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

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