If you are or are buying for a prog fan, it’s hard to go wrong with the crop of progressive albums that were released this year. From genre veterans like Dream Theater and Rush to newcomers Amaran’s Plight and Waking Hour, there’s a lot of progressive bliss to go around.
Voice in the Light
Featuring progressive masters such as DC Cooper (Royal Hunt, Silent Force) and Gary Wehrkamp (Shadow Gallery), Amaran’s Plight is a supergroup that works. Voice in the Light is a far more personal album than anything Cooper’s done before, as well as a more creative album that the last few Shadow Gallery offerings. Very rarely do new bands release something as unique and creative as Amarn’s Plight has, and even more rarely do supergroups release albums that actually fix the problems the musicians’ respective bands have had in the past. Amaran’s Plight does both, and in doing so creates an experience unlike anything else this year. Prog fans will most likely appreciate the epic story that ties the album together, but just about anyone can appreciate the fantastic musicianship. With the exception of 20+ member projects like Ayreon and Avantasia, Voice in the Light may just be the best album from a progressive supergroup since “Brain Salad Surgery.”
In any other year, Isolate might have been an essential album for progressive fans. Unfortunately, playing some of the most complicated instrumentals this side of Dream Theater isn’t enough to put this album on the same level as many of the other creative masterpieces that 2007 has brought us. Even when you consider that Isolate is an incredibly polished and focused effort from a band that has the potential to rank among the genre’s elites, Isolate is still an album that can only be recommend to big fans of the genre. However, if most of the other albums on this list are already in the collection of you or the person you’re shopping for, this album may not be a bad choice. There may not be anything new here, but what’s here is done exceptionally well.
Ziltoid the Omniscient
Ziltoid is a must buy for anyone looking for a concept album that’s as epic as it is humorous, and it’s also well worth getting for anyone who thinks progressive music is always serious and boring. Not enough can be said about the genius that is Devin Townsend. With Ziltoid, he reminds us that he’s not only one of the most creative musicians in the history of metal, but also one of the funniest men in music today. In less than an hour, Ziltoid has more hilarious moments than almost all comedic films released in 2007, and compared to other albums, its humor is up there with the best of Weird Al Yankovic and Stephen Lynch. If you’re looking for something that will make you laugh until it hurts, you can’t go wrong with Ziltoid. As disappointing as it is that Strapping Young Lad and the Devin Townsend Band are on hiatus, it’s hard to complain when Devin Townsend continues to release brilliant progressive epics like this one.
Systematic Chaos may not be the creative breakthrough that Dream Theater desperately needs, but it should please fans nonetheless. If you’ve heard Dream Theater, you know what to expect, but that doesn’t mean what you’re getting is bad. Systematic Chaos features the same mind blowing musicianship that Dream Theater is known for, and that alone makes it a recommendable listen. Those who are familiar with the band shouldn’t expect anything new, but anyone that hasn’t heard Dream Theater’s legendary musicians should prepare to be blown away.
Even though it’s not as essential as many of the other progressive albums of 2007, nor is it a huge improvement over what Pagan’s Mind has done before, it’s easy to recommend God’s Equation to any fan of progressive music. To longtime fans of the band that don’t already own this, it’s even easier to recommend. Pagan’s Mind started as a generic yet talented power/progressive metal band, but have now created a style that is much more creative and accessible than what’s generally found from that combination. Even for those not into power metal, God’s Equation is progressive enough to appeal to almost all progressive fans, and the same can be said for power metal fans that don’t normally venture into the progressive genre. Pagan’s Mind has struck a balance that’s accessible to even those who aren’t interested in either of the genres Pagan’s Mind blends. It’s not as creative or revolutionary as the new Symphony X or Porcupine Tree albums, but God’s Equation is still an album well worth experiencing.
Pain of Salvation
Even for Pain of Salvation, this album is weird. So weird, in fact, many of fans of the band and genre absolutely hate this album. When Daniel Gildenlöw starts rapping, chanting, and playing an odd combination of metal and disco, the listener is either going to embrace the experience as one of the most unique in music, or is going to want to spend the next week sitting in a corner trying to forget the horrors that they’ve heard. Scarsick is easily one of the most unique albums of the year, and even one of the best from the stand point that it breaks more new ground than maybe any other album released in 2007. Unfortunately, its weirdness may alienate even the most forgiving progressive fan. Just know that if you’re willing to take a gamble, the payoff is experiencing one of the best and most unique albums the genre has to offer.
Fear of a Blank Planet
To explain what makes Fear of a Blank Planet great in a short paragraph is nearly impossible. There are simply more reasons to buy this album immediately than a person could list in a reasonable amount of time. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure of listening to Porcupine Tree, you’re in for a treat. Stephen Wilson, the band’s frontman, continues his trend of combining superb lyricism with outstanding creativity and the results continue to be epic works of mastery. Fear of a Blank Planet marks Porcupine Tree’s return to longer songs with more experimentation and progressive elements, but it continues the band’s recent experimentation with heavy metal. Not long ago, Porcupine Tree’s albums were almost entirely made up of ballads, but their last three albums have expertly implemented elements of hard rock and metal. Just like In Abstenia and Deadwing before, the heavier elements of Fear of a Blank Planet allow each and every song to sound different from not only the last, but also every song Porcupine Tree has done in their career. Add in the simply superb title track that topped my mid-year Top 50 Songs list, and guest appearance’s by Alex Lifeson (Rush) and Rober Fripp (King Crimson), and you have one of the year’s must-own albums.
Snakes and Arrows
It’s taken a few albums, but Rush sounds like Rush again. That is to say, Snakes and Arrows is an album that maintains and improves the heavier sound Rush experimented with on their last few releases, but still maintains what made Rush one of the greatest bands of all-time. During the streak of brilliance in the late 70s and early 80s, Rush managed to improve upon each previous album by evolving their sound without abandoning the unique sound that made them great in the first place. That’s exactly what Rush does with Snakes and Arrows. Rush has stopped changing their sound, but instead improving on it and evolving as a band. Snakes and Arrows is a varied album that ventures into both progressive metal and classic rock territory, and nearly song blends new and old in ways that not even the most optimistic Rush fan could have expected. Even in 2007, Rush ranks among the best progressive acts of today. Snakes and Arrows is an album sure to please both new and old fans of the band, and its also one of the most accessible progressive albums of the year.
Even though Paradise Lost might be the least progressive album on this list, it very well may be the best. Symphony X is no stranger to greatness, and they’ve come close to creating metal masterpieces in the past, but Paradise Lost is easily the band’s best album to date. The band’s combination of progressive metal, power metal, and symphonic metal is nothing unique on the surface, but their execution is top notch. Not once has that combination worked as well as it does on Paradise Lost, and at the times, it even sounds revolutionary. The album is incredibly polished and refined, and the musicianship is among the best you’ll ever hear. Symphony X has created an album that sounds beautiful and epic in its entirety, and all of the songs work on their own as smaller epic masterpieces. If you only buy one album this year from a band not named Radiohead, I highly recommend you make Paradise Lost that album. No metalhead should be without this one.
Waking Hour is a band that should appeal to fans of Rush, Dream Theater, and other classic prog bands. Their influences are clear, but Waking Hour embraces them instead of strictly copying them. The band does an excellent job of combing various aspects of their influences to make the base of their sound. However, unlike most debut albums, Hollow Man adds some quality ideas to a proven formula, and they have enough variety in their influences to prevent the album from sounding overdone to begin with. That doesn’t mean Hollow Man is the most original album of the year, but it is a very strong debut from a band that should only get better with time. The musicians that make up Waking Hour are all very talented, and each of them have different influences that blend exceptionally well with one and other. Hollow Man certainly reminds the listener of classic Rush, Dream Theater, and even Nightwish, but it still sounds fresh and somewhat unique. If you can find it, Hollow Man is a solid debut that is well worth owning.