The History Of Progressive Metal

Written by: Aristarchos
Published: 21.05.2013
After my three articles about the history of doom metal I thought a history of prog metal was missing, so I decided to write one of those, too.

A big question when discussing prog metal is, "what makes something progressive?" The question is not easy to answer since everybody has different opinions about that. For example there are discussions about what is progressive and what is just technical, and I will not give an absolute answer to where to draw the line and therefore will often written progressive/technical.


Pre-history (´68-´84)

In 1968 a band called Iron Butterfly released a 17 minutes long song called "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" (from the album with the same name). That song is often seen as a predecessor for both progressive rock and for heavy metal.

The next year King Crimson released their debut album In The Court Of The Crimson King, which is often seen as the start of progressive rock as a genre. In the discussions of metal the song "21st Century Scizoid Man" is the most interesting one on the album. The same year another band, High Tide, released their debut album Sea Shanties, which is even more interesting for the discussions of prog metal, since it is probably the heaviest album released in the 60's along with Led Zeppelin's first two albums, and is often referred to as hard progressive rock.

Led Zeppelin, as well as other hard rock bands from the 70's like Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Lucifer's Friend and Queen, are sometimes associated with both prog rock and heavy metal, but often not accepted as belonging to any of those genres. Prog rockers Jethro Tull also had some heavier songs, but often not accepted as metal. In the discussion of prog metal from the first half of the 70's probably two bands are more relevant than others: Black Sabbath and Rush.

Jeff Wagner stated in his book Mean Deviation: Four Decades of Progressive Heavy Metal that in his view, the first prog metal album ever was Black Sabbath's Sabbath Bloody Sabbath from 1973. You can read his arguments at http://www.noisecreep.com/2012/04/02/sabbath-bloody-sabbath/, so I won't discussed that more here. That Black Sabbath is at least metal I think most of us agree with, but already on Vol. 4 (1972) they started moving towards a more progressive direction. On 1975's Sabotage they took yet a step further, especially in the songs "Symptom Of The Universe" and "Megalomania".

Rush, on the other hand, is by most people not accepted as metal, but by most people as prog rock. On the albums Fly By Night (1975) and Caress Of Steel (1975) they were at least quite close to prog metal, and on their 20 minute long title track from their 1976 album 2112 they were even more closer.

Judas Priest also had some progressive influences on their 70's albums, but when talking metal from the 70's there is one band with a unique sound that is often forgotten and that I have seen being suggested as the first progressive metal band: Legend.

American Legend was formed in 1978 and released one album Fröm The Fjörds in 1979. Fröm The Fjörds sounds like nothing else. To most people it would probably not be accepted as progressive metal, rather it is often described as epic heavy metal, and most be the first of that sort, pre-dating Manilla Road and Manowar, but it at least had a progressive element in it. In my opinion this album is one of the most overlooked metal albums ever, since it is really brilliant. Legend was also one of the first metal bands to use Viking and fantasy themes in their lyrics.

In the first half of the 80's, bands like Iron Maiden, Mercyful Fate, Metallica and even Venom ("At War With Satan") brought some progressive influences into their metal. In 1984 also the debut album of Seattle-based Queensrÿche, The Warning (an EP was released by the band two years earlier), saw its release; an album that some people claim to be the first prog metal album, but to most people is seen as just a US power metal album including some progressive influences.

A more obscure band that brought in progressive influences into heavy metal in the early 1980's is Saracen. Saracen is often seen as a part of NWOBHM, since they were British and came at the same time, but didn't have the punk-influences that most NWOBHM had. Instead they played a more progressive form of NWOBHM. They debuted in 1981 with Heroes, Saints & Fools, which, in my opinion, is a brilliant and a highly recommended album.


The genre starts to take its shape (´85-´89)

In 1985 Watchtower (formed 1982 in Austin, Texas) released their debut album Energetic Disassembly. This album is often regarded as the start of the sub-genre technical thrash metal, but to many people (me included) this is also the first true prog metal album ever, with its many time changes.

One year later Queensrÿche released their second album Rage For Order in 1986, but at that time they were still mainly an US power metal band. A band that I think was more progressive in 1986, and is often overlooked, is Sacred Blade. Sacred Blade released their album Of The Sun + Moon that year. That would be their only release.

In 1986 also Tony MacAlpine would release his debut album Edge Of Insanity. Tony MacAlpine's music is often described as shred/neoclassical/progressive metal. He would release a second album, Maximum Security, in 1987, and several albums in the 90's. In similar style, Jason Becker would release his debut album Perpetual Burn in 1988.

Perpetual Burn would be far from the only important 1988 album for prog metal. Along with 1989, this year would be the most important for the development of the genre. For example the two biggest bands in metal, Metallica and Iron Maiden, both released their most progressive releases (at least until the 2000's for the latter band), ...And Justice For All and Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, respectively. But there were other bands that took the progressive element farther.

In the progressive/technical thrash metal genre, American Blind Illusion (formed already in 1979, initially described as more of a progressive rock band) released their debut album The Sane Asylum; German Sieges Even debuted with their album Life Cycle; and Canadian Voivod, who started as a pure thrash metal band, took a step to a more technical/progressive sound with their album Dimension Hatröss (an evolution they started already on its predecessor Killing Technology from 1987).

Florida-band Crimson Glory (pre-formed already in 1979 as Pierced Arrow) debuted in 1986 with their eponymous album. At that time they were mainly still a US power metal band, but on its follower Transcendence from 1988, they took a step towards a more progressive direction. Transcendence would be one of the genre's most influential releases, but the most influential release for the genre was probably another album from the same year.

Queensrÿche came to release what would become their most progressive album, and also their most popular and most influential: Operation: Mindcrime; a concept album based around "a man who becomes disillusioned with the society of the time and reluctantly becomes involved with a revolutionary group as an assassin of political leaders" (formulation stolen from wikipedia). Like many other albums discussed here, there are still discussions whether this album should be accepted as prog metal or not.

In 1988 also Hartford-based band Fates Warning (formed 1982) released their album No Exit. Fates Warning had earlier released three albums, the debut in 1984, and their other two albums, The Spectre Within (1985) and Awaken The Guardian (1986), which are their more important of their first three releases, but those three were essentially in the US power metal genre. With a new singer Fates Warning now turned to a more progressive direction on No Exit (they had some progressive influences even earlier). But it wasn't until the next year, and their 1989 album Perfect Symmetry, they took the progressive element full out, which is why some people mention 1989 as the true start of prog metal as a genre.

It wasn't only Perfect Symmetry which made 1989 an important year for prog metal. The band that most people associates with the genre, Dream Theater (formed in 1985 as Majesty), released their debut album When Dream And Day Unite that year. Already back then Dream Theater was a full out progressive metal band. Many of the songs on the album were written already during the time they were called Majesty.

In 1989 also Watchtower released their second, and so far latest, album Control And Resistance (a new album is planned). With Control And Resistance Watchtower took their sound in an even more progressive direction.

Atheist from Florida released their debut album Piece Of Time in 1989, which marks the start for the progressive/technichal death metal genre.

Other notable releases from 1989 include Voivod's Nothingface, Heir Apparent's One Small Voice, Savatage's Gutter Ballet, Mekong Delta's The Principle Of Doubt and King's X's Gretchen Goes To Nebraska. Nothingface continues Voivod's evolution towards prog. Heir Apparent had earlier released one album in 1986, but at that time they were still mainly a US power metal band. Gutter Ballet is Savatage's fifth album. Their evolution towards a proggy sound started with their fourth album Hall Of The Mountain King (1987) and continues here, although still not really proggy enough to be called prog metal. German thrashers Mekong Delta had released two albums earlier, and continue here their evolution towards a more proggy sound. King's X had earlier released one album in 1988, but it is often Gretchen Goes To Nebraska that is seen as their seminal album. With King's X it could be discussed whether they could be called metal at all, often they are called just hard rock or alternative metal. Jeff Ament from Pearl Jam has even said that "King's X invented grunge". Toxik's second album Think This is sometimes also referred to as progressive thrash, although usually called technical thrash.


The later evolution of the genre (´90-)

With their next releases Queensrÿche, Fates Warning, Savatage and Dream Theater would release their most commercially successful albums; Empire (1990), Parallells (1991), Streets (1991) and Images And Words (1992). Queensrÿche's Empire and Dream Theater's Images And Words would be the most successful of these, even having single hits in the USA with "Silent Lucidity" and "Pull Me Under", respectively. Both Queensrÿche and Fates Warning turned to a more commercial sound with these albums. Fates Warning would later return to a heavier sound, but Queensrÿche wouldn't be that relevant for prog metal again (their Operation: Mindcrime 2 wasn't that successful). With Streets, Savatage made a rock opera, and their sound from here on is often referred to as "Broadway metal". Members of Savatage would also come to form the band Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

The most relevant band of those four in the future would be Dream Theater. Images And Words is by many people considered as the entire genre's best work (something I agree with), and would have a huge influence on the genre's later evolution. Dream Theater's 1999 concept album Metropolis pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory is also an album that many people have as his/her favourite prog metal album. Dream Theater is still producing albums that are popular among prog metal fans, and they still sell a lot of albums. Their last two albums have reached the top ten on the American Billboard. Three of the members of Dream Theater also had the band Liquid Tension Experiment, which is often described as an instrumental version of Dream Theater.

In my opinion, one of the most interesting prog metal bands is American Psychotic Waltz. They debuted in 1990 with A Social Grace and released four albums in the 90's. All of them (their first two ones are my favourites) are worth checking out. Another of my favourite prog metal bands is Swedish Freak Kitchen. They debuted in 1994 and are still releasing albums. Their 2002 album Move is my personal favourite by them. It could be discussed whether or not Freak Kitchen deserves to be classified as metal or just hard rock, though.

In 1990 Megadeth released Rust In Peace, which is their most progressive album, although to most people not enough to be considered prog metal. Anacrusis took the progressiveness further into the thrash metal genre with their third and fourth albums Manic Impressions (1991) and Screams And Whispers (1993).

Atheist released their second, also highly influential, album, Unquestionable Presence, in 1991. Unquestionable Presence marks a change towards a more jazzy and less death metal sound. Atheist would be followed in the progressive/technical death metal genre by Floridan Nocturnus and Cynic among others. Nocturnus debuted in 1990 with The Key, the first death metal album featuring keyboards on the full album, and released two more albums. Cynic released their classic debut album Focus in 1993, in which they took the jazz-influences even further than Atheist had done, and would also come to release a come back album in 2008.

Also 80's death metal bands like Dutch Pestilence (from their 1991 album Testimony Of The Ancients, and especially on their 1993 album Spheres) and Floridan Death changed their music towards a more progressive direction. Death would become more and more progressive for every release. Chuck Schuldiner from Death, would also form his prog metal band Control Denied, with which he released one album in 1999.

Swedish Opeth, who would be one of the most popular bands in the entire metal genre (at least among metal fans), is often also labelled as progressive death metal. There are discussions whether or not they deserve to be called death metal, but at least they are definitely a progressive metal band. All of their albums since their debut 1995 are highly popular.

I could also here mention my personal favourite progressive/technical death metal band Lykathé (or Lykathea Aflame initially) from the Czech republic, who released a brilliant album Elvenefris in 2000.

When talking prog in the 90's you can't skip Tool. There are discussions whether they should be counted as prog metal, often they are referred to as just alternative metal (sometimes they have been labelled as post metal, too). Tool debuted in 1993 with Undertow, and came to influence the nu metal genre and also other forms of alternative metal bands. Their 1996 album Ænima and 2001 Lateralus, the latter is their most progressive one, are their two most popular ones.

American Symphony X created a sound based on prog metal mixed with European power metal and neoclassical metal. Other notable prog metal bands who debuted in the 90's include Swedish Pain Of Salvation, German Vanden Plas, Dutch Ayreon (they also mixed with folk influences), American Shadow Gallery (they have been around already since 1985, and debuted in 1992) and Swedish Evergrey. American Nevermore is often called prog metal, too, although also referred to as power metal, thrash metal and/or heavy metal. Canadian Devin Townsend created a form of industrial prog metal.

Swedish Meshuggah created their own genre, which is often called djent, and could be seen as a form of progressive metal. Meshuggah is often also referred to as technical thrash metal or math metal. The most notable band in the djent genre since Meshuggah is American Animals As Leaders, who plays an instrumental form of the genre, debuting in 2009.

The Dillinger Escape Plan, Converge and Botch created in the 90's a form of music that is often referred to as mathcore, progressive/technical metalcore or progressive/technical noisecore and lies between metal, hardcore and jazz. The term progressive metalcore is often also used for Between The Buried And Me.

When we come to the 2000's, Mastodon is probably the band that best deserves to be mentioned. They play a form of music that is often referred to as progressive sludge metal. In the 2000's also British prog rockers Porcupine Tree turned to a more metallic direction. Other bands who debuted in the 2000's, that could be briefly mentioned include Norwegian Green Carnation, Polish Riverside and German Disillusion.


With this I end my history of prog metal. Next I'm going to take a look at the history of the Scandinavian death metal scene.


 
Guest article disclaimer:
This is a guest article, which means it does not necessarily represent the point of view of the MS Staff.




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Bad English - 23.05.2013 at 19:02  
Interesting but to me from ''true prog'' I prefere 60's 70's old early days 80's was OK, but non of 90's suscess ok Opeth and PW , but rest is boring, old prog is OK, modern prog and old bands newer albums is boring, I dont consider it metal, because there is more politness and more boring elements, seeems they play and play but there no sence, Ac/Dc know fiev primitive accords and song is ready , seems to me only Fates Warning and Opeth from 90's is OK,
BloodJuNkie - 02.06.2013 at 03:50  
Talking about progressive, you guys must listen to this progressive band, they are so talented they introduce true art!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMorAdnCixg
tea[m]ster - 02.06.2013 at 16:53  
I think Coroner's Grin is a better example of thrash crossing over into progressive waters. Also, you touched on it a bit but in the 2000's Europe seemed to have "taken over" the prog metal scene. Bands like Circus Maximus, Beyond Twilight, Dark Suns, Sieges Even and To-Mera really showed how dominating Europe was over the USA at the time, and still may be. Great article, thanks.
Aristarchos - 09.07.2013 at 13:35  
Written by tea[m]ster on 02.06.2013 at 16:53

I think Coroner's Grin is a better example of thrash crossing over into progressive waters. Also, you touched on it a bit but in the 2000's Europe seemed to have "taken over" the prog metal scene. Bands like Circus Maximus, Beyond Twilight, Dark Suns, Sieges Even and To-Mera really showed how dominating Europe was over the USA at the time, and still may be. Great article, thanks.

Thanks for your extra info! I have only heard Coroner's earlier albums, and am more initiated in metal history than everything new that comes out.
Aristarchos - 13.07.2013 at 18:35  
Written by Bad English on 23.05.2013 at 19:02

Interesting but to me from ''true prog'' I prefere 60's 70's old early days 80's was OK, but non of 90's suscess ok Opeth and PW , but rest is boring, old prog is OK, modern prog and old bands newer albums is boring, I dont consider it metal, because there is more politness and more boring elements, seeems they play and play but there no sence, Ac/Dc know fiev primitive accords and song is ready , seems to me only Fates Warning and Opeth from 90's is OK,

My favourite album of all time is Seventh son. That is how progressive I want it. Ac/dc becomes boring because it is too simple.
Bad English - 13.07.2013 at 19:23  
Written by Aristarchos on 13.07.2013 at 18:35

Written by Bad English on 23.05.2013 at 19:02

Interesting but to me from ''true prog'' I prefere 60's 70's old early days 80's was OK, but non of 90's suscess ok Opeth and PW , but rest is boring, old prog is OK, modern prog and old bands newer albums is boring, I dont consider it metal, because there is more politness and more boring elements, seeems they play and play but there no sence, Ac/Dc know fiev primitive accords and song is ready , seems to me only Fates Warning and Opeth from 90's is OK,

My favourite album of all time is Seventh son. That is how progressive I want it. Ac/dc becomes boring because it is too simple.


Such Ac/Dc primitive music works, guys know how tod runk and play rock n roll, primitive music, primitive attitdude, beer drinking and scoing the chiks, what alse do we need?
more complicatred is more boring
Aristarchos - 13.07.2013 at 20:29  
Written by Bad English on 13.07.2013 at 19:23

Written by Aristarchos on 13.07.2013 at 18:35

Written by Bad English on 23.05.2013 at 19:02

Interesting but to me from ''true prog'' I prefere 60's 70's old early days 80's was OK, but non of 90's suscess ok Opeth and PW , but rest is boring, old prog is OK, modern prog and old bands newer albums is boring, I dont consider it metal, because there is more politness and more boring elements, seeems they play and play but there no sence, Ac/Dc know fiev primitive accords and song is ready , seems to me only Fates Warning and Opeth from 90's is OK,

My favourite album of all time is Seventh son. That is how progressive I want it. Ac/dc becomes boring because it is too simple.


Such Ac/Dc primitive music works, guys know how tod runk and play rock n roll, primitive music, primitive attitdude, beer drinking and scoing the chiks, what alse do we need?
more complicatred is more boring

At least I agree with you that it gets boring if it is too complicated, unless there is some interesting melody.
Aristarchos - 20.07.2013 at 18:05  
Written by BloodJuNkie on 02.06.2013 at 03:50

Talking about progressive, you guys must listen to this progressive band, they are so talented they introduce true art!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMorAdnCixg

I already know Ne Obliviscaris. I think they may be the most interesting new prog band in many years.
BloodJuNkie - 21.07.2013 at 02:54  
Written by Aristarchos on 20.07.2013 at 18:05

Written by BloodJuNkie on 02.06.2013 at 03:50

Talking about progressive, you guys must listen to this progressive band, they are so talented they introduce true art!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMorAdnCixg

I already know Ne Obliviscaris. I think they may be the most interesting new prog band in many years.


Agreed .. They are so talented!
K†ulu - 22.07.2013 at 14:51  
Great article. That's a pretty good summary of prog. I will checking all of those 60-70-80's albums that were mentioned at the beginning. I would add Protest the Hero to notable modern progressive metalcore bands.
Aristarchos - 23.07.2013 at 16:15  
Written by K†ulu on 22.07.2013 at 14:51

Great article. That's a pretty good summary of prog. I will checking all of those 60-70-80's albums that were mentioned at the beginning. I would add Protest the Hero to notable modern progressive metalcore bands.

Thanks. Im not so initiated in metalcore, i guess there are quite a lot mathcore bands.
NocturnalStalker - 05.08.2013 at 18:54  
Nice article. Once again.
Yes, speaking of progressive/technical thrash you can't miss Coroner. They were very influential. Besides that, I think you've nailed most of the important progressive metal bands. Good job!
JohnDoe - 05.08.2013 at 19:15  
Written by Bad English on 23.05.2013 at 19:02

Interesting but to me from ''true prog'' I prefere 60's 70's old early days 80's was OK, but non of 90's suscess ok Opeth and PW , but rest is boring, old prog is OK, modern prog and old bands newer albums is boring, I dont consider it metal, because there is more politness and more boring elements, seeems they play and play but there no sence, Ac/Dc know fiev primitive accords and song is ready , seems to me only Fates Warning and Opeth from 90's is OK,


I know you dislike progressive music but I don't get it why every single time a prog thread appears you have to bitch about how boring it is. No offense, it's getting annoying already.
Bad English - 05.08.2013 at 19:20  
Written by JohnDoe on 05.08.2013 at 19:15

Written by Bad English on 23.05.2013 at 19:02

Interesting but to me from ''true prog'' I prefere 60's 70's old early days 80's was OK, but non of 90's suscess ok Opeth and PW , but rest is boring, old prog is OK, modern prog and old bands newer albums is boring, I dont consider it metal, because there is more politness and more boring elements, seeems they play and play but there no sence, Ac/Dc know fiev primitive accords and song is ready , seems to me only Fates Warning and Opeth from 90's is OK,


I know you dislike progressive music but I don't get it why every single time a prog thread appears you have to bitch about how boring it is. No offense, it's getting annoying already.


I didnt bitch I said I prefere 60's 70's it wasnt bitching, it was glorification
JohnDoe - 05.08.2013 at 19:27  
Quote:
Quote:
Quote:


I know you dislike progressive music but I don't get it why every single time a prog thread appears you have to bitch about how boring it is. No offense, it's getting annoying already.


I didnt bitch I said I prefere 60's 70's it wasnt bitching, it was glorification


ok, now you made me curious; can you give example of some albums you like?
Aristarchos - 24.08.2013 at 14:35  
Written by NocturnalStalker on 05.08.2013 at 18:54

Nice article. Once again.
Yes, speaking of progressive/technical thrash you can't miss Coroner. They were very influential. Besides that, I think you've nailed most of the important progressive metal bands. Good job!

Thrash has never been my favourite genre. I wasn't sure if coroner was counted as progressive enough, accept for Grin, but that was released in 1993, and I tried to focus on the earlier albums.
embracing - 12.11.2013 at 21:19  
Because of this article, I discovered some of my new favorites, especially Freak Kitchen. Many thanks!!
Aristarchos - 18.11.2013 at 18:06  
Written by embracing on 12.11.2013 at 21:19

Because of this article, I discovered some of my new favorites, especially Freak Kitchen. Many thanks!!

I'm always glad when I could help.
Aristarchos - 01.03.2014 at 13:00  
A 70's band I forgot to mention, that I really think deserves to be mentioned to is Budgie. They were probably the first band next to Black Sabbath that could be accepted as metal, although they did a lot of softer material too. But in general heavier than Rush and more progressive than Sabbath. Also a band I really like. More will be told about them in a forth-coming article.

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