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Progressive metal (sometimes shortened to prog metal) is a musical fusion genre: a mixture of progressive rock and heavy metal. Progressive metal blends the powerful, guitar-driven sound of metal with the complex compositional structures, odd time signatures, and intricate instrumental playing of progressive rock. Some progressive metal bands are also influenced by jazz fusion and classical music. Like progressive rock songs, progressive metal songs are usually much longer than standard metal songs, and they are often thematically linked in concept albums.


The mixing of the progressive rock and heavy metal styles can be traced back to the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of Englands heaviest progressive rock bands, High Tide fused the elements of, "metal progenitors such as Cream, Blue Cheer, and the Jeff Beck Group" into their sound. Other bands such as King Crimson and Rush were also incorporating metal into their music. Rush songs such as "Bastille Day", "Anthem", and "Something for Nothing" have been cited as some of the earliest examples of progressive metal. As well as Uriah Heep whose, "by-the-books progressive heavy metal made the British band one of the most popular hard rock groups of the early '70s" Another early practitioner of prog rock and heavy metal were Lucifer's Friend. However, progressive metal did not develop into a genre of its own until the mid-1980s. Bands such as Fates Warning, Queensrÿche and Dream Theater took elements of these progressive rock groups – primarily the instrumentation and compositional structure of songs – and merged them with heavy metal styles associated with early Metallica, Megadeth and Iron Maiden. The result could be described as a progressive rock mentality with heavy metal sounds.

The three flagship bands for prog metal of the time each had somewhat different sounds. Queensryche had by far the most melodic sound of the three and was ultimately the most commercially successful. Dream Theater drew most from traditional prog rock and also built much of their earlier career on the band members' instrumental skills, though later in their career they would abandon much of their more obvious prog rock influences (while retaining their prog complexity, however) in favor of a more edgy, modern prog metal sound. Fates Warning were the most aggressive and heavy and arguably had the most in common with the thrash and extreme metal scenes of the time, which led them to be the least accessible of the three bands, though they also had their own brief taste of commercial success with their Parallels album.

Progressive metal received mainstream exposure in the early 1990s when Queensrÿche's "Silent Lucidity" (from 1990's Empire) became a radio and MTV hit. It was not a typical progressive metal song, but its popularity increased the profile of other progressive metal bands. In 1993, Dream Theater's "Pull Me Under" (from 1992's Images and Words) became popular on radio and MTV. In the 1990s, bands such as Pain of Salvation, Tool, Opeth, Threshold, Symphony X and the project Ayreon developed their own signature sounds.

Pain of Salvation drew heavily on more obscure 1970s prog acts. Ayreon stayed with the traditional Prog Metal themes, but mixed them with many other influences, rock opera and ambient among more prominent ones. Symphony X married progressive elements to power metal and classical music. Steve Vai's former singer and heavy metal band Strapping Young Lad's singer and guitarist Devin Townsend combined elements of post metal and ambient with traditional progressive metal on his first two solo albums Ocean Machine: Biomech and Infinity. Opeth and Between the Buried and Me combined their prog influence with death metal. Another influence on prog metal were "technical metal" bands, such as Watchtower, Atheist, and Cynic, who utilized complex song structures and technical instrumental playing.

Bands like Sun Caged, Dominici, and Circus Maximus are influenced by traditional progressive metal and several of the first wave of 1990s bands. Bands such as Dark Suns, Disillusion, and Conscience are influenced by progressive metal bands like Opeth, Pain of Salvation, Green Carnation, and Anathema. Swedenmarker's Tiamat have also been influential in the progressive metal genre, especially on their 1994's album Wildhoney.


Progressive metal can be broken down into countless 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-evocative acoustic passages) often see them cited as progressive death metal, yet their front man 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 and Shadow Gallery fusing traditional progressive metal with a complexity and grandeur usually found in classical compositions. Similarly, bands such as Dream Theater, Planet X and Dream Theater side project Liquid Tension Experiment have a jazz influence, with extended solo sections that often feature "trading solos". Cynic, Atheist, Opeth, Pestilence, Between the Buried and Me, and Meshuggah also blended jazz/fusion with death metal. 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 festival. Progressive metal has also overlapped thrash metal - most famously perhaps with Dark Angel's swansong album Time Does Not Heal, which was famous for its sticker that said "9 songs, 67 minutes, 246 riffs." 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.

Recently, with a new wave of popularity in shred guitar, the previously shunned idea 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 grouping of the "prog metal" scene bands that do not necessarily play in the traditional "prog metal" style such as Nevermore, and Into Eternity. These bands are, rightly or wrongly, often labeled progressive metal, as they do play relatively complex and technical metal music that cannot be entirely associated with other metal subgenres. Technical death metal bands like Necrophagist are also often associated with the same subculture of heavy metal fans as well (referred to often as "shred metalheads").

Differences with avant-garde metal

Although progressive metal and avant-garde metal both favor experimentation and non-standard ideas, there are rather large differences between the two genres. The experimentation of progressive metal lies mostly in playing complex rhythms and song structures with traditional instruments. For avant-garde metal, most of the experimentation is in the use of unusual sounds and instruments. Progressive metal also puts a greater emphasis on technicality and theoretical complexity (e.g., odd time signatures, complex song forms, jazz fusion influences), while avant-garde metal is more unorthodox and tends to question musical conventions.

See also

Book references

Other references

  3. Buckley 2003, p. 477, "Opening with the cataclysmic heavy-metal of "21st Century Schizoid Man", and closing with the cathedral-sized title track,"
  4. Buckley 2003, p. 749, "Rush were throwing off shackles of prog-rock and heavy metal,"
  5. [1] Progressive rock reconsidered by Durrell S. Brown

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