Progressive metal, in all it’s guises, has had one hell of a year!
From returning heroes (Tool / Opeth) to new blood who are lighting a fire up the ass of their contemporaries (AEONS / Blood Incantation), fans of all things progressive were blessed with an abundance of choice to sate their appetite.
Here’s our favourites of 2019…..
10. Soen – Lotus
Melodic, heavy, intricate and different, this Swedish progressive metal supergroup has been upping the prog ante since their debut arrived in 2012…..but in 2019 they finally hit their stride!
Released on February 1st, 2019 via Silver Lining Music.
With Lotus, Soen fixed all the nagging little problems which dogged their prior releases. The pacing here was perfect, the vocals mesmerising and dripping with emotion, and the band sounded as if they had matured into a single cohesive unit, intrinsically linked on every level.
Fans of Tool and Opeth will undoubtedly swoon over the music found here but Soen had notably honed their own unique identity, finally making comparisons a moot point.
The result was Soen’s greatest achievement to date.
9. Borknager – True North
Multi-faceted Norwegian progressive black metal masters who’ve been pummelling us with their grandiose noise for nigh on two and a half decades!
Released on 27th September, 2019 via Century Media.
From first track to last, True North cemented itself as one of Borknagar’s finest releases (quite a statement considering the quality of their back catalogue) and fully realised their outstanding blend of black, folk, and progressive metal at the 11th time of asking.
Unsurprisingly, True North sounded cataclysmic, an epic blast of thundering bombast littered with exemplary moments which defined the meaning of the term, ‘progressive’.
Intrepid explorers need set their compass to true North, it’s well worth the journey!
8. AEONS – A Tragic End
AEONS, from the Isle Of Man. Not exactly a destination renowned for metal – never mind technically audacious, progressively-minded heavy metal – but that’s the sphere of madness in which these talented bastards reside.
Self released on October 6th, 2019.
Home to to a myriad of styles, devices and genres, A Tragic End seamlessly moved from the aggressive progressive death metal of opener “Vampire” to classic Opeth sounding epics. As a suitable example, the outstanding title track is the kind of song you’ve prayed Mikael Akerfedlt would write ever since Heritage came out and disappointed the living shit out of you.
Vividly expressed and flawlessly played, A Tragic End was a welcome surprise and if you thought music this accomplished, this capable and this downright irresistible couldn’t possibly come from the little ol’ Isle of Man then you’re in for a shock / treat / awakening (delete where applicable).
7. Tool – Fear Inoculum
What are you, a fuckin’ Taylor Swift fan??!!
Released on August 30th, 2019 via Tool Dissectional, Volcano Entertainment, and RCA Records.
Because 13 years we waited and 13 years is a long time to wait, perhaps too long because there was no way Tool were going to release the kind of album that actually met our now lofty expectations. These mere mortals were never going to meet our god-like expectations and a sense of apathy upon finally hearing Fear Inoculum was sadly inevitable.
Still, a new Tool album was always going to be a reason to rejoice and while accusations of playing it relatively safe were apt, Fear Inoculum turned out to be a Tool album which appeared to revel in being in and of itself while refining the core elements we’d come to know and love.
The return of this almost mythical band, who waltzed into the room brandishing an album that ebbed and flowed like liquid gold, maintained that mythical status with ease.
6. ARCH / MATHEOS – Winter Ethereal
Arch/Matheos began life as a project formed by founding Fates Warning members John Arch and Jim Matheos who are joined, on Winter Ethereal, by the none too shabby likes of Joey Vera, Bobby Jarzombek, Mark Zonder, Steve Di Giorgio and Sean Malone (amongst others).
Released on May 10th, 2019 via Metal Blade Records.
With a calibre of musicians that speaks for itself you could hardly be surprised with Winter Ethereal‘s inclusion here.
These guys know their prog and they seamlessly delivered a masterclass in powerful (and power metal-esque) progressive metal which delivered a ‘classic’ sound clearly crafted for the modern world.
Undoutedly the stars of the show, Arch and Matheos harnessed the raw talent that always made Fates Warning so damn appealing and simply let their talents do the talking, with Matheos’ intricate and expressive riffs performing wonders around Arch’s consistently impressive vocal range.
5. Opeth – In Cauda Venenum
Pointless question. Move on.
Released on September 27th, 2019 via Moderbolaget Records.
We’ll just list the facts:
- In Cauda Venenum (Latin for “Venom in the Tail”) was the thirteenth studio album by Swedish progressive rock/ metal legends Opeth.
- It was released in two versions: a Swedish language version and an English language version. A brave and bold choice.
- It’s not only their ‘prog era’ benchmark but also the finest album they’ve recorded since Ghost Reveries.
- No, it wasn’t a progressive death metal album (those days are seemingly long gone) but it was still ‘heavy’ and is blatantly an exemplary prog metal record.
- In Cauda Venenum is a clear example of how this outstanding band has become so entrenched in prog lore that they no longer sound like a ‘modern band’ trying to recapture the essence of 70’s prog; they simply sound like Opeth….and there’s no one else quite like ’em!
4. Blood Incantation – Hidden History Of The Human Race
Otherworldly progressive death metallers Blood Incantation had already turned heads with 2016’s practically perfect Starspawn but with Hidden History Of The Human Race they’ve now elevated themselves to elite status.
Released on November 22nd, 2019 via Dark Descent Records.
Death metal has new progressive death metal leaders…..and Blood Incantation is their name.
No fear of a sophomore slump here as these Colorado death-dealers looked ever further to the stars and allowed Hidden History of the Human Race to take us mere mortals on a transgressive journey to the very edge of the cosmos.
Formed of 4 elaborate sojourns into prog/tech death metal majesty, Blood Incantation perfectly encapsulated the still thrilling potential of death metal when delivered by the finest technicians of their craft. Featuring a perfectly balanced blend of old-school brutality, progressive nuance, fiendish melody and neck-snapping groove, this outstanding album managed to surprise at every turn as these epic songs contorted themselves into ever more otherworldly shapes.
Believe the hype, Blood Incantation are currently the most exciting death metal band on the planet.
3. Cult Of Luna – A Dawn to Fear
Progressive post-metal heavy hitters who have a tendency to release albums that are impenetrably heavy in concept and tone and yet come laced with moments of aching beauty. It’s a conundrum!
Released on September 20th, 2019 via Metal Blade Records.
Fans will acknowledge that A Dawn to Fear found Cult of Luna operating at their heaviest to date, with the expected doom and sludge influences colliding effortlessly with their more ethereal moments.
At just 8 tracks spread over 80 gruelling minutes, this behemoth of an album may have been an exhausting proposition but Cult Of Luna’s skill has always been in immersing the listener in their inhospitable world…..and A Dawn to Fear was no exception.
Leaders of the progressive post-metal scene.
2. Wilderun – Veil Of Imagination
Symphonic progressive / folk metal geniuses who proved what they were truly capable of on their outstanding 3rd full length, Veil Of Imagination.
Released independently on November 1st, 2019.
Another band in this list who are taking Opeth’s clearly beloved heavier albums into new realms, Boston’s Wilderun are a bewildering preposition, informed by the aforementioned Opeth but clearly capable of surpassing them in their own unique way.
These songs are huge and unencumbered by genre limitation, massive in scope and matched in execution with no ideas left unrealised. Wilderun have seemingly harnessed some sort of ancient musical alchemy in order to make this work, but work it most certainly does and by utilising whatever is at their disposal – whenever they damn feel like it – the resulting songs were both thrillingly unpredictable and yet instantly memorable, such is the skill of Wilderun’s craft.
One thing is clear; these guys will be BIG!
1. Devin Townsend – Empath
A God amongst men, that’s who!
Released on March 29th, 2019 via InsideOut Music.
Devin Townsend continued to confound expectation with yet another career defining album. He is, after all, a visionary and a genius with no boundaries, so is it really any surprise that a new Devin Townsend album nicks our top spot for prog metal album of the year?
No, of course it fuckin’ isn’t!
Defiantly Devin, this bold statement of artistic integrity and originality came replete with a gargantuan production and the most diverse and dynamic set of songs your limited brain function could ever hope to comprehend, Empath didn’t swasn’t just an album, it was a fully realised journey into the mimd of a madman; one who knows no limitations and shits on life’s self-imposed barriers from a great height.
To categorise Devin’s work is almost pointless so we shall just describe it as majestic and leave it at that.
Honourable mentions: Dream Theater – Distance Over Time / Evergrey – The Atlantic / Leprous – Pitfalls / Lunar – Eidolon / Richard Henshall – The Cocoon.