The 10 best progressive metal albums of 2023

Prog metal
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While other subgenres weather peaks and valleys of relevance, progressive metal is always there, testing the boundaries of what heavy musicians think they can do. It’s no surprise, then, that the genre had yet another stellar year in 2023, with so many of its albums wowing both critics and fans.

The past 12 months’ great prog metal albums came from all directions. While such experimentalists as Enslaved and Tesseract stayed the course and stuck with the genre, we saw arena-metal heavyweights like Avenged Sevenfold barge in. Newcomers such as Unprocessed also announced their worth more loudly than ever before. All these bands and more are celebrated below, as Metal Hammer names the 10 best prog metal albums of 2023:

Metal Hammer line break

Avenged Sevenfold – Life Is But A Dream… (Warner)

Avenged Sevenfold had already embraced prog grandeur with 2016's The Stage, but in truth the seeds for the psychedelia-laced fever dream that is their eighth studio album were laid all the way back in 2007. A Little Piece Of Heaven showed a more whimiscal and genre-blurring side of the band that's taken 16 years to rise again, but where Heaven... was a curio against their more traditional rock and metal fare, Life Is But A Dream... is packed to the gills with stylistic left-turns and huge creative leaps. 

Needless to say, it's been divisive, but even the most furious naysayer would have to admit that the fact a band of A7X's stature are even still considering taking such massive risks is worthy of praise. This is progressive metal in the truest sense of the word, a brilliantly balanced opus which we can't wait to see live. Roll on Download Festival 2024. RICH HOBSON

Enslaved – Heimdal (Nuclear Blast)

For their 16th album, Viking explorers Enslaved started anew, sourcing inspiration from the prog and metal bands they listened to as teenagers. The resulting music pushed them further into cosmic experimentation, such as on the synthy, dreamlike Caravans To The Outer Worlds. Yet, the likes of the frostbitten Congelia also rediscovered the Norwegians’ roots in seedy black metal. How this lot can sound so fresh after so long remains mesmerising. MATT MILLS

Katatonia – Sky Void Of Stars (Napalm)

Although there’s no such thing as a bad Katatonia album, the Swedish misery merchants sounded particularly majestic on Sky Void Of Stars. Jonas Renkse, Anders Nyström and company tapped inspiration not from your usual prog suspects, but rather Kiss and pop-rockers Kent, making this arguably their tightest-ever collection of anthems. While Atrium shimmered with beautiful melancholy, Birds used high-energy riffing to captivate and Colossal Shade proved a scarily catchy ode to Satan. MATT MILLS

Ne Obliviscaris – Exul (Season Of Mist)

Striking a delicate balance between the bluster and brutality of extreme metal and prog intricacy, Ne Obliviscaris' fourth album is the best showcase of their unique fusion of styles. Violinist/vocalist Tim Charles provides heart-wrenching melodies that lend a sense of scale and heart to the band's music, while the sheer force of Xenoyr's roars should surely scratch the itch any old-school Opeth fans have over a decade since that band ditched their heavier inclinations. RICH HOBSON

The Ocean – Holocene (Pelagic)

In 2020, The Ocean seemingly wrapped up a three-album series that explored the entire history of Earth. But then they released this surprise epilogue. Holocene lyrically chronicled the current state of humanity, lamenting the epidemic of misinformation and our shallow obsession with youth. Alongside these modern themes came a more modern sound, as the band emphasised electronica to frame their dynamic post-metal. It proved another triumphant adventure for prog’s conceptual masterminds. MATT MILLS

Ohhms – Rot (Church Road)

After six albums and almost ten years as a band, Ohhms announced their surprise split in November with a final performance at Damnation. But, as the band themselves put it, "no drama - just riffs" and their sixth album Rot is testament to this philosophy, expansive cosmic noodling over a sludgy, almost post-metal framework setting the scene for some transcendental listening. They will be missed.


Periphery – V: Djent Is Not A Genre (3DOT)

Opener Wildfire sets the tone for Djent Is Not A Genre; a whiplash-inducing excercise in unpredictable song structures, veering from brutal breakdowns and breakout anthemic choruses to jazzy interludes in a seven-minute sonic odyssey. The rest of the album doesn't ease off the pedal either: Periphery's seventh studio album is a brilliant showcase of the incredible musicianship of its members whilst retaining the massive songwriting talents that have helped the band grow bigger with each release. London's Roundhouse beckons in February, but right now the sky's the limit. RICH HOBSON

Tesseract – War Of Being (Kscope)

On their first album in five years, Tesseract both stayed the course and returned to roots. The preceding decade had seen the UK’s djent beloveds slowly ratchet their long-running prog suites into more forceful and immediate songs. Although War Of Being maintained that accessibility on such standouts as The Grey, the likes of the title track rediscovered the band’s sweeping grandeur. 20 years in, Tesseract made their best album to date. MATT MILLS

Unprocessed – …And Everything In Between (self-released)

It isn’t fair how talented Manuel Gardner Fernandes is. Not only is the man a ridiculously gifted shredder (see his YouTube channel for proof); in Unprocessed, he also proves himself to be a powerhouse singer and melody-maker. As easy as it would have been for Manuel to hand out nine songs of him noodling, …And Everything In Between is rife with immense hooks, plus some tasteful cameos from fellow guitar gods Polyphia. MATT MILLS

Voyager – Fearless In Love (Season Of Mist)

Voyager wrote their eighth album as they were gunning for Eurovision success, so it would have been easy for the Aussies to betray their synthy prog metal origins in favour of saccharine pop. Instead, they doubled down on their accessible yet avant-garde ways: Promise (which reached the top 10 in the 2023 Song Contest) was cast bravely against the heaviness of Prince Of Fire and the textured Gren (Fearless In Love). MATT MILLS

Matt Mills
Contributing Editor, Metal Hammer

Louder’s resident Gojira obsessive was still at uni when he joined the team in 2017. Since then, Matt’s become a regular in Prog and Metal Hammer, at his happiest when interviewing the most forward-thinking artists heavy music can muster. He’s got bylines in The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Guitar and many others, too. When he’s not writing, you’ll probably find him skydiving, scuba diving or coasteering.

With contributions from