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Direct Link To This Post Topic: What makes Progressive Metal progressive?
    Posted: June 12 2008 at 08:40

Thinking and wondering, making no attempt to actually answer the question, by Certif1ed. 12th June 2008.

 

 

When you browse for definitions of Progressive Metal on the Internet, there is a veritable bombardment of differing opinions – not one actually answers the question – but some things remain constant. These are the most critical aspects of the genre, most sites would have you believe - and these are also the very things that lead to confusion when exploring the genre.

 

Firstly, it is very common to come across references to blending Progressive Rock with Heavy Metal, giving the newcomer the impression that what they are going to hear is a Metallised version of Prog Rock.

 

This is almost never the case, however, and certainly not the case with the bands most often named as defining the genre. A statement like "Blending Progressive Rock with Heavy Metal" in itself shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what makes Progressive Rock tick, when you compare defining bands of the two genres, such as Genesis and Dream Theater. Such a statement positively invites such a comparison, as ridiculous as the comparison itself may seem - which points out the fundamental flaw in the statement itself. What is happening is not a blending, rather it is a simple acquisition of some of the basic elements.

 
Let’s pose a simple question based on this statement.

 

Which Progressive Rock band do Queensryche or Dream Theater remind you of?

 

Now think of another Prog Metal band – which Progressive Rock act are they similar to?

 
The Progressive Metal fan will probably say something like “Yes, but if it sounded the same, it wouldn’t be Progressive”.

 

A fair point, on the surface, but one would really expect a few similarities to leap out, rather than have them pointed out to you (and often, still be none the wiser).

 

Here is where our friend will reel off a list of elements that bear a superficial resemblance, such as time signatures, complex structures and virtuosic musicianship - which vaguaries are trotted out without any substatiation on an all-too frequent basis.

 

 

A few things immediately stand out as being fatally flawed with these lists.

 

  1. Going back to elements Part I. This is wrong, because, when you listen to Progressive Rock, you are not listening to the elements, but to freshness in the music – something undefinable that marks the band out as being somehow above and beyond “popular” or “standard” bands. Undoubtedly, there are elements you can pick out – but with Progressive music generally, you would expect there to be a rush (sic) of them, with these elements being atomic to the music rather than incidental building blocks.
  2. Going back to elements part II. The other problem with picking out elements is that you can do that with any band that has used these elements – “Golden Brown” by The Stranglers, for example, is in 13/4 in some parts, and “Bat out of Hell” is not only long, in its original album form, but has a complex structure almost worthy of a Classical composer, and features virtuosic musicians such as Todd Rundgren in its line-up, using “experimental” guitar techniques (to produce the motorbike engine effect, for example) – yet is not considered Prog. Also consider that most of these “Prog Elements” can be found in the Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, Psychedelic Rock - indeed, any Rock band of your choice (with the possible exception of Motley Crue) – and before that, back into the mists of Rock and Roll itself. Listen to the Prog Elements in Del Shannon's work if you don't believe me, the interpretation of Tchaikovsky in "Nutrocker" by B. Bumble and the Stingers, or the use of Classical music as the background arrangement to some of Elvis Presley's songs (e.g. "Wooden Heart"). Elements are, well, elemental, and should never be used as a yardstick by themselves. It’s how these elements are fused together to make the new sounds of a music that sounds distinctly new that’s important. As a good example, try finding a metal album that sounds anything like Metallica’s “Ride the Lightning” prior to 1984. Almost nowhere in metal music will you hear the same attention to detail in the structuring, precision in the riffing and attention to detail in the arrangement, solos and production, and almost nowhere will you hear the same amount of development of ideas, motivic re-use and overall coherency in composition, not to mention variety of ideas on a single album (even if they aren’t all Metallica’s – but that’s a different discussion!). And that's before taking into account their new and innovative usage of the Thrash technique. OK, maybe Megadeth – but you have to admit, their music of the time does sound somewhat archaic in comparison to Metallica's, and the compositions themselves are more rudimentary, despite the relative complexity and quantity of the riffs.
  3. Complex is relative. Intro/verse/chorus, etc. is the backbone of the pop music industry, and widely derided as not complex – and indeed, it is not. Yet most Progressive Metal bands use exactly this structure - although they may elongate it by adding different sections to the bridge (instrumental), in exactly the same way that Deep Purple and Metallica did (as two off-the-cuff examples), rather than get truly experimental or complex in structure as, for example, “On Reflection” by Gentle Giant or “The Musical Box” by Genesis, both of which are complex song compositions where the role of verse and chorus are almost completely mixed up or even blurred. Both pale into insignificance besides Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring", of course.
  4. Virtuosity is ill-defined and a bad yardstick. To me, Mozart, Paganini and Steve Vai were/are virtuosos, while Tony Iommi simply has some great licks. Call me harsh, but that’s the way I see it. Virtuosity, to me, combines extreme technical skills (and extreme is the key word here, as a differentiator from the huge number of Malmsteen-inspired shredders in the world today – and "extreme" doesn’t simply apply to playing techniques, which are just the showy fireworks, but more to the compostional skills – ie, it ain’t what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it), with a superlative musical approach. Now here’s where I get into trouble – how to substantiate “superlative musical approach” – it’s just something you feel, right? Not exactly – you could, under duress, break it down and see which musical rules are being used and which smashed to ribbons, if you had a week or two spare – but ultimately, if someone’s doing scale practice over 2 chords, it ain’t hard to spot, and it’s not compositionally impressive either. You don’t hear Steve Hackett putting in finger-bleeding solos, and they wouldn’t be right for his music – yet both his solo material and his work with Genesis is at the pinnacle of 1970s Prog Rock, and his style and techniques were innovative – legend has it that he’s the first guitarist to use the 2-hand finger tapping technique so beloved by Eddie Van Halen. So virtuosity in performance and playing technique is not particularly important to Prog in general – it’s about virtuosity in the composition of the music, and producing something genuinely new, which is altogether harder.

 

So what makes Progressive Metal progressive?

 

Again, if you browse among the many definitions available (BTW, the ones here at ProgArchives are among (if not) the most flimsy in terms of actual content and vague in terms of actual definition - shying away from it completely), you’ll note that it “brings something new to the table”, “It takes all the predictability and throws it out the window”, as one site puts it.

 
To be sure, this is not something I have ever experienced with most Prog Metal – almost invariably I am reminded of other bands, and don’t have to look to hard to hear recycling going on, or standard structures being deployed as a general rule, rather than as the exception as these statements would have you believe.

 
Another site puts this differently; “Progressive music implies constant change” – and yet this rarely happens in most Prog Metal. You get a succession of riffs, like you do in any other form of metal, predictable song structures – maybe mathematically modified, but with little or no sense of development in melody, harmony, form, rhythm or timbre – which are the 5 basic building blocks of music. There aren't any others, trust me - unless you go down to an atomic level, in which case they are infinite.

 
Instead, there is a preponderance on making one or other of these basic blocks as technically littered as possible – an idea that certainly took shape during the NWoBHM and later Thrash movements (just listen to the debut by Praying Mantis, “Time Tells no Lies” and Metallica’s “Ride the Lightning” for example, although both escape the “building block litter” problem), and is fundamentally inherent in the music of, say Queensryche and Dream Theater – while the fundamental mission statement of Prog Metal is actually overlooked in favour of these elements.
 
As an occasional writer of music, I have to admit to using this style, as it’s a far easier and straightforward compositional method, and provides flashy results with very little artistic effort.

 
Even if we compare newer Prog Metal bands with the defining ones (Dream Theater are commonly cited in this respect), we do not actually find progressiveness or progression. For example, while some bands and guitarists have trumped Petrucci with soloing speed, Petrucci himself has yet to write music of a complexity comparable to the likes of Gentle Giant, Magma or King Crimson, instead, preferring the old elongated standard song technique. Very few, if any Prog Metal bands have come close to those giddying heights of compositional complexity and virtuosity.

 
To date, the only Metal band I’ve heard approach these luminaries on their own terms is Spastic Ink, who seem to get the whole improv+composition thing that made Classic Prog Rock the great body of music it is. Interestingly, they sound like a Metal band, not a Classic Prog Rock band, and yet the music is undoubtedly progressive (one could even get into the whole "elements" thing and be delighted at the sudden rush of bits and pieces that jump out then go down the "virtuosic" or "complex" routes and again find themselves in a goldmine) – even the most die-hard ProgHead would be hard pushed to disagree, as the music itself speaks the language of Metal with an almost overwhelming dialect of Prog. But they seem to stand alone.
 
Or do they?

 
The question remains; What makes Progressive Metal progressive?
 
Or, put another way, Define Progressive Metal, if you can...
The important thing is not to stop questioning.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 12 2008 at 09:31
Man, you are by Far a musical taste very very close to my own !!!!
You put in words some concepts that I am trying to for some time, in discussions with friends and musical colleagues ...
When I say that I feels Steve Howe much more virtuous then Satriani ...
Or that I think Eddie Van Halen boring and repetitive ....
I hope this topic brings some controversies ... ;- )

Thanks ...
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 12 2008 at 10:20
This is going to be fun ... *looks for a "munching popcorn" emoticon* ... I understand most of your "beef" with Prog Metal, but I'll need some time to come up with an elaborate answer. Just one thing: The current definitions of the three genres were meant to be used preliminarily ... unfortunately I never got around to writing proper ones. I'll definitely get back to that, seeing that it causes that much concern with you.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 12 2008 at 12:21
Keyboards and longer songs than normal metal bands. That's about it Wink

But hey, I love the stuff - it's heavy and you can rock out to it while still being in the mood afterwards to spin some Genesis or something like that. I think it's hard to accurately describe any one subgenre and tell about how it sounds perfectly, even artists within subgenres sound wildly different from one another. Complexities as well. Some people hate Dream Theater for being so "pretentious", but hasn't that always been the case ever since ELP and Yes? Sure, they're trying to strut their stuff more than most metal bands, and like it or not I think that makes them progressive in a way since the genre has always been about excellent musicianship even though some people may be turned off by that. Why? I've no idea. Personally I like to hear that kind of thing.

Let's also not forget that prog in general is very subjective. A lot of people in the 70s would have labeled Zeppelin as a prog band and yet the prog heads will not let their genre be tainted by such an act. Prog is hard to define in general - but really, it is or it isn't. Prog metal is prog in a very different way than older acts - they sing about different things (sometimes, I mean - Rush told stories, DT tells stories, Magma told stories, Symphony X tells stories) and they play differently (ELP was "flashy" and so is Ayreon in different ways). It's like trying to compare me directly to my parents - it's just a different generation and therfore impossible to make things black and white.

I hope that makes sense to people other than myself - I've decided that I need to take place in at least one argument LOL
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 12 2008 at 12:52
Originally posted by Certif1ed Certif1ed wrote:

 

 

When you browse for definitions of Progressive Metal on the Internet, there is a veritable bombardment of differing opinions – not one actually answers the question – but some things remain constant. These are the most critical aspects of the genre, most sites would have you believe - and these are also the very things that lead to confusion when exploring the genre.

 

Firstly, it is very common to come across references to blending Progressive Rock with Heavy Metal, giving the newcomer the impression that what they are going to hear is a Metallised version of Prog Rock.


Prog Metal exhibits many of the trademarks of Prog Rock ... let's use the time signature change / odd time signature as an obvious example. Now, you might want to scream "foul play!", since for you this might be a superficial element of music, hardly worth to even mention. But to many people it's something which immediately signals "Prog" when heard in a Rock/Metal/Pop context.


BTW: I don't think that Prog Metal is a "Metallised version of Prog Rock". I think it's a completely different kind of music. It's an offspring and obviously related to Prog Rock, but it's not like it's just Prog Rock with heavier guitars. "Heavy Prog" would be a more appropriate label for those bands, and indeed such a genre was created a while ago during the Art Rock split.

 

This is almost never the case, however, and certainly not the case with the bands most often named as defining the genre. A statement like "Blending Progressive Rock with Heavy Metal" in itself shows a fundamental lack of understanding of what makes Progressive Rock tick, when you compare defining bands of the two genres, such as Genesis and Dream Theater. Such a statement positively invites such a comparison, as ridiculous as the comparison itself may seem - which points out the fundamental flaw in the statement itself. What is happening is not a blending, rather it is a simple acquisition of some of the basic elements.

 
"What makes Progressive Rock tick" ... wow, that's a very good question indeed. I cannot answer it, and I submit that neither can you. Of course you can list a number of attributes/trademarks, but you could never be sure that those are the ones which really matter to the fans of classic prog rock. The dreaded example from the previous anwser comes into mind here ... I guess I can assume that time signatures are one of the things you mean by "basic elements". Well, those basic elements are the building blocks of all music. Only a very small number of composers/musicians manage to avoid using these building blocks in trivial ways and create truly unique/congenial pieces of music. Most of them - including prog rock artists - "only cook with water" (a German expression). Or in other words: The Prog Rock artists which you usually mention as perfect examples of the genre - and which you use as a benchmark for Prog Metal - are superior not only to Prog Metal, but also to most other Prog Rock artists.

Let’s pose a simple question based on this statement.

 

Which Progressive Rock band do Queensryche or Dream Theater remind you of?


None. Which is a good thing, since - as I mentioned above - the genres are not that closely related. There are however moments when you can hear the influences quite well. An obvious example would be Dream Theater's epic "Octavarium", which is clearly influenced by Pink Floyd. I know that this doesn't count for you and you'd probably say that they only "aquired the basic elements" - but who's to say which elements matter and which don't?

 

Now think of another Prog Metal band – which Progressive Rock act are they similar to?


I could mention numerous examples here - but they'd probably all be too basic for you to accept. I'm beginning to see a general pattern here ... whe might be on to something.

 
The Progressive Metal fan will probably say something like “Yes, but if it sounded the same, it wouldn’t be Progressive”.

I can't speak for others here, but I wouldn't say that at all. "progressive" and "prog" are two different concepts. There are some relations between the two concepts ... usually the good bands are a little bit of both. They're progressive in the true sense of the word (progressing, developing, genre expanding) but they're also rooted in a certain style with certain established boundaries. The classic prog bands are in an unique position here - they defined that style themselves (Yes/Genesis in particular). Modern Prog bands (which includes Prog Metal) are copying the old bands in many ways - they position themselves within the same stylistic boundaries - but many are trying to add new elements to the style (which would be true progression), and others are doing something entirely different (which places them in the niche of Avant-Garde/Experimental). And even those which don't add any innovation to the style still deserve to be called "Prog" because they simply sound like the classic bands. Sure, production has changed, vocal styles have changed a lot (especially metal), spontaneity is almost gone in most cases, structure/form is more rigid and less open ... but there are plenty of qualities which they still have in common with the classic bands.

A fair point, on the surface, but one would really expect a few similarities to leap out, rather than have them pointed out to you (and often, still be none the wiser).

 

Here is where our friend will reel off a list of elements that bear a superficial resemblance, such as time signatures, complex structures and virtuosic musicianship - which vaguaries are trotted out without any substatiation on an all-too frequent basis.


Isn't this your own subjective opinion ... who are you to say that all these elements are superficial, and only your criteria are valid? Let's keep in mind that by these standards many Prog Rock bands would also lose their prog status. Wouldn't it make more sense to simply say that Dream Theater is much less progressive than Genesis? That would be a statement which I might agree to.

 

 

A few things immediately stand out as being fatally flawed with these lists.

 

  1. Going back to elements Part I. This is wrong, because, when you listen to Progressive Rock, you are not listening to the elements, but to freshness in the music – something undefinable that marks the band out as being somehow above and beyond “popular” or “standard” bands. Undoubtedly, there are elements you can pick out – but with Progressive music generally, you would expect there to be a rush (sic) of them, with these elements being atomic to the music rather than incidental building blocks.
    Different people have different expectations. Note also that you use the word "undefinable" ... I thought that it was all so well defined and obvious to you?
  2. Going back to elements part II. The other problem with picking out elements is that you can do that with any band that has used these elements – “Golden Brown” by The Stranglers, for example, is in 13/4 in some parts, and “Bat out of Hell” is not only long, in its original album form, but has a complex structure almost worthy of a Classical composer, and features virtuosic musicians such as Todd Rundgren in its line-up, using “experimental” guitar techniques (to produce the motorbike engine effect, for example) – yet is not considered Prog. Also consider that most of these “Prog Elements” can be found in the Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, Psychedelic Rock - indeed, any Rock band of your choice (with the possible exception of Motley Crue) – and before that, back into the mists of Rock and Roll itself. Listen to the Prog Elements in Del Shannon's work if you don't believe me, the interpretation of Tchaikovsky in "Nutrocker" by B. Bumble and the Stingers, or the use of Classical music as the background arrangement to some of Elvis Presley's songs (e.g. "Wooden Heart"). Elements are, well, elemental, and should never be used as a yardstick by themselves. It’s how these elements are fused together to make the new sounds of a music that sounds distinctly new that’s important. As a good example, try finding a metal album that sounds anything like Metallica’s “Ride the Lightning” prior to 1984. Almost nowhere in metal music will you hear the same attention to detail in the structuring, precision in the riffing and attention to detail in the arrangement, solos and production, and almost nowhere will you hear the same amount of development of ideas, motivic re-use and overall coherency in composition, not to mention variety of ideas on a single album (even if they aren’t all Metallica’s – but that’s a different discussion!). And that's before taking into account their new and innovative usage of the Thrash technique. OK, maybe Megadeth – but you have to admit, their music of the time does sound somewhat archaic in comparison to Metallica's, and the compositions themselves are more rudimentary, despite the relative complexity and quantity of the riffs.
    Now this is something I agree to whole heartedly. But I fail to see the relevance in regard to Prog Metal. If the point is that something isn't prog just because it features one basic element - then there's no problem because most prog metal bands/albums feature half a dozen of these elements. Of course this isn't a mathematical decision ... but listening to a track like Dream Theater's Pull Me Under (which isn't their most progressive track by any means) I don't have any doubt that what I hear is "Prog".
  3. Complex is relative. Intro/verse/chorus, etc. is the backbone of the pop music industry, and widely derided as not complex – and indeed, it is not. Yet most Progressive Metal bands use exactly this structure - although they may elongate it by adding different sections to the bridge (instrumental), in exactly the same way that Deep Purple and Metallica did (as two off-the-cuff examples), rather than get truly experimental or complex in structure as, for example, “On Reflection” by Gentle Giant or “The Musical Box” by Genesis, both of which are complex song compositions where the role of verse and chorus are almost completely mixed up or even blurred. Both pale into insignificance besides Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring", of course.
    Please keep in mind that most Prog Rock tracks are also adhering to this basic principle. Like I pointed out above: You can't use the pinnacle, the holy grail of Prog Rock composition as a benchmark for Prog Metal. Well, of course you *can*, but it doesn't make much sense IMHO.
  4. Virtuosity is ill-defined and a bad yardstick. To me, Mozart, Paganini and Steve Vai were/are virtuosos, while Tony Iommi simply has some great licks. Call me harsh, but that’s the way I see it. Virtuosity, to me, combines extreme technical skills (and extreme is the key word here, as a differentiator from the huge number of Malmsteen-inspired shredders in the world today – and "extreme" doesn’t simply apply to playing techniques, which are just the showy fireworks, but more to the compostional skills – ie, it ain’t what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it), with a superlative musical approach. Now here’s where I get into trouble – how to substantiate “superlative musical approach” – it’s just something you feel, right? Not exactly – you could, under duress, break it down and see which musical rules are being used and which smashed to ribbons, if you had a week or two spare – but ultimately, if someone’s doing scale practice over 2 chords, it ain’t hard to spot, and it’s not compositionally impressive either. You don’t hear Steve Hackett putting in finger-bleeding solos, and they wouldn’t be right for his music – yet both his solo material and his work with Genesis is at the pinnacle of 1970s Prog Rock, and his style and techniques were innovative – legend has it that he’s the first guitarist to use the 2-hand finger tapping technique so beloved by Eddie Van Halen. So virtuosity in performance and playing technique is not particularly important to Prog in general – it’s about virtuosity in the composition of the music, and producing something genuinely new, which is altogether harder.
    Virtuosity is - to me - one of the main "ingredients" of Prog Metal which makes up for the lack of spontaneity and "freshness" (as you put it above). Of course I'm well aware that this doesn't work for all people ... but it doesn't have to. You don't have to like Prog Metal, just like you don't have to like styles which are extreme in other ways.

 

So what makes Progressive Metal progressive?


What makes Progressive Rock progressive? You still haven't answered that question to begin with ... at least not in a way which could be accepted by everyone. Most people cannot analyze music the way you do, so what makes you believe that they would adopt your definitions? People like philippe would probably not even accept Genesis as a progressive band ... it's all relative and subjective.

 

Again, if you browse among the many definitions available (BTW, the ones here at ProgArchives are among (if not) the most flimsy in terms of actual content and vague in terms of actual definition - shying away from it completely), you’ll note that it “brings something new to the table”, “It takes all the predictability and throws it out the window”, as one site puts it.


I wasn't "shying away" from writing proper definitions ... I simply never got around to writing them, which is something I'm not proud of, but it couldn't be helped.
 
To be sure, this is not something I have ever experienced with most Prog Metal – almost invariably I am reminded of other bands, and don’t have to look to hard to hear recycling going on, or standard structures being deployed as a general rule, rather than as the exception as these statements would have you believe.


A couple of paragraphs earlier you dared us prog metal fans to name some prog metal bands which remind of prog rock bands, and now you're "almost invariably" reminded of them when you listen to prog metal? What's it going to be?
 
Another site puts this differently; “Progressive music implies constant change” – and yet this rarely happens in most Prog Metal. You get a succession of riffs, like you do in any other form of metal, predictable song structures – maybe mathematically modified, but with little or no sense of development in melody, harmony, form, rhythm or timbre – which are the 5 basic building blocks of music. There aren't any others, trust me - unless you go down to an atomic level, in which case they are infinite.

Not all Prog (Rock or Metal) is "progressive music" ... I thought we had sorted that out a few dozen threads ago.Wink
 
Instead, there is a preponderance on making one or other of these basic blocks as technically littered as possible – an idea that certainly took shape during the NWoBHM and later Thrash movements (just listen to the debut by Praying Mantis, “Time Tells no Lies” and Metallica’s “Ride the Lightning” for example, although both escape the “building block litter” problem), and is fundamentally inherent in the music of, say Queensryche and Dream Theater – while the fundamental mission statement of Prog Metal is actually overlooked in favour of these elements.

I agree that this "technical littering" does happen in prog metal. Sometimes bands seem to try to introduce technical complexity which does not add anything to the substance of the music. But whether that's the case or not is again a subjective matter.
 
As an occasional writer of music, I have to admit to using this style, as it’s a far easier and straightforward compositional method, and provides flashy results with very little artistic effort.

 
And why not indeed ... most listeners won't be able to tell the difference. You may place form above all other criteria ... I don't. For me the ultimate criterium is whether the music appeals to me on a personal, emotional level ... and few bands achieve that, regardless of genre. The second movement of Dvorak's 9th Symphony appeals to me very much, as do Kevin Gilbert's - The Shaming of the True, Dream Theater - Learning to Live, Genesis - Cinema Show and Karrin Allyson's renditions of John Coltrane ballads.

Music is judged on an emotional level ... it's as simple as that.Smile


Even if we compare newer Prog Metal bands with the defining ones (Dream Theater are commonly cited in this respect), we do not actually find progressiveness or progression. For example, while some bands and guitarists have trumped Petrucci with soloing speed, Petrucci himself has yet to write music of a complexity comparable to the likes of Gentle Giant, Magma or King Crimson, instead, preferring the old elongated standard song technique. Very few, if any Prog Metal bands have come close to those giddying heights of compositional complexity and virtuosity.

Since you keep repeating yourself, I will too: Most Prog Rock bands also fail to achieve these giddying heights. But there are some Prog Metal artists which - IMO - come very close ... in the next weeks I'll introduce more sub ratings at Ratingfreak.com which I'll use to mark these albums in my collection ... then I can post them here for you to tear them to pieces.Wink

 
To date, the only Metal band I’ve heard approach these luminaries on their own terms is Spastic Ink, who seem to get the whole improv+composition thing that made Classic Prog Rock the great body of music it is. Interestingly, they sound like a Metal band, not a Classic Prog Rock band, and yet the music is undoubtedly progressive (one could even get into the whole "elements" thing and be delighted at the sudden rush of bits and pieces that jump out then go down the "virtuosic" or "complex" routes and again find themselves in a goldmine) – even the most die-hard ProgHead would be hard pushed to disagree, as the music itself speaks the language of Metal with an almost overwhelming dialect of Prog. But they seem to stand alone.
 
Or do they?


Not at all. You could listen to Blotted Science (also a Ron Jarzombek project) or the Art Metal album by Jonas Hellborg, Mattias IA Eklundh et al.. Like I said above: I'll compile a more lengthy list and post it here when it's finished. One sub rating I'm planning to introduce is "Substance". I was inspired by a record label named "Recordings of Substance" and I think that this is one of the criteria it all boils down to: How much substance is in the music ... and how much of it has been "artificially inflated" by clever composition techniques.

 
The question remains; What makes Progressive Metal progressive?
 
Or, put another way, Define Progressive Metal, if you can...

I'll try to improve the definitions on the website, but I think that there can't be a definitive answer to this question, and neither can Prog Rock be defined properly and beyond all doubts and disagreements. All we can do is to post comments like those in this thread, so that they might be of help for the interested reader to answer these questions - and make the definitions - for themselves.


Edited by MikeEnRegalia - June 12 2008 at 13:06
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 12 2008 at 14:31
Originally posted by Certif1ed Certif1ed wrote:

 

 

A few things immediately stand out as being fatally flawed with these lists.

 

  1. Going back to elements Part I. This is wrong, because, when you listen to Progressive Rock, you are not listening to the elements, but to freshness in the music – something undefinable that marks the band out as being somehow above and beyond “popular” or “standard” bands. Undoubtedly, there are elements you can pick out – but with Progressive music generally, you would expect there to be a rush (sic) of them, with these elements being atomic to the music rather than incidental building blocks.
  2. Going back to elements part II. The other problem with picking out elements is that you can do that with any band that has used these elements – “Golden Brown” by The Stranglers, for example, is in 13/4 in some parts, and “Bat out of Hell” is not only long, in its original album form, but has a complex structure almost worthy of a Classical composer, and features virtuosic musicians such as Todd Rundgren in its line-up, using “experimental” guitar techniques (to produce the motorbike engine effect, for example) – yet is not considered Prog.
    The Stranglers are not considered to be prog by most (most people file them under "Punk"), but certainly by Jean and me. Not only do they use such odd riffs as you mentioned, they use real polyphony too. Now if that is not a true mark of progressive rock (it is a technique most progressive bands don't even master) then what is? "Black and White", for example, is a full-fledged prog album. If you don't believe it, listen to it again with open ears and without any prejudices. The "Punk" sticker was just put on them for commercial reasons.
  3. Complex is relative. Intro/verse/chorus, etc. is the backbone of the pop music industry, and widely derided as not complex – and indeed, it is not.
    Yet 90% of prog rock consist of the same formula.

 


Edited by BaldFriede - June 12 2008 at 16:01


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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 12 2008 at 15:10
Since the arguments from both sides have been very convincingly made, and MikeEnRegalia has mentioned a few points I would have made, I will add something totally different to the table (does that make me prog LOL) neither for or against the argument.
 
A major problem in these debates is over-genrifying. We tend to see, even if we don't realise it, genres as boxes. Metal, for example could be a box, wiht several other boxes inside of it such as thrash, death sludge etc. These boxes may occasionally overlap, but mostly music stays to its own genre box. But how do we define progressive music using this metaphor? Taking into account of a lot of opinions I've heard, Prog Rock would be a box, it's own genre. It would have slight overlaps into other boxes, which is where, of course, Prog Metal comes in: an overlap of the Prog Rock box and the Metal box. On the other hand, progressive music, music that progresses, would be a kind of entity, that could move freely through the boxes, and aim to make the boxes wider. Indeed it would add boxes, and increase the field of music.
 
But that metaphor does not satisfy me. I like to think of music genres as a field, or possibly an ocean. There are no boundaries, only yard sticks dotted about as 'refference points'. And this is my real point: musical genres as REFERENCE POINTS: a useful device for music lovers to describe music to each other, not boxes, constantly at war, with people confusing this box for that, leading to arguments such as this. Music can move between these yard sticks, making alliances (and sometimes unfortunately enemies). Music can voyage throughout the endless field, to unexplored places, proudly placing new yard sticks. This is, in my opinion, true progression. Where does prog metal fit into this? Well that's for you to decide.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 12 2008 at 15:11
Originally posted by MikeEnRegalia MikeEnRegalia wrote:

This is going to be fun ... *looks for a "munching popcorn" emoticon* ....


I've got mine hahahha

*munch munch munch*

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 12 2008 at 15:22
It's kind of difficult to attempt to define one language using another language, isn't it?
 
I don't have the same theorical knowledge here to be able to speak from a purely musical point of view. Yet I think an entirely musical point of view is, well, more auditive (is there such a word in English?) than explainable in words.
 
There are elements that we can recognize in what we call progressive-metal that don't exist in 90% of the rest of metal bands in the planet. It's been argued with much intelligence that those aren't vital elements and that they shouldn't be used to define a band or a song as "progressive-metal".
 
But there are things to consider:
 
One, 95% of the people that listen to metal and rock don't have the advanced knowledge to easily tell thematic development or harmonic changes in a way that leaves no questions subsiding. What it's always mentioned as one of the pinnacles of prog-rock thematic-development/form expertiments, "the Musical Box", it's a difficult song to grasp for the non-expert listener, and for many (whose opinion we CANNOT discard) it's not more than instrumental pretentious gibberish. "After all", we could say, "it still is a very inferior piece of music compared to, say, Mahler's sixth."
 
So the small percentage that CAN tell all those minor musical details in "the Musical box" should be, apparently, the ones in charge of defining what "progressive" is and whether if progressive-metal really exists. Granted, they may be more qualified.
 
But music is not as simple as, say, mathematics, where rules and results will always be the same. No EXACT definitions can be attempted of a subgenre of an art that is so universal. Hell, people have been having problems to deinfe what MUSIC is in the first place, for centuries now...
 
So we go back to trying to define progressive-metal by using parameters that just a minority, even in the progressive-rock world, can easily understand. And we left outside probably the biggest tool people (and I) use to decide whether something is X or Y,
 
The brain. Free of preconceived notions and squares, the only thing it can do is COMPARE.
 
And for many, if not all of us, what we use to decide whether a band plays progressive-metal or not is just poor old COMPARISON. And to COMPARE, the structures that our lovely brain uses are those that we already know, granted, those minor details like time signatures, virtuosism, length, orchestration, and maybe for some of us, a little bit of harmonic-development and form/structure. That's what we have engraved in our brains from the moment we were born in the gene/meme heritage of centuries of development of western music. And from the moment we are born, that's what we all can easily tell. Of course, for many people that's an area left untouched as they don't want (and they don't NEED, for music doesn't have to have the same objective for everybody) to get into further details that "this melody sounds nice" or "I can dance to this beat".
 
But pretty much all of us here in PA have better-than-average COMPARISON-skills than the rest because we have heard much more music, of much more varied genres, and some us have tried to at least get some kind of minor musical amateur-education. But still, the tool we use the most is plain simple comparison.
 
And when I compare progressive-metal bands with regular metal bands, I CAN very easily make the difference. As most of us do. We may be using the "wrong" elements to make our "decisions", but we KNOW when a band is playing progressive-metal and when a band is not.
 
Hell, this argument would probably collapse in a music academy or something of the sorts. In those places, people mostly learn how to write music. And they get better tools to judge it from a purely ACADEMIC point of view.
 
But we all can judge music in our own ways. We;ve been trained to do it so since centuries ago. And we CAN recognize A from B.
 
Progressive-metal is what most of us think it is. Don't attempt to define it in words. It's a concept as difuse as what "progressive" is, but believe me, it's crystal clear in our minds.
 
Prog-metal not really prog because it's not in the same vein of Genesis or VDGG? Hell, it doesn't have to be! For most of us who have heard a lot of different metal subgenres and bands (many of them atrocious) from years now, it's quite evident what is progressive metal and what's not.
 
Need theorical evidence? Well, you won't get it.
 
I'd say that, for mere musical enjoyment, you don't need it.
 
So yes, for informational purposes, we have to have a good progressive-metal definition. While flawed, Mike's it's not bad. But in general, it's just that, a definition. Our enjoyment of the muisc and whether we think it's progressive or not, it will still be a personal decision.
 
If someone uderstand what the hell I just said, please, be my guest in trying to "define" it. Tongue


Edited by The T - June 12 2008 at 16:07
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 12 2008 at 15:27
Originally posted by burtonrulez burtonrulez wrote:

Since the arguments from both sides have been very convincingly made, and MikeEnRegalia has mentioned a few points I would have made, I will add something totally different to the table (does that make me prog LOL) neither for or against the argument.
 
A major problem in these debates is over-genrifying. We tend to see, even if we don't realise it, genres as boxes. Metal, for example could be a box, wiht several other boxes inside of it such as thrash, death sludge etc. These boxes may occasionally overlap, but mostly music stays to its own genre box. But how do we define progressive music using this metaphor? Taking into account of a lot of opinions I've heard, Prog Rock would be a box, it's own genre. It would have slight overlaps into other boxes, which is where, of course, Prog Metal comes in: an overlap of the Prog Rock box and the Metal box. On the other hand, progressive music, music that progresses, would be a kind of entity, that could move freely through the boxes, and aim to make the boxes wider. Indeed it would add boxes, and increase the field of music.
 
But that metaphor does not satisfy me. I like to think of music genres as a field, or possibly an ocean. There are no boundaries, only yard sticks dotted about as 'refference points'. And this is my real point: musical genres as REFERENCE POINTS: a useful device for music lovers to describe music to each other, not boxes, constantly at war, with people confusing this box for that, leading to arguments such as this. Music can move between these yard sticks, making alliances (and sometimes unfortunately enemies). Music can voyage throughout the endless field, to unexplored places, proudly placing new yard sticks. This is, in my opinion, true progression. Where does prog metal fit into this? Well that's for you to decide.


*voice from the off: "think outside the box!"*LOL


Of course you'll know that on my website I think primarily in "tags". Everything's a tag, including genres and progressiveness. Tags - as I use them - have primarily two advantages:
  1. You can assign any number of them to a piece of music. You don't have to decide which box to put something in - if it belongs to two genres then you simply attach two sticky notes to it, for example one reading "Prog" and the other reading "Rock" or "Metal". And if you can't decide - simply assign both "Rock" or "Metal" - if it's both then it's both.
  2. Tags are inherently simple and easy to understand. Well, a few tags need directions in order to be used properly, but the point is that each tag is one separate property of music. For example, there's a tag "Symphonic" ... in order to use it you need to have some idea what "symphonic" means, but if you do then you should not have any problems deciding which piece of music to assign it to. That way very complex "constellation" boil down to simple tag assignments. Take the (not so) recent Art Rock split as an example: Heavy Prog, Eclectic Prog, Crossover Prog. What if something is equally heavy, eclectic or crossover? With tags you simply assign what's appropriate, and in the end the combination of tags (sticky notes) on the album will make sense. Even if there are 20 tags assigned to an album it will still be simple and easy to understand.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 12 2008 at 15:27
Prog metal = more complex metal. It may not be the f**king Rite of Spring, but it's more complex than....i dunno, whatever metal isn't complex (I can't think of bands because I don't listen to the genre.)
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 12 2008 at 15:30
^ no discussion of progressivness would be complete without someone mentioning that piece by Stravinski ... LOL

Edited by MikeEnRegalia - June 12 2008 at 15:30
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 12 2008 at 15:32
Originally posted by stonebeard stonebeard wrote:

Prog metal = more complex metal. It may not be the f**king Rite of Spring, but it's more complex than....i dunno, whatever metal isn't complex (I can't think of bands because I don't listen to the genre.)
 
A simple, non-academic but useful anyway (our brain uses that one instead of the other one) definition...
 
Did I mention Mike has a website? WinkLOLTongue
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 12 2008 at 15:34
Mike has a website? Shocked
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 12 2008 at 15:35
^ the place where Metallica - Master of Puppets is listed as a prog album.Big%20smile
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 12 2008 at 15:36
This website you speak of....it must be the El Dorado of websites. I can't find it anywhere. Does it have the fountain of youth?
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 12 2008 at 15:41
re: What makes Progressive Metal progressive? Fredrik Thordendal o:)

I know your review of Meshuggah's Catch 33 but I think this album should underpin the modern defition of Prog Metal (moreso than Dream Theater which are still tied to old things) even though it is clearly distinct from Prog Rock. I think your dismissing of the genre as a whole is valid but misleading; they're two different scenes.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 12 2008 at 15:43
Originally posted by MikeEnRegalia MikeEnRegalia wrote:

^ the place where Metallica - Master of Puppets is listed as a prog album.Big%20smile


ahhh.. thought I had heard of it once or twice LOLClap
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 12 2008 at 15:49
^^ there are many more prog metal albums which are both progressive and innovative ... each in its own unique way. An obvious example would be Cynic - Focus. Psychotic Waltz - Into the Everflow is a hidden gem, and from the more melodic albums I could mention Ice Age - The Great Divide and Heaven's Cry - Primal Power Addiction. Actually the list is endless ... you only need to look past the obvious examples. Even some of the "big names" hold some pleasant surprises ... for example Queensryche - Promised Land.



Edited by MikeEnRegalia - June 12 2008 at 15:50
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: June 12 2008 at 16:10
Originally posted by MikeEnRegalia MikeEnRegalia wrote:

^^ there are many more prog metal albums which are both progressive and innovative ... each in its own unique way. An obvious example would be Cynic - Focus. Psychotic Waltz - Into the Everflow is a hidden gem, and from the more melodic albums I could mention Ice Age - The Great Divide and Heaven's Cry - Primal Power Addiction. Actually the list is endless ... you only need to look past the obvious examples. Even some of the "big names" hold some pleasant surprises ... for example Queensryche - Promised Land.

 
Great examples. I'm glad I'm not the only one here who has Ice Age - The Great Divide. It's sad when bands with that potential dissappear... fantastic albumClap
 
And your little-advertised website's Wink inclusion of Metallica's MOP as prog metal just requires a ClapClap
 
 
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