Bryan’s Best of 2019

Here we are at the end of another year. As you’re probably well aware, 2019 has been the latest in a string of great years for progressive rock and metal. Overall it didn’t blow me away like other years have (a few particular albums did however), but I think that’s more because of how my year has gone. I finished up grad school in the spring, and I spent the entire year job-searching before finally starting a new job at the beginning of this month. A couple of important people in my life died this year as well, so overall it has been a year full of challenges. My ability to properly soak in all the great music that has been released understandably suffered. But nevertheless, I found much to enjoy this year, and the following are some of my favorites. They are in no particular order except for my top three down at the bottom of this list.

Rise Twain – Rise Twain

The first album by Philadelphia-area duo Rise Twain is a stellar example of what popular music should be. Brett Kull and J. D. Beck are excellent songwriters and equally talented musicians. They combine the simplicity of a good song with the more technical aspects of prog. While it may be hard to call this a “prog” album, it certainly has many varied influences that make this a solid showing. Check out my review and interview with Brett Kull here: https://progarchy.com/2019/08/30/a-conversation-with-brett-kull-of-rise-twain/

Soen – Lotus

This is a magnificent album. Beautifully heavy, as any metal album should be, it retains an ability to move int0 peaceful contemplative spaces. When this album rocks, it rocks hard, and it keeps an upbeat tone that so many metal albums often lose. “Lotus” delivers musically, lyrically, and vocally. Check out Time Lord’s review here: https://progarchy.com/2019/01/09/album-preview-soen-lotus-soenmusic/

Continue reading “Bryan’s Best of 2019”

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.

Vanden Plas – Another Stroke of Genius

Vanden Plas, “Chronicles of the Immortals: Netherworld Path 2” (Frontiers Music)

Tracks: 1. Vision 11even *in My Universe (6:26)2. Vision 12elve *Godmaker’s Temptation (5:05)3. Vision 13teen *Stone Roses Edge (6:38), 4. Vision 14teen *Blood of Eden (*All Love Must Die)[*the Rite][*This Is the Night] (13:18)5. Vision 15teen *Monster (7:41)6. Vision 16teen *Diabolica Comedia (6:38)7. Vision 17teen *Where Have the Children Gone (4:42), 8. Vision 18teen *the Last Fight (7:34)9. Vision 19teen *Circle of the Devil (7:59)

81ADonu6jjL._SX355_German prog metal outfit Vanden Plas recently released part two of their masterpiece, “Chronicles of the Immortals: Netherworld.” Part 1, released last year, was one of my top albums of 2014, and Part 2 has already promised to be high on this year’s list as well. Since the release of Part 1, I have had the chance to delve more deeply in to this amazing band, and I have not been disappointed. Everything I have heard by Vanden Plas has been stunning. They take their work very seriously, and they put their all into everything they do.

So who is Vanden Plas? Stephan Lill on guitars, Torsten Reichert on bass guitar, Andy Kuntz on vocals, Andreas Lill on drums, and Günter Werno on keyboards. Every member of this band is at the top of their game. Stephan Lill’s shredding on the guitar is mind-blowing, and Werno’s keyboards rank with the best efforts of any of Dream Theater’s outstanding keyboardists. Above all, however, soars Andy Kuntz’s spectacular vocals. In my opinion, he has the best voice in progressive metal, by a wide margin. He is smoother than James Labrie (who often fails to recognize his own limits), and he brings more power and clarity to the lyrics than any other metal vocalist I have heard. He fully recognizes his range and ability, and he does not try to exceed it, which may explain why his voice still has such power after years of singing metal. Also, the fact that he doesn’t scream probably helps too.

Truth be told, after being blown away by Part 1, I was a little apprehensive about hearing Part 2. I wasn’t quite sure that Vanden Plas could equal Part 1. Thankfully, I had nothing to worry about. Part 2 is every bit as good, maybe even better. It picks up right where Part 1 left off, with a few seconds of quiet followed by roaring and driving metal riffs, symphonic epic-ness mixed with choral beauty, and continued female vocals from someone whose name I can’t find anywhere. She sang on Part 1 as well, and her voice matches Andy’s perfectly. When they sing together, the angels themselves stop to listen. Vanden Plas perfectly straddle the zone between heavy metal, prog metal, and progressive rock. They can be heavy one minute and hauntingly beautiful the next. The way in which they do that is simply breathtaking.

The story itself (since this is a concept album, after all), is based off of the highly successful novels written by German author, Wolfgang Hohlbein, who helped write the lyrics for both albums. He happens to be a big fan of Vanden Plas. The story itself is really difficult to nail down. I’ve been listening to Part 1 regularly since it first came out, and I still struggle to figure out what the heck is going on. That fact is remarkable, considering how catchy their music is. I’ve probably annoyed the crap out of my roommate by singing along to these albums. The whole story is about a vampire and his cohorts traveling through Europe in an attempt to discover the truth of their origins. I feel I am doing you a disservice by not detailing the story a little more, but I’m having trouble finding a clear narrative, likely since it is a German band. The lyrics are in English, but I don’t think the books have been translated. Nevertheless, the vagueness of the story (for me, at least) makes listening to the albums that much more interesting because I discover something new with every listen.

Obviously, Part 2 picks up where Part 1 left off, with the numbering of the protagonist’s “visions” picking up at eleven. This is another long album, but it never drags on. In fact, like at the end of Part 1, I am left wanting more at the end of Part 2. The crunch of the guitars, the wail of the bass, the skill of the drums, and the atmosphere of the keyboards, all layered with Andy’s voice, as well as choral and orchestral additions, makes “Chronicles of the Immortals: Netherworld” a joy to listen to. These two albums just don’t seem to get old.

I’ll warn you, if you have never listened to Vanden Plas, start with Part 1, and then listen to the new album. Musically, it will make more sense, since the band reintroduces motifs in Part 2 that were developed in Part 1. While I have yet to hear a bad album from this band, the Chronicles of the Immortals saga takes their playing and storytelling to a whole new level. Unlike some metal bands, who often try to experiment with too many different sounds, Vanden Plas have firmly discovered/created their sound, and they don’t deviate from it. This ensures that they don’t have catastrophic failures when experimenting with a new sound. After all, why mess with a sure thing.

If you are a fan of progressive metal, symphonic prog, metal, or just amazing music, check out Chronicles of the Immortals, parts 1 and 2. It is well worth your time. I don’t normally rate albums here on Progarchy, but I am giving this one a solid 10/10.

http://www.vandenplas.de

Vanden Plas Release New Music Video

Vanden Plas recently released a new music video for a song off of their upcoming album, “Chronicles of the Immortals: Netherworld II,” the sequel to last year’s album. I don’t know about you, but I am really looking forward to this album. “Netherworld Pt. I” was my introduction to the band, and since then, I have listened to many of their earlier albums, and I am astounded by how amazing these guys are. This new music video is no exception. Check it out.

And happy birthday, Progarchy!!!

Vanden Plas — Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld (Best Prog Albums of 2014 — Part 5)

Continuing with my Top Ten Prog Albums of 2014: behold the new Vanden Plas. Allow me to add my track-by-track impressions.

Track one (3:52) starts off with a spoken-word introduction that together with the background music and a bit of singing builds a sense of anticipation. Then track two “The Black Knight” (8:29) lets us know we are unquestionably in excellently epic prog-metal territory. By the time track three “Godmaker” (5:24) kicks in, any doubts about whether or not the listener is in the presence of something extraordinary will have been removed. Clearly, this is an organically coherent compositional tour-de-force.

Track four (1:39) is a bit of a prelude that lets us catch our breath. But then track five “A Ghost’s Requiem” (3:56) is a completely surprising and unexpected transmogrification of sacred music tropes. This brilliant track cements the disc’s five-star status and forms a musical launch pad for the mind-blowing tracks that follow. Track six “New Vampyre” (6:16) and track seven “The King and the Children of Lost World” (7:52) continue to elevate the disc to new heights, which is quite astonishing, because standard practice is to lead an album with your finest material but here we have an unfolding organic whole and its accelerating excellence becomes more and more manifest.

Track eight “Misery Affection” (5:08) mellows out a bit and displays another side of the band’s remarkable skills. But just when we have been soothed by the stunning beauty of that brief pause in the intense metallic action, we are overwhelmed by track nine “Soul Alliance” (6:39), which together with its successor, track ten “Inside” (6:42), are my favorite parts the album, because their instrumentation and composition is sheer perfection. Together they tie together the entire album and bring things to conclusion in a brilliant way.

The final track, in fact, is absolutely the most satisfying conclusion to an epic concept album whole that I have heard in a long time. Really, I can’t recall feeling such excitement, other than with the similar way it feels to listen to the end of “2112” by Rush. The last two minutes of Chronicles Of The Immortals are pure dopamine-infused prog bliss. As those gigantic concluding waves of chords wash over us in the last two minutes, I am even reminded of some Rush tropes from the first half of the eighties.

Thanks, Vanden Plas. You have given us one of the greatest, most essential prog albums I have ever heard. What an amazing gift you have shared with us.