40. Psychotic Waltz
– “The God-Shaped Void”
A much-anticipated and long-awaited return from these prog metal masters, “The God-Shaped Void” was every bit as visceral and dark as I’d hoped. Devon sounds amazing, and it was great to hear his voice again. But, in the end, it was the creative instrumentals that really drew me to this album.
39. Myrkur – “Folkesange”
Myrkur has always offered folk music to some extent, but on “Folkesange” she ditched the black metal entirely in order to create a serene, thoughtful album of Scandinavian folk music that simply hums and rings with passion. I love the giant vocal moments, but I also love the diversity of the tracks and the fantastic closer “Vinter”.
38. Empress – “Wait ’til Night”
How do you approach an album that feels like you must have extra guts to start it? Australia’s Empress debuted with an album of doomy, indie, post-metal rock that likes to stay low and dirty. It dredges itself into the mire of murky human feelings, chaos made real through rock instrumentation, and a nameless, disquieting vocal performance. Empress absolutely nails the ambience and tone to the point that the end of the album feels simultaneously brilliant and relieving. If you dare, I bid you enter this gloomy void.
37. Gazpacho – “Fireworker”
Gazpacho doesn’t seem to miss. With “Fireworker”, they created an album of menacing ritual and fiery peril as their protagonist enters his own mind to battle his fearful, instinctual side. With plenty of climactic moments and a pleasing loud-quiet dynamic, this album is yet another winner from these veterans.
– “A Wonderful Life”
I’ve loved Mushroomhead since my high school days, and they’ve always ridden the edges of progressive metal in my eyes. This album brought in a new singer, as well as enhancing the input from Ms. Jackie. This album truly earns the “avant-garde metal” label, with lots of elements in play, from metal and rock to electronic, industrial, and art rock. “A Wonderful Life” is cunningly crafted, darkly evocative, and surprisingly catchy.
35. Pure Reason Revolution
I’ll admit that Pure Reason Revolution’s long-awaited return is a fantastic album, but one that has lost a little luster since my review. The mind-bending instrumentation and harmonious vocals are truly beautiful, but I was perhaps too eager with my original rating. Still, it’s a great album through and through.
34. Hollingshead – “Stay Dead”
Hollingshead released their debut in December, but it made such an impact on me that I felt they should make this list. With members of Evergrey and Carptree present, the sound is decidedly Swedish, meaning that it is dark and metallic. However, with Carptree’s macabre and quirky tone in the mix, this album becomes something truly special, not to mention the lack of guitars. With roaring bass lines and hovering organ passages, this album sounds like nothing else.
33. Votum – “Duhkha”
Votum is one of the unsung bands of the Polish scene, and this visceral, weighty (though short) album hits hard. The lyrics are potent, the guitars are heavy, and the vocals are through the roof. I can’t wait to see what they produce next.
32. Hibernal – “Relic”
“Relic” might be my favorite Hibernal release in years, even over his other 2020 release, “Beyond”, which is wonderful in its own right. “Relic”, though, sees Mark focusing on story and consciousness more than ever, and I truly loved the dialogue, ambient musical textures, and characters here.
31. Lonely Robot
– “Feelings Are Good”
Hot on the heels of his 2019 offering, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this new direction from Lonely Robot. The music, admittedly, is similar, but there is a sense of claustrophobia and inner battles here that wasn’t present in the original, spacious trilogy. This album includes two orchestral versions, as well, which I find to be some of the project’s best offerings yet. My expectations are still high for the future of Lonely Robot.
30. Deserta – “Black Aura My Sun”
Deserta’s debut was a random find for me, but it stuck with me. I’ve always loved shoegaze, but I feel like this project has more heart and emotion in more authenticate ways than other shoegaze projects. “Black Aura My Sun” manages to be emotional, catchy, and toweringly beautiful all at the same time.
29. Agnes Obel – “Myopia”
Agnes creates some of the oddest music I’ve ever heard. I don’t think any label will suffice to describe her haunting, otherworldly ambient style, especially her strange yet beautiful vocals. “Myopia” proved itself to be a stark, nuanced album with fantastic instrumental interludes and warped tentpole songs. I can’t stop listening to it.
28. Maciej Meller – “Zenith”
Maciej is the new guitarist for Riverside, though I’ve been familiar with his work in other projects for many years. This solo album, however, is every bit as ghostly, mysterious, and beautiful as I expected, and it gave me spine-tingling expectations for his future work with my favorite band.
27. Simon Collins
– “Becoming Human”
After the split with Sound of Contact (which might be back together now?), Simon mentioned working on a solo record that would utilize some of the material from SoC’s planned sophomore album. Well, I’m sure some of that came into play, but overall “Becoming Human” is an electronic rock album that stands on its own two feet. Simon has written some intensely catchy tunes here, and the closer “Dead Ends” is absolutely stunning, especially.
26. Inner Odyssey – “The Void”
This is probably the most playful prog metal album of 2020. Inner Odyssey has wit, banter, and color, and that is injected into their music. “The Void” can be dark at times, transitioning through rock, metal, pop, and electronica without missing a beat. But ever-present is their love for gaming and a sly look that asks us not to take it too seriously.
25. Ulver – “Flowers of Evil”
Ulver are veterans of music in general, as they have experimented with various styles for years. “Flowers of Evil” explored their electronic rock style once again with plenty of amazing beats, lustrous vocals, and perfect synth. The religious imagery, too, is nice and dark, just how I like it.
24. Chimpan A
– “The Empathy Machine”
Chimpan A’s new album may be one of the hidden gems of 2020. This album offers something between progressive rock with Floydian trappings and backing vocal harmonies and pop with tons of autotune and melody. Those two ideas are sewn together with electronica and Oldfield-esque passion. And I can’t get enough.
23. Rashida Prime – “Plastic Void”
Rashida Prime’s latest progressive electronic journey really captured my heart in 2020. I first heard it early in the year, but re-discovered it later only to become obsessed with its whirling, crystalline textures once again. With long-format song structures and razor-sharp ambition, “Plastic Void” is one of the best electronic releases of 2020.
22. Aleah – “Aleah”
This tribute to Aleah Starbridge (may she rest in peace) is a truly magical experience. With a combination of new acoustic songs and remixed previously-released material, this album is like falling into a well of a purpose and passion. Aleah’s vocals and lyrics are as potent, prophetic, and heartbreaking as ever.
– “The Realms of Fire and Death”
It’s easy to hear ambition when it is present, and Ignea is one of the most ambitious bands I’ve heard in some time. Combining symphonic, folk, and progressive metals into one burning hot machine, “The Realms of Fire and Death” sees the band’s explosive, precise style really come alive. Especially with Helle’s mix of beautiful clean vocals and brutal harsh vox, this album tells me that this band has all the heart and technical prowess to become huge.
20. Chaos Divine – “Legacies”
Chaos Divine is one of the most consistent bands in progressive metal, and they certainly wear their heart on their sleeve, too. With lyrics calling back to their earlier album “The Human Connection”, fantastic vocals as usual, and stunning song-writing, “Legacies” really touched my heart in 2020.
19. Nightwish – “Human :||: Nature”
I’ve admittedly never explored Nightwish’s discography (something I hope to remedy in 2021), so “Human :||: Nature” was my first true experience with the band. I absolutely loved the eclectic symphonic metal I found, and I loved just as much the second disc with its cinematic, orchestral story of humanity. This is a release that I will continue to savor for some time.
18. Fires in the Distance
– “Echoes from Deep November”
I didn’t know what to expect from Fires in the Distance, but this band managed to produce a balanced debut worth noticing. With doom and progressive death in one powerful package, they offered an eager, burgeoning darkness that feels deliciously raw and vulnerable. This album is a true thing of Gothic beauty.
17. Lucid Planet – “II”
My expectations for this sophomore effort from Lucid Planet weren’t actually that high. Their debut was soaked in Tool influence, and, while done really well, isn’t really my thing. However, “II” turned out to be exactly my sort of thing. Taking us on a journey through prog metal, electronica, dub, and various folk sounds, this album is as diverse and perfectly realized as I could have ever wanted. This album will only climb my list of favorites over time, too.
16. The Carbon Files
– “To Whom It May Concern”
More often than not, I found myself listening to this brilliant album from The Carbon Files in 2020. Mixing cinematic piano with electronic trappings, this album is really good at making me feel and see its subject matter through its emotive compositions. This is music that soothes and heals, and I definitely needed that in such a crazy year.
15. Sojourner – “Premonitions”
Sojourner was a surprise for me, as I didn’t know much about them. “Premonitions” grabbed my heart and mind, though, with its fantastical, elegant style. I love the brutal metallic side it offers, but also the melodious keys, folk accents, and balanced atmosphere. This album is simply a pleasure to hear.
14. Fates Warning
– “Long Day Good Night”
Fates Warning are one of the original progressive metal bands, but here they are still making relevant, excellent albums. “Long Day Good Night” will go down as one of their best, too, and certainly one of my favorites from them. I think this is primarily because of not only its legendary musicians, but also because of its shadowy, engaging style and lyrical material. For me, this is up there with “Disconnected”.
13. Thomas Bergersen
– “Humanity I and II”
I actually expected Thomas Bergersen’s two chapters of “Humanity” to be higher on this list, but I found myself unable to cut any of the albums above on this list. Still, this toweringly epic, highly emotional project from such a notable composer really captivated me in 2020, and we still have five more chapters to go!
12. Conception – “State of Deception”
Conception was yet another band that came surging back in the last couple years. With Roy Khan on vocals, this was a dream for me, but it was the raw instrumentation, ravenous political commentary, and uncompromising vision that ended up enthralling me the most.
11. Silent Skies – “Satellites”
Silent Skies’ debut was several years in the making, but it was worth every second. Tom of Evergrey and Vikram of Lux Terminus came together with such emotional clarity that I dare you to listen and not shed a tear. This album of cinematic, piano-heavy music has all the soul, humanity, and heart-rending tidal force that it can power your dreams, yet it still revels in subtlety and finesse. The balance is stunning to experience.
10. Damnation Angels
– “Fiber of Our Being”
Damnation Angels’ latest really threw me for a loop. With a new singer and a revived energy, “Fiber of Our Being” is a blast to hear, but the band also focused on more cerebral and ambient moments, so the album comes across as balanced intensity. I listen to it all the time.
9. Michael Whalen – “Sacred Spaces”
I’m actually listening to this on vinyl as I type this. Michael Whalen’s claim to fame is through more commercial compositions, but his obvious love for progressive rock and electronic made me curious. Of course, the amazing cover art helped, too. Anyways, this serene, transcendent progressive electronic album is as classy, melodic, and inspired as any I’ve heard.
8. Light Field Reverie
– “Another World”
Combining Heike of ISON and Draconian with Mike and Scotty of Sojourner, I was instantly interested in this new project. With ethereal, cosmic, doomy vibes, this album is equal parts metal and texture. The lyrics also happen to be amazingly written and deeply pensive, and so this album has become a perfect storm for me. I can’t help but listen to it almost every day.
7. Oceans of Slumber
– “Oceans of Slumber”
Oceans of Slumber was ready for a reboot of sorts. They seemed prepared to take their strengths and graft in new ideas, and that is exactly what this self-titled album did. The band is heavier and more powerful than ever, but Cammie is even more on focus, and the diversity of the tracks is also apparent. Oceans of Slumber seems poised for success.
6. IO Earth – “Aura”
IO Earth hasn’t received the success I believe they deserve. Their latest album soars with their magical debut in both melody and lyrical quality. This album is a thoughtful, beautiful affair with artistry and humanity.
5. Pain of Salvation – “Panther”
After returning to their earlier style in 2017, many expected the band to produce essentially a second part to that album, but the band decided to visit new territory. Falling more in line with Faith No More or System of a Down in offering something far more innovative, out of bounds, and simply cool than “normal” prog metal, this album is brilliant, working in more electronica, keyboards, industrial inspirations, and sheer chaos than even many fans of progressive music can handle. All of this, and the concept behind the album is heavy, too. This is up there with Pain of Salvation’s greatest albums.
4. Delain – “Apocalypse & Chill”
I never thought I’d see the day when I became infatuated with a Delain album on this level, but 2020 was a year for firsts. “Apocalypse & Chill” is as deeply artistic and philosophical as it is fun, energetic, and technically brilliant. The band is simply on fire here, besting everything else in their genre. I listen to this album, windows down and moonroof wide open, and I blast it as loud as I dare. What an album!
3. Pendragon – “Love Over Fear”
Pendragon is a top three band for me. They mean more to me than I can even express. “Love Over Fear” returned to the whimsy and pastoral beauty of some of their older albums, but this is no retread. Instead, this is an inspired record, one where you can feel the sea and hear the tide. This is an album of great care, precision, and insight, as well. Depending on my mood, this is the best Pendragon album ever.
2. Lunatic Soul
– “Through Shaded Woods”
I honestly worried about the quality of this LS album because of how busy Mariusz seemed with other projects. I should not have worried at all. “Through Shaded Woods”, it is possible, might end up being considered the best LS album to date, with vivid folk rhythms, utter heart and soul, and some of Marisuz’s best vocals ever. This album sweeps me away to another place, another existence, another being. It truly is a spiritual experience.
– “Under a Godless Veil”**
Speaking of spirit, Draconian’s “Under a Godless Veil” was five years in the making, but even that length of time seems too short to create such a vibrant, exotic masterpiece. With Gnostic mist, beloved performances, glorious contrasts, and high magic, the band managed to craft an album of absolute sentient perfection in my eyes. This is, without a doubt, my favorite album of 2020.