Prog Rock Sub-genres: Progressive Metal

Progressive Metal is a subgenre of progressive rock as much as it is a subgenre of heavy metal, and this is how its sound is defined: a blend of heavy, guitar-oriented metal music enriched with compositional innovation and complex arrangements, usually expressed through diverse instrumentation and often (but not always) with odd-time signatures. Common, but not essential to define the movement, are the frequent use of keyboards, high-pitched vocals, concept lyrical themes and tracks of longer duration. Similar to progressive rock, progressive metal draws influences from other genres, such as jazz/fusion, ethnic, classical and symphonic music. The heavy sound of some of the progressive rock bands of the 70's has been one of the building blocks on which progressive metal was raised. Progressive rock pioneers such as King Crimson and Rush have often been acclaimed as the main influences of progressive metal bands. The other major influence has been the NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) movement, and especially the twin-guitar arrangements of Iron Maiden, which have left their stamp on the early stages of the genre's development. The pioneers of the subgenre, often (and not unjustifiably) referred to as the "Big Three" of progressive metal, are Queensrÿche, Fates Warning and Dream Theater. They all have set the scene of what was to follow in the movement. The defining era for the genre was the second half of the 80's, among Queensrÿche's "The Warning" (1984) and (most explicitly) "Rage for Order" (1986) along with Fates Warning's "Awaken the Guardian" (1986) and "No Exit" (1988) releases. The former evolved on their pure American power metal beginnings, while the latter refined their technical/NWOBHM-influenced metal into more progressive forms. Although producing demos since the mid-80's as Majesty, Dream Theater's first release came in 1989 with "A Dream and Day Unite". The innovative use of keyboards along with influences from American heavy/power metal and progressive rock produced an original blend which was to be further refined in 1992's "Images and Words", which until this day remains next to Progressive Metal definition in any musical dictionary.

Queensrÿche-Suite sister Mary (Operation: Mindcrime, 1988 USA)

Fates Warning-A world apart (Perfect Symmetry, 1989 USA)

Dream Theater-Take the time (Images And Words, 1992 USA)

Among the pioneers of the genre, but enjoying less success and popularity, were Psychotic Waltz and Sieges Even. The former were essentially playing progressive metal as Aslan in the mid-80's and developed a highly eclectic sound in the 90's. The latter's debut classifies them among the European prog-thrash pioneers, but their music evolved to more melodic patterns and heavily influenced by Rush in the early 90's.

Sieges Even- To the ones who have failed (The Art Of Navigating By The Stars, 2005 Germany)

Progressive metal is difficult to further divide in sub-genres, but a number of tendencies or movements have been critical to the evolvement of its sound:

Traditional Progressive Metal

The style developed by the pioneers was fully established in the 1990s and includes a range of bands from the two sides of the Atlantic. Good examples in this movement are Savatage, who expanded their heavy metal beginnings with operatic and progressive elements in late 80's-early 90's, while Shadow Gallery and Symphony X emerged with a unique sound, each embodying a strong theatrical, symphonic and melodic approach. In Europe, Soul Cages continued the legacy of Sieges Even in a more artistic path.

Symphony X-Evolution (The grand design) (V: The New Mythology Suite, 2000 USA)

Power-Progressive Metal (American style)

The legacy of Riot (the counterpart of NWOBHM sound in the USA) and the early releases of Queensrÿche and Fates Warning heavily influenced a number of bands that were to develop a common sound towards the late 80's. Among the well-known representatives of what is called American Power Metal (e.g. Vicious Rumors, Helstar), a small number of bands enriched their sound with progressive and epic elements. Probably, the most obvious examples of this movement are Crimson Glory and Heir Apparent.

Crimson Glory-In dark places (Transcendence, 1988 USA)

Power-Progressive Metal (European style)

This category includes a broad range of bands that could sound fairly dissimilar to each other, but their music is significantly influenced by the European Power Metal (primarily German) bands of the 80's (e.g. Helloween, Rage, Running Wild). The earliest examples are probably Blind Guardian, Angra (although Brazilian, their sound is mainly European) and Conception. Slightly later, Vanden Plas, Royal Hunt, Eldritch and Labyrinth gave rise to the popularity of the genre in Germany, Denmark and Italy respectively. The symphonic and neo-classical elements (made popular by Yngwie Malmsteen) also found their way through power metal with bands like Rhapsody of Fire and Nightwish, whose style does not qualified as being progressive by many people. Nevertheless their music is quite demanding to play and contains many elements of classical composition and form.

Vanden Plas-Free the fire (Beyond Daylight, 2002 Germany)

Modern Progressive Metal

The second half of the 90's and the early 00's also saw newly formed bands expanding the boundaries of Traditional Progressive Metal via a number of ways: introducing electronic elements, investing heavily in lyricality and/or syncopation and further rhythmical experimentation. Also the idea of thematically conceptual albums has returned in accord with the practices of the Progressive Metal pioneers. Well-known examples in this category are Ayreon, Pain of Salvation and Riverside.

Pain of Salvation-Used (The Perfect Element Part I, 2001 Sweden)

Ayreon-Day four: Mystery (The Human Equation, 2004 Netherlands)

Riverside-Reality dream III (Second Life Syndrome, 2005 Poland)