Earlier this year, I questioned whether or not 2018 was going to be a poor year for prog. It seemed like the the progressive rock community took a few months to stop and take a collective breath… but that was only the breath before the plunge. The second half of the year saw many excellent new releases. The following are some of my favorites from 2018, in no particular order (my top two at the bottom of this list are tied for first place).
This awesome video retrospective by Razörfist makes the definitive profane case for Stryper, one of the all-time greatest — but most criminally underrated — metal bands.
The history of the band is covered his video all the way up to 2015’s Fallen. In light of 2018’s equally superb release, God Damn Evil (banned at Walmart), it is a history very much worth revisiting.
Stryper have now remained at the top of their game ever since 2013 saw them kick off their contemporary trilogy of greatness (2013, 2015, 2018) with the excellence that is No More Hell to Pay.
Hell, even Mike Portnoy sat up and paid attention and recognized the achievement.
In the beginning, the band’s classic trilogy of killer metal from the early days of the 80s consisted of The Yellow and Black Attack (1984), Soldiers Under Command (1985), and To Hell with the Devil (1986).
In God We Trust (1988) and Against the Law (1990) were then the two albums of searching for the way forward, after having achieved platinum status and MTV fame with To Hell with the Devil. And, in the changing musical landscape of the 90s, the path wasn’t clear, so they broke up.
But with the metal renaissance of the new century, Stryper came back with two bold steps forward that reasserted their capacity for rocking hard: Reborn (2005) and Murder by Pride (2009).
Yet who would know that these two efforts were only the beginning of a new era, one about to give birth to their most consistently great music? But first, the way into their latter day trilogy of greatness (2013, 2015, 2018) was carefully prepared for, by a back-to-metal-roots album of excellent covers, The Covering (2011), and also by a sonic updating of their glory days, with the re-recording of classic Stryper songs on Second Coming (2013) .
If you’re a skeptic or an agnostic about Stryper’s preeminence, then watch the video below. Spin the albums, and mark my words: if you have an ounce of taste, you will find yourself turning into a believer — because Stryper has more than earned their place in the pantheon of metal greats.
Among the Progarchy editors, I happen to be the resident metalhead. So, on that basis, here is my list of the 10 best metal albums of the year. I have listened to them many times with the utmost enjoyment. They each have aspects that grab you right away, while other aspects must grow on you over time. In any event, they are all musical achievements of the highest quality, and I give them each my highest recommendation.
The albums below are listed in chronological order. As each month of the year went by, it was clear which album I was listening to the most and enjoying the most. So, on it went to my Top 10 Metal playlist. By November it was abundantly clear, simply from my daily listening habits, what my top 10 picks for the year are. So, here they are, but please note that I will also publish a supplementary “pure prog” Top 10 list later on this month. For now, here is the metal list.
The Top 10 Metal Albums of 2016
Megadeth — Dystopia ★★★★★
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
Neal 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
The 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
I’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
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
The 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)
The 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
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
I 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
You 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
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
The 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
This needs no explanation. Long live Rush.
Steve Hackett – Wolflight
Another 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
Another 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
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
Yeehaw, 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.
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.
The 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/
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.
Here’s a little more fun for you for today’s “Metal Monday“…
Stryper — “After Forever”
a Black Sabbath cover from Stryper’s awesome new album: Fallen