Best Progressive Rock Albums of 2021
Photo: Alexander Fradellafra / Courtesy of Pixabay

The 10 Best Progressive Rock/Metal Albums of 2021

The ongoing pandemic led to a brilliant year in the best progressive rock albums. Many artists translated their 2020 hardships into artistic gems.

5. Others By No One – Book II: Where Stories Come From [Independent]

Others by No Name – Book II- Where Stories Come From

What do you get if you cross the unpredictable hostility of Between the Buried and Me, uneXpect, and Native Construct with the silly yet sophisticated interruptions of Frank Zappa and Devin Townsend? Ohio troupe Others By No One, whose latest oeuvre, Book II: Where Stories Come From, is likely the best 2021 progressive metal releases you’ve [probably] not heard. Logically, it follows 2017’s Book I: Dr. Breacher and centers on “a reclusive writer” who pens stories about his “mysterious stalker”, only to “find that the stories he creates are beginning to come alive”. The compositions are strengthened by an expansive cast of guest musicians and vocalists and genre legend Jamie King as producer. As a result, it’s an incredible tour de force of quirky folk ballads (“Counting Raindrops”), guttural acid trips (“A Reverie to Quell the Giants”), and madcap classical detours (“Tombs”). Trust us: you need to hear this one. – Jordan Blum

4. Diablo Swing Orchestra – Swagger & Stroll Down the Rabbit Hole [Candlelight]

Diablo Swing Orchestra - Swagger and Stroll Down the Rabbit Hole

When it comes to wonderfully weird and hypnotic fusions of avant-garde metal, swing revival, and other tangential styles, virtually no one outshines Sweden’s Diablo Swing Orchestra. That remains true on their fifth proper outing, Swagger & Stroll Down the Rabbit Hole. To be blunt, it improves upon 2017’s Pacifisticuffs by harkening back to the lighter and more colorful flair of 2012’s Pandora’s Piñata. It’s perhaps their strangest and most varied collection yet, too, with the brilliantly absurd but insightful “War Painted Valentine” juxtaposing the Latin combustibility of “Celebremos lo Inevitable”. There’s also the Western friskiness of “Jig of the Century”, the digital devilishness of “Out Come the Hummingbirds’, and the soulful splendor of closer “Overture to a Ceasefire” thrown in for good measure. From start to finish, it’s an exquisitely adventurous testament to Diablo Swing Orchestra’s artistic supremacy.   – Jordan Blum

3. Mastodon – Hushed and Grim [Reprise]

Mastodon – Hushed and Grim

Atlanta, Georgia quartet Mastodon are back with their eighth and arguably most prodigious LP yet, Hushed and Grim. Admittedly, it might be too expansive to be an entry point for first-time listeners; in fact, it’s almost twice as long as their other studio projects, which makes it seem dense and overflowing. On the other hand, though, it’s a soaring and immersive experience full of patient, broad progressions. Either way, it has plenty of powerful moments. For instance, “Sickle and Peace” is a tense tune led by gusting guitar riffs and a turbulent chorus, sweeping into “More Than I Can Chew” (one of the album’s most crushing tracks). Plus, “Gobblers of Dregs” is as steady and plodding as sludge metal can be, fortifying Hushed and Grim as an epic return from one of progressive metal’s strongest stalwarts. – Andrew Spiess

2. Genghis Tron – Dream Weapon [Relapse]

Genghis Tron – Dream Weapon

After a 13-year hiatus, Genghis Tron make a quiet comeback with Dream Weapon. They decided to ditch their cyber grind style in favor of a progressive blend of metal and shoegaze. Their drum machine has been replaced with drummer Nick Yacyshyn, too, which adds an organic element to their brand of synth-heavy futuristic metal (which they’ve maintained since their 2004 inception). Vocalist Tony Wolski is new to the band as well, displaying an ethereal, machine-like presence.

Despite the line-up changes and shifts in style, Dream Weapon nonetheless feels like a Genghis Tron album. They’ve even continued to record with Kurt Ballou of Converge fame, who produced their last two sets. Songs like “Pyrocene” and “Alone in the Heart of the Light” offer unsettling serenity and act like mutating technological organisms. Conversely, the title track churns violently with ever-moving guitar and drums. Dream Weapon is inventive, eerie, atmospheric, and complex, and it shows that Genghis Tron are no less committed to their distinctive style. – Andrew Spiess

1. Between the Buried and Me – Colors II [Sumerian]

North Carolinian progressive/avant-garde death metal quintet Between the Buried and Me have long been the best at what they do. Although every album they release is heavily anticipated, Colors II took expectations to a new level. Why? Because its mere existence (as the official sequel to the band’s breakthrough 2007 opus) seemed more like a fever dream than a reality. After all, fans had been facetiously hoping for them to formally follow-up Colors for many years, and now they finally did.

It greatly exceeded expectations. In a nutshell, the LP mixes the caustic edge of its direct precursor with the melodic accessibility of 2015’s Coma Ecliptic and the frenzied zaniness of 2018’s Automata duology. It’s ripe with affectively serene detours (“Sfumato”, “Stare Into the Abyss”), thunderously off-the-wall celebrations (“Fix the Error”, “Prehistory”), and immensely hooky melodies (“Revolution in Limbo”, “The Future is Behind Us”). It contains plenty of allusions to Colors, too, so it really comes across like a proper continuation. At times beautiful, brutal, and utterly bizarre—often simultaneously—Colors II is remarkable. – Jordan Blum