10 Best Prog Albums of 1989

Best Prog Albums of 1989

The 1980s won’t be remembered as the golden years for Prog, but this decade saw the inception of the Progressive Metal genre from the bands. In 1989, this new genre received new titles from Fates Warning and Voivod. The same year saw release of a debut album by the genre’s most important and influential group – Dream Theater.

Below are the 10 best Prog albums of 1989.

10. Dream Theater – When Dream and Day Unite

Dream Theater‘s first official release gave an indication that this was a talented band that combined the styles of YesRush, and Queensrÿche. The latter seemed to be too big of an influence at this stage of their career. Vocalist Charlie Dominici‘s voice is not powerful enough to carry out the band’s otherwise convincing intensity, and his attempt to sound like Queensrÿche‘s Geoff Tate was unsuccessful. The music here is not as heavy as it would become in the ’90s but could still be classified as progressive metal. Guitarist John Petrucci and drummer Mike Portnoy established themselves as competent musicians, but their individual styles were not yet refined. The band’s originality does shine through on “Light Fuse and Get Away,” “The Ones Who Help to Set the Sun,” and “Only a Matter of Time.” The odd-meter measures and numerous time changes gave the group a complexity that hadn’t been experienced for an entire decade in the rock genre. “YTSE Jam” was essentially their answer to Rush‘s “YYZ” and became a staple in the band’s live set. The session was marred mostly by subpar singing, too many metal clichés, and poor production. There is, however, enough interesting playing to make it a worthwhile listen for fans of this genre, and is certainly essential for Dream Theater fans.

09. The Work – Rubber Cage

On their debut album, the Work sounded a bit like what Henry Cow might have sounded like if that band had been part of the Crass posse. Rubber Cage, originally issued in 1989 after a seven-year layoff, finds the Work sounding more like a cross between Pere Ubu and Massacre (the Fred Frith power trio, not the heavy metal band) — note in particular the brief and spiky blast of “Poise” and the fractured funk of “Jay,” and the way that the random single-string guitar licks on “Abdomen” function in much the same manner as Allen Ravenstine‘s EML synthesizer did on those early Pere Ubu recordings. But Tim Hodgkinson‘s vocals have come a long way since 1982, and so has the band’s musical conception: tracks like “Poise” and the swinging, acoustic-based “Knee” are frustrating only because of their brevity, and the cool and slithery skronk of “Great Climax” is both eerily weird and strangely accessible. Although Hodgkinson is a measurably better singer at this point, it’s still the instrumental sections that work best here — the latter half of “Dangerfish,” the opening two minutes and final four minutes of “1992,” and that cheerily funky “Jay,” with its 5/4 rhythmic foundation and jaunty guitar.

08. Amon Düül – Die Lösung

This is one great album, and one needn’t be familiar with a single note ever played by Amon DüülAmon Düül II, or any other German progressive rock band to enjoy it; indeed, this is the kind of album that fans of the Doors might honestly be said to have been wishing for. Stylistically there’s not a lot in common between the two groups apart from some highly melodic guitar, some of it blues-derived (the GroundhogsTony McPhee is on the album, so you knew there’d be blues in there somewhere), and swirling organ and synthesizer arabesques, but one does get the real sense of this being a performance piece for poet and band, mostly courtesy of Robert Calvert. The latter’s lyrics are dense with meaning, some of it obscure but all of it intriguing, and the overall effect of it is like listening to a latter-day extension of the kind of work that the Doors aspired to in their best days, with maybe a freer use of keyboards and definitely more ambitious and effective jams.There’s some question between the two co-leaders of this version of Amon Düül (which is really an offshoot of Amon Düül II) about whether this album should have been released, since Dave Anderson regards it as completed, and okayed its going out, but John Wienzierl didn’t think of it as finished. In any case, it rocks very hard and, in most instances, very memorably, with a big sound that manages to embrace elements of progressive rock, psychedelia, and a good beat.

07. Art Zoyd – Nosferatu

Nosferatu is the first of three scores for silent horror movies the Belgian group Art Zoyd recorded between 1989 and 1997. Friedrich Wilheim Murnau‘s classic served as the first guinea pig and it worked wonderfully. This happened at a time when performing new music over screenings of silent films had yet to become a trend in avant-garde circles (in the mid- to late ’90s), although this particular film was enjoying a revival of sorts (metallers Helstar released an album by the same title in 1989). The group managed to remain true to Murnau‘s chef-d’oeuvre while delivering a genuine Art Zoyd platter. The lineup is the same as for 1987′s Berlin, but the ideas have matured. Taking a cue from the previous album’s “A Drum, a Drum,” the music includes vocal passages, some sung by Thierry Zaboitzeff in a low, gravely, hellborn voice, others being pre-recorded children’s choir parts. The 60-minute suite follows the film scene by scene, but it stands marvelously well on its own. Keyboards are definitely dominating the sound, with touches of cello and saxophone added for an extra Gothic feel. Often fast-paced and exhilarating, the music consists of interlocking rhythmical motifs on keyboards punctuated by orchestral cues, percussion, or acoustic instruments. Melodies are few; the grandeur and drama rarely let go. The CD is rounded up by the three-part, 17-minute “Vorgänge,” ballet music for the Salzburg Vorgänge Bewegungstheater. If you don’t notice the track number on the CD player, you’ll think you’re still in Nosferatu. This album is generally more inspired, varied, lively, and less-complacent than Faust and HäxanArt Zoyd‘s two other film soundtracks. Highly recommended, even to those who despise the group’s post-1983 output.

06. Kate Bush – The Sensual World

An enchanting songstress, Kate Bush reflects the most heavenly views of love on the aptly titled The Sensual World. The follow-up to Hounds of Love features Bush unafraid to be a temptress, vocally and lyrically. She’s a romantic, frolicking over lust and love, but also a lover of life and its spirituality. The album’s title track exudes the most sensually abrasive side of Bush, but she is also one to remain emotionally intact with her heart and head. The majority of The Sensual World beams with a carefree spirit of strength and independence. “Love and Anger,” which features blistering riffs by Bush‘s mentor and cohort David Gilmour, thrives on self-analysis — typically cathartic of BushMichael Nyman‘s delicate string arrangements allow the melodic “Reaching Out” to simply arrive, freely floating with Bush‘s lush declaration (“reaching out for the star/reaching out for the star that explodes“) for she’s always searching for a common peace, a commonality to make comfort. What makes this artist so intriguing is her look toward the future — she appears to look beyond what’s present and find a peculiar celestial atmosphere in which human beings do exist. She’s conscious of technology on “Deeper Understanding” and of a greater life on the glam rock experimental “Rocket’s Tail (For Rocket),” yet she’s still intrinsic to the reality of an individual’s heart. “Between a Man and a Woman” depicts pressure and heartbreak, but it’s the beauty of “This Woman’s Work” that makes The Sensual World the outstanding piece of work that it is. She possesses maternal warmth that’s surely inviting, and it’s something that’s made her one of the most prolific female singer/songwriters to emerge during the 1980s. She’s never belonged to a core scene. Bush‘s intelligence, both as an artist and as a woman, undoubtedly casts her in a league of her own.

05. Marillion – Seasons End

After Fish‘s departure, Marillion teetered on the brink of collapse: The frontman’s distinct voice and poetic prose made him the defining member of the band. One can only imagine how record executives held their collective breath as Steve Hogarth was brought in to take the reins. His first outing with band, 1989′s Season’s End, removed all doubts about the band’s future. Hogarth‘s unique, expressive voice fit Marillion perfectly; on the full-throttle rock assault of “The Uninvited Guest” or the emotional “After You,” Hogarth‘s singularity is unmistakable. The heartfelt “Easter,” with its imaginative electric-acoustic arrangement, is another showcase for Hogarth‘s talents. Marillion‘s ability to write music whose ideals live and breathe in the listener continues on Seasons End, particularly on the inspiring “Holloway Girl,” which dissects the injustice of incarcerating mentally ill female inmates (at England’s Holloway Prison) instead of placing them in appropriate psychiatric facilities. The beautiful “Easter” is the band’s plea for peace in Ireland, while “The King of Sunset Town” has its lyrical roots in the massacre at Tiananmen Square. Hogarth‘s flexible range and beautiful phrasing shine on the entire album. In 1999 Marillion released a remastered version of Seasons End, including a bonus disc of outtakes and alternate versions as well as the previously unreleased “The Bell in the Sea” and “The Release.” Both are strong tracks and are welcome additions to the Marillion catalog. While 1995′s Afraid of Sunlight is the peak of Marillion‘s growing, impressive body of work, Seasons End shouldn’t be missed either.

04. Thinking Plague – In This Life

For starters, In This Life sounds a little like a cross between Henry Cow‘s Western Culture and Gentle Giant‘s The Power and the Glory. Unusual meter and rapid time signature changes abound, and the harmonic language is essentially that of classical music from the first half of the 20th century. The instrumentation is basic rock band + piano, clarinet and the occasional subtly-used synthesizer. The songs are catchy, melodic, and not particularly tonal. Most importantly, the whole album has a feel of inevitability, like the music could not have turned out any other way.

For those of you familiar with the band’s other releases, this is the most solid compositionally — not a single bad track — and the most restrained. This is not to say that the music here is low-intensity, because it’s certainly very driven, concentrated and often anxious music. However, you won’t find the overdone proggy synths of In Extremis here, the mind-bending eclecticism of Moonsongs, or the all-out weirdness of their self-titled debut album. Thinking Plague are still “weird,” of course, but they seem more comfortable with their weirdness here. The album generally feels more “chamber-y” than their other releases, and the mood is less overtly dark. Also, for those of you who found Deborah Perry‘s vocals on In Extremis flat, you probably won’t feel the same way about Susanne Lewis.

As a seven-movement piece of music, In This Life ranks up there with some of the great music of the second half of the 20th century.

03. Watchtower – Control and Resistance

Considered to be one of the founders of the progressive metal genre made popular by bands like Dream Theater and Fates Warning, Watchtower did not stay together long enough to reap the benefits of their creativity. Their first recording, Energetic Disassembly, hinted at their innovations and talent, but it was Control and Resistance that marked the arrival of a fresh and important voice in the history of both progressive rock and heavy metal. Drawing heavily from bands such as Rush, Queensryche, Metallica, Yngwie Malmsteen, and fusion bands, Watchtower carved out a distinctive sound by combining the most extreme elements of their influences. The result was a series of complex, dark, and heavy songs that would eventually become the blueprint for progressive metal. Guitarist Ron Jarzombek, who replaced Billy White, brings a Holdsworth influence with him, which adds to the music’s diversity. While averting commercial success, the band is typically cited as groundbreaking by their peers. The music herein may sound dated, especially the falsetto vocals of Alan Tecchio, but there is enough here to appreciate and enjoy both from a historical and musical perspective.

02. Fates Warning – Perfect Symmetry

This was the recording that established Fates Warning as a progressive band. Their metal influences still dominate the group’s overall sound; however, Mark Zonder‘s unique approach to drumming adds another level of depth and credibility to the music. His double bass, odd-time introduction to “Part of the Machine” is the session’s defining moment, “Through Different Eyes” is a catchy song that provides insight into the band’s future pop/metal direction, and “Static Acts” still stands as one of the most aggressive songs the band ever recorded. Ray Alder‘s aggressive singing has a genuine quality which allows him to legitimately convey his anger and pain without sounding clichéd. “A World Apart” is one of the weaker songs here; however, there is some impressive odd-metered drumming from Zonder. “At Fates Hands” has become one of the band’s classic songs, and for good reason. The incorporation of the violin and piano provide a refreshing change from the overall metallic sound. While Alder and Zonder prove here that the band is capable of achieving many different moods and sounds, the instrumental section of the song reveals that both Jim Matheos and Frank Aresti are still dependent on their metal guitar style. The most powerful song in terms of lyrics, singing, and playing is “Nothing Left to Say,” which stands as the band’s high-water mark. An historic recording in the progressive metal genre.

01. Voivod – Nothingface

Arguably the best of the Denis Belanger-era Voivod albums, Nothingface is highly recommended to just about any aficionado of twisted, original heavy metal or prog rock. Although the album’s roots are in progressive rock, the group knows when to lay off the virtuosic overkill and play it straight. A superb, tripped-out cover of Pink Floyd‘s early psychedelic masterpiece “Astronomy Domine” is the album’s highlight, and its video aired numerous times on the early-’90s MTV show Headbanger’s Ball, introducing many to the band for the first time. Vocal melodicism is stressed heavily on Nothingface, with Belanger‘s vocals pushing such tracks as “Missing Sequences” and the title track, as do guitarist Denis d’Amour‘s jazzoid-metal guitar riffs. The group’s lyrics may be hard to decipher for some (relying heavily on themes of science fiction that often paint unsettling pictures), but ultimately help complement what the group is doing musically. Nothingface also turned out to be their most commercially successful album, making an appearance on the Billboard charts. Jason Newsted of Metallica has praised Voivod as one of his favorite metal bands on numerous occasions, and after hearing Nothingface, it’s easy to understand why.

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