Bryan’s Best of 2014

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.

10. Dream the Electric Sleep – Heretics 8530215

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.

http://www.dreamtheelectricsleep.com

9. Cosmograf – CapacitorCapacitor

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.

http://www.cosmograf.com

8. Bigelf – Into the Maelstrom Into the Maelstrom

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.

https://www.facebook.com/bigelfmusic/info?tab=page_info

http://www.bigelf.com

7. The Gift – Land of Shadowscover

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:

https://progarchy.com/2014/07/20/the-gift-land-of-shadows/

http://www.thegiftmusic.com/index.php

 

6. Voyager – Vimage013

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:

https://progarchy.com/2014/07/05/voyager-v/

http://voyager-australia.com

5. Transatlantic – Kaleidoscope Kaleidoscope (Kaleidoscope)

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.

http://www.transatlanticweb.com

4. Chevelle – La GárgolaLaGargola

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.

http://getmorechevelle.com/home.php

https://progarchy.com/2014/08/26/chevelle-la-gargola/

3. Pink Floyd – The Endless RiverThe Endless River

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.

http://www.pinkfloyd.com/index2.php

http://www.pinkfloyd.com/theendlessriver/

2. Vanden Plas – Chronicles of the Immortals – Netherworld397022

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.

Check out Gianna’s and Time Lord’s reviews of Chronicles of the Immortals – Netherworld.

http://www.vandenplas.de

1. Flying Colors – Second NatureSecond Nature

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.

Check out my review of Second Nature, as well as my review of their live show.

http://flyingcolorsmusic.com

***

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!

 

The Gift – “Land of Shadows”

cover

London’s The Gift have created a true masterpiece with their second album, “Land of Shadows.” In fact, I believe this is my favorite prog album of the year thus far, and there have been a lot of fantastic albums released this year. Their sophomore release comes eight years after their first album, “Awake and Dreaming.” Due to various circumstances, The Gift were never able to tour after their first album, and the project as a whole was set aside for several years until founder Mike Morton decided to breathe life into the band again.

So who are The Gift? On vocals and flute: Mike Morton. Guitars: David Lloyd. Bass: Kirk Watson. Keyboards: Howard Boder. Drums: Joseph Morton (Mike’s son).

Their music is self-described as symphonic prog, but I find that it ranges anywhere from that to prog metal to Gabriel-era Genesis prog back to symphonic prog. It’s really quite a joy to listen to. The technical skill of the musicians is certainly excellent, with the guitar work standing out as being exceptional. There are echoes of 70s “golden age” guitar along with hints of more modern metal guitar. Mike Morton’s vocals are fantastic and unlike anything I have heard in progressive rock. Interestingly enough, his voice instantly reminded me of Christian singer Steve Green, which is indeed a very good thing, as Steve Green has one of the most remarkable voices I have ever heard. The interplay between the instruments and Mike’s voice is simply beautiful.

“Land of Shadows” starts off with a short, spoken word piece entitled, “I Sing of Change.” It aptly sets the stage for the whole album. The second song, “The Willows,” seems to move through several sub genres of prog throughout its 12 minutes of awesome. It starts off quiet and slow, with soothing piano, drums, acoustic guitar and Mike Morton’s haunting vocals and lyrics. At about the 3 1/2 minute mark, the song quickly delves into The Gift’s version of progressive metal. Later, it circles back around to symphonic prog and a greater focus on the lyrics. By the end of the song, it almost feels like you are listening to Pink Floyd. But, to be sure, The Gift never copy the work of other bands. Instead, they blaze their own trail in this third wave of prog.

Each track on this album is fantastic, but I particularly enjoy “The Willows,” “Walk Into the Water,” and “The Comforting Cold.” Coming in as the fourth track, “Walk Into the Water” is a song of hope. I can’t help but hear references to baptism throughout the song, both in spiritual rebirth, and physical baptism. Specifically, I believe the song references the journey one takes as they prepare to die:

Walk into the water / Throw away your fear, wash away the pain / Walk into the water / You’ve nothing left to lose, mystery to gain… Take a quick look behind at your footprints in the sand / As you wade in blind it’s time to leave dry land / And walk, walk into the water…

Band photograph by Sabrina Dersel
Band photograph by Sabrina Dersel

The contemplation of death and rebirth in “Walk Into the Water” ties in perfectly with the seventh track on the album, the nearly 20 minute long “The Comforting Cold.” This song takes the Biblical story of Lazarus and places it in the modern day. In it, a tired worker dies of a heart attack on a train, and is brought back to life by paramedics, only to wish he could have remained in eternity. The song questions whether or not someone who had just died would really want to return to life, but it also reminds us that our time on earth is not guaranteed. We aren’t promised another day, and we must be ready for the reality of death. While this sounds depressing in a Pink Floyd “Animals” sort of way, it really isn’t. Actually, it is quite the opposite, offering hope where there should be despair.

The Gift have created something uniquely special with “Land of Shadows.” This is an album that I have thoroughly enjoyed over the past several months. The hope that this album offers the listener is refreshing. Of all the albums released in 2014, I think that “Land of Shadows” is one of the best pieces of art I have heard this year. Listening to this album is like looking at a fine painting. You can listen to this album over and over again and still hear something new and interesting in it, just like you can always find something new in a good painting. From the technical musical skill, to the soaring vocals, to the haunting lyrics, “Land of Shadows” is a must-have from 2014.

 

http://www.thegiftmusic.com/index.php