With each December’s snowfall, a pristine canvas unfurls for progressive metal. As the new year dawns, the question arises – which paths will intrepid musicians forge? Will echoes of nostalgia fill the air, or will avant-garde visions take flight? Will sonic brutality reign, or will tenderness weave its delicate magic? This year, the joy lay not just in the music itself, but in the journeys taken. Some seasoned giants, stepped from their comfort zones, crafting bold masterpieces or revisiting past flames. Others, fresh voices barely above a whisper, unleashed debuts that shook the very foundations of the genre.
2023 offered solace in countless sonic tapestries and progressive metal was one of the subgenres that really shone. Choosing the most profound from this torrent of talent was a Herculean task. But after meticulous reflection, we at Sonic Perspectives present our curation of the top 20 progressive metal albums of the year. Dive in, explore, and let the music, once again, wash over you.
OUR TOP 20 PROGRESSIVE METAL ALBUMS OF 2023
20. Voyager – Fearless in Love (Season of Mist)
One simple word has propelled Voyager headfirst into the public eye: Eurovision. For years, Voyager was a well-kept secret among Australian musical exports, their bright pop-metal like a beacon in the night. But as their fame mounted, and their skills grew, it was only a matter of time before the rest of the world could discover just what a shining gem Voyager has always been. Gracing the international stage at Eurovision with instant-hit “Promise,” the album “Fearless in Love” is an ode to everything that makes Voyager so great. It is luminous, it is brimming with adoration for the art, and it is the titillating heartbeat of the Australian metal scene. Give this enduring example of sonic spirit a bit of your own love and listen to “Fearless in Love.”
19. Periphery – V: Djent is Not a Genre (3DOT Recordings)
Djent might not be a genre, yet Periphery still proves to be the veritable masters thereof. Fans were instantly charmed by the tongue-in-cheek title and further charmed by the album’s unequivocal delivery of greatness. But the title is where the familiar tongue-in-cheek bit ended: while that atmosphere has defined much of Periphery’s career, this release is the band’s most mature and focused yet. As they continue to push the boundaries of their sound, Periphery places themselves superlatives amongst their peers, whether they adopt the label “djent” or otherwise.
18. Jason Bieler and the Baron Von Bielski Orchestra – Postcards From the Asylum (Baron Von Bielski Records)
“Postcards From the Asylum” is a fascinating trip of an album, wavering between progressive rock and metal as it lurches from track to track. This singer-songwriter endeavor – and a marathon of a moniker to write out in full – has again created a form of transcendental yet self-reflective art in this latest opus. There are meaty riffs on “Numb” balanced by open air on easy-rocking “Mexico,” each track on the album owing its strength to not just the man behind the project, but the many guest features that put flesh on its bones. Always interesting, and ever-fascinating, “Postcards From the Asylum” is yet another entry in the curious discography of Jason Bieler and the Baron Von Bielsky Orchestra, and one that may draw the eyes of those similarly intrigued by such curiosities.
17. Temic – Terror Management Theory (Season Of Mist)
TEMIC has come rushing out of the gate at a skill-packed sprint with their supergroup debut album “Terror Management Theory.” The skills each musician brings with them from their respective careers are immediately apparent in their musical prowess, and their names are just as easily recognizable from across the modern progressive rock and metal scene. It is a fresh, yet familiar, take on progressive music, and “Terror Management Theory” has a clear contemporary polish that makes it effortless to enjoy. There are familiar flavors here for long-time progressive afficionados to enjoy, and accessible listening for those looking to dip their toes in the progressive water.
16. OK Goodnight – The Fox and the Bird (Independent)
“The Fox and the Bird” is teeming with progressive seduction and mystique that propel it towards the top of this year’s most notable albums. It is ambitious, it is eclectic, and it takes noticeable risks in developing its sounds. Those risks are handily rewarded many times over with some of the most adventurous tracks to emerge from this year. One such example is “The Nightmare,” which features a percussion-forward composition, followed later by the sinister depths of “The Crocodile.” The vocal performance from Casey Lee Williams is absolutely not to be missed. There are many highlights to enjoy throughout this conceptual tale that touches upon many animals and their stories, and there is no better way to enjoy them than putting “The Fox and the Bird” on repeat.
15. Enslaved – Heimdal (Century Media Records)
“Heimdal” is an exhilarating and progressive journey across astral realms, shadowed by the darkness of black metal’s bite. Years of experience and passion illuminate the way through the enchanting and lively forests of Enslaved’s latest opus. They have painted stories upon a canvas rich with folklore and history, and the music allows these tales to come to life with enthusiasm and vigor. Enslaved have taken to dancing along the razor’s edge of progressive music and extremity, and with “Heimdal,” they have done so with delightful precision and a betraying youthfulness.
14. Hypno5e – Sheol (Pelagic Records)
Breathtaking. Bone-chilling. Riveting. These words barely scratch the surface of “Sheol” and its astounding breadth of talent, and just how far its aural musings reach into the soul. Hypno5e has a knack for making music that sticks with the listener long after it has stopped playing, and “Sheol” is no exception. Spoken word intermingles like a ghost amongst heavy riffs, and percussion builds alongside searing melodies. Prepare for goosebumps when listening to the ebb and flow of the transcendent “Lands of Haze,” and surrender to the progressive might of the mammoth track “The Dreamer and his Dream.” This album is unyielding as it traverses massive soundscapes and keeps the listener in its thrall – nothing less than what has come to be expected from these French avant-garde masters.
13. Ray Alder – II (Inside Out Music)
Well-known for longtime Fates Warning fame, vocalist Ray Alder has now released the sophomore album in his growing personal discography. His voice is absolutely unmistakable as it pairs with music tailored to his strengths and vocal range. There is deep melancholy and sadness that weaves between tracks, stretching shadows across “My Oblivion” and saturating the shadowed verses of “Waiting For Some Sun.” This is beautiful, raw, and an evolution of Alder’s talents as he spreads his wings as a solo artist.
12. Haken – Fauna (Inside Out Music)
As if the tremendous duo of “Vector” and “Virus” hadn’t awed the world enough, Haken have once again delivered an immediate fan-favorite album with the lush forests of “Fauna.” Haken are easy to love, from Ross Jennings’s continually evolving vocal skills to Raymond Hearne’s percussive dedication and every musician in between, and “Fauna” captures some of that early magic which drew listeners in to “Aquarius” and “Visions.” Standouts on this latest include lead single “Nightingale,” as well as the two powerful displays of musicianship in “Elephants Never Forget” and “The Alphabet of Me.” It would be accurate to say that this album features some of their most mature melodies to date. Haken are unrelenting and ever-ambitious, and “Fauna” is a rediscovery of their passion in its most brilliant form.
11. Tesseract – War of Being (Kscope)
Tesseract revisits and expands upon their aggressive side with their conceptual album, “War of Being,” which redefines and stretches their progressive metal sound to new heights. Off-kilter riffs battle against lighter, ambient shades, and create a visceral sound that sends shivers up the listener’s spine. This is a cerebral endeavor, one that mounts through the title track “War of Being” and continues through the closing track “Sacrifice.” This djent-tinted progressive masterpiece is deserving of a spot on any 2023 recollection and is certain to please longtime fans of this band.
10. Molybaron – Something Ominous (Inside Out Music)
“Something Ominous” is an explosive power-prog standout that will inspire even the staunchest progressive music fans to headbang as they are pulled headfirst into invigorating, singalong choruses. This album walks the delicate line between progressive technicality and infectiously catchy, with tracks like “Set Alight” built upon bombastic choruses, while darker tracks like “Vampires” brood with dark synths and delectable riffs. Precision and creativity by drummer Camile Greneron lead to rich fills, supporting the melodies set by fastidious lead guitarist Florian Soum. Molybaron have found something truly unique amidst their sonic zeal, and “Something Ominous” is an ongoing demonstration of the flair for enticing songwriting that makes Molybaron so irresistible.
9. Ne Obliviscaris – Exul (Season Of Mist)
Few albums this year were as desperately awaited as Ne Obliviscaris’ 4th full-length outing, “Exul.” This is one opus that has spent years struggling to get across the finish line, tripping from one delay to another, so its arrival in March 2023 was as thrilling as it was a relief. “Exul” proved to be a paragon of good music that was well worth the wait. Patience is the name of the game with Ne Obliviscaris both within and beyond the album. Songs such as “Suspyre” build on themselves as they progress, yielding impressive violin solos from vocalist Tim Charles, matched by the resounding timbre of Matt Klavins and Benji Baret‘s guitars. There is nothing comparable to the intense, bombastic opener “Equus,” which sets the stage for a thrilling, adrenaline-filled ride to come. As for the “Misericorde” duo, these tracks could stand alone as a demonstration of why Ne Obliviscaris has maintained such a dedicated fanbase even after an extended hiatus. “Exul” is absolutely a welcome comeback from the outback.
8. The Hirsch Effekt – Urian (Long Branch Records)
The German avant-prog metallers The Hirsch Effekt are back, this time with an album that is a mosaic of contrasting influences, and a few moments reminiscent of their prior LPs. “Urian” takes pride in making a hodge-podge of styles sound cohesive, if not intensely eclectic as it does so. There is the warmth of a distant cello that is complimented by sharp electronic elements, and these battle against alternative metal passages that would be at home in the late 00s and its waves of nu-, alt-, and industrial metal. Of course, as is their signature, the pervasive genre is prog-driven mathcore that carries “Urian” to its heaviest heights and most atmospheric interludes. A study of sound as much as it is an album, “Urian” is a lesson many would do well to learn.
7. Aviations – Luminaria (Independent)
There are few bands that are both as bright and as uncompromising as Aviations, and fewer still who have such promise to remain as timelessly inspiring as these eager musicians. “Luminaria” is a shining diamond in the rough of 2023, and in the whole progressive metal scene. There are echoes of well-beloved mainstays in its influences, but Aviations continues to hold an identity of its own with silky-smooth clean vocals and pop-tinged choruses. The hooks on “Safehouse” and “La Jolla” beg to be put on repeat, while “Legend” is an outstanding balance of dark and light that drives emotion like a knife into the heart of its listeners. Perhaps the most tantalizing signature that “Luminaria” brings to the table is decadent keyboard melodies laid over double-bass kicks for a barrage of beautifully thunderous blast beats. This album paints its luminous marvel in a way that is progressively complex, yet deliciously easy listening.
6. Night Verses – Every Sound Has A Color In The Valley Of The Night: Part 1 (Equal Vision Records )
Returning from a 5-year hiatus, Night Verses has made their comeback with an album that is mostly instrumental, somewhat esoteric, and 100% progressive bliss. This latest opus, titled “Every Sound Has a Color in the Valley of the Night: Part 1,” is the first of a double feature that will have its second release in early 2024. Ever-evolving riffs define the winding corridors of “Karma Wheel,” which then bleeds into the eclectic “Love In A Liminal Space.” Sounding both futuristic and familiar in its subtle creature comforts, “Every Sound Has a Color in the Valley of the Night: Part 1” is a strong addition to 2023 and a promise of a brilliant second installment to come.
5. Baroness – Stone (Abraxan Hymns)
“Stone” is the first offering in a new era for Baroness, and despite its departure from the familiar color-based name scheme that has tied Baroness albums together since 2007, this album is still replete with splendid sludge-prog hues. This titular pivot isn’t the only change that Baroness has seen in recent years, with the addition of guitarist Gina Gleason in 2017. The chemistry among the members of this ever-evolving outfit has yielded an immediate invigoration of the Baroness sound. Songs like “Beneath the Rose” drive its irresistible thorns beneath the skin, and the ominous cloud of “Magnolia” allows the listener to revel in its shadow. “Stone” is dark, somber, and driven by an earth-cracking heaviness. “Stone” is a pillar that will undoubtedly take Baroness to new heights.
4. Avenged Sevenfold – Life Is But A Dream… (Warner Records)
In the year 2011, when the world was first bathed in the unabated metallic violence of hit album “Nightmare,” it might have been impossible to believe that veteran artists Avenged Sevenfold would ever earn a spot on a progressive metal compilation. And yet there is no better place for the massive, magnificent, “Life is But a Dream…” Peppered with touches of everything from alternative metal through the avant, there is nothing else that could describe this latest opus other than a progression of the skill and talent Avenged Sevenfold have spent decades maturing. This description includes even a few fiery stadium thrillers like “We Love You.” As for “Cosmic,” there is little question that this nearly ten-minute epic is one of this year’s necessary highlights. The otherworldly drumming and impassioned grace that backs every note have cemented Avenged Sevenfold’s legacy as one of the most incessantly ambitious bands in the metal scene and proved their long-lasting excellence to spite those who doubted.
3. Sermon – Of Golden Verse (Prosthetic Records)
Some of the heaviest fare to come from the progressive metal scene this year, “Of Golden Verse” is delightfully dark in its craft, and incessantly intense in its delivery. An oppressive atmosphere weaves artfully between thunderous riffs and adrenaline-fueled percussion over nearly an hour of ascendency. “Light the Witch” is laden with hooks, while “Golden” is a buffet of marrow-deep riffage. Sermon manages to be adventurous and ominous without becoming overbearing, giving listeners room to breathe with the interludes “In Black” and “Centre.” Join the dark rituals that define “Of Golden Verse” by slipping beneath its sinister waves – it is a delightful, shadowed opus of the highest quality.
2. Soen – Memorial (Silver Lining Music)
Soen has become a mainstay staple in the progressive metal scene over the last decade. “Lotus” garnered considerable attention and accolades, followed shortly by the similarly impressive and well-received “Imperial” two years later. Now, with “Memorial,” Soen again shows off their technical chops and the aural maturity that has come to define their signature sound. “Memorial” unfolds with a collection of songs that mix tempered aggressiveness with calm passages of emotion and melancholy. Electrifying riffs, bright guitar solos, and energetic drum patterns converge for an album that is unstoppably intense. Undoubtedly, Soen have again cemented their place at the apex of modern progressive metal, and once more added a jewel to the crown that comprises their discography.
1. The Anchoret – …It All Began With Loneliness (Independent)
The Anchoret has done something truly special with their debut album “It All Began With Loneliness.” Rarely does a debut album so immediately captivate its audience, demand undivided attention, and wholeheartedly deliver on a lofty promise of something sonically spectacular. Perhaps even more rarely does a debut not just give tribute to the genre that inspired it, but adds something uniquely memorable to its annals. From its most delicate melodies to its most uncompromising riffs, there is no album more deserving of the crown of 2023 progressive metal than The Anchoret.
“It All Began With Loneliness” is rich with emotion, packed to the brim with refined musicianship, and teeming with technical ambition. The sheer appetite for excellence is apparent as each track progresses, winding from the haunting “Someone Listening?” to the explosive, sax-infused “All Turns to Clay.” Lengthy tracks are balanced by the vibrant story told within and among each song. “As the Sun Illuminates” drives home impeccable heaviness while delivering a memorable groove. “It All Began With Loneliness” is a demonstration of how passion can elevate skill, how the hunger for excellence will inspire artistic vision, and how greatness can be found in the eager eyes of newcomers to the scene. Well done to The Anchoret – and now, we may look with much anticipation to their certainly bright future.
PROGRESSIVE METAL DEBUT ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Avkrvst – The Approbation (Inside Out Music)
“The Approbation” is a love letter from its creators to their favorite acts, but it is also more than that: it is a skilled debut from passionate creators who have tremendous art to share with the world. Some influences span from Opeth to Porcupine Tree, all wrapped up in the frosty touches of an album titled “The Approbation.” Each element of the album’s musicianship and concept come together beautifully for a fully-formed adventure that traverses ground from the ominous to the elated. When keeping an eye on newcomers to the scene, Avkrvst is certainly worthy of note.
Nospūn – Opus (Independent)
One of this year’s most promising debuts comes from the modest yet talented newcomer act Nospūn. They dance between the familiar sounds of classic progressive metal and its newer influences as though it were a ballet, and as they do so, they imbue comfortable familiarity to listeners that proves impossible to ignore. It’s difficult not to think of the early days of both Haken and Dream Theater when listening to songs like “The Death of Simpson,” or of other conceptual greats as “Earwyrm” lays down its hooks. This debut simply oozes with the promise of a bright and glowing future – and this future is one that has already been invested in by fans and promoters, as Nospūn will be joining long-beloved acts on the ProgPower USA stage in 2024.
INSTRUMENTAL PROGRESSIVE METAL ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Nuclear Power Trio – Wet Ass Plutonium (Metal Blade Records)
This might not be the WAP that made the rounds on TikTok earlier this year, but Nuclear Power Trio have earned notoriety nonetheless with their latest album “Wet Ass Plutonium.” All the elements necessary for an instrumental feast are present, including a rich array of arrangements that span from shrill horns to dazzling synth leads. Surprises abound in A-List guest solos, including from Chris Broderick and Ben Ellis, among many other top-tier talents. The Nuclear Power Trio is undoubtedly as blindingly radiant as their namesake amidst the shred-happy excitement of “Wet Ass Plutonium.”