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.

2015: It Was The Best Of Prog…..

2015 continued the trend of the past few years of providing tremendous offerings for lovers of prog.

For starters, Best Reissue:

Minstrel in GalleryThe number of exciting and revelatory reissues of prog classics is growing at an exponential rate. The best one of 2015 is La Grande Edition of Jethro Tull’s Minstrel In The Gallery. Ian Anderson was at his peak, songwriting-wise, at this point in his career, and this lavish set (including a new 5.1 surround mix) does one of the band’s best albums true justice.

 

 

And now for some new music:

Heart Is A Monster8. Failure: The Heart Is A Monster

A great Seattle band of the ‘90s that never received the acclaim it was due. They have reunited 20 years later. They are all older and much wiser, and it shows in their music. It’s still tough, melodic, and full of energy, while exhibiting a confidence and ease that is very gratifying.

 

 

Night of Demon7.Gazpacho: Night Of The Demon

A very nice live set that provides a good sample of Gazpacho’s output. The band is incredibly tight while performing some demanding pieces. This is an excellent introduction to a band whose music is often enigmatic.

 

 

 

deluxen6. Dave Kerzner: New World

Technically, this is a 2014 release, but the expanded double album came out this year, so I’m including it in this list. Strong Pink Floyd/Genesis influences which Kerzner uses to springboard into new territory. This is a concept album with an intriguing storyline – a stranded astronaut has to make it back to civilization on a planet. This is the most “classically prog” rock I’ve heard in a long time, and it’s tremendously appealing.

 

La Strada5. Kevin Keller: La Strada

Kevin Keller is a classical pianist and composer who loves Rush in general and Neil Peart in particular. His compositions are melodic yet challenging, and his production values are top-notch. His latest album is the perfect accompaniment to a relaxed Sunday afternoon.

 

 

 

Lonely Robot4. Lonely Robot: Please Come Home

Before 2015, I knew nothing of John Mitchell; this year I immersed myself in his work, listening to Frost*, It Bites, and above all his solo project Lonely Robot. This is prog with a pop orientation that never disappoints. He is an incredibly talented guitarist and vocalist, and I hope this is the first of many Lonely Robot albums.

 

3. Glass Hammer: The Breaking Of The World

Wow. Ode To Echo was an amazing album, and “The Breaking Of The World” tops it. Carl Groves is the best vocalist they’ve ever had, and he’s no slouch in the lyrics department. His voice works perfectly with Susie Bogdanowicz, as you can experience on their other fine release of 2015, “Double Live”. On this album, the band is fire, powered by Steve Babb’s endlessly inventive bass and Fred Schendel’s keyboards.

Neal Morse Grand Experiment2. Neal Morse Band: The Grand Experiment

Neal Morse continues his streak as one of the most prolific artists in prog, and this time he offers up a true group effort, with all the band members sharing songwriting credit. “New Jerusalem” may be the best short-form song he’s ever been involved in, while “Alive Again” ranks up there with his finest epics. The band tore down the house when they performed these songs live; here’s hoping this is more than a one-time experiment.

Riverside Love, Fear, etc.1.Riverside: Love, Fear, and the Time Machine

For their sixth full-length album, Riverside has tightened up their sound to deliver their best set of songs ever. Mariusz Duda marries the ambience of his Lunatic Soul project to a definite ‘80s sound – Discard Your Fear would be right at home on a Tears For Fears album, while Duda’s bass work has Peter Hook’s influence all over it – and the result is the most beautiful album I’ve heard in years. I listen to it two or three times in a row, I put it aside for a while, and I bring it back out. I have yet to tire of it. Be sure to read Erik Heter’s excellent and illuminating interview of Duda.

Intelligently Designed Prog

Lonely Robot

I’m a little late to the party, but John Mitchell’s solo project, Lonely Robot: Please Come Home has taken over my sound system the past couple of weeks, and I have to spread the good word about this extraordinary album.

John Mitchell is getting close to Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy for earning the award for participating in the most groups: he is a guitarist for Arena, he’s played in Frost*, he’s been in It Bites for almost a decade, and he put together the prog supergroup, Kino (hat tip to Progarchist Frank Urbaniak for that info). However, according to Mr. Mitchell in an interview in Prog Magazine (Issue #54, March, 2015), Lonely Robot has been “the most refreshing thing I’ve ever done.” Freed from any preconceived expectations based on a particular group’s history, Mitchell has crafted an album that excels on multiple levels.

While not a full-blown concept album, Mitchell has stated in his series of video blogs that Please Come Home has a unifying theme: how can life on earth in all of its glorious diversity have sprung from nothing? Whether we are the result of primordial alien seeding or a divine architect is left to the listener to decide, but Mitchell’s musings are fascinating. “God vs. Man” is a neat little history of the human race, from building a fire, to building a city, to building armies, to building rockets:

So then you build a rocket, and you point towards the sky

No end to the ambition and no cause to wonder why

You start the search celestial to find the one who made

For reckoning the architect will stand across your way

Of course, as far as I’m concerned, the lyrics could be Shakespearean and the album would be worthless without the music to support them. In this department, Mitchell delivers – in spades. From the cinematic opening track, “Airlock”, to the delicate and emotional closer, “The Red Balloon”, Please Come Home is a collection of songs that will satisfy the most discriminating connoisseur of prog. In addition to having phenomenal chops on guitar, Mitchell’s vocals are outstanding – soulful with a little Peter Gabriel rasp to them. There are also a couple of duets that are heartbreakingly beautiful: “Why Do We Stay?” with Heather Findley, and “Oubliette” with Kim Seviour. “Oubliette” is my nomination for song of the year, with its catchy chorus and snaking lead guitar line. “Are We Copies?” is the current single, (video below), which laments the failure of humanity to live up to its enormous potential. The next track, “Humans Being”, is a comforting response:

Oh don’t be so hard on yourself, so hard on yourself

All we have done, and all of the people we’ve been

Take this flag and wave it again, just wave it again

All we have done, and all of the things we have seen

We’re only humans being

Mitchell has gathered a stellar group of supporting artists for Please Come Home: the aforementioned vocalists, as well as Jem Godfrey, Peter Cox, Steve Hogarth, Nik Kershaw, Nick Beggs, and Craig Blundell. I hope this album is the first of many from Lonely Robot; American prog fans should embrace the music of John Mitchell – he is a top-tier talent who deserves to explode worldwide.