I wasn’t originally going to arrange these in order, but in the end I did it anyway, just to annoy those people who hate ranked lists.
10. Van der Graaf Generator – Trisector
Reduced to a trio after the departure of David Jackson, this album proves the slimmed-down version of the 70s progressive rock veterans can still deliver an album in the same league as their 2005 comeback album “Present”
9. Magenta – Metamorphosis
Magenta are very much old-school Prog, wearing their Yes, Genesis and Mike Oldfield influences on their sleeve, playing 20 minute epics with titles like ‘The Ballad of Samual Layne’. They get away with it though superior songwriting and arrangement, and stunning individual performances from Christina Booth on vocals and Chris Fry on guitar.
8. Josh and Co – Through These Eyes
This solo album from Bryan Josh of Mostly Autumn appeared out of the blue at the end of November. Has a similar sound and production to Mostly Autumn’s last album, but the songs are looser and more contemporary-sounding. Quite dark in places, playfully self-indulgent in others, and Bryan cuts loose on the guitar in a way that shows how much he’d been holding back on recent Mostlies releases; I haven’t heard him shred like that for ages. Although Bryan naturally handles most of the vocals, there are also some quite stunning contributions from Olivia Sparnenn which really make me look forward to the next Breathing Space album
7. Uriah Heep – Wake the Sleeper
Nine years since their last studio album, and the mighty Heep are back with a powerful statement that the hard rock veterans are very much in business. Ironically for a band who have spent much of their career in the shadow of the much bigger and more successful Deep Purple, they’ve now come up with something that blows away anything Purple have done in the last nine years. It compares very favourably with their best output from their 70s heyday, and I don’t think they’ve ever rocked harder than this.
6. Panic Room – Visionary Position
The debut from the band that grew out of the ashes of Karnataka, fronted by Anne-Marie Helder. Three years in the making, it’s a rich multilayered album with a real mix of styles from hard rock, folk, pop and full-blown prog which was well worth the wait.
5. Pineapple Thief – Tightly Unwound
Pineapple Thief are one of the new generation of progressive rock bands who mix elements of 70s progressive rock with more contemporary influences to give a streamlined modern sound rather than produce a pastiche of older bands. You can hear the influence of both early Radiohead and Porcupine Tree on this album, although thankfully we’re spared Thom Yorke-style whining vocals, and there is definitely no shortage of tunes.
4. Mostly Autumn – Glass Shadows
A strong release which is a marked improvement on the patchy and badly-produced “Heart Full of Sky” even if it doesn’t quite match their best work. Written entirely by Bryan Josh and Heather Findlay this time around, it’s more mainstream melodic rock than the celtic-tinged prog of their early work, but retains the 70s vibe that’s still a major element of their sound. Musically it has hard rockers, shimmering piano ballads, dreamy atmospheric numbers and soaring guitar-driven epics. Lyrically they’re certainly not singing about Hobbits any more, this is a true life story about heartbreak, joy, tragedy and hope.
3. Opeth – Watershed
2005′s “Ghost Reveries” wasn’t an easy album to follow, but Opeth managed to equal it with “Watershed“, which contains all their trademark elements; piledriving heavy passages alternating with delicate guitar harmonies, Mikael Åkerfeldt’s vocals swapping back and forth between harsh ‘cookie monster’ and heartfelt clean vocals, typically all in the same song. It’s not an easy listen, songs average ten minutes, and don’t have anything as crassly commercial as conventional verses or choruses. But when you get what they’re doing, the result can only be described as ‘symphonic’.
2. Marillion – Happiness is the Road
This double album is a vast improvement on last year’s patchy “Somewhere Else“. The two disks are conceived as two separate single albums; the atmospheric “Essence“, and the rockier “The Hard Shoulder“. Both contain plenty of gems and very little filler. Stylistically it’s the same contemporary sound as recent albums rather than a reversion to an earlier sound. Steve Hogarth is on great form, using his voice as much as a musical instrument rather than solely to express the lyrics, and Steve Rothery demonstrates in many places why he’s one of the best rock guitarists out there.
1. The Reasoning – Dark Angel
It’s difficult to choose just one album as my album of the year, but in the end I’ve settled for The Reasoning’s second album. Last year’s debut “Awakening” was one of my top albums of last year, a great mix of melodic hard rock with progressive flavouring, with three-part vocal harmones and a powerful twin lead guitar attack. This one takes things to another level, adding some metal to the mix, full of melodies that get stuck in your brain, sublime vocals from Rachel Cohen, and some amazing but never self-indulgent playing from new guitarist Owain Roberts.