Have You Heard? The Best Progressive Metal Albums of the Last 20 Years

As one of earliest heavy metal subgenres, Progressive Metal has had a lot of time to grow, expand, and become even more progressive. Spawning in the early 1980s with bands like Queensryche, Fates Warning, and King’s X, the genre has become one of the largest and most varied forms of music. However, within the past twenty years there have been plenty of the of different albums – all offering something different than the last. Here, Uncanny Metal takes a look at some of the best Progressive Metal albums that have been released from the past twenty years.


Opeth – Blackwater Park
Music for Nations, 2001

The Swedish band’s fifth studio album, Opeth’s Blackwater Park became a pivotal change of sound for the band. While 1999’s Still Life may be still considered the album with a shift in style, it’s with Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson mix/production on Blackwater Park that really added a sense of progressiveness to Opeth. With their following albums, Opeth style continued to evolve with its progressive and death metal tendencies. Standing back and looking upon the entire discography, Blackwater Park was ultimately considered the tonal shift for the bands future releases.



Tool – Lateralus
Volcano, 2001

Progressive metal and the mainstream never came so close to greatness as it did with the ringing bass lines to Tool’s hit single Schism. While previous albums were also progressive, Lateralus turned progressive metal even more popular and threw the already well-established band further into the limelight. While it was years later for 10,000 Days and Fear Inoculum to eventually see the light of day, Lateralus was the pivotal moment for music fans to unite globally.



Devin Townsend – Terria
HevyDevy Records, 2001

After having worked with Steve Vai and establishing Strapping Young Lad with an outburst of extreme metal, Devin Townsend’s Terria – while probably not everyone’s favourite release, features some of the most intricate atmospheres from Devin’s signature “wall of sound.” A personal concept album and tackling mental health before the movement was in the mainstream, the ebbs and flows of Terria are astonishing with songs still resonating in relevance today.



Green Carnation – Light of Day, Dark of Darkness
The End Records, 2001

Another album with a personal story, ex-Emperor bassist Tchort founded Green Carnation in the early nineties. With their second album, LoDDoD became not only one of the longest songs in the genre of heavy metal, but is also critically acclaimed among metal fans. Crafting an hours worth of music and interlinking it together to unfold a story of both tragedy and life, Green Carnation’s epic stands out as a musical achievement for those who let themselves become encompassed by the grand scope of the song.



Ayreon – The Human Equation
InsideOut, 2004

After multiple science-fiction concept albums, Arjen Lucassen decided to try something a bit different and delve into the human mind. With multiple singers performing as different feelings such as Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt as Fear, Mostly Autumn’s Heather Findlay as Love, and Devin Townsend as Rage, they battle within the mind of the character “Me” (by Dream Theater’s James LaBrie). The album not only tells a story, but actually features incredible twists and turns of regression, infidelity, and coming to the understanding of one’s self.



Shadow Gallery – Room V
InsideOut, 2005

The prog power band Shadow Gallery released their Operation: Mindcrime-esque concept album Tyranny in 1998, only to finish the cliffhanger of a story in 2005. While the concept may feel overdone now, the story and impact comes with a familiar X-Files vibe, with espionage and mystery surrounding almost every song. With impressive songwriting skills and the underrated Gary Wehrkamp on guitars, Room V stands out as a brilliant performance – especially from lead singer Mike Baker who passed away shortly after the album’s release.



Porcupine Tree – Fear of a Blank Planet
Roadrunner, 2007

The last-great Porcupine Tree album, Fear of a Blank Planet is more progressive rock than it is metal – but it’s still hard to not find yourself headbanging along most of the tracks. With the gorgeous, near-twenty minute epic, Anesthetize, to the seductively heavy final track Sleep Together, Porcupine Tree’s theme on reflecting the exploitation and commercialization of drugs and its impact on the human mind, its deep and thought-provoking while still providing incredible music.



Symphony X – Paradise Lost
InsideOut, 2007

While 2002’s The Odyssey could also be on this list, it’s with Paradise Lost that Symphony X really gained their stride. After a five drought after The Odyssey – which ultimately suffers a bit from production issues – Paradise Lost comes in slamming hard and with some of the juiciest riffs from guitarist Michael Romeo. Every song features standout moments from each musician and the album just keeps hitting. Prog/power often gets a mixed reputation due to the power metal elements sometimes overtaking the progressive ones. With Paradise Lost, Symphony X nails that perfect blend with their songwriting.



Haken – The Mountain
InsideOut, 2013

With their breakout third album, Haken’s The Mountain brilliantly constructs the 70s progressive sound in a modern time, almost coming across like a modern day Close to the Edge from Yes. With heavy influences from bands like Dream Theater, the album never really becomes too technical to the point of becoming overbearing. It’s tame yet still manages to impress on every aspect with melodies and vocal harmonies that will forever stick in your mind.



Fates Warning – Darkness in a Different Light
InsideOut, 2013

After 2004’s album FWX, Fates Warning took some time off and reconstructed themselves for an impressive “debut” so to speak. With Bobby Jarzombek on drums, the album felt like a modern re-imagining of 90s albums, Perfect Symmetry or Parallels. With songs appearing straight-forward, their time-signature twists and turns from each song come across as natural, if not subtle. Ray Alder still sounding as great as ever, Fates Warning came back with a bang and have a new album coming out in the Fall of 2020.



Pain of Salvation – In the Passing Light of Day
InsideOut, 2017

Given the lineup changes over the years, Pain of Salvation’s sound had evolved slightly while still keeping their operatic and Andrew Lloyd Weber influence. With new blood in Icelandic songwriter Ragnar Zolberg, In The Passing Light of Day took the album to new heights which the band had never achieved in their 20+ year lifespan. The autobiographical album by singer/songwriter Daniel Gildenlow goes through his near-death experience with an illness and really drives the emotion home in the title track.



Dream Theater – Distance Over Time
InsideOut, 2019

Although 2003’s Train of Thought could have also made this list, 2019’s Distance Over Time does instead. With songwriting similar to Train of Thought, Distance Over Time became a bit of an anomaly in Dream Theater’s discography with it being the first album without a song over ten minutes (not including The Astonishing which arguably wasn’t so much an ‘album’). The crisp songs are to-the-point for the band which can win over new fans while still providing enough technical excitement to impress old ones. A surprise to be sure and easily one of the band’s strongest releases in 20 years.

Honest Review: Pain of Salvation – Panther

Pain of Salvation – Panther
InsideOut Music

Following up from 2017’s semi-autobiographical In the Passing Light of Day, Panther redirects the focus of the band’s music onto the listener: “This album is for you, or someone you know. It is for the restless, the shy, the motormouths, the passionate, the ones who go far beyond the point of reason for what you believe in, the outsiders, the diagnosed, the medicated, the hungry, the sad, the ones walking around daily trying to understand how to fit in with this species, with this era … This is your album.”

The overall theme touches on just that – focusing on mental health and those who are made to feel different in a world that does not understand them. While the lyrics may be the physical understanding, Pain of Salvation manages to make the album sonically reflect those feelings as well.

In first track Accelerator, the intense polyrythms married with the lyrics, “I must be the problem here” add a level of indifference, stress, and confusion for both the listener and the reader – placing both as an observer witnessing someone with mental health issues and not knowing what to do. The musical anomalies brought about by the end of the song continue that reflection.

Moving into a somewhat familiar Pain of Salvation songwriting, Unfuture feels reminiscent of music from Scarsick. The switch in time signatures during the choruses intertwined with the fluctuating singing styles listeners have come to know from singer/songwriter Daniel Gildenlow, comes across almost like an anthem.

And in a complete 180 from Unfuture, Restless Boy sounds like nothing what the band has done before. With vocal encoders and tons of electronics built within to the instrumentation, the song comes across similar to the strange feelings Accelerator tries to portray – but does so in a much sinister, almost intentionally – and intellectually – robotic way.

With Then Wait the album takes another 180 from Restless Boy, bringing about a beautiful, melodic song with gut-wrenching lyrics, asking the listener for understanding and patience. The second-longest song on the album at 7 minutes, the song progresses musically like time – starting with a simple guitar melody and gradually growing into something bigger and more modern-sounding. It climaxes to a haunting and emotionally crushing chorus. While nothing changes lyrically, the progressions within the song build the moment to be much stronger than before for a devastating effect on the listener’s emotions.

Like the rest of the album, songs like Keen to a Fault showcase the brilliance of the band’s progressive music with yet more variations than songs before it. Both music and singing vary greatly, constantly keeping the listener on a wave of sensations. Panther rings electronic similarities to Restless Boy, while Species stands out as yet another separate song on the album which progresses with positivity and hope – almost in an empowering sense.

The final track, Icon, at just over 13 minutes is the longest song on the album and features probably the single most-haunting song Pain of Salvation has ever written. While the song feels like a bit of a drag in the early stages, it builds into a frightening and brutally honest reflection of how the mind works – bookending Panther in the most uncomfortable way – which arguably is what the objective of all the songs on the album have been. After all, the album is for a specific type of listener – the panther, if you will.

Like albums before, Pain of Salvation brings another roller coaster ride of feelings to the fray with Panther. The album is sonic journey with lyrical heart and a message to those who need it. While it may single out those who don’t understand, the inner machinations of Pain of Salvation will keep on ticking without them.

Uncanny Metal Score: 8/10

Pain of Salvation at the InsideOut Store

Top Albums of 2017

And starting off at number fifteen. . .

15. Premiata Forneria Marconi – Emotional Tattoos

Starting off the list is a band of which sort of dropped off the radar and really are only mentioned when discussing the their strength of progressive rock albums in the 70s. Premiata Forneria Marconi, or PFM, are an Italian prog rock band that with their new album, Emotional Tattoos, surprised me at its strength. This hefty double-disc album features a great mix of prog rock tunes which feel like they’re from the 70s but with a modern production value. It’s a refreshing album that is unfortunately held back by its song placement (it takes a good four or five songs until the album really begins to kick some butt). Despite that, it’s deserving on a top spot for 2017.

Check out the music video for “The Lesson” here:

14. Blade Runner 2049 Soundtrack

The first time I’ve ever put a soundtrack into my list. The Blade Runner 2049 movie, while visually stunning, was audibly awesome. The cyberpunk/noir feeling originally established by Vangelis back in 1982 gets tastefully expanded upon by composers Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch. The soundtrack provides a sweeping landscape of emotions and feelings which can be confusing given its sterile and mechanical sound. It’s completely worth checking out.

Listen to “Flight to LAPD”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EGxyGcZ5jsY

13. Sarkrista – Summoners of the Serpents Wrath

Intense is one way of putting it. Rip-roaring music from the second album of these German black metallers, Sarkrista’s Summoners of the Serpents Wrath is in your face with its blasting beats, screaming vocals, and shredding, ambient guitars. The album rarely lets up, giving you a solid black metal album from front to back.

Listen to the full album here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FOz42CgKjks

12. Rude – Remnants…

Rude’s second release, Remnants…, is another great traditional death metal album. Their first album, “Soul Recall,” made my top fifteen back in 2014 and these guys have impressed yet again. The production completely sells me on this album, let alone the songs. This album pounds your ears hard and is yet another exceptional sounding death metal record from these U.S. based metal heads.

See the lyric video for “House of Dust” here:

11. Paradise Lost – Medusa

Pulse-pounding and crushing, the death/doom metallers Paradise Lost release yet another solid album off the back of 2015’s The Plague Within. While there’s nothing surprisingly in terms of riffing or production, the album just keeps its momentum and variety up long enough to be a great album.

Listen to the final track, “Until the Grave” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C2JRD4r4Yuw

10. Dumal – The Lesser God

When I think of American black metal, my first thoughts come to Agalloch. While these guys are no Agalloch, I feel the influence is there. Crisp production is one thing, but Dumal’s incredible sounding riffs create an almost nostalgic feel for me – reminding me of the first time I got into black metal (with Mayhem’s Pagan Fears). Lost Caverns is definitely the track that won me over on this album, but the rest of it is just so, so great. For their impressive debut album, I’ll definitely me following Dumal closely in the coming years.

Check out the full album here (especially “Lost Caverns”): https://dumal.bandcamp.com/album/the-lesser-god

9. Auðn – Farvegir Fyrndar

This Icelandic black metal outfit release a torrent of cold atmosphere with their second album, Farvegir Fyrndar. Melodic riffs are eerie and define the tone of the album. Often dramatic, the album builds momentum, starting from the first track. Crushing through, listeners are given other great glimpses of brilliance through this very bleak sounding album. Easily takes the spot as the best black metal album I’ve listened to this year.

Listen to Skuggar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkOgY8P4NUY

8. Daniel Cavanagh – Monochrome

Given Anathema just released their newest album this year, I was surprised to see something released from their lead songwriter only a few months later. Daniel Cavanagh’s acoustic album, Monochrome, is brilliant, loving, sad, uplifting, and therapeutic all at the same time. While much can be said about Anathema’s music, Daniel’s own personal flare and attention to detail certainly shines something special here.

Listen to “The Exoricst” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKGoYUZ_B1c

7. Artificial Brain – Infrared Horizon

If there was one thing I wasn’t expecting from this technical death metal band, it was an incredibly dramatic science fictional album. Much like the title of my favourite track on the record, this album is Estranged from Orbit. It’s different and yet feels familiar. The music is composed to make sense – there’s nothing purposefully flashy on the album. The parts in the songs have purpose and riffs are crafted to build and explode with emphasis. It’s smart, clever, intense, and sounds absolutely different than many death metal albums out there.

Listen to the whole album here (especially “Estranged from Orbit”): https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/infrared-horizon

6. Steven Wilson – To the Bone

Steven Wilson always does something different – not because he has to, but because he can. With this album, Wilson crosses the boundaries of pop rock and prog rock, creating an album that heavily reminds me of Peter Gabriel’s So. Featuring a handful of songs with Ninet Tayeb sharing vocal duties and incredible musicianship, the classic Steven Wilson “sound” makes To The Bone not only a strong album, but somewhat of a “gateway” album to introduce pop fans about prog. With a well-rounded album and even a subtle nod to Porcupine Tree in one of the songs, To the Bone is yet another Steven Wilson album that made my Top 15 list.

Seen the video to the astounding “Pariah” here:

5. Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper

What. A. Heavy. Album. Featuring drums, bass, vocals, and a Hammond, this near hour and a half long song, in my opinion, well-defines funeral doom metal. Dark and dreary, Bell Witch brings the dead to the listeners ears in this haunting slow burn of an album. It’s atmospheric, moody, crushing, and so many other feelings, that “Mirror Reaper” is really something needed to be experienced.

Listen to an excerpt from “Mirror Reaper” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yrc1ch3O9Fs

4. Anathema – The Optimist

One of my favourite bands return with somewhat of a sequel to 2001’s A Fine Day to Exit with their newest release, The Optimist. Smartly crafted, the album begins where their previous album, Distant Satellites left off – with electronic music. However, the band cleverly makes the electronic to real-instrument transition within the first song and continues to put the listener through a literal journey of musical and lyrical emotions and feelings that are purposefully left ambiguous. It’s a damn pretty album. “Wildfires” is my favourite track.

Watch the video for “Springfield” here:

3. Bent Knee – Land Animal

When I first heard Bent Knee, I couldn’t get over how tight the band was. As if they’ve been playing for decades, this American prog rock outfit showcases their songwriting abilities all over this album – and they’re supremely tasteful. Often times prog rock showcases (and can sometimes celebrate) musical wankery. Bent Knee shows restraint and thought behind each note, chord, and lyric. While Land Animal is their fourth album, the band takes nothing for granted with the effort clearly put into this record. What a treat.

Watch the live video of Bent Knee performing “Holy Ghost”:

2. Ulver – The Assassination of Julius Caesar

In The Assassination of Julius Caesar, ex-black metal band Ulver create something that’s dark, experimental, and would appeal to Depeche Mode fans. Upon first listen, I felt engrossed with the production: the synth, reverb; the drama. Like the music, Ulver’s lyrics are also intelligent and deep. Music builds and slows, putting the listener through an interesting journey of sounds which engrossed me like no other album had this year. Ulver’s newest is a gorgeous electronic-feeling album with nothing but respect to its listeners.

Check out the first track of the album, “Nemoralia” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wq0Kb4bFNzg

1. Pain of Salvation – In the Passing Light of Day

When this album came out in the middle of January, I had hoped for another album to be released later in the year that would be better than it. Not because I disliked the album, but because it was so damn good and so early on in the year, I really hoped another album could topple it. Now here we are at the number one spot on my list.

When lead singer/songwriter Daniel Gildenlow went into the hospital a few years back, he discovered he had a life-threatening disease. This album is that story and goes through the emotional trauma and thoughts running through his head while in the hospital. At times uplifting, the album can become sad when you can feel the emotions coming from Gildenlow’s voice. He’s felt the pain he’s singing about and he wants us to experience what he’s experienced.

Tracks like “Silent Gold” and “If This is the End” are both mournful and powerful. “Full Throttle Tribe” is catchy, while “Reasons,” “Meaningless,” and “On a Tuesday” are direct and in your face. However, it’s the final title track which absolutely steals the show. At fifteen minutes in length, “The Passing Light of Day” explains the fears and joys of being in love while given the listener an emotional roller coaster of music to follow suit. Songs are strongly crafted by both Gildenlow and multi-instrumentalist Ragnar Zolberg. Zolberg joined the band in 2011 and co-wrote most of the songs on this album. Now no longer in the band, I can’t help but follow where he goes next to see what he does.

I’ve been a fan of Pain of Salvation since 2002-2003. While I can say with certainty that this is my favourite album of 2017, I can also say that In the Passing Light of Day is Pain of Salvation’s best studio album to-date.

Check out the music video for “Reasons”:

See the music video for “Meaningless” here:

Honourable Mentions:

Barenaked Ladies – Fake Nudes

Threshold – Legends of the Shires

Bison – You Are Not The Ocean You Are The Patient

Ayreon – The Source

Aborted – Bathos EP

Kreator – Gods of Violence

All Pigs Must Die – Hostage Animal

Nordic Giants – Amplify Human Vibration

Most Disappointed:

Electric Wizard – Wizard Bloody Wizard

Cannibal Corpse – Red Before Black

Pallbearer – Heartless

Sólstafir – Berdreyminn

Vuur – In This Moment we are Free – Cities

Sons of Apollo – Psychotic Symphony

Moonspell – 1775

Questions? Comments? Agree? Disagree? What have you?