Top 10 Progressive Metal Albums Ever

What are the most genre-bending progressive metal albums of all time? Your votes have been counted - see the final list here.

Ultimate Guitar

A little note: this pic is for the creation of the atmosphere - so don't link it to any of the bands below. What are the best progressive metal albums of all time? That's what we asked Ultimate Guitar readers this week. It seems progressive metal is something of a speciality for our readers, because their nominations were excellent and the final list certainly tickles the tastebuds of many at UG towers. So what are the results? Read on and press play for a playlist which will leave your brain in knots.

10. Coheed and Cambria "Good Apollo I'm Burning Star IV Vol. One: From Fear Through the Eyes of Madness"

Not to set an indulgent precedent for a top 10 like this, but this album is supposed to be the first disc of the forth section of a projected tetralogy. Whatever that means (answers in the comments, please!). Stick with me: it's all about Claudio's quest to protect the Keywork, and the so-called Monstar virus. If that doesn't make sense, maybe it's worth getting the accompanying graphic novel.

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9. Periphery "Periphery II: This Time It's Personal"

Periphery's first album caught the ear of several other prog guitar legends, thanks to their inventive and aggressive new style of prog metal, with guest solos from the likes of Guthrie Govan, John Petrucci and Wes Hauch. Not bad.

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8. Meshuggah "Obzen"

The Swedish metal legends ditched the drum software which had famously replaced their real drummer on the previous record. The grim character on the album cover is probably the scariest character to appear in a video ever, as seen in "Bleed" which is part of the playlist below. You might be surprised to know the bottom half of the model was a woman, because the artist couldn't find a man who could hold his legs in the lotus position.

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7. Protest the Hero "Kezia"

"Kezia" sold only 500 copies in its first week, but proved so enjoyable that word quickly spread and it went on to sell thousands in the ensuing weeks. It tells a story from three perspectives: a priest executioner and the central female Kezia figure. Kezia's last words? Why, you'll have to listen to find out.

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6. Porcupine Tree "In Absentia"

Unlike other album in this list, "In Absentia" isn't a traditional concept album but discusses some of the least savoury types of people in society. Band leader Steven Wilson reckons it's about "an absence in the soul" that causes people to be bad, and expresses that in fine detail here.

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5. Between the Buried and Me "Colors"

"Colors" draws on genres as far-reaching as jazz, stadium rock and even bluegrass, with eight tracks that merge into one ongoing blissful audio masterpiece. Ultimate Guitar even named it album of the year in 2007, as did other metal legends like Mike Portnoy, so you know it must be good.

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4. Dream Theater "Images and Words"

Dream Theater's most commercially successful album from 1992 is seen as a landmark in prog metal. It was James LaBrie's first album with the band - the start of a two-decade relationship which continues today. The album was a huge turning point in the band's career, and today they remain one of the biggest progressive bands of all time.

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3. Opeth "Blackwater Park"

What happens when you bring Opeth, one of Sweden's best metal acts, together with Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson as producer? This album, that's what. Opeth fans were surprised by the change in their style, but few complained when the results sounded so damn good.

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2. Tool "Lateralus"

The moment when Tool's production values shifted up a considerable gear, which made their stunning compositions shine like never before. Inspired by maths, the album supposedly contains a secret playlist based on the Fibonnacci sequence - but whichever order you play it, this album is special on a galactic level.

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1. Mastodon "Crack the Skye"

There are two things to know about your chart-topping winner this week. One: it sounds incredible, from start to end. Two: the concept is absolutely barmy, in a good way. Here's a very brief quote from drummer Brann Dailor: "There is a paraplegic and the only way that he can go anywhere is if he astral travels. He goes out of his body, into outer space and a bit like Icarus, he goes too close to the sun, burning off the golden umbilical cord that is attached to his solar plexus." Yeah, it's awesome. Are you ready for it?

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That's the end of our top 10 progressive metal albums list. Which is your favourite? Do you agree with the results? Let us know what you think in the comments, and hit 'like' to share it.

272 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I honestly think this is one of the best results we've had on these lists. Not because it fits my personal taste perfectly (it really doesn't), but because its so diverse & varied. These lists were getting stale, but this just spiced things up!
    It's because fans of progressive music are generally very open-minded and have tastes in a wide range of genres. Progressive music fans are much less "conservative" like other music fans (i.e. lots of metal fans throw a fit if their favourite band doesn't put out something that's "metal" enough)
    More or less, some fans are really obnoxious in thinking they're better people because they listen to prog.
    I'm just wondering where is Rush's 2112 it would've been in my opinion considerable candidate. Anyway very good list
    The problem with that is that this is a list for prog metal, not prog rock. Though Rush can get heavy at times, they are firmly rooted in rock, not metal. Don't get me wrong, Rush is my all time favorite band. But, they don't belong on this list.
    Yes. Great list. Crack the skye is the deserved winner. I can listen to that album over and over again and it never gets boring.
    I love "Crack the Skye" and Mastodon, but there's way better Prog Metal albums than that. Not saying it didn't deserve to be on the list, but it's didn't deserve #1.
    This is also one of the worst results because Operation: Mindcrime is not on it. It's not even like I'm talking about Cynic's Focus or something relatively obscure.
    "Oh, wah." Is that you, Kirk Hammett?
    lmao, this was a reply to a comment that UG removed, and I'm still getting upvotes even though it makes no sense anymore. Love you, UG community. <3
    Good job bringing up Focus, though. I personally would've been very pleased had that somehow been voted in.
    Since when has Cynic's "Focus" been considered "obscure" in prog circles?
    Cynic may not be obscure in prog circles, but the UG crowd is definitely not a prog circle, considering that every album voted into this list is a post-2000 album (except I&W). Prog metal didn't exist before then?
    Really happy Blackwater Park got that high, especially as it was my comment that got the voted xD
    Maybe if this this was best progressive metal concept albums it would for sure be on the list.
    why does everybody gets downvoted cause they share the passion for queensryche.....if you don't know them go and listen to them, link is down below
    I don't think it's about liking Queensryche as much as calling the list bad because it didn't include a specific album you like.
    Operation : Mindcrime is one of my favorite albums but it doesn't matter that it wasn't voted in a list made by users on a guitar website. That doesn't make it less awesome; it only means that users had other favorite albums.
    I like Fortress better than Kezia, but nice to see both Periphery and Protest the hero on the list
    I'm there with you. I can see Kezia being more influential though because of the heavy punk influence in it that really shaped the band to be something different.
    I like Fortress more as well, but Kezia was a better album imo. Loved Scurrilous and from what I've heard thus far Volition will not disappoint!!
    Good list. I would have loved to see Devin Townsend or Pain of Salvation over some of the winners.
    The thing i like about Crack the Skye, is how Brent was in that coma for like three days, and woke up and had all this music he had to get out of his system. God only knows the crazy shit he must of seen and heard on that wacky space ride to the cosmos and beyond.
    The version I remember is that his doctors told him he probably couldn't play guitar anymore, so he was recovering (smoking weed mostly) for about 5-6 months without playing guitar. Apparently, after he grabbed his guitar again, his intention was to start writing another Mastodon album, but what came out became Crack the Skye.
    Not to say you're wrong...but you are all sorts of wrong. Not because it's your opinion and not mine, but because Periphery are beyond deserving of any positive credit they get and are one of the most talented modern prog bands out there. Even Petrucci agrees that they are incredible.
    I like Periphery, but Petrucci's opinion is a bit biased when his nephew plays in the band.
    Petrucci is the uncle of Jake Bowen, a guitarist in Periphery, so he might be a little biased. But yeah, I like periphery fine. Edit: whoops, didn't see the comment over mine... now I feel so unnecessary...
    Because they are in fact incredible. Also really nice guys. Had the opportunity to meet Spencer at a show in March and Misha at one in August. Very cool guys.
    It's funny, because half the list is not prog metal. Also Crack the Skye is definitely what I will remember from prog metal. This album was mind-blowing the first time I listen to, and still is now. Maybe the best evolution of a band, knowing their other style in the previous album, especially Remission (which is also a masterpiece).
    Coheed, Protest The Hero, BTBAM, Mastodon, Tool, I'm actually really happy with this list.
    I would've chosen Scenes from a Memory over Images and Words. Not only is it a musical masterpiece, but the construction of the story is brilliant. Seriously, check out the wikipedia page and read how many layers there are, it's amazing.
    There are so many great Progressive Metal albums out there that confining it to one list of top 10 would be an injustice... Dream Theater, Symphony X, Opeth, Seventh Wonder, Devin Townsend, Mastodon, Meshuggah, Tesseract, Protest The Hero, Periphery, Scale The Summit, Animals As Leaders, Between The Buried and Me, Fates Warning, Shadow Gallery, Sun Caged, Persfone, Porcupine Tree, Liquid Tension Experiment, redemption, Circus Maximus, Pagans Mind etc, etc, etc the list is basically endless Definitely a great Sub Genre of Metal... It is an extremely diverse style.
    Hmmm, I would've really liked to see Devin Townsend in the mix on this list....
    no RUSH?
    Rush aren't metal dude.
    Neither are Porcupine Tree or Coheed & Cambria.
    Porcupine Tree are metal... Although some may consider that C&C are not
    Porcupine Tree has enough metal elements to make the list. Same with Coheed and Tool.
    I love PT but there are loads of albums more deserving of being on the list that do more than just touch on metal in 1 or 2 songs.
    Second Rate
    This. Porcupine Tree are an outstanding band, but not metal. In fact, beyond Gavin Harrison's occasional employment of a double bass pedal, i don't hear much of anything metal in their sound at all. Anyone who classifies Porcupine Tree as prog metal's knowledge of the band is clearly limited to Open Car, Strip the Soul, and Shallow which really are heavy Alternative Rock at most. Tool are the same way.... apart from Danny Carrey having two bass drums (which really isn't even a defining characteristic of metal), there is nothing "metal" about them.
    Oh they so are, they were an inspiration for prog metal which practically, rush is Prog Metal.
    The lack of ISIS disturbs me. Not a bad list though.
    No Cynic, no Atheist , no Watchtower, no Coroner , no Death , no Fates Warning. I guess in another ten year A7X will be voted for best heavy metal band ever
    Besides some, there's not really a metal aesthetic in most of the bands on the list. Unlike your list.
    Death is so incredibly awesome, but I never really considered them as prog-metal, even though they invented tech-death metal.
    My Last Words
    Since we're talking allbums here, I'd say their late work was pretty proggy. And really, opinions or not, cynic. should. be. on. this. list.
    So what I take from this is that UG doesn't listen to a lot of prog metal. We have to resort to calling Tool and Porcupine Tree prog METAL now? And I wouldn't really consider Crack the Skye prog METAL either. Oh and Coheed is prog rock as well.
    I guess it depends on how broad or narrow you decide to define metal. While definitely more on the prog rock side, Coheed has their metal moments. Also, Coheed considers Iron Maiden to be one of their main influences.
    calm down, everything will be ok.
    I'm not upset, sorry my post made it seem like that. I like all those album, I just think half of them don't qualify for this list.
    Coheed is prog rock without a doubt but that was their most metal sounding one.
    Stop with the sub genres already. We don't need you to enlighten us on the miniscule differences morons like you have come up with to create 8 million sub genres. Calling Tool prog metal is fine to 99% of us.
    So basically it has to fit perfectly into the metal genre to be considered metal? That's dumb as shit. I guess if we're doing that Opeth shouldn't be here either, cause hey, they're not COMPLETELY metal...
    Second Rate
    Erm, that's generally how genres work isn't it? You have to have the sonic characteristics of it to be considered part of it. You can whine and stamp your faux open minded feet all you want, it doesn't change the fact that Tool are an Alternative Rock band with Prog rock elements, Porcupine Tree and Coheed & Cambria are in that same camp. Mastodon is barely progressive. So we have a couple of trend based bands, guys who don't belong in the genre... and of course.... Dream Theater, Meshuggah, and Opeth. Meanwhile.... no Fates Warning, no Queensryche, Annihilator, Cynic, Death, Watchtower or myriad other bands that should most definitely be on here above things that will be forgotten inside of 2 years like Periphery, Protest the Hero, etc. I have to agree with azrael667, UG users clearly don't listen to much prog metal.
    But that's the thing; they DO have the sonic characteristics. No, they don't fit as neatly into the genre as those other bands, but that doesn't mean they don't hold strong similarities. Prog metal is a broad genre. We can bitch back and forth over what is or is not prog enough or metal enough, the fact is Tool and PT have both of those qualities. So why exclude them?
    PT's got 3 Prog Metal albums. Tool seems to think that having an odd rhythm makes them prog, and so do their fans. There's very little Prog "meat" in Tool songs, as much as I like Tool.
    ^This. Seriously. I cannot think of another band that builds toward a payoff in as epic a way as Tool does on a regular basis. They are often criticized for their simplicity as far as prog goes, yet they take a theme and play with it, leaving the listener with a clear and definite sense of progression. Are they not prog b/c they don't play jazz progressions over blast beats at 220 bpm? Poppycock, I say.
    It's not about the odd rhythms, it's much more about the song structures and the lyrical themes. Their music literally PROGRESSES, whether we're talking about songs or even entire albums. Odd rhythms really do not have much at all to do with what makes prog prog; it's just a common side effect when you make generally complex, forward-thinking music. And how you can imply that Porcupine Tree is proggier than Tool is beyond me, as Porcupine Tree is clearly the poppier band.
    are we talking about progressive metal albums? where bands like circus maximus fates warning redemption vanden plas shadow gallery and many others and finally, where is metropolis part 2? listen the true progressive metal, and after you do lists
    Not complaining as it's a good list, but you all should really check out Karnivool's Sound Awake, best prog album I've heard to date!
    crack the skye... really? i like it and all and it's awesome but. the best prog metal album ever? no queensryche?
    not sure why queensryche deserve a place on the list but I agree, Crack the Skye shouldn't be number one. But tis the way it is with opinion polls.
    Brilliant list (probably cos this reflects my CD collection). I'm loving the choice of Coheed! =D
    Colors isn't a ****ing concept album, it's just one big long song. One big long and amazing song, but still not a concept album
    I would have picked Catch 33 over ObZen, personally. But I can't argue with Coheed being on there. Except I'd put all of their albums on the list.
    No Fates Warning????? Seriously????? They practically invented Progressive Metal! This doesn't sit well with the gods buddy!
    "This list sucks because my favourite band isn't in there!" Great list! Not sure about the order, but all great prog bands and albums.
    as for DT, Metropolis Part 2 : Scenes From A Memory is a much better candidate than Images & Words; and where is Pendragon ??
    Although music does evolve in terms of sound and performance and with it our understanding and labelling of it, I find it a little anachronistic to say "Queensryche isn't metal". 80's metal at its best, that is precisely what it is. And with a respectable kit of prog elements too. Just like Judas Priest can be considered metal, so can Queensryche. Simply because plenty of modern metal bands have taken on an even heavier sound, for an extreme example say Meshuggah, old metal bands do not become "less metal". Narrowing one's understanding of a term, coined in the late 60's, used to describe a variety of more and less "heavy" music is limiting oneself. Subcategorize by all means, but in order to do so there must be a main category - in this case "metal", be it Meshuggah, Opeth or Queensryche.
    I like this list because it isn't unashamed and uncompromising Dream Theater worship.
    Or it's just Dream Theater have released so many great Prog Metal albums, that there vote gets split more than the bands that have just managed to make one.
    Dream Theater have written a lot of great albums. Images and Words made it on, but Awake, A Change of Seasons (technically an EP, but still amazing), Metropolis Part II: Scenes From a Memory, Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, and Octavarium all deserved votes for this list as well. I'm happy other bands got onto the list, but you can't deny Dream Theater's greatness. They are to progressive metal what Rush is to progressive rock: the best.
    Or is it because DT have released several great albums in the genre, that there vote gets split. More than other bands that have just about managed one great album???
    Good list, I've got meself 5 out of 10 records in my cd closet: Porcupine Tree, Dream Theater, Opeth, Tool and Mastodon. Never really got into Meshuggah, Periphery and Coheed and Cambria though. Edit: I don't consider In Absentia as prog metal actually, love it though.
    I think Death Of A Dead Day by Sikth also deserves a spot on here, one of the best progmetal albums imo. Otherwise, awesome list! 10 spots are way to less anyway
    Completely agree, that album is an absolute gold mine of incredible songs!
    ObZen is an amazing album like the rest of Meshuggah's work, but its the popular one that everyone knows because of Bleed. Not a bad list, except you didn't include the Meshuggah album that should of been in there:
    wow such a good list my favourite band Coheed and having protest, periphery and Mastodon on here is just amazing. I have listened to all of these bands at some point in my life and even still! Great list
    Next week's question should be Top 10 Most Underrated Progressive Rock Band, perhaps I could see Savatage #1 on the list.
    Oh my god in heaven, leave it to metal fans to argue about genres until hell freezes over. ALL OF THESE BANDS have enough metal elements in their sound to be considered metal. It doesn't have to be a ****ing stereotype.
    No, but it does have to be actually Progressive and actually Metal. (The former knocks Tool off the list, while the latter knocks Coheed off the list. Furthermore, the PT album they listed isn't Metal; still a solid album though.) Also, the lack of many of the staple Prog Metal albums here is disappointing. I get that this is basically a popularity contest, but all this article really showed is that UG is big on the "'pop' bands of Prog Metal".
    Whether a band can be considered as part of a genre is not a matter of fact, it's an opinion. It IS a fact that all of those bands have strong metal AND progressive tendencies and characteristics. What's up for debate is whether or not they can actually be considered part of those genres. In my opinion they can, in yours they can't. That's fine. Although what your criteria is for determining whether a band is prog, if Tool isn't and yet PT is, I have absolutely no ****ing clue.
    Hell yeah Between the Buried and Me!I am also in agreement about Messughah with M149CDeath08.
    Seventh Wonder, Andromeda, Fates warning, Ayreon, Beyond twilight, Circus Maximus, Enchant, Haken, Magellan, Mind's eye, Neal Morse, Pagans mind, Planet x, Royal Hunt, Symphony x, Threshold.
    This guy knows, these bands are good prog metal.Sadly in this page if it's not american and post 2000 it gets downvoted