Top 10 Best Progressive Metal Bands

The smartest, heaviest top 10 ever voted by Ultimate Guitar readers. Find out who made it to the top of this awesome list.

Ultimate Guitar

Who is the best progressive metal band of all time? That's what we put to Ultimate Guitar readers this week, and they pulled out the goods in a big way. Progressive metal is one of the most popular genres around these parts, and if anyone can tell you who is better than the rest, it's them. So which progressive metal band is better than the rest? Find out here.

10. Periphery

These ambitious new-school prog hopes know more than a thing or two about brain-smashing polyrythms, with a good dose of melodic metal to balance the brutal passages. With three guitarists, it's no wonder their last album "Periphery II: This Time It's Personal" won the Ultimate Guitar award for Best Album of the Year in 2012.

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9. Symphony X

This New Jersey act first found fame in Japan in the mid-'90s, but the rest of the global prog community soon picked up on their talents. While leaning more towards symphonic and traditional metal, they draw on many elements.

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8. Porcupine Tree

Steven Wilson once saw this band as his solo project (albeit with a raft of very talented musicians), but it eventually grew so established in its own right that he's had to go and start a new solo project under his own name. They're currently on hiatus, and with Wilson chasing a career in the film scoring world, fans are eager to know when they might reform.

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7. Protest the Hero

If one band has emerged as a major new favourite among the Ultimate Guitar audience in 2013, it's Protest the Hero. Their latest album is fan funded, which shows how much support they've garnered from early releases on proper labels. While their sound is certainly very new-school compared to other entrants on this list, their technical writing ability certainly earns them a place in the top 10 today.

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6. Gojira

French technical metal. Now there's a set of words you don't see together every day. But that's what Gojira do best. They sounds a lot like bands on the American label Hydra Head, but have their own level of brutality which is hard to match.

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5. Dream Theater

One of the best known and most influential progressive bands of all time, with songs as long and sprawling as a book from "Lord of the Rings." Foudning member Mike Portnoy left in 2010 amidst heavy drama in the Theater camp, though new drummer Mike Mangini has impressed many with his ability to fill such a large pair of shoes and bring his own sound to the table.

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4. Between the Buried and Me

With six studio albums under their below, BTBAM have earned a fervent following - including the aforementioned Mike Portnoy. They bounce between all kinds of metal styles, from death metal to thrash and beyond, but they know how to have a soft side too.

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3. Tool

Magnificent and wonderfully introspective music. Tool are known for experimenting with mathematics in their work, but don't stick blindly to rules that don't sound good in practice. Instead, the results are an astounding mix of human celebration and a huge metal sound. Fantastic.

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2. Mastodon

Mastodon do progressive metal in style, and make their songs sound effortless compared to the cerebral efforts from others on this list. A Mastodon is a large, heavy, extinct animal - these guys sound just as heavy, but they're alive and kicking with a tour show that wows crowds around the world.

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1. Opeth

Your winners this week are Opeth, the Swedish progressive rock masters led by Mikael Akerfeldt. With everything from traditional folk to the blackest of black metal influencing their sound, they've established themselves as a defining progressive metal act - with a little help from Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree fame, who pushed them to produce an experimental masterpiece with "Blackwater Park."

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That's the end of our top 10 progressive metal artists. Hit 'Like' to teach your friends a thing or two about great music, and let us know who your personal favourite is in the comments. Artwork by Dan Luvisi

281 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Opeth, Mastodon and Tool. Three favorits! Happy to see Gojira there also!
    i love both tool and mastodon but i really whole heartily dont agree with mastodon being above tool in a top 10 prog metal list
    Tool will probably proof they are the best, when they release this upcoming album - in a decade or two! Haha Upcomings from Mastodon and Opeth sounds promising too!
    Haven't listened to Gojira before but checked the first track of the video here and I'm amused!
    Dream Theater should be number one in my opinion. That being said, all the bands on the list are great.
    To be honest this is probably the best list I've seen here imo. The only band I don't know on there is Gojira but I will probably take some time to discover them one day
    Porcupine Tree should've been higher up the list, but still... great choice of band for the most part
    Second Rate
    I'm surprised they even made the list. While they are a Progressive band, they are better described as Progressive Rock. What heaviness exists in their music sounds more influenced by some type of Alternative Hard Rock than Heavy Metal. I would definitely place them fairly high on a Progressive Rock list, but nowhere near Metal.
    Maybe because their prog metal stuff sound more natural and not forced, unlike some known bands out there that are trying way too hard just to fit in the prog metal category. Or maybe it's just me.
    I'd agree, while there may be some metal influences, it is pretty much prog rock/ prog hard rock. Also, there is so much ambient and acoustic music they have released.
    I agree, this probably the first ever list on UG where I wouldn't actually change any of the top 5.
    nah. top 5 for me would be Devin Townsend Opeth Tool Gojira Mastodon
    Top 5 for anyone with a brain would be exactly that.
    Why? I like those (Mastodon in particular), but my favourite is Protest the Hero. I used my brain to form that opinion.
    I like this list but where is Animals As Leaders
    People actually listen to Animals as Leaders? I thought it was just a bunch of 18 year old neckbeard progfags jacking off to Tosin Abasi?
    I was legitimately expecting UG'ers to vote for Cynic. HOW DID THAT NOT HAPPEN?
    Most of UG crowd don't know shit about prog metal. I say it not because I just like Cynic , but because Focus represents what prog is about - being unique and experimenting, making something new. Prog is not about playing iron maiden riffs in 7/4 or stupid breakdowns or playing alternative rock with snoby attitude.
    Totally agree. Prog is about experimenting and progressing. That's why new bands like Leprous, Haken or The Safety Fire are so good; they all have a unique sound and aren't afraid of trying out new things (and they succeed!). And that's why older bands like Dream Theater, which are so widely revered, aren't interesting to me anymore; because they haven't done anything really new in maybe 10 years.
    DT haven't done anything new like at all - their formula Rush+Maiden+Fates Warning+little bit of other stuff. Actually i could leave just Rush+Fates Warning. that's it
    This is exactly my problem with modern prog metal as a whole; it's grown stale. Prog metal bands have turned into copies of copies of copies of themselves. You can't be "progressive" if you don't push the envelope.
    I agree with all you said except one thing. I've been a prog fan (not only metal, but also rock, folk, electronic... pretty much every prog out there) since I was a kid, and it's sad to see so many bands repeating the same formula over and over again. That's not prog anymore; Dream Theater or Symphony X, to take examples from the list, sit too comfortably, afraid to change anything from their tried and true formula. Opeth and Mastodon, on the other hand, still have new things to say and keep evolving, so good for them! There are quite a few new bands, though, that are proving to be more than daring to push the envelope, so I don't think modern prog is stale at all! BTBAM, Protest the Hero, Leprous, Haken, The Safety Fire, Cormorant, Ihsahn, Inter Arma, Intronaut, Nami, Persefone, Obsidian Kingdom, The Ocean, Orphaned Land... just to say a few, they all have a sound of their own and are great examples of how modern prog metal should be.
    About modern bands... Maybe , but are they as important in terms of prog as Watchtower, Fates Warning, Queensryche or Atheist? We were making top 10 prog metal bands after all
    Nowadays probably not, but given time I'm sure some of those band will be just as important as any of the classic bands we're talking about here. It's harder to be innovative nowadays, so it's very promising to find young bands who are even more daring than those that came before. Some butthurt DT fan must be downvoting our comments by the way xD. It always happens when I critizise them. Liking a band doesn't mean blindly following them. I like Dream Theater, but let's face the truth: they're not the most original prog band, and they haven't incorporated any new elements to their music since ToT, back in 2003.
    I must not. There are a bunch of bands on this list I need to check out. I feel way out of touch!
    Dream Theater 5th.. Seems legit.
    Bit bummed out but not 'cause of dream Theater. Was really hoping to see Pain of Salvation on this list, they deserve it. Their pre-Scarsic catalogue is, in my opinion, one of the best in Prog metal, and some of the best thought out concept albums out there.
    I saw Porcupine Tree and for some reason I processed it as Pain of Salvation. Was a bit confused when I saw this comment haha
    Best debut prog metal album... Entropia for me, no contest, so I agree with you there.
    Where would you have set them?
    I think mr vayne was referring to the fact that UG users are obsessed with DT but equally love/hate the band so therefore they should easily be the exact halfway point of this list.
    i personally would set them in the top 3 but these whole vote things are just based on personal taste
    I'm just suggesting something here, if UG actually replace these contest (i hope everyone realises art isn't a competition and prog music in particular), by a feature that would promote unknown bands. It would be like "if you like this/these big bands UG community suggest you to listen to these bands" and UG users would post and vote for some bands that aren't that famous but that could interest peoples who are listening these particular big bands. And at the end of the week editors would pick the ones with the most votes. Some people might tell me to go on lastfm, but the problem with these sites is that they work with tags, they suggest bands in similar genres, and with this feature it would be different like if someone listens to Black Sabbath we might suggest him to listen to Clutch, not the same genre but comparable, something lastfm would never do. Just an idea like this, that came to me when i was looking at the top10 and realise i already know and listen to these bands and had to look at the comments section to discover new ones. But, please keep the funny top 10 like the worst fans, these are amazing
    I like that idea. I've been listening to a lot of the less well-known artistes these few years. It's mind-boggling how musicians are popping up everywhere.
    That's a little silly, because then you'd have a list of most popular unpopular bands. But I understand why you suggest this, it's because you know this genre too well. For me this list is fine because I'm not too familiar with prog metal and only really listened to 3-4 of those bands. Maybe they should just extend it to top 20?
    Indeed, having a list of most popular unpopular bands is the risk, i was more thinking about people voting the bands that would be interesting to listen considering they already like a particular band, but by doing this we assume that the voters know a big part of the proposals, which is not the case. Maybe a UG staff could do this on his own, like Danjo's guitar said, with the unsigned bands on thursday. Or extend it to top 20, that's good idea
    Danjo's Guitar
    They used to do unsigned bands on thursdays. Not sure when they stopped. And these aren't really contests, its more of a survey to see what the UG community as a whole likes.
    In the end it is a survey like you said, but we could bitch about the word "best", even if i don't think it's used in a comparative way, but more as "favorite". Btw if someone over there likes post-metal/ambient(ISIS style) and djent/prog (Tesseract kind of djent) check this out:
    We do this every week with the weekly playlist vote. No on bothers to nominate bands for the following week. You're welcome to start taking part.
    I personally would have put em at #7 or 8. While I admit they're a good band, them and Tool are both overrated.
    my neighbor's sister makes $87 hourly on the laptop. She has been fired from work for five months but last month her check was $20633 just working on the laptop for a few hours. use this link..... WWW.FB49.C­OM
    Sad to not see Karnivool nor TesseracT hit the list for their very progressive sounds.
    Karnivool are amazing. Fantastically creative songwriting and massive hooks throughout
    Totally agreed. And Periphery shouldn't be on the list - they are not the best even in their respective field of progressive metal. I would've much rather seen TesseracT on that spot. And where is Meshuggah?
    No Fates Warning?? No Savatage?? No Ayreon??... it's the same bands over and over again.
    DT should at least in the top 3 with Tool and Opeth. And I'd also add Seventh Wonder in here. Very underrated prog-metal band
    How did Gojira even get on this list? And where are bands like Fates Warning, Ayreon, and other key prog metal bands?
    Emperor's Child
    As much as I love them, I don't really consider PT metal. So many other great bands missing though: Cynic, Ne Obliviscaris, Tesseract, Animals as Leaders, Sikth...
    Mastodon have made some of my favorite metal albums but they seriously need to get their shit sorted when playing live.
    Any fan of progressive metal NEEDS to listen to the album Spiritual Migration by the band Persefone. It's up there with Crack the Skye, trust me.
    that album is friggin amazing! hell its better than Crack the Skye imo, super underrated
    I'm glad to see some international support for Persefone! They're really great. Their previous album, Shin Ken, is even better in my opinion! Also, another equally good prog metal band from Andorra is Nami. They've just released their second album and it's brilliant!
    Shin-Ken is good, but it can't touch Spiritual Migration. Will listen to Nami now, thanks!
    I love Porcupine Tree as much as the next guy, but I don't think they are metal, they are definitely prog, but imo, they are prog rock. Opeth being number one, hell yeah.
    Cool to see Periphery in there, despite a lot of hate they get.
    I personally love Spencer's vocals,imo they fit pretty well with the instruments. But i can see why some people can't stand his singings and i think that's the main factor for some people to hate them, but none can deny the awesome instrumental work.
    Dosen't get more progressive than this!
    These guys are pretty good, but I've never been able to lose my shit over any of their work. Just doesn't have enough zaz. Yep it def needs more Zaz.
    On first hearing this band, the song itself is not too bad. However the distorted guitar tone is horrid to say the least and the sweep intro sounds like shit...
    couldn't disagree with you more. the tone is sex and I prefer animal as leaders at # 10 over periphery even though I enjoy them both.
    Dream Theater is " long and sprawling as a book from "Lord of the Rings."?? As far as novels go, Lord of the Ring books are reasonably short. That has as much credibility as DT being 5th on a Prog Metal list especially with Tool - and the band would agree - not being metal, prog or otherwise. This should read "top 10 most popular prog-metal bands" Fates Warning? Watchtower? Death? (if Opeth is prog why aren't they?)
    No love for ISIS? eh, at least the list is still good. Although I would've maybe chosen a different song as an example for Porcupine Tree. "Arriving Somewhere..." is a great song, but to go with the metal aspect of this list, perhaps something with a heavier tone would've been better.
    Anesthetize has its moments, but it takes a while to get to the heavy part.
    Teh S'moore
    Am I the only one who just can't get in to Gojira? I've tried to listen to some of there stuff before and some stuff they do I find super cool, but when you go to pretty much any time in the above video of their entire album, every moment just kind of sounds similar to me. Everything's in the same key and just sounds repetitive. I'm sure it's super cool if you're into it, but it just doesn't sound musically interesting at all to me. And doesn't that kinda defeat the purpose of "progressive" metal as well?
    I used to think that way, but I now really like them. Try songs from their other albums, like Esoteric Surgery, L'Enfant Sauvage or The Art Of Dying.
    Teh S'moore
    *their. Goddamn I'm tired. I wish I could edit my posts.
    Nah, you're not the only one. They have a really cool sound and style for sure, but no song really stands out. I can't get through a full Gojira album without feeling like I'm still on the first song.
    I agree that i wouldn't class them as progressive, but they are a f**kin good band and their music is amazing in my opinion.
    hm thought i would see fates warning or shadow gallery but still, they aren't that famous like the listed ones
    I don't personally agree with the ordering, but I'm fine with all the bands mentioned. Good list.
    I love most of the artists on this list, but I've always had trouble with bands like Protest the Hero and Periphery. I find that both bands have too many passages of "complex to be complex" in their songs, and it really hurts their overall sound. We know you can play. You don't have to show us all the time. Technically advanced is just that if it's not an extremely moving riff, just technically advanced.
    Am I the only one who thinks Periphery is awful? Obnoxious vocals, unfocused leads that all sound the same, and a general lack of musicality. Outside of a few bands, this "djent" fad can't come to and end fast enough for me.
    Dream Theater isn't number 1, this whole list is invalidated due to that fact. between the buried and me is better then dream theater... what! What!
    My exact thoughts! In my personal opinion: 1)Dream Theater (with Portnoy) 2)Pain of Salvation 3)Intervals 4)Monuments 5)TesseracT 6)Animals As Leaders 7)Opeth 8)Periphery and leave the last 2 up to your imaginations..
    Dream Theater with Mangini is just as good, maybe even better. Mangini on dramatic turn of events wasn't my favorite but thats because he wasn't writing that material, his work on their self titled is excellent.
    this is a solid list. stop being butt hurt that that one obscure band that you know and no one else does didnt make the cut. though i am a fan, i am happy dream theater didnt win. to me they dont change and grow between records like mastodon and opeth do. all great bands nonetheless!
    I often hear people say DT are boring and don't evolve musically anymore, and even though I partially agree with that, I have to ask, what CAN they really do in order to progress further, that they haven't already done before? I mean, they've set some really high standards with some of their albums, and if I was in their shoes, I certainly wouldn't know what to do in order to top Images and Words or SFAM... maybe if they chose Marco Minnemann or some other drummer instead of Mangini (because I think his drumming style is not that different than Portnoy's), it would have brought more freshness in their sound...
    I went through my prog metal phase, and now I just find a lot of the music long winded and boring... Mastodon still have some tasty jams though.
    I thought this list was a re-posting of a previous one, but I was thinking of that top 10 progressive metal albums list. Anyway, very silly list. Lots of pedestrian shit here.