Without a doubt, 2014 has been a great year for Prog. It seems as if we have been barraged by great music from all sides. The string of excellence continues. This list is my arbitrary ordering of what I liked best from this year. I’m really not a huge fan of “best of” lists because I don’t think you can really judge art in that way. So, consider this a list of what I enjoyed. The order of numbers 10-3 is relatively interchangeable.
I should have reviewed this album when it came out back in January, but I’m lazy. This was a fantastic sophomore release by the Lexington, Kentucky prog outfit. Their first album, Lost and Gone Forever, was an excellent concept album. These guys do a fantastic job of combining classic prog influences with a harder rock edge. The beginning of the album sounds almost Pink Floydian, and there are definite nods to The Wall. The singer also sounds a bit like Roger Waters. Heretics is another concept album, and it clocks in at over 70 minutes in length. Check these guys out – they are ascending as a band and are making some great music.
Robin Armstrong’s latest offering, combined with the efforts of such wizards as Andy Tillison, Nick D’Virgilio, and Matt Stevens, is a fresh take on prog rock. As of right now, I haven’t listened to any other Cosmograf albums, but this one is quite good. I’m sure there are others here at Progarchy that could tell you more about the band, and I’ll wager they would be more than happy to. Capacitor is definitely worthy of any 2014 “top 10” list.
Three words – Mike freaking Portnoy. He teamed up with Bigelf to drum on their latest album, and it was insane. He has to be the hardest working musician in prog. This isn’t the last we shall hear from him on this list.
Bigelf’s breed of prog metal is unlike anything I have heard before. Maybe it’s lead singer Damon Fox’s awesomely bizarre vocals, or their fantastic combination of metal and classic rock, or maybe it’s Portnoy. Or all of the above. Whatever it is, Bigelf has created something special with Into the Maelstrom. They have been around since the early 1990s, have four studio albums, and have toured with Dream Theater, so they know their way around the business. Certainly worth the time for any Mike Portnoy fan, as well as any fan of prog metal.
London’s The Gift masterfully combine prog metal with symphonic metal and Gabriel-era Genesis prog. This album is refreshing in its tonal clarity and its thematic prowess. It is definitely an album worth listening to over and over again through the years. Here’s my review of it from several months back:
Australian prog metal outfit Voyager have released a very solid album this year. While I feel like it could have been more tightly constructed and some of the songs featured unnecessary repetition, there are some awesome riffs to be found here. This band rocks, and they rock hard. Many comment that the second half of the album is a let down, but I think it is just the opposite. Voyager ventures into the wonderful void of prog in the second half of V, including some softer songs. Time Lord wrote a very nice review of the album earlier this year:
I told you Mike Portnoy would be heard from again on this list. Supergroup Transatlantic cranked out a fantastic album this year. Made up of Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Roine Stolt, and Pete Trewavas, Transatlantic has several albums under their belt, and they continue to impress. Kaleidoscope was my first introduction to Transatlantic, and it was an excellent first impression. The cover songs found on the accompanying special edition are all excellent. Anyone who can cover Yes, King Crimson, Elton John, Focus, Moody Blues, and a few others while still sounding entirely unique deserves immense respect. The live album, KaLIVEoscope, that came out in October, was equally brilliant, with three hours of musical genius. The collective talent in this band is shocking, and it clearly shows on Kaleidoscope.
No, this isn’t a prog album. However, Chevelle released one of the best albums of their career with La Gárgola. Their heavy, yet not overly heavy, style of metal has been a staple of contemporary hard rock over the past 15 years. Their excellent vocals, steady bass, clear guitar, proficient drumming, and haunting lyrics makes Chevelle one of the most interesting metal bands of the 21st Century. I found this album to be an excellent return to their heavier beginnings, while simultaneously exploring new and more complicated territory.
Is Pink Floyd even capable of making an album that isn’t good? Their latest (and final) album combines extra recordings from The Division Bell with recordings from David Gilmour and Nick Mason, as well as studio musicians. Mainly instrumental (only one song has singing), this album hearkens back to the instrumentation found in Wish You Were Here and Animals. The one thing missing, in my opinion, is Roger Waters’ bass. I feel like his involvement in this album would have made it even more spectacular, as well as thrill millions of fans. Even so, this is clearly Pink Floyd, and any fan of psychedelic prog will love this album. The album serves as a worthy sendoff for Richard Wright.
Vanden Plas’ latest album might very well be the best progressive metal album I have ever heard, with no disrespect to Dream Theater’s Images and Words. It is just that Netherworld so beautifully captures the intricacies of metal, “high prog,” and magnificent story telling. There have been some excellent albums released this year, but few reach the brilliance of Vanden Plas. Having listened to some of their previous work, this album is not out of the ordinary for them. One of the nicest things about this band is the vocals are not your traditional “metal” vocals – there is no screaming, yelling, whining, etc. Andy Kuntz’s voice is beautifully melodic and mysterious, and it is perfect for this album. Vanden Plas perfectly crosses over between the worlds of full-on head banging metal riffs and quieter, classic progressive rock. This album also has one of the best beginnings and endings of any album I have ever heard. There is a clear and definite start and resolution – you aren’t left hanging or wishing there was more. It is perfect just as it is.
Mike Portnoy again. The guy sure does get around. Neal Morse again too. Go figure. Also in the band are Steve Morse, Casey McPhersen, and Dave Larue.
Second Nature is one of the best albums I have ever heard. Flying Colors combine prog rock and pop rock in a way not seen since the glory days of Styx and Kansas. Seeing them live merely solidified my position on the matter. Catchy yet complicated riffs abound, as well as thoughtful lyrics. If prog wants to become mainstream and popular again, then bands need to take note of Flying Colors.
Well, there’s my top 10 of 2014. A fair mixture of metal, prog metal, and straight up prog. Honorable mention should go to Ian Anderson’s Homo Erraticus, Fire Garden’s Sound of Majestic Colors (which I thought had far too much of a “garage band” mixing to make my top 10 list), Fractal Mirror’s Garden of Ghosts, Salander’s STENDEC, and Glass Hammer’s Ode to Echo. Special mention goes to Haken’s recent EP, Restoration EP. Had this been an album, I would have placed it in my top 5. Dishonorable mention goes to Yes’ Heaven and Earth.
Top concert of the year goes to Dennis DeYoung. His voice has not changed in 40 years, and his backup band and vocalists are better than Styx. He also has a singer who sounds better than Tommy Shaw did 40 years ago. Runner up for best show goes to Flying Colors, from their brief Second Nature tour. The reason I’m not placing them as best live show of the year is because of the audio problems they had during the show. The sound system for Dennis DeYoung’s show was superb, with no feedback issues during the show. I also had a wonderful time at the B.B. King concert, as well as seeing the CSO perform the music to Return of the King live. It was a great year for concerts!
I would also like to mention Dream Theater’s self-titled album as one of my most listened to albums of 2014. Everything about this album was fantastic, including the live album on Blu-Ray they released a few months back. From the metal virtuosity to the lyrics, this album will be on the rotation for years to come.
2014 has been another fantastic year for prog, and I look forward to more of the same in 2015. Neal Morse’s next project, The Neal Morse Band The Grand Experiment, comes out in February. Take a wild guess at who the drummer is. Muse will also be releasing an album in 2015, one which they claim will return to their rockier roots. There is also talk of a Rush 41st anniversary tour (I think there is, anyways). Much to look forward to in the coming year, and much to appreciate from 2014.
Prog on, Progarchy!