Continuing the end-of-year albums-of-the-year contdown with the the first six from the top ten. Like the first part from 21 to 11, I have listed them in alphabetical order rather than attempting to rank them, but if I had, they’d be #10 up to #5.
Also Eden – [REDACTED]
Also Eden have significantly raised their game with this, their second album since Rich Harding took over as lead vocalist. Despite occasional echoes of Tangerine Dream, Porcupine Tree and even Trespass-era Genesis in the album’s quieter moments, this is a harder-edged and more rock-orientated record than their previous work. The result is powerful yet richly layered record, with Simon Rogers’ inventive guitar playing at the centre of the sound, and Rich Harding’s lyrics moving from the political to the personal.
Haken – The Mountain
Haken are another band to step up to the next level with their third album. Previous albums had displayed some obvious influences, most notably Dream Theater and Zappa. But here, aside from a couple of nods to Gentle Giant, most noticeably on the completely bonkers “Cockroach King”, they develop a sound that’s all their own. There are metal riffs, church-like vocal harmonies, deep and complex arrangements and recurring motifs, resulting in a record that both progressive in every sense of the word, and very contemporary sounding at the same time.
Iain Jennings – My Dark Surprise
It was indeed a surprise when Mostly Autumn’s keyboard player released a solo album with very little fanfare early in the year. It’s a concept album with lyrics by vocalist Mark Chatterton, and guest appearances from Mostly Autumn’s Liam Davison amongst others. With its mix of hard rock and atmospheric ballads with touches of electronica it has many familiar ingredients, but it’s all put together in a different way and avoids sounding anything like a repeat of Iain’s earlier work. The way it seamlessly blends a lot of different styles demonstrates his skills as a composer and arranger. A dark surprise indeed, but a very pleasant one.
Ihsahn – Das Seelenbrechen
Ihsahn’s last couple of albums have been ideal for anyone missing Opeth from the time before Mikael Akerfeldt abandoned the cookie monster. But this album sees Ihsahn leave Black Metal behind, setting course for far stranger waters. There are still moments of ambitious prog-metal especially on the first half of the record, but this album also takes in avant garde noise, with storms of clattering percussion and passages of spooky atmospherics. It’s by no means an easy listen, but it does show how the more experimental end of metal can be far more progressive than many an act labelled as “prog”.
Magenta – The Twenty-Seven Club
When it comes to old-school neo-prog, Magenta are still one of the best bands in the business. They’ve never denied their strong Yes influence. There are some very Steve Howe like phrases from guitarist Chris Fry, and Christina Booth often sings in similar register to Jon Anderson. although her performances have a lot more emotional depth. Their sixth album takes a position midway between the dark intensity of “Metamorphosis” and the commercial Magenta-lite of “Chameleon”. As a distillation of a lot of what’s good about Magenta’s music it makes a very good starting point for new listeners.
Touchstone – Oceans of Time
Touchstone’s fourth album sees something of a change of direction, with vocalist Kim Seviour and guitarist Adam Hodgson taking on a bigger share of the writing. The result is an album with a greater emphasis on songwriting rather than prog-metal instrumental workouts, and a rawer stripped-down sound with a lot more light and shade that gives Kim’s vocals space to breathe without being swamped by the instrumentation. With their most mature album to date they deserve to win themselves a much larger audience with this release.