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A Beginner's Guide To Heavy Metal #16 - Prog Metal

Updated on November 3, 2013

A New Frontier

What power metal is to nerds, prog metal is to intellectuals. Commonly seen as the smart person's metal, prog metal takes all of the classic metal elements we know and love and infuses it with eclectic sounds, complex musical techniques and lyrics spanning everything from history to science fiction. Rapid tempo changes, shifting musical styles and musicianship of the highest caliber are just some of the things you will hear in this genre that is the embodiment of the sentiment "even if you don't like it, you have to respect it".



Budgie - Bandolier

They pioneered heavy metal as a whole, they helped inspire the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, and yes, they helped kick start progressive metal as well. I've said it before and I'll say it again, their importance to heavy metal cannot be overstated. Their uncanny resemblance to Rush aside, this is one of the earliest examples of complex long song arrangements being combined with a dark atmosphere, and features one of their most well known songs. "Napoleon Bona Part 1 & 2".

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Rush - Clockwork Angels

The undisputed kings and one of the originals of progressive rock get in touch with their heavier side in the most spectacular way they have ever done. I am a lifelong Rush fan, and I have never heard them as heavy and with as many fantastic riffs as on this one. Geddy Lee's voice sounds better than ever and his intricate composition rings true and powerful as ever, Alex Lifeson's guitar work is perfect, and Neil Peart's drumming, do I really need to say anything? This album just plain rocks.

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Savatage - Dead Winter Dead

Many of you are familiar with the band Trans Siberian Orchestra. That awesome Christmas themed rock band you pull out when you're tired of the Kenny G christmas soundtrack being over-played to hell on the radio around December. What you may not know is that that band started as a band that is worshiped in the progressive, symphonic and death metal worlds: Savatage. A Florida based band that achieved it's magnum opus with this concept album about a love story in the setting of the Bosnian War. Don't be fooled though, this album is as heavy as they come with great riffs and lightning fast solos aplenty, including a track that would later become revered as a classic among virtually all audiences, "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)".

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Ihsahn - After

After launching symphonic metal with his band Emperor, musical mastermind Ihsahn turned his attention to even further exploration and limit pushing with his solo work, which reaches the most eclectic metal work I have heard in a long time on his 2010 release After. Featuring the most extensive use of an 8 string guitar I have heard to date and utilizing it to it's fullest extent, and featuring one of the few times an album based in extreme metal sub-genres like black metal has used a saxophone, Ihsahn puts his extensive musical talents on full display here.



Protest The Hero - Fortress

It is rare that one band can encompass such an immense amount of talent as this one. Rody Walker's vocals balance between death metal screams to match the best of them and a scary clean voice that sounds like a cross between Freddie Mercury and King Diamond, Luke Hoskin and Tim Miller pump out shredding guitar solos and heavy riffs one after the other, and not since Billy Sheehan have I seen a bass player tear up the fretboard like Arif Mirabdolbaghi. If you are a fan of technical metal, you cannot skip this one.



Nevermore - This Godless Endeavor

Reportedly, guitarist Jeff Loomis audition for Megadeth when he was only 16 years old. This has me a bit torn. On the one hand, Jeff Loomis is an amazing guitarist and he would have been an incredible asset to the thrash giant. On the other, if he had, we would not have the dark incredible masterwork that is This Godless Endeavor. The musicianship from everyone on this album is top notch, and the songs are catchy enough to get lodged in your head for weeks.

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Atheist - Unquestionable Presence

This is a band that you will often see grouped as part of the Florida death metal movement. While they were a part of the Florida metal scene, and an essential one at that, and often took in and lent out band members to other death metal bands, I have always felt they were a far too eclectic band to be simply labeled as death metal. The closest we will ever get to a full on jazz metal band (unless you count Testament's Alex Skolnick's jazz dabblings), Unquestionable Presence is truly a wonder to listen to, with unrelentingly heavy riffs combined with jazzy breakdowns, Atheist for a brief time were the go to band for heavy music with top notch musicianship.

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Tool - 10,000 Days

I heard a joke a long time ago saying that the title would be a good reference to just how long it takes to listen to the full album. While that is a cute joke in reference to the very long song lengths, I for one never felt like the album took a long time to listen to, because the songs are good enough to warrant however long it takes to listen to it anyways. Tool is one of the most well known bands on this list, but that doesn't mean it is any less awesome. If you can listen to such great riffs as "The Pot" and resist the urge to head bang, you are a stronger person than I.

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Opeth - Watershed

Mikael Akerfeldt just may be the most talented man in prog. metal alive today. His use of death metal vocals and guitar work laid over a smooth, beautiful, and melodic music bed is something that no one I have met as of yet has been able to resist. And you can hear everything that makes his work so incredible on Watershed. From the heavy headbanging of "The Lotus Eater" to the hauntingly beautiful masterpiece "Burden", this is one I imagine even non-metal fans (I know I can't believe they exist either) finding joy in listening to.

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Dream Theater - Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory

If there is any band on this planet that is worthy of taking torch lit by Rush, it is Dream Theater. The list of mind blowing musicians that have held this band's ranks is almost not fair (John Petrucci, Mike Portnoy, and Derrick Sherinnian to name a few), the skill in song writing and story telling is on a level only reached by the true masters of musical stories, and most importantly, the album is a solid headbanger from start to finish. The story of man's journey into his past life via hypnosis, uncovering a story of murder, betrayal, and love lost, Dream Theater prove once and for all that if you want nearly unmatched musicianship, compelling stories, and a good heavy guitar sound, there is no better place to look.

The Final Journey

Like symphonic metal, there is always a somewhat immature joy in putting a progressive metal album on for someone who typically writes metal off as not being musically dextrose enough for them. These are all albums that I have enjoyed over and over again and likely will for years to come. Heavy enough for the most seasoned of metal heads, and complex enough for the deepest thinking intellectual, these are works that need to be experience as albums, as a whole, in order to understand their true brilliance.


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