Welcome to the big pain in the ass Top 50 of 2019 list! For those unfamiliar, this is my annual post where I put politics and label/band relationships aside. There may be a few weeks left this year, but I have received essentially all of the unreleased discs for the year I’m interested in. I encourage you to take your time with sampling all the music below. I guarantee you missed a few gems along the way. Feedback on the bands you discover is what makes this post worth the agony of putting it together. DISCLAIMER (UPDATED 2019): a.This list caters to my *personal* taste, not the full spectrum of metal genres nor every artist within a genre. Furthermore, I realize there are some major players and sacred cows missing that will send a few into seizures, piss some off and cause others to question my sanity. Somehow, I will survive. b. I do not rank albums based on pure musical instrumentation ability or sonic clarity alone. While I fully believe technical chops demonstrate musical superiority in many aspects, I also think it is just as hard to write a *good* hook that draws a listener back again and again. Furthermore, a passionate vocal delivery that adds emotional depth to poetic lyrics wins out over power/range every single time. c. There is no right or wrong to this list. Music is a subjective listening experience. My opinion is no more valid than yours if we are on opposite sides of the fence. I'm just fortunate enough to be in a position to have my thoughts read by many. d. I do not listen to every single release. If your favorite disc did not make the list, I may simply have not have it…OR I could have thought it sucked ass. e. Keep in mind a highly ranked disc in any specific genre may not make the list. For example, the 10th best power metal disc of the year is not there. It’s still a good record, but this is a Top 50 list, not a Top 63+ list. I make no secret of leaning towards Prog as well. f. I don't include EPs in the rankings. If every band on the list removed the bottom 5 songs of their full length release, then it would be a level playing field for all releases. g. You won't find poetry, scientific analysis, or epic thoughts here. You just need to know what they sound like before your ADHD ass sees a squirrel. Without further ado…. 50. Cloudkicker- Unending: The instrumental post-rock album of the year. There is absolutely no where this genre can go new so it's simply all about crafting the journey with atmosphere and mood. The music ebbs and flows as all good post-rock does, building to a crescendo before bringing you back down again. They do flirt with some metal riffing on occasion, but that just serves to ratchet up the intensity. 49. Spirit Adrift- Divided by Darkness: The "mainstream underground metal" (yeah…I know) media has proclaimed them the next big thing. They may be right. Old school metal fans will embrace the chugging and traditional riffing. Think Ozzy with a Grand Magus rhythm section putting a boot in his old, saggy ass. 48. Vikram- Behind the Mask I: A Brazilian band (that Milton has never mentioned once, wtf!) playing Oriental-tinged metal. Yup. Not exactly what you would expect given the state of the scene down South. While they bill themselves as Prog/Power, don't think Myrath beyond the keyboard and occasional orchestrations. This is down, dirty, and crunchy power. Morgana Lefay fans should be all over this. 47. Klone- Le Grand Voyage: All you brooding shoe-gazing fans can rejoice.. Klone have taken it to the next level; further into moody, atmospheric post-prog this time out. Think Anathema/Katatonia school of Prog. It's both intense and soothing at the same time. They add a bit more crescendo next time and they will join the elite. 46. Candlemass- The Door to Doom: Considering I'm not much of a doom fan at all, placement on this list indicates just how good this album is. My entire description is simply, "DOOOOOOOOMMM." Well, that, titties, and tentacles. 45. The Resonance Project- The Resonance Project: I don't know if I'm just getting old and jaded, but all the best new instrumental music is coming from the young guns these days. Instead of just shredding, they add a layered warmth to their sophisticated compositions. They both make it look so effortless on the video. 44. Noveria- Aequilibrium: Concept album from one of the few true Prog/Power hybrid bands on the list. The band does the heavy Symphony X/DGM school proud. The vocalist sings with a fire and fury that is missing from a lot of bands these days. Unfortunately, the big production drowns out my ability to hear his enunciation at times. Otherwise, this would have ranked higher. 43. Richard Henshall- The Cocoon: Solo album from the Haken guitarist that shows his creativity is off the chart when unleashed. While a couple of songs do sound like they belong on "The Mountain," the rest is dense, innovative, and a bit unexpected at times (e.g. "Lunar Room" sounds like a Prog poetry slam). 42. Wilderun- Veil of Imagination: Independent symphonic/folk/prog hybrid band that is starting to create some buzz with this release. Wintersun's folkier side and perhaps a bit of the old Opeth style come to mind. I will say it takes some serious balls to come out of the gate with a 15 minute opus full that only captures a snapshot of the styles found on the album. If you only want the growls, you are going to be disappointed as it goes on. 41. Horizon's End- Skeletal Keys: The music on this is off the damn charts! Fans of Circus Maximus, Shadow Gallery, and Dream Theater will be over the moon with its instrumental passages. It's that damn good. So why did this not rank higher considering how fucking awesome the music is? The vocals just aren't on that same level. He doesn't do a bad job by any means. It's just that the music is so elite that it overpowers him at times. Check out this epic 23 minute track: 40. Valis Ablaze- Render: Before I go further, I need to briefly explain what I consider "Next Gen Prog." It has a). ridiculously talented individuals playing complex music, b). some meaty & djenty, staccato riffing at times, c). vocals that make you think radio rock more than metal, d). some occasional growls to keep their street cred, e). the band barely looks like they are old enough to buy beer. Now you know what Valis Ablaze sounds like. Blind buy for fans of Time, the Valuator. 39. Xaon- Solipsis: Symphonic melodic death metal with a twist. Take the orchestral styling of Dimmu, add the wall of sound from Devin, and finally mix it all up with some ass-stomping, dirty riffing. Weird combo, eh? It works. 38. Majestica- Above the Sky: There have been a lot of quality power metal releases this year, but only a few that I kept on repeat. It's not that I don't enjoy the style any longer. It's just that the style doesn't allow for much variation of the formula. Thus, it's all about the actual songwriting. Tommy knows how to write ear worms with a catchy as hell hook. Reinxeed on steroids. 37.The Ferrymen- A New Evil: I consider this Magnus Karlsson's best stuff since the first two Allen/Lande albums. It's the exact same style he is known for; heavy & melodic mid-tempos with big-ass choruses. Ronnie's gritty voice lends itself perfectly to those choruses. This tune is one of my favorite "sing the shit out of it in the car" songs of the year. 36. Queensryche- The Verdict: The transition from Vest to Toddryche is truly complete now. While it has plenty of nods to their signature style, they have successfully evolved with a more modern sound. Hell, it's their best since Promised Land. 35. Borknagar- True North: Vintersorg is gone and he evidently took a lot of the older Bork attitude with him. Sure, it's still dark and heavy as hell in places, but the majority of the vocals are clean now. Those looking for a 60 minute blackened blast beat show need to move on and find another church to burn. 34. Mother of Millions- Artifacts: Greece is turning into quite the hotbed for Prog these days. With this release, the band has morphed into more of an alternative & emotive Katatonia. It is a quiet, emotional ride that builds with a slow-grinding, intense crescendo. You are emotionally drained after the trip. George gives his most powerful vocal performance to date. 33. Gloryhammer- Legends from Beyond the Galactic Terrorvortex: Yes, it's goofy as hell. Yes, it's cheesy as hell. And yes, it's fun as hell. It's Hammerfall for those that don't take life or themselves too seriously. 32. The Neal Morse Band- The Great Adventure: Honestly, I see this is as essentially a continuation of the previous album. While it stays rooted in feel good, "nice" Prog, the band does pull in a lot more influences (Beatles, for example) this go around. I would be remiss not to mention Eric Gillette's performance. He is fast becoming one of my favorite guitarists AND vocalists. As much as I respect and admire Neal, I'd honestly would not mind if Eric took over all the vocals. His song was my favorite on the entire album: 31. Sabaton- The Great War: When I crank a Sabaton album, all I'm looking for is to get the blood pumping and sing the shit out of some choruses. Mission accomplished. Battle won. 30. Avantasia- Moonglow: Let me just first say Millie from Kreator needs to be on every single album Avantasia album writes going forward. Every damn one. Between him, Hansi, and Jorn all on one track, I was down right giddy. Hell, I could have done just fine with them the rest of the way (although The Vest sounds great as well). I also must continue to proclaim my love of Meatloaf Tobias. He could do an entire album of that style and I'm all in. 29. Big Big Train- Grand Tour: If you need a bit of the classic Prog rock sound from the giants of the 70's in your diet (Genesis, Camel, etc), look no further. 28. Eluveite- Ategnatos: Despite their previous success and longevity, I truly believe the band is just now hitting their stride. Outside of Epica, they are the last remaining beauty and the beast bands that command your attention. Plus, I'm a sucker for anything with a Celtic vibe. 27. Edge of Reality- In Static: The runaway winner of the "Eclectic art" (aka "wtf") Prog disc of the year. Think Stolen Babies, Unexpect, DSO, Freak Kitchen, etc…and throw in some meaty modern Prog in the blender as well. It's one of those albums that is hard to classify if you only heard just one track. 26. Moron Police- A Boat on the Sea: True Warriors leave the hall for this one. Those with an open mind, quirky taste, and a sense of light-hearted humor will enjoy this weird pop/prog hybrid. It contains all sorts of influences from Elton John to Dave Matthews to...uh, Mr. Bungle? A warm and fuzzy listen for those that don't wear loin clothes or pocket protectors. I almost posted the song written from the point of view of your dog, but went with this one instead. 25. Jakub Zytecki- Nothing Lasts, Nothing's Lost: I truly believe a lot of the Next Gen guitar heroes like Plini, etc. owe more to Jakub than anyone. He was a trailblazer in his Disperse days and continues to lead the way here. I find his playing simply innovative, tasteful, and unique in a sea of wannabes. A couple of tunes (warning-pop style) have vocals, but this is all about his guitar. 24. Krokofant- Q: I make no secret of my love for jazz, so this avante-garde album hit me like a ton of bricks. It's a throwback to 70's prog/fusion (think Mahavishnu Orchestra) with improvisational instrumental fire. The sheer audacity of it as it brings to mind the free jazz movements of Coltrane and 70's Miles Davis. 23. Vanden Plas- The Ghost Experiment: Vanden Plas is the comfort food your Grandmother cooks up on the weekend. You are getting essentially the same music served up warm and melodic…and yet never tire of it. It's family. I do think Andy plays it a bit more safe this go around though. If you are a Vanden Plas fan and you criticize someone for loving AC/DC, shut the fuck up. 22. Obsidian Tide- Pillars of Creation: Prog death-metallers from Tel Aviv mix it up quite well with piano, flutes, violin, and even some sax interwoven throughout. It's a bit of Orphaned Land and a bit of Opeth. However, wienies should not be scared off because the clean to growl ratio is about an even 50/50 split. 21. Divided Multitude- Faceless Aggressor: With the addition of Jan Thore Griefstad (Saint Deamon) on vocals, Divided Multitude have delivered an album that should allow them to reach a wider audience with more exposure than they had previously. Essential buy for fans of Pagan's Mind and Anubis Gate. 20. Beast in Black- From Hell with Love: While they are commonly referred to as power metal, I just can't commit to that fully. I hear more of a heavy Bon Jovi, ABBA, and even Nightwish than I do Helloween or Hammerfall. Regardless, it's one of the catchiest albums this year. It's hard to believe this is the same Yannis that sang on the Until Rain albums. 19. Swallow the Sun- When a Shadow Is Forced into Light: The despair and pain on this is intense and palpable. However, it's taken to another level when you combine it with doom, death, and atmospheric metal. This was the perfect album for stormy nights this year. 18. The Dark Element- Songs the Night Sings: Remember when I said it’s just as hard to write a good hook as it is a good solo? Well, Jari knows how to right a damn good hook. So what if it's diabetes pop-metal with Anette-era Nightwish "bounce?" It's my "feel good" album I dance around the room with like no one is watching except my dogs. 17. M.I. God- Specters on Parade: This was the first true "who in the hell?" album that kicked my ass this year. Musically, it falls somewhere between Tomorrow's Eve and earlier Conception. The vocals also add to that vibe as he has the Khan vocal approach/tone down pat. Despite the cringe-worthy narrative tracks between all songs, this is still crunchy, melodic prog at its best. Just rip it and delete those interludes. 16. Arch Echo- You Won't Believe What Happens Next!: Perfect album title. Unrelenting, complex, and in your face instrumental prog metal that leaves you trying to catch your breath. This harkens back to the Liquid Tension Experiment days as you just can't keep up. I'm not sure which member is more insane on their instrument. 15. Unprocessed- Artificial Void: The best "Next Gen Prog" album of the year. They combine the modern vibes of The Contortionist, Periphery, and a even a bit of Polyphia. Slap bass for the motherfucking win! 14. Flotsam & Jetsam- The End of Chaos: For those that don't get out of the house, Flots are not a thrash band these days. Haven't been in a while. They are now more of a heavy, traditional metal band that pulls out a thrash riff on occasion to remind you of their roots. I appreciate this direction more and more because Eric's soaring vocals are better than ever. 13. Dream Theater- Distance Over Time: Quite the comeback after "The Astonishing Turd." In fact, it's their best in ages. Between "Pale Blue Dot" and "Barstool Warrior," I got exactly what I wanted from them. 12. Darkwater- Human: This may not be a popular opinion, but I see this album as pure 90's prog metal nostalgia. The kind that only a handful of bands continue to produce, but very seldom of this high quality. It's basically the type of prog that "ProgPower" was built on. It's why the old folks love it and the new folks find it "fresh" compared to all the Next Gen prog bands that dominate now. 11. Insomnium- Heart Like A Grave: Will the last good melodic death metal band remaining turn the light out on their way out the door? Thank you, Insomnium. 10. Voyager- Colours in the Sun: Voyager doesn't so much change their sound on this release, but they polish it and refine it to an exact musical science. It's the same hooks, synths, and 80's influence as Ghost Mile, but it just feels so much more damn smooth. That is a credit to their growth as songwriters. And for the record, I do love the "AAAaaaAaAAAAaaaaAaAa" tune. Metalsucks.net called it the love child of Periphery meets Depeche Mode. I can live with that. 9.Myrath- Shehili- Not going to even bother writing anything. Read this wonderful review from the best review site on the web: https://www.sonicperspectives.com/album-reviews/myrath-shehili/ 8. Thank You Scientist- Terraformer: This is how you pull of an amazing prog rock album with no keyboards. You jazz it up, mix in some musical irreverence, and add horns. Perfect! The heir to the Mars Volta/Coheed throne have delivered their best album yet. 7. Ray Alder- What the Water Wants: The absolute hands down shocker of the year...and I mean that in a good way. I had zero preconceived ideas and minimal expectations before it arrived. Furthermore, I was not much of an Engine fan. Ray's album borrows elements from both Fates & Redemption while adding a soulful, emotional wallop. The melodies are attuned perfectly to Ray's soulful voice now. I have to admit that with the festival end in site, "The Road" really hits me hard. 6. Blind Guardian Twilight Orchestra- Legacy of the Dark Lands: It took 20 years for Hansi to complete his orchestral epic, and all of a single day to polarize a good portion of their fan-base upon release. It has everything I love about BG with the huge, multi-Hansi layered choruses, the sweeping orchestral score, and the classical music feel given both the highs & lows. What it doesn't have is metal. None. Not even a single acoustic guitar lick. This bombast is 100% meant to be heard through your good speakers, not shitty streaming. Free the subwoofers and embrace this theatrical monster made for us nerds! 5. Artificial Language- Now We Sleep: America's answer to Caligula's Horse have kicked in the door with this one. This is elite modern prog that oozes warm melodies in buckets. If the band decides to play out, you will see them in Atlanta. 4. Liv Sin- Burning Sermons: The best head-banging & ass-kicking metal album of the year. Liv continues the Doro legacy and sounds like the most pissed off banshee in the business. Her performance is filled with a fury that borders on intimidation. There are zero fillers on this album. Enjoy this awesome neck-breaker of a song: 3. Devin Towsend- Empath: Is this release for everyone? No. Is it for me? Yes. It's abstract musical art that would make Salvador Dali jealous. I don't go in looking for something new or specific in an album from Devin. I just let him take me where his mind wants to wander off the beaten to fuck musical path. It's weird. It's wacky. It's infuriating. It's awe-inspiring. It's beautiful. It's euphoric. It's challenging. It's eccentric. It's simply wonderful. And then you get to the second track. 2. Soen- Lotus: If I went purely by play count, Soen would be number one this year. I had it on repeat forever when it first dropped. They have evolved from a Tool clone to an even darker, emotional powerhouse; evoking feelings of older Anathema, Riverside, Katatonia, and even Pink Floyd. What puts them over the top is that they simply know how to write a song. That's harder than it sounds. Ask Tool. 1. Evergrey- The Atlantic: I make no secret that Evergrey has been my favorite band over the past 20 years. Furthermore, the tall glass of Swedish mangina remains my favorite vocalist as well. The ending album of band's trilogy is their strongest work since "The Inner Circle." Tom's journey into his emotional hell only to return to redemption (*cough*fucking*cough*) is the epitome of what brings music alive for me. "Our heaven is dead" closes this chapter and leaves us with a blank slate for the wide open future. There is no telling where we are headed next, but I'm there for the ride til the end…even if we return to alien dick probing.