Progressive metal

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Progressive metal (sometimes shortened to prog metal) is a broad fusion music genre melding heavy metal and progressive rock, combining the loud "aggression" [2] and amplified guitar-driven sound of the former with the more experimental, cerebral or "pseudo-classical" compositions of the latter. One of these experimental examples introduced to modern metal was djent. [2] The music typically showcases the extreme technical proficiency of the performers and usually uses unorthodox harmonies as well as complex rhythms with frequent meter changes and intense syncopation.


While the genre emerged towards the late-1980s, it was not until the 1990s that progressive metal achieved widespread success. [2] Queensrÿche, Dream Theater, Tool, Symphony X, [3] Shadow Gallery, King's X, and Fates Warning are a few examples of progressive metal bands who achieved commercial success. [4] Soon after the rise of the genre's popularity, other thrash and death metal bands started to incorporate elements of progressive music in their work.


Progressive metal, as a distinct musical style, was primarily advanced by members of the American heavy metal scene of the mid-1980s, particularly Queensrÿche, Fates Warning and, later, Dream Theater. It has since developed in a non-linear fashion, with countless groups demonstrating innovations in personal ways. [5] [6]

The origins of the genre date back to the very beginning of heavy metal/hard rock and progressive rock when some bands began to merge the two different approaches. 1960s pioneers King Crimson maintained their musical innovation while incorporating a harder approach, using dissonance and experimental tones, yet still maintaining a relationship to the power chords of hard rock. [7] Canadian trio Rush are widely recognized as bridging the gap between hard rock, English progressive rock, and pure heavy metal. [8] Initially influenced by Led Zeppelin, they evolved to combine established progressive rock technique with blues-based power chords. Records such as 2112 (1976) showcased technical expertise and complex compositional skill while still utilizing a more direct and heavier approach than the established English progressive rock music.

1984 brought full length debut albums from American bands Queensrÿche, [9] from Washington, and Fates Warning, [10] from Connecticut. Both expanded their music to include more progressive elements ( The Warning 1984, The Spectre Within 1985) – some through sound experimentation and compositional refinement, others through extremely complex structures and atypical riffs – up to the two seminal works in 1986: Rage for Order and Awaken the Guardian . [11] [12] In the following years the two bands, while following different paths – more basic and simple the first, more articulate and complex the latter - explore and expand the technical refinement and sonic finesse of their music, continuing to lay the foundations of the genre with important works such as Operation: Mindcrime (1988) by Queensrÿche, No Exit (1988) and Perfect Symmetry (1989) by Fates Warning.

Other important groups of 1980s prog-metal included King's X - Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989), Crimson Glory - Transcendence (1988), Heir Apparent, Savatage - Gutter Ballet (1989), and Canadian innovators Voivod.

Progressive metal also found a home in the growing U.S. speed metal movement, influencing popular heavy metal bands Metallica - ...And Justice for All (1988). [13] Among the other pioneering thrash metal bands, one of the most important is the Canadian Voivod, with their complex and experimental style, full of psychedelic dissonances ( Dimension Hatröss 1988, Nothingface 1989). [14] "Math-metal" pioneers Watchtower, from Texas, took the concept of time-changes to a new level, combining thrash metal, syncopation and prog in their albums Energetic Disassembly (1985) [15] and Control and Resistance (1989), giving rise to an extremely technical approach based on the rhythmic deconstruction typical of jazz fusion. [16] This same type of prog metal would be later integrated into death metal by bands such as Atheist (1991's Unquestionable Presence ) [17] and Opeth (1996's Morningrise ), which would become known as technical death metal or progressive death metal.

The major US bands that contribute to further delineating and developing the genre are Psychotic Waltz and Dream Theater. The former, with an approach halfway between Watchtower and Fates Warning, produced A Social Grace (1990), melding their signature sound with the psychedelic Into the Everflow (1992), [18] while the latter explored the legacy of the bands that preceded them while advancing their personal style with When Dream and Day Unite (1989). Both albums focused on keyboards and band members' instrumental skills, and their efforts resulted in two fundamental albums, that institutionalize classic progressive metal - Images and Words (1992) and Awake (1994). [19]

As for Europe, among the pioneers are the Germans Sieges Even, who, starting from the techno thrash of Watchtower, explore the more technical and angular side of progressive metal with The Art of Navigating by the Stars (2005). [20]

The following groups are some of the other notable progressive metal bands that formed in the US.

Shadow Gallery - Carved in Stone (1995), with elements of melodic and power metal;

• The neoclassical groups Symphony X - The Divine Wings of Tragedy (1997), Redemption - The Fullness of Time (2005), and OSI - Office of Strategic Influence (2003), with Kevin Moore (ex-keyboardist of Dream Theater) and Jim Matheos (guitarist of Fates Warning);

• The groups focusing more on technical elements Tool - Lateralus (2001), Zero Hour - The Towers of Avarice (2001), Arch/Matheos - Sympathetic Resonance (2011), and instrumental groups such as Spastic Ink - Ink Compatible (2004), Liquid Tension Experiment - Liquid Tension Experiment (1998), Gordian Knot - Emergent (2003), and Canvas Solaris - Sublimation (2004);

The following groups are some of the other notable progressive metal bands that formed in Europe.

• The melodic and power metal side including the Norwegians Conception - Parallel Minds (1993) and Ark, the Germans Vanden Plas - The God Thing (1997), the English Threshold - Wounded Land (1993), the Danish Royal Hunt - Paradox (1997), the Swedes Andromeda - Extension of the Wish (2001) and Evergrey - In Search of Truth (2001), the Poles Riverside - Second Life Syndrome (2005), the Spanish band Avalanch;[ citation needed ]

• The technical and experimental groups including the Norwegian Spiral Architect, with their innovative approach between Watchtower and Fates Warning in A Sceptic's Universe (1999), Circus Maximus - The 1st Chapter (2005), and Leprous - Tall Poppy Syndrome (2009).

Among the bands of the late 1990s who managed to bring innovation to the genre are the Dutch Ayreon (a project by Arjen Anthony Lucassen) and the Swedes Pain of Salvation. Ayreon focused on theatrical and melodramatic rock operas Into the Electric Castle (1998) and The Human Equation (2004), performed by many different members of prominent metal bands.[ citation needed ] Pain of Salvation was always working towards an unusual style, demonstrated by the eclecticism and anti-conformism found on One Hour by the Concrete Lake (1998), and BE (2004). [21] Forerunners of a more experimental and alternative approach include Thought Industry - Mods Carve the Pig: Assassins, Toads and God's Flesh (1993), Mind Over Four, and Voivod. Another important and key figure for eclectic and unusual prog is the singer, guitarist and composer Devin Townsend, who brought a vanguard attitude to highest levels within this genre ( Terria 2001).

Between the Buried and Me, who started as a more straightforward metalcore band, began to incorporate both progressive metal and death metal into their music on their 2003 album The Silent Circus , a landmark album in the progressive metalcore genre. [22] They would later add avant-garde elements as well on releases such as The Great Misdirect (2009).

As of 2019, the genre is still constantly evolving in multiple forms, and has reached a far broader variety of sounds and styles than it had at its origin, with many of the historical bands continuing to record new music and tour, while thousands of other new bands emerge in the underground scene every year, from all over the world. Recently, Mastodon - Crack the Skye (2009), Gojira - Magma (2016), and Haken - The Mountain (2013) are examples of progressive bands that have reached a greater mainstream popularity.

Stylistic diversity

One of the hallmark musical qualities of progressive metal is the stylistic eclecticism that is pervasive across many groups. In between the riffs, choruses, and solos typical of rock and metal songs, prog metal bands often include sections inspired by jazz, classical, Middle Eastern music (especially often using the phrygian dominant scale), Dixieland, ragtime, among others. This is usually achieved by the keyboard player of the band playing unique sounds or by including instruments that are unorthodox for metal, such as the saxophone. The idea of incorporating different styles of music was primarily pioneered by Dream Theater; this approach is seen throughout most of their discography. Other groups that frequently use these eccentric sections include Haken, Between the Buried and Me, Thank You Scientist, Opeth, Liquid Tension Experiment, and Circus Maximus.

A ragtime solo played by Jordan Rudess in the middle of "The Dance of Eternity", an otherwise heavy metal song by Dream Theater. This is a clear example of the mixing of styles that is common in progressive metal.

Progressive metal is difficult to define specifically, since most bands labeled under the genre have considerably different musical influences when compared to each other. [23] For example, two bands that are commonly identified as progressive metal, King's X and Opeth, sound very different from one another; King's X is greatly influenced by hard rock, whereas Opeth's growling vocals and heavy guitars lead to the band being cited as progressive death metal. [24]

Opeth playing live May 30, 2009 Band03.jpg
Opeth playing live May 30, 2009

Similarly, bands such as Dream Theater, Planet X, Puya, [25] Liquid Tension Experiment, The Faceless, Between the Buried and Me and Animals as Leaders have a jazz influence, with extended solo sections that often feature "trading solos". Cynic, Atheist, Opeth, Pestilence, Between the Buried and Me and Meshuggah all blended jazz fusion with death metal, but in dramatically different ways. Devin Townsend draws on more ambient influences in the atmosphere of his music. Progressive metal is also often linked with power metal; Fates Warning and Conception, two bands that were originally power metal outfits, later incorporated progressive elements that ended up overshadowing their power metal roots. The ProgPower music festivals showcase this progressive/power metal fusion. Recently, with a popularity in shred guitar, the genre of "technical metal" has become increasingly prevalent and popular. This has led to a resurgence of popularity for more traditional progressive metal bands like Dream Theater and Symphony X; it also has led to the inclusion within the progressive niche of bands that do not necessarily play in its traditional style such as thrash/power metal band Nevermore and technical death metal pioneers Necrophagist and Obscura. These bands are often labeled progressive since they play complex and technical music which does not fall under any other genre.

In the late 2000s, bands such as Born of Osiris, Periphery, Tesseract, Animals as Leaders and Vildhjarta popularized the "djent" style of progressive metal in a sound originally developed by Meshuggah. It is characterized by high-attack, palm-muted, syncopated riffs (often incorporating polymeters), as well as use of extended range guitars. [26] Extended range guitars also feature in other forms of progressive metal; artists including Devin Townsend, Dir En Grey, and Ne Obliviscaris have used 7-string guitars without being part of the "djent" movement.

Proyecto Eskhata, a Spanish band, has received much press coverage in Spain for its fusion of progressive rock and rap metal, which journalists have described as "progressive rap metal". [27] [28] [29] [30]

Progressive doom is a fusion genre that combines elements of progressive metal and doom metal. [31] Bands include King Goat, [31] Below the Sun, [32] Sierra, [33] and Oceans of Slumber. [34]

Difference between progressive metal and experimental metal

Although progressive and experimental metal both favor experimentation and non-standard ideas, there are large differences between the two. The experimentation of progressive metal has a strong emphasis on technicality and theoretical complexity. This is done by playing complex rhythms and harmonies and implementing unusual time signatures and song structures - all with the use of traditional instruments. [35] In experimental metal, most of the experimentation is in the use of unusual sounds and instruments, being more unorthodox and questioning of musical conventions. [36]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Antiquus is a Canadian power metal band from Vancouver, British Columbia. Music composed by the band combines many different styles of metal into a unique fusion that is most closely likened to Power Metal, while being reasonably progressive as well. In their own words, "Far from the mainstream, Antiquus draws upon the roots of metal to create its signature sound - aggressive, melodic, intelligent. Clean, strong vocals and complex story-telling lyrics set against a sonic canvas of harmony guitars, edgy bass lines and punchy drumming." The current lineup in the band consists of bassist Scott Unger, drummer Andrew Bak, guitarist Toshi Osawa, and vocalist Jesse White. The name Antiquus is drawn from the Latin word for ancient. In an interview with Fast Forward Weekly, Antiquus member Andrew Bak clarified their goals. "We never decided to do one particular style of metal or take one particular approach. The songwriting and the sound we have really just came out of the chemistry, everything that we did was something that developed because of the personalities that we have and the level that we are at." Antiquus with their Eleutheria lineup toured as openers for bands such as D.O.A, Into Eternity and Sonata Arctica. Their albums have been generally well received by reviewers, however fan recognition of the band is low due to the general lack of popularity of the style in North America.


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