Andrew’s Top 25 Albums of 2018 – in 3 sentences or less each
01 Jan. 2019

Andrew’s Top 25 Albums of 2018 – in 3 sentences or less each


I have been a primarily prog and metal listener for many years, but dramatic personal upheaval in 2018 has led to a drastic change in musical tastes and significantly affected my experience with some of these albums. Normally I make a list of my top 30 albums, but because I have become drastically more selective in listening to albums, either for the first time or as a repeat listen, I have cut it down to 25 this year to better reflect the albums I truly enjoyed and would replay again and again. Links to full albums, if possible, are available; you will get as much as I can provide otherwise.


25. TesseracT – Sonder (Progressive Metal)

As time goes by, the British prog-metal technicians have come more and more to embody the original spirit of the “djent” movement, a concise take on a normally wild and experimental genre, focused on riffs and their evolution through repetition and groove over the revolution of showmanship. But on Sonder, that formula is distilled further into a mere 36-minute statement that punches harder and quicker than the already more direct Polaris, returning to some of their original heavy climes with Daniel Tompkins’ normally smooth, uniquely scat-influenced melodic delivery sometimes letting loose into a pulverizing scream over harsh and grinding metal riffery. Yet far above scores of one-dimensional imitators, the mellow side of TesseracT coming after the storm remains as hauntingly atmospheric as ever, explored at length in a two-part 11-minute composition whose hypnotic clean guitar washes and spectral singing are soaked in regret and yearning for relationships falling apart, a very sensitive lyrical theme at the time of Sonder’s release and still far more heart-breakingly beautiful than any of this band’s peers could ever muster.

Full Album


24. Neal Morse – Life & Times (Pop, Rock, Folk)

Despite Neal Morse’s identification with prog-rock music, his roots have always been simple Americana, and never has that pride been more fully realized than on this deeply personal collection of primarily autobiographical and acoustic numbers. Old-school touchstones such as Neil Young, the Eagles, and Elton John rear their head on relaxed numbers such as Livin’ Lightly and JoAnna, but yet lest you think Morse has gone soft, his dark and emotional side is explored frighteningly by the gut-wrenching vignette He Died At Home, confronting the painful issue of PTSD-driven veteran suicide with ironically the softest music on the album. Some of Morse’s reflections on his past and the appreciation he shows for life as he nears 60 are quite poignant and heartwarming, and for the devout, his faith is present but not overwhelming, giving the music its own note of earnest authenticity that makes its depiction of the real man behind the guitar convincing.

A few songs


23. Subsignal – La Muerta (Progressive Rock, AOR)

Perhaps it is ironic that Subsignal’s least metallic effort was the one to finally bring them to PP USA, its harder-sounding sections not even sounding metal like those on Beautiful & Monstrous and the band being labeled as prog-rock in the lineup for the festival. However, after the emotional powerhouse steeply leaning towards prog-metal that was The Beacons of Somewhere Sometime, a much simpler and straightforward effort is a brave change, the primary touchstones clearly Power Windows or Subdivisions­-era Rush or 90125-era Yes with its mixture of prog-rock complexity and poppy synth-driven 80’s simplicity, many of the major-keyed chords basically ripped from Alex Lifeson as they are. I can’t say this is the direction I was hoping for Subsignal to go and it doesn’t rank with their best albums, but La Muerta is definitely an original and often quite captivating effort where Arno Menses’ crystalline vocals are allowed the spotlight, spearheading several quite emotionally powerful songs like the sweepingly epic tragedy The Bells of Lyonesse and the acoustic and piano ballads Teardrops … and Some Kind of Drowning.

Full Album


22. Mystery – Lies & Butterflies (Progressive Rock)

The Québécois sextet had a grand reputation to live up to after delivering one of the best albums of 2015 and helping pave the way for non-metal albums onto my lists, and while Lies & Butterflies may not possess the same darkness and heaviness of Delusion Rain, it more distinctly separates Mystery’s AOR roots from its current neo-prog style by sandwiching short and powerful melodic tracks in between two 15-minute epics. The contributions of other members to music, normally all the product of brainchild Michel St-Père, supplement the more progressive songwriting with a more classic rock spirit and even the jazz-funk bass-driven Where Dreams Come Alive. Jean Pageau’s clean-cut but very powerful melodic rock voice remains the band’s highlight and implants every single song with catchy melodic structure and an indispensable sense of passion and feeling that was essential to Delusion Rain’s success as he convincingly sells every lyric and song.

Full Album


21. W.E.T. – Earthrage (AOR)

With Sons of Apollo and Eclipse having shared the PP USA stage this year and both of them crushing it, the combination of Jeff Scott Soto and Erik Martensson is destined to produce top-quality AOR with a bite otherwise unseen in the genre. Indeed, Martensson’s guitar-driven songwriting places W.E.T. not far away from the metal-leaning style of Eclipse, while Soto’s soulful rock tone is both sturdy enough to stand up to the heaviness of the music and dripping with infectious melody, convincingly selling vintage AOR lyrics about the frustrations of lost or fake love. There aren’t necessarily many surprises left in this style, but it is all about who makes the best melody and riffs, and when combined with a crushing production with angrily throbbing bass and propulsive drums, Earthrage is a quite solid and impressive third entry in W.E.T’s catalog that solidifies this supergroup as one of the hottest melodic rock acts on the planet.

Full Album


20. LEAH – The Quest (Folk Metal, Gothic Metal)

As one of the most entrancing discoveries of 2015, LEAH sent gothic, symphonic, progressive, and Celtic folk metal colliding head-on with New Age and choral elements in a way nobody had ever done before, but perhaps bit off a little more than she could chew on the mammoth 80-minute Kings & Queens album. However, The Quest is an improvement in basically every department, tightening up the thin production with the expertise of Jacob Hansen and dumping the ultra-progressive explorations for a more concise style running just over 50 minutes and better integrating the styles together, the folk influences in particular as contributed by Troy Donockley and Chen Balbus becoming such an integral part of the sound that the music could be termed folk metal by now. While the focus remains on Leah McHenry’s crystalline vocals, the band composed of current or former Delain, Nightwish and Blind Guardian members strikes a better balance between the familiarity of such influences upon Leah, and her uniquely lush atmospheres and uplifting lyrical content with shades of spiritual truth.

Full Album


19. Lights & Motion – Bloom / While We Dream (Post-Rock, Ambient) – Bloom shown

Swedish insomniac genius Christoffer Franzen has gradually evolved in his compositional ability and songwriting style, with his last full-length Dear Avalanche finally fully breaking the somewhat clichéd cinematic post-rock style to not just produce his best album yet, but an album landing in my top 5 of 2017. I will permit myself to include two EP-length albums put together into an LP-length album for consideration because the emotional breadth of his music, while not hitting the absolute gold mine of perfection that was Dear Avalanche, thematically hits home with its depiction of dreams and the hope for difficult times to pass. With Bloom’s slightly more up-tempo and more traditional structure a longing for the winter to end and spring to take full bloom, and While We Dream being more ambient than post-rock as it dives into a synth-based dreamworld where a heartbroken past can be restored, both sides of Franzen’s music are represented and further honed into separate entities – the epic and sweepingly uplifting ending of Lion and the understated yet still deeply poignant conclusion of Whispering Sea.

Full “Bloom” album

Full “While We Dream” album


18. A Dying Planet – Facing the Incurable (Progressive Metal)

Many losses in life devastate us, from friends to family to jobs, but the loss of one’s singular creative voice can be more painful still, as one can go on without someone else even with great pain, but not so much without oneself. While some silenced artists have lost all meaning in life and checked out of this existence, Troy Tipton of Zero Hour, Cynthesis and Abnormal Thought Patterns found a new voice in his vocals and lyrical ability after losing the physical ability to play the bass, and his bleak, wrenching lyrical narrative drives the equally bleak and cold ambience-ridden prog-metal of the new project A Dying Planet. Songs drift on seemingly aimlessly for many minutes in the suffocating coldness of outer space, lying in the stasis of hypnotic shimmering arpeggios and electronics before mechanical djent-based riffs march forward with calculating precision, an interstellar wasteland in which Tipton valiantly chases after his vanishing shards of humanity to pick up the pieces and rebuild the next chapter of his existence.

Full Album


17. Lost in Thought – Renascence (Progressive Metal)

It’s a cliché theme to speak of rebirth, rising from the ashes, coming back to life, etc. but Lost in Thought mean it, having disbanded in 2013 and returned with an almost completely new lineup and a drastically different sound, but yet mysteriously maintaining a certain core quality that defined their debut Opus Arise. The Dream Theater influences have been drastically reduced in favor of a modern Anubis Gate-styled prog-metal complete with a Henrik Fevre soundalike singer in Deane Lazenby, and a thick and boomy groove-oriented production unlike Jacob Hansen’s typical sharp recordings that accentuates the sweeping epic atmosphere of 80’s synth washes and downtuned groovy riffing one might find on a Shattered Skies album. The final piece of the cake is Lazenby’s highly personal and emotional lyrical content with a strong positive slant on rediscovering oneself and rising above one’s past mistakes, losses and misadventures when they threaten to catch up with you, a metaphor for the band’s own struggles to stay together but also a theme whose timing makes Renascence sufficiently real and inspiring to me as to mark the album as an influence in my own renascence and earn it frequent plays.

Full Album


16. Lincoln Brewster – God of the Impossible (Rock, Pop)

You’d be forgiven for hearing the first song of the album and thinking this was a born-again version of Journey, so similar are the driving rock beat and tasty guitar licks almost straight out of Don’t Stop Believin’, even the poppier Steve Perry-esque vocal delivery. This illustrious guitarist has actually played with the Golden Voice and his knack for catchy melodies and poppy electronica and funk hooks with signature 80’s scat soul makes a very intriguing entry into the oft-saturated Christian market, while often being recognizable enough as rock to appeal to the secular mainstream and make a list like this for the first time. The first three tunes alone make God of the Impossible one of the most singable albums with the windows down on this list, and even the more meditative second half contains slower and more epic numbers like the reverent title track with its thundering swells of drums.

Full Album


15. Judas Priest – Firepower (Heavy Metal)

In the interim between Firepower and Judas Priest’s previous effort, they became the oldest extant heavy metal band, and despite the encroaching of age and, in Glenn Tipton’s case, Parkinson’s disease, the Brits soldier on unabated out of sheer Firepower. From the incisive riff strains, hungry double-kick barrage, and molten chorus of the title track, to the epic and fateful album closer Sea of Red, Firepower is simply what Judas Priest do unlike anyone else, but shot through with a sleek modernity and hummable riffs and vocal melodies that sustain the hour-plus duration quite satisfyingly. One has the sense that perhaps the band knows their days are decidedly numbered and always wants to end each album with something that could serve as the Epitaph that gave name to their once-planned farewell tour, and Firepower is the first Judas Priest album that could honestly bear that hallowed designation.

Full Album


14. Southern Empire – Civilisation (Progressive Rock)

Following from the coveted title of best debut of 2016, Southern Empire continue to grow into their own entity separate from Unitopia, with Civilisation even more extensive in grandiosity and sophistication than the self-titled as a mere four songs span 68 minutes. PP USA’s statement of desire to book this Aussie prog-rock outfit indicates just how much heavier Southern Empire is than their peers, with some riffs crossing into metal territory and Daniel Lopresto’s vocals every so often coming across roughspun and sharp, yet the cornucopia of world and jazz influences keep the band firmly grounded in symphonic prog as well. With the positive, life-affirming, sometimes religiously influenced lyrical content carrying over from the debut in Transatlantic-esque fashion and producing some truly poignant moments like the resolute closer Innocence & Fortune, Southern Empire are poised to become the 21st century’s next big down-under sensation.

“Goliath’s Moon”


13. Steve Perry – Traces (Pop, Rock)

The power of love is so intense that it can re-awaken a sleeping soul when it awakens, and then gravely wound it when it dies, but yet for the decades-reclusive Steve Perry, it gave him the strength and inspiration to heal that open wound through re-awakening his “Golden Voice” to deliver the comeback album of 2018. At nearly 70 years old, his voice has acquired a newfound rasp and weathering imbued with the wisdom of years, but also the profound depth and richness of many more years of life, and the always-days-numbered love that he shared with his late girlfriend Kellie Nash five years ago. The ballad-based mélange of 80’s rock, 60’s R&B, and modern pop on the diary-like Traces is colorful, poignant, and redolent with a profound unity of sadness, joy, heartbreak, love, gratefulness, and grief, as he chronicles his life before, during, and after Kellie’s short life together with him, with a naked honesty that struck me straight to the heart in the near aftermath of a somewhat similar experience of my own.

Full Album


12. The Sun Burns Bright – Through Dusk, Came the Light (Post-Rock)

Any time I can find a new post-rock band, I listen eagerly in hope that it will be something else to listen to along with working on a project or dish, that doesn’t distract me but can be something to lose myself in if I so desire. This project transplanted from Britain to the Pacific Northwest is absolutely both, as the luminous cover art is a beautiful representation of the glisteningly melodic and epic music contained within it, built heavily on the hopeful nature-based imagery of the title and band name, its triumphant swells of tremolo-based ambience and woodsy production quality vividly depicting the majesty of both of its homelands. Nobody could ever guess this album was recorded by musicians 5,000 miles apart on iPads, so incredibly professional, coherent, self-assured and just outright gorgeous is the music, enough to come close to topping the genre rankings this year.

Full Album


11. Images of Eden – Soulrise (Heavy Metal)

In the category of most anticipated album in my entire lifetime, Soulrise wins by a country mile, as unlike other albums that I’ve waited on with bated breath for months, I’ve followed the progress of Soulrise for nearly six years, watching it come together from scratch to its long-delayed release this August. Tremendous bias is inevitably a consideration in ranking it fairly, yet almost everyone knows by now just how revolutionary this band, and nowadays this record, have become in my life, possibly the most positive and uplifting metal band around today, and among its most profound lyrically due to highly pervasive and deeply inspired spiritual content betraying the group’s deep faith. The masterful finesse between heaven and earth walked by the guitar-driven songwriting merging modern, classic, and progressive metal stylings with a molten vocal performance, major-key signatures and washes of inspiring keyboard and lead guitar is simply top of the line, but it comes determinedly second to the positive emotions and life change that it invokes in me, so vast and unparalleled in any category of media or life experience as to propel this act from humble Pennsylvanian obscurity in 2001, to such an elevated spot on this list.

Full Album

Andrew’s Review for Lady Obscure


10. Seventh Wonder – Tiara (Progressive Metal)

Whether it was worth the eight-year wait or not, and whether it distinctively adds to Seventh Wonder’s discography, Tiara is still a beautifully executed concept album that exudes their signature style and mastery of major-key theatrical pop vocal melody smoothing out edgy riffing and seemingly random time signature and groove shifts. Perhaps slightly heavier than previous efforts, as its story continues the apocalyptic tone of The Great Escape’s title track by being set in a world threatened with its end, but juxtaposing the innocence of the titular main character, a girl whose integrity of life will judge the salvation or damnation of humanity but struggles with her role and just wants to be normal. The progressive nature of Mercy Falls is in some ways amplified further with a 3-part epic reaching nearly 20 minutes, and with Seventh Wonder’s famously furious technicality maintained and the band’s originality further refined, in some ways this is their strongest album despite not having the exact same emotional resonance of Mercy Falls.

Full Album


9. Aesthesys – Achromata (Post-Rock, Progressive Rock, Classical)

The most intriguing band in my catalog from Russia, Aesthesys became a primary name on many post-rock watchlists with their magnificent 2013 opus Ascendere, equally serene and reflective and musically rich and creative to such an uncommon degree in this often monochromatic style. But Achromata’s conceptual story, being literally about a fantastical journey to discover color in a colorless world, is a meta-exploration of their gradually more innovative style executed with an unbelievable sense of professionalism and confidence. As before, influences from classical music permeate every song through the melancholic yet soothing violin playing of lead composer Nik Koniwszki, but the musicianship and songwriting has dramatically evolved into a hybrid of post-rock and progressive rock elements featuring odd meters, complex drumwork and multifaceted evolution of soundscapes that eclipse its next-closest challenger in the post-rock domain by pushing every possible boundary of the genre.

Full Album


8. Echoes of Giants – The Way to Us (Progressive Rock)

Based on the very stripped-back alt-rock arrangements and simple but powerful lyrics underpinning the songwriting of their debut At the End of Myself, I could classify Echoes of Giants among the most humble and down-to-earth prog-rock bands on the planet, dispensing entirely with false drama and pretension to deliver truly heart-rending and yet ultimately life-affirming stories. The debut’s individual perspective is made more complex as The Way to Us depicts two tragedies, a couple’s infertility and a child’s removal from a broken mother, that intersect by happenstance and pave the way for them both to find joy and release. The wrenchingly understated and emotional vocals of the lead singer are complemented with an actual female lead in some of the most poignant moments amidst highly melodic and rich yet heartbreaking alt-prog arrangements, and yet when light breaks through the endless fog of grief, self-doubt, and yearning for love near the end, the resolute surge of rock power is perhaps even more convincing and makes The Way to Us an emotional roller coaster unlike any other this year.

Full Album


7. Haken – Vector (Progressive Metal)

Perhaps you could say Vector is just another Haken album, and so it finishes slightly lower than Affinity did last year, but Vector’s brave step to make Haken’s music tighter, heavier and more concise than any prior effort makes for a compelling listen regardless. Its darker and more sinister mood than the emotion-driven AI narrative of Affinity is significantly more obscure, its narrative merging in and out of reality as a doctor with questionable intentions experiments on one of his patients and the quirky and atmospheric sides of the band reveal something is not right, but never quite explaining what it is. The schizophrenic transitions and obsessive chorus of the four-minute pound of The Good Doctor, the multiple-personality-laced impenetrable prog of Puzzle Box, and the enormously heavy and technical 12-minute epic Veil in particular, shroud the album in the mystery of its front-cover Rorschach blot where, like in prog as a whole, everything is possible and nothing is necessarily clear.

Full Album


6. Riverside – Wasteland (Progressive Rock)

Like myself, just when Riverside thought they finally had it made and their greatest blessing was about to unfold before them, terrible tragedy struck when Grudzien passed away without warning, leaving the Poles to try to make sense of a world crumbling away before their eyes in this post-apocalyptic elegy to their fallen friend. Throughout Wasteland, one can palpably sense the open wound in Riverside’s classic style: rhythm and lead guitars strongly de-emphasized for more acoustic and ambient parts, Duda’s voice often dropping to a mournful whisper over understated melancholia, and the guest guitarists contributing such a distinctly different style that perhaps not who is playing and what they’re playing, but who isn’t and what isn’t being played, is what makes the solos so emotional. But most of all, like so many albums this year, Wasteland arrived in my life at the perfect time – thick in the midst of the most paralyzing heartache, grief and loss I’ve ever known, and may for many years to come, forcing me to confront it face-to-face and gradually guiding me on the rocky path around the edges of a fragile sanity towards coming to peace with it, and the hope that I may someday be able to fully move on.

Full Album

Andrew’s Review at Lady Obscure


5. Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs (Progressive Death Metal, Folk Metal)

I sadly considered Orphaned Land’s magic gone after the departure of Yossi Sassi, mourning the chance I had never gotten to see them live in their classic formation, and yet Unsung Prophets & Dead Messiahs and its weighty title is backed up by equally weighty and serious music diving headlong back into the Israeli peace ambassadors’ extreme prog-metal roots. Wild and experimental compositions with a newfound heaviness and aggression coexist comfortably with simple rockier or folk-based numbers like found on All Is One, yet on this album some songs incorporate all their traits at once, becoming that much richer and more accessible for it. Meanwhile, the fully concept-driven storyline also ties the songs together under an angry, frighteningly direct and current theme of sociopolitical corruption and how it drives us to ignore the voices of those “prophets” who predict our terrible future and then slaughter those “messiahs” who come to save us from it, staking the claim very mightily for this band’s nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize just as well as for an elevated spot here.

Full Album


4. Kingcrow – The Persistence (Progressive Metal)

When I ranked Eidos as my AOTY 2015, I said that if their next release could outdo it, it would be an outright masterpiece, and though The Persistence may be slightly inferior to the previous album in some departments, it also advances it in other ways. The hard-edged aggression and melancholic atmosphere of Eidos resulting from its darker studio environs is dialed back somewhat to produce some surprisingly uplifting and life-affirming compositions alongside more haunting pieces similar to Eidos, with influences such as Steven Wilson, Opeth and Sigur Rós coming further out of the woodwork. The most astounding metamorphosis remains singer Diego Marchesi whose vocal performance is simply awe-inspiring, all of his range, talent and emotion fully unleashed into lyrics all his own about the challenges of human relationships and connection, but also the will to persist in life and love each other not because we are perfect, but Perfectly Imperfect, that hit home at a very poignant and emotional time of my life.

Full Album


3. Lux Terminus – The Courage to Be (Progressive Rock, Fusion)

To have and to not, to love and to be apart, and to die inside yet to continue to live, are the most harrowing and noble challenges to face as a human being, and the conceptual basis of The Courage to Be is much like that found in Redemption where Vikram Shankar’s name catapulted into fame, representing the spectrum of emotions throughout years of vast geographical separation between Shankar and his girlfriend. For so long have I admired them as models for how to truly live life in the absence of those I love, not in the least because Shankar channels his struggles into the narrative-driven musical terrain encompassing jazz, soundtrack, classical, prog-rock and quasi-metal elements, bereft of guitars but at times deploying piano alongside rock instrumentation in a fashion that hits as hard as a metal band, but always focusing on the emotional element above all. And not only is the music stunningly original and emotional by means of its grand cinematic scope and disregard for prog conventions, but the process of exploring this album enabled me to confront depression, anxiety, loneliness, dependency, and the fallout of a loss of purpose in life, and their dire consequences for some close friendships of mine, and begin the process of recovery.

Full Album

Andrew’s Review at Lady Obscure


2. Redemption – Long Night’s Journey Into Day (Progressive Metal)

“Resilience is Redemption’s middle name” as I asserted in 2016 has become yet even more incredibly true after the Californian prog-metal outfit suffered an enormous setback for the third consecutive album, this time the forcible departure of the legendary and once considered irreplaceable Ray Alder. Yet the at first shocking recruitment of Evergrey frontman Tom Englund proves to have been a stunning rebirth part 3 for Nick van Dyk and co. as his weathered and pained yet strong and confident timbre has never sounded so diverse and unleashed as on Long Night’s Journey Into Day, darker and angstier than Alder’s but also soaring higher on the scale than it ever has, while musically it continues roughly where The Art of Loss left off, yet throws some not-so-subtle nods back to Redemption’s illustrious past. From the unofficial sequel to the legendary “Black and White World” entitled “Indulge in Color” to the gut-wrenching piano ballad “And Yet,” angry and confrontational “Little Men,” and the title track that ends in Redemption’s signaturely life-affirming crescendo, Long Night’s Journey Into Day represents for the third time in a row exactly where my life was at the moment of its release, leading me to confront all of the struggles I was facing, and to bring me through them once again to the much happier place I am in now.

Full Album

Andrew’s Review at Lady Obscure


1. Ostura – The Room (Progressive Metal, Rock Opera)

The Room gloriously subverts its rather ignominious title in cinema fandom by being akin to much of the symphonic-based and concept-driven prog-metal like Beyond the Bridge, Amaseffer and Ayreon in existence today, while also being stunningly original and creative. To say nothing of Ostura’s origin from the somewhat miniscule and infamous in the news country of Lebanon, never a locale known for its metal (to say nothing of prog) until now, yet prog luminaries ranging from Thomas Lang on drums to Arjen Lucassen and Marco Sfogli as lead guitarists contribute incredibly complex shades of light, dark and everything in between to this full-blown rock opera. Enormous, bombastic and epic, yet poignantly depicting the cycle of social isolation and inward self-searching to the cathartic point of giving up on hiding from real life and bravely facing the sorrows and joys of the real world, The Room is a unique anomaly even among its uniquely anomalous peers that will undoubtedly unfold countless sonic mysteries and delights for untold years to come.

Full Album

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