12. Chevelle – Hats off To the Bull: album doesn’t start off well and doesn’t kick til the 4th song, but has stellar moments. A wildly uneven release with several great great songs.
11. Arch/Matheos – Sympathetic Resonance: Very thick prog metal release by genius guitar player Jim Matheos from Fates Warning and his old buddy from the original lineup of Fates, John Arch. I think it’s better than what Arch did with Fates Warning, but certainly not as historically important or seminal to the subgenre.
10. Black ‘n’ Blue – Hell Yeah!: Just good syrupy 80’s goodness with a guitar tone reminiscing of AC/DC, but a little smoother. Just grand, not-so-clean fun from this underrated 80’s glam band.
9. Havoc – Time’s Up: What can I say? Slickly produced retro-thrash and I like it.
8. Iced Earth – Dystopia: Finally a consistent product from one of the flag bearers of heavy metal. Not consistently great, but consistently decent to good. The new guy fits in well with their sound and direction singing through all the musical hoops and divergences. Dig the 1984 theme in every song where they write songs to some of my favorite big brother flicks and stories.
7. Believer – Transhuman: Classic late 80’s thrash band makes a return with a more morose sounding album with more emphasis on texture than the ol’ speed. It works! Everything on here is solid. They even include some unintrusive keys. There’s even a Voivod vibe at times. Brilliant skinwork by long time drummer Joey Daub.
6. Disturbed – The Lost Children: Yes, I consider them a very good metal band and shouldn’t be scoffed at by the purist. This came out pretty fast after their 2010 release and that’s because they are all songs left on the cutting room floor over the years (lost children, get it?). Oddly, some of their best songs are on this despite missing the cut on prior studio albums.
5. Lance King – A Moment in Chiros: Who? Lance King! One of the finest high-pitched singers in the prog metal genre. Check out his work in Balance of Power and Avian: man got throat. He’s been everywhere as a gun-for-hire, but now he finally put out his solo album and it lives up to his pedigree. However, it is not quite as heavy as Balance of Power (the band he’s most known for), but there are a fantastic collection of prog metal tunes here (not all gold but quite a few are). He also owns Nightmare Records which releases a lot of prog metal gems, which this next band is actually signed to…
4. Myrath – Tales From the Sand: Mediterranean Prog Metal. Perhaps the latest sub-genre. Got those funky gypsy like melodies and odd mid-eastern rhythms. Takes some getting used to, but this band is really top-notch in terms of musicianship, songcrafting, and overall sound. Soulful singing and impressive shredwork abounds.
3. Vicious Rumors – Razorback Killers: These guys just define metal to me all the way back to Soldiers of Night in ’85 w/ Vinnie Moore on guitar. And they still ROCK! Probably heavier than ever. Not as good as their classic lineup with Carl Albert, but Geoff Thorpe keeps their chugga-chugga legacy alive with this ironclad release. Trivia: their ex-guitar player Mark McGee is now the guitarist for the Allman Bros.
2. Riot – Immortal Soul: Excellent release from classic metal rockers Riot. A total return to their mid-period Thundersteel sound. A lot of uptempo beats and high-pitched wales. They even include a song named after the band (usually not a good idea), but it TOTALLY SMOKES! Easily the best thing since the incredible The Power of Privelage. I always called them Les Paul metal, but, what ev – this rips.
And number uno:
Redemption – Mortal Coil: Despite most the other Prog Metal Elite releasing sub-par material, Ray Alder and co. throw out an amazing display, combining metal chops and beautiful vocal melodies. Ray just keeps pouring out his soul in those pre-chorus notes. Where does it come from? He’s gotta run outta ideas sometime. The playing is steely goodness from the guitarist with shredding that doesn’t wear itself on the listener nor distract from the tunes. This guy just brings chops with riff after riff. Great, great, great (but I heard long time fans were slightly down on it which baffled me – something about the production: I didn’t hear it.)
Notes: this was going to be a BIG year in prog metal with releases from Riverside, Symphony X, Pagan’s Mind, and a little band called Dream Theater. All fell short of their more well-known work, but DT wasn’t that bad except for those three woeful ballads (the scourge of metal). Hardly anything grabbed me with Symph X as they just stuck with their newer tough guy direction. Riverside was just TOO mellow and Pagan’s Mind was trying to create hits? Oh well, hopefully Circus Maximus puts out their brand of perfectly played notes in prog metal this year.
Some surprises: Stryper put out a pretty strong cover album with a great version of “The Trooper” and Anthrax did well with Belladonna. Megadeth was surprisingly ‘meh.’
Edit: Evergrey would easily be in the top five.