Every season of life, to me, is indelibly tied to certain songs. For example, I associate my memories of summer 2017 with “Tarkus” by ELP and my memories of spring 2016 with “Anthem” by Rush. This year, especially the latter half, has been marked by many major life changes, not least being my new gig here at The PROG Mind, one of my favorite music sites on the worldwide web. Here are a few new songs that will always bring back fond memories of 2018.
14: Glass Hammer – “Melancholy Holiday”
Glass Hammer’s new release, Chronomonaut, was the last album I reviewed this year, and it was a welcome surprise for me. The bulk of their songs are very cool retro-prog pieces that evoke Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, Rush’s Signals and Yes’ The Yes Album, but this track is an exception. One of the weirdest songs I’ve heard this year, it evokes King Crimson, Tangerine Dream and krautrock, and features quality playing throughout. I highly recommend it to any fan of the psychedelic.
13: Imagine Dragons – “Natural”
Let’s get it out of the way: Wayne Sermon is the most underrated guitarist on the planet. He is constantly overlooked by modern pop fans (who often don’t care to know anyone but the singer) as well as “underground” music connoisseurs like us (who often don’t care to check out anything that reeks of popularity). While the album features many great Wayne moments, such as the acoustic riffage of “West Coast” and the solo from “Machine,” I picked “Natural,” a catchy, well-crafted pop-rock song which showcases the band’s talents.
12: Alice In Chains – “All I Am”
Alice In Chains are back, and they sound awesome! Rainier Fog, I must admit, was the first album of theirs I’d ever listened to all the way through, and it was a heck of an introduction. My favorite song by far is “All I Am,” a somewhat ominous grunge ballad with an unbelievable guitar solo at the end. It made for a killer closing track.
11: Riverside – “River Down Below”
If I didn’t put something by Riverside or at least Lunatic Soul on this list, Jason would probably fire me! (Kidding!) I haven’t really listened to a lot of Riverside, but so far, “River Down Below” is my favorite song of theirs. It’s a heart-wrenching acoustic ballad by Mariusz Duda. My only complaint is the solo at the end, which just feels wrong for the song. Although, as Jason has pointed out, maybe that was the idea.
10: Aaron Brooks – “You’re Just A Picture In A Frame”
When I first heard this song, there was no question that it would end up on this list. It’s simply a perfect progressive pop composition, with an easy, memorable melody over a lush arrangement. If I was in the business of “rating” songs, this would be a 10/10. There’s nothing I want to fix.
9: Fu Manchu – “Il Mostro Atomico”
There’s not a guitarist on the planet like Alex Lifeson. While there are some guitarists who obviously fall into the “feel” category, and others who are clearly “technique” maestros, I consider Alex the perfect blend of both aspects of quality guitar playing. He stars on this epic by Fu Manchu, which is in turn psychedelic, beautiful, heavy, and bizarre. Fu Manchu, with their new album Clone of the Universe, has firmly cemented themselves as a bona fide prog band. This song has me both excited for Fu Manchu’s next record and the possibility of a new Lifeson project(?).
11: Rivers Of Nihil – “Subtle Change
(Including the Forest of Transition and Dissatisfaction Dance)”
Rivers Of Nihil are not your everyday death metal band, and “Subtle Change” proves why. Sudden shifts between atmospheric soundscapes and insane, full-throttle blast beats as well as one of the best basslines of the year (thanks, Adam Biggs) and a saxophone solo make this mini-epic one of the most memorable tracks of the year. (Oh, and if the track name reminded you of King Crimson too, you get a sticker.)
7: Dave Grohl – “Play”
I might as well come clean now. I love grunge, Nirvana is one of my all-time favorite bands, and I see no reason not to listen to “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Supper’s Ready” in the same day! Dave Grohl has obviously done a lot of things, with varying degrees of success, but his new, 20-plus-minute instrumental is a fully-formed progressive rock piece that’s just as catchy as if Kurt Cobain was singing it. As if I needed another reason to love Dave…
6: Haken – “The Puzzle Box”
I consider Haken THE prog band of my generation. At their very young age, they already have imitators, while they themselves are not an imitation even of themselves. You could listen to any Haken song and instantly know which album it came from. Their latest left turn, Vector, veers dangerously close to two genres I don’t really like-djent and EDM-without using the showoffery of djent, the insincerity of EDM, or the repetition and predictability of either. “The Puzzle Box” is the catchiest and most exciting cut from their new record, and prominently features the shimmering keyboard work of Diego Wakeman-ahem, Tejeida.
5: Shineback – “The Gentleman”
Shineback is Simon Godfrey’s solo project, and his latest album stands right up there with anything he or his brother Jem (Frost*) have ever done. One of my favorite albums in recent memory, you may recall that it earned my first-ever 10/10 rating.“The Gentleman” is representative of the record: a catchy pop song with lush arrangements and multiple sections. If nothing else, I love it for its placement in the record. It’s a nice breath of fresh English air after the sheer terror of “Here I Am.”
4: Jarod Fedele – “Galaxies In Harmony”
I have a rule: only one song per artist. That meant I could choose one, and only one, song from Jarod Fedele’s stellar debut, A Collection Of Color. Dang it! In the end, I decided on “Galaxies In Harmony,” which could have been named, “To Heck With Genres.” Armed only with his trusty keyboard, Fedele boldly walks the line between heavy metal and early 70s fusion jazz. His fluid, smooth playing guides the composition through each of its diverse sections. It’s weird, wonderful, and worth your time!
3: Sigh – “Homo Homini Lupus”
Ahh, Sigh. (See what I did there?) Another great band that I found via Progressive Music Planet (if you don’t read it, you should) as well as one that would make my mom think I’m on drugs. Their dark riffage and rabid growls are glossed over by angelic church-organ keys and woodwinds of all shapes and sizes. It has a more “classic metal” aesthetic than their previous work, although frontman and mastermind Mirai Kawashima says “don’t expect the rest of the album to sound like this.” I’m equal parts excited and frightened.
2: YYNOT – “To Come Back Home”
This song has it all: a perfect melody, a great arrangements, and beautiful performances by all the band members. YYNOT is mostly known for their Rush covers (though they reject the label “tribute band”), and this song is such a perfect piece of progressive pop that I almost feel like it is a Rush song. I’m listening to it right now, and as it turns out, the solo still gives me chills. A modern-day classic if ever there was one.
1: Voïvod – “Orb Confusion”
Here it is! My favorite song of 2018! Voïvod combines the drive of The Ramones, the melody of any good pop-rock band, and the chords of King Crimson and Igor Stravinsky to create a masterpiece of avant-garde metal. The bass is a punch to the gut, the guitar is doing everything at once, the drums beg the listener to air-drum, and the vocals are both extreme and insanely catchy. “Now/What should I do?/Where should I go?/How to escape?”
Now for my album of the year…
Album of the Year
Abraham – Look, Here Comes The Dark!
In the end, the four-part post-prog concept album had to take the prize. From the rancorous, extreme Anthropocene era, in which civilization crumbles and man becomes extinct, to the heavy, painful Phytocene, in which the earth is overgrown by vegetation, to the quirky, jazzy Myocene, in which a ginormous mycelium takes over the world, to the dark, solemn Oryktocene, in which the empty, nameless earth floats through space, this album feels like the end of the world. Look, here comes Abraham-and they’re a bold, creative, post-metal outfit that could and should be huge.
Voïvod – The Wake
Voïvod has been one of my favorite new discoveries in recent years, and their new record may well be their best work since Nothingface. It’s certainly their proggiest. Many of you are familiar with the Big 4 of thrash and the Big 4 of prog metal. They should both be the Big 5-Voïvod is THE band to watch in both genres, in my opinion!
Read my review here.
Shineback – Dial
This album got a 10/10 from me back in September and that rating has not dwindled. From the epic title track and the chillaxed “The Gentleman” to the hard-rocking “Consider Her Ways” and the infectious “Me vs. Me,” Simon Godfrey has created a collection of prog songs for our times.
Read my review here.
Jarod Fedele – A Collection Of Color
I’m picking these albums based on percentage of success, but if I judged them by the sheer amount of great music on each, California-based keyboard virtuoso Jarod Fedele would take the top spot easily. The last two songs (what I call “disc 2,” even though I own a digital copy) are not nearly as good as the first seven, but those seven are some of the best prog instrumentals I’ve ever heard from anybody not named Rush.
Read my review here.
Ring Van Möbius – Past The Evening Sun
I did not get to review this one. If you like King Crimson, Van Der Graaf Generator, or ELP, you will like this album. It’s a musical time portal to the 1970s.
Read a review from our colleague Rob (of Progressive Music Planet) here.
To all the artists whose music I discovered this year, thanks for what you do! It’s been a great year in the music world!
“My only complaint is the solo at the end, which just feels wrong for the song.” This is exactly what I thought about it.