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”

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.

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