Some of the most pervasive names in music history are those of progressive rock bands, and across the world, few genres have had as much of a sweeping impact. Living up to the legacy of acts such as Pink Floyd and Rush may seem impossible for modern bands butting up against such a brightly colored past. It may seem impossible to make history in the twenty-first century, but there are still progressive rock bands fighting their way to critical acclaim, and earning their rightful accolades along with the legends of old.
This year in progressive rock has seen a few notable new entrants from a much metallic scene: 2019 seems to be characterized by progressive metal bands that have turned to the more tender side, their sharp bite cooled. Included on the list below are at least couple of bands that would have been undoubtedly metal as of their last release, but have since proven themselves distancing from the likes of Voyager or Ray Alder.
It isn’t just the appearance of previously metal bands that have made their way to the top of this year’s favorites. New artists have appeared on the stage of progressive rock in droves, enough that the mere formation of this list was a daunting task. The Sonic Perspectives team tackled the challenge head-on, combing through a year of stellar releases to create a list that shows some of the most interesting and exciting that progressive rock has to offer.
The following list is the result of our contributor’s highly subjective opinions, and is based on no one particular formula. Qualities considered include, but are not limited to, production value, originality, musicianship, and overall composition. Most important of all, each of the following albums was found to be incredibly enjoyable to listen to. May you enjoy the following list just as much!
TOP 15 PROGRESSIVE ROCK ALBUMS OF 2019
15. Franck Carducci – The Answer (Independent)
Franck Carducci’s band apparently has access to a time machine, as their ability to channel the ’70s world of prog-rock and roll is impressively engaging. At times ambitious and creative, at other times joyfully derivative, Franck Carducci is keen on putting the fun back into rock without losing any of its depth, bringing back the progressive rock edge to a sharp classic rock vibe. “The Answer” offers a colorful cast of characters whose missions are to fulfill the rock and roll dream. With a modern production and considerable skill at hand, this throwback sounds familiar and fresh at the same time. Get yourself familiar with the nitty-gritty of this album at this location.
14. Thank You Scientist – Terraformer (Evil Ink Records)
“Terraformer” takes an already unique identity from a band that rocketed to fame and adds some new sounds, alongside the excellent songwriting and musicianship that has come to be expected from the band. For having six distinct primary instruments and a vocalist to create a full ensemble, Thank You Scientist deserves full credit for the production of “Terraformer,” which allows each instrument to shine without muddying the others. This is an album that takes rock and makes it more lengthy and technical, but has a bit more kick in energy than your typical progressive rock album. At the end of the day, despite their wide array of talents, “Terraformer” is a clean and polished final product that rightfully earns itself another bright star in an already impressive discography. . Our take on this album can be appreciated here.
13. In Continuum – Acceleration Theory Part 1 & 2 (RecPlay)
A double-album release, In Continuum has impressed with a musical story told against an intergalactic backdrop. With a wealth of material that stands up to considerable scrutiny, this project has been nothing short of monumentally epic. The songwriting and storytelling are intrinsically linked here, and the musicianship is stellar from start to finish. With so many performers starring, there are many colors in a broad palette of awe-inspiring musical prowess. Genius behind the project Dave Kerzner has provided plenty of material to dazzle the astronaut within us all while evoking the sense of mystery that the cosmos offer us. Any fans of science fiction and classic prog-rock will likely find a welcome home in the universe that Kerzner has created. . Check out our thoughts on part I here and on part II at this location.
12. Hasse Fröberg & Musical Companion – Parallel Life (GlassVille Records)
Able to meld the worlds of melodic prog, rock, and countless other musical influences, Hass Froberg & Musical Companion are a band whose time has come. These musicians are of the highest caliber and have made clear their rightful place at center stage. The peaks of the music ebb and flow naturally, shifting from a ballad of lament into a joyous celebration, never failing to highlight the musical power of a guitar that takes the lead with impressive solo work. Bright finishes to an already tasteful sound include strong choruses and touches of an organ over top a soaring electric guitar. Still somewhat of a well-kept secret in the world of progressive rock, it seems that this stunning and over-the-top album is finally drawing some attention to Froberg’s creative vision. Our review of this wonderful record is here.
11. RPWL – Tales From Outer Space (Gentle Art of Music)
Yet another epic tale from outer space has captivated audiences in the world of progressive rock, showcasing a veteran band whose skills continue to grow sharper over time. With many critics likening their sound to Pink Floyd, the artistry in “Tales From Outer Space” deserves special attention while listening. It is clear that RPWL has taken advantage of the miracles of modern production to throw their full weight into making a polished and melodic final product that doesn’t seem to have a single chip in its shining surface. The pacing of the album allows for a natural progression through the many intricate passages that weave a story of fiction and storied musicianship side by side, and earn RPWL a spot as one of the year’s favorites.
10. Pattern-Seeking Animals – Pattern-Seeking Animals (InsideOut Music)
Newly formed group Pattern-Seeking Animals came out of the gates strong with a solid debut of melodic progressive rock, offering an irresistible mix of mini-epics and shorter, more direct songs. The band holds a strong connection to the legendary Spock’s Beard in their membership and sound, making them an instant hit for any fans of Spock’s Beard and beyond. Despite this history and kinship, the sound is unique and vibrant, departing into territory that is driven by melodic sensibilities and a slightly more eclectic final vision. A varied project that is the result of a talented and expert group of musicians trying to create something new, the creativity simply oozes out of an album that demonstrates incredible technical skill and composition. Our full review at this location.
9. Magic Pie – Fragments of the 5th Element (Karisma Records)
Though there is no overall concept driving the lyrical themes, this fifth album in the band’s 20-year history is simply outstanding. There is listening value between delectable prog singles and a stunning epic within its track list, each new offering showcasing nothing short of incredible musicianship. Listeners are instantly drawn in with hooks galore, ensnared by seductive bass and eccentric waltzes that seem to spring up abundantly between passages of godlike guitar work. Emotions wavering from an abject misery, to a search for some sort of hope or pleasure in life, to the enjoyment of what is simply enough, this album is packed with evocative power for listeners in any state of mind. Abandon yourself into the magic of this Nordic pie by reading more here.
8. Neal Morse – Jesus Christ the Exorcist (Frontiers Music SLR)
It may seem destined that Neal Morse was always going to write a musical about the life of Jesus. That it is filled with stellar songwriting, awesome arrangements, and spotless production also comes as no particular surprise. What may surprise an open-minded audience is that the material herein can be completely rewarding for Christian and non-Christian listeners alike, bringing an accessible rock opera to the masses complete with hooks and creative, melodic twists. With more than two hours of music on the release, there is not a single song of filler in an impressive set of tracklists, with the concept as lean and as impactful as it could have been made across a project so ambitious and provocative. There is no question that this album is a triumph and worthy addition to the books of Neal Morse and his many musical accomplishments. See how much we enjoyed this release by reading our full review here.
7. Klone – Le Grand Voyage (Kscope)
An album that will suck you in and stick with you long after it is finished, “Le Grand Voyage” is a hypnotic trip from French artists Klone. This release is brimming with passionate vocals layered over clean guitar lines drenched in reverb and intense chord progressions. Capturing the more ambient sides of heralded artists Devin Townsend and Opeth will find themselves at home in this imploring and sometimes intriguing work of atmospheric ambiance. Effortlessly transcendent and seemingly entirely encapsulated within a world all its own, “Le Grand Voyage” is the embodiment of what is meant when progressive music is called ‘soulful.’ There are few other words adequate to describe work as clean, concise, and inspiring as the journey that have been put forward by this consistently creative and inspiring outfit. Learn more about Klone‘s magical soundscapes at this link.
6. Flying Colors – Third Degree (Music Theories Recordings)
Flying Colors have more fully established their identity with a mature, consistent third album which is melodically strong and diverse. The inherent musical mastery of the band is always present, yet doesn’t ever overshadow their prime objective: serving the song. Despite a strong ensemble of musicians (including Mike Portnoy and Neal Morse) in tow, the songwriting showcases the vibrant talents of lead singer Casey McPherson, catering the melodies and production to give his emotional presentation the spot front-and-center in a technically sound and musically proficient adventure. Never lacking in diversity or in a touch of rockstar flair that is considerably muted for the artists in tow, Flying Colors continues to maintain their status of stardom in the world of progressive rock. Read our review here.
5. Big Big Train – Grand Tour (English Electric)
With some of their strongest offerings this decade, Big Big Train remain original as they tread relatively safely through well-established territory with this latest release. At the forefront is their unmistakable impassioned majesty, presented over a relatively sparse yet succulent and sentimental score of mournful piano chords, delicate percussion, and an impactful central celestial keyboard. Awe-inspiring harmonies and frenzied, resonated timbres lead to sheer captivation from beginning to end, an unparalleled knack for songwriting and arrangement allowing Big Big Train to claim yet another victory through their emotion-laden, life-affirming, and fresh take on prog. Our in-depth review is at this location.
4. The Flower Kings – Waiting for Miracles (InsideOut Music)
The Flower Kings surprise with a fine new studio album, a soulful spiritual return to the sound of their original releases. With three veterans of the band and two inspired newcomers, this collection that spreads across two albums sounds both fresh and familiar at the same time. It is not just promising for current fans, but for the current trajectory of a band that seems to craft music that is both complex and accessible in the same breath. There are loads of layered symphonic prog-rock elements replete with effortless guitar solos, prominent punchy bass, and keyboard magnificence. Rich and thrilling with brief forays into relatively new territory, this is a celebration of all that The Flower Kings do best. Read our full dissection of this album.
3. Leprous – Pitfalls (InsideOut Music)
Taking the word “progressive” at its face value, Leprous have released the latest culmination of their adventurous expertise that lodges them firmly in the world of progressive rock. Coming from harsh and scathing metal at their roots, the evolution of Leprous’ sound has resulted in something ethereal, tender, and scalding all at the same time. With emotional roots that tear right to the listener’s soul, pulling in elements of both symphonic grace and the electric bite of ‘pop’ as the album weaves its tale. Bravery in the face of backlash has created music that truly comes from the purest heart of Leprous’ creative genius, and this is a fact that shows plainly in an album that is an unspeakably concise, inspiring, and dark final product. One of the boldest and bravest statements to come out of music this year, “Pitfalls” is a certain winner, and will likely find itself a classic in the years to come. Check out our in-depth review of this adventurous album here.
2. Opeth – In Cauda Venenum (Nuclear Blast)
Having already explored a vast range of styles in their celebrate dhistory, Opeth didn’t bring much new to the table for their 13th album. Instead, the secret weapon of “In Cauda Venenum” lies in how the band wields their considerable strengths and what they have learned from decades playing the game. In this regard, this album is incredibly triumphant, and is the product of refined expertise and wisdom from all members both past and present. “In Cauda Venenum” is relentless in its emotional strength, its range of captivating dynamics, and the overall execution in both production and vision. While Opeth may have grown slightly muted over time, they show that they have not sacrificed technical skill or compositional quality in this new, but somewhat predictable direction. Get your right dosage of this “poisonous tail” at this location.
1. The Neal Morse Band – The Great Adventure (Radiant Records)
Comprised of five acts spread across two discs, “The Great Adventure” dazzles with epic songwriting, musicianship, and sound production. Following in the same vein as its predecessor, the musical vision of artist Neal Morse emerges to create yet another ambitious work of art that is daunting in its scale and scope. The Neal Morse Band has achieved a four-sided epic concept album that contains both diversity and cohesiveness, enhanced with spiritually inspirational lyrics. A remarkable display of modern storytelling, “The Great Adventure” will bring new and old fans alike to look in not just the music, but in themselves, as the story mounts naturally and finishes with a bombastic and unforgettable closer. Ingenuity, vision, and impassioned delivery set The Neal Morse band apart once again, and crown them as a favorite of 2019. Read our full review of progressive-rock album of the year here.
INSTRUMENTAL ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
A great voice is not a necessary precursor for a stunning take on progressive rock. The following two albums were able to captivate and impress with instruments alone, a feat that is both beautiful and noteworthy.
Bryan Beller – Scenes from the Flood (Onion Boy Records)
“Scenes From the Flood” is Bryan Beller’s more ambitious work to date, and the result is as monumental as it is enthralling. Listeners can taste the grandeur that awaits them as the themes subtly grow and more instruments are tastefully added. This magnum opus is filled with such sonic diversity that knowing how to transition from one mood to another is essential, and Beller proves masterful in this regard. Although a mostly-instrumental double concept album runs the risk of self indulgence and eccentricity, Bryan Beller’s offering is a mature, diverse and engaging rumination that succeeds on every level. With a cast of 26 musicians, these scenes offer rich introspection and enjoyment for the patient listener, a journey that demands repeated listening. Along with well appointed, and superbly organic production, “Scenes From the Flood” sounds and flows majestically from start to finish, and becomes a colossal artistic statement and a career triumph. Intriguing and staggering at the same time, we could not like this album enough. Do yourself a favor and read our in-depth review.
The Aristocrats – You Know What? (Boing!)
Bryan Beller is present again in our second pick for instrumental album of the year, this time around joined by Guthrie Govan on guitar, and Marco Minnemann on drums in The Aristocrats. Any one of these three musicians could feature in any website or magazine’s subjective Top 10 list on their respective instrument, and just shy of a decade ago, the thought of this evil and terrifying three-headed hydra of musical carnage could set the imagination ablaze. Now on their 4th album, ” You Know What?” shows that The Aristocrats, as a collective unit, are as hungry and possibly more confident and comfortable than ever. The melodic, dramatic, or even straight-up shredding-est moments make up a vast majority of the album, and despite the hilariously understated album artwork, the art contained within is deep, meaningful, moving, and extremely musical. The band’s approach to the aristocratic formula gives them high marks for originality, and especially when so much genre-bending is involved while still producing a comprehensive and cohesive finished product. Unlike some other “super-groups,” The Aristocrats do not treat music as an opportunity to play a bloated heap of notes at a high rate of speed, solely for the sake of playing them. They instead know how to use their musical proficiency to convey thoughtful jazz-fusion/progressive soundscapes with a perennial side of humor, a combination that makes their classy aristocratic splendor a true one of a kind. Read our full review of this album at this location.
COMEBACK ALBUM OF THE YEAR
United Progressive Fraternity – Planetary Overload Part 1: Loss (Giant Electric Pea)
The lofty mission of the United Progressive Fraternity (UPF) goes beyond just that of making stellar progressive music. Focusing on the state of the earth in both environmental and social awareness, the mission matches the music in its passion on “Planetary Overload Part 1 : Loss.” Impressively, the music they create in support of this mission is accessible, engaging and provoking for listeners from all walks of life. With a stunning list of guests providing narration and musical contributions, this project is one that was created out of centuries of summed knowledge and musical expertise, arranged with a concrete final vision and a passion for the end release. Check out our own review of this album at this location.
SURPRISE ALBUMS OF THE YEAR
Coming out of left field, these are the albums that took our contributors by surprise. For both their unique take on what progressive rock is and their superb execution of the intended vision, these albums deserve considerable recognition for their impact on the scene and beyond.
Moron Police – A Boat on the Sea (Mighty Jam Music Group)
A delightful mix of strong melodies, captivating rhythms, and topical lyrics take this band in a new and intriguing direction that stands out among the progressive rock crowd. A somewhat brief endeavor, coming in at just over half an hour long, “A Boat on the Sea” does an incredible job of making listeners crave for more as soon as the journey is completed. Full of both straightforward technical skill and arrangements is whimsy and joy, leaping from ballad to rock music to passages that would not be out of place in a video game. The Moron Police have shown incredible skill in balancing both a fun and playful take on progressive music while adequately showcasing their considerable musical vision. Read the full review here.
The Tea Club – If/When (Independent)
Topping many end-of-year lists this year, The Tea Club was a brilliant star that seemed to fall from the heavens on the world of progressive rock. In its exploration of light and shade, blending elements of indie and even touches of punk tendencies in with a central prog ethos, with this new album focusing particularly on acousting and even pastoral features. With each new direction they demonstrate a calculated execution of compositional risk, which pays off well in the end for an album that has a knack for capturing a listener and leaving them reeling for days at a time. Brilliant vocals and outstanding musical performances meet their match in creative songwriting, making this one of the most unexpected gems of 2019. Learn more about these guys and this album here.
If you are still here, and you are curious about our picks in some other genres, make sure to check out the lists below!