The Best Progressive Rock/Metal of 2015

Jordan Blum and Brice Ezell

While one-dimensional emulations of various styles dominate the charts, the acts within progressive rock/metal continue to create masterpieces for a very finite audience.

Year after year, progressive rock/metal devotees are faced with a tragic irony: arguably the most ambitious, imaginative, and complex genres in modern music are also among the most underappreciated. While one-dimensional emulations of various styles continue to dominate the charts, the immensely talented and striving acts within progressive rock/metal continue to create masterpieces for a very finite audience. Rarely do they receive the success and accolades they deserve, which is why the following list is so important to us.

This year saw many wonderful contributions from both established and criminally underappreciated artists. For instance, relatively popular kings Steven Wilson and Between the Buried and Me defended their crowns with Hand.Cannot.Erase. and Coma Ecliptic, respectively, while the Dear Hunter and Gazpacho proved once again why they’re among the most unique and extraordinary bands in the field with Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise and Molok. Even genre legends Echolyn and Neal Morse returned with exceptional efforts, and newcomer Native Construct announced itself as the next big thing in progressive metal. All in all, 2015 was another phenomenal year for progressive music, and the following ten records demonstrate why perfectly. -- Jordan Blum

Artist: Native Construct

Album: Quiet World

Label: Metal Blade


Display as: List

List Number: 10

Display Width: 200

Native Construct
Quiet World

With avant-garde/technical progressive metal artists like Between the Buried and Me, Devin Townsend, and uneXpect leading the way, it can be difficult for an up-and-coming band to leave its mark on the landscape. Fortunately, Massachusetts trio Native Construct manages to do just that on its debut LP, Quiet World. By permeating brutal foundations with a ton of other lenses (such as jazz, musical theatre, and symphonic prog) the band has crafted an inexorably wide-ranging, dazzling, and complex gift that fares well against anything released by the aforementioned darlings.

A concept album about an eccentric outcast, Quiet World bursts open with “Mute”, a grandiose mixture of shifting rhythms, orchestral touches, and fiery playing that announces the specialties of Native Construct with ease. Later on, “Passage” balances delicacy and brutality even better, while the one-two punch of “Chromatic Lights” and “Chromatic Aberration” sends the record off on a multilayered, atmospheric, and adventurous high. Native Construct may be the new kid in town, but it deserves to rule the playground. -- Jordan Blum

Artist: Neal Morse

Album: The Grand Experiment

Label: Radiant


Display as: List

List Number: 9

Display Width: 200

Neal Morse
The Grand Experiment

Just as one might cite Steven Wilson the frontrunner of modern English progressive rock, California native Neal Morse has been leading the American side for roughly 25 years, be it as a member of a band (like Spock’s Beard or Transatlantic) or a solo powerhouse. Just about every record he’s a part of is adored by genre aficionados, and his newest opus, The Grand Experiment, is no different. While it’s not his strongest solo outing, it’s still a fantastic collection of catchy, colorful, and complex compositions.

Named after its atypical, more-democratic-and-less-planned approach, the disc sees the Neal Morse Band regulars Randy George, Mike Portnoy, Eric Gillette, and Bill Hubauer once again working with a shared mind to generate incredible results. Be it the CSNY-esque harmonies of opener “The Call”, the trademark vocal counterpoints of the title track, or the standard epic finisher, “Alive Again”, Morse and company serve up another intricate yet intoxicating sequence with The Grand Experiment. Sure, its formula may be safe and familiar, but it’s still enticing enough to satisfy. -- Jordan Blum

Artist: Echolyn

Album: i heard you listening

Label: self-released


Display as: List

List Number: 8

Display Width: 200

i heard you listening

Pennsylvanian quintet Echolyn has never really received the level of success and acclaim that it deserves. After all, its roughly 25-year career has spawned some of the strongest progressive rock albums of all time (such as Mei and As the World) with its core proclivity for warm textures and charming melodies ensuring that each new statement is similarly cherished. In 2012, the band returned after a lengthy break with a self-titled tour-de-force, ensuring that its follow-up would be heavily anticipated. As every moment of i heard you listening demonstrates, it matches, if not exceeds, such stellar expectations.

Opener “Messenger of All’s Right” may just be the strongest track on the disc (which is saying something), with Echolyn’s trademark poeticisms and gorgeous harmonies finding support from a straightforward yet alluring arrangement. Elsewhere, “Warjazz” and “Different Days” are faster and more fun, while the final moments of closer “Vanishing Sun” leave listeners aching for another spin. You’re missing out if you haven’t been listening already. -- Jordan Blum

Artist: Tesseract

Album: Polaris

Label: Kscope


Display as: List

List Number: 7

Display Width: 200


Prior to Polaris, English progressive metal troupe Tesseract released only two LPs: One (2011) and Altered State (2013). Nonetheless, they’re largely unmatched in terms of revere and popularity within the "djent" subgenre, and for good reason. With a spotless blend of atmospheric soundscapes, powerful dynamic shifts, mesmerizing melodic transitions, and emotional singing, theirs is a superlative, pristine blend. Nowhere in their catalog is this better represented than on Polaris.

Showcasing the return of original vocalist Dan Tompkins (who was replaced by Ashe O'Hara on Altered State), Polaris launches into a frenzy of bouncy, intricate rhythms and soaring harmonies with “Dystopia”, effectively setting the stage for the record to more or less combine the specificities of its predecessors into a magnificent compromise. As strong as the entire journey is, though, the unmistakable holy trilogy comes with "Hexes", "Survival", and "Tourniquet", which combine to create the most affective and assorted block in Tesseract’s career. It’s truly a remarkable excursion. -- Jordan Blum

Artist: Beardfish

Album: +4626 Comfortzone

Label: Inside Out


Display as: List

List Number: 6

Display Width: 200

+4626 Comfortzone

It’s often said that progressive rock takes itself too seriously, as its compositions and concepts can be, well, fairly pretentious at times. Thankfully, Swedish quartet Beardfish proves that musical virtuosity and tongue-in-cheek behavior aren’t mutually exclusive. Sure, the quartet’s instrumentation, songwriting, and melodies are all superb (and vocalist Rikard Sjöblom is easily one of the genre’s strongest singers), but each of the band’s past albums also contains plenty of colorful (and occasionally off-color) humor and social commentary. Unsurprisingly, +4626 – Comfortzone is no exception.

A reflection on how internalized negativity can prevent us from escaping our safe havens, the disc consistently combines poignant, relatable observations with sophomoric sentiments to yield another funny yet philosophical experience. From the haunting melodies in the “One Inside” suite to the invigorating expansiveness of “Ode to the Rock ‘n’ Roller” and the Mastodon-esque heaviness of “Daughter/Whore,” +4626 – Comfortzone maintains the blend of wildly vibrant arrangements and irresistible songwriting that makes every Beardfish album a gem. -- Jordan Blum

Next Page





'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


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 .


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


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.


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.


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.


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".


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.


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.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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