Let’s do it again: another annual round of top-ten progressive rock and metal albums. 2022 gave us a slew of captivating considerations that are clearly progressive but not always in the way we expect when we think of the genre. Many unique, up-and-coming bands have been experimenting with different styles, compounding, bonding, and synthesizing their experimentations into exceptional records.
On the other hand, we’ve been reloaded with exciting new music by progressive rock and metal mainstays, and a few of them are included on this list. You can often tell who these bands are by the Roman numerical indicator in the album title, which many prog-rock bands seem to start doing when their discography piles up.
Still, all of these groups of musicians employ many of the same progressive rock techniques: sweeping passages, irregular rhythms, intricate patterns, technical prowess, unusual song structures, and theatrical atmospheres, all of this coming in different forms. More importantly, these acts are profoundly ambitious and forward-thinking with their music, making it immense, expansive, and mind-blowing and incorporating dramatic feats that you wouldn’t find in other genres.
Here is our list of the best progressive rock and metal offered in 2022. A quick shout-out goes to the bands who released incredible albums this year that didn’t make our list, including Long Distance Calling, the Dear Hunter, Ashenspire, Architects, Sumac and Keiji Haino, Circa Survive, and Dream Unending. Also worth a mention: contemporary progressive rock stalwarts the Mars Volta made a dramatic return this year after a roughly ten-year breakup but made a conscious effort to abandon their prog-rock roots for pop-oriented music, so we couldn’t include their new album on the list.
We’re starting the list with the trippy, bombastic tunes of Death Breath by Massachusetts’s Giraffes? Giraffes!, a duo consisting of percussionist Ken Topham and guitarist Joseph Andreoli. Giraffes? Giraffes! have been writing, recording, and performing for an astounding 21 years. They’re still going strong, pushing math rock into meditative, psychedelic territories and experimenting with new ideas.
At a mere 29 minutes, the short timespan doesn’t make Death Breath any less progressive. Unlike their primarily instrumental previous albums, vocals permeate the entirety of Death Breath, adding a new layer to their brand of punky, disorderly progressive rock. Both members serve as vocalists, and their voices lie low in the mix to create a haunting, spectral quality to the meandering corridors of songs like “Wax Teeth” and “OK Song” and even the faster-paced, punkier “Your Disgusting Head”. Death Breath culminates into the seven-and-a-half minute “Sling”, a song that rides on a jungle-like drum beat and shapeshifts into a 1990s alternative rock climax, thoroughly executed with a guitar solo layered over a bendy lead guitar part and vocals that perfectly embody their methodical yet arbitrary demeanor.
Where Myth Becomes Memory
Hailing from Sheffield, England, Rolo Tomassi have committed themselves to creating near-spiritual experiences through their records and live shows, combining serene, keyboard-driven ethereal music with fracturous metalcore, and Where Myth Becomes Memory may lean even further into the band’s ethereality than any of their previous five albums. The progressive nature comes in the grandiose atmosphere inherent in every corner of their songs, like the thrashing and settling, tension-and-release of “Prescience” and the chilled yet fiery temperament of opener “Almost Always”. Even songs like the ballet-esque “Stumbling” are profoundly moving in their mousy size.
Eva Korman shifts from ghastly shrieks to icy soprano singing, and both vocal styles cause the other to seem surprising. Not only this but there are long moments when James Spence’s keyboard lightly dances before soaring skyward during heavier parts. The switch from aggressive metalcore to pretty-sounding, angelic songwriting is sometimes as abrupt as hitting a brick wall and, at other times, a smooth, soft-focused transition. Rest assured, Rolo Tomassi know how to generate a meaningful effect through their music.
travels in my universe
Travels in my universe is the second full-length album from Paranoid Void, a three-piece instrumental group consisting of guitarist Meguri, drummer Mipow, and bassist Yu-ki. The group comes from Osaka, Japan, and with a simple three-layer format, they create a sound so full-bodied it’s somewhat mind-bending, but Paranoid Void pulls it off with swank and sophistication. Distributed by Friendship, a digital distribution company offering wider exposure for up-and-coming Japanese artists, travels in my universe is rife with shimmering guitar progressions, warbling basslines, tinny drum tones, and some electronic beats that sound like a trickling stream.
With slight notions of math rock, the three-song suite of “travel #doze”, “travel #dream”, and “travel #afterwards” pins the band into the progressive rock genre. The guitar progressions in “travel #afterwards” alone give travels in my universe instant replay appeal simply for their gentle, windy rhythm. What Paranoid Void have excelled at since their first release in 2017 is creating a natural atmospheric sound that feels alive with vigorous motion. Even the moments that rely on silence to complete the progressions – such as the snowfall quiet first half of “Jamais vu” – are captivating. The entire album is filled with watery jazz mixed with math rock elements that create soothing chaos.
Coheed and Cambria
Vaxis – Act II: A Window of the Waking Mind (Roadrunner)
Once again, continuing the conceptual storyline that permeates almost all of their albums, Coheed and Cambria present us with the second part of a new story arc in The Amory Wars, written by frontman Claudio Sanchez. Their decades-long commitment to telling this story through their music and other mediums, such as comic books and novels, is worth considerable respect. Decades aside, their music has stayed consistently exhilarating and youthful, conveying the emotions set in the story’s plotlines and showing that the band’s dedication hasn’t waned a bit.
Like much of Coheed and Cambria’s discography, Vaxis – Act II is a soundtrack to an action-packed space opera. It’s an album that epitomizes the idea of classic progressive rock from the 1970s and 1980s, complete with futuristic, fantastical album art inspired by pop melodrama. Their pop sensibilities mixed with rolling prog passages have always made Coheed and Cambria unique and allowed them the longevity they clearly enjoy by the look of Claudio Sanchez’s excitable face in their music videos. “Beautiful Losers” and “Shoulders” stand out simply for their catchy choruses and sing-along lines that are sure to make listeners imagine a group of longtime fans belting out together in front of Sanchez at one of their shows.
Speaking of technical prowess, Swedish progressive metal band Meshuggah are back with Immutable, their follow-up to 2016’s The Violent Sleep of Reason. Arguably one of the most long-standing, influential bands in progressive metal, their music becomes more god-like in magnitude with every release, and Immutable is no exception. Immutable is another brutal layer on their towering discography, a daunting monolith at the center of the realm of progressive metal. Clocking in at 63 minutes, this album is a colossal work of technical sequences amped up by low-end power and persistent pummelling by way of renowned drummer Tomas Haake.
That said, it never seems that technical work is at the forefront. Mood and feeling matter most, and this album, like previous efforts, succeeds in creating a barbaric atmosphere through long passages of low, demolishing guitar tones. Haake’s kick drum syncopates with Mårten Hagström and Fredrik Thordendal’s chugging guitars, producing crushingly chunky riffs and rhythms. “Ligature Marks” stands out for its mostly 4/4 timing and demolishing riffage, along with its high register lead guitar that propels it to heavenly heights. The peak of Immutable might be “They Move Below”, a nearly ten-minute epic that crescendoes from a clean guitar passage that explodes into a rhythmic wildfire that you can only expect from a band with the progressive metal caliber of Meshuggah.