This year provided introspective appreciation for creators and listeners alike for the sights and sounds of progressive music, as well as the more universal yet personal hardships and growths we all face.
5. Riverside – Wasteland (InsideOut)
Polish quartet Riverside has long been among the top acts in current progressive music, and a big reason for that was the trademark style and tone of guitarist Piotr Grudziński. Unsurprisingly, his untimely passing at the start of 2016 left the remaining trio uncertain about what they'd do next. Fortunately, it turned out to be Wasteland, a beautifully bleak—yet eventually hopeful—trip (written "from the point of view of someone bereft, someone who has survived a tragedy", as singer/bassist Mariusz Duda comments) that deserves its place next to its precursors.
Wasteland continues Riverside's penchant for expertly balancing fetching aggression and mesmerizing tranquility throughout the playthrough (namely, on "Acid Rain" and "The Struggle for Survival"); yet, it's the softer moments, such as the atmospherically acoustic "Guardian Angel" and the lusciously symphonic "River Down Below", that truly demonstrate how strong their songwriting still is. Of course, "The Night Before" (a relatively simple piano ballad) ends it on an overwhelmingly bittersweet note that stands as one of their premium compositions to date. From start to finish, Wasteland is both a loving tribute to the legacy Grudziński helped cement and a testament to how capable Riverside remains moving forward. – Jordan Blum
4. Horrendous– Idol (Season of Mist)
One of the most-discussed releases of the year, Idol demonstrates how much Horrendous has evolved in a relatively short career. Its technical proclivities do nothing to hamper the heaviness here. "Soothsayer" comes as close to making one want to shake their progressive death metal-worshiping ass as anything in recent recorded history (and, frankly, achieves that intent). "Golgathan Tongues" seems destined to become a concert staple via its highly memorable riffs and classic metal tendencies. In truth, it's probably been thirty years since a group delivered riffs that sounded this fresh and free from a storied musical history. "Devotion (Blood for Ink)" doesn't just cast our minds back to the good ol' days; it convinces us that the best days for metal are right now. The eight minutes and change closer "Obolos" is the epic that this generation of listeners will be waiting for, the kind of tune that will send kids racing to their bedrooms to pick up an axe or start their own cheaply crafted 'zine. If listening to that song, or really any of the tunes here, doesn't convince you that you're witness to some kind of darkly sacred ritual, do drop us a line. – Jedd Beaudoin
3. Phideaux – Infernal (Bloodfish)
Although still criminally underknown overall, American outfit Phideaux has a remarkably ardent following, which is why the release of Infernal—their first album since 2011's Snowtorch—has been so highly anticipated. Luckily, it was worth the wait, as it finds the troupe concluding their dystopic trilogy (which began with 2006's The Great Leap and continued on 2007's Doomsday Afternoon) with an inventive and renewed mixture of familiar motifs and fresh personas that underpin Phideaux's distinctive brilliance.
As you'd expect, Infernal is littered with callbacks to the first two entries in the series (most rewardingly near the end of its superlative suite, "From Hydrogen to Love"), and they always feel seamless and fitting rather than like forced fan service. As awesome as those moments are, however, its real strength comes from the more organic theatricality (think: soliloquys and segues, like in a play) featured on tracks like "Cast Out and Cold", "Sourdome", "Wake the Sleeper", and "Transit". It's precisely this merger of acquainted techniques and untested waters that makes Infernal such a satisfying finale to the saga and return for the extraordinary ensemble. – Jordan Blum
2. Amorphis – Queen of Time (Nuclear Blast)
Album 13 from Finnish metal titans Amorphis blends and bends more than genres. Along the way, the sextet bends minds with its fearlessly explorative approach, incorporating elements of folk music, classic prog, death and contemporary metal with doses of the symphonic. A guest turn from the always evanescent Anneke van Giersbergen on "Amongst Stars" pretties up the place, offering us a glimpse of those epic moments to come in outdoor European festivals, but the lads are never afraid of being extreme, such as on the mead hall anthem "The Golden Elk" or the Valhalla dance floor hit "Heart of the Giant". Vocalist Tomi Jousten cements his role as a vocalist of extreme talents in the particular musical terrain he work, particularly on the closing "Pyres of the Coast" and "Wrong Direction". Moreover, Amorphis brings a brilliant link between metal's groove-oriented past and its more contemporary sensibilities. Wherever this outfit is going can't be boring. – Jedd Beaudoin
1. Between the Buried and Me – Automata (I and II) (Sumerian)
Time and time again, North Carolinian avant-garde/technical metal quintet Between the Buried and Me proves to be unrivaled at what they do, and Automata reaffirms that ranking. Recorded together and then split up (if push comes to shove, Automata II is the superior half), the two-part tale about broadcasted dreams, voyeurism, and mental illness (among other things) collectively yields another mind-blowing sequence of unpredictable yet cohesive and enticing dispositions that more or less equal their past triumphs.
Although somewhat conventional (by BTBAM standards, anyway), Automata I still packs quite an arresting punch with the transcendental "Millions", the erratic "Yellow Eyes", and the many-sided cliffhanger, "Blot". Without a doubt, it's a solid first act, yet the unrelenting adventurousness of Automata II can't help but blow it away. Be it the carnivalistic ballad "Glide", the progressive swing madness of "Voice of Trespass", or the cathartic wrap-up of "The Grid", the second set outdoes the first while also contextually enhancing Automata as a single statement. Throw in the awe-inspiring hypnosis of "The Proverbial Bellow" (which contains the catchiest chorus vocalist Thomas Giles Rogers Jr. ever sang) and you have the foremost progressive rock/metal release of 2018. – Jordan Blum