With another year behind us, here is another annual “best of” list. Before we get to the actual list, a couple of comments are in order: 1) While I enjoy many sub-genres of metal and rock, I am a card carrying member of the progressive metal faith, so my list does lean in that direction. And, actually 2016 many even be the most proggy list I have compiled in years. 2) These are my favorite albums of 2016 (plus a few from previous years that I discovered in 2016). There are other great albums that I have listened to, but they just didn’t make this favorite list. 3) Lastly, most of the members of the bands listed below don’t make a living through their musical passion. So, please support the bands that you enjoy by buying their music and merchandise, going to see them live, and participating in KickStarters or the equivalent. Advertisement over. So, here is my #1 favorite release of 2016: 1) Thank You Scientist – Stranger Heads Prevail, USA: If I were forced to categorize TYS is would be 50% metal, 25% jazz, and 25% pop. The jazz comes from brass and strings, and the pop comes from Sal Marrano’s slick vocals. This craziness mixes seamlessly with the metal guitar, bass, and drums to create a super tight, complex, and appealing masterpiece. Tom Monda pulls off some truly amazing solos including a few of the fretless variety. These guys have musical chops out the wazoo. Psychopomp is my favorite song and demonstrates the genius, talent, intelligence, and madness that I have come to love in this band. 2) Haken – Affinity, UK: Haken were already the new darlings of the progressive music world prior to the release of Affinity. While I enjoyed their music prior to Affinity, they seemed a little too clinical for me to completely embrace; however, with Affinity I am totally sold. Two things really clicked for me on Affinity: one being the tightness of the rhythms, which the end of the song 1985 exemplifies, and the second being an overall stronger emotion connection. 3) Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone, UK: With talent like Threshold’s Damian Wilson and Rick Wakeman’s son Adam, Headspace deliver a platter of prog eclectic goodies. From the heaviness of Road to Supremacy to the bluesy Polluted Alcohol to the whimsical The Element to the Rush inspired The Science Within Us, Headspace radiates musical diversity that is rarely seen these days. Even better, it all fits together like pieces of a gorgeous puzzle. 4) Redemption – The Art of Loss, USA: Redemption can simply do no wrong by me. They corner the prog metal market for combining butt-kicking heaviness, wild shredding, and mature emotionally drenched songs. Hope Dies Last will probably be the most enduring of this great collection of songs. The album ends brilliantly with the next-to-last piece being an excellent cover of The Who’s Love Reign O’er Me and finally with a 22-minute prog metal opus monster At Day’s End. 5) Imminent Sonic Destruction – Triumphia, USA: ISD return with their second slab of epic, doom-laden progressive metal. There is an edginess to their music that really appeals to me. The Fog is one of the best songs of 2016. I also love the accompanying campy video that would make John Carpenter smile. Countering the heaviness of their music, the video captures a twisted sense of humor that seems to flow in the veins of this band of Michigan wild men. Oh yea, these guys can really play too! 6) Circus Maximus – Havoc, Norway: Havoc is an excellent extension to CM’s last and great album Nine. Melody always takes front middle stage with their music. Chivalry is my favorite song of 2016 and my favorite CM song of all time. It includes plenty to tug at the heart and yet lots of opportunity to rock out with a riff that they are not afraid to keep going after. 7) Dream Theater – The Astonishing, US and Canada: At over 2 hours of concept driven music, The Astonishing promised to be a lot to swallow. On top of this, DT abandon their signature extended instrumental bombast for a much more song-based approach, leaving some to decry the effort as not very adventurous. After admittedly giving the Astonishing an effort that lesser named bands would not have gotten, I conclude that this is, in fact, brilliantly adventurous simply because they dared to leave their comfort zone, and more importantly they pull it off quite well. I certainly would not place it up there with Images and Words or Metropolis II, but it is still a great release. 8) In the Presence of Wolves – Thalassas, USA: Ok, this is actually a 2014 release, but it is so darn good I had to include it. I found out about this terrific band of young proggy New Jersey rockers at the annual 2016 Prog Day festival. While I would definitely include them under the progressive metal banner, their music seems to come as much from the gut as from the head. While they have plenty of musical ability, writing cool and interesting songs always comes first. The three-part title track Palladium is a real treat. 9) The New Black – A Monster’s Life, Germany: After the deluge of prog above, comes The New Black’s album has nothing to offer but excellent straight ahead metal. Excellent production and catchy song writing is what A Monster’s Life is all about. Give it a chance and you will be hooked. 10) Blind Ego – Liquid, Germany: This solo album by RPWL’s talented guitarist, Kalle Wallner, offers warm prog with a kick, and excellent production and song writing. Far from a show-off instrumental album, the album features wonderful vocals and lyrics that should appeal beyond the prog and metal genre fans. 11) Southern Empire – Southern Empire, Australia: SE wear 80’s prog music on their sleeves. Formed by Unitopia’s keyboardist, Sean Timms, the music on SE features lots of melody and keyboards, and absolutely no fear of extended compositions. Even though almost every song on the album is over 7 minutes, the quality is so high that nothing ever seems to drag. Think “Toto meets Yes” and you will be pretty close to know what to expect. 12) Evergrey – The Storm Within, Sweden: Evergrey maintains the same high standard they set with their last two excellent albums. The really cool thing is that they have grown both in melody and heaviness, making this a very easy album to embrace. Emotional connection always take the foreground with Tom Englund’s wonderfully tortured vocals. 13) Standing Ovation – Gravity Beats Nuclear, Finland: This 2015 release caught this amateur physicist’s attention with the title. SO is certainly a quirky band (see the video – not for the squeamish!) that lives up to this title. While gravity is normally thought of as the weakest of nature’s forces it can in specific instances (black holes for example) overcome nuclear forces. Like Hawking radiation SO finds a quantum mechanical trick to evaporate even black holes. (Sorry for all the nerding out.) SO deserves more attention. 14) Fates Warning – Theories of Flight, USA: Ray Alder’s makes his second contribution to this list with Fates Warning’s best album in years. With more muscle than their early 2000’s albums and more focus on melody, this could be FW best album since Parallels. 15) The Neal Morse Band – Similitude of a Dream, USA: Neal and team return with what is the strongest pure prog rock album on this list. Even though this a double album, I find it easy to get into and its depth means that you will continue to discover new sounds with repeated listening. The lyrics continue with spiritual themes of previous NMB albums. This music also demonstrates the tremendous musical dexterity of Michael Portnoy’s drumming. 16) Myrath – Legacy, Tunisia: Myrath continue to build a solid following. While exhibiting middle eastern influences, they never overplay their hand and distract from the power metal foundation and foot tapping catchiness that has brought them success to this point. 17) Konchordat – Rise to the Order, UK: Konchordat play inspired progressive metal with clear classic rock roots. Many of the tracks feature interesting riffs, excellent extended solos, and earthy vocals. This is very listenable material for Deep Purple and Uriah Heep fans. 18) Oceans of Slumber – Winter, US: Combining subtly and aggressiveness is OoS’s forte’. This is no beauty and beast symphonic subgenre, rather dreamy passages with lush female vocals are intermixed with doom riffage and rough male vocals. Cammie Gilbert is a brilliant vocalist with tons of potential. 19) Lords of Black – II, Spain: With a voice that reminds metal fans of Ronnie James Dio, it is no wonder that Ritchie Blackmore tagged Lords of Black’s Ronnie Romero for his Rainbow shows in Europe. While Romero may get the initial attention, the Lords of Black are a terrific band in their own right although they don’t mind the Rainbow comparisons in style and even cover the classic Lady of the Lake as a bonus track. 20) Sunburst – Fragments of Creation, Greece: Khan!!!! I shout that not for my love of Star Trek, but for my love of the former singer for Kamelot. Yes indeed, this Greek band has found Roy Khan’s clone in Vasilis Georgiou. OK, they have the vocals nailed, but what about the rest of the band? Well, that is nailed too with first-rate chunky and shred guitar, terrific rhythm section, and writing that could take this band to the top of the prog power hybrid genre. 21) Avantasia – Ghostlights, Germany/Various: If you are unfamiliar with Avantasia but you like the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, you should definitely give Ghostlights a try. With the same TSO rock-opera-with-big-name-guest-stars formula, Tobias Sammet’s Avantasia may actually be better. This time around Dee Snider, Geoff Tate, and Bruce Kulick are among the famed contributors. 22) Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence, Canada: I haven’t always been a DTP convert, but Prog Power this year convinced me that there is indeed brilliance here. “Bombast with a soul” is how I would describe DTP’s latest release. Apparently, Devin truly made this a band project by encouraging more contribution in the writing process from each member. The result may be DTP’s best album ever. 23) Mob Rules– Tales from Beyond, Germany: This is one of the best Iron Maiden albums never made by Iron Maiden. I mean that in only the most positive way possible. In fact, this may be better than some of IM’s albums! I particularly like the 3-part title track which provides that proggy edge that IM was more than willing to approach. 24) Withem – The Unforgiving Road, Norway: The first Withem album was good, but The Unforgiving Road is even better. First and foremost, the music is punchier and chunkier, giving a real nice groove to synch your brain to and prepare for the lush vocal melodies. Overall, they have taken their song writing to next level. 25) Mercury Falling – Introspection, Germany: Power metal done with brains is how I would describe Mercury Falling’s music. Huge choruses are everywhere to pull you in and get you hooked. For my progressive tastes, Mercury Falls are more than willing to mix things up compositionally and add interesting instrumental breaks, but never to the point that should alienate power metal purists. 26) Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest, Various: I am a huge fan of Darkwater’s Henrik Bath, so I was drawn to this project. My interest was paid off with a well-performed and creative album masterminded by Michael Alexander. Besides Bath and the talented Elina Laivera, guests include Nils Rue, Charlie Dominici, and Mark Jansen. 27) Poverty’s No Crime – Spiral of Fear, Germany: I feared that these guys had called it quits, because it has been years since their last release, but Spiral of Fear sees this great band returning with their brand of warm and smart prog metal. This appeals to me in so many ways. If anything their playing has only gotten more technical and adventurous with time. 28) The Erkonauts – I Did Something Bad, Switzerland: These guys can create more wild abandon than a stampeding herd of bison. The Erkonauts are definitely on the boundary of what this classic rocker will digest, but their energy is contagious. While the attached song exhibits this energy, it is the inclusion of a David Gilmour inspired break at the end that is a stroke of brilliance. 29) Odin’s Court – Deathanity, USA: I usually wouldn’t include a re-recorded album on my annual list and it would be higher on my list if it were an original recording, but Odin’s Court’s Deathanity is so good that I feel justified in this breach of protocol. Added for this recording, Dimetrius LaFlavors’ silky smooth vocals are an extra treat for this possibly most progressive of the Odin’s Court back catalog. Matt Brookins and Rick Pierpont add their trademark punchy riffs and dueling solo craziness. 30) Assignment – Closing the Circle, Germany/Argentina: Assignment is an epic power metal band that has upped their game by snaring Helker’s hugely talented singer, Diego Valdez. All the power metal traits are here with machine gun riffs, screaming solos, and massive choruses. Valdez may steal the show here, but this is an excellent band-oriented release. 31) Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges, US: Chris Quirarte, drummer for Redemption and Prymary, brings us a solo album that show him as a very capable multi-talented musician, playing keyboards and singing. Even more impressive, he bears his soul in his music to bring us a very personal album about reconciliation. Guess guitarists include bandmates Nick Van Dyk, Sean Entrikin, and Bernie Versailles. 32) DGM – The Passage, Italy: DGM return with another terrific album of high energy and complex uplifting tunes. Simone Mularoni and Emanuelle Casali continue to amaze with their dueling guitar and keyboard flourishes. Even with such dense and accomplished playing, Mark Basile’s vocals and choruses still shine through. 33) Pain – Coming Home, Norway: I am not usually into industrial metal, but Norway’s Pain is an exception. They merge their bleak aggressiveness, but basic, style with catchy rhythms and choruses. Their use of clever backing orchestration also helps to lift their music for a broader appeal. 34) Delain – Moonbathers, The Netherlands: If the good-looking girl next door could sing in a progressive metal band, she would look and sound like Charlotte Wessels. This is definitely true, but to write-off Delain with such a one-dimensional description would be doing you and them an injustice. Delain writes terrific songs with punchy music that is beautifully complemented by Charlotte’s sweet vocal melodies. Very infectious! 35) Katatonia – The Fall of Hearts, Sweden: Katatonia return with another fine album of moody doom prog metal. Katatonia is all about the “song” and never about flashy musicianship, preferring to traumatize you with atmospheric melancholy, smooth vocals and intelligent lyrics. 36) Wolverine – Machina Viva, Sweden: Formally a death metal band, Wolverine now continue to serve up their beautifully smooth gut-wrenching melancholy with another strong release. Be sure to have a box of tissue nearby, because this is really heavy stuff in the emotional sense. 37) Poem – Skein Syndrome, Greece: Classifiable as both progressive and alternative metal, Poem deliver an excellent sophomore effort. Urgent and compelling are good descriptions for their music. After being chosen as an opening act for numerous major outfits, like Ozzy Osbourne and Opeth, Poem seems to be on their way to considerable success. 38) Pareidolia – Denied Truths, US: This new band from New York seems to possess all the ingredients for success including blindly fast guitar riffs and solos, polished vocals, and strong song writing. Their formula should have appeal to a much broader audience than my normal prog power community. 39) Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary, Sweden: I typically have little tolerance for a lot of growling, but Witherscape, a project by Dan Swano, is an exception. The reason I can dig it is that Swano really does put the melody into the moniker “melodic death”. To focus the discussion only on the vocals though would be doing a huge disservice to the excellent, powerful, and at times doomy music and orchestration. 40) Cirrha Niva – Out of the Freakshow, The Netherlands: Following up their brilliant release For Moments Never Done was going to be a challenge. In truth, CN didn’t quite get to that same lofty height, but Out of the Freakshow is still a great album. With this latest release, CN still deliver their edgy brand of music with a tinge of sleaze.