|Cultural origins||Mid 1980s, North America, United Kingdom, Australia|
|Derivative forms||Technical death metal|
Progressive metal (sometimes known as prog metal or technical metal) is a fusion genre melding heavy metal and progressive rock which combines the loud "aggression" and amplified guitar-driven sound of the former with the more experimental, cerebral or "pseudo-classical" compositions of the latter.
Whilst the genre emerged towards the late-1980s, it was not until the 1990s that progressive metal achieved commercial success. Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, Tool, Symphony X and Fates Warning are a few examples of progressive metal bands who achieved commercial success; additionally, many other thrash and death metal bands started to incorporate elements of progressive music in their work. Progressive metal's popularity started to decline towards the end of the 1990s, but it still remains a largely diffused underground genre with a committed fan base.
Progressive metal's roots can be traced back to the late 1960s and early 1970s british rock scene, to bands such as Keith Emerson's The Nice and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Procol Harum, Atomic Rooster, Deep Purple and others which incorporated keyboards and classical instrumentation into the heaviness of their proto-hard rock style of music. On the other side of the spectrum, some progressive rock bands such as King Crimson, Uriah Heep and Rush were also starting to incorporate hard rock sounds into their music. Rush songs such as "Bastille Day", "Anthem", "By-Tor And The Snow Dog", "2112", "The Fountain of Lamneth" and "Hemispheres" have been cited as some of the earliest examples of progressive metal. Another early practitioner of heavy metal were Lucifer's Friend. Night Sun was also an early band who mixed heavy metal with progressive rock tones, though only releasing one album. However, progressive metal did not develop into a genre of its own until the mid-1980s. Bands such as Psychotic Waltz, Watchtower, Savatage, Fates Warning, Queensrÿche, Crimson Glory, and Dream Theater started to take elements from the music of prog rock groups of the earlier decades (mainly their reliance on unconventional instrumentation and the complexity of the compositions) and begun to play in a louder, faster and more heavily distorted style. The result can be described as music that combined a progressive rock mentality with heavy metal sounds.
Among the early flagship bands for progressive metal, each had a somewhat different vibe. Queensrÿche had the most melodic sound of the scene and achieved, with Operation Mindcrime and Empire, the genre's most immediate commercial success, which peaked with their crossover single "Silent Lucidity" reaching number nine on the Billboard Hot 100. Fates Warning were one of the most aggressive and heavy sounding, and arguably the band that would incorporate more experimental elements in their later works. Their 1989 album Perfect Symmetry broke away from their NWOBHM influenced sound and became the mold for early progressive metal that Dream Theater would expand on. Dream Theater drew more heavily upon traditional progressive music and also built much of their earlier career on the band members' virtuoso instrumental skills, despite also achieving an unexpected MTV hit with the eight-minute "Pull Me Under" from 1992's Images and Words. Crimson Glory's music, featuring tight dual-lead harmonies and soaring vocals would be displayed prominently on their self titled debut, as well as in the follow-up, Transcendence. Transcendence was a landmark in the genre and is often cited as one of the greatest progressive metal albums of all time, as well as an influence for many other bands like Cage, Triosphere and Rhapsody of Fire. It also contained the song "Lonely", which was their first hit single and music video.
According to AllMusic, progressive metal at the time was "fairly underground (although such Metallica albums as ...And Justice for All were as dense and layered as prog albums)". Though progressive metal was, and has remained, primarily an album-oriented genre, this mainstream exposure increased the genre's profile, and opened doors for other bands. Over the 1990s, bands such as Pain of Salvation, Vanden Plas, Seventh Wonder, Threshold, Circus Maximus, Anubis Gate, Coheed and Cambria, Symphony X, Tool, Andromeda, Porcupine Tree and Arjen Anthony Lucassen's Ayreon project all succeeded in developing their own audiences and signature sounds. During the decades, artists who began their careers outside of the progressive milieu, such as Cynic (that started as a thrash/death metal band), Sweden's Tiamat (originally a death/doom act), Green Carnation and Opeth (which both had roots in the death metal scene), developed a progressive sound and came to be identified within the progressive metal genre.
Ayreon stayed with the traditional prog metal themes, but mixed them with many other influences, such as rock opera, folk music, and ambient. Pain of Salvation experimented with both progressive rock and progressive metal, made extensive use of polyrhythms, and abruptly switched between calm and heavy passages. Seventh Wonder stayed within the prog metal mold, but had a larger focus on melody than most other progressive metal bands. Symphony X married progressive elements to power metal and classical music. Tool and Karnivool created a more modern style by combining alternative metal elements and odd time signatures. Porcupine Tree began as a psychedelic/space rock band, but then developed a progressive metal sound with 2002's In Absentia. Former Steve Vai's and Strapping Young Lad's singer and guitarist Devin Townsend adopted elements of post-metal and ambient music in the traditional progressive metal of his first two solo albums Ocean Machine: Biomech and Infinity. Mastodon also combined progressive metal with sludge elements. Many bands also started to experiment with more extreme subgenres of metal music, as have Meshuggah, whose distinctive sound has spawned the djent movement within progressive metal. Mudvayne incorporated elements of death metal, jazz fusion, and progressive rock into a style which the band jokingly described as "math metal".
As of 2016, the genre is still constantly evolving in multiple forms, and has reached a far broader variety of sounds and styles than it had at its origin, with many of the historical bands continuing to record new music and tour, while thousands of other new bands emerge in the underground scene every year, from all over the world.
Progressive metal can be broken down into many sub-genres corresponding to certain other styles of music that have influenced progressive metal groups. For example, two bands that are commonly identified as progressive metal, King's X and Opeth, are at opposite ends of the sonic spectrum to one another. King's X are greatly influenced by softer mainstream rock and, in fact, contributed to the growth of grunge, influencing bands like Pearl Jam, whose bassist Jeff Ament once said, "King's X invented grunge." Opeth's growling vocals and heavy guitars (liberally intermixed with gothic metal-evocative acoustic passages and clean melodic vocals) often see them cited as progressive death metal, yet their vocalist Mikael Åkerfeldt refers to Yes and Camel as major influences in the style of their music.
Classical and symphonic music have also had a significant impact on sections of the progressive metal genre, with artists like Devin Townsend, Symphony X, Shadow Gallery and Ex Libris fusing traditional progressive metal with a complexity and grandeur usually found in classical compositions. Similarly, bands such as Dream Theater, Planet X, Puya, Liquid Tension Experiment, The Faceless, Between the Buried and Me and Animals as Leaders have a jazz influence, with extended solo sections that often feature "trading solos". Cynic, Atheist, Opeth, Pestilence, Between the Buried and Me and Meshuggah all blended jazz fusion with death metal, but in dramatically different ways. Devin Townsend draws on more ambient influences in the atmosphere of his music. Progressive metal is also often linked with power metal, hence the ProgPower music festivals, with bands such as Fates Warning and Conception originating as power metal bands that incorporated progressive elements which came to overshadow their power metal roots.
Progressive metal has also overlapped thrash metal. The band Watchtower, who released their first album in 1985, blended the modern thrash metal sound with heavy progressive influences, and even Megadeth were often and still are often associated with progressive metal, as Dave Mustaine even once claimed that the band was billed as "jazz metal" in the early '80s. Martin Popoff argued that the Metallica album ...And Justice for All was a progressive metal album due to its intricate song structure and bleak sound. The band Racer X, featuring guitarist Paul Gilbert, would also fall within this genre of technical proficiency a tendency evidenced on songs such as "B.R.O." from 1999's Technical Difficulties. The band Voivod also combined elements of thrash metal and progressive metal, specifically on the releases Killing Technology, Dimension Hatröss, and Nothingface, in 1987, 1988, and 1989 respectively.
Recently, with a new wave of popularity in shred guitar, the hitherto-unfashionable genre of "technical metal" has become increasingly prevalent and popular in the metal scene. This has led to a resurgence of popularity for more traditional progressive metal bands like Dream Theater and Symphony X, and also has led to the inclusion within the progressive metal scene of bands that do not necessarily play in its traditional style such as thrash/power metallers Nevermore and technical death metal pioneers Necrophagist and Obscura. These bands are often labeled progressive metal, seeing as they play complex and technical metal music which does not readily cleave to any other metal subgenre.
In the mid-2000s, bands such as Periphery, Tesseract, Animals as Leaders and Vildhjarta popularized the "djent" style of progressive metal based in a sound originally developed by Meshuggah. It is characterized by palm-muted, syncopated riffs (often polyrhythmic in nature), as well as use of extended range guitars.
Differences from experimental metal
Although progressive metal and experimental metal both favor experimentation and non-standard ideas, there are rather large differences between the two genres. The experimentation of progressive metal has a strong emphasis on technicality and theoretical complexity. This is done by playing complex rhythms and implementing unusual time signatures and song structures - all with the use of traditional instruments. For avant-garde/experimental metal, most of the experimentation is in the use of unusual sounds and instruments - being more unorthodox and questioning of musical conventions.
- Heavy metal subgenres
- List of progressive metal artists
- Timeline of progressive rock and progressive metal
- Experimental metal
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Djent – an off-shoot of progressive metal that features heavily palm-muted, distorted guitar chords alongside virtuoso soloing – is all the rage these days in the metal world, but let's not forget where it all started. Many of the sub-genre's leading bands will tell you the inspiration for their sound came from one band: Meshuggah.
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[Fredrik Thordendal] is Meshuggah’s lead guitarist and an inspiration to the ax-wielding trailblazers behind the prog-metal djent movement.
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