SBR Top 7 Prog Metal Albums of 2023

Prog metal can mean so many things to different people, to the point where anything with experimentation, virtuoso musicianship, and extended boundaries can qualify. The genre welcomed the return of some big names in 2023, with the likes of Periphery, Tesseract, Haken and The Ocean releasing albums this year. Except for Tesseract, all of them struggled to match the brilliance of their previous records, yet none of them can be considered failures.

It’s no secret that prog metal bands often dominate the SBR end-of-year lists. We like our heavy music to take risks, to incorporate multiple genres, and to challenge orthodoxy. In this regard, prog metal artists are often the least predictable and most inventive. An album longer than one hour is the norm, and perhaps no other genre can get away with this indulgence. Would you be happy with a Dream Theater or Tool LP of less than sixty minutes?

Prog metal will continue to be a Scream Blast Repeat priority in 2024 as we move our attention away from traditional forms of death metal and black metal and towards their more experimental offshoots.

These are the SBR Top 7 prog metal albums of 2023…

7. Black Orchid Empire – Tempus Veritas

What we said at the time: “Perhaps the greatest strength of Black Orchid Empire is their ability to write songs of between three and four minutes in length while maintaining the illusion of prog metal sophistication. You’ll find no ironic art rock fascination with 1980s pop culture or virtuoso shred guitar here, but that may be the secret to this album’s success… You’ll soon forget about the lack of aggression in the vocals once you grow to appreciate the melodic brilliance of the voice arrangements. The guitars are happy to provide the hostility with a growling low-end intensity and dexterity in all but one of the eleven tracks on this record.”

Country: England

Released: 14/04/2023

Label: Season of Mist

Read the original SBR review here.

6. Ne Obliviscaris – Exul

What we said at the time: “Though focused on producing emotive melodies for the advanced mind, Ne Obliviscaris never forget that their origins are death metal… The most impressive aspect of Exul is its expert avoidance of the usual prog metal clichés – too much emphasis on shredding the instruments and cramming as many genres into the mix as possible. Ne Obliviscaris let their music breathe rather than compress under the impact of too many competing ideas. In this regard, they resemble Opeth for knowing how to structure a ten-minute song without losing your interest.”

Country: Australia

Released: 24/03/2023

Label: Season of Mist

Read the original SBR review here.

5. Haken – Fauna

What we said at the time:Fauna is not a continuation of the last LP, but you’ll hear similarities with their 2013 opus, The Mountain. Of course, all the hallmarks of a Haken album are here – exquisite guitar riffs, cerebral math-rock rhythms, virtuoso keyboards, extended instrumental breaks, rousing choruses and suave bass grooves. But the absence of aggression and the turn towards the signature melancholia of Radiohead will leave you bewildered after one listen. Only after two more sittings will its brilliance emerge.”

Country: England

Released: 03/03/2023

Label: Inside Out Music

Read the original SBR review here.

4. Temic – Terror Management Theory

What we said at the time: “At fifty-eight minutes in length, Terror Management Theory is a prog metal treat. How rare do we say that about albums longer than forty minutes? Virtuoso musicianship is important to Temic, but they never let it get in the way of their songs… Synth arpeggios and guitar lines fill the gaps like plaster in the walls. The audio production is a triumph of symmetrical instrument separation. How easy would it be to digitise everything and leave nothing of the human hand in the mix? The rhythms are perfect because the musicianship demands them to be flawless.”

Country: International

Released: 17/11/2023

Label: Season of Mist

Read the original SBR review here.

3. Tesseract – War of Being

What we said at the time: “It’s ironic that the heavier moments on this record sound like Periphery, especially considering the latter adopted some of the trademark Tesseract nuances for their classic Periphery IV: Hail Stan album. This is because Daniel Tompkins roars his way through a big chunk of the compositions like an aggressive metalcore vocalist for the first time since their 2011 debut. The monumental expedition through the title-track starts with a succession of finger-twisting metal riffs and heroic double-kick grooves in line with the band’s famous technical-minimalist approach. Clearly, the group learned a thing or two from their 2016 tour in support of Gojira, but it’s impossible to compare the up-and-down dynamics with any other artist.”

Country: England

Released: 15/09/2023

Label: Kscope Records

Read the original SBR review here.

2. Urne – A Feast on Sorrow

What we said at the time: “Like Will Haven, you never know how to describe Urne’s miscegenation of heavy music styles…You can see why Joe Duplantier is a fan of this band. ‘To Die Twice’ justifies every second of its 05:52 running time thanks to a consistent pummelling of mid-tempo groove metal posturing. The guitarwork is far too technical to pass as sludge metal, yet the tone is too dirty to qualify as thrash. Listen how Angus Neyra and new sticksman, James Cook, test your instincts in the last third of the song with chunky rhythms that throw you off balance like a skipping record. The deliberate polyrhythm at the end might go unnoticed when you’re so wrapped up in the pathos of Joe Nally’s distressed vocal lamentations.”

Country: England

Released: 11/08/2023

Label: Candlelight Records

Read the original SBR review here.

1. Dawn of Ouroboros – Velvet Incandescence

What we said at the time: “Their love of gut-wrenching extreme metal infused with a strong dose of shoegaze melancholia ought to be a tired experiment on paper, but could they be the band that finally realise the potential of the two contrasting styles?… Velvet Incandescence is a triumph for the vivid mind. Its cold wetland marshes and luscious green fields invite you to a habitat where night and day merge into one. Butterflies and serpents gravitate towards you with different motives. Sometimes, the forces of evil intent are too powerful to resist. The agony of this music will leave you clutching your stomach. Black metal is no stranger to melody, but has it ever confronted something as advanced and as ambitious as this record?”

Country: USA

Released: 21/04/2023

Label: Prosthetic Records

Read the original SBR review here.

Honourable mentions

Herod – Iconoclast (Label: Pelagic Records)

Hypno5e – Sheol (Label: Pelagic Records)

Periphery – Periphery V: Djent Is Not a Genre (Label: 3Dot recordings)

The Zenith Passage – Datalysium (Label: Metal Blade)

Vintersea – Woven into Ashes (Label: M-Theory Audio)