I’ve always had a bit of a love/hate relationship with prog and prog metal. One of the bands my dad always dug was Pink Floyd, and I grew up with a real appreciation for the way they used songscapes to tell stories and evoke moods. Perhaps because I more prefer prog rock, where things have to get down to business eventually, I often find prog metal in general a bit overblown – perhaps it’s a mood thing; when you are in the mood to listen, really listen to music, prog metal is perfect, but if you just want something to put on while you do the dishes, you need to look elsewhere.
In saying that, there have been some awesome prog albums come out in recent years, and I’ve been on a bit of a prog stint lately – it’s good stuff to play to get you in the mood to write. Here’s a mix of five old and new prog albums I love.
Opeth – Pale Communion
Pale Communion is the follow-up of 2011’s Heritage, which marked a transition in Opeth’s style from death metal with a bit of progressive thrown in, to a full-blown 70s-inspired progressive rock band. Heritage, I think we could all agree, felt like a transition album – they didn’t quite know where things were going or how to quite fit everything together, and while it was a perfectly fine album, it reads as mediocre when set against Opeth’s stunning catalogue of past achievements. And then Pale Communion was released, and we could all breathe a sigh of relief. It’s OK. They may have gone totally prog, but they are still Opeth.
No, there’s no death vocals, but there are some Opeth riffage you’ll recognise; bits and pieces of “Eternal Rains will Come”, “Moon Above, Moon Below” would’ve been right at home on Ghost Reveries. The songs move in orchestral swells and dips, like leaves twisting in the wind, flowing from one song to the next. This album isn’t just good, it’s cohesive, something that’s been missing from Opeth since Ghost Reveries.
This is still not my favourite Opeth album (that’s tied between the hauntingly powerful Blackwater Park and the more commercial and utterly punishing Ghost Reveries), but it’s up there. It’s right up there.
Ayreon – The Human Equation
I’m a recent convert to Ayreon. I’ve known of the band’s existance for some time (they’re another project of Arjen Anthony Lucassen, who also created Star One), but it’s only after noticing them being played over and over on other friend’s Spotify playlists that I figured I’d better get familiar with them.
This album is my favourite so far. It’s a concept album dealing with the story of a man, Me, who has a car accident and is in a coma. Each song on the album is a day in his life. It follows his thoughts and experiences as he is in the coma, looking out onto the world, and what he sees and hears and experiences, as well as delving deep into his personal psyche and the events leading up to the crash. You’d think that would be a pretty dull subject for a metal album (Day 18: The nurse comes in to check on me. If she bent over a bit more I could see down her top. Day 19: Relieved myself. Watched everyone clean it up. Day 20: Didn’t move. Again …) But the interplay of all the characters in the lyrics and the intensity of the songs and the emotions make this a stunning feat of songwriting. Although the songs are amazing and the shredding perfectly excellent, it is the lyrics and vocals in Ayreon that really stand out – and with stars like James LeBrie, Mikael Akerfeldt, Devin Townsend, Mike Baker and Magnus Ekwall here, you won’t be disappointed.
Fallujah – The Flesh Prevails
You have to be living under a rock to not have heard this band’s name being whispered around death metal circles in hushed, reverent tones. Hyped to the max by metal press in recent years following their debut LP, The Harvest Wombs, you cannot be blamed if your first reaction when listening to The Flesh Prevails is a slight sense of disappointment. That’s not because this album is bad – quite the contrary; it’s a stunning feat of nuanced, powerful progressive death metal, one of the best efforts put forth in that subgenre in, what, five years? But after so much hype you expect it to be better than that, you expect it to change your life and alter your very perception of what music is, and it doesn’t do that. It’s not magical. It’s just a fucking good album.
Cynic – Kindly Bent to Free Us
I’ve talked about this album in my recent post on 2014 metal albums I’m digging, but it bears repeating – it’s really, really, REALLY good.
Voivod – Nothingface
Some people call this 1989 album the precursor to progressive metal. I wouldn’t quite go that far, but I would say Nothingface is at once both highly influential on the genre and utterly under appreciated. So many elements common to many modern progressive metal bands I love – such as Cynic, Opeth, Sculptured – can be heard on this album; those wild drums, the jazz-laden, atmospheric melodies, the chaotic riffs.
Plus, it includes a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Astronomy Domine” that is astounding in it’s interpretation and imagination. Listen to this to learn how covers should be done.
Your turn: Which prog metal albums light your fire right now? Add your pics in the comments or on Facebook.
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