Brice Ezell of Pop Matters has selected his 10 Best Progressive Rock Albums of the 2000s and the list includes some familiar faces. See below for an extract about how Brice compiled the list as well as the Roadrunner artists who made the cut:
The following list is, I think, a fair snapshot of the decade’s quality prog releases. (One area I’m aware my list is lacking in is female prog musicians, which is an area I’m trying to expand my knowledge). Some will likely say that my appreciation of Steven Wilson-involved projects is much like the obsession with Radiohead that many critical magazines hold, and to some extent that is a fair comparison. He does appear on four out of the following ten albums, a considerable feat for any prog musician. I think, however, this is reflective of his skill as a multi-talented performer and producer, as well as his importance to progressive rock as a whole. In a sense, this list is not only a reflection of the many great efforts of progressive artists, but also a tribute to the the style’s most important musician of the last decade.
4. DREAM THEATER – Octavarium (2005)
Dream Theater has seen better days. The band released two of the ‘90s’ best prog albums, Images and Words(1992) and Metropolis Part 2: Scenes from a Memory (1999). With this last decade, the group released some great material early on, only to move into generic prog territory as the new millennium went on. But with this 2005 release, Dream Theater took a bold move in crafting an album that demonstrated not just ts prog skills but also its ability to play on other genres. The prog stuff is stronger than the other styles the group take on, but the latter experiments for the most part work. Sure, the U2-aping ballad “I Walk Beside You” is a little corny, but it’s catchy, and the beautiful piano work on “The Answer Lies Within” manages to overpower the song’s cheesy inspirational lyrics. All of that aside, only one cut is necessary to mention to establish this album’s greatness: the all-encompassing title track, a 24-minute tribute to all that progressive rock was and still is. Beginning with a Continuum solo by the always-excellent Jordan Rudess and ending with an orchestra backing what might be John Petrucci’s greatest guitar solo, the song is breathtaking. Never once in during its runtime does it ever lag or get boring; it’s captivating through and through. “Octavarium” is a titanic achievement not just for Dream Theater, but for progressive rock as a whole. If the song’s finale doesn’t send chills down your spine, listen again. They’ll be there.
Since the release of Blackwater Park,Opeth has put out five stellar recordings, each memorable in their own right. The band’s consistency is impressive: after ten studio albums, most artists will likely have taken a misstep somewhere. As a result of the group’s ongoing innovation and quality, it’s somewhat easy to forget the brilliance of its older recordings. This is but one reason why Blackwater Park remains the pinnacle of Opeth’s achievement; over ten years after its release, it still feels vital and unique. Most importantly, it’s the best the band has done in balancing the death metal so prevalent in its early work and the progressive rock that would flourish in their later LPs. Each track on the record is a great one, but one speaks to Blackwater Park’s excellence more than the others: the title track, a 12-minute masterpiece that weaves folk, powerful metal riffing, and some gorgeous jazz guitar together into an instant prog classic. The album concludes with the best lyric couplet of any prog album ever written: “Sick liaisons raised this monumental mark / The sun sets forever over Blackwater Park.” As the harshly growled lyric gives way to a gorgeous acoustic coda, it becomes clear why Opeth remain one of progressive metal’s greatest treasures.
1. PORCUPINE TREE – Fear of a Blank Planet (2007)
While it is Porcupine Tree’s best album of the Aughts, the Public Enemy-referencing Fear of a Blank Planet is not its most important. That title belongs to 2002’s breakout album In Absentia, which changed the sonic direction of the group for the rest of the decade. The straightforward prog rock of Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun was now being joined by prog metal stylistics (no doubt influenced by Steven Wilson’s involvement with the recording of Blackwater Park) and electronic elements. But while In Absentia may have been the game changer for the band, Fear of a Blank Planet reveals how Porcupine Tree perfected its game. Like many prog rock LPs it’s a concept record, but it’s never clich