The Best Prog Albums of 2020

Top PROG Albums of 2020

This is a list compiled by one of our Facebook Group Members ‘Steven Karlsson’ who lives in Sweden. 

Steven really knows his music and is very passionate about Progressive music and has an extensive music collection. I am this will inspire Now Spinning Members to explore the bands listed below. There is so much good music out there at the moment! Phil Aston

Top 10 New PROG albums of 2020 (Ok there are 11, but we could not leave out Lunatic Soul) 

1. Vulkan (Sweden) – Technatura, Self released
It arrived pretty early in the year and I was not 100% sure what I thought about it the first couple of spins. After those initial spins it has grown and grown on me. For those that has never heard Vulkan they play a heavier form of prog. I usually liken them to Captain Beyond going all-out prog. Hope that gives you an idea.

The band went all in with this recording and it has everything from distorted guitars and heavy drums to cello, trumpet, hurdy gurdy and throat singing on it. Very well produced and a joy to listen to sonically. I seem to find new little details every time I listen to it.

This kicks off with the observation of modern obsession with social media and mobile phones in This Visual Hex where mix and placements of instruments makes for a perfect listen in headphones. Details like moving and changing the sound of the snare drum mid-song put the emphasis on the bass drum took me a couple of listens to notice. The guitar panning and the floating flute mid song is another lovely little thing that I find really cool. The album has these small interludes here and there (Hunter/Prey, Klagans Snara, Technatura) that are fantastic. Whether the band flirt with the tribal sounds of Deadsoul Tribe, like in the first half of Redemption Simulations, return to their love of waltzing like Captain Beyond (3/4 meter), in Bewildering Concept of Truth or beautiful dreamy swing with oriental influences in Marans Ritt they succeed to make it sound like Vulkan.

Of the 10 tracks with vocals, 7 have English lyrics and 3 have Swedish ones. Since Swedish is my native language, I love the idea, just like I prefer Italian bands to sing in their native tongue. Looks like it worked well for Opeth, so I hope Vulkan try an album with all lyrics in Swedish the next time. Speaking of vocals, Jimmy Lindblad has a great voice and a control over it. He almost whisper his way through the soft stuff like Rekviem and packs a real punch during the harder, edgier parts like This Visual Hex or The Madness Sees No End. These dynamics is another thing I appreciate with Technatura and the softer parts also have the effect to emphasize the heavier.

The 2LP version I have come in purple vinyl and has 3 remixes. These are now released digitally. The three songs that have been given a dj treatment are This Visual Hex, Blinding Ornaments and Spökskepp. The digital release called ‘Technatura remixes’ also includes the Bewildering Concept Of Truth. Maybe not for everybody but I think it’s a fun idea. That gives them a completely different context.

Another striking thing is the well thought out artwork of the album. For example, the triangle shapes on the cover returns on the record labels. What I’d loved to see is a booklet with lyrics or at least a lyrics sheet. This is the only little complaint I have.

Most important of all, this album grabs me to a point I don’t notice stuff around me while listening. Just like other ‘complete’ albums like Close To The Edge or Dark Side Of the Moon I have a hard time picking a favorite song on it but the opening track This Visual Hex is both a killer track and has very thoughtful lyrics. The video by Costin Chioreanu is also stunning. Check it out here:

Vulkan (Sweden) - Technatura, Self released Review

1.5. Lunatic Soul – Through The Shaded Woods, Inside Out

Oh my god! When I first wrote this list Mariusz Duda had not released his latest Lunatic Soul album and for some unknown reason, I have written up stuff on all other albums and NEVER reflected that I had not put this one on the list. How could I? This 1,5 position is my way to try to repair my mistake. Now I’m a big fan of Riverside, the band where we have found Duda for the last 17 years. I have thought his Lunatic Soul albums interesting but none of them have grabbed my attention was the Riverside albums.

Now, this is different! Duda have taken an even more acoustic approach then on prior albums and he has run with it. First, the music is more inspired by inherent acoustic Slavic and Scandinavian folk, then electronic or ambient music. When I say folk, do NOT think English or American folk.

This is proper old stuff reaching back to the 13th-14th century. Secondly, the melodies he has managed to create on this album is more captivating then on any Lunatic Soul album so far. There has been warmth on the other records but on this one it is an earthy warmth that lures you into the dark, green forest where the spirits dance. I also hear a lot of stuff we are used to hear in Riverside songs.

The Slavic and medieval rhythms on acoustic guitar combined with one basic older type of drum bring out that lovely primitive pagan feeling. The use of instruments that sounds like hurdy-gurdy, lyre and so on, adds to a roots feeling. Then suddenly a heavily distorted guitar is brought in to bring in darkness and weight. There is a section of The Passage where this is done to great effect. In other places, the use of voices and tribal-like drums, are used to bring in images of pagan rituals, like in Oblivion. At the end of the album, I’m really reminded of Riverside. Summoning Dance really feels like something that could have come from Love, Fear And The Time Machine. Lyrics wise

If you get the ‘deluxe edition’ CD you will get another 35min of music. Personally, I don’t think those three songs tie in that well with the rest of the album. They would have worked better as bonus tracks to Under A Fragmented Sky.

My personal favourite on the album? Another tricky one but probably The Passage. The prog fan in me also admire Summoning Dance a lot but there isn’t a weak point on this album.

lunatic Soul album review

2. Pain Of Salvation (Sweden)- Panther, Inside Out

Panther is another lovely packaged album. From the iconic “Panther in the mist” artwork and logo on the front, via the art leaflet to the unique record labels for each side of the double album. Now, is it a band album or a solo album by Daniel Gildenlöw? Well, the man is basically responsible for music, lyrics, arrangement and opinions (wink) in PoS so it might be hard to distinguish between them.

Again another solid PoS development and I love it! The album is still a grower on me but the one track that instantly got me hooked was Accelerator, with its nervous jumpy groove. It is the perfect illustration of a person with ADHD.

The lyrics also describe the problem of being the one with the diagnose. All that energy that must be released somehow but constantly being suppressed by people, “because you disturb the peace”. Gildenlöw was diagnosed as an adult, just a few years ago but has always felt like an outsider. The panther in a dogs world. There are other tracks with lyrics that seem to return to this theme. Restless Boy and the title track, for example. In other places like on Unfuture, Gildenlöw returns to a sound and songwriting that harks all the way back to One Hour By Concrete Lake.

Considering Daniel Gildenlöw plays about every instrument but the drums (those are of course the work of Leo Magarit) on this album, I miss some of the amazing harmony vocal Gildenlöw, Hallgren and Margarit can do and I do miss Johan Hallgren’s guitar. He plays one guitar solo on the song Icon but that is all. With all that complaining done it is still an amazing album that has taken two years to complete and it was probably an album Daniel had to create on mainly his own. If you are onto banjos, buy this record! Check out the video for Accelerator here:

Pain of Salvation - Panther Review

3. Amplifier (UK) – M/CR 18, Self Released

OK, I’m cheating a bit here coz: it’s a DVD and it’s a live album. I’m a sucker for this Manchurian space/prog rockband so any reason to get them on a list is a good reason for me. Blistering gig from their hometown Manchester, recorded in 2018. Blow your mind with this sample from the darker regions of space

4. Airbag (Norway) – A Day At The Beach, Karisma

I originally planned to write a bit more of the top three albums but since I stuff the Amplifier DVD on #3 I’m going to give this one some more words. This dreamy Norwegian band came in to my life almost 10 years ago. The Pink Floyd influences are there but mostly in the guitar of Björn Riis.

Most albums have been pretty similar but on A Day At The Beach something have happened. Björn Riis & Co have gone more electronic on this one. The keyboards lean more towards Tangerine Dream then Pink Floyd and play a more central role then on earlier albums. Maybe because they are down to a trio and lost their keyboardist and bass player.

To some extent, it’s also a heavier album. This is especially true for tracks like Machines And Men and Sunsets. The lyrics are also gloomier then ever. No wonder considering how the world looks…. Riis amazing, “Gilmourish” guitar work and Asle Tostrup’s lovely personal vocals make this another great musical experience.

5. Gazpacho (Norway) – Fireworker, Kscope

More Norwegian prog and even more if I label it Scandinavian
I’m not as familiar with Gazpacho as with Airbag so I can’t say it’s their best. It is the best one, I have heard so far. They have this same moody feel as Airbag but are more symphonic and grandiose. This is something that truly shows on the first track Space Cowboy where they even bring in a big choir.

6. Fish (Scotland) – Weltschmerz, Chocolate Frog Records

The Scottish poet goes out with a bang. Best I’ve heard from him in years. Maybe his best?
The title is surely apt in these days. As I type this Trump supporters are trying to storm the congress, UK is on lockdown again and Sweden is getting closer to our first. I just wonder where we are heading…..
I was late to the party so all LPs was sold out when I ordered. Second pressing due first half of 2021 according to his FB page. If you want this on vinyl make sure to follow Fish on Facebook.

7. Lykantropi (Sweden) – Tales To Be Told, Despotz Records

In 2019 they released their second album ‘Spirituosa’ and that one is PURE MAGIC. Folk, prog (light) and 70’s US west coast rock in a wonderful mix. Both male and female vocals. Nice harmonies and add the flute as cherry on top. I don’t know if they were in a bit of a hurry with this third album but it’s not really up Spirituosa. It’s not the sound that is changed but the songwriting isn’t as strong. Still, it’s a very good album if you are into this type of retro rock. Would have loved some more Swedish prose on it, like on Spirituosa. I love the mix of English and Swedish on the first two

8. pg.lost (Sweden) – Oscillate, Pelagic Records

I’m no big fan of instrumental post-rock. I’m no big fan of post-rock at all. However, these guys have managed to make something that oscillates with my frequency. It’s intense, it’s dynamic and it’s driving. I’m so proud that small district like Norrköping/Linköping have managed to produce so much great music in the last couple of years!

9. All Them Witches (USA) – Nothing As The Ideal, New West Records

Most of ATW’s albums are, imo uneven. Nothing As The Ideal keep me want to listen to the whole album and it grows on me. Pumping stoner and psychedelic rock mixes with Americana and some c&w tinges. A lovely trip!

10. Pure Reason Revolution (UK) – Eupnea, Inside Out

Jon Courtney and Chloe Alper re-united and sort of almost return to the spaced out dreamworld of The Dark Third. For me the magic don’t really happen on the same level as the debut. My anticipation for this new album was maybe a bit too high and the album should maybe be higher up on the list if I didn’t compare it to monster that is their debut The Dark Third. Am I affected by the appeal of my latest purchases compared to this? No, when I read through the list of nine albums above it, I think this is a fair placing.

Steven Karlsson – Now Spinning


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