It’s hard to believe we are already past the halfway point of 2020. What a year it has been, both for crazy circumstances and also for progressive music! Below you will find my favorite albums of the first half of 2020. Keep in mind, though, that things can change by the end of the year, and things have already changed this I reviewed these albums. It’s always interesting to see how albums will change and evolve in my perspective as time progresses. Also, I usually don’t include EPs or live albums in this list, or it might look very different. This list is only for albums released between January 1st and June 30th of 2020.
15. Agnes Obel – “Myopia”
This new Agnes Obel release has really grown on me. I find myself humming the tunes, especially “Island of Doom”, constantly. There is a hovering shadow that this album casts, and it is not easily forgotten.
14. The Carbon Files – “To Whom It May Concern”
I originally found this album through a Facebook ad, which have been getting better of late. This album is instrumental, ambient, and electronic in nature, but it is the driving, warm rhythms and the gorgeous piano that really make it for me. It seems like each song has become a favorite.
13. Deserta – “Black Aura My Sun”
The heights reached on this shoegaze album are truly extraordinary. I love the piercing melodies, towering guitars, and textured mix so much. This is just one of those albums that leaves you feeling happy.
12. Ms. Amy Birks – “All That I Am & All That I Was”
Uncompromising lyrics are the foundation for Ms. Amy Birks’ debut. The music is serene and balanced, but it is Amy’s unyielding performance and emotions that really make this album what it is. It is truly much deeper than you might notice at first glance.
11. Ignea – “The Realms of Fire and Death”
Ignea like to use fire as a metaphor, and you can hear it in their style. This album blazes a fantastic trail of metal and electronica, and it does not relent. Every single song on this album is fantastic.
10. Mariusz Duda – “Lockdown Spaces”
I never expected to be able to put a Mariusz Duda album in this list, but he surprised us with this electronic release. Per the cover, it is massively influenced by early video game music, but it is also shadowy, stark, and melancholy. Some of these songs simply won’t leave my brain.
9. Inner Odyssey – “The Void”
Speaking of surprises, this album ended up being way better than I expected. There’s something about the combination of pop, prog rock, and electronica here that is mesmerizing. However, it is the clear, strong writing that truly stands the test of time.
8. Chimpan A – “The Empathy Machine”
This album could have been made by Mike Oldfield, and you’ll hear that familiar guitar tone. But you will also hear amazing backing vocals, electronica, and strong melodies. The choruses on this album are addictive, to say the least.
7. Pure Reason Revolution – “Eupnea”
If there is a 2020 album that has more drive, more oomph, and more spacious gravy, I haven’t heard it. PRR’s long-awaited return has soothing harmonies that slam directly into huge walls of monster rhythms. It will leave you breathless, for sure.
6. Sojourner – “Premonitions”
This new Sojourner album has slowly grown on me even more since my review. There’s something about the stark vocal contrasts, the pining melodies, and the epic instrumentals that keeps drawing me back. And the cover has a humongous owl on it. How can it not be amazing?
5. Nightwish – “Human :II: Nature”
This is my first experience with Nightwish (planning to start a Nightwish discography project soon), and it certainly exceeded all expectations. I love the first disc, with all of its symphonic metal glory. However, the second disc, being a cinematic work of art, is what really elevates this whole album in my mind.
4. Conception – “State of Deception”
There’s no singer out there like Roy Khan. After his return to Conception last year, we finally got to hear a full new album, and it is every bit as dark and as sumptuous as I hoped. This is music that feels elevated and that revels in theatricality and emotion. I can’t get enough.
3. IO Earth – “Aura”
IO Earth have a consistent quality to their albums, but “Aura” reminds me so much of their debut, which happens to be my favorite. With larger-than-life vocals, evocative melodies, and deep lyrics, this is an album that keeps getting better. The final track, “The Rain”, might be my favorite song of the year thus far.
2. Delain – “Apocalypse and Chill”
I’ve been a fan of Delain for several years, and this is the best album I’ve ever heard by them. With prophetic lyrics, giant riffs, and stunning vocals, this album is a true earworm, especially for this crazy year. I find myself listening to this album multiple times per week still.
1. Pendragon – “Love Over Fear”
It will be difficult to dethrone Pendragon’s fantastic new album this year. There are some upcoming releases that have some potential to do that, but they will have to deliver in spades. This is Pendragon’s best album since Not of This World, and it has all of the glory, thoughtfulness, and spine-tingling performances I expected to hear. Amazing job by one of my favorite bands, and my first 10/10 in years.
~ Honorable Mentions ~
Mushroomhead – “A Wonderful Life”
Vulkan – “Technatura”
Psychotic Waltz – ‘The God-Shaped Void”
Grey Daze – “Amends”
Aesthesys – “Alignments”
Caligula’s Horse – “Rise Radiant”