The 10 best prog-metal albums, as chosen by Northlane


Earlier this year, Northlane surprised the metal world by dropping their fourth album Mesmer out of nowhere. An 11-track slice of progressive metal Down Under, diverting further down the darker alleys of experimentalism, it led to them being named as the third headliners for this year’s Tech-Fest alongside Textures and The Black Dahlia Murder.

Ahead of their surefire weekend-winning set at at Tech-Fest this weekend (July 7-9), we asked Northlane guitarist Josh Smith to name his ten favourite progressive albums of all time.

Tool – Lateralus / The Holy Gift

“Tool is probably my favourite band. I could have made space for all of their records in this top 10 but for the sake of variety I’ve chosen the piece which I consider to be their magnum opus. Lateralus probably doesn’t have as many huge songs on it as 10,000 Days, and probably wasn’t as groundbreaking a record as Ænima before it. Where the genius lies in this record is how it was written. The record was written and recorded in a way that it could be cut and pieced back together into a completely different arrangement called The Holy Gift, using the Fibonacci sequence. Hints alluding to this are written into the lyrics throughout the record, including ‘Ride the spiral to the end’ – from the title track. While the record Lateralus has gaps between songs, the rearranged Holy Gift is an hour of continuous music. A musical journey that remains unmatched to this day. This is an album worth revisiting.”

Karnivool – Sound Awake

“Karnivool changed the game with Themata but I think their songwriting developed so much further with Sound Awake. The opening bass riff in Simple Boy is simply astonishing – it blew my mind when I first heard it. Ian Kenny’s soaring vocals are angelic, the bass lines are thunderous with guitars dancing around them in sync. It’s a revolutionary album blending Australian rock with the deeper roots of prog rock from the early 2000s and Karnivool put this all together seamlessly.”

Opeth – Blackwater Park

“A constantly evolving band, Opeth have released albums teetering towards death metal and at the opposite end of the spectrum, prog rock. Blackwater Park sits in the middle of all of this and is my favourite release by the band. The record starts off with a bang – huge chords kicking off the 10-minute Leper Affinity. From here the record takes many twists and turns. It’s a tapestry woven from the sombre acoustic tune of Harvest all the way through to the 12-minute epic title track. There are no dull moments to be had here. The production is perfect for what the record needed and the songwriting is among Opeth’s finest.”

Meshuggah – Nothing

“Meshuggah are one of the most consistent bands in heavy music and have one of the longest-running careers, while continuing to break new ground. They’ve been releasing fantastic records every few years since they floored the scene with Contradictions Collapse in 1991. It’s hard to really put a finger on which one is their ‘best’ simply because they have so many fantastic albums. While my favourite is probably Obzen, Nothing marks one of the biggest innovations and changes in heavy music, which would be heralded as an influencer for years to come. Nothing was their first album to use eight-string guitars and is home to some of the biggest riffs ever recorded. Stengah sets the pace for this crushingly heavy, math-laden release that started on the verge of experimental and paved the way for an entire slew of bands and arguably the entire djent movement.”

Cog – Sharing Space

“Cog have been a cornerstone in Australian rock since the late ‘90s and still draw influence today, recently selling out venues in minutes around the country on their first tour since returning from hiatus. This record had some huge rhythm-driven hits on it, fuelled by cleverly written and relatable lyrics in absolutely mesmerising vocal melodies. What If is an amazing cut, full of thought-provoking lyrics.”

Mastodon – Crack The Skye

“Like Opeth, Mastodon are a constantly evolving band. From their sludgier early work, they’ve morphed into something you could almost call a commercial rock band. For me Crack The Skye struck a chord in the most powerful way. In my opinion it’s the band’s deepest foray into the world of prog, writing some of their most epic moments ever captured in the studio. The opening track Oblivion connected me in a very special way when I heard it. The music of this record ebbs and flows, dropping off massive cliffs in some sections to build back up again in the most graceful fashion. There’s almost an Eastern vibe in certain parts; dreamy vocal harmonies and incredible guitar solos. One of my favourite records of all time.”

Animals As Leaders – Animals As Leaders

“Tosin Abasi shocked everybody with his incredible signature skill when he released this instrumental record. It was only the start of his climb to the most esteemed tier of guitardom, and every record he’s released since explores new sonic territories, but this one started it all. CAFO is a huge track, opening with blistering swept arpeggio runs into a mind-boggling fretboard dance. While it’s less refined than his later work, this record set a precedent and paved the way for many other instrumental artists, in a surge of talent not seen since the early ‘90s.”

Incubus – Make Yourself

“I wasn’t sure whether to leave this one out or not. Incubus is one of rock’s greatest success stories of the 2000s, but their flavour of rock psychedelia has so much beneath the surface, which is easy to pass by and not hear. Make Yourself is a record filled with cathartic lyrics, creative guitar lines simmering above funk bass lines, and smooth drums that tie it all in. They managed to write a few hits, too. Incubus is one of rock’s most creative bands.”

After The Burial – Forgiving A Future Self

“This is an insanely underrated album in the world of progressive music. It was released on April Fool’s Day in 2006 and laid the foundations for where this vein of progressive music was going to flow. Pi was a huge track of mind-bending patterns, interwoven with really creative guitars and drums. This was the time that As I Lay Dying and Killswitch Engage were dominating, so to have a band playing this sort of stuff in such a low tuning was unprecedented. Besides Meshuggah.”

The next song is not a prog-metal record, but it’s such a vital album in the rich tapestry of progressive music that we let Josh keep it in anyway.

Pink Floyd – The Dark Side Of The Moon

“While prog has for the most-part been a genre flowing beneath the tide of commercialism, Pink Floyd completely ascended every limitation surrounding the genre with Dark Side Of The Moon. There’s something to be said about such an experimental record reaching such heights of success. It’s an absolute masterpiece with some of the biggest songs ever to grace the airwaves, nestled between moments of bliss and absolute insanity. “

Tech-Fest takes place at Newark Showground, Nottinghamshire, from 7-9 July. Tickets are available now.

Northlane - Mesmer album review

The 14 best djent tracks, by TesseracT's James Monteith

Luke Morton joined Metal Hammer as Online Editor in 2014, having previously worked as News Editor at popular (but now sadly defunct) alternative lifestyle magazine, Front. As well as helming the Metal Hammer website for the four years that followed, Luke also helped relaunch the Metal Hammer podcast in early 2018, producing, scripting and presenting the relaunched show during its early days. He also wrote regular features for the magazine, including a 2018 cover feature for his very favourite band in the world, Slipknot, discussing their turbulent 2008 album, All Hope Is Gone.