Not only did 2018 bring us the genesis of The Progress Report itself, but also myriad excellent new albums to bring into our listening rotation. We saw some new looks for some old favorites, and much maturation even amongst acts that have been around for more than a decade. Thankfully, there are still new avenues to explore in this, the most dynamic genre of music. With that in mind, let’s take a moment to reminisce about this year’s greatest offerings with my top five albums of 2018.
5. BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME – Automata
For simplicity sake, let’s count these two releases as what it is, one double album. Neither half feels complete without the other, but the whole package is nothing but consistently entertaining prog. This is my favorite BTBAM material since Parallax, full of all the goofiness, intensity, and beauty that makes the band great.
4. HAKEN – Vector
This was the surprise album of the year, for me. Haken is more of a traditional prog metal band than I usually prefer, with elements reminiscent of bands like Rush and Dream Theater, but this newest release feels more modern and polished. There are still a lot of long, self-indulgent passages on the album, but everything works. “Puzzle Box” is still a contender for favorite track of the year.
3. SLUGDGE – Esoteric Malacology
Pure slimy entertainment. You can’t bugdge this one from my top 5. Slugdge bring a lot more death metal to the table than the rest of the bands featured on this list, and it always feels a step above. The lyrics are delightful in their epicness and the riffing follows suit. This band strikes the perfect balance of excellent, technical music and comedy, purposefully taking the themes of giant, omnipotent slug overlords completely seriously and never breaking character. “Crop Killer” is one of the best death metal tracks I’ve ever heard.
2. RIVERS OF NIHIL – Where Owls Know My Name
This album speaks directly to me as a fan of progressive music. Admittedly, it’s less technical than RoN’s previous releases, and that’s okay by me so long as they elevate the other elements, which they have, beyond my expectations. I’m glued to every moment of this album. The riffs are engaging, and I love the use of jazzy horns and dense layers to bring us new, evocative, yet oddly familiar sounds. WOKMN wins the award for most spins this year.
1. THE OCEAN (COLLECTIVE) – Phanerezoic I: Palaeozoic
With much less time to process it, I hesitated to catapult this one all the way to the top spot, but it’s just so damn inspired. I think it’s the best work of The Ocean’s catalog, which is saying something. This concept album has an undeniable story arch that begs to be heard from start to finish. “Permian: The Great Dying” remains the only track to give me goosebumps over multiple listens, and on that alone, this album deserves the top spot. It won’t be for everyone, but it will be special for those whom it speaks to—and this is just part one of two. Time will tell if the second half takes the title for 2020. Can’t wait.
That’s it for 2018. It was a god-awful year in general, but hey, at least we got some decent tunes out of the deal. Let me know what I missed, and where I’m wrong. Here’s to better things from 2019. May all your listening dreams come true, and happy new year!