading “Bryan’s Best of 2019”