Progressive Metal

PROGRESSIVE METAL (1970-present)

Progressive Metal (sometimes known as Prog Metal or Technical Metal) is a sub-genre of Heavy Metal, originating in the United Kingdom and the United States in the 1970s. It blends elements of Heavy Metal and Progressive Rock, taking the loud “aggression” and amplified electric guitar-driven sound of the former, with the more experimental, complex and “pseudo-classical” compositions of the latter.

Progressive MetalWhilst the genre emerged towards the late-1980s, it was not until the 1990s that Progressive Metal achieved commercial success. Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, Tool and Fates Warning are a few examples of Progressive Metal bands who achieved commercial success; additionally, Heavy Metal bands such as Megadeth incorporated elements of progressive music in their work. Progressive Metal’s popularity started to decline towards the end of the 1990s, but it remains a largely underground genre with a committed fan base.


High Tide, fused the elements of “metal progenitors such as Cream, Blue Cheer and the Jeff Beck Group” into their sound. Other Progressive Rock bands such as King Crimson and Rush were also incorporating Metal into their music, as well as Uriah Heep, whose “by-the-books progressive Heavy Metal made the British band one of the most popular Hard Rock groups of the early ’70s”. Rush songs such as “Bastille Day”, “Anthem”, “By-Tor And The Snow Dog”, “2112”, “The Fountain of Lamneth” and “Something for Nothing” have been cited as some of the earliest examples of Progressive Metal.

Another early practitioner of Heavy Metal were Lucifer’s Friend. Night Sun was also an early band that mixed Heavy Metal with Progressive Rock tones, though only releasing one album. However, Progressive Metal did not develop into a genre of its own until the mid-1980s. Bands such as Psychotic Waltz, Fates Warning, Queensrÿche, Crimson Glory and Dream Theater took elements of Progressive Metal groups (primarily the instrumentation and compositional structure of songs) and merged them with Heavy Metal styles associated with bands like Judas Priest and Black Sabbath (both of these bands had some progressive influences on their early albums). The result could be described as a Progressive Metal mentality with Heavy Metal sounds.

These four early flagship bands for Progressive Metal (Fates Warning, Queensrÿche, Crimson Glory and Dream Theater) each had somewhat different sounds. Queensrÿche had the most melodic sound of the four and achieved, with Operation Mindcrime and Empire the genre’s most immediate commercial successes, which peaked with the crossover single “Silent Lucidity” reaching number nine on the Billboard Hot 100.

Fates Warning were the most aggressive and heavy and arguably had the most in common with the Thrash and Extreme Metal scenes of the time, because they started out their career playing Metal in the vein of Judas Priest and early Iron Maiden (a band who would incorporate more progressive elements in their later albums). Their 1989 album Perfect Symmetry broke transcendenceaway from their NWOBHM influenced sound and became the mold for early Progressive Metal that Dream Theater would expand on. Dream Theater drew more heavily upon traditional Progressive Metal and also built much of their earlier career on the band members’ virtuoso instrumental skills, despite also achieving an early – and unexpected – MTV hit with the eight-minute “Pull Me Under” from 1992’s Images and Words.

Crimson Glory’s music featured tight dual-lead harmonies and soaring vocals would be featured prominently on their debut as well as the follow-up, Transcendence. Transcendence was a landmark in the genre, often cited as one of the greatest Progressive Metal album of all time, the best metal album of the decade and an influence by many bands like Cage, Triosphere and Rhapsody of Fire. It also contained the song Lonely, which was their first hit-single and music video.

According to AllMusic, Progressive Metal at the time was “fairly underground (although Metallica albums such as …And Justice for All were as dense and layered as prog albums)”. Though Progressive Metal was and has remained, primarily an album-oriented genre, this mainstream exposure increased the genre’s profile and opened doors for other bands. Over the 1990s, bands such as Pain of Salvation, Vanden Plas, Seventh Wonder, Threshold, Circus Maximus, Anubis Gate, Coheed and Cambria, Symphony X, Tool, Andromeda, Porcupine Tree and Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Ayreon project all succeeded in developing their own audiences and signature sounds. In the decade which followed, artists who began their careers outside of the progressive milieu, such as Sweden’s Tiamat (originally a Death/Doom act), Green Carnation and Opeth (both formed in the Death Metal mould), developed a progressive sound and became identified with the Progressive Metal genre.

Music_dream_theater_music_bands_1920x1200Ayreon stayed with the traditional Prog Metal themes, but mixed them with many other influences, such as Rock opera, Folk music and Ambient. Pain of Salvation experimented with both Progressive Rock and Progressive Metal, made extensive use of polyrhythms and abruptly switched between calm and heavy passages. Seventh Wonder stayed within the Prog Metal mold, but had a larger focus on melody than most other Progressive Metal bands.

Symphony X married progressive elements to Power Metal and Classical music. Tool and Karnivool created a progressive sound using Alternative Metal elements and odd rhythms. Porcupine Tree began as a Psychedelic / Space Rock band, but developed a Progressive Metal sound with 2002’s In Absentia. Steve Vai’s former singer and Heavy Metal band Strapping Young Lad’s singer and guitarist Devin Townsend combined elements of Post-Metal and Ambient with traditional Progressive Metal on his first two solo albums Ocean Machine : Biomech and Infinity. Mastodon also combined Progressive Metal with Sludge elements.

Opeth, Skyfire and Between the Buried and Me combined (in very different ways) their Prog influence with Death Metal, as have Meshuggah, whose distinctive sound has spawned the Djent movement within Progressive Metal. Mudvayne incorporated elements of Death Metal, Jazz fusion and Progressive Rock into a style which the band jokingly described as “Math Metal”. Bands such as Thirty Seconds to Mars created a more traditional progressive sound that incorporated elements of Space Rock.


OpethProgressive Metal can be broken down into many sub-genres corresponding to certain other styles of music that have influenced Progressive Metal groups. For example, two bands that are commonly identified as Progressive Metal, King’s X and Opeth, are at opposite ends of the sonic spectrum to one another. King’s X are greatly influenced by softer mainstream Rock and, in fact, contributed to the growth of Grunge, influencing bands like Pearl Jam, whose bassist Jeff Ament once said, “King’s X invented Grunge.” Opeth’s growling vocals and heavy guitars (liberally intermixed with Gothic Metal – evocative acoustic passages and clean melodic vocals) often see them cited as Progressive Death Metal, yet their vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt refers to Yes and Camel as major influences in the style of their music.

Classical and Symphonic music have also had a significant impact on sections of the Progressive Metal genre, with artists like Devin Townsend, Symphony X, Shadow Gallery and Ex Libris fusing traditional Progressive Metal with a complexity and grandeur usually found in Classical compositions. Similarly, bands such as Dream Theater, Planet X, 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, hence the ProgPower music festival, with bands such as Fates Warning and Conception originating as Power Metal bands that incorporated progressive elements which came to overshadow their Power Metal roots.

Progressive Metal has also overlapped Thrash Metal – most famously perhaps with Dark Angel’s swansong album Time Does Not Heal, which was famous for its sticker that said “9 songs, 67 minutes, 246 riffs.” The band Watchtower, who released their first album in 1985, blended the modern Thrash Metal sound with heavy progressive influences, and even Megadeth were often and still are often associated with Progressive Metal, as Dave Mustaine even once claimed that the band was billed as “Jazz Metal” in the early ’80s. Martin Popoff argued that the Metallica album …And Justice for All was a Progressive Metal album due to its intricate song structure and bleak sound.

The band Racer X, featuring guitarist Paul Gilbert, would also fall within this genre of technical proficiency a tendency evidenced on songs such as “B.R.O.” from 1999’s Technical Difficulties. The band Voivod also combined elements of Thrash Metal and Progressive Metal, specifically on the releases Killing Technology, Dimension Hatröss and Nothingface in 1987, 1988 and 1989 respectively.

Recently, with a new wave of popularity in Shred guitar, the hitherto-unfashionable genre of “technical metal” has become increasingly prevalent and popular in the Metal scene. This has led to a resurgence of popularity for more traditional Progressive Metal bands like Dream Theater and Symphony X and also has led to the inclusion within the Progressive Metal scene of bands that do not necessarily play in its traditional style such as Thrash / Power metallers Nevermore and Technical Death Metal pioneers Necrophagist and Obscura. These bands are often labeled Progressive Metal, seeing as they play complex and technical metal music which does not readily cleave to any other metal sub-genre.

Derivatives of Progressive Metal

Djent also known as Djent Metal, is a musical sub-genre that emerged as a spin-off from Progressive Metal in the mid-2000s. The word “Djent” is onomatopoeia for a heavily palm-muted, distorted guitar chord. Typically, the word is used to refer to music that makes use of this sound, to the sound itself, or to the scene that revolves around it. Djent as a style has been described as featuring heavily palm-muted, distorted guitar chords alongside virtuoso soloing and is characterized by rhythmic complexity and palm-muted riffing. Pioneering bands in the style are Meshuggah, Periphery, Animals As Leaders, TesseracT and Textures.


(Courtesy : Metal Evolution)

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