TPM Top Lyrics/Concepts of 2019


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The Prog Mind has always been about the lyrical depths that progressive bands tend to delve.  In 2019, I was impressed by several writers, and the stories and emotions they brought to the table.  Below are my top 10 favorites of the year.

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10. Mother of Millions – “Artifacts”

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“Rise.  Evolve”.  Those words are the flagship for Mother of Millions, and you can hear that plea throughout their newest album.  “Artifacts” revolves around the idea that objects and feelings have ritual value, and thus can and should be cherished and observed.  I take this to mean that humans not only have the right to experience their feelings, but also the necessity.  The album is chock full of inclusion, love, and hope.

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9. Korn – “The Nothing”

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Korn’s latest is the exact opposite of hopeful.  “The Nothing” reminds me of “The Neverending Story” and the blackness that threatens to erase existence in that book/film.  I think the band is playing off that idea here, too.  The lyrics tell a story that is sad, dark, and angry.  In a way, though, this isn’t an “angsty” album.  It is a mature introspection on the scarring events of life, the question of a God who could allow such things, and the numbness that comes when there are simply no answers.  Brilliant, yes, but incredibly human and effective, too.

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8. Wilderun – “Veil of Imagination”

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I have no idea what the story on Wilderun’s “Veil of Imagination” is.  All I know is that it is written with such poetry and sincerity that I am always hypnotized.  I suppose having spoken word readings from Wordsworth and Eliot helps that, too.

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7. Courtney Swain – “Between Blood and Ocean”

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Courtney Swain is a brilliant lyricist, both on her solo album and on Bent Knee’s amazing “You Know What They Mean”.  While the latter definitely has more angst and rage, “Between Blood and Ocean” had a message I connected with even more.  The words are sincere, ambiguous, and mysterious.  The meaning of the lyrics is something you can feel in your core, even if it is difficult to put into words.  In a nutshell, the album is about societal and relational pressures that dampen and drain our souls of life.  These pressures can blind us from what is truly important and from the love so very close to us.  Sometimes, that love is our own heart, and we often ignore our own needs to focus on what other people think we should be.  I think that is a very mature thing to recognize.  I love Bent Knee, but I’m trying to move on from the “rage” part of my life and into the healed, more rational part.  I think this album oozes those things.

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6. Tool – “Fear Inoculum”

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Tool’s “Fear Inoculum” has some of the most mysterious lyrics I’ve ever heard, and that is no surprise.  Maynard is a fantastic writer, and he has become increasingly spiritual and balanced over the years.  The theme of this album revolves around growing old and looking back at where we’ve been and the things we’ve experienced.  So, in a way, looking back at where we were and then looking at the progress we’ve made can be an inoculum against fear.  Indeed, it can breed hope.  I really connected with that aspect.

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5. Exploring Birdsong – “The Thing With Feathers”

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While not a full album, Exploring Birdsong’s debut EP has some stunning and humane lyrics that I could not ignore.  The band is influenced strongly by Emily Dickinson, who actually wrote the poem called “Hope is the Thing with Feathers”.  The EP itself is based on a poem by Seamus Heaney called “Bye Child”, which itself is based on the real life child abuse case of Kevin Halfpenny, a child who was raised in a chicken coop for seven years.  The themes, as you can see, all run into each other rather organically.  The feeling put into this concept, too, is graceful and deep.  You can hear the pain.  You can feel the scars.  But you can also sense the hope and light that can overcome all of that, to grow wings from brokenness.  It really is a touching experience.

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4. Evergrey – “The Atlantic”

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How do I talk about this?  Much of it is none of our business, i.e., Tom and Carina’s divorce.  On the other hand, losing Carina from this project and from Tom’s world seems to have affected me, too.  “The Atlantic” is technically the last album in a trilogy, subtly begun in “Hymns for the Broken”, but broken wide open in “The Storm Within”.  All three albums, but especially the last two, have carried some of the deepest, darkest, most mournful words I’ve ever heard in music.  Tom is a master writer in this style, and to hear it come from personal experience and pain has been both hard to hear and absolutely riveting.  I wish the best to both Tom and Carina as they sail new seas.

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3. Cosmograf – “Mind Over Depth”

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Robin of Cosmograf never fails to impress lyrically.  I haven’t fully made out the story yet, but the basic theme is that of the human search for love, the battles and obstacles that ensue, and those dreaded feelings of being alone and misled.  This is a raw display of the human experience, and loss is part of all that.  As the album fades out with “This love isn’t real”, you can feel that puncture in your heart for those people who are ever searching, and never quite finding, the love of their lives.  We all know that feeling in some degree.

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2. Devin Townsend – “Empath”

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Devin really surprised me in 2019.  “Empath” is intensely hopeful and spiritual, yet also playful and interesting.  On one hand, Devin has joked about his concept of an intergalactic kitty exploring space and time.  On the other hand, the lyrics seem to aim at offering a glimpse at the unity that could be ours as a human race.  For all the strange moments and lyrical oddities present here, the album is a beacon of light, love, and human connection.  It wants us to ask questions, search for answers, and actually put some effort into love.  I really connect with those ideas at this point in my life.

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***1. In Continuum – “Acceleration Theory, Part 1 and 2″***

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In Continuum offers probably the most expansive, most complex concept in prog since, well, Sound of Contact’s “Dimensionaut”.  Let me paraphrase.  Basically, the first album is set in a world that is on the brink of WWIII.  An alien race has been nurturing and helping us evolve since ancient times, but they have run out of patience, so their plan is to wipe out humanity before Earth is destroyed.  Believing in us, a single alien called AlienA crash lands on Earth to warn humanity, but ends up falling in love with a man named Kai.  Before she can really warn humanity as a whole, she is abducted by her own race because they think she has some form of Stockholm Syndrome, rather than real love.

On the second album, the question becomes whether or not Kai can save humanity with what he knows.  In this album, WWIII has begun, and Kai is trying to communicate humanity’s imminent demise, but no one will listen.  I don’t want to spoil too much, but suffice it to say that Kai may be just the proof the alien race needed to spare the rest of us.  Kai was still capable of love, and that may be worth saving in the aliens’ eyes.  Now, I’ve heard similar stories before, but In Continuum gives it to us with ambition, love, and passion.  That is why I have chosen these albums as having my favorite lyrics and concepts of 2019.

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