The Best Progressive Metal Album - Metal Storm Awards 2019


1.  Borknagar - True North 365
2.  Devin Townsend - Empath 235
3.  Evergrey - The Atlantic 157
4.  Cellar Darling - The Spell 65
5.  Darkwater - Human 36
6.  Dream Theater - Distance Over Time (write-in vote) 31
7.  Sermon - Birth Of The Marvellous 24
  Opeth - In Cauda Venenum (write-in vote) 24
9.  Avandra - Descender 22
  Moon Tooth - Crux 22
11.  Leprous - Pitfalls (write-in vote) 19
12.  Howling Sycamore - Seven Pathways To Annihilation 15
13.  Thank You Scientist - Terraformer (write-in vote) 10
  Tanagra - Meridiem 10
Total votes:
1079



There appears to be a barrier between fans of the old-school Dream Theater style of prog metal and those who ride the alternative and sometimes djenty wave of modern prog bands such as Caligula's Horse and Voyager. Avandra has so far been very successful in making us all dance together by bringing forth the technical proficiency and songwriting prowess of prog metal of yore into a very modern sonic environment. Guest solo spots by prog luminaries such as Richard Henshall (Haken) and Kevin Moore (ex-Dream Theater) fit into this album like a hook into an eye.

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What a better way to follow up your twentieth-anniversary album and half your lineup leaving than with the most heartfelt celebration yet of the lands you come from? True North is much more joyous than one would imagine an album about such an inhospitable place would be, but that is what makes it feel so much more authentic. You can clearly tell that everyone involved in it had a fucking blast making this; even at its harshest, True North shows its love for the true north. And it is with this love that Borknagar crafted this amazingly cohesive album with great flow, which still pushes some boundaries for the band even at this point.

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Cellar Darling got off to a promising start with 2016's This Is The Sound, but on The Spell they upped their game exponentially; the quirky, slightly creepy alt-rock of the debut twists and writhes into heavenly melodies shrouded in mystical darkness, making The Spell an entrancing and ineffable experience that is always one step ahead of you. Anna Murphy becomes a wilder vocalist with every new band she fronts, still utilizing her hurdy-gurdy skills alongside Merlin Sutter's and Ivo Henzi's pieces of the Eluveitie sound for the primordial folk angle, and her efforts to learn the flute just for the extra dimension it adds to Cellar Darling's sound have fully paid off. The trio made the jump from fresh start to masterpiece in only a single album.

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Darkwater appeared out of nowhere in the late 2000s, charmed every fan of melodic progressive metal, and disappeared after gracing us with two excellent albums. After almost a decade of absence, they decided that they had had enough of fans pestering them to return to the fold and gave us Human, an album truly worth the wait. Their well-known soaring melodies, playful solos, and strong choruses are still there, and it's a pleasure to hear Henrik Båth, one of progressive metal's most compelling voices, kicking ass on the mic again. Welcome back, boys. Back to waiting for Half Life 3 and The Winds Of Winter...

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Times change, people grow, and a new path opens up for Devin Townsend. His sudden retirement of the Devin Townsend Project moniker left fans waiting with bated breath to see what he would do next, and it turned out to be one of his most stunning, technical, free-spirited, and downright progressive musical masterpieces. Empath flows effortlessly between the richly affirmative "Spirits Will Collide," the luscious paradise of "Sprite," the portly choo-choo chug of "Borderlands," and the six-part epic "Singularity" - a collection of the most ambitious compositions Devin has ever attempted, with certain parallels to his past works but a clear distinction in place. Not the chaos of Deconstruction, nor the whimsy of Infinity, nor the unity of Transcendence: something wild, new, and inspired.

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Evergrey have always had an appetite for reaching lofty heights and covering a lot of ground, and this hunger has led them to great things; you'd be hard-pressed to find a progressive metal fan who doesn't love at least one Evergrey album, and bands influenced by them keep popping up. The big daddies of prog emotion return on schedule to show these youngsters how it's done, and their renewed vigor is very apparent and welcome. The ebb and flow of oceanic passion of The Atlantic has all the best qualities of the good, old Evergrey we all know and love.

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Howling Sycamore's debut seemed like one of the most bizarre experiments of 2018: the brutal musical maniac Hannes Grossmann and Ephel Duath's mastermind, Davide Tiso, teaming up for an album of progressive/avant-garde death-type metal, fronted by a clean vocalist - and not just any clean vocalist, but Jason McMaster of Watchtower, a genuine speed/thrash/power vocalist in the vein of AK Knutsen or Warrel Dane? Well, color us stupid, but it worked, and pretty darn well, and now Seven Pathways To Annihilation finds our intrepid trio learning how to complement each other's strengths while diving through extreme shifts in tempo and style. The most brazenly unorthodox aspects have been toned down, but Howling Sycamore remains a very singular force on the fringes of metal genre fusion.

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Crux finds Moon Tooth finally polishing their sound into this incredibly progressive blend of slightly sludge/stoner-ish rock with some actual rock swagger, where the progressive part is still the main component in how intricate each section fills without losing that vital punch. The vocals grab you instantly and take you along through the crunchy riffs and the slick solos, capturing memorable hooks despite the constantly shape-shifting melodies.

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Occupying the same nebulous territory between prog and alt metal as the likes of Tool and Wheel, Sermon are an anonymous one-man band, with the exception of Vader's James Stewart knocking it out of the park on drums. Beyond his fierce presence throughout the record, Birth Of The Marvellous is the work of an unknown individual with a soothing-yet-powerful voice, tonally somewhere between Katatonia's Jonas Renkse and Tool's Maynard Keenan, who is also capable of delivering intricate, twisting proggy songs with a powerful emotional core. Whether it's the soulful atmosphere of "The Drift", crunch of "Contrition", or elaborate grandeur of "The Preacher", Birth Of The Marvellous is filled with top-notch music from front to back, and serves as an emphatic introduction for Sermon.

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Book-ending your sophomore album with +10-minute epics is a bold move, but, mercifully, progressive power outfit Tanagra exhibit the chops and inspiration to pull off such a venture without falling short. Their sprawling, symphonic approach is nicely grounded by the restrained singing style of frontman Tom Socia, giving the various instrumental cameos from keyboards, lead and acoustic guitar, strings, and more ample opportunity to shine. The galloping power metal chugs offer momentum to the songs, but Tanagra have the patience to explore specific ideas to their maximum potential before moving on to new territory, in doing so justifying the extensive length of Meridiem and producing one of the finer prog/power efforts of recent years.

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