30. Sannhet – Revisionist
There are many people who aren’t fans of post-rock and post-metal, particularly the instrumental sort. Many complain about lengthy tracks that take too long to build, or that it all just winds up feeling flat and monotonous without vocals present. And that’s a fine and completely valid opinion to have! But to those people I would suggest this: listen to Sannhet, in particular their most recent album Revisionist. As I’ve written previously, Sannhet are not fucking around. They don’t waste time in the standard post-metal fare of extended intros, long ambient interludes, and multiple false crescendos and climaxes. Their songs state their intent right from the get-go, burning with intensity and purpose and not letting go until the track’s run its course several minutes later. Do you like great guitar hooks? Do you like blastbeats and crazy intense drumming that won’t quit? Do you like the occasional smattering of black metal atmospherics in your music? Then Sannhet are a band for you. Forget what you may think about post-metal and instrumental music. Sannhet don’t have time for your pre-conceptions and will continue to do what they do and do it exceedingly well. All you have to do is listen and bang your head.
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29. TesseracT – Polaris
A brilliant record from front-to-back, Polaris doesn’t seek to reinvent the wheel when considering the band’s previous output. Instead it largely aims to do more of the same, just better, and in this respect the album can be considered a massive success. They deliver a painfully emotional album which simply takes the listener to another place, aided by the most welcome return of Dan Tompkins and his ethereal vocals. Whilst evoking emotion in their music has always been a strength of TesseracT’s, what really sets this album apart is Dan’s increasing versatility and his development as a story-teller and lyricist. All but gone are the harsh vocals of the past, with Polaris almost entirely instilled with infectious vocal melodies as Dan helps push this record to its full potential. Yet, to focus so much on Dan alone does his bandmates a disservice. As has become the norm, Acle’s production is perfect, the guitars crisp as they traverse time signatures with ease and provide the groove and harmonies fans have become accustomed to. Finally, the rhythm section continues to provide dynamism and power to offset the thick atmospherics which densely layer the album’s sonic landscape. Simply put, TesseracT have taken their songwriting to the next level and the result is their finest release to date.
28. Vattnet Viskar – Settler
Although their name translates to “the water whispers/water whispering,” vocalist Nicholas Thornbury sure isn’t whispering to those who are listening to Vattnet Viskar’s sophomore album Settler. The album is inspired by the tragic event in 1986, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded in the air just minutes after taking off to soar through space, as well as personal experiences with each member of the band. Settler is based on the idea that everything can be alright until something horrible happens, and everything changes. We see that idea come to fruition in the song “Heirs,” as the song pummels through with the opening lyrics, “Something has gone horribly wrong, this was never the plan,” after the somber, soft feedback ending of previous track “Glory.” At that point, we know that this is where the unfortunate event occurs and changes the whole dynamic of the album.
Between the slightly cryptic lyrics that make you really delve into your mind and think about what’s going on in the story and the heavy riffs delivered by Thornbury, the spacey/atmospheric yet hook-filled leads by guitarist Chris Alfieri (which my personal favorites are heard throughout the track “Coldwar”), the super clean blast beats and fills by drummer Seamus Menihane, and anchoring bass riffs by Casey Aylward that keep each song intact, Settler offers a journey of new beginnings and unfortunate endings, and it is an album that I would recommend to anyone who wants to get into post-metal and/or black metal.
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27. Jaga Jazzist – Starfire
Succinctly describing the sound of Jaga Jazzist is a nearly impossible task because it’s an ever-evolving and mammoth thing. It’s never quite been jazz in the conventional sense, certainly not since their more loungey debut A Livingroom Hush. But it’s also never quite crossed the threshold into being considered first and foremost progressive rock or EDM, both of which the band have leaned on heavily at times (among many other things). Those lines have never been more blurred than on their latest opus Starfire, an album that is essentially a bedroom psychedelic electronic dance record that happens to be composed and performed by jazz musicians.
Swirling melodies, themes, and rhythms dance around each other in labyrinthine compositions that leave the listener constantly on their toes, unable to guess what might come next. It’s progressive sci-fi that’s somehow still performed mostly by acoustic instruments. Of course, the most immediately indelible aspects of it are the electronic flourishes throughout. Squiggly and filthy synth runs fire throughout the album’s 5 tracks, providing the backbone and foundation that horns, vibraphone, and the monster drums of Martin Horntveth fill every sonic nook and cranny of. It’s so huge and dense that it should be utterly overwhelming, overstuffed, and simply not work. But it is the exact opposite. This is an album that is absolutely immediate in every way. It’s an album that makes you want to move, sing along, nod your head, stomp your feet, and whatever else. This is easily the most cohesive and fully-realized package Lars Horntveth and co. have assembled, and it’s a testament to their immense talent and eclecticism that I expect their next release to sound wholly different from Starfire while still sounding just as much like a Jaga Jazzist record.
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26. Frontierer – Orange Mathematics
This album explodes out of the first track and continues to level buildings long after it has ceased playing. Accuse me of favouritism or whatever, but this is the music that Scotland needs to be showcasing. Mr. Valiani keeps his cards to his chest for literally one second on Orange Mathematics, the rest of the time they are on display for everyone to bare witness to. Devastating grooves, smashed together rhythms and hoarse as fuck vocals all marry together to make a sound so uniquely crushing, most won’t make it through the entire run time. Most are pansies though and those who can tolerate aural chaos will be left most satisfied. I’ve already run out of superlatives to describe just how jarring the music of Frontierer is, but let me just leave you with this – this record was written and put together in two weeks. Two weeks. If that alone doesn’t make you want to hang up whatever you’re doing RIGHT NOW, then the news that there is more of this to come should definitely do it. Testament that having a really goddamn good idea and just running with it can definitely pay off. Lock up your daughters and your hardcore bros because they can’t handle this.
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25. Pomegranate Tiger – Boundless
When four become one, the prog doesn’t stop. Rife with riffs and grooves that’ll make your whole body move, Pomegranate Tiger return nearly three years after Entities with 2015’s Boundless. Now a fearsome team of one, multi-instrumentalist Martin Andres has, in a sense, relaunched Pomegranate Tiger as a solo project, allowing his influences to shine through like a bright, progressive beacon of licks. From the opening melodies that echo TRON: Legacy’s monumental soundscape by Daft Punk to the anxiety-inducing string orgy that closes the album, Boundless lives up to its name by tearing down conventional barriers and exploring rarely-traversed waters.
Boundless stands as a culmination of years of writing work by Andres, finally flourishing by being wrought from the controlled environment of a single mind. You could have considered the reduction in personnel something to be fearful of, but it’s more along the lines of substituting a maze full of rats for a powerful, concentrated laser beam. Pomegranate Tiger is better than it has ever been.
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24. Fit For An Autopsy – Absolute Hope Absolute Hell
Just from the intro of the eponymous first track on this album, one can tell they aren’t in for the normal deathcore rodeo of chugs, breakdown patterns, and alternating-string riffing. From the very beginning up until the final, explosive climax of closer “Swing The Axe,” Absolute Hope Absolute Hell is unique in its approach to this oft-dismissed subgenre. Building on the highly melodic, slow-burn style they’d begun to pioneer on 2013’s Hellbound, and injecting a healthy dose of Gojira-influenced passages into the mix, this release is entirely its own beast in the best way possible. The combination of trailblazing and just all-around incredible songwriting comes together to create an album that is as captivatingly fresh in its sound as it is bleak and nihilistic in tone.
Special mention must be given to the lyrics and vocal performance for their great contribution to this: an appropriately defeatist tone about the state of the world and a misanthropic and self-hating view of the planet manifest here in some of the most engaging lyrics in the genre, and it’s easy to see that the vocalist believes every word he says. Absolute Hope Absolute Hell is the exemplar of what the modern brand of deathcore can be, and it’s going to live on that throne for quite some time to come.
23. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase
What more can be said about Steven Wilson that hasn’t already been written? The man has been prolific for the best part of two decades now. While his evolution has been marked, there are some core elements that haven’t changed: Hand. Cannot. Erase is progressive, rocky and electronic. However, where his last album focused on the more acoustic and guitar oriented elements of the 70’s, this album focuses on different areas. It features haunting electronic parts and heavier segments, blending perhaps Wilson’s own unique style and the styles of his inspirations.
This creates an album that is both uplifting and depressing, in true Wilson fashion. The story behind it offers a wealth of extra content and context, raising this emotional album to even more poignant levels. It also features the best production on a Wilson album in years, and that’s saying a lot. While it still suffers from the signature balancing issue, the recording itself is flawless, carrying the distinctly “warm” sound that is usually associated with Wilson’s instrumentations. Just listen to “Happy Returns.” You’ll see what I’m saying.
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22. Elder – Lore
It should come as no surprise that I am the one reviewing this album, since (further down the list) you can find an album we’ve called its brethren. But where its companion blends modern elements with classical music, Elder’s Lore relies on the 70s and their unique brand of rock for its inspiration. Somehow though, the album manages to be completely fresh, relying on a bewildering range of sounds for its progressions. Where other albums of the type would focus on guitar technicality, this album resorts to emotions and masterful musicianship, choosing instead to utilize the full range which made early progressive rock so great.
And yet, the guitars are definitely the core part of this album: they are entrancing, both technically smooth and compositionally interesting. They’re also produced just right, without too much fuzz but with enough to get the goosebumps going. The way in which they mesh together, effortlessly pulling from intricacy to alluring simplicity elevates this album to a whole different level. Lore is an album that keeps surprising, holding countless nuances and details within an approachable and enjoyable package, making it one of the smoothest albums of the year.
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21. Between the Buried and Me – Coma Ecliptic
Despite all of their success and upward trajectory (honestly, they’re probably the most popular prog metal band this side of Dream Theater), Between the Buried and Me have become increasingly divisive as they eschew their hardcore roots in favor of theatrical and operatic progressive rock. Like it or not, Coma Ecliptic is undeniably the band’s most ambitious record to date by emulating the passion and theatrical flair of rock operas past by conjuring the musicianship of Queen, Pink Floyd, and King Crimson. Coma Ecliptic truly feels epic in its bizarre story, dynamic, and diversity, while keeping the heart they’ve been known to have. BTBAM seem enthused by crafting scores to cosmic adventures, and it’s a good look. “Maturity” as it applies to music is a bit of a dirty word around here, but what makes Coma Ecliptic work so well is its dedication to the concept without coming off as sterile, cheesy, or pretentious. They’re bridging two completely different realms of progressive music with absolute sincerity, and in doing so, they will no doubt continue to find critical and (relative) commercial success despite potentially losing any pre-Colors fans along the way.
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