A Year In Review: Our Favorite Progressive Rock Albums Of 2023

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Anyone who asserts that prog-rock is dead simply hasn’t been listening. 2023 was one of the most vibrant and lively years for progressive rock in decades, with musicians pulling influences from the psychedelic waves of the 1970s through the crisp polish of modernity that both borders and is inspired by science fiction.

Whether the band are newcomers eager to show off their chops, an act rising from the dead, or long-heralded prog-rockers entering the fourth decade of their careers, there were innumerable highlights to make the last year of progressive rock music special. Below are the Top 20 Progressive Rock Albums of 2023 from Sonic Perspectives – we hope that you can find something new, or perhaps visit an old favorite, as you are reminded of just how truly alive progressive rock is in our modern age.

OUR TOP 20 PROGRESSIVE ROCK ALBUMS OF 2023

20. Neal Morse – Joseph, The Dreamer: Part 1 (Frontiers Music SRL)

Neal Morse again emerges as the master of his carefully tailored niche – Christian progressive rock music woven into deep concept albums – and has done so with another two-part journey across biblical inspirations. This time the multi-talented Morse has taken on the bright colors of Joseph’s story as his sonic cloak. Part rock opera, and part straight-ahead prog album, there is a little something for everyone in this latest foray through spiritual creativity. While guest artists offer plenty of sweet icing on this cake, it’s Morse who is front and center on this rich collection of material, and it’s the ever-virtuosic Morse who finds himself elsewhere on this list as well.

19. Unitopia – Seven Chambers (ProgRock.com’s Essentials)

After more than ten years since their last release, the veteran progressive rock act Unitopia have returned in splendid fashion. “Seven Chambers” is the whole package, from its gorgeous cover to almost ninety minutes of music, including the usual collection of familiar names that make the lineup so special. Their chemistry spans the globe, with artists working in both the United States and Australia to make this magic happen, and more than two years of effort brought “Seven Chambers” to life. Each individual musician seems to be in peak form, and the technicality adds another layer of polish to an already impressive display of skill, its elegance never understated. This opus demonstrates what is possible when its creators are truly meant to engage in this kind of art, and the rest of the world are just lucky onlookers.

18. Tiger Moth Tales – The Turning of the World (White Knight Records)

If your spirit needs uplifting, or if you’re seeking inspiration, Tiger Moth Tales offers a kaleidoscope of colors to brighten your mood. Wrapped in nostalgia and innocent joys, “The Turning of the World” is an absolutely lovely collection of songs rich in melody and sentiment. It also puts creator Peter Jones front and center, a man who is not just the vocalist and songwriter, but the man also responsible for playing the guitar, keyboards, drums, percussion, melodica, whistles, saxophone, and zither. Those with a keen eye will see him featured elsewhere on this list as well. Knowing the multi-instrumentalist talent behind Tiger Moth Tales makes its journey all that much sweeter.

17. Damanek – Making Shore (Giant Electric Pea)

Capable as they may be, Damanek has spent its first three releases as a coveted but hidden gem, which is a shame considering the talent involved. This talent includes the project’s brainchild and multi-instrumentalist, Guy Manning, as well as Southern Empire’s Sean Timms handling the programming and production. “Making Shore” has stories in its depths, both those from Manning’s own life, and others conceptual tales sprung from his imagination. It’s impossible not to be taken to those colorful places as one listens along. The performances on the album are both impressive and compelling, making this a worthy addition to the ever-expanding prog canon.

16. Agusa – Prima Materia (Kommun2)

Released just in time for summer’s unflinching heat, Agusa arrived with psychedelic vintage prog rock that was made to quench its listeners thirst for the exceptional. Four mostly-instrumental tracks are laid out across approximately forty minutes, boasting plenty of room to groove, jam, and evolve through a spacious array of moods. The instruments take turns as fitting centerpieces, from a dancing flute to a spritely piano and melodic guitar. “Prima Materia” blends together styles like rock, folk, world music, and classical, tied together in a seamless package that has wide appeal. Professional but casual in its tone, this is all but made to appeal to prog fans across the globe.

15. Kite Parade – Retro (White Knight Records)

Kite Parade tends to fly a bit under the radar, but hopefully a gust of wind from this list and others like it will set its trajectory a bit higher. “Retro” follows a solid debut album, but this takes the Kite Parade sound up a notch with a sleek blend of pop, rock, and prog. Heavy on accessible melodies, but with enough skilled instrumentation to provide the requisite flourishes that established prog fans both expect and crave, “Retro” is a five-star delicacy. There are delightful builds and subsequent payoffs in each track, but especially in the fourteen-minute long closing track “Merry Go Round,” featuring a drum mix by the ever-present maestro Nick D’Virgilio. A solid, modern, and satisfying album.

14. We Came From Space – Overlords (Radiant Records)

We Came From Space occupy a niche within a niche, creating music tailored to nerds who are as serious about the quality of their music as they are about the fun that embodies it. If you fancy tastefully arranged progressive pop rock, this is a band to discover. And if you want a serious belly laugh, check out their liner notes or website. The influences span from 70’s classic progressive rock through the crisp production that defines modern rock textures. “Overlords” is stylish, cleverly executed, and even funny at times. They came from space, but the music is relatable enough for us humans to come to love.

13. Ozric Tentacles – Lotus Unfolding (KScope)

A serious and long-time mainstay in the prog rock scene, Ozric Tentacles are known for their consistent excellence. Even with more than 15 studio albums to their name, this powerhouse shows no signs of slowing down. The rich, psychedelic cover of “Lotus Unfolding” mimics the unmistakable style of the band’s music, and is a small taste of the space-tripping to come. Razor-sharp definition and clean production are just some of the hallmarks that make the Ozric Tentacles sound so reliable. There is also a subtle evolution to their sound, an edge that wasn’t there in their latest outings, and this extra flavor is enough to make this one of the group’s strongest efforts yet.

12. Cyan – Pictures From the Other Side (Tiger Moth Records)

Cyan, originally a precursor to Rob Reed’s band Magenta, return with their second outing in this ‘2.0’ version, “Pictures From the Other Side.” It features an exceptional lineup of musicians to make the magic happen. The captivating vocals of Peter Jones are matched by those of Angharad Brinn, making the ensemble even sweeter as Luke Machin’s fretboard frenzy and Dan Nelson’s buoyant bass realize Reed’s vision to its full potential. It’s retro, it’s beautiful, at times it’s even campy, but it is also sincere classic prog at its best.

11. Lars Fredrik Frøislie – Fire Fortellinger (Karisma Records)

Fire Fortellinger” is the debut album from Wobbler’s Lars Fredrik Frøislie, and his familiar keyboard mastery crafts brilliant tales that err towards the very core of this artist’s soul. It captures improvision and impulse, the light gossamer of creative vision drifting headily across analog keyboards, and it does so with the direction of a multi-talented artist at the helm. It is as honest and delicate as it is a raw display of sheer talent. One of multiple Wobbler spin-off projects (the other being the equally delightful Chronicles of Father Robin), it showcases a well-beloved musician in yet another dazzling light. This is a rare window into an artist’s vulnerable, spontaneous creative process, and it should be treated as the prized rarity it is.

10. Mondo Drag – Through the Hourglass (Riding Easy Records)

2023 was truly the year of 70s prog and psychedelic delight, and Mondo Drag is yet another quintessential example of that excellence. There are touches of heaviness that pull the less rock-susceptible listeners along, but it’s still primed to take even the most experienced listener on a trip like no other. Percussive explosions and twinkling keys weave a tapestry of innumerable colors and textures. “Through the Hourglass” is like a glimpse into another world, one that reflects all the glamour and beloved sparkle of the 70s, with a heavy atmosphere cocooning it in comfort. As much as it is easy listening, it is also a masterclass in what excellent progressive rock can do with the nearly infinite tools available at musician’s fingertips.

9. Solstice – Light Up (Giant Electric Pea)

Sounding like a fresh, young band ready to take the world by storm, the revitalized Solstice builds on their 40 years of experience with this gem of a record. The 6-piece band serves up a bevy of bright, sunny material on “Light Up,” and can effortlessly whisk away the winter doldrums and put the listener in a better frame of mind. Paired with divine musicianship and one of the best vocalists around in the modern scene, and accessible to prog-rock beginners as much as its veterans, Solstice are clearly ready to enter their true prime, and radiate their warmth across the rocksphere.

8. Moon Safari – Himlabacken Vol. 2 (Blomljud Records)

After a 10-year pause in studio albums, Moon Safari returns with a comeback that is more than simply triumphant. “Himlabacken Vol. 2” isn’t just a sequel to their previous album: it’s arguably their best release yet. Harmonized vocals in progressive rock have never sounded sweeter than what this band offers, and they have the musical muscle to back it up ten times over. Moon Safari have both redefined their identity and put themselves back on the map as an essential act to follow. This is undoubtedly some of the most exciting progressive music out there today, and leaves listeners all but salivating for more.

7. Seven Impale – Summit (Karisma Records)

A delightful mix of progressive rock, jazz fusion, and even touches of progressive metal, Seven Impale return after seven years with their undeniable apex, aptly named “Summit.” Four tracks make up a forty-plus minute runtime, each song as expansive and breathtaking as the last, building towards an explosive climax. Instrumental depth is aided by the addition of both organ and saxophone, and the atmosphere oscillates from comforting to chaotic amongst dazzling transitions. Plodding, atmospheric passages delight as much as the speed-fueled moments, but erring most often towards doom-laden influence. This is an eclectic, daring, and unique take on the genre that should rightfully pique interest across the scene.

6. Lalu – The Fish Who Wanted To Be King (Frontiers Music SRL)

Although not widely known yet, Lalu are one of the brightest hidden gems of the modern prog world. Masterminded by keyboardist Vivien Lalu, his band features one of prog’s greatest drummers, greatest guitarists, and greatest vocalists. Producing a sound that is equally hard-edged and ambient, Lalu draws from the symphonic greats of the past while forging ahead into a sci-fi future. “The Fish Who Wanted to be King” has classic prog rock sensibilities in a shimmering modern context. Lush keyboard textures ensure that full-bodied arrangements are well supported and give even greater height to Damian Wilson’s exceptional voice. This soundscape is rich with talent and promise, a must-listen from the breadth of 2023’s excellence.

5. Crown Lands – Fearless (Universal Music Canada & Spinefarm Records)

What would a year in progressive rock be without an act showing its devotion to the progressive forefathers of yore? Among Crown Lands’ most obvious influences is Rush – aided by the touch of producer David Bottrill – and using this inspiration, “Fearless” creates a world for listeners to wholly immerse themselves in. These sonic universes are tantalizing, strange and nostalgic at the same time, as though a familiar friend is guiding the listener into never-explored lands. The technical skill alone is enough to make Crown Lands a noteworthy release, but their penchant for storytelling truly takes “Fearless” to the next level, and earns it a spot on many a prog-rock year-end compilation.

4. Advent Horizon – A Cell to Call Home (Independent)

Full of exceptional songwriting, singing, and arrangements, “A Cell to Call Home” is easily Advent Horizon’s crowning achievement. It is an incredible journey in every way. From its immensely polished, diverse, virtuosic, and fitting arrangements to its heartfelt songwriting and captivating vocals, each component enhances the others perfectly, yielding a spotless and wholly enchanting experience. “A Cell to Call Home” is evidently a labor of love, and a product of the talent that fuels this project forward, both theatric and pensive in the same breath. Whether one is guided by their passionate heart or by their logical head, Advent Horizon is sure to win over listeners of all preferences.

3. Trevor Rabin – Rio (Inside Out Music)

What were once rumors of a return turned into a brilliant phoenix rising from the ashes: for the first time in nearly 30 years, the renowned Trevor Rabin has returned in 2023 with a full-on rock album. Although many know him from Yes, or his extensive Hollywood scores, “Rio” is proof that the soul of rock never left his heart. Rabin’s vocal range has increased beyond its prior (and already impressive) breadth, and his skill shines on all guitars, basses, and keyboards throughout the album. As if that weren’t enough, this talented career musician also plays on the drums and percussion on several tracks, along with appearances of a mandolin, bando, and dobro. This is a massive album full of harmonies, layered backing vocals, and enchanting melodies that form a score of their own. It’s not just prog, but is a mix of rock, world music, jazz, country, blues, pop, and the symphonic, all for a delightful and definitively progressive venture of the highest caliber. Sorry, Hollywood – we won’t let you take him back.

2. Riverside – ID.Entity (Inside Out Music)

After nearly 5 years between albums, a cohesive, collaborative, and newly invigorated Riverside rise to the occasion and prove that they are here to stay. Drawing from points throughout the band’s history, “ID.Entity” is a celebration of the soul of the band interspersed with straightforward social commentary. But for what it lacks in nuance, it makes up for in creativity and artistic spirit. A decade of challenges behind them, and Mariusz Duda busy with his countless other endeavors, “ID.Entity” feels like a pure return to form for a band ready to grasp their second wind and run with it.

1. Southern Empire – Another World (Giant Electric Pea)

After the mammoth effort that propelled highly-acclaimed Civilisation to fame, it was impossible to imagine a follow-up album from Southern Empire, especially after the loss of lead vocalist Danny Lopresto. But both good attitude and good fortunes have prevailed, and Southern Empire once again find themselves as Sonic Perspectives’ number one prog-rock album of the year.

Whether they are lengthy epics or shorter firecrackers, “Another World” treats each song as its own unique masterpiece, their stars and galaxies intertwining across expert musicianship. The quality of the performance and material here are bar-none. As for the production, it is crisp, polished, and fitting of the heights Southern Empire strives for across this outstanding opus. For each of its gentle rocking moments there are headbanging heights, yet it still offers a buffet of progressive flavors that err towards more classic ventures. Despite an upheaval in the lineup and years passing between releases, Southern Empire have not just retained their brand, but retained their crown at the top of the scene.


PROGRESSIVE ROCK DEBUT ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

eMolecule – The Architect (Inside Out Music)

eMolecule leaps out from a dystopian future for those who dare to explore its dark and compelling terrain. The creation of Simon Collins and Kelly Nordstrom, this is no melodic Sound of Contact continuation. No, this duo has turned to the dark side, creating a singular and addictive listening experience. At 80 minutes long, this album exudes creativity and sheer force, paired with astonishing sound design and programming. These elements all work together in some sort of sonic avalanche that defines the uniqueness of this record. eMolecule doesn’t claim this to be a concept album but it sure feels that way given its nightmarish dystopian visions. Collins and Nordstrom certainly appear to be creating music of the future, an ethos that is the essence of progressive rock. 

Squeaky Feet – Cause for Alarm (Independent)

This fusion-oriented, progressive-jam opus is perhaps one of the most dream-worthy debuts to arrive in the progressive rock scene this year. Whether it’s the touches of funk, or the girthy runtime that screams “look at me, I’m here!,” Squeaky Feet begs for attention. And attention it so deserves, particularly for pushing the musical boundaries of prog without destroying its most important tenets. Among those tenets is passion, something that Squeaky Feet has in spades, and promises to bring to future stages and albums with just as much eclectic vim and vigor.


PROGRESSIVE ROCK COMEBACK ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Ice Age – Waves of Loss and Power (Sensory Records)

Not much says “comeback album” like an album appearing after 22 years of near silence. Hailing from New York City, the weathered veterans Ice Age treat old fans by releasing their third album after more than two decades since their sophomore effort. Combining a high-energy mix of soaring vocals, biting guitars, nimble piano playing and rock-solid bass, this quartet is on the harder end of the prog spectrum while still offering listeners of all tastes something to enjoy. Their material is melodic as much as it packs a heavy punch, and proves to be a most welcome return, as though they had never skipped a beat.


PROGRESSIVE ROCK INSTRUMENTAL ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Mike Abdow – Séance in Black (Couch Cat Records)

Séance in Black” is nothing short of phenomenal, brimming with raw emotion, and showcasing an exceptional mastery of instruments that propels its musicians to the top of the charts. Each track is hauntingly beautiful, spinning intricate melodies and powerful harmonies that resonate deeply with the listener. The distinct vocal absence is a noteworthy phenomenon of its own, as it allows the audience to focus fully on the hypnotic pull that Abdow creates in this instrumental opus. “Séance in Black” is more than an album: it’s an immersive journey into the heart of the human experience, a battle of emotions fought and won through the power of music, and an experience that begs the listener to sink into its delightful depths.


PROGRESSIVE ROCK LIVE ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Transatlantic – The Final Flight: Live at L’Olympia (Inside Out Music)

There are few bands so extraordinary when performing live as the multiverse-spanning multinational supergroup Transatlantic. And while not definitively the end of the project, “The Final Flight: Live at L’Olympia” carries with it a sense of conclusiveness. Although it is familiar for the band to span years between releases, the band members are busy with their other projects (including Portnoy’s recent and earth-shattering return), and it had been nearly a decade since the group had last taken to the stage together. That said, “The Final Flight” is a beautiful display of chemistry, determination, and hard-fought skill. The crowd is rapt beneath a carefully directed display of lights, all captured in high definition for a lifetime of viewing ahead. Watching Transatlantic throughout the 96-minute ultimate edition Blu-Ray is like watching a piece of classic art come to live in its most beautiful form. Whether this is truly the final flight for Transatlantic, it is a beautiful watch nonetheless, and a worthy swan song for this collaboration among masters of their craft.

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