We have been spoiled by yet another year of exciting music and hugely enjoyable releases. The Progressive Aspect, in collaboration with Anthony Rowsick’s radio programme Prog-Watch, have collected together our “The Best Albums of 2018”. There may yet be some more delights left in the year to tickle our fancies, but these are the albums that have worked for us in the year so far. The programme will air on Progzilla Radio on Sunday 16th December 2018 at 1:30 pm, will be repeated again on Monday at 6:30 pm, and Wednesday at 11:00 pm (UK times). A podcast will be available for download later in the week.
Regal Worm – Pig Views
This is undoubtedly my album of the year; Jarrod Gosling makes full use of his trademark vintage synths, organs, Mellotron and other instruments. Mostly self played, which has lead to a beautifully produced and captivating album, both in terms of song writing and sound quality, managing to create a wonderful band feel throughout.
Phi Yaan Zek – Reality is my Play Thing
This album was eleven years in its creation, but this gestation has brought about an epic and interesting project. A double album, one of which is mostly instrumental, which blends together many genres, jazz, rock, touches of British off-kilter eccentricity, and at times with a cinematic feel. An album of wonderful wll crafted music with plenty of variety and the Zappa like vibe given to these original songs makes for some great listening.
Jordsjo – Jord
These Norwegians have presented an album that has an earthly quality, symphonic at times but with a darker undercurrent, added to this, some spacey/psychedelia and Norwegian folk. This all goes to create a very interesting mix, a retro feel through the instruments but comes with a fresh modern sound brimming with ideas.
Malady – Toisen Toista
This Finnish band have their music rooted in Seventies Scandinavian progressive rock, this is blended with folk elements and touches of jazz. They have created an album that can be dreamlike, but cut with some edgy moments, multilayered with lots of depth.
Frequency Drift – Letters to Maro
The arrival of new vocalist, Irini Alexa and her vocal style fit the direction of the music so well. The songs are compelling, imaginative, multilayered, there is a cinematic feel which is almost ambient at times, yet still retaining the unsettling moments the band can do so well.
35 minutes of heaven, not long prog but just delightful, quirky and fun. Shan have produced quality, variable in style with bluesy rock and church organ, all layered, cultured, and raw.
Weend’o – Time of Awakening
A continuing love for this album from the wonderful French prog band. It is atmospheric, combining music and sounds to a dramatic effect, the album seeking to address the turmoil around the world and asking humanity to keep faith and hope, despite the worlds troubles; the band believes we are entering a new period of evolution, experiencing a new paradigm, even though many of the events have been very personal to the communities affected.
Encircled – The Universal Mirth
Consistency is a problem, progression is often a problem, and yet Encircled have delivered both in their third album. Encircled continue to be excellent, great singing, music, lyrics addressing the issues of technology.
The Pineapple Thief – Dissolution
Dissolution: the breakups, the heartaches, the dark side of the relationship, our all too human issues with technology and social media, open dissolution in a public forum. Heavy fodder for an album of music but delivered with aplomb by the Thief once again.to which I give equal though darker placing.
Outrageously different from what has gone before.
All Them Witches – ATW
Nashville’s All Them Witches return with their fifth long-player which they self-recorded in a cabin in the woods in Tennessee. It’s an earthy, organic record, capturing the bare essence of a young band who gets more impressive each year. Guitarist Ben McLeod (who also produced) really shines on this album as the keyboards move into a supporting role.
Weedpecker – III
These blissful Polish potheads float effortlessly through the cosmos on a cloud of jangling guitar chords and THC, but beware, because they occasionally sprout fangs and strike. Aside from the obvious affinity for the devil’s lettuce, Weedpecker really worships at the altar of 70s psychedelic guitar rock. The influences are elemental of course, but their approach is fresh and the guitar work is sublime.
Highlight: Liquid Sky
Voivod – The Wake
Voivod have been playing progressive metal longer than the term has existed. With their new conceptual release ‘The Wake’ they’ve achieved something incredibly rare for a band in their fourth decade; they’ve recorded an essential album that stands proudly alongside their classic material. It’s a breathtaking blur of King Crimson chords, punk rock snarl, progressive melodicism and thrash metal.
Highlight: Always Moving
Opeth – Garden Of The Titans: Opeth Live At Red Rocks Amphitheatre
Opeth’s fourth live album is the first to feature their current lineup which has been together since the Heritage sessions in 2010. The set list is about evenly split between material from their three recent releases “the analogue era” and their earlier, more aggressive era. But the real joy is how beautifully they mesh together. The sound quality is truly stunning, one of the best sounding live albums I’ve heard in a long while.
Highlight: The Wilde Flowers (live)
Earthless – Black Heaven
San Diego psych-rock legends Earthless have been an instrumental band for the past couple decades, playing glorious free-form guitar jams that stretch to an album side. Black Heaven adds vocal to the mix for the first time and moves them into a more song-oriented direction. Mitchell’s unearthly guitar playing is still the primary focus, but his vocals have a convincing 70s southern rock vibe that melds perfectly with the heavy riffage.
Highlight: Gifted By The Wind
Earthless – Website | Facebook| Twitter
Pymlico – Nightscape
A glorious, evocative and joyful explosion of imaginative, vibrant music which washes over you in glorious waves of excitement and satisfaction. Superb musicianship, inventive writing, teasing instrumental interplays, this album really does have it all – and a whole lot more!
Highlight: Wide Awake
The Paradox Twin – The Importance of Mr Bedlam
From start to finish and at every level, this is an album on which lavish amounts of time, care and affection have been spent. The sheer commitment and impressive levels of insight needed to carry this off and make it such a tremendous success are there for all to see. When combined with striking levels of musicianship expressing a clear enjoyment of the togetherness afforded by this kind of project, it marks an exceptional debut from a band which has a significant future in the world of prog.
Damanek – In Flight
Guy Manning has forged an album which is something truly special: it is musically distinguished, inventively creative and passionately exceptional. Musical storytelling at its very best.
Highlight: The Crossing
Southern Empire – Civilisation
a towering exemplar for the kinds of possibilities open to prog in the 21stCentury when approached in a spirit of courage, adventure and experimental playfulness. An enthralling experience. The album bristles with ideas that are grand and lavish, expressed in musical sequences which are daring, innovative and joyfully melodic. The harmonies have greater scope and find fuller voice to both complement as well as carry the force and direction taken by the music.
Highlight: Cries for the Lonely
Oak – False Memory Archive
Melodic loveliness meets superb recording production to produce what is undoubtedly their best album to date. Song structures are mesmerising, organic transitions teasing ideas and experimenting with possible directions. Haunting, overwhelming soundscapes. Quite superb.
Highlight: False Memory Archive
Dukes of the Orient – Dukes of the Orient
My album of the year is undoubtedly ‘Dukes of the Orient’. Having finally abandoned the ‘Asia’ name, John Payne and Erik Norlander release their debut as ‘Dukes of the Orient’. Despite a frustrating ten-year wait for fans, it’s been more than worth it. Very much in the vein of Payne-era Asia, there are anthemic keyboard melodies, catchy choruses and stunning guitar solos which set every track alight – this is melodic prog at its very best.
Highlight: ‘Fourth of July’
Gleb Kolyadin: Gleb Kolyadin
Kolyadin’s self-titled solo album showcases his immense talents as both composer and performer. A perfect blend of classical, jazz and prog, Kolyadin’s album thrills and delights as it moves through a variety of engaging suites. To top it off, he is more than ably supported by a stellar cast of guests.
Highlight: ‘The Room’
Ten – Illuminati
Ten’s most recent albums have consistently hit upon that perfect balance between symphonic keyboards and hard rock guitar that made early efforts like ‘The Name of the Rose’ such essential listening. ‘Illuminati’ is a tour de force from start to finish and to these ears it is hands down their best album so far.
Highlight: ‘Heaven and the Holier-Than-Thou’
Riverside – Wasteland
‘Love, Fear and the Time Machine’ was undoubtedly Riverside’s finest album since their debut. However, the tragic passing of guitarist Piotr Grudzinski raised questions about whether or not the band could carry on. Whilst Grudzinski’s absence is evident, ‘Wasteland’ is still a fine album which shows that the band does indeed have a future. Combining some of the hard rock, prog and European folk sensibilities from the early albums with the subtleties of ‘…Time Machine’, Riverside have a record that is both hauntingly dark and hauntingly beautiful.
Highlight: ‘River Down Below’
3.2 – The Rules Have Changed
Without a doubt, the surprise of 2018. What started as a project between Robert Berry and Keith Emerson ended up becoming Berry’s fond homage to his late friend. A superb collection of grandiose and brilliantly realised songs which see Berry build on the proggier elements of the original project whilst paying tribute to Emerson’s considerable gifts as a keyboard player.
Highlight: ‘Your Mark on the World’
A majestic and mature work from one of Britain’s best bands, a grower that deserves your full attention.
Beguiling French band dexterously mix metal and atmospheric beauty to wonderful effect.
The welcome return of Phideaux Xavier is a wonderful slab of his own unique spin on the genre.
Oceansize man Mike Vennart returns with his second solo album, building on the foundation of The Demon Joke and pushing the envelope. An exhilarating listen.
Another grower that seeps into your soul, a quite magnificent release that underlines Gazpacho’s place as one of the most impressive and thoughtful bands around.
3.2 – The Rules Have Changed
Without a doubt, the surprise of 2018. What started as a project between Robert Berry and Keith Emerson ended up becoming Berry’s fond homage to his late friend. A superb collection of grandiose and brilliantly realised songs which see Berry build on the proggier elements of the original project whilst paying tribute to Emerson’s considerable gifts as a keyboard player. (words: Magnus Moar)
Picking a Top 5 this year has proved rather difficult, as there have been several good albums, but few, if any, that were truly great. This list is in no particular order, but can be taken as it is, for sake of argument.
Kamasi got soul, oh yes! And songs by the shedload. And the daftest packaging ruse of the year, hiding a third CD within the three-panel slipcase, meaning you had to ruin it to get at it.
Psych-prog for folk who answer the door wearing nowt but a shocking pink merkin and a leery grin.
A left turn for the Leeds bunch, here creating a world of arty ultra-sophistication seen through swirls of Gauloise smoke from an observation deck on the Moon.
Intermittent messages, low-slung and swaggerin’, comin’ through from the swamp. These are the blooze of our times.
“Grower” of the year. This wouldn’t have been on this list two weeks ago, insidious little beastie that it is! If The Beatles were a synth pop band with a propensity for grandiose arrangements, they might have written Spinning Top. Following track Sirens is monster, o yes… and then there’s Downriver. Heck, just go give it a listen.
Galahad – Seas of Change
This outsanding album, inspired by the turmoil of Brexit in the UK, is brimming with ideas, variation, creativity, subtlety and power. I suggest sitting down with a pot of tea, or a nice bottle of red wine, and let the waves of Seas of Change sonically wash over you, allowing you to embrace the full scope and feeling of the music, which has a widescreen, cinematic effect. This album just sounds so ‘MASSIVE’ with impeccable and crystal clear production by the band. It’s truly epic and captivating.
Gazpacho return with their distinctive and trademark haunting, moving music with Soyuz, their tenth studio album since 2003. There really is no band quite like Gazpacho, who imbue each new release with their own unique brand of ambitious, imaginative music full of idiosyncratic themes, inventive ideas, melancholy, emotion and drama.
This is sound architecture with subtle phases switching to waves of epic noise, crucial in accentuating the juxtaposition of dark tragedy and melancholy.
A challenging album at times but so satisfying in the end.
The solo project from Riverside’s multi-talented mainman Mariusz Duda is a thing of stark, melancholic beauty, reflecting the dark times he has experienced in recent years with the loss of his friend and guitarist in Riverside, Piotr Grudzinski… but this is nothing like Riverside!
Steeped in hypnotic Massive Attack like rhythms, samples and grooves on one hand, and sparse but pulsating more contemplative Tangerine Dream like passages – just beautiful and heart-breaking.
Southern Empire is the new project formed by Sean Timms, previously of the revered and much missed Australian band Unitopia, who has assembled a band of stellar musicians. Their sophomore album Civilisation is simply one of THE outstanding ALBUMS OF 2018 with fantastic melodies, dazzling musicianship and diverse styles.
Melodic progressive rock with a heavier side courtesy of sparkling guitars, sumptuous keyboards and a rock solid rhythm section – all topped off with an outstanding and charismatic vocalist. Lose yourself in the epic musical soundscape journey of ‘The Crossroads’ and come out the other side smiling – breakthrough band of 2018.
The ‘Dark Horses’ of this year’s Progressive Rock scene are undoubtedly legendary 80’s progressive rock band Twelfth Night who surprisingly, but so appropriately, released the World War One themed Sequences on the exact Centenary of the end of that dreadful conflict. The first studio recording of their live classic Sequences is an astounding, re-imagined version with additional parts, instrumentation, and orchestration that fully emphasises and enhances the high quality and powerful message of this classic epic anti-war masterpiece.
Sadly, with war still rife around the globe it seems clear this piece is as relevant now as it ever was as we are yet to learn those bitter lessons of history – Some things never change.
Strange as it may sound, with their first full new studio album since 1986 Twelfth Night have created one of THE Progressive Rock albums of 2018 – Some things are just timeless.