Music

The Best Progressive Rock (and Metal) of 2013

Jordan Blum and Brice Ezell

This year saw the release of some of the best modern progressive music from a wide array of subgenres and idiosyncratic approaches.

5 - 1

Artist: Riverside

Album: Shrine of New Generation Slaves

Label: Inside Out

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/r/riverside.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200

List number: 5

Riverside
Shrine of New Generation Slaves

Visionary quartet Riverside is often considered the leading force in Polish progressive rock, and for good reason. Having released the brilliant Reality Dream trilogy (Out of Myself, Second Life Syndrome, and Rapid Eye Movement), as well as 2009's unrelated Anno Domini High Definition, the band stood proudly as one of the most promising outfits in the genre. With Shrine of New Generation Slaves, they continued to impress. Truthfully, the record isn't as versatile, colorful, or melodically rich as it could've been, which makes it feel like a successor to their EPs more than their LPs. Still, opening track "New Generation Slave" sets the stage well for the aggressive nature of the collection, while tracks like "The Depth of Self-Delusion", "Celebrity Touch", and "Deprived..." radiate pristine dynamic shifts, as heavy instrumentation melts into moving verses and gripping choruses. Shrine may not be one of Riverside's best albums, but it's still one of the choice releases of the year. Jordan Blum

 
Artist: Ayreon

Album: The Theory of Everything

Label: Inside Out

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/a/ayreon.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200

List number: 4

Ayreon
The Theory of Everything

To many, Arjen Anthony Lucassen is a musical genius. The mastermind behind several progressive metal projects, his bombastic rock operas never get old. In 2008, following the release of the underappreciated 01011001, Lucassen put his most famous project, Ayreon, on hold in order to focus on other interests. Since then, fans have wondered if and when Ayreon would return (as well as how successful it would be if it ever did). Recently, Lucassen answered all of those questions with The Theory of Everything, another intricate, catchy, and highly ambitious saga. What separates this one from its siblings is its organization (42 tracks broken into four "suite"), relatively accessible storyline, conceptual continuity, focus on fewer guest musicians (even though prog royalty like Jordan Rudess, Steve Hackett, and Keith Emerson make appearances), and exceptional segues. Never before has an Ayreon album flowed so smoothly or contained so many thematic reprisals, which makes it a unique creation amongst the pack. The Theory of Everything doesn't quite match its two immediate predecessors, but it comes damn close, which makes it a remarkable new start for the Ayreon name. Jordan Blum

 
Artist: Devin Townsend

Album: The Retinal Circus

Label: Inside Out

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/misc_art/d/dtownsend.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200

List number: 3

Devin Townsend
The Retinal Circus

Few, if any, musicians have a discography as diverse, unique, complex, and just plain eccentric as Canadian progressive metal master, Devin Townsend. Each one of his dozen or so solo works offers something special while also sticking to his revered formula, and he pays tribute to almost all of them on The Retinal Circus. More than just a run-of-the-mill concert experience, The Retinal Circus captures flawless recreations of some of his best work (such as "Planet of the Apes", "Color Your World", and "Hyperdrive") ,while also incorporating wild theatrics, a zany storyline, several guest appearances, and, best of all, a consistently humorous vibe. Townsend balances his incredible musicianship with plenty of self-parody, which makes the entire affair very inviting. The Retinal Circus is easily one of the best live recordings in recent memory, as well as a perfect commemoration of Townsend's career. Jordan Blum

 
Artist: Steven Wilson

Album: The Raven That Refused to Sing

Label: K-Scope

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/t/trtrts1.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200

List number: 2

Steven Wilson
The Raven That Refused to Sing

Embarking on a solo career is always a risky move, especially when you're already established as arguably the top modern musician in your genre. Such is the case for Steven Wilson, whose various projects (especially Porcupine Tree) have catapulted him into the forefront of contemporary progressive rock. For many (not me, mind you), his debut LP, Insurgentes, was too industrial and avant-garde, while its follow-up, Grace for Drowning bled King Crimson a little too heavily. With The Raven That Refused to Sing, Wilson silenced just about every remaining naysayer, as it's significantly more cohesive, original, and intricate (which is due in part to its enclosure of jazz fusion) than the other two. Whether you're rocking out to "Luminol" (the best instrumental Wilson has ever created), basking in the multifaceted glory of "The Watchmaker", or singing along to the gloriously sorrowful closing title track, The Raven proves to be a gem from beginning to end. In fact, it's on par with anything else he's done. Jordan Blum

 
Artist: Anathema

Album: Universal

Label: K-Scope

Image: http://images.popmatters.com/music_cover_art/a/anathema_universal.jpg

Display as: List

Display Width: 200

List number: 1

Anathema
Universal

Universal is so much more than the "very special night" type live album that it's billed as. While 2010's We're Here Because We're Here and last year's breakthrough Weather Systems were milestones in Anathema's long evolution into progressive rock's tearjerking extraordinaires, Universal takes all of those albums' highlights and cuts out all of their weak points. The result is an emotionally no-holds barred setlist, backed by the powerful performance of Bulgaria's Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra, that stands as a culmination of everything the band has worked for up to this point. The CD/DVD's sleeve art is as accurate a depiction of Anathema, circa 2013, as any: they really are, to borrow their words, "flying" on prog's cloud nine. This is the rare live album that transcends the studio cuts it contains to become a whole new experience entirely. Brice Ezell

Prev Page

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.

Books

David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors


David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Music

David Lord Salutes Collaborators With "Cloud Ear" (premiere)

David Lord teams with Jeff Parker (Tortoise) and Chad Taylor (Chicago Underground) for a new collection of sweeping, frequently meditative compositions. The results are jazz for a still-distant future that's still rooted in tradition.

Music

Laraaji Takes a "Quiet Journey" (premiere +interview)

Afro Transcendentalist Laraaji prepares his second album of 2020, the meditative Moon Piano, recorded inside a Brooklyn church. The record is an example of what the artist refers to as "pulling music from the sky".

Music

Blues' Johnny Ray Daniels Sings About "Somewhere to Lay My Head" (premiere)

Johnny Ray Daniels' "Somewhere to Lay My Head" is from new compilation that's a companion to a book detailing the work of artist/musician/folklorist Freeman Vines. Vines chronicles racism and injustice via his work.

Music

The Band of Heathens Find That Life Keeps Getting 'Stranger'

The tracks on the Band of Heathens' Stranger are mostly fun, even when on serious topics, because what other choice is there? We all may have different ideas on how to deal with problems, but we are all in this together.

Music

Landowner's 'Consultant' Is OCD-Post-Punk With Obsessive Precision

Landowner's Consultant has all the energy of a punk-rock record but none of the distorted power chords.

Film

NYFF: 'American Utopia' Sets a Glorious Tone for Our Difficult Times

Spike Lee's crisp concert film of David Byrne's Broadway show, American Utopia, embraces the hopes and anxieties of the present moment.

Music

South Africa's Phelimuncasi Thrill with Their Gqom Beats on '2013-2019'

A new Phelimuncasi anthology from Nyege Nyege Tapes introduces listeners to gqom and the dancefloors of Durban, South Africa.

Music

Wolf Parade's 'Apologies to the Queen Mary' Turns 15

Wolf Parade's debut, Apologies to the Queen Mary, is an indie rock classic. It's a testament to how creative, vital, and exciting the indie rock scene felt in the 2000s.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Books

Literary Scholar Andrew H. Miller On Solitude As a Common Bond

Andrew H. Miller's On Not Being Someone Else considers how contemplating other possibilities for one's life is a way of creating meaning in the life one leads.

Music

Fransancisco's "This Woman's Work" Cover Is Inspired By Heartache (premiere)

Indie-folk brothers Fransancisco dedicate their take on Kate Bush's "This Woman's Work" to all mothers who have lost a child.

Film

Rodd Rathjen Discusses 'Buoyancy', His Film About Modern Slavery

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.

Music

Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.

Music

Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Music

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.