Well, it's high time that progressive music got a good, high-ish-profile awards show, and now, thanks to Prog Magazine, we have one. The bad news is that it stlil shows signs of being the fledgling event that it is. So based off of the nominees for this year, here's my analysis of what they've done right and what they've done wrong.
First of all, there are a few questionable entries in the album of the year field. The inclusions of Yes's Fly From Here and Opeth's Heritage seem more like pandering to the base than anything else--they were both decent albums, but are more included seemingly for their notoriety than actual quality. Yes is the classic progressive rock band that everyone loves, and Opeth is both the token progressive death metal and the token modern prog artist that are name-dropped when you're talking to someone who only has the most shallow understanding of the genre. And the inclusion of Nightwish as a progressive band is laughable; undeniably they have progressive elements, but are far from a full-blown progressive act. The only album I haven't heard was It Bite's Map of the Past, so I can't really speak to its inclusion.
However, there are a few obvious snubs. They don't list the cutoff date, but depending on exactly what day it is (somehwere between 8 and 22 June), Symphony X's Iconoclast may have been eligible. If it was, its omission is flabbergasting). That album was the perfect two-disc realization of symphonic prog by one of the most established bands in the modern scene, and dropping it at the expense of Nightiwsh is a slap to the face. Another high-profile snub can be found in Diablo Swing Orchestra's Pandora's Piñata, being one of the finest avant-garde albums ever released, not to mention receiving universal praise upon its release. And though they are definitely more of a fringe band, Swedes Vidhjarta definitely deserved to be on for their perfection of djent music with måsstaden, or, at a minimum, as some kind of affirmation that death metal was getting any recognition at all. I'm also surprised Ian Anderson's Thick as a Brick 2 wasn't included for consideration, especially given the high profile and high quality of its release, not to mention the slew of other awards Anderson was nominated for.
Completely ignoring Dream Theater's A Dramatic Turn of Events and The Mars Volta's Noctourniquet were great decisions, however--I think we can all agree that those albums blew, and including them would have been incredibly obvious pandering to the fanbase. At least they're above that. The inclusion of Anathema's Weather Systems is a pleasant surprise, however. It's good to see that they are willing to branch out to a few bands that aren't part of the established 'canon' of prog bands when they deserve it, and believe me, Weather Systems fucking deserves it. Its inclusion here gives me hope for the diversity of future years.
As for the 'Vsionary' award, recongizing bands with a heavy progressive influence that otherwise stray from the genre, most of these were safe choices, with acts like Radiohead and Muse being incredibly obvious selections. However, the snub for Primus is unacceptable--though I'm not disparaging any of the bands on there, if there's any one that actually deserves it, it's them. In addition, it seems odd that experimental math rock band Battles didn't at least get a nod, considering their creative music and escalating popularity.
I can't really criticize the choices for the lifetime achievement category, but for the first 10 or so years, the selections here are gonna be hella predictable. I'm betting on Pink Floyd, Yes, Genesis, Rush, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, ELP, Moody Blues, Van der Graaf Generator, Kansas, and maybe Queen all winning it before we actually get some interesting names here. Until then, it's basically just gonna be safe self-congratulation. The same thing applies to the 'Prog God' category, though I'm still wondering how the hell Kate Bush and Steve Hillage got nominations before David Gilmour.
As for the 'Guiding Light' award, recognizing artists continually pushing the boundaries of progressive music, these are again mostly safe choices, with Mikael Åkerfeldt, Steven Wilson, Mike Portnoy, and Robert Fripp all being very obvious selections. However, there are also a few glaring snubs in this category. Most notably, where the fuck is Devin Townsend? He is the single greatest stand alone artist in progressive music today; that man deserves a second house to store all of the accolades he should be receiving. To a lesser degree, the same applies to Ayreon frontman and solo artist Arjen Lucassen, Tool and A Perfect Circle frontman Maynard James Keenan, and Montréal-based post-rocker Efrim Menuck--these are all visionary musicians, and without them, it's safe to say the modern progressive music scene would be much less interesting.
Of course, were this a perfect world, Ben Sharp would get some kind of recognition for his Cloudkicker project, creating independently-released music that's achieved him notoriety most bands only dream of. But that's not likely to happen ever. Until then, we can only hope he keeps releasing music with as high a standard as he holds himself to.
Back on topic, a lot of talented musicians were snubbed from the 'Virtuoso' category too, such as Meshuggah bandmates Tomas Haake and Fredrik Thordendal, Gojira drummer Mario Duplantier, solo guitarist Devin Townsend (yes, him again), and most glaringly, Rush drummer Neil Fucking Peart. Seriously, the guy is the greatest drummer ever--Mike Portnoy is nothing without him. The inclusion of ELP and Asia drummer Carl Palmer was a pleasant and well-deserved surprise, though; he is definitely amongst the criminally underrated performers in prog music.
I can't really speak much to the 'New Blood' and 'Anthem' categories, recognizing new artists and great individual songs respectively, mostly because I haven't heard enough of the artists represented. However, I will say that Steven Wilson's "Raider II" and Squackett's "A Life Within a Day" were both very underwhelming tracks, so I can't imagine the other selections were of a stellar calibre either. Diablo Swing Orchestra's "Justice for Saint Mary", Rush's "Headlong Flight", and Ian Anderson's "A Change of Horses" would've all been much better selections. Additionally, while not bad, TesseracT's debut One wasn't much to write home about, so their inclusion in the new artists category is a bit surprising, and admittedly colours my impression of the rest of the selections.
The 'Grand Design' category is a bit odd, praising special and deluxe versions of albums. Mostly, they're pretty agreeable decisions. King Crimson's Panegyric Reissues in particular deserve to be on there, and though they were a bit excessive, Pink Floyd's Immersion reissues are also a good selection. The only severe oversight would be Death's reissue campaign from late 2011, including the amazing Individual Thought Patterns reissue, the standard-bearer album for tech death. Other than that, it's a pretty unobjectionable, if odd, category.
On a general note, the total lack of any progressive subgenre music is appalling--there's no post-rock/post-metal music to speak of, no tech metal, and the only death metal bands with a nod (Opeth and Anathema) received them for clean vocal albums. I'm really hoping for some branching out in years to come, because those are huge subgenres to be ignored in favour of the easy stuff, especially in a genre of music that prides itself on originality and experimentation.
In general, it's full of safe, low-controversy, relatively unsurprising choices, which is somewhat par for the course for an awards event in its first year, and while some of those artists did legitimately dserve the recognition they got, far too many seemed to be appeasement selections. In years to come, here's hoping for more death metal, more post-rock, and more Devin Townsend.
You may now return to your regularly scheduled punk and hardcore tomfoolery.