Bryan’s Best of 2015

2015 turned out to be another fantastic year for prog, as well as metal. Last year, I made a top 10 list, but this year, there has been far too much great music in prog, metal, and rock to narrow it down to 10 albums. Apart from my top 4, there will be no particular order for the rest of my picks. Most of this will be prog, but there is some straight up metal here as well.

The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment

grandexperimentNeal Morse and company have made another outstanding album. “Alive Again” might be one of the top 10 best long progressive songs ever made. It is remarkably beautiful. Mike Portnoy’s drumming is exceptional, as always, and, like last year, this isn’t the last we shall hear of him on this list.

 

 

Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle

cd_top1The Oblivion Particle is my first introduction to Spock’s Beard, and I am heartily impressed. Ted Leonard’s vocals really round out the band. “Bennett Built a Time Machine” is my personal favorite from the record.

 

 

Stryper – Fallen

stryperfallenart1-602x536I’m brand new to Stryper, and after listening to their last two albums, I’m flabbergasted. Their new music is better than their original stuff from the 80s. The drummer has grown incredibly, and Michael Sweet’s vocals soar to the heavens. The best thing – Stryper hasn’t given up on their values. They blast metal to honor God.

 

Lonely Robot – Please Come Home

71R0HHLaiqL._SY355_I was pleasantly surprised by this album. The music has just the right amount of complexity, with a few pop hooks here and there for good measure. The song “Lonely Robot” should be a radio staple, but rock radio sucks.

 

 

LEAH – Kings and Queens

a1021213633_16The reigning queen of prog metal released a masterpiece this year. A long masterpiece. Her combination of metal with celtic influences works amazingly well. She creates a wonderful sound that no one else really tries to duplicate. Originality abounds.

 

 

Dave Kerzner – New World (Deluxe Edition)

david-kerzner-new-world-deluxeThe deluxe edition came out this year, so it counts as 2015. Plus, I overlooked the album last year since it came out in December, and for that I sincerely apologize to Dave. This album brilliantly revives classic elements of Pink Floyd, and Kerzner’s voice is eerily reminiscent of David Gilmour’s. This is an album meant to last.

 

 

The Winery Dogs – Hot Streak

81SPiEsz2HL._SX425_Wow! AC/DC meets Mike Portnoy! Richie Kotzen’s voice has grown on me, as has the “Dog’s” music. From the virtuosity of the first track, “Oblivion,” to the hard rock bombast of “Captain Love,” Hot Streak is a fantastic album. Billy Sheehan’s bass balances Portnoy’s drums and Kotzen’s guitars beautifully. The quiet piece, “Fire,” is a nice change up, as well.

 

Next to None – A Light in the Dark

3655066_origI saw these guys live in concert with Haken this spring, and I was impressed. For teenagers, these guys have serious chops. Max Portnoy stands out though, as he has clearly inherited his father’s raw talent. Check out my review of the album and interview with Max – https://progarchy.com/2015/07/20/metal-mondays-interview-with-max-portnoy-of-next-to-none/

 

Metal Allegiance – Metal Allegiance

safe_image.phpYou could call this a supergroup for thrash, although it seems anything with Mike Portnoy in it could be called a supergroup. His double bass thrash drumming is a nice change for him. The abundant guest performances from bands such as Testament, Anthrax, and many other groups really round out their sound. Normally I don’t like thrash because of the lyrics, but the lyrics here are great. The combination of guests makes this album one of the greatest thrash albums ever made.

Disturbed – Immortalized

81FC381L9HL._SY355_This isn’t prog in any sense of the word, but Disturbed’s first album since 2010 is a return to form for the band. They didn’t want to make an album again unless it was really good, and they delivered on that desire. Immortalized is one of the best album’s they have made, with only one song that I don’t like. Their cover of “The Sound of Silence” is better than the original, in my opinion.

 

Flying Colors: Live at the Z7

CD_FC-2ndNatureLIVE_digi-03-625x567The live Blu-ray is one of the best live shows I have seen. The music is played flawlessly, and the production for sound is excellent. It was filmed in 4K and you can choose from two sound choices – front row or sound board. Well played, FC, well played. Oh ya, more Mike Portnoy, too.

 

Rush – R40 Live 

1035x1511-R40.Tour.Cover7.FNL-copyThis needs no explanation. Long live Rush.

 

 

 

 

Steve Hackett – Wolflight

wolflightFrontCoverAnother great solo effort from one of the greatest guitarists ever. I have such a great respect for Steve Hackett and his dedication to his craft and the genre. Of all the 70s prog giants, Hackett is probably the best ally to the newer prog artists and musicians.

 

 

4. Muse – Drones

MUSE-DRONESAnother fantastic album from Muse, and a dystopic concept album at that. I’m convinced that Matt Bellamy has the best voice in the business, plus he’s a god on the guitar. Chris Wolstenholme’s bass is underrated, as well. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2015/08/11/back-to-basics-muses-drones/

 

3. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase.

A year ago, I couldn’t stand Steven Wilson. Now I’m a fan. Go figure. Hand. Cannot. Erase. is simply brilliant. The story telling is at an extremely high level, and this album, while rather depressing, is so addicting to listen to. Wilson is an incredibly important figure in progressive rock.

 

 

2. Vanden Plas – Chronicles of the Immortals: Netherworld Path 2

81ADonu6jjL._SX355_Combined with part 1, these two albums are a masterpiece. I’m still deciphering what the story is about, but I am thoroughly enjoying it. These guys have been going strong for a long time, and they have only gotten better with age. Check out my review: https://progarchy.com/2015/11/18/vanden-plas-another-stroke-of-genius/

 

1. The Tangent – A Spark in the Aether

tangent1Yeehaw, this is a great album! Holy crap, I don’t know how Andy Tillison does it! He is a master of cultural criticism, and while I don’t agree with him politically, I do respect him immensely. This album is well worth your time.

 

 


 

Like I said, a great year for rock of all kinds. As I promised, Mike Portnoy features prominently in my list, just like last year. He certainly deserves it since he is one of the hardest working men in the business. His “Hello Kitty” drum video for Loudwire was an instant classic.

Cultural RePercussions 2 (1)Best prog book of the year goes to Progarchy’s very own Brad Birzer for his excellent book on Neil Peart, a man of letters. Well worth your time.

Get it at Amazon here.

 

 

kansas_miraclesThe new Kansas documentary, Miracles out of Nowhere, is excellent. While it only goes through Point of Know Return, it is an excellent look at the band, from the band members themselves, as well as Brian May and Garth Brooks. It was great to see that the band members don’t hate each other. In fact, they genuinely seem to like each other. If at all possible, order it from the band because it comes with a bonus disc featuring the band reminiscing and a few other features – http://www.kansasmerch.toursync.com

Check out Carl Olson’s fantastic review of the documentary: https://progarchy.com/2015/08/19/miracles-and-music-out-of-kansas/

915g7JKrT-L._SX385_One final documentary/live concert that is worthy of any “best of” list is Roger Waters’ movie, The Wall. It combines a live concert from his recent tour with short scenes that examine the meaning of the album for him. The concert itself is outstanding – better than his 1990 The Wall concert in Berlin, performed after the fall of the Berlin Wall. The music is basically indistinguishable from the album. A worthy look at one of the best and most important albums ever made.

 

Sorry if I have bored you with my list, but I am nothing if not thorough. I’m just amazed by the quality of music that has been released the last few years, and I eagerly look forward to what the coming year has in store. New Dream Theater coming in January. And who knows what Mike Portnoy will release. Such excitement. Merry Christmas everybody, and prog on into 2016.

Disturbed Covers “The Sound of Silence”

After a long hiatus, Chicago metal band Disturbed secretly recorded their latest album, Immortalized, which came out towards the end of last month. It was well worth the several year wait. While it isn’t really progressive (well, the song about weed could be considered “progressive,” but that would be a different connotation of the word), the band experiments in a couple new directions. They retain their awesome, heavy sound, while dropping in some keyboard sounds that add to the overall layering.

What struck me most about the album, however, was their cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.” This cover is more of a David Draiman (lead singer of Disturbed) cover than a Disturbed cover, because there are no metal elements at all. It is just him singing with symphonic music, with a little bit of acoustic guitar. He demonstrates his fantastic vocal abilities, in a way unlike any other Disturbed song he has made, and he brings just enough of his signature grit to the song without overdoing it. I like this version more than the original! I’ll admit, it gave me chills. Check it out.

Dream Theater: A Metal Anomaly

full_DREAM_THEATER_SHOT-FINAL_02_046a

 

The second half of 2013 sucked. So did the first few months of 2014. I’d rather not get into the reasons why, but needless to say, one of the high points of last year for me was becoming a Progarchist. I say that because being apart of this awesome site has given me the opportunity to listen to music and bands that I otherwise would have never heard, and I have loved it. One of those bands is Dream Theater.

I first heard Dream Theater when my roommate was playing it towards the end of the spring semester of 2013. At first, I didn’t really like it, mainly because of LaBrie’s voice, but I couldn’t complain since I was the one that got my roommate into the “prog” genre in the first place. I didn’t think much of Dream Theater again until I became a Progarchist and received a review copy of their recent self-titled album. All I can say is, WOW. LaBrie’s voice grew on me, and I wondered how I had not discovered this band years earlier. What had I been missing? The technical skill of the musicians astounded me, and I found the vocals haunting. Little did I realize how their lyrics would profoundly touch me over the coming months.

As I said, the last several months haven’t been the best. Most of my family and friends wouldn’t (or don’t) understand it, and that’s ok. Regardless, I found myself drowning in music. I couldn’t/can’t get enough of it. It became an escape for me, and the go to genre when I’m really feeling down seems to be metal. I turned to the heavy metal albums from personal favorites of mine such as Avenged Sevenfold and Disturbed. I connected with the anger and the desperation, especially with Avenged Sevenfold’s 2010 album, Nightmare, featuring former Dream Theater drum god, the great Mike Portnoy (coincidence, I think not). Nightmare is dripping with anger and frustration, as the band struggled to cope with the recent death of their drummer, Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan, who was probably one of the best metal drummers ever (you don’t believe me? Listen to the albums “Waking the Fallen” and “City of Evil”). I also was drawn to the punky pissiness (pardon my French, as it were) of the bands Three Days Grace and System of a Down. I soaked in the mysterious lyrics and awesome rock of Chevelle, which has been one of my favorite bands for a long time (their latest album, La Gárgola, is fantastic). I found myself being drawn into this world of angry rock, while simultaneously withdrawing from the people around me.

I actually enjoy the loud, obnoxious, sometimes screamy sound produced by many of these bands. It has always been a good release for me. But, something is missing, especially from Disturbed and Avenged Sevenfold. Hope. Hope is missing. The closest thing any of these bands have to hope is Three Days Grace’s song “Never Too Late.” The rest of it focuses on the darkness they think they find themselves in. That’s ok at first, but after a while, it can drag you down, if you let it. I let it.

This is where Dream Theater comes in. I listened to the their latest album, and I heard the song “The Bigger Picture.” I heard these lyrics and was blown away, as corny as it sounds:

Would you talk me off the ledge
Or let me take the fall
Better to try and fail
Then to never try at all

You look but cannot see
Talk but never speak
You live but cannot breathe
See but don’t believe

Wounds that never heal
A heart that cannot feel
A dream that’s all too real
A stare as cold as steel

I’ve listened to the stories of resentment and disdain
I’ve looked into the empty eyes of anger, fear, and shame
I’ve taken blood from every stone
And traveled every road

When I see the distant lights illuminate the night
Then I will know I am home

Those seemingly simple lyrics rocked me. Then I heard “Along for the Ride” :

I can’t stop the world from turning around
Or the pull of the moon on the tide
But I don’t believe that we’re in this alone
I believe we’re along for the ride
I believe we’re along for the ride

Then I heard “Illumination Theory” :

To really feel the joy in life
You must suffer through the pain
When you surrender to the light
You can face the darkest days

If you open up your eyes
And you put your trust in love
On those cold and endless nights
You will never be alone

Passion glows within your heart
Like a furnace burning bright
Until you struggle through the dark
You’ll never know the joy in life
Never know, never to know
You’ll never know
You’ll never know

I couldn’t explain it, but the lyrics spoke to me. I heard “Another Day” off of Images and Words, and that spoke to me as well. These songs offered hope, not despair. They did not wallow in the gloom, but looked forward to the light. Dream Theater may receive flack for not having deep lyrics or cohesive albums, but to me, it doesn’t seem to matter, because the band accomplished what I believe they set out to do. They wanted to reach somebody and share their hope with that person, and it worked. The best part: not once do Dream Theater sacrifice musical talent to get their message across!

Through the cold and endless nights, I felt alone. I had drifted from my faith in God, and I was in a dark place. Then I heard “Illumination Theory” calling me to open my eyes and to put my trust in love, and if I did, I would never be alone. Growing up, I was always told that God is love, and that He is always there for His children. It clicked for me, and I could finally see the light. It was a rough few months (where the only thing I could find purpose in was my studies, which thankfully I did well in), and I had a hard time relating to the world around me. But, Dream Theater was able to touch my soul in a way that the other metal bands couldn’t. Metal, on the whole, is rather devoid of hope and joy, and that is why I see Dream Theater as an anomaly. They don’t play by everyone else’s rules – they write their own, and for that, I am grateful.

It may seem lame that Dream Theater had such a profound effect on me during those dark days, and I really can’t explain why they did. All I know is that I believe I’m along for the ride, and it’s a ride I’m proud to say I’m now happy to be on. Thanks Dream Theater.