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Progressive Metal

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A subset of Heavy Metal which combines the musical intricacies of Progressive Rock with the heavy, guitar/drum-driven sound of metal. Progressive Metal may also include more overt flavorings of Classical music, such as operatic vocals or symphonic arrangements; bands with modern classical leanings usually skew more towards Avant-Garde Metal. As with other forms of metal, the lyrical themes tend to be Darker and Edgier compared to traditional prog, but also with more sophistication than other forms of hard rock. A concrete definition of progressive metal is hard to pin down, so the status of many bands as progressive metal can be ambiguous. Its roots trace all the way back to hard rock and early heavy metal acts who dabbled in progressive rock (namely Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Rainbow, and Scorpionsnote ), as well as prog acts with heavier songs (particularly King Crimson, Rush, Hawkwind, Roger Waters-era Pink Floyd), and Mercyful Fate and Iron Maiden were among the first acts to play traditional heavy metal with overt prog elements. Progressive metal itself is generally agreed to have solidified with Queensrÿche, Watchtower, Crimson Glory, Fates Warning, and Voivod, while Savatage's burgeoning Rock Opera-centric Signature Style and heavily showtune-influenced compositions also helped build the genre, though it is debatable whether they were a full example by the time that the others were making their mark.

It helps that there's been an overlap between both metal and prog from the beginning since both genres were in heavy rotation on FM rock stations in America in the early '70s.

Also, see Technical Death Metal, Avant-Garde Metal and the "Avant-Garde/Progressive Black Metal" section in the Black Metal article. Another notable subgenre is Neo Classical Metal, also known as 'Guitar Virtuoso Music'. This is basically heavy metal with an electric guitar playing classical music instead of rock, and it often overlaps with either Speed Metal, Power Metal, or Glam Metal.

Notable Progressive Metal bands include:

Tropes that apply to progressive metal:

  • Epic Rocking: Commonplace to the point where it is very nearly a defining aspect of the genre; no less a source than Prog Archives itself notes that "tracks of longer duration" are ubiquitous. There are a few acts in the genre that don't use it consistently - in fact, Atheist don't even have any songs that scratch the six-minute mark - but they are by far the exception rather than the rule. Most of the most popular acts in the genre have numerous songs that top the ten-minute mark, such as Dream Theaternote , toolnote , Porcupine Treenote , Opethnote ... a complete list of bands and songs would undoubtedly double the length of this article. In fact, there's a contingent of prog metal fans who would argue that if you aren't using this trope, then you aren't really a prog metal band, though it should be emphasised these fans are very much in the minority - most metal fans won't argue much if you cite Atheist as one of the founders of progressive death metal.
  • Genre Popularizer: The first major chart success for a prog metal act was either Queensrÿche's "Silent Lucidity" (1990) or Dream Theater's "Pull Me Under" (1991), depending upon your definition. "Silent Lucidity" came earlier, but it isn't a metal song. "Pull Me Under" is.
  • Three Chords and the Truth: Subverted, averted and downplayed, all at the same time, given the genre is usually a total inversion to the trope.
  • Trope Codifier: Dream Theater, in that nearly every act afterwards has been influenced by them in some fashion (even if that fashion is merely "trying not to imitate Dream Theater").
  • Uncommon Time: A staple of the genre; per Wikipedia, the genre is marked by "complex rhythms with frequent meter changes and intense syncopation." Nearly every band in the genre has utilised this frequently, though some are more blatant about it than others (we'll just say there's a reason that Dream Theater provides the image for this trope). There are a reasonable number of listeners who simply won't consider a band to be prog metal if they don't employ this trope.
  • Ur-Example: Potential contenders depending upon one's definition of the genre, going in rough chronological order:
    • King Crimson: "21st Century Schizoid Man" (1969) is a particularly strong argument, between the Metal Scream Greg Lake employed, the incredibly heavy (for the time) guitars, and the incredibly complex instrumentation. Wikipedia notes in its article on progressive metal that 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."note  King Crimson have several other tracks that can qualify as Ur-Examples, but parts one and two of "Larks' Tongues in Aspic" (both 1973) and "Red" (1974) stand out in particular.
    • Deep Purple: Straddled the line between conventional hard rock/proto-metal and prog rock. Also known for the sheer virtuosity of it's members, with Richie Blackmore and Jon Lord basically inventing neoclassical metal, and to a lesser extent power metal, with Blackmore in particular being considered by many to be the first "shredder", a style readily adopted by progressive guitarists the world over. Also well-known for their extremely intricate, long composition, the longest of which being over twelve minutes long. Also dabbled in odd time signatures and abrupt tempo shifts, and cited as an influence on many a progressive bands.
    • Led Zeppelin: Although not typically considered a prog rock band, they did dabble in the genre occasionally, most famously with their Signature Song "Stairway to Heaven" from their officially untitled fourth album (1971), which even That Other Wiki lists as a progressive rock song. Other songs that could be considered to bolster their prog credentials are "The Rain Song" (1973), "No Quarter" (1973), "Kashmir" (1975), and "Achilles Last Stand" (1977). Not all of these songs could be considered metal, but it's difficult to deny Led Zeppelin's influence on progressive metal.
    • Uriah Heep: A co-Trope Maker or Ur-Example for Heavy Metal, they also have fairly high prog cred thanks especially to their sixteen-minute epic "Salisbury" (1971), which features a twenty-four-piece orchestra; no less a source than Allmusic notes the album's "blend of heavy metal power and prog rock complexity." They are one of several cases where a band playing these styles when they had been Unbuilt Tropes makes them a potential Ur-Example for fusions of those styles.
    • Van der Graaf Generator are a strange case in that they manage to be as heavy as many progressive metal bands without using electric guitars much. This is accomplished in large part through the central role of brass instruments and organ (which, under the right circumstances, can have a heaviness similar to that of guitars) and Peter Hammill's intense Metal Scream.
    • Yes' live material, most notably the live performance of "The Fish (Schindleria praematurus)" on Yessongs (recorded 1972, released 1973), could sometimes have the power and intensity of heavy metal. As for their studio efforts, their otherwise divisive 1980 album Drama features heavier riffing from Steve Howe than had ever before, particularly on the opening track "Machine Messiah", a song which Mike Portnoy cited as an influence. Bassist Chris Squire is also highly revered for his incredibly distinctive, aggressive playing, and his distortive, metallic bass tone, being considered some what of a patron saint among prog bassists.
    • Queen's first four albums, particularly Queen II (1974), which features several suites (running about eight to twelve minutes apiece) of interconnected, complex songs that feature numerous overdubs ("The March of the Black Queen" in particular reportedly had so many overdubs that the sixteen-track tape wore thin enough to become transparent) and plenty of segments that are heavy enough to qualify as metal by the standards of the time, though not every song does so (the second half of the album qualifies more so than the first). A Night at the Opera (1975) is a good argument for their inclusion on this list as well, particularly "Death on Two Legs" (with its neoclassical intro segueing into one of the heaviest songs on the album), "The Prophet's Song", and of course "Bohemian Rhapsody".
    • Rainbow, primarily thanks to Rising, whose B-side, consisting of the eight-minute epics "Stargazer" and "A Light in the Black", tells a high fantasy tale in two acts with highly technical playing and complex musical structures. Features Deep Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and legendary vocalist Ronnie James Dio.
    • Rush: "2112" (1976) is a particularly relevant example here, being a twenty-minute, seven-part epic with several segments that nearly qualify as metal; Wikipedia qualifies it as a progressive metal album. They moved even closer to progressive metal on some of their later material, especially their swan song, Clockwork Angels (2012), a complex concept album rooted in hard rock and metal riffs.
    • Diamond Head: A New Wave of British Heavy Metal band who served as a major influence on Thrash Metal bands like Metallica and Megadeth; they also created multi-part epics like "Am I Evil?" (1980) which have pretty high prog cred.
    • Angel Witch: Another NWOBHM act who was cited as an influence by many early prog acts, and played significantly more complex and technical material with numerous tempo shifts.
    • Mercyful Fate: Danish Heavy Metal band whose sense of theatricality and long compositions were strongly influenced by progressive rock. Their debut, Melissa (1983), has as its centrepiece the 11-minute "Satan's Fall", and that's not all. Although not typically considered a progressive metal band themselves, they are extremely important to the development of the genre. Some of their recordings are more overtly influenced by progressive rock than others are; the title track of Dead Again (1998), another notable case, runs for some 13:40.
    • Iron Maiden: Without a doubt the most commercially successful band to emerge from the NWOBHM, they also created multi-part epics such as "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" and "Powerslave" (both 1984, reaching nearly 14 minutes and 7 minutes respectively) and "Seventh Son of a Seventh Son" (1988, reaching 10 minutes) that qualified as prog. They embraced progressive metal even further when their classic lineup reformed starting in the 2000s, with The Book of Souls (2015) containing the 18-minute "Empire of the Clouds" - and that's not all.
    • Metallica: ...And Justice For All (1988), also listed as prog metal on Wikipedia, had several tracks that ran for almost ten minutes, but even before then, Ride the Lightning (1984) and Master of Puppets (1986) had several tracks with multiple segments that ran for seven or eight minutes.
      • Recently, Wikipedia also considers Death Magnetic (2008) as prog metal, given its similar-to-AJFA structure combined with Load/Reload's experimentation.
    • Megadeth: The Chris Poland/Gar Samuelson lineup was significantly more technical and complex than their peers, featuring numerous non-standard song structures with multiple tempo changes, as well as prominent jazz fusion elements from Poland and Samuelson's shared backgrounds. 1990's Rust in Peace, meanwhile, descended particularly deep into progressive metal territory, especially on tracks like "Holy Wars... The Punishment Due" and "Five Magics".
    • Watchtower: Extremely technical Thrash Metal band whose material is often cited as an early example of progressive metal due to its complexity (see their usage of Uncommon Time and Epic Rocking); their work has been cited as a major influence by numerous other prog metal bands, such as Dream Theater, Atheist, Spiral Architect, and Death. The website Allmusic writes that Watchtower's debut, Energetic Disassembly (1985) "is generally considered to be the recording most responsible for the development of the progressive metal genre" and "set the bar for complexity and technique for all who followed."
    • Warlord: They had far more elaborate and complex songs than the rest of their Los Angeles peers, with Rainbow and Jethro Tull cited as major influences, while founding drummer Mark Zonder (who would later join Fates Warning) brought a jazz background that lent a further air of sophistication.
    • Fates Warning: Early albums such as The Spectre Within (1985) and Awaken the Guardian (1986) show them developing increasing progressive tendencies; No Exit (1988), with the twenty-one-minute "The Ivory Gates of Dreams" taking up the entire second side, is an even more noteworthy argument. They have also been cited as a key influence by later bands, particularly Dream Theater.


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Alternative Title(s): Prog Metal


Evergrey - "In Orbit"

Progressive power metal band Evergrey performs a duet between Tom S. Englund and Floor Jansen of Nightwish.

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5 (4 votes)

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Main / SopranoAndGravel

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