SBR Top 7 Prog Metal Albums of 2021

Each year brings a new batch of prog metal releases from the biggest names in the field, and this year saw some of the heavy hitters return with strong albums. Mastodon, Dream Theater, Gojira and Between the Buried and Me left their mark on 2021, while Rivers of Nihil had the unenviable task of following up on their 2018 masterpiece, Where Owls Know my Name.

The two biggest releases from the alternative/prog scene came from Jinjer and Spiritbox. No one can deny that the former are a fully-fledged prog metal outfit, but the latter’s debut is too hard to pin down to one genre. Calling Spiritbox a prog metal artist feels like an easy option, but their evolution towards this style will mature on future records. Both of the aforementioned take inspiration from Tesseract, who produced a colossal live-in-the-studio recording of their back catalogue with their magnificent PORTALS album. Devin Townsend also found novel ways to keep his recording output high in 2021.

As ever, the criteria for defining prog metal is an elastic one. Do long-form compositions, cross-genre experimentation, and technical musicianship define it? Where do you draw the line with avant-garde metal and post-metal?

These are the top seven progressive records that excited us in 2021…

7. Scar of the Sun – Inertia

What we said at the time:Inertia is an ambitious undertaking that aims to push the frontiers of prog metal further along the gothic borders without sacrificing the urgency of its melodic death metal foundations. Sophisticated, emotive, inventive – this record should put Scar of the Sun on the map once and for all as a serious force in metal.”

Country: Greece

Released: 14/05/2021

Label: Napalm Records

Read the original SBR review here.

6. Erra – Erra

What we said at the time: “Think of the Devin Townsend Project’s spiritual metal assault on Transcendence and imagine Veil of Maya as the backing band. This is where Erra find themselves on this record, always indulging their love of a bruising breakdown riff with the vertiginous sequences of Tool and the genre-pushing ambition of The Ocean. The energy levels are infectious, the righteous rage anthemic.”

Country: USA

Released: 19/03/2021

Label: UNFD

Read the original SBR review here.

5. Scarred – Scarred

What we said at the time: “It’s no exaggeration to say we’d all be declaring the band’s latest record an instant classic if Gojira produced something to this standard on their next release… ‘Dance of the Giants’ thrives on a precision blade riff and neo-classical waltz like Veil of Maya at their finest. ‘Petrichor’ is stunning. No wonder this album took four years to write. You don’t dash off a composition as mystical and melodious as this in a couple of weeks, not when it has such an effervescent ferocity at its core.”

Country: Luxembourg

Released: 22/01/2021

Label: Klonosphere Records

Read the original SBR review here.

4. Jinjer – Wallflowers

What we said at the time: “Nobody works harder than Jinjer on the road, and it’s important to keep that in mind because this band define what it means to grind your way to success. The fact they’re ready to present album number four so soon after the last one is a testament to their creativity and determination. But if you’re expecting another record of seductive choruses, infectious hooks and crunchy metalcore grooves, you’re in for a shock. Wallflowers is a challenging and complex effort, and it’s HEAVY.”

Country: Ukraine

Released: 27/08/2021

Label: Napalm Records

Read the original SBR review here.

3. Between the Buried and Me – Colors II

What we said at the time: “You’ll understand why BTBAM called this album and its illustrious predecessor, Colors, to describe the artistic experience. This record is a palette of many shades and emotions, and you can never accuse it of being one-dimensional or formulaic. As a sequel to a legendary opus, it’s a worthy follow-up and one that need not intimidate if you give it the special treatment it deserves. Few artists would dare to write something as ambitious as this, and few have the musicianship to realise such a vision for their art. With a bit or persistence, you might even come to know it inside out by 2030.”

Country: USA

Released: 20/08/2021

Label: Sumerian Records

Read the original SBR review here.

2. Interloper – Search Party

What we said at the time: “Those of you that heard the singles leading up to the release of this album should already be aware of the brilliance of ‘Drift’ and ‘Idle Years’, not to mention the fast finger-picking of the title track. You can see why they chose ‘Drift’ as the lead single. The hypnotic chorus and tech death grooves merge with an effortless élan that most bands find hard to perfect after ten years. It speaks volumes that Interloper, like Autarkh, have already discovered their signature sound on their debut LP. Other artists will sit up and listen and wonder how they do it.”

Country: USA

Released: 11/06/2021

Label: Nuclear Blast

Read the original SBR review here.

1. Rivers of Nihil – The Work

What we said at the time: “If this is no longer progressive death metal, what is it? It’s certainly a metal record and a brutal one at that…The Work is an album that leaves the primacy of the riff as a background concern in favour of the vocal narrative and the gliding rhythm section of bass and drums. It floats like Pink Floyd, rocks like Dream Theater, and aches like a post-metal opus. This is a record defined by melancholy, sorrow, and shattered dreams. It rages with frustration; it retreats into depression; it dares to see the glass half-full rather than half-empty. But the ending is a tragic one where no God or angel of mercy can scoop up the anti-hero at the end to give him the grace he deserves.”

Country: USA

Released: 24/09/2021

Label: Metal Blade

Read the original SBR review here.

Honourable mentions

Aeons – Consequences (Label: Self-released)

Born of Osiris – Angel or Alien (Label: Sumerian Records)

Dvne – Etemen Ænka (Label: Metal Blade)

Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon (Label: Metal Blade)

Solar Cross – Echoes of the Eternal Word (Label: Transcending Records)