Usually people complain about their favorite band suddenly changing their approach on their songwriting and sometimes they are disappointed when all of the new music does not follow the traditional metal style. But sometimes progression is a good thing, especially in the genre that is dedicated to it.
Progressive Metal is a complicated style of music, as "progressive" isn't actually a genre; it's an attribute of the music, meaning that the song does not follow the traditional rules of the genre or music in general. Both Gojira and Shadow Gallery can be considered progressive metal although they are nothing alike. But when we are speaking of progressive metal we usually mean the genre that is a fusion of traditional heavy and power metal and progressive rock. This article is based on that genre, so don't be disappointed if you can't find Vektor or Atheist here although they are awesome progressive metal bands.
Progressive metal was born in the year 1969, with the release of two prog rock records. The other was the debut of High Tide; a prog rock band with a heavier influence than its predecessors and peers. The music wasn't really metal at this point; It was prog with a hard rock/heavy metal influence. This record however influenced the following progressive metal bands and is probably one of the most important albums in progressive metal history.
But the other record was called "The Court Of The Crimson King". Ever heard of it? Yes you have. Or you should have. King Crimson isn't really a metal band but it did have a similar heavy influence as high tide. And I can't imagine anyone speaking of the history of progressive music without at least mentioning King Crimson. "The Court Of The Crimson King" is a legendary album, and let's be honest here, it's one of the best albums ever recorded. Even metal fans should enjoy it, although it's not a metal record.
Year after these two records, Uriah Heep released their first record. I'm going to quote Homer Simpson here: "It's a well known fact that rock music achieved perfection in the '70s." And this perfection started with "...Very 'Eavy ...Very 'Umble". Uriah Heep had a considerably heavier sound than High Tide and King Crimson, but it still wasn't really metal. I still enjoy listening the track "The Magician's Birthday" as my friends link it for me every year at my birthday.
As we speak of the perfection in the '70s, we must speak of the true birth of progressive metal. In the year 1974 a legendary band released their self-titled record. Rush is probably one of the most important bands in the field of art we call music. Rush had the metal sound that defines the prog metal scene, while still remaining as a traditional prog rock band. Their music is near perfect fusion of rock and metal, and it sure is progressive. And I'm sure that we are all glad that although the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame had a "No Rush" approach, they finally inducted the legends in 2013. And Rush definitely deserves a spot.
I have to mention a band that released their debut in 1980 and had a huge influence in progressive metal. Iron Maiden is one of the most well known metal bands in the world, and actually in my opinion shares that title with Metallica. Although Maiden isn't a progressive band, they had some influence from the progressive rock scene. And they had a huge influence on the progressive metal scene as many prog metal bands take influence to the metal side of their music from Iron Maiden.
Now that we have discussed progressive rock bands that have a heavy influence and a heavy band that influenced progressive metal, it's time to discuss metal bands that have a progressive rock influence. In the year 1983, Savatage released their first record. As the earlier bands had the prog but not the metal, Savatage sure has the metal but is still missing something in the prog. They had the traditional heavy/power approach while having a much greater progressive approach than Iron Maiden for example, but it still isn't pure progressive metal that I'll mostly discuss here. Savatage influenced practically all of the following progressive metal bands and it can be considered one of the most important pioneers of the style, and it's definitely worth of a listen for any prog metal fan.
Year after their debut two revered and some of the most well known prog metal bands released their first albums. Queensrche is probably one of the most popular progressive metal bands, and they've had a lot of news coverage recently due to their somewhat strange split, as the band separated into two separate bands with the same name. Although Queensrche released some of the timeless progressive metal classics such as "Operation: Mindcrime" their post-2000 material is often considered weak and although it definitely does not reach the same level as their classic records, it still has its fans.
But the other band that debuted in 1984 is often considered the first true progressive metal band. Fates Warning had quite a power metal influence, but it also had a greater progressive influence than the previous heavy/power metal bands. Fates Warning is also still active, and every single one of their albums has been successful in the progressive fanbase. It has been a while since they have released a full length record but you still can see them live, which is an experience probably well worth experiencing. Although I can't speak from experience as I haven't seen them, which is a shame.
A few years after this in 1986, Crimson Glory released their debut album. It followed faithfully in the footsteps of Savatage, Queensrche and Fates Warning, playing heavy/power metal with a huge progressive influence. Crimson Glory has been active and passive and active again for years now and haven't released new full lengths in over ten years but they are currently they are active again and have a dedicated fanbase. Even if they decide to never record again we have some awesome albums such as their self titled debut to remember them by.
But now we'll jump to the year 1989 with a debut from probably the most legendary progressive metal band and a true prog giant Dream Theater. Having some of the most talented musicians and songwriters working together to create quality progressive metal Dream Theater have produced some of the best prog to date. Their 1992 album "Images And Words" is definitely one of the most iconic records in the progressive metal history. Dream Theater also seems to be a band that benefit greatly from lineup changes, as "Images And Words", "Falling Into Infinity", "Scenes From A Memory" and "A Dramatic Turn Of Events" are all albums that were released directly after a change in lineup and they are some of Dream Theater's best records. Dream Theater is also responsible for the mainstream success of progressive metal. If your hipster side thinks this is a bad thing, think again because I, for example, wouldn't be writing this article without their music.
A year after Dream Theater's debut Psychotic Waltz released theirs. And this is when the music got weird. Psychotic Waltz are masters at creating music that resembles their name, as they had some really trippy instrumental sections and of course weird artwork. Psychotic Waltz is also known for releasing only great records and as they reformed in 2010 we still have a chance to see a new album.
Now I'll take a step away from metal as I have to mention a modern progressive rock band that released it's debut in 1991. Porcupine Tree has a modern progressive rock approach with a major influence from all kinds of different genres. They also have a lot of influence from metal and rock music, but still not enough to label them a progressive metal band. I still wanted to mention it as Steven Wilson is a prog genius and I see no reason why metal fans wouldn't like his music. At least I enjoy it a lot, and I'm a Cattle Decapitation fan. And a good taste in music transcends genres.
Back to metal, shall we? Right now we are in the year 1992 with the debut of two great progressive metal bands. Royal Hunt has a more melodic approach while still having the long and complex song structures that we all love. Royal Hunt is an important band in the progressive metal development, and you'll like it if you enjoy bands like Dream Theater.
The other band is known as Shadow Gallery. They also followed in the footsteps of Dream Theater while having a much more relaxed and sometimes outright happy approach to their music. I'd figure that if you like the more rock-influenced prog you'll probably enjoy Shadow Gallery over the more power/heavy influenced bands. The band and it's most iconic album "Room V" are also influenced by "V For Vendetta", which is an awesome graphic novel. What should be noted is that Shadow Gallery worked as a studio exclusive band for 20 years, having their first live appearance in 2010. Sadly, their original singer Mike Baker had already passed away due to a heart attack but they still gave one hell of a show.
In year 1993 a band called Threshold released their first record. Threshold is known for including some extreme metal influences to their music, and I've seen people calling them the "UK's top prog metal band". That is of course a matter of opinion but I can see why people have that opinion as they are a great progressive metal band. They are still relevant and are creating quality music, and in my opinion their 2007 record "Dead Reckoning" is one of their best so far.
A year after this we again have a debut of a progressive metal band of legendary status. Symphony X is known for their great power metal influence and mythological themes, and in my opinion they share the title of world's most relevant prog metal band with Dream Theater. Their 1997 album "Divine Wings Of Tragedy" is one of the best progressive metal records to have existed. At least in my humble opinion.
Another amazing progressive metal band that released their debut in 1994 is Vanden Plas. They are known for keeping a steady lineup with the help of local music projects such as the theatre, and they do have a theatrical approach to their music. They are also still going strong today, and we all eagerly await new material.
The year 1995 is an important year for progressive metal. First of all, we have the band Kamelot debuting, giving world some new prog-influenced power metal. Although Kamleot is more of a metal band than a prog band, I see no reason why progressive metal fans wouldn't enjoy their music.
Another near perfect progressive metal band that released their debut in 1995 is Nevermore. If someone asks me what genre Nevermore is, I honestly couldn't answer as they have a ton of different influences. They are much heavier than most of the bands I discuss here, but they also have a really unique sound and some of my favorite track and albums. In fact, Nevermore is one of the bands I might call my own personal favorite.
But I also want to talk about a certain band that brought its unique influence to progressive metal in the year 1995. Opeth is a band that fused a huge extreme metal influence with progressive music. I did say that I would focus on traditional prog bands, but Opeth is practically a traditional progressive metal band with an unusually large death metal influence. And don't dismiss it as a generic death metal band even although they have the growling vocals, as they have some of the most creative songwriting I have had a chance to listen to, and Mikael kerfeldt is at least as a good clean vocalist as he is a death metal singer. Author's note: kerfeldt is actually the best singer ever.
Still in the year 1995, we have a birth of one of the most creative progressive metal projects out there. Ayreon is a progressive metal project that fuses elements from for example opera with metal, and it is also fronted by only one man: Arjen Anthony Lucassen. Ayreon only uses guest musicians in its albums, resulting in an ever-changing lineup and a ton of different influence, although most of the music is written and performed by Lucassen himself. He also has a ton of other projects such as Star One, Guilt Machine and his self titled solo project, and he manages to deliver quality prog metal with all of his projects.
Jumping forward two years, we find ourselves in Sweden with the first album of the band Pain Of Salvation. This band, fronted by a genius called Daniel Gildenlw, brought a whole new dimension to the genre. Taking influence from pretty much everything (including folk and disco music) they have created really unique and versatile music. And on an unofficial side note, Gildenlw's perfect element Mayones signature guitar is probably one of the coolest instruments in the world.
In the same year, a seemingly unimportant band called Ocean Machine released their first and last album "Biomech". But although practically no one has ever heard of a band Ocean Machine, "Biomech" is nowadays known as the debut of Devin Townsend. And that is a name some people have heard. Some hundreds of thousands of people. Townsend is known as a mad genius of progressive music, and is without a doubt one of the most talented musicians in the world. He is known by his self titled project, but has also released well known albums with Devin Townsend Band, Strapping Young Lad and his current project Devin Townsend Project. Pun somewhat intended.
And as we go forward another year, we have the debut of a band that is most well known form it's almost religiously loyal fanbase: Tool. I have to say that Tool has some of the most interesting and unique music in the scene, although the gap between their studio albums seems to lengthen exponentially as we have waited for quite some time for the new record. And a friendly hint: I've heard that sleeping to Tool's "Lateralus" is a weird experience. If it isn't weird enough on its own.
I still want to discuss some bands that have debuted after the change of the millennium. In the year 2000 Pagan's Mind released their debut, which had a great influence from power metal while still having a dominant progressive sound. This is an important record in the world of progressive power metal, and you'll surely like it if you enjoy bands like Symphony X or Fates Warning. Or well, I don't see a reason why you wouldn't like them anyway.
I still want to mention one band in detail. Adagio debuted in 2001 and the reason I mention them is that they have a truly unique style. Usually labeled "symphonic progressive metal", they have blended orchestral instruments and neoclassical songwriting to their sound, and they have a much darker tone than other power/symphonic metal acts. I personally love their music and I recommend it for prog and symphonic metal fans alike.
Of course the 21st century has other great bands too. Andromeda, which released their debut in 2001, is a great Swedish progressive metal band. A few years later in 2004, Anubis Gate, a great new progressive power metal band released their debut. A year after this in 2005 some great new prog metal acts such as Circus Maximus, Seventh Wonder and Suspyre released their first records. Also, some bands from different stylistic origins have created some top quality progressive metal albums, such as the sludge metal band Mastodon released their album "Crack The Skye" in 2009, and this is one of my all time favorite progressive metal albums. Even as late as 2012 we have the debut of Bad Salad, a new progressive metal band that carries on the legacy of Dream Theater.
I'd still like to point out a feature in progressive metal that I really, really enjoy. As Progressive metal has a high number of concept albums. For those that are unfamiliar with the term, a concept album is an album that has a theme or even a detailed story that spans the whole album. Some of the best concepts albums are for example Dream Theater's "Scenes From A Memory", Symphony X's "V: The New Mythology Suite", Ayreon's "The Human Equation", Nevermore's "Dreaming Neon Black" and Mastodon's "Crack The Skye". I love the fact that you can almost think of these albums as single songs that go on for even hours in the case of Ayreon, and they let you really submerge yourself into the music for a long time.
My opinion of progressive metal in general is that, well, it's my favorite subgenre of metal. I love it and its fusion genres with other metal subgenres, and I can easily call Dream Theater, Nevermore, Opeth and Symphony X my favorite bands. And as it is an attribute of music rather than a genre itself, I'm sure that everyone will find something to like in progressive music.
And again, I'll give you all some recommendations. I will not include prog rock or heavy metal although they are important for the genre, as I will not recommend any of its fusion genres. Except if you consider Opeth a death metal band rather than a progressive metal band, but I'll make an excuse with it as I'm an annoying Opeth fanboy.
Rush "2112"/"A Farewell To Kings"/"Moving Pictures"
Savatage "Sirens"/"Hall Of The Mountain King"/"Edge Of Thorns"
Queensrche "The Warning"/"Operation: Mindcrime"/"Empire"
Fates Warning "The Spectre Within"/"Awaken The Guardian"/"Parallels"
Crimson Glory "Crimson Glory"/"Transcendence"/"Strange And Beautiful"
Dream Theater "Images And Words"/"Awake"/"Scenes From A Memory"
Psychotic Waltz "A Social Grace"/"Into The Everflow"/"Bleeding"
Royal Hunt "Land Of Broken Hearts"/"Paradox"/"The Mission"
Shadow Gallery "Room V"/"Carved In Stone"/"Tyranny"
Threshold "Wounded Land"/"Psychedelicatessen"/"Dead Reckoning"
Symphony X "The Divine Wings Of Tragedy"/"V: The New Mythology"/"The Damnation Game"
Vanden Plas "Beyond Daylight"/"Christ 0"/"Color Temple"
Opeth "Blackwater Park"/"Still Life"/"Deliverance"
Nevermore "This Godless Endeavor"/"The Politics Of Ecstasy"/"Dreaming Neon Black"
Ayreon "The Human Equation"/"Into The Electric Castle"/"The Dream Sequencer"
Devin Townsend "Terria"/"Biomech"/"Ziltoid The Omniscient"
Kamelot "The Fourth Legacy"/"Karma"
Pain Of Salvation "Entropia"/"The Perfect Element"
Pagan's Mind "Celestial Entrance"/"Enigmatic: Calling"
Adagio "Underworld"/"Sanctus Ignis"
Andromeda "Extension Of The Wish"/"Chimera"
Anubis Gate "Andromeda Unchained"/"The Detached"
Seventh Wonder "Become"/"Mercy Falls"
Circus Maximus "The 1st Chapter"/"Isolate"
Suspyre "The Silvery Image"/"When Time Fades..."
Mastodon "Crack The Skye"/"The Hunter"
Bad Salad "Uncivilized"
Conception "In Your Multitude"
Ark "Burn The Sun"
Elegy "Labyrinth Of Dreams"
Cloudscape "Crimson Skies"
Intronaut "Valley Of Smoke"
Heart Of Cygnus "The Voyage Of Jonas"
Post Scriptum Thing Well, this is almost twice the length of the previous articles but I had a ton of fun writing it. I never thought that I'd write more of these than the doom metal article, but I'm glad I did. And it's all thanks to the good criticism that I received from all of you in the previous articles, and I'm really grateful for all of you. Now I had a chance to write about my true favorite genre, and I hope that I managed to help someone find new music, especially since it's tricky with less well-known genres as this. I personally found a lot of new simply awesome progressive metal bands while doing research, and I hope that some of you might find their new favorite band among my recommendations. Just listen to Opeth.