The Top 18 Essential Neo – Progressive Rock Albums.

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Part 1 of 2.

Well, it looked like my last list caused a bit of controversy but also was helpful to a few people. So I’ve decided to speed up the process for my next list. The difference between Prog Metal and Neo-Prog Rock is essentially that while Prog Metal (as the name would suggest) is a combination of the progressive genre with heavy metal (that started with Dream Theater, Queensryche, and Fates Warning but has grown substantially from there), neo-Prog is essentially a resurgence of the classic 70s Prog sound of Yes, King Crimson, Genesis, and many others.

Neo-Prog started in the 80s with Marillion, and still continues to this day. I must admit (at the risk of losing my credibility) that I did not include albums from a lot of other founding neo-Prog bands, because they didn’t have the same widespread influence, so let me give them a shoutout right now (I’m so sorry Jadis, Pallas, IQ, Arena, Pendragon, Twelfth Night, and a few others. You all deserve better). The reason I choose to specifically focus on Neo-Prog is because…

Well… frankly…. the progressive genre has expanded so much that there are so many different kinds of Prog these days. Bands that have very different approaches and inspirations are all kind of lumped together, from Muse to Opeth, from Mastodon to King’s X, to Karnivool and Periphery, Prog has become kind of blurred. And that’s not a problem for people who are now learning of new bands that way. But for a reviewer making a list, I strictly want to focus on bands that created albums that have a very direct link to the 1970s classic Prog sound.

Now many of these bands may still have their own approach, and may have included techniques or styles that would never have happened in the 70s or appeared on a 70s album, but that’s ok. as long as the link is direct and make sense, I’ll allow it.

Also, I’ve decided to split this up into two parts because of how long the last list came out to be. So here we go! Here’s my list of the 18 essential Neo-Prog Rock albums!


18. Dredg – El Cielo

Dredg had one of the more interesting string of albums to look at (5 from 1998 to 2011). What makes them so interesting is how much they changed from album to album while still retaining the band’s character. From the harsh heavy sound of their debut, Leitmotif (which looking back isn’t too far off from that of their good friends Deftones), to the alternative rock on Catch Without Arms, to the electronic pop sound on their final album Chuckles and Mr. Squeezy.

But it was their 2nd album El Cielo that is considered a crowning achievement. A concept album about dreams and sleep paralysis, it is inspired by one of Salvador Dali’s most famous paintings. It is a diverse album with unique transitions (done mostly by a series of interludes). It ranges from pop, hard rock, and post rock influences, but is always focused. From the catchiness of “Same ol’ Road” and “Sanzen”, to darkness of “I’m Sorry But it’s Over”, and ends on the glorious high note of “Whoa is Me” and “The Canyon Behind Her”. It starts off strong, ends strong, and takes you through many wonderful places throughout.


17. The Dear Hunter – Act II: The Meaning of, and All things Regarding Ms. Leading

We start this list off with a band who is more likely to be called indie rather than prog, but that doesn’t take away from the truly progressive things that these guys are doing. Multi-album concept albums based on a story that the singer created, 9 EPs with 4 songs each based off of moods and feelings associated with each color in the color spectrum, live transitions/jam sessions between songs that would make any band jealous, and a lack of fear when it comes to attempting/incorporating new styles of genres into their already diverse sound.

Act II is the 2nd in a 5 album concept cycle. Musically and lyrically picking up where the first part left off, we follow a boy who travels to the city after the death of his mother. There he falls in love with a prostitute and encounters heartbreak, one of many tragic events in this characters life. The band compliment with hard rocking tunes like “The Procession” “The Church and the Di’e”and “Dear Ms. Leading”, vaudeville style songs like “The Oracles on the Delphi Express” and “Vital Vessels Vindicate”, progressive moments (“The Lake and the River” and “The Bitter Suite”), ballads (“”Evicted”, “Where the Road Parts”, “Black Sandy Beaches”, “Red Hands”), and even upbeat pop tunes like “Smiling Swine”.

It is a phenomenal record, worth every second of every listen, and blends genres like folk, rock, blues, and jazz like it’s nobody’s business. The lyrics are emotional and require multiple spin to full digest.


16. Coheed and Cambria – In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3

Like The Dear Hunter, Coheed is probably more well known as an indie or “emo” rock band due to the pop punk aspects of their first album. And while those aspects are still a part of the band to this day, they have more than proven their Prog credentials.

This second release (and continuation of their “Amory Wars” saga) by the band not only shows improved songwriting and production, but also longer songs, and concepts within concepts. Starting with the epic battle cry that is the title track, we are treated to a few shorter tracks ranging from upbeat happy tunes, to darker songs with great dynamics and transitions like “The Crowning”. And aside from the well-known hit single “A Favor House Atlantic”, the second half sees the band channeling the attitude of bands like Rush.

From “The Camper Velourium” Trilogy which gets darker and angrier with each song, to the two 9+ minute epics “The Light and the Glass” and “21:13”, the band shows their knack for melodies, harmonies, instrumental moments, riff-writing, chord progressions, and tie-ing stories together by bringing back motifs from earlier songs.


15. 3 – The Ghost You Gave to Me

Poor 3. This band has never been given the recognition they deserve. Perhaps they were cursed with the hardest band name to “google”. But anyone who’s seen them live knows that they are a talented group of musicians, who interestingly blend funk, flamenco, hard rock, and space rock, all in a tight package that sounds like no other band.

Going into this list, I thought I was going to put their 2007 release The End is Begun. That or 2004’s Wake Pig perfectly showcase the balance between the band’s early sound and their later darker and heavier style as well. But their most recent release (which is now 9 years old) is the most focused released in terms of their Prog side. With a string of catchy hard rock tunes, they showcase their odd times and syncopation. But the real champions of the album are “One With the Sun”, “It’s Alive”, and “Only Child”, which showcase the band’s transitions, bright and ambient tones, build ups, and songwriting.

Plus, ending with the brilliant all-encompassing lyrical ballad of “The Barrier” really brings the album closure, as it almost acts as a recap of everything the band had done so far. The world needs more 3!


14. The Flower Kings – The Sum of No Evil

Going into this list, I knew this was going to be one of the most challenging tasks: picking a single album by The Flower Kings. These prog masters not only have an extensive catalog, but consistent as well. Known for long albums, double albums (Paradox Hotel, Unfold the Future, Stardust We Are), albums that flow through like 1 long song (Flower Power, Space Revolver) it is impossible to pick an essential album by the band.

So out of pure bias, this one has always stood out in my mind as my personal favorite. The problem with most albums by the band is that with so much material and lots of short interludes, their albums can sometimes feel overbearing and all over the place. In my opinion, this is the band at their most focused. No filler. Just 6 great songs.

With only one song written by Thomas Bodin and the rest written by frontman Roine Stolt, it doesn’t have as much diversity as some of their albums do, but it is no slouch. The album is full of beauty, melody, technicality, musicianship, moments of flash, moments of much needed rest, and hints of the darker tone the band started using. This is one of the best starting points for a new fan and is still a fan favorite as well.


13. Beardfish – Destined Solitaire / Mammoth

Since this is unlucky #13, I’m gonna go ahead and cheat on this one. Actually it has nothing to do with the number and everything to do with the fact that I literally can’t pick a winner between this two. It’s not that these are the most perfect albums ever, but they are so equally matched together that it would be a great injustice to separate them. These two albums represent the band’s transition from their sprawling double albums to the dark and heavy albums they ended their career with.

Beardfish are a Swedish progressive rock band with traces of everything 70s. From Genesis and Zeppelin, to Deep Purple and Frank Zappa. Perfectly blending the hard rock elements with the quirkiness and technicality of their heroes, they reached acclaim with Sleeping in Traffic Part 1 and 2.

Both albums start with strong progressive instrumentals, “Awaken the Sleeping” harkens back to Gentle Giant and Focus, “The Platform” showing hints of modern metal like Mastodon. Both albums have their signature songs (“Destined Solitaire”/“And the Stone Said: If I Could Speak”) ballads (“Tightrope”), grooves (“In Real Life There is No Algebra”), and plenty of epics that showcase so many styles of the band. They always know when to bring it down with a short time, but there’s so any catchy melodies on these albums that it’s hard to even know how to summarize them.

RIP Beardfish. Many hopes that the world gets to see you again some day.


12. Antimatter – Fear of a Unique Identity

This might be a divisive choice. Some might say that this band isn’t even progressive. Some might say that this isn’t even the band’s most progressive album. Antimatter started out as a collaboration between Mick Moss and Duncan Patterson, formerly of Anathema. This album was the first without Duncan, and was Mick’s time to prove that he could lead the band all on his own.

He exceeded all expectations, with an album that was heavier than anything the band had done thus far. Combining the electronic, dark wave, gothic, and acoustic elements of previous albums, Mick tied it all together in a very Pink Floyd-like way. A clear and focused theme of modern life, excellent production, beautiful tones, emotional delivery, and a strong album from start to finish.

While it may not have anything to do with Yes or Jethro Tull like many of these albums do, it is a rare treat to hear such a well put-together album, and that is very 70s of Mick and the boys. One of my all time favorite albums and worthy of the recognition.


11. Spock’s Beard – Beware of Darkness / X / Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep

If you thought my answer for Beardfish was cheating, you’re gonna hate this one. Spock’s Beard is one of the most loved American progressive rock bands to be influenced by the 70s style. Coming out of Los Angeles in 1992, they had the talent, the counter-melodies of Gentle Giant, and a twisted/dark sense of humor. They’ve also been blessed with the ability to reinvent themselves multiple times.

After a string of successful albums with Neal Morse, they pulled a Genesis and had their drummer Nick become their singer. After he left, the band recruited Ted Leonard from Enchant. And so I give you my pick of the essential albums from each era of the band, because each accomplished singer deserves a shoutout for what they all brought to “The Beard”.

Beware of Darkness is their second album with Neal and the most balanced in my opinion. I could have picked any from the Neal era really because they are all so unique, but this one has always stood out to me. It features a George Harrison cover in their style, the quirky “Thoughts” which continued in parts on later albums, the epic “The Doorway”, a showcase of the band’s classical style guitar sounds, a ballad, a band staple in “Walking on the Wind”, and a heavy and epic closer with “Time Has Come Today”.

Nick took a while to fit in, if you ask me. Some of the albums drag on and don’t gel quite right. But X shows the band at the most confident that they had been in quite some time. Three epics full of introspective lyrics, technicality, and beautiful moments (“Edge of the In-Between”, “From the Darkness”, and “Jaws of Heaven”), a fun song in “The Emperor’s Clothes”, the excellent instrumental “Kamikaze”, and the remaining two or three songs (based on the version you get) are catchy and memorable. From start to finish it’s a joy to listen to.

Ted Leonard made quite the impression with his first album with the band. Continuing the confidence and strong songwriting of the previous album, it felt like he had been in the band for years. His emotional and heartfelt delivery highlighted the band’s playing. From Enchant sounding songs like “Hiding Out” and the ballad “Submerged”, to the Nick led Spock’s Beard sound of “A Treasure Abandoned” and “Something Very Strange” even back to the Neal era sound of “I Know Your Secret” and “Waiting For Me”. It even has another edition in the “Thoughts” saga.

If I had to pick just one I’d give the Neal album the nod for the classic sound, but I have to give props to all three eras/singers.


10. Marillion – Misplaced Childhood

Picking a single album from Marillion’s discography is not an easy task, and yet, Marillion fans would most likely gravitate towards this one. Despite its love and acclaim, it doesn’t truly show all sides of Marillion. The first two albums were straight Genesis worship. The next two was the band’s “classic sound”, the next few saw the band’s new singer trying to continue that sound while also trying to be more mainstream, and since then the band has balanced long progressive albums with the introspective alternative rock sound similar to U2, Coldplay, and Radiohead. And while not every album is a classic, they’ve adapted beautifully with the times.

And while I wanted to pick one album that showcased singer Steve Hogarth and all he’s done for the band, I just couldn’t pick one album that reaches the same level of acclaim of this Fish-era masterpiece. Breaking away from just their love of everything Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel, the band showed that they were competent songwriters with Fish’s emotional lyrics and Steve’s Gilmour-like solos. The first of two Marillion concept albums written by Fish, the album looks at love, success, acceptance, and lost childhood.

The album starts with the gentle and delicate “Pseudo Silk Kimono” and travels through some of the band’s most memorable songs: its biggest hit “Kayleigh”, the touching “Lavender”, the multi-part “Bitter Suite”, and the triumphant “Heart of Lithuanian”. The second side flows as well as the first side, not as mainstream but equally as memorable. The upbeat “Waterhole” and “Lords of the Backstage” lead to the epic “Blind Curve” and the album ends on a high note with the title track and “White Feather”.

I would love to do an in depth review of this one and a few of the Hogarth releases such as Brave, Afraid of Sunlight, Marbles, and Somewhere Else. For now, enjoy this album and my in depth review of Clutching at Straws, which is also on this blog spot.


That’s it for part 1. Stick around for part 2 with albums 1-9. I should have it up soon.

The Top 15 Essential Progressive Metal Albums

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I was recently inspired to start including lists on this blog, so I’m gonna start it with my favorite genre. When I talk about Prog Metal, I am talking about the genre starting in the 80s. Progressive Rock and classic 70s Prog albums will not be included. This is only focused on bands who combine Prog with the heavy metal genre. This includes bands that incorporate heavier styles such as death metal or sludge metal.

My decisions are made partly by their influence, but also because of me looking at the albums as a whole experience as well as personal bias. So my choices might not also be the expected album by a band. This is because some albums that others might consider to be classic contain songs that I don’t feel are at the same caliber as the rest of their album. Therefore, I chose other albums instead. I still might do a list in the future based on influential and/or personal favorite albums, but for now, this is strictly looking at albums I would deem as essential.

I also tried to focus on one album per band. Some bands could have obviously had multiple albums on this list. But I wanted to focus on the influence and diversity of the genre as a whole. And I stress again, this list is not necessarily in the order of best to worst or anything like that. A list of my “favorites” would be completely different. Think of this list as my gift for people who are trying to get into the genre and are just learning about these bands. Think of this as a roadmap on which bands and albums to approach next. So here it is, my top 15 essential Progressive Metal albums!

15. Evergrey – The Inner Circle

We start this list off with one of the more underrated bands on the list, but one of the most consistent. Evergrey is a progressive metal band from Gothenburg Sweden, and while their song lengths or structures don’t look progressive, it’s their attitude and approach that puts them in the genre. A blend of dark, melodic, conceptual writing, they turned heads with their 2001 album In Search of the Truth, which dealt beautifully with the ideas of alien abduction.

But their 2004 album The Inner Circle is their most balanced in my opinion. Dealing with themes of religion, cults, and child abuse, it has all the best aspects of the band. From the heavy and catchy songs like “A Touch of Blessing” and “Ambassador”, to the beautiful ballads of “Waking Up Blind” and “Faith Restored”, to the incredibly emotional ending of “When the Walls Go Down”. With guest appearances of female vocals, solos, and memorable riffs, this is the best album to introduce someone to Evergrey.

14. Haken – Visions

In 2011, it was a scary time for fans of Dream Theater. The band was going through their major lineup change from Mike Portnoy to Mike Mangini, a change that some fans still can’t get over. Fortunately, a Prog band in their style was ready to step up to the challange. Haken is an English Prog Metal band that formed in 2007 and released their debut Aquarius 3 years later. This concept about a mermaid was an incredible start for the band.

But the quickly released their next album Visions the next year. This masterpiece is a concept album about a boy who sees his death in his dreams, and spends his life trying to avoid it. Starting with the overture of “Premonition”, “Nocturnal Conspiracy” follows and showcases all this band is capable of. From technicality to emotional ballads like”Deathless”, it all comes together in the 22 minute title track, a satisfying and emotional roller coaster. The band’s follow up album The Mountain seems to be the fan favorite, but this one is perfect in my eyes.

13. Orphaned Land – The Never Ending Way of OrWarriOr

Orphaned Land are the undisputed masters of mixing progressive metal with Middle Eastern influence. Starting in 1991, they finally reached acclaim in the Western World with Mabool in 2004. Blending a variety of languages and musical styles, that album is an absolute classic and very easily could have been on this list instead of this one. So why did I go with its follow up?

Both albums are massive. This one is 15 songs and over 78 minutes. The amazing thing is that you never notice it’s length. Each song is so unique and important to the story. The flow from song to song is so well done, and you’re left to wonder how much of this was the band’s doing and how much of it was Steven Wilson’s doing.

Starting with the infectiously catchy “Sapari”, to the progressive “From Broken Vessels”, every long song is followed by a short interlude. And while I usually don’t like albums that rely on this idea, it is appropriate here, showcasing the band’s cultural influences as well as their metal side. Towards the end you are treated to some very heavy tunes before ending beautifully with “In Thy Never Ending Way”.

There are so many standout tracks and I’d love to give this a full review one day. For now, just know, this is a must experience.

12. Nevermore – This Godless Endeavor

From Seattle came one of the most unique metal bands. A band forged by thrash metal, hints of death metal, hints of Prog and power, but most interestingly, a byproduct of the grunge culture that surrounded them. From the pieces of the band Sanctuary came a band with an attitude all their own, and like Evergrey, they released a string of conceptual albums that left fans arguing over which one was the best one.

Some might say Dreaming Black Neon. I would even say that I personally prefer Dead Heart in a Dead World over this one. But regardless, no one would have anything to say against this one. Combining the brutality of Enemies of Reality with their melodic senses, this album produced some of the band’s most enduring work. From thrash classics like “Born”, “Final Product”, and “My Acid Words”, to the emotional ballad of “Sentient 6”, to the epic conclusion of the 9 minute title track. This is the band firing on all cylinders. RIP Warrel. We miss you.

11. Green Carnation – Light of Day, Day of Darkness

One of the defining characteristics of Prog is long songs. It’s the thing to do. Some bands have taken this to the extreme. And once in a while you’ll have the album length song. Some of these are more for the appeal, and some of them pull it off gracefully. This album is the best in that regard. A single 60 minute song, not broken into sections. No skips. Just the entire experience from start to finish. Thank goodness the music does it justice.

An album of life and death, inspired by the founding member’s own loss of a daughter and birth of a son. It contains memorable riffs, melody lines, choirs, heavy sections, occasional growls, and a middle section with a unique female vocal that is off putting to some, but creates tension a beautiful clash when the music returns in my opinion. One of my favorite albums to get lost in, and if you indulge in it, I think you’ll be glad that you did.

10. Pain of Salvation – Remedy Lane

Ah Pain of Salvation. This Swedish band has been around since 1991, but really started in 1984 under another name. Through all the changes it’s been Daniel Gildenlöw leading the way. What started out as a funkier Dream Theater, or what you get if you cross Dream Theater with Faith No More (his love for Mike Patton’s vocal style does shine through) has grown into something all their own. From unique concept albums and even a play like album in the form of Be, to incorporating rap style vocals and a few classic rock and blues influenced albums.

But before the changes, they mastered their Prog sound with a pair of perfect albums. And while I have no issue with people who prefer The Perfect Element, Part 1, Remedy Lane has always spoken to me with its emotional lyrics and equally matched music. With a variety of themes such as love, sex, loss, lust, and self-understanding, it is a non-linear story. Like the previous two albums, it is all about self-discovery. From the frantic dance of “Fandango”, to the emotional ordeal of a stillborn child in “A Trace of Blood”, to love songs like “This Heart of Mine” and “Second Love”, ballads like “Undertow”, heavy tunes like “Chain Sling” and “Waking Every God”, to the massive ending that ties it all together. It is an incredible package of songs grouped and tied together.

So I invite you, like Daniel once said, to “take a walk down Remedy Lane”.

9. Cynic – Traced in Air

I have probably lost all credibility by choosing this particular album by this band. If I was really only focused on influence, I would have obviously chosen their debut Focus. That 1991 release which blended death metal and jazz was so ahead of its time that the band broke up, and essentially came back when their influence of countless bands was finally acknowledged. I might do a progressive death metal list to spotlight that album one day, but for now, let’s focus on their comeback album, 15 years later.

What band strikes gold twice after being out of the game so long? A band that blends lyrics of mysticism, technicality, beautiful tones, occasional growls, jazz guitar solos and the incredible rhythm section of Sean Malone on bass and Sean Reinert on drums. From the opening build up of “Nunc Fluens” to the emotional closing of “Nunc Stans”, every song is a hit. Every song serves its purpose. Complex songs like “The Space of This” and “Kings of Those Who Know”, straightforward songs like “Evolutionary Sleeper” and “Integral Birth”, to the heaviness of “Adam’s Murmur” and “The Unknown Guest”. There’s something for everyone and it goes by in a flash. The fastest 34 minute album you’ll ever hear.

8. Mastodon – Crack the Skye

If you had only heard Remission, Mastodon’s 2002 debut, you wouldn’t expect them to be on this list. But after a concept album about Moby Dick and the slower melodic songs and 2006’s Blood Mountain, it was inevitable. 2009 saw the band’s most progressive album to date. An album that was influenced by King Crimson, Pink Floyd, and the writings of Stephan Hawking. With a loose concept about an astral projector who gets lost in wormholes and spirit realms, and gets tangled up with Russian cults, Rasputin, and ultimately the Devil, the lyrics are as Proggy as you can get.

Musically it matches it with its blend of straight forward heavy tunes, its space-y tones, its progressive moments, its long songs, and also its emotional parts. Balanced by the absolutely heartbreaking title track about drummer Brann Dailor’s sister Skye who committed suicide at the age of 14, it is the full package of great lyrics, great musicianship, perfect pacing, and the imagery and story to go along with it. Plus, it was a commercial success bringing Prog not only to metal fans, but to the mainstream as well.

7. Between the Buried and Me – Colors

If this was just my list of favorite Prog Metal albums, this would be number 1, no question. Not only is it one of my favorite pieces of music to ever grace my ears, but it was also a major turning point for the band. Starting out as a progressive influenced metalcore band, a few lineup changes helped the band grow and develop over the next couple of albums. But it was Colors that helped people take notice of the band, who still had a bad association with “screamo” music cause of their long name.

Colors is a 64 minute album that flows through like 1 song. It is tied together by theme more so than story but does showcase the band’s improved lyricism as well as musicianship. It would be impossible to describe all the styles the band goes through. It is an incredible ride from the piano build up at the beginning, to the surprising transitions, random jazz moments, heavy breakdowns, to Middle Eastern and Indian influence, and that’s just the first 3 songs. There are waltz’s, hoedowns, Jaco inspired bass solos, classical inspired guitar solos. There’s emotion, talent, guest vocals by Adam Fisher of Fear Before the March of Flames. There is so much to talk about on this album that the best thing I can do is just let you experience it for yourself.

Not only is it a brilliant piece of music, but it laid the foundation for the band they have become today. Through their many concept albums and tours with bands like Dream Theater, Opeth, Meshuggah, Coheed and Cambria, and The Dear Hunter, they have broken away from just being a metal band. They are a well-respected Prog band that keeps pushing themselves and their fan base. Many fans would argue that Parallax 2 should be here instead, but there’s no way I would ever choose that one over this one.

6. Tool – Lateralus

You all knew this album (or at least this band) would be on here. Tool has become synonymous with Progressive Metal. They are the most mainstream of all the bands on this list despite their long and intricate albums. Called the modern day Pink Floyd they are known for the laser light live shows, and for their blend of heavy metal with Middle Eastern and Indian influences.

Lateralus continues with them pushing the boundaries of music that they started on their previous album Ænima. There are subtle hints of the aggressive alternative metal that made them famous, but there’s more of an art rock approach. The songs were longer, more varied, and the instrumental interludes in between had more purpose than strictly breaking up the long songs. Now they helped buildup and create moods, pushing the album along like the great progressive rock albums of the 70s.

Aside from the obvious hit “Schism”, which is one of the bands staples, it contains countless important songs for the band such as the hard-hitting opener “The Grudge”, the ambient “The Patient” with its melodic hooks, the “Parabol”/“Parabola” duality showing both sides of the band, “Ticks and Leeches” which is one of the heaviest songs the band has ever made, and it’s beautiful and memorable title track, which has been studied for it Fibonacci sequence rhythm.

I’ve always been more partial to the pacing of 10,000 Days because of its pacing towards the second half, which I feel is a tad long and drawn out on this release, but there’s no denying it’s influence. There are countless Tool rip-off bands nowadays, and it’s all because of the importance of this album. It was a huge resurgence in the Prog genre, and opened the door for new and old bands to either have new or regained attention.

5. Opeth – Ghost Reveries

Another album choice that might receive harass criticism about the merits of this list and its write. Any Opeth fan would say the choice is obviously Blackwater Park. And while I acknowledge the influence and amount of food material on that album, it has never been a “perfect album” to me. It was a turning point for the band. It did start to see more progressive influence to their already interesting blend of death, black, melodic, and doom metals with folk. This is partly due to Mikael’s unique taste in music, and partly due once again to the looming presence of Steven Wilson. And while that album does include some of the bands best songs, it does tend to overstay its welcome. I will happily admit that a few of the songs have never really clicked with me.

And while that album started the boost in the band’s popularity, this album initiated another boost as well, and I think most people forget that. It was also almost a return to the concept albums, until Mikael decided against the full concept to incorporate some unrelated songs, which might have been to its benefit. From the heavy songs about the occult and satanism, to the beautiful ballads that give some much needed downtime, the pacing is perfect.

“Ghost of Perdition”, “The Braying of the Hounds”, “Beneath the Mire”, “Harlequin Forest”, and “The Grand Conjuration” are among the group’s most lasting heavy tunes. Melodic, catchy, brutal, ambient. All of them twisting and turning over the course of 8 to 12 minutes. And “Atonement”, “House of Wealth”, and “Isolation Years” taking what the band accomplished on Damnation, learning from Blackwater Park’s one ballad mistake. “Hours of Wealth” also contains what is probably Mikael’s best guitar solo to date. A hint of jazz to add a cherry on top.

4. Symphony X – The Odyssey

Symphony X are the neo-classical masters of Prog metal. Usually, neo-classical is thought of as strictly 1980s guitar shredders like Yngwie Malmsteen or associated with power metal bands like Rhapsody of Fire. But Symphony X put it in a band form with long songs and concept albums. They gained attention with their 1997 album The Divine Wings of Tragedy, which would be most fan’s choice for this list. However, despite starting strong and ending strong, I find a few of the tunes to sound cheesy and dated.

This album on the other hand is right before singer Russell Allen started focusing predominantly on his “gruff” voice as seen by their last few albums. So this one is really the best of both worlds. The more melodic approach of the early albums. The heavier and darker approach of the latter ones. The neo-classical solos and the groovy riffs. The ballads and the beautiful compositions. It’s all here, and it’s all represented well.

From the thrash-y tunes like “Inferno”, “Incantations of the Apprentice”, and “The Turning”. to the off time grooves of “The Wicked” and “The King of Terrors”, to the lush compositions of “The Accolade II” and “Awakenings”. And of course, no review or listen of this album would be complete without the epic 24 minute song based on The Odyssey which is one of the greatest progressive songs of all time in my opinion.

3. Fates Warning – Parallels

Out of all the bands on this list, I knew this was going to be the toughest choice to narrow down to just one album. Being one of the big three of Prog Metal, these guys alongside the next two bands on the list pushed the whole thing in motion. Taking influence from the 70s Prog bands and adding the thrash metal tendencies that was popular at the time, these guys started in 1982 and had three albums with original singer John Arch. Ray Alder came in for 1988’s No Exit, and the progressive sound started to really take the forefront.

The band has had an extremely consistent career since then, and to choose just one album is difficult because of all the different sounds and stylistic changes that the band has been through. I could have chosen No Exit with its aggressive sound and 21 minute masterpiece “The Ivory Gates of Dreams”. I could have chosen 1997’s A Pleasant Shade of Gray”, a 53 minute album that flows through like 1 song and doesn’t even have titles for each section, forcing you to remember it! I could have chosen any album after that which has been a brilliant adaption of modern metal with the 80s Prog sound.

But Parallels is the album that pushed them into the briefly into mainstream, with it’s infectious mix of talented musicians and catchy songwriting. Every song on it is memorable. They are all hits in their own way. They all have their hooks while still showing the band’s musicianship and focus. 6 of the songs (the first six in fact are still in the bands live rotation, “Don’t Follow Me” is the closest the band ever got to sounding like Iron Maiden, and “The Road Goes on Forever” is a fitting closer, ending on a ballad after all the metal.

My advice is give this album a chance and move onto the other ones I mentioned as well. These guys never got the credit they deserve, but they still go strong to this day.

2. Queensryche – Operation: Mindcrime

The album that started it all. Queensryche started out as a heavy metal band that balanced the razors edge between the punk influenced thrash metal and the radio friendly glam metal. They were the perfect band for the time, but that wasn’t enough, and the Prog influence that they showed glimpses of on their first two albums came front and center with the first progressive metal – rock opera.

Operation: Mindcrime is a concept album that follows the character Nikki who gets tangled up with a radical group led by Dr. X, whose main focus is assassinating political leaders. It’s lyrics of revolution, corruption, drug addiction, prostitution, living on the streets, women taken advantage of, killings, wars, and distrust of the government greatly contrasted with the glam mentality that flooded the airwaves. There were no parties, no glorifying strippers or drinking. There was the deep dark underbelly that people didn’t want to look at. A necessary album.

Musically, the Pink Floyd influence was strong with this album. It still had its thrash moments with songs like “Speak”, “Spreading the Disease”, and “The Needle Lies”. It had its anthemic songs like “Revolution Calling”, “Operation Mindcrime”, and its patriotic-like buildup “Anarchy-X”. It also spawned a few radio hits with “Breaking the Silence” “I Don’t Believe in Love”, and “Eyes of a Stranger”.

But it was the progressive elements that set it apart. Not only with the interludes and sound clips that helped push the story along and tie it all together. But also the beautiful, heartbreaking, and darker tones on “The Mission” “My Empty Room”, and of course the epic 11 minute long “Suite: Sister Mary”. That song, with its unique transitions, choirs, and female vocals, is one of the most accomplished songs I’ve ever heard.

If you haven’t listened to it yet, it’s a must.

1. Dream Theater – Metropolis 2: Scenes From a Memory

I’m sure everyone knew that this was the band that was gonna top the list. If Tool is the most mainstream Prog metal band, and Queensryche is the one who got it all started, Dream Theater is the band you immediately think of when you think of”Prog metal”. They have been carrying the flag of the underground Prog metal genre through all the dark years that forward-thinking music wasn’t cool. They achieved some mainstream success with their second album Images and Words in 1992. And they still draw large crowds to their shows to this day, 35 years into their career.

I easily could have chosen Images and Words as the number 1 slot of this list and no one would have batted an eye. It’s influential, it’s flawless, it’s still incredible after all these years. They did things during the era of grunge that no one else was doing. I really have no other reason for choosing this one over that one, other than just personal bias.

Scenes From a Memory is a sequel to a song from Images and Words that never actually ended to have a Part 2. “Metropolis Part 1” was titled jokingly. But the fans wanted it, and eventually, 8 years later, the band did it. The lyrics of “Part 1” were cryptic and never really explained. But the album was a full on concept album with spoken interludes, intros, and outros to help push the story along. The main character, Nicholas, has been suffering from strange dreams. Through hypnosis, he tries to find out what they mean. Eventually he learns of the murder of a girl named Victoria that occurred many years before.

Without too many spoilers, the 77 minute album (divided into acts like a play) deals with ideas of reincarnation, love triangles, affairs, drug and alcohol problems, gambling addiction, murders, and suicide. Musically it starts with its iconic intro before going into an overture. The album is Dream Theater at their best, with heavy upbeat tunes like “Strange Deja Vu”, “Fatal Tragedy”, the epic “Beyond This Life” (with its catchy chorus and Zappa-like middle section) and “Home” with its Middle Eastern influence. It’s got plenty of straight forward and beautiful ballads like “Through Her Eyes”, “One Last Time”, and “The Spirit Carries On”. It’s got one of the most intense and ridiculous instrumentals (“The Dance of Eternity”). And “Finally Free” ties the whole album together with its brilliant ending.

It’s technical, it’s emotional, and it’s so well thought out that it’s not possible for it to be overrated. I know people get tired of hearing about it, but it’s a classic for a reason. If you haven’t heard it in a while, sit down and enjoy the experience again. If you haven’t heard it at all, get ready to never look at music the same way again.


And that’s the list! I hope you all enjoyed it!

Fates Warning – Long Day Good Night (2020)

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Fates Warning are the unsung heroes of the progressive metal genre. Never reaching the mainstream appeal of their peers such as Queensryche or even Dream Theater, despite being just as influential, they have continued throughout the years, releasing great album after great album.

With the announcement of a new album, we knew it would be no different. Even before their hiatus they had already adjusted with the times, and incorporated many modern elements to their 80s Prog sound. This was in part of the influence of Kevin Moore adding electronic keyboard elements, but is also a testament to their lineup,which has been a part of many other projects and find a way to bring all of those styles together in a cohesive sound. Despite the changes, it’s all still Fates Warning, and the fans wouldn’t want it any other way.

Long Day Good Night is their 13th release. It is 13 songs long, and if you add all the numbers in its length together (72:22 – 7+2+2+2) you get…… well you get the idea. It continues very much in the style of their last few albums. Combining heavy modern sounding riffs, big catchy, anthemic choruses, some electronic elements, at least a ballad, and at least one long song. And this formula works, because it showcases all the different sides of the band. The band even stated that was their particular goal for it.

Lyrically, it all deals with the idea of “home” which is very fitting for the state of the world that we are currently living in. During this Coronavirus Lockdown of 2020, we have spent more time at home than we ever have before, and the idea of the word changes. For bands, maybe home is being back on stage. Maybe the isolation means that home is just being back with your friends. Either way, this is the 2nd album in a row that I’ve reviewed that feels like it has been directly influenced by the quarantine, as Islands by The Flower Kings was as well.

Even the cover works on two fronts. Yes it fits the title and theme, but it also acts as a “return to home“ in the sense that it is their first album back with Metal Blade since FWX in 2004, and bears a striking resemblance to the cover for that one.

Musically, it takes a minute for the first track, “The Destination Onward” to get going, but once it does, it is followed by an excellent build up. The drums, guitars, and vocals are mixed beautifully and it gets you very excited about what’s to come. About 3 minutes in is where it really picks up and it keeps this heavy upbeat pace for the next 5 minutes. It is one of three long songs on the album, and showcases the bands technically, groove, and ability to write a memorable chorus. I can imagine them playing it live and everyone is singing along to the “I gave everything I had” lyric. Plus, it has one of the best guitar solos on the album.

Now if the first song showed glimpses of heavy with its start stop riff during the verses, the next two songs continue that and take it even further. “Shuttered World” might be one of the heaviest songs the band has ever done, in a groove that reminds me of the band Nevermore. This is counter-balanced with another melodic chorus that makes it an album standout. These first two songs will be fan favorites.

“Alone We Walk” closes out the opening heavy trio with a classic Fates Warning sound superimposed over a down tuned guitar riff. Less memorable than the first two, but still with its share of great lyrics and harmonies. This trio of songs starts the album off so strongly that you’d swear this was their best album so far!

But the problem is, there’s still a long way to go! So the band knows they have to change it up a bit. The next trio of songs is more focused on the softer ballad like moments. “Now Comes the Rain” sees the band doing their best Queensryche impression. No, it’s not a blatant rip-off, but it is a nostalgic late 80s early 90s sound that reminds me of classics like “Another Rainy Night” and “I Don’t Believe in Love”. A welcome change of pace to the album.

“The Way Home” starts off like a beautiful ballad, and makes you think you’re getting another song like “Pleasant Shade of Gray Part IX”, but then switches up to a more progressive second half, much like they did with “The Eleventh Hour” from Parallels. Unfortunately, the second half isn’t as memorable as its first and might have worked better as two separate songs. But maybe it needs a few more spins.

*Edit* it has grown on me with more spins!

The heavy section is important though cause it breaks up the previous ballads with another beautiful ballad, this time complete with actual string instruments. “Under the Sun” reminds me of 80s ballads that you would hear from pop bands or alternative rock bands, not necessarily just from metal bands. It is very emotional and can become quite the ear worm for the listener.

The next section of the album seems to be where it starts to lose some listeners. With the trio of heavy and trio of ballads, we get four classic heavy metal songs in a row, split up by one electronic influenced song. With the bands technicality and emotion leading the way, it seems kind of a step back to just do catchy heavy metal songs. But, as the band stated, there’s something for everyone on here. So let’s get through them.

“Scars” was the first single so many of us Fates fans had already heard it. It still holds up with its placement in the album. It is the classic Fates sound we’ve come to expect from their last couple of albums and holds well against tunes like “Pieces of Me”, “Simple Human”, and “White Flag”.

“Begin Again” starts off with a bluesy sounding riff. It’s got a decent pre-chorus and chorus, with hints of Tool and Porcupine Tree, but not the same melodic memorability as previous songs. The most unique section is the off time counter melodies right before the guitar solo, which I’m still not really a fan of.

“When Snow Falls” breaks up to sequence of heavy songs with one of the albums highlight performances. Sounding like an OSI song with Ray Alder on vocals, Gavin Harrison’s drumming fits in perfectly. The tones are brilliant as are the uses of effects such as delay. I always love when Fates steps into this territory and wish we got to see it more (either that or we just need another OSI album soon. Jim and Kevin I’m talking to you!).

But the album goes back to its comfort zone with the song “Liar”. In most of the reviews I’ve seen, people point out its length as its biggest weakness. They say that this track or “Begin Again” (or both) could have been cut and it would have been a more enjoyable experience. I agree, but it also depends on how you listen to it. In one sitting, yes it’s too much. But individually every song is good. So if you need a long album in the car or these songs are on shuffle in a playlist, you don’t mind them as much as you do all at once.

Either way, “Liar” has its moments and “Glass House” is a shorter more straightforward song with probably the catchiest chorus since “Scars” so it’s just enough before we get to the meat and potatoes of the album. “The Longest Shadow of the Day” (also the longest song of the record) is 11:30 seconds.

The majority of it comes from its extended intro where we get jazz style guitar licks, excellent bass solos, and shred guitar solos, while Bobby on drums and Joey and bass do what they do best and hold it all together. Once you get to the vocals, it is actually a pretty simple and straightforward song, with just a few verse and repeated lines. Still, one of the bands best moments in a long time.

The album finishes with the classical inspired ballad, aptly titled, “The Last Song”. This lulls the listener out after the technical mastery and showmanship of the previous tune, and leaves fans of the band hoping that they don’t mean the last one forever.

All in all, this album has me scratching my head where I would place it in my favorites by the band. There is a ton of great material on it. And the only thing it has going against it is it’s length. There’s not a bad song on it, but there are better songs on it than others. And because if that, the band does have better “put-together” albums. Still, it’s not gonna leave any fans upset at its existence. There’s more than enough material to hold people over, plenty of songs are gonna be great live, and everyone will have their own unique favorite song from the album.

It will hold well for many years to come. It doesn’t over take the spot of my favorite by the band (“Darkness in a Different Light”), but halfway through, I really thought it would. Definitely a contender for album of the year, and a must check out for any fan of metal and Prog, whether old or new.

Genesis – A Trick of the Tail (1976)

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By 1976, Genesis was already a leading figure in the Progressive Rock scene, thanks to 6 albums, 5 of which are Prog Essentials. After their commercial flop of a debut album, they began their streak with Trespass in 1970. These albums showcased that the band was able to put whatever they could possibly fathom onto a record. They created a number of Prog classic songs, and they were also able to establish themselves as a wildly entertaining and unexpected live act.

This was part of the somewhat flamboyant and over-the-top persona of Peter Gabriel, which like Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull was prog’s answer to the emerging Glam Rock genre, which gave way for the likes of David Bowie. And it very much worked for Genesis, as the quirky singer matched their musical technicality and proficiency.

This was most obviously achieved in the form of their 1974 double album, and a Prog opera reminiscent of Tommy by The Who, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. I won’t go too into this one because I’ll probably be tackling it soon, but it was the perfect example of the band’s cinematic and play-like stage performance coming to fruition through their music. Unfortunately it was not a big hit at the time, despite later achieving cult classic status, and may have played a very small role in the departure of Peter Gabriel, amongst other things.

So, with the band trying to follow up this album, they now had to prove that they could still write a hit even after the lineup change. They quickly got to writing new material and listened to many audition tapes for replacement singers. But it was the band convincing Phil Collins to sing the song “Squonk” that brought about his transfer from drummer to singer.

Now luckily, the music was still in the band’s style as some of the pre-Lamb albums, so the band found that the music came together quickly. Phil did his best Peter impression vocally while still finding and discovering his voice. But he was also inspired by Peter’s lyrical approach. The albums blends some songs of a tongue-in-cheek nature, with some that are fantastic and whimsical, and even some that are more serious and poetic.

This demonstrated all the facets of the band, and the music naturally followed suit. What this album does is kind of act as a showcase, not only acting as the transitional album between Peter and Phil, but also of Genesis past, present, and future. It has the progressive songs of the past but also greatly foreshadowed the pop sound of Genesis to come. Even though there was still one more Prog album left out of these guys before the drastic tonal change of …And Then There Were Three…. in 1978, it still has some of the bands poppiest, catchiest, and most melodic moments thus far into their career.

The album begins with an absolute classic. One of the best first songs on an album in my opinion. Listening to this, you instantly knew the band was going to be just fine. “Dance on a Volcano” has a memorable two part intro. Part playful, part orchestral, it has a unique transition to its frantic but controlled verse with gives way to its memorable “chorus” and “bridge” section. The song continues with some technical wizardry in the second half before transitioning smoothly into the second song.

“Entangled” is a beautiful ballad that provides some down time after the upbeat opening piece. It is 12 string driven acoustic song with a memorable verse and a beautiful chorus that is straightforward for its first 4 minutes. The last two and a half minutes are led by the synth, bass pedals, and the Mellotron. It’s hypnotic, and it’s simplicity is what makes it effective.

“Squonk” is a song about a mythical creature, but musically has been called one of the band’s heaviest songs. It is a deceptively simple song due to its subtle changes and its jam session ending, but it goes back and forth between two very catchy melodies, that can be seen as verse and chorus sections despite a lack of repeated lyrics. Phil has stated that his drums were inspired by John Bonham, and they definitely stand out on this track.

“Mad Man Moon” would be the other most progressive tune on this album aside from “Dance on a Volcano” in my opinion. Starting out as a simple and beautiful ballad with a bright uplifting sounding chorus, it takes a left turn with its middle section in the form of an extended keyboard part before Phil Collins comes in with his fast paced vocal delivery. The song returns to its verse and chorus and ends very strongly.

Side 2 is more straightforward than side 1, and therefore might have some of the most memorable songs for the casual listener. It starts with “Robbery, Assault, and Battery” which sometimes feels like the odd song out in my opinion. It’s a fun one on its own, does a great job of telling a story, and it’s got its moments of catchiness as well as its progressive middle section where the band goes all out, but to me it doesn’t match up with the more serious and delicate songs.

“Ripples” for example, might be one the most beautiful things Genesis ever did. This 8 minute masterpiece doesn’t stray far from itself. The middle section fits well with its verses and choruses, and despite being the longest song, is one of the more straightforward tunes on the album. A gorgeous and lush sounding ballad that hints at later Genesis, as well as Phil’s solo career.

This is followed by the equally catchy but more upbeat title track, which also hints at these things to come. A very Beatles-esque, playful tune, that returns to lyrics of beasts as “Squonk” did. But it’s hook might even have you forget all about this as you patiently await to sing along with “they’ve got no horns and they’ve got no tail” part. This two songs really balance the album well, giving something for everyone.

Having accomplished an album with some pop sensibility, some beauty, and lots of technical musicianship, all that’s left is to go out with a bang, and that’s exactly what “Los Endos” is. An instrumental grand finale with parts of “Squonk”, “Dancing on a Volcano”, and a song that didn’t make it onto the album but was released as a b-side. They even through a nod to Peter Gabriel at the end. A fitting tribute to the past, and a fitting closure to an album that was looking onwards and upwards. It provides a rest in the sense that it doesn’t throw too much new information at you, after having to digest so much already, but properly closes out the album after the simplicity of the title track.

So, my overall thoughts on the album?

Revisiting it on vinyl a few times has made me appreciate songs that didn’t use to stand out to me. I always loved “Dancing on a Volcano”, “A Trick of the Tail”, “Entangled”, and “Ripples”. I now have more appreciation for “Squonk”, “Mad Man Moon”, “Los Endos”, and even for “Robbery, Assult, and Battery” despite what I said about it above.

There is a lot happening on this album. They cover a lot of ground and everyone gets their moment to shine. For a band who’s future was uncertain, they passed the test with flying colors. Many fans still view this as their favorite album and rightly so. The production was much better than previous albums and you get the best of both worlds with Phil paying tribute to Peter while showing his own strengths. The band is at the top of their game and their songwriting really shows it, with its balance of melody, harmony, and showmanship.

Off the top of my head, this is always my go to as favorite albums by them, but we’ll see if some in depth revisits of their older albums change that. As a whole, my only gripe is that I usually start to fatigue around the midway point, but the last three songs pick up so strongly that it quickly hides any of that away. Otherwise, this is probably the closest Genesis got to a perfect album…

At least in my opinion.

The Flower Kings – Islands (2020)

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The Flower Kings have been a force in the progressive rock seen since 1994. That is the year that Roine Stolt, famous for his work in Swedish band Kaipa, put together a live band for his third solo album. The band released their debut album the following year. Over the years, the band has done about everything you can imagine a band influenced by 70s Prog rock to do:

Double albums, 20+ minute songs, 30+ minute songs, whole album length songs that flow together despite different tracks, jazz, blues, rock, circus music, ballads, interludes with field like recordings, etc.

But most importantly, these guys know how to write a song, as they’ve proven in the past with some very catchy selections from their catalogue. Even with the different lineup changes, with Roine at the helm, they’ve continued to release interesting albums. And while I definitely enjoy every album by them In some form or another, there are some that just stick out way more than others.

That is because some of these albums can kind of forget the songwriting in order to focus on the flashiness. Those albums suffer in my opinion. But that is ok, because if their discography has shown us anything, it’s that they always bounce back. They always make an album for every kind of fan in their fan base. And in the instance of their latest release, I didn’t expect it to be so soon!

To give a bit of backstory, the band started out consistently releasing an album every year or two, before their first major rest period from 2007 – 2012, after what is probably my favorite by them, The Sum of No Evil. Focusing on touring and solo albums, the band bounced back with The Banks of Eden and Desolation Rose with new drummer Felix Lehrmann. Whether his influence or the influence of the Prog metal around the band, they signified a darker/heavier influence while still sounding like the band.

The band then went onto hiatus #2, this time not only returning with a new drummer Mirko DeMaio, but also a new keyboardist, replacing longtime contributor Tomas Bodin. Zach Kamins on paper seems like an interesting choice for keyboardist of the Flower Kings, receiving acclaim for his own instrumental/progressive metal band An Endless Sporadic. But his wide range of influences and technicality fits right in.

Their first release with these two members, Waiting For Miracles, came out about a year ago at the time of this review, and while his technicality worked well (and I admittedly need to give it a fairer chance with more listens), I wasn’t initially grabbed the same way I was with many of their other albums.

When they announced ANOTHER new album less than a year later, I was surprised, but also captivated by the YES-influenced album cover, as well as some of the details about the album. Written and recorded during the COVID pandemic, it was assembled by the members from their homes all over the world. The lyrics of loneliness and isolation, inspired by these events, and the fact that the songs were short but made to flow through as one, made me think of a darker more modern version of their classic Flower Power. This made me excited to delve in.

The 21 short songs, split into two CDs, are all very unique, and very much their own parts. This really helps boost this album’s memorability above many of the more technical and tedious Flower Kings albums. There’s no 20 minute songs to try and remember all 5 or 6 of its movements. This will help the band as well when they start playing live again and have a wealth of songs at their disposal instead of having to decide which epic to play next.

I can see why some fans won’t like this album, because they will see a lot of these songs just coming and going with no real substance. I can agree to some extent. I feel like some of these movements might have actually benefited from stringing them together. That way, some cool transitions would have given the songs a bit more purpose rather than just starting and stopping randomly. I’ll explain that a bit more in my quick (at least I hope it will be) rundown. But I will say that as fan who was fatigued by a few of their albums, this one was a really welcome surprise.

It all starts with”Racing with the Blinders On”, which after 14 seconds of silence starts off with some random jazz/funk style hits before delving into an overture leaded by Roine’s guitar and Zach’s keys with the bass and drums holding it down behind them. 2 and a half minutes in, we have a catchy melody that builds and ends with the next song slowly coming in (a transition that could have been fixed in my opinion).

“From the Ground” is a beautiful pop/hippy style Flower Kings song that made me nostalgic of their early albums. Definitely a highlight. “Black Swan” is a quirky vaudeville style song with enough memorable melodies, and early on we know a few things. Zach and Mirko feel very comfortable on this one. Hasse and Roine’s vocals are gel-ing the best that they have done in years, and we are in for a treat with the rest of this album.

From the country style of “Morning News”, which they do an excellent job of, to the perfect blend of classic Prog and modern rock of “Broken” which was released as a single. This song has an excellent middle section that shows their talent, but is almost among the catchiest the band has released in a long time. The lyrics of the album as a whole were apparently written during the writing sessions which can be seen while listening, but is also a part of the charm. If they were more fleshed out, maybe there’d be more focus on the melodic parts and the memorable lyrics, but there is also a very raw, honest, and open style that we have only seen glimpses of in their discography.

“Goodbye Outrage” is Roine’s voice singing emotionally over an orchestra arrangement for 2 and a half minutes, and “Journeyman” is a quick jazz fusion jam session that shows not only Zach’s chops, but also his writing ability. “Tangerine” is a simple, smooth, and soulful tune, “Solaris” is the longest song on the album with an excellent spacey middle section, “Heart of the Valley” is another 70s pop/Prog tune and “Man in a Two Piece Suit” is an instrumental guitar solo that closes Disc 1.


If you need to take a break before continuing to Disc 2 I understand. I need a break before I continue writing about it.


Ok! I’m back! Almost a week later, and ready to tackle Disc 2. So let’s get on with it!


Disc 2 starts right away with an upbeat, almost alternative rock song written and sung by Hasse, called “All I Need is Love”. A unique song, different than much of their catalog. Also, my girl told me it kind of sounded like Mana, and now I can’t I hear that, so it had to make its way into the review. This is followed by a true Prog instrumental called “A New Species”, with space tones and unique transitions.

The next song, “Northern Lights” takes its time to build up with hints of middle eastern and Spanish touches behind the vocals, and a wonderful fret less bass tone. It returns to The Flower King Sound on the chorus and is a very catchy tune once it gets going. It also has an excellent drum break towards the end. It is followed by a short progressive sounding transition called “Hidden Angels” which is another one of those moments that felt like it could have been touched up a bit, but also showcases more of Zach’s amazing talent and knack for fusion inspired compositions.

“Serpentine” is one of the most interesting pieces on either disc. It is complete with syncopation, jazz style saxophone solos, vocal effects, counter-melodies, and an upbeat, almost frantic pace. Maybe not the best songwriting or lyrics, but it’s stand-out sound might make this a fan favorite in live settings, just to watch the band pull it off. And honestly, who won’t crack a smile during its “are you happy?”section?

“Looking For Answers” is another excellent Prog jam session, that’s almost instrumental until it’s repeated phrase towards the end. “Telescope” is an emotional ballad with memorable lyrics, catchy melodies, and some of the lyrics especially tie together ideas that we’ve already heard in the album. “Fool’s Gold” is another upbeat and driving song with some funky rhythms that is good on its own, but honestly, this is where the album starts to drag a little bit.

The idea to end the album with so many ballad-like songs is probably its greatest downfall. Even though they all have their own unique styles and they come and go in their own directions, Disc 2 just doesn’t end as strongly as Disc 1. “Between Hope and Fear” is saved by its majestic melody that kind of acts like a chorus and an outro, otherwise the quirky verse with the vocal effect is a bit forgettable.

The album ends with its title track, which like the ending of Disc 1 is another excellent guitar solo piece. That being said, we’ve seen Roine do this a million times by now, and the fat could have been trimmed a bit if you’ve looking at the entire experience. If you’re only looking at each disc separately, then it works because the discs compliment each other so well and both albums give you a little bit of all that the band has to offer you.

Both discs have their catchy choruses, their Prog moments, their beauty, their solos. Both showcase the talents of all the members. So listening to either disc on its own is exceptionally easy and enjoyable. But if you’re supposed to listen to it all together like the band intended it to be, it might just be a bit too much to digest all in one sitting.

If they really wanted to sell a two disc – 1 song concept album idea, it could have used some smoother transitions, trimmed the “fat”, or a few more memorable moments.

Still, I can’t complain too much. It’s one of my favorite albums by them, and definitely their best in a long time. While the last few albums seemed like they were just trying to capture the magic of the album before, this one feels new, unique, and yet, strangely familiar. It reminds you of the old Flower King output. And that’s a good thing. Because sometimes it’s necessary for bands to remind you why you got into them in the first, even during times of experimentation.

This album allows them a lot of freedom. It allows them the chance to keep taking risks on future albums, cause its gives fans so much catchy material in the meantime. It is their easiest listen in a very long time, and will have a lot of playability. You can listen to it over and over again and still enjoy it. Even with the faults that I’ve mentioned, I’ve found it hard to take it out of my CD player and listen to other albums I need to review.

So overall, it’s got its faults, but for an album that was written so quickly, it actually was very close to being perfect. It will excite their old fans, and will be the perfect introduction for new fans just discovering them. Let’s hope it ushers in a new era for the band. One without any 5 year breaks!

Santana -Abraxas (1970)

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Santana started out 1966 among the San Francisco psychedelic scene. Because of this, they were predominantly an instrumental jam band, with a few vocal covers in their rotation. The focus on song structure and hits was pushed by manager Bill Graham and Columbia records on the albums, but live was a whole different kind of animal. This was especially seen in their 1969 Woodstock performance.

Their debut album had 4 instrumentals, and two hits with “Jingo” and “Evil Ways”, both cover songs. One of the instrumentals, “Soul Sacrifice” went on to be a concert staple. But the really perfected this format on their second album Abraxas. Blending the jazz/fusion with Latin instrumentals with cover songs, and a few originals, Abraxas has become one of Santana’s most endearing albums over their extremely long career.

With a name that was inspired by the book Demian, and in turn comes from Greek mythology, this is just one of three albums from the classic Woodstock lineup. Subsequent albums would see many tonal and experimental changes. From deeper emphasis on jazz and Latin styles, to a return to focusing on commercial success (whether or not it actually happened) in the 80s and 90s. It and Santana III were arguably the last big hits for Santana until the cultural phenomenon that was Supernatural in 2006, 36 years later, which ushered in an era of artist collaborations.

So, looking at a legacy that wasn’t matched for such a long period of time, let’s look at the individual songs and see what makes this album unique. The instrumental intro “Singing Winds/Crying Beasts”, which was written solely by percussionist and occasional keyboard player Michael Carabello, it slowly and softly builds like a dream, eventually giving way to the next song. I love when albums start like this, giving the listener a little time before it builds, much like their live jams would have done. It lets you know the band is in control.

This goes straight to “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen”, which needs no introduction. Seriously, if you haven’t heard this, stop reading this and listen to it now. The first half of this medley is an instantly recognizable cover of a 1968 Fleetwood Mac song from the Peter Green era of the band. One of those instances where the cover completely overshadowed the original. The second half of the medley is a Gábor Szabó cover. The transition is done so beautifully and seamless that it’s surprisingly to find out they are two separate covers put together.

This one-two combo isn’t over yet, because the next song is another huge hit for the band with “Oye Como Va”, originally by Tito Puente. I always found this song interesting because it is a jazz structure in the context of the song. Pop music follows “verse-chorus- verse-chorus” structure with occasional intros, outros, interludes, or bridges. Jazz predominantly follows the “head-solo-head” structure, or:

Main melody, solos, main melody again.

If Carlos Santana has already proved himself on the album (which he has, 2 songs in), the drums and keys really get to shine here. But these covers are just a preview of what this band can do, so if you think the album is a slouch after the hits, you’re definitely wrong.

“Incident at Neshabur” is an all out jam session, building upon what the first few songs accomplished and putting it into overdrive. It is one of my favorites on the album, which is hard to say with such great choices. It goes through multiple sections, with moments of progressive rock and jazz fusion. Everyone really gets their moment to shine, from the fast drumming at the beginning to the full sounding bass tone when it gets smooth and slow towards the end. It is a fitting closure to side 1.

Side 2 starts out with its own intro so to speak, in the form of “Se Acabo”. It is short, straight-forward and full of energy. It transition between some of the longer and more fleshed out tunes. It has a simple and repeated phrase of “se acabo”/“it’s over”, which despite its quick come and go placement of the studio album, was extended live. This was probably fueled by its easy audience involvement/crowd participation. An instance of this from 1970 appears on 1998 reissue of the CD.

“Mother’s Daughter” is a fun 60s psychedelic upbeat tune that reminds me of Eric Burden, whether in War or The Animals. It also reminds me of Cream, Strawberry Alarm Clock, and Iron Butterfly. It’s warm and fuzzy in terms of tones, danceable, clever lyrics, and is straightforward for almost four minutes before Carlos goes on one of his tangents (in a good way of course).

From here, the album goes into its third most well-known tune (at least in rock radio standards), and that is “Samba Pa Ti”. A beautiful instrumental guitar ballad by Carlos, it reminds me of the work of Jeff Beck in a Latin style, and was probably one of the influence for the guitar shred genre of Satriani and Vai in the 1980s. Letting the guitar do the talking, it provides the melodies of the different sections, has been covered so many times, and is a staple of the band.’s live performances. Though, I will say, I prefer live recordings of it, or even some covers, because the original is not the best I’ve heard. It has weird overdubs with different guitar tones that are weird to my ears, and unfortunately take me out of the song. Aside from this gripe, definitely one of the best of side 2 of the album.

The last actual song of side 2 and the album is “Hope You’re Feeling Better”. This is a funky, heavy, dark tune which reminds me of Deep Purple, Funkadelic, and Faith No More all at the same time! (Don’t ask me how). It’s got a great organ tone, great vocal performance, wonderful middle section and a ripping guitar solo (surprise surprise).

The album ends with “El Nicoya“, which is only about a minute and a half. Really all it is is just drums and vocals. It feels very traditional in sound and style. Not a rock formation song at all. But unfortunately it just comes and goes, and not in the way that “Se Acado” does. That at least had a bit of a lasting impression between songs. But this doesn’t really do much for the album. All it does is make it so the album doesn’t just end after “Hope You’re Feeling Better”s final stop. They could have really done something with this. Some kind of lasting impression. Instead it just fades away.

That, “Se Acabo” being so short, and the odd overdubs on “Samba Pa Ti” are really my only complaints on the album. Love how it starts, the hits are hits for a reason, and the deep cuts are incredibly surprising, in terms of how talented the band was and in terms of how diverse some of these songs really are. Definitely worthy of its legendary status, and makes me want to review their first and third album as well. Small gripes on this album. It was so close to being 100% perfect.

Bob Dylan – Blood on the Tracks (1975)

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By 1975, Bob Dylan had already had a career most musicians would be envious of. Since his debut album in 1962, he was responsible for bringing many traditional songs and songs of musicians he admired to the public, drawing attention to his heroes as well as himself. He had many critically acclaimed albums, became the voice of a generation, a symbol of protest, a hero to folk music, and created controversy with a trio of rock albums (that at the time were received as a betrayal but are now seen as among his best work). He made movie soundtracks, collaborated with many artists including The Band, and reinvented himself again with a few country and rural inspired albums.

In fact, by 1975, he had already released 14 studio albums and several live albums. So what was next? How about an album that was seen as a return to form? That’s right, Dylan returned to folk (and also returned to touring) around the time of his 15th release, Blood on the Tracks, an album whose lyrics have been heavily talked about due to its autobiographical, and very honest depiction of his deteriorating relationship with wife Sara Dylan. So much so, that his son Jakob famously commented that the album sounded like his parents talking.

Initially critics gave it mixed reviews, partly to the mixed recording style (some songs were recorded in New York and some in Minneapolis, and it does show), it has since become the benchmark for Dylan’s career since, and has been considered one of rocks great comeback albums. So with all of that said, how does it feel…..to revisit this album?

One of the interesting things to note is how close this album came to being in the electric style of his 60s trio of albums, which explains a lot about some of these songs, which could have used that diversity in my opinion. The album alternates between folk tunes, love songs, ballads, blues, and each side of the vinyl contains one long song (“Idiot Wind” – almost 8 minutes on side 1, and “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts – almost 9 minutes on side 2).

In fact, the sides really mirror each other well, which was a technique many bands used in those days, but is quite noticeable here. Each side starts strong. “Tangled Up in Blue”, the album opener, might be one of his most well known songs, and “Meet Me in the Morning” on side 2 is one of my personal favorites from him. (Side note: I discovered this song originally by an amazing Jason Becker electric cover, so this is one I could imagine benefitting from a rocking format).

Each side has a beautiful ballad in the form of “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go” on side 1 and “If You See Here Say Hello” on side 2. Each side has what I would consider to be lesser known Dylan hits (“Simple Twist of Fate” on side 1 and “Shelter From the Storm” on side 2). And each side has what I would consider to be the unsung hero or lesser known but still good songs (“You’re a Big Girl Now” on side 1 and “Buckets of Rain” on side 2).

Now, that doesn’t mean it’s all perfect. In my opinion the album does suffer from a slump. Starting with a song as great as “Tangled Up in Blue”, the next three songs all start to fall flat. Even though I like the next two, they become more of the same. And frankly, “Idiot Wind” is my least favorite song. It suffers from Dylan’s all over the place vocals, where he tries too hard to keep a long song interesting, but instead, could have just cut it down.

OR,

This could have been the section of the album that really could have benefited from the electric instrumentation. Any form of diversity would have done to pick it up.

But the album does get back on track, ending side 1 with an excellent ballad and starting side 2 strong. Side 2’s long song also handles much better than “Idiot Wind” does, whether that’s because of the strong melody or the excellent storyteller lyrics (or both). Side 2 is much stronger than side 1, and it’s rare that you can say that about an album.

As I’ve stated, the album IS one of Dylan’s best, but it’s NOT the best. With such an impressive output of albums during the 60s, it’s hard to top. But this album DOES resonate with so many people because of the relationship focused lyrics. The people who think of Dylan only writing political songs forget that the man could write a love song. And it is a wonderful showcase of an album completely written by him, rather than his mixed bag early albums which were mostly covers.

It’s impossible to pick out lyrics from even one song, let alone the whole album, that will do it justice. It is so chocked full of emotion, real people, places, ideas, stories, and so many allusions to Bob and Sara’s life together. While I can’t recommend listening to every song on the album (especially if you’re not a Dylan fan), I feel like everyone should read through the lyrics. It’s pure poetry, like the rest of Dylan’s discography.

So even if it’s not MY personal favorite Dylan album, I can understand why it is for so many people, and in that regard, I have to give it its props. Not bad for a musician on his 15th studio album. Very few people can create something special that far into their career.

Katatonia – City Burials (2020)

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Taking a break from the vinyl reviews to focus on something relatively recent (in actuality, it’s been around for 6 months since the time of this review), and that is the latest release by Katatonia.

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love this band. I wear their sweatshirt almost every night. And when the band announced a hiatus, I wouldn’t say that I was devastated, but I would say that I was constantly praying for it to be a short term one, and not a Porcupine Tree one where they never come back (or at least not for any time soon).

Luckily, my prayers were answered, and a new album was announced to be released just four years after their last (which taking consideration that they completely toured their last album really isn’t that long at all). Also, it was slated for a time when we needed new music the most; the early stages of Coronavirus Pandemic. Just over a month after the American lockdown, we had the album.

Katatonia’s discography is a solid one, and a unique one. To look at albums with large gaps of time might not make sense, but to see the slow transitions between every album gives you a crystal clear flow chart of how this band has traversed the waters from doom metal to goth rock to alternative rock to progressive metal, while including elements of electronic music.

This album is no different. It is the next logical step from their previous one, The Fall of Hearts. Their focus still includes some of the doom and gloom, but has also interesting balanced some classic rock with the occasional bluesy guitar riff and soulful vocal delivery, melodic death metal with uptempo riffs and guitar shredding, and even Tool-like syncopation and odd time signatures.

Despite the lineup changes, the drumming is in top form, something I thought would suffer greatly with the departure of Daniel Liljekvist in 2014. Roger Öjersson has already proved himself with 3 incredible guitar solos on their previous album and continues his flashy but tasteful style here.

So with such a great lineup, does that mean the band is making their best music yet?

Well…. no.

The album starts off very strong. “Heart Set to Divide” is a monster opener, much like “Takeover” was before it (come to think about it, they’ve always had a gift for starting albums!). It starts off moody before progressively transitioning through multiple sections, with little hooks here and there, but it really does its just for setting the stage for “Behind the Blood”. This song showcases the band’s love for classic heavy metal with moments reminiscent of a Judas Priest and Megadeth. Great solos, great riffs, one of the best on the album.

The band then bring it down with the album’s first single “Lacquer”, a simple electronic ballad that never really picks up, but is definitely no slouch. Another catchy chorus it’s off to “Rein”, which showcases the kind of songs you’ll hear more of on the second half. Kind of proggy, dark memorable chorus, and a big finish showcasing Daniel Moilanen’s drumming ability.

“The Winter of Our Passing” is another upbeat and straightforward, but slightly industrial song, that comes and goes very quickly. It’s syncopated/off time hits give the illusion of being more complex than it really is, but it’s still one of the most danceable songs the band has ever written. And “Vanishes” is a beautiful electronic influenced ballad with female vocals that give it a very trip-hop vibe, and is one of my favorite songs off the album.

This is where the album starts to lose me. “City Glaciers” and “Flicker” feel like they focus more on the Tool-like rhythms rather than any sense of melody or harmony. There are interesting moments, but nothing that would make me want to hear them live, especially when compared to anything on the first half. This is followed by a 2 minute ballad which provides a break but really doesn’t provide anything memorable other than that. “Neon Epitaph” is provably the catchiest song on the second part of the album, but it’s an instance of too little too late, and “Untrodden” is decent enough but not really a memorable closer to end on.

And is you got the deluxe edition like I did, then”Closing of the Sky” isn’t gonna be a groundbreaking bonus track. A nice enough song, but could have easily replaced any of these last songs and the album still would have had the same result. The interesting bonus track is a cover of “Fighters” by Enter the Hunt (featuring the band’s good friend Krister Linder), which obviously doesn’t sound like a Katatonia song, but the band does it justice enough with their rocking adaptation.

This is the second Katatonia album in a row that has taken me a while to appreciate every song on the album, which was never a problem with their older albums. Either this means that the band is writing more and more challenging music and I need to open up my mind a bit more and appreciate the differences, or the band is so focused on long albums that they’re starting to forget the winning formula that made them important in the first place.

Honestly, it’s probably the first option. Having 6 great songs on an album is still a feat in of itself, and if the band continues to experiment and try new avenues, who am I to complain? I’d much rather have new Katatonia over no Katatonia any day, and if they need me to listen to the albums more times to enjoy every song, then I’m up to the challenge. But on the other hand, I can see why a lot of fans might not have that same mindset, and might be calling for more albums like their older stuff.

Either way, if COVID continues to last longer than we expected, it might be nice to have another different release from the band to help pass more time!

Yes – Fragile (1971)

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This is the second review in my ongoing series of revisiting classic albums. During the Coronavirus lockdown of 2020, I finally got into the idea of vinyl records. I borrowed my girlfriend’s record player, went to my friend’s shop, and started on a collection of some of my all time favorite albums. I wanted to se if hearing them on vinyl for the first time had any effect on albums that I already knew and loved.

One of the bands I was REALLY excited to hear on vinyl was the band YES. With the warm lush tones of vinyl bringing out all the different layers, counter rhythms, and counter melodies of this extremely talented band, I knew I was in for a treat.

For those not familiar, Yes is one of the most important and longest lasting of the Progressive Rock bands of the late 60s/early 70s. Starting out as a cover band, they found new and exciting ways to breathe life into the songs they loved. Some of those covers made it onto their first two albums, which had a overall standard classic rock feel.

Maybe that’s why their 3rd album was titled The Yes Album, even though their first album was simply titled Yes. It witnessed the rebirth, the new beginning, and what a beginning it was. I won’t get too into it, cause I still might cover it separately one day, but they band found their sound and style. The progressive tendencies were on full display, and the long songs were counter balanced by little interludes and short songs in between.

This format would even be more prevalent on their 4th album, Fragile. Now, the problem with talking about a classic album is, what can I say that hasn’t been said? What can I bring to the table in regards to such a loved album from 49 years ago? Especially when that album was released 19 years before I was even born? And if you’re a YES fan, I don’t even have to tell you how good these songs are. Every actual song is a fan favorite, and are still in the setlists to this day! But, I’m going to try anyway….

So bear with me.

Fragile is 9 songs long. 4 on side 1, and 5 on side 2. But the interesting thing is it’s back and forth format. Aside from the back to back interludes (tracks 3 and 4 of side 2), it goes:

Song interlude song interlude etc.

So that’s 4 actual songs, and 5 interludes, one written by each member of the band and acts as a showcase for that member, much like the experimental disc of Ummagumma by Pink Floyd. “Cans and Brahms” is easily guessed to be Rick Wakeman keyboard segment paying tribute to one of his musical heroes. “We Have Heaven” is vocalist Jon Anderson’s time to shine with a repeated a-cappella tune that is easy to get stuck in your head, and not necessarily in a good way.

Side 2 starts with drummer Bill Bruford’s contribution; A 35 second jazz/funk moment that comes and goes so quickly it makes your head spin. Part King Crimson, part Gentle Giant, part early Primus. It’s a hilarious transition into the next song that shows the band was not without a sense of humor. “The Fish” was definitely the interlude that grew on me more by hearing it in vinyl. This 2 and a half minute jam session is all bass and drums, showcasing Chris Squires ability to groove as well as some incredibly detailed overdubs all on bass that make me think of all the Grateful Dead inspired jam bands. It’s funky and jazzy in all the right ways. Would have loved to have seen this even more developed.

And the final instrumental is of course “Mood for a Day” by guitarist Steve Howe. One of my biggest musical inspirations, I will never stop being amazed at his ability to adapt to different genres, and his finger picked style. How does a guy from North London do flamenco inspired guitar pieces this well, especially with no really training besides just listening to the music and playing along with it? This as well as “The Clap” from the previous album are essential guitar pieces for anyone discovering the instrument in my opinion.

So now that we got those out of the way, it’s time for the meat and potatoes of the album. The 4 classic songs. Does an album get better than starting with “Roundabout?” What more needs to be said about this one? You all know it, you all love it. It’s a classic for a reason. A brilliantly produced song with lots of wonderful layering, dynamics, transitions, riffs, melodies, solos, harmonies, and lyrics. Everyone gets their time to shine, and hearing it in vinyl really let me appreciate all the rhythm work behind the flashy guitar and keyboard parts. Chris and Bill were a monster rhythm section. This entire lineup was something special, unlike anything we’ll ever see again.

Side 1 ends with one of my personal favorites, “South Side of the Sky”, which in theory is actually a simple song despite its 8 minute run time. It has a couple of sections that get repeated over and over again. The driving verse to the funky riff of the chorus. The middle section changes things up with its dark and ambient piano section, before the beautiful multiple vocal build up, showcasing everyone’s ability to sing in the band. Back to the verse and chorus and repeat until necessary while fading out.

Simple, but effective!

“Long Distance Runaround” is a unique song, with an upbeat jazzy unison between the keys and guitar (with an excellent counter melody by the bass) before slowing things down during the chorus and verse. It is the shortest of the actual songs at just 3 and a half minutes, but contains some of Jon Anderson’s best vocal melodies. And try getting that unison out of your head!

Last but not least is the “Heart of the Sunrise” which contains one of the best opening sections of any song. A driving hard rock beat, exciting start stops with organs in between, an Allman Brothers type guitar line, a bluesy bass line with the band jamming over it, back to all the things that came before it, and all this before the vocals even come in! Trying to explain how good each section is is almost impossible. Incredible dynamics, emotional vocals, great keyboard melodies and guitar countermelodies, and Chris and Bill’s tight rhythm section holding everything down. It is a beautiful journey and a fitting conclusion to such an amazing album.

So in conclusion, it was such a joy to listen to this album on vinyl. It definitely helped me pay more attention to all the details in the background, and made me appreciate at least one of the interludes more than I already did. I look forward to tackling more YES in the future (I have at least two more of their vinyls I can review at the moment), but already have my next few vinyls picked out.

I hope you enjoyed this review.

Stay tuned for more!

Marillion – Clutching at Straws

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I recently had the pleasure of listening to this classic album on vinyl for the first time. I’ve heard it on CD and online many times before, but there’s something about hearing it in all its glory, as it was intended.

I got into Vinyl over the 2020 lockdown due to Coronavirus. Got my turntable and visited my friends shop to start up my collection. I wanted to specifically focus on classic Prog rock albums and some jazz favorites. Albums that to me were “vinyl albums”. Ones that were made when there were no CDs, and could benefit from that warmer tone that vinyl seems to give them.

I still prefer listen to modern albums on CD because they were mixed with that in mind.

One of the things I noticed was that the concept really seemed to pop out at me more. Maybe it was taking the time to enjoy those flawless transitions. Maybe it was having all the lyrics right in front of me with the art and “bar locations”. Maybe it was just the fact that it forced me not to distract myself with cellphones or other devices.

Either way, I loved the experience. The album is a concept album about a character named “Torch”, whose name is used as a pun/metaphor when he tells us that he’s “gonna burn a little brighter now”.

Of course by now we know “Torch” was a stand-in for Fish, who’s own alcoholism was growing due to life on the road, growing pressures of a semi-successful band, tensions between members, and worries towards his own self as artists tend to do. We also now know that this was the last album by the band to feature Fish on vocals, who was subsequently replaced on the bands next album. So how has his legacy lasted?

For those not familiar with Marillion’s music, they are a wonderful time capsule of days gone by, while simultaneously reinventing themselves to continue to be relevant and with the times. The early work seemingly blended the Genesis style vocals of Phil Collins and Peter Gabriel with the warm, beautiful guitar playing of David Gilmour from Pink Floyd. Fish vocals and Steve Rothery‘s guitar playing is one of the unsung dynamic duos of prog, or music in general for that matter. Kind of quirky, kind of serious, new and yet familiar all at the same time.

They had already tackled childhood dreams, and growing up, so such a serious subject matter as adult anxiety, depression, and substance abuse would be taken with care. Much like their previous album Misplaced Childhood, this album perfectly showcases Fish’s unique range, Steve’s beautiful guitar lines, the band’s ability to construct exciting and emotional songs together, while also showcasing their Prog tendencies with the occasional keyboard solos and lots of flair by Mark Kelly.

The album goes between hits such as “Incommunicado”, “Warm Wet Circles” and “That Time of the Night“ with the showmanship of “Hotel Hobbies”, “White Russian”, and “The Last Straw”. But it is the 2nd to last song on the album “Sugar Mice” that ties everything together. Much like the ballads “Lavender”, “The Bitter Suite”, and “Kayleigh” from their previous release, it is these emotional moments where the band really shines and the magic is captured. It is one of my favorite songs of all time, a sad, bittersweet, emotional song with some of Fish’s best lyrics, vocal melodies, and one of Steve’s best guitar solos.

If Fish and Steve are an unsung dynamic duo of Prog, then their rhythm section is the unsung dynamic duo of Marillion. Pete on bass and Ian on drums are so tight, and it’s easy to forget about them with such a magical trio with the guitars, keys, and vocals, but they are what holds it all together. The drum sound is huge. Classic 80s rock tones, and they keep the music driving so that everyone can have their moments to shine and the album can flow through without a fault. It’s a beautiful thing to come back to and really pay attention to.

One of the unfortunate instances of listening to the vinyl is the lack of a song that was included on the CD version, called “Going Under”, which acts as a ballad/interlude on side one of the album. It gives time amongst all the heavy hitters for the listener to breathe, and reminds me of some of the great short songs you’d hear on The Wall by Pink Floyd or Operation Mindcrime by Queensryche. Most people wouldn’t shout for it at a concert, but it is a nice addition to album and balances the two sides more, since side one tends to have more rockers than side two.

To recap, listening to this album on vinyl really sparked a new found love for this album when I already had a deep appreciation for it, and made me excited to try listening to other Marillion albums on vinyl. I am more of a later Marillion fan, so this just might be the key to really enjoying their first to albums more, and would of course love to give Misplaced Childhood the same treatment as I gave this one. Hope you enjoyed the review. I should have another one for a different vinyl album soon!