Progradar Best Of 2016 – Shawn Dudley’s Top 10

Let’s face it, 2016 has not been the best year in human history, but it has been an exceptionally good year for music.  Seemingly every week something new would capture my imagination and become indispensible.  Due to the magnitude of choices putting together a year-end list became a daunting exercise.

What follows is not necessarily a traditional “top 10”, it’s a condensed selection of albums that made the most impact on me throughout the year.

Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts

The Fall of Hearts was the easiest selection for this list; its place has been secure for months.  Nobody was more surprised than me as I had previously been ambivalent about Katatonia but this gorgeous, immaculately crafted album completely won me over. It’s a subtle, layered album that bears repeated listening, something I did almost daily for several months. The Fall of Hearts is their most mature and fully realized work to date, a rare instance of a band in their second decade who continue to evolve and improve their already unique sound.
Favorite tracks:  Takeover, Last Song Before The Fade, Shifts

Opeth -Sorceress

While the various factions of Opeth fans of different eras clash online, fruitlessly fighting for supremacy…Mikael Akerfeldt continues to laugh and do whatever the hell he wants. Sorceress continues Opeth’s exploration of vintage instrumentation that began with the controversial Heritage in 2011 and the more straight-forward and polished Pale Communion in 2014.  Sorceress goes against expectations by going for a rawer, heavier and more experimental approach.  It’s a stylistically diverse collection of songs with gorgeous folk rockers, heavy Prog epics and 70s inspired jams co-existing harmoniously.

Favorite tracks:  A Fleeting Glance, The Wilde Flowers, The Ward (bonus track)

Messenger – Threnodies

This sadly under-appreciated gem was easily one of the most enjoyable albums I heard all year. Messenger had the ability to work within the sonic framework of classic Prog, the instrumentation and vibe, yet not become a slave to it. Threnodies may offer up flashes of the past via inspiration; Wishbone Ash, Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, CSN&Y; yet it sounds simultaneously modern and wholly relevant in 2016. Sadly the band has prematurely called it a day, but despite that I wouldn’t want you to miss out on hearing what they’ve left behind.
Favorite tracks:  Oracles Of War, Balearic Blue, Celestial Spheres

Seven Impale – Contrapasso

This thoroughly and wonderfully insane sextet from Norway was my favorite discovery of the year. Contrapasso is the type of album it’s best to just experience because describing it accurately is an exercise in futility. You’ll find elements of King Crimson, jazz-fusion, early 70s heavy metal and a love of the absurd, but that still just gives you a vague impression. The mixture of wonderfully heavy guitar and bass riffs, improvisational saxophone excursions and entertainingly theatrical vocals I find completely addictive.
Favorite tracks: Languor, Heresy, Inertia

Gong – Rejoice! I’m Dead!

Guitarist/Vocalist Kavus Torabi makes the first of two appearances on my year-end list. On Rejoice! I’m Dead! he effortlessly carries on the eclectic and joyful Gong; simultaneously a love letter to the recently departed founder Daevid Allen and a thoroughly rewarding work on its own merits.  It’s a wonderful collection of brief, quirky rockers and stretched-out fusion jam bliss. I love the sound of this album so much; I can’t help smiling whenever I play it. Who says Prog can’t be fun?
Favorite tracks: Rejoice!, The Unspeakable Stands Revealed, Kapital 

Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden

Our second Kavus Torabi appearance is another blast of experimentally playful fun. Knifeworld sets the tone immediately with the thoroughly addictive High Aflame, an artfully arranged pop confection that is the perfect album opener. The horn section allows them to employ voicings that you don’t often here in progressive rock circles, not that this album really fits into the general guidelines of that term. In fact I’m not sure Knifeworld exists within the guidelines of anything but their own imagination.  I applaud them.

Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä

And now for something truly and beautifully frightening. This Finnish quintet has crafted an avant-garde treasure, a mixture of Space Rock, Jazz and caustic Black Metal that is supremely thrilling. The arrangements are incredibly dense, building layer upon layer of guitars, synths and scorched earth vocals that threaten to become atonal cacophony, but deftly remain right on the edge. It’s challenging, intense music, but also contains much beauty. If you’re feeling brave, I highly recommend it.
Favorite tracks:  Lahja, Havuluu, Vasemann Kaden Hierarkla


Haken – Affinity

I will admit that the technical end of Prog Metal is not my preferred style. I’ve never been inspired by the Dream Theater end of the spectrum, I can admire the craft, but it doesn’t generally speak to me. Haken is one of the few exceptions, a band whose audacious personality and jaw dropping musicianship manage to always remain entertaining. This is assisted by a welcome amount of dry humor that has a tendency to display itself on occasion. Affinity is their most complex and intricately constructed album yet, maybe not quite as accessible as The Mountain but just as artistically successful. The playfulness shows itself on the epic ‘1985’, a song built entirely on the instrumental sounds of the 80s that never devolves into parody and instead becomes poignant. Haken also continue to outgrow the limitations of Prog Metal, methodically expanding their musical vocabulary into new, unexpected areas. Affinity continues their winning streak of rewarding albums; I look forward to hearing where they go next.
Favorite tracks:  The Architect, Red Giant, 1985

Purson – Desire’s Magic Theatre

D.M.T. is Rosalie Cunningham’s love letter to the late 60s psychedelic and early progressive rock scene and the substances that often inspired them. What keeps it from becoming just a curio is the conviction she brings to her songs and how skillfully she applies the vintage instrumental sounds to create the required effect. The influences are plentiful; Hendrix, The Doors, Jethro Tull, Jefferson Airplane, King Crimson, Curved Air; but Rosalie has taken that inspiration and applied it to her own organic and highly enjoyable compositions.  It’s a fun album that is worth investigating, with or without the accompanying substances.

Favorite tracks:  Electric Landlady, Pedigree Chums, The Bitter Suite

Khemmis – Hunted 

In addition to Progressive Rock and Jazz I’ve also been a Heavy Metal fan for over 30 years. I don’t listen to straight-ahead metal very often these days but occasionally I’ll hear something that reawakens that old love of chugging, galloping riffs and thunderous drums. Khemmis is a young band from Denver whose latest album Hunted kicked my ass right and proper. Their sound is a tasty mix of doomy Candlemass/Trouble riffs, dual harmony lead guitars and NWOBHM inspired attitude. Satisfyingly crushing yet consistently melodic and inspired, these guys nail all the metallic requirements with their muscular performances and above-average songwriting.  My neck hurts…
Favorite songs:  Above The Water, Candlelight, Hunted






Review – Seven Impale – Contrapasso – by Shawn Dudley


The opening lurching guitar/organ riff sounds like the amplified machinery of a giant steamship; bellowing, relentless, ominous power.  Then it morphs into a straight, almost funky propulsive groove with some very tasty organ comping while various synth and vocals effects weave in out of the background like a swirling mist.

The vocals of Stian Okland float in over the groove sounding not unlike a Satanic Jim Morrison, like a dark mirror image of The Soft Parade; simultaneously eerie and darkly comic. Saxophonist Benjamin Mekki Wideroe makes his entrance next with a frenzied atonal break. Underneath the vocal line the linear progression of the piece continues to build in intensity, the groove turning ominous, dissonant snatches of piano and sax riffs stab through creating a frenzied whirlpool.

A melodic organ & sax unison line enters and holds the arrangement together, keeping it from exploding into complete cacophony.  Then it stops abruptly, giving the listener a split second to inhale, before a crushing doom riff hammers down…

That describes just the first four minutes of Lemma, the opening track of the joyously insane ‘Contrapasso’, the second full-length release from Seven Impale.  This young sextet from Norway has hit upon a really potent recipe, an almost dizzying combination of influences they’ve managed to assimilate and combine in consistently surprising and effective ways.

It’s fiery, intense music, but it’s so much fun that it’s accessible despite the artfully schizophrenic arrangements.  From an instrumental standpoint Seven Impale employs a mostly analog approach; Hammond organ, vintage synth and guitar sounds, saxophone, and they occasionally sneak in some more modern touches.  But this is not a retro band; this is a young adventurous group that’s unafraid to be daring, to experiment and most importantly to have fun doing it.


A key factor with their sound is how the saxophone is employed. While I’ve heard saxophone featured in a few progressive rock albums this year (Knifeworld, Thank You Scientist, etc) it’s primarily fairly straight-ahead in approach. Seven Impale is one of the few newer bands I’ve heard that gravitate more toward the avant-garde jazz albums of the late 1960s for inspiration.

For the most part it’s not completely outside, but more in line with players like Archie Shepp or Pharoah Sanders.  The jazz quotient on ‘Contrapasso’ is intrinsic to the success of these compositions. The majority of these songs aren’t based on traditional verse/chorus structure, but the saxophone is often used in conjunction with the keyboards to carry the melodic thrust of the song, while the vocals provide commentary.

When you combine those elements with the 500 ton weight of the guitar sound (a vicious combination of King Crimson and Anekdoten) it’s a beautiful noise.  It hits the sweet spot where the saxophone fuels the experimental portion while the guitars keep it primal and firmly rooted in rock.

The album is not without its catchy moments. Inertia grooves along on a heavy guitar/sax unison riff that would probably sound fantastic in a live setting and the brief chorus is infectious.  The mid-section is a fiery jam and guitar solo feature, which tips a hat to Fripp & Co.  After a return to the main theme it slides into an effectively trippy psychedelic section that features some lovely keyboard & vocal harmonies before seguing into an appropriately epic, melodic conclusion.


The remainder of the album unfolds along similarly complex and intriguing lines. Like a puzzle that keeps revealing more and more levels of complexity it’s an album that takes some effort. But what I love about albums this dense is that each time you play them some new moment jumps out.

I love the whole record, but there are a couple tracks that really stood out to me.The first is Langour, which brilliantly captures the juxtaposition between the beautiful sax & cello melody and the crushing metallic guitar riff, it’s a perfect demonstration of the power this group can wield. The other is the mind-bending Helix. It’s built off the simplest of structures, a repeated keyboard riff that is methodically augmented with other instrumental voicings and increases in intensity like a storm building before the deluge. If the description sounds dramatic that’s because the music does as well.

It has been awhile since a new band has really hit me with the audacity of their approach and how effortless it seems. Seven Impale is the kind of band that reminds me that experimentation, even if it’s experimentations within existing sonic frameworks is not impossible. There are still fresh avenues to explore within the progressive rock realm, I hope Seven Impale continues the search for a long time to come.

Released 16th September 2016

Buy ‘Contrapasso’ from Bandcamp



Seven Impale‘s debut album, “City of the Sun”, was very well received by the prog audience over the world, and in the year poll of 2014 at, the album got ranked as the 7th best that year. 
So, in spring 2016, Seven Impale teamed up again with producer Iver Sandøy (produced Enslaved, Krakow etc.) in Solslottet Studio to record the follow up. 
The band has grown a lot since the debut, without loosing any of their  youthful energy. New album “Contrapasso” consists of nine highly varied and complex tracks expanding upon the unique sound Seven Impale started investigating on “City of the Sun”, but….. they’ve gone much further this time. 
On “Contrapasso” you find a band that are more daring, experimental and complex. Again, they touch upon the harder soundscapes as well as including more catchy and upbeat tracks, but on this album everything goes one step further. 
Visiting places where no band has been before, with “Contrapasso” Seven Impale pay no heed to genre boundaries. Melding melody, experimentation, dramatics, atmosphere and contrasting rythms, with “Contrapasso”, Seven Impale has created an essential album for any fan of progressive rock!  Listen to new track ‘Languor’ now:


Tormod Fosso – Bass, cello

Erlend Vottvik Olsen – Guitar

Benjamin Mekki Widerøe – Sexophone, midiflute

Stian Økland – Vocals, guitar

Håkon Vinje – Keyboards

Fredrik Mekki Widerøe – Drums, percussion

“Contrapasso” is released on 16th September via Karisma Records with the vinyl version of the album following on 28th October.