2015 has been a year full of quality progressive releases, making it extremely difficult to compile a fair list of the top ten. The term “prog” itself becomes, well, progressively more complicated to define all the time, therefore I have attempted to incorporate a healthy variety of bands within this list. That being said, I decided not to include The Aristocrats – despite the fact that “Tres Caballeros” is a fantastic album – since that would open the door to jazz fusion, and there were already too many great contenders. It pained me to see certain bands such as Caligula’s Horse, Arcane, and Native Construct fall just short of making it on to this list, but after all, there were only ten spots up for grabs. So without further ado, I present my top ten prog albums of the year.
10. Steven Wilson – “Hand. Cannot. Erase.”
Many fans of the genre will undoubtedly be surprised (and outraged) to see Steven Wilson so far down on this list, but I think it rather fitting to start off with the prog prince himself. “Hand. Cannot. Erase.” is my personal favourite solo album of Wilson’s; between the beautifully heartbreaking composition of each track, and the flawless performance of every musician involved, including The Aristocrats’ Guthrie Govan and Marco Minnemann. If, somehow, you have not had the pleasure of giving this album a spin, I certainly recommend that you remedy that immediately.
Favourite tracks: “Ancestral”, “Routine”
9. TesseracT – “Polaris”
Another album that is sure to be on many year-end lists, “Polaris” is proof that TesseracT simply keeps getting better. With killer riffs, funky bass, and featuring some of the best songs out of their entire discography, the return of Dan Tompkins on vocals is just the tip of the iceberg. As usual, his melodies are passionate yet soothing, and definitely help to put this record on the map.
Favourite tracks: “Utopia”, “Hexes”
8. Leprous – “The Congregation”
Over the last couple of years, Norwegian outfit Leprous has become one of my top bands, and while it will be hard for them to beat the masterpiece that is “Bilateral”, “The Congregation” is certainly a highlight of 2015. The addition of the extremely talented Baard Kolstad on drums really made this album even better for me. As is their style, the tracks are heavy and intense, with Einar Solberg’s captivating melodies magically tying everything together. I am definitely looking forward to hearing what these guys come out with next.
Favourite tracks: “The Price”, “Red”
7. Pomegranate Tiger – “Boundless”
As a fellow Canadian, it is extra sweet to be able to put Pomegranate Tiger on this list. Martin Andres, who not only wrote this majestic album, but also performed the majority of the music himself, is an exceptional talent that I hope gains more recognition in time. “Boundless” sets the bar ever higher for solo instrumental metal, with fearless musicianship and recurring themes that turn individual tracks into a cohesive musical journey. Complex and layered, with a gorgeous string ensemble finish, this is without question an album that I suggest everyone takes the time to check out.
Favourite tracks: “The Masked Ball”, “Cyclic”
6. Earthside – “A Dream In Static”
The debut album from Earthside is sure to blow you away. All four members bring quite a bit of talent to the table, and the contributions of guest musicians such as TesseracT’s Dan Tompkins, as well as the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra, make “A Dream In Static” all the more impressive. The album features emotional vocal performances, as well as dynamic and intricate instrumental swells that almost make you wonder why you hadn’t been listening to it sooner. Since coming across this band recently, “A Dream In Static” has been one of my most-played albums, and I don’t see that changing any time soon.
Favourite tracks: “Crater”, “Skyline”
5. Mestis – “Polysemy”
Although guitarist Javier Reyes is primarily known for his skills in Animals As Leaders, his project Mestis is something that stands out even more in my eyes. “Polysemy” is somehow better than the previous Mestis album, and has really fantastic groove for a guitar-driven project. With members of Intronaut and Chon backing Reyes up, it’s no wonder. This is another one of those instrumental prog metal albums that pushes the genre, and doesn’t leave you with an empty feeling due to lack of vocals. The organized chaos is accentuated by sporadic auxiliary percussion, and the jazzy guitar licks that are layered over top bring everything together nicely.
Favourite tracks: “Gentle Giant”, “Eclipse”
4. Riverside – “Love, Fear, and the Time Machine”
Polish prog giants Riverside have created an optimistic atmosphere this time around with “Love, Fear, and the Time Machine”, and like the title suggests, the listener is transported on a journey, going literally from “Lost” to “Found”. The first half of this album in particular has been playing on repeat for months, and the lyrics are constantly popping up in my head. This is one of the more classically prog albums on this list, effectively combining sentiment with catchy time signature changes. As if I didn’t already love this band enough.
Favourite tracks: “Caterpillar and the Barbed Wire”, “Saturate Me”
3. Intronaut – “The Direction of Last Things”
If there are any Intronaut fans out there who have yet to hear their latest release, “The Direction of Last Things”, I am pleased to inform you that you will not be disappointed. It is precisely what you would expect from an Intronaut album, and I mean that in the best way possible. Fusing groovy rhythms with complex yet soothing melodies comes seemingly naturally to these guys, and the musicianship is better than ever. They know how to build up a song, incorporating intense syncopation and various odd meters, to create a funky, heavy jazz sound like few others. This album definitely leaves you satisfied and wanting more.
Favourite tracks: “Sul Ponticello”, “Digital Gerrymandering”
2. Scale The Summit – “V”
The appearance of an instrumental album so close to the top spot might be surprising, but if anyone knows how to write a cohesive album chalk full of fantastic performances by all members, it’s Scale the Summit. No matter how much I have played “V” over the last few months, every time is just as exciting as the first, and I find myself lost in the artistry. Everything is balanced, allowing you to appreciate and clearly hear each part. The entire album inspires a positive feeling, with it’s lively jazzy riffs, and rather danceable rhythms. There is too much creativity and talent happening here to miss out on.
Favourite tracks: “Oort Cloud”, “The Winged Bull”
1. Miosis – “Caripito”
More often than not, a mere handful of artists overshadow equally deserving underground talent, and so I feel no shame whatsoever about putting Miosis right at the top where they belong. This is an extremely skillful Swedish band that I talk about as frequently as people will allow, and while “Caripito” is technically an EP (approximately 34 minutes in length), I still feel that it is the best release of the year. With every listen, I discover more and more reasons to adore Miosis, and they have already been one of my favourite bands since the first time I heard their debut album, “Albedo Adaptation”. “Caripito” is heavy, complex, and evokes a depth of emotion like nothing else in my mind. Chances are that you have yet to discover this band, and I therefore highly recommend that you take the time to do so.
Favourite tracks: “Scotoma”, “Inferno”