Proghurst’s Best Albums From 2023
And so another year passes us by…
Proghurst has been hard at work this year on all facets of writing, covering more live shows than ever with 60 articles published overall. We’ve been working more closely with record labels and PR firms to get the early scoop on new releases as they come out, getting high-quality photoshoots of live shows, and having numerous articles go viral beyond my original outset for the site.
We’ve also continued on with ‘The Metal Head’ podcast which has now transformed into what can only be described as a prog catch-up show featuring news, album reviews, and festival lineup updates hosted by Proghurst founder Grace Hayhurst, and Notes Reviews of YouTube fame.
It’s made me incredibly happy to see the site grow, and hopefully, as 2024 progresses, it shall continue to do so with plenty of cutting-edge coverage, hot takes, and glossy photographers planned for the horizon.
But before we close off 2023, our most successful year yet, we must take a step back and take a look at some of the writing team’s favourite records from the last year, as is tradition with any music-reviewing website.
So thank YOU once more for reading along with us, and I shall look forward to seeing you again in the coming year as we continue to cover the latest, and greatest, in the progressive music scene.
Jason’s album of the year: Riverside – ID.Entity
This album was highly anticipated by me for a couple of reasons. The first was that it had been the longest stretch in between studio albums for Riverside ever at 1,575 days following the 2018 release of Wasteland. The second was that it was the first album that featured guitarist Maciej Meller as an official member of the band after he provided guitar solo work on the Wasteland album, as well as being a touring member for Riverside following the tragic death of the band’s original guitarist Piotr Grudziński.
The album was delivered in full on January 20th, 2023 and it did not disappoint. The first single Friend Or Foe combined a bit of nostalgia with an ’80s a-Ha sound mixed with Riverside‘s established powerful prog sound making it the song that got the most plays from me for the year. Adding to the appeal of the album was the rollercoaster ride of its second track Landmine Blast going from an intense riff-centric beginning to a more tender piano vamp breakdown section at the song’s midsection.
The album’s fifth track titled The Place Where I Belong provided the expected Prog epic track with many unique sections to it. Finally, the last track titled Self-Aware provided the album’s catchiest riff along with vocal call-and-answer sections that are too tempting to resist singing along to. Ultimately, the album was a satisfying omen that one of my favourite bands would carry on with new members and pick up right where they left off producing great tracks.
Joe’s album of the year: Knower – Knower Forever
Knower Forever is a breath of fresh air for me as it does not fall under the category of music that I would typically listen to. It is a masterpiece of modern pop, meshed with a ton of other genres like jazz, funk and soul. The album radiates creativity in a nonconventional way, but the true genius of Knower Forever lies in its lyrical depth.
Beneath the shimmering surface, Artadi’s words ponder life’s big questions, from the nature of reality to the meaning of death. Whilst playful on the surface, the lyrics linger long after the music fades, leaving you pondering the universe’s mysteries with a smile. Layered with Cole’s brilliance in writing ethereal melodies, unexpected chord progressions and nasty face-melting grooves.
Each song is a journey of its own and joining the duo is a list of highly talented musicians featured on each song, who bring this record to its full potential – from a choir to an in-house orchestra, a saxophone and various other instruments.
The production is crispy clean despite being recorded in a house, the musicianship is through the roof and the overall experience is stellar.
It is challenging to pick a favourite song from this album but my most notable moments were It’s All Nothing Until It’s Everything, The Abyss and Do Hot Girls Like Chords?
Sebastian’s album of the year: Finsterforst – Jenseits
This is more of a mini-album than a full LP, as it contains only one song, but at an insane length of 39 minutes, containing some of the most epic metal I know of.
This particular release has been on my watchlist long before this year started. Initially crowdfunded through Kickstarter in 2021 (of which I was a backer), but then subsequently postponed multiple times until it finally saw the light of day in 2023. After such a long wait, it’s only natural that the expectations become shaky. Will it be worth the wait?
Yes. The answer is a resounding yes. This was not my pick for my AOTY initially, but I’ve just come to appreciate the importance of time: don’t rush it. If your material is good, you will appreciate every extra day you can polish it.
Grace’s album of the year: Temic – Terror Management Theory
A late comer in the year, but something I’ve been anticipating for a long time. I originally fell in love with Haken with the release of the Affinity album in 2016. Packed full of quirky sound design, big 80s synths, as well as techno-inspired dubstep, this record stuck with me as a combination of everything I loved in music, given that in the early 2010s I was big into artists like deadmau5, Infected Mushroom, and Approaching Nirvana, Affinity simply was a perfect musical combination for me that I’ve not seen elsewhere since.
However in the meantime, Diego Tejeida left Haken and started a new brand new project with some other musicians that I’m an equally huge fan of. Eric Gillette is a stunning guitarist having collaborated on countless records with Neal Morse and Mike Portnoy over the years, and an incredible live player too. Combine that with the drums of Simen Sandnes, and the vocals of Fredrik Klemp, as well as the session bass of Jacob Umansky, you are left with Temic.
The debut album Terror Management Theory is packed with high-energy tracks, emotive vocals, and all of the standard tropes of a heavy progressive metal record. Some may view that as a negative, but I’d wholeheartedly disagree. The fusion between EDM and Metal is executed to perfection here gelling together my two all-time musical loves. And that’s before we get to the tightness of the riffs, the creativity of the sound design, and Fredrik’s incredible pipes that become almost operatic at times with their staying power.
I’m incredibly curious to see what happens next with Temic as this is the beginning, with rumblings of a tour announcement to come in 2024. An incredible start, to hopefully an incredible career.
Luca’s album of the year: Alien Tango – Kinda Happy, Kinda Sad
This is the debut album from the Spanish independent progressive pop artist Alien Tango, and it’s brilliant.
I first discovered the guy back in 2020 with his EP, Isla Bonita and I was into its creative production and songwriting. And now this year we finally got his debut and it takes everything I enjoyed about that EP and improves on it further. In addition to being really creative sonically and compositionally, his sense of melody has stepped up leading to a ton of infectious songs in the process.
If you want something different and obscure in the world of prog-pop, then don’t miss out on this album. Well worth a listen.
Erica’s album of the year: Sleep Token – Take Me Back to Eden
Having previously been a Sleep Token sceptic, 2023 has been the year where the band won me over. I bought a ticket to see their January tour on the strength of The Summoning alone. At the time it wasn’t clear quite how big they were going to become as the year progressed but it was certainly an impressive show in both performance and the growth in attendance from their last UK shows.
The full album was finally released four months later, and any doubts I had about the current trend of releasing half of an album as singles were quickly dispelled. Many of the previously unreleased tracks are even better than the singles, but more importantly, the full album experience is a varied yet cohesive package that no other release has quite matched this year.
Things came full circle in July when I saw the band play live once again at Radar Festival, having now become much more familiar with their full catalogue and feeling incredibly excited to see where the band goes from here.
Anthony’s album of the year: Avenged Sevenfold – Life is But a Dream…
2023 was a year with a lot of amazing albums. I don’t know that I could definitively settle on an album of the year (it’s a toss-up between Closure in Moscow, Dødheimsgard and this here pick). I feel that of the three, however, this is the most worthy of discussion for the fundamental message it sends.
What A7X have crafted with their latest effort is an almost complete eschewing of accessible ideals while still integrating hooks and catchy vocal melodies. There’s an underlying complexity here that demands your attention. It’s a fascinating evolution of a band that, a decade prior, released a barebones commercial record that sure enough gave them arena band status.
In discussing this record, vocalist M. Shadows states: “We don’t want to be that band that keeps trying to capture their heyday in a bottle. I’m not going to be like Prince or Bob Dylan and say fuck the hits – but I don’t want to be stuck in that era.”
It’s a deeply respectable attitude from a band that has achieved so much in a commercial space and so, so well showcased by this record. It took me a bit to get it, but I’m so glad I gave it the time it required. May this inspire you to do the same.