Fleshkiller -- Awaken
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Fleshkiller — Awaken

★★★★ Equal parts Extol (this is Ole Børud’s new band after all), Cynic, Extol, Torrential Downpour, The Darkness, early Meshuggah, and Yes after “Union.” I shit you not: you’ve likely never heard any metal like this before. This is a Must Listen, and perhaps The Stunning Debut of 2017.

Ayreon -- The Source
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Ayreon — The Source

★★★★ This album is batshit insane. I’d never even heard of this dude until two weeks ago. Then I popped on the first track, and after about a minute, I was all, “Is that… James Labrie?!” Then I checked out the personnel listing on this album. Eleven vocalists! I’m not entirely sure how this blatantly disjointed approach to guest musicianship avoids devolving into a modern prog version of Spinal Tap’s “Break Like The Wind”.

Meshuggah -- The Violent Sleep Of Reason
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Meshuggah — The Violent Sleep Of Reason

★★★★ This is the culmination and perfection of Meshuggah’s explorations from their previous albums “Koloss,” “Obzen,” and “Catch Thirty-Three.” But more than ever in the band’s career, this material feels designed from the ground up to live for performance in front of a crowd, not Meshuggah’s prior standard of careful curation in the confines of a studio.

Ihsahn -- Arktis
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Ihsahn — Arktis

★★★★ This is more like it! The album reaffirms the role of its predecessor, Das Seelenbrechen, as a lateral digression, and is more of an logical and spiritual successor to Eremita… but Arktis blows it away in its scope, ambition, and effectiveness. I could mention the handful of notable guest musicians on this record, but the real star here is the varied approaches to songwriting.

Textures -- Phenotype
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Textures — Phenotype

★★★★ This followup to the 2011 prog masterclass “Dualism” finds the band doubling down on their Meshuggahness. This results in ridiculous heaviness when the band want to wield it, and next-level time signature/syncopation madness. The danger here is that their penchant for slippery rhythm goes so far as to make some sections virtually headbang-proof, the cleverness-for-clever’s-sake coming at the cost of effective emotional delivery.

Obscura -- Akroasis
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Obscura — Akróasis

★★★★ This is a hard-hitting technodeath triumph, and sets a high bar for any other progressive metal in 2016. Unlike recent examples from other technodeath staples, this album does a better job in offering a (relatively) diverse musical palette, at times evoking Death, BTBAM, The Faceless, and Gorguts. Every song feels substantial without being overlong (even the 15-minute closer “Weltseele”).

Intronaut -- The Direction Of Last Things
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Intronaut — The Direction Of Last Things

★★★★ This is the prog metal masterpiece that I always knew Intronaut had in them. On this album, the band have managed to showcase all of their strengths: tight performances, complicated rhythms, dynamic moods, and tips of the hat to worthy progenitors like King Crimson and Tool. There’s not a lot on here that will come across as unfamiliar to Intronaut fans, and that’s great news.

Good Tiger -- A Head Full Of Moonlight
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Good Tiger — A Head Full Of Moonlight

★★★★ A stunning debut for a group of ex-members from The Safety Fire, The Faceless, Architects, and TesseracT. The first surprise is that the resulting sound doesn’t sound like a mishmash of styles culled from those other bands, or really even a mishmash at all. To be fair, you can hear elements of those bands in the music, but you’re more likely to be reminded of Tool, The Mars Volta, and Glassjaw.

Between The Buried And Me -- Coma Ecliptic
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Between The Buried And Me — Coma Ecliptic

★★★★ This is a challenging album, for both band and audience. This is still very recognizably BTBAM, but the music here also expands on the band’s bailiwick in virtually every direction. Indeed, in addition to sly tips of the hat to the band’s previous best works, there are also noticeable borrowings from many other prog metal standard bearers — Opeth, Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree, and Leprous leap immediately to mind — as well as a healthy reverence to classic rock, power metal, and musical theater at large.

Soen -- Tellurian
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Soen — Tellurian

★★★★ This is the most emotionally complete prog metal album of the year. As was the case with the band’s debut album, Soen continue to wear their Tool and APC influences on their sleeves with this followup. But the overall sound is more nuanced now, more fleshed out and dynamic. (You’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a lost Opeth album, in fact.) The result is a sumptuous album, anchored by Joel Ekelof’s steady and plaintive vocals, but broad in its moods and messages.