The Seventh Degree of Separation – 2011
A period of hiatus and the introduction of a new singer may have helped breathe life into Arena. The first album of the ‘Manzi-era’ hinted at the more theatrical elements of Nolan’s side projects without being overwhelmed by them.
Choosing life after death as a concept for an album may seem the height of prog excess, but it works, and the album is a thought-provoking mix of great songs which reflect on anxiety and grief. What If?, in particular, captures the mood magnificently and is undoubtedly one of the best tracks of the decade.
Sceneries – 2011
German prog band Sylvan have come a very long way musically since their debut. It is exciting to hear a band who improve with virtually every record and Sylvan’s two offerings from this decade stand in my first and second spots. Sceneries is an ambitious double album which could easily have laboured for some of its run time but, instead, engages the listener throughout. From the opening piano on The Fountain of Glow, one is drawn in as the band build from the gentle to the anthemic, stitching theme to counter-theme and delighting as they work through their variations.
Each of these five long tracks, separated into discreet portions, is a thoroughly enjoyable journey. Distinctively Sylvan, the album is a pleasure throughout.
Pictures of You – 2012
Geoff Downes’ return to original Asia and Yes hasn’t quite yielded the results one might have hoped for. Aside from revisiting unreleased material from Drama and about an album’s worth of excellent material from the reformed Asia, I find myself wishing he kept working with John Payne.
What a breath of fresh air, then, this collaboration with Horn cohort Chris Braide is. Singer, songwriter and producer Braide has now released three such albums with Geoff Downes, but it is this first, a Buggles-esque homage to the artists that inspired him as a child to pursue his passion for music, that catches the ear. Melody-rich and superbly produced, this album is a joy.
A Feast of Consequences – 2013
The album’s centrepiece, The High Wood Suite, reflects on the desperate plight of the Allied troops at the Somme in World War One. Poignantly, the album was released in the centenary year of the start of the Great War.
An album rich in melody, emotion and texture, Paterson, Wesley and Fish have excelled themselves in the writing here.
Belighted – 2014
Undoubtedly my greatest musical discovery of the decade is this Chamber Prog outfit from St. Petersburg. Classically trained pianist, Gleb Kolyadin, and angelically voiced Marjana Semkina have served up four exquisite studio albums that wed Classical and Jazz sensibilities to the dulcet tones of singer in the early Kate Bush/Tori Amos mould.
It’s no exaggeration to rate Kolyadin alongside prog/classical greats like Emerson and Wakeman and this, their second album, finds him at the very top of his game. From the haunting Gerda to the exceptional Os Lunatum, this album is a delight.
Men Who Climb Mountains – 2014
Nick Barrett moved away from the symphonic prog of 90s Pendragon with the somewhat heavier offerings, Pure and Passion. Men Who Climb Mountains is a rather more reflective effort which seeks to balance those new approaches with some gentler dynamics and is the better for it. Inspired by the ambition of mountain climbers, Barrett considers the greatness and foolhardiness of man’s endeavours.
There is much to savour on this record, but special mention should go to Barrett’s trademark guitar on Come Home Jack, a Pendragon classic which deserves a place amongst classics like The Voyager, and also to the softer tones of the soul-searching Faces Of Light.
Love, Fear and the Time Machine – 2015
Riverside’s fourth album, Anno Domini High Definition, did little for me as the nuance of the songs was lost in the din of the mix. Shrine… promised better things and this album duly delivered. A reflective look back on childhood, it is one of the albums from this decade that I continually return to. Discard Your Fear, Lost and Time Travellers are the real standouts here, but the album engages the listener from first to last.
For me, Riverside are at their best when they allow the melodies space to move and the solos a chance to soar and this album does that better than any of their others.
Home – 2015
Topping Sceneries seemed unlikely, and yet Sylvan managed it on this album. Although a single this time, rather than a double, the band have extended the runtime to a CD’s maximum on this effort. Once again, the band are working to a concept here and they explore it with an emotionally rich collection of material. The presence of strings and oboe on this album enriches the sound and adds to the perfect balance create between the keyboards, piano and guitar.
All the songs on this record are masterpieces with memorable choruses, delicate melodies and powerful solos. It would be unfair to single any one particular track out, but Black and White is a perfect example of all of the ingredients that make this such a stunning album.
Fear – 2016
Unlike for many other people, Sounds… didn’t make much of an impression on me; the songs were, in my opinion, all overly long. FEAR is a different beast altogether. True, the album is made up largely of three lengthy pieces, but each of them is subdivided into discreetly distinct sections which never really meander around.
Of the material on offer here, it’s The Leavers which makes the greatest impression with stellar contributions from Mark Kelly and Steve Rothery reminding the listener why Marillion continue to occupy a special place in the hearts of prog fans today.
Dukes of the Orient – 2018
This album took no less than ten years to finally make its appearance and, whilst one may wonder at how much more John Payne music we might have missed over the ensuing years, it was a relief that Erik Norlander finally succeeded in convincing Payne to release this. John Payne led Asia through four excellent albums from Aqua through to Aura before the disappointing Silent Nation heralded Downes departure to the original Asia.
Now, years later, Payne and Norlander offered up a perfect natural successor to Payne-era Asia. The songs are classic Asia and the keyboards supported by excellent guitar solos.