Brush up on your progressive rock with these tips

Mars Volta, Opeth, Dream Theater round out rock's best-kept secrets

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009


After being forced underground by the ferocity of punk rock in the late ’70s, progressive rock went into deep hibernation until its comeback in the ’80s.

Considered uncool because of its lengthy songs and concept albums, progressive bands became musical outcasts while punk’s aggressive simplicity ruled the music scene.

But the prog movement survived and made a re-appearance in the ’80s with a new generation of prog rockers armed with extended solos and complex songs. Now heavier and faster than ever before, prog rock is here to stay. The following is a handy list of prog rockers with different styles:

Dream Theater: Four out of the five members went to world famous music schools, while the fifth member, singer James Labrie, is Canadian. Expect long, fast songs and heaps of versatility from this band. It has the ability to move seamlessly between blistering heavy metal and tear-jerking ballads.
Suggested tracks: “Hell’s Kitchen,” “Metropolis,” and for the truly courageous, the 23 minute and nine second, “A Change of Seasons.”

Rush: Possibly Canada’s greatest export after maple syrup, Rush was there when prog first happened. Despite having only three members, Rush’s sound is incredibly complex and layered. Look out for bassist Geddy Lee’s vocals, which may take some getting used to, but fit well with Alex Lifeson’s guitar pyrotechnics and Neil Peart’s insane drumming.
Suggested tracks: “Anthem,” “Freewill,” “Xanadu.”

Opeth: Originally a death metal outfit, these Swedish rockers have since branched into a more progressive metal vibe while still keeping with their Scandinavian metal sensibilities. Heavy as hell, but in progressive fashion, they manage to surprise listeners with emotional instrumental passages that make it a versatile and highly respectable band.
Suggested tracks: “Ghost of Perdition,” “Bleak,” “Master’s Apprentice.”

Liquid Tension Experiment: Put together three Dream Theater members plus King Crimson’s greatest bass player and you get two albums full of crazy instrumental progressive rock. It is self-indulgent, self-obsessed, instrument wanking and the band is proud of it. Both albums are a flurry of notes and nearly impossible song structures, with styles ranging from heavy metal and soft rock, to Latin and classical. This side project band was never meant to be mainstream accessible.
Suggested tracks: “When the Water Breaks,” “Acid Rain,” “Paradigm Shift.”

The Mars Volta: A band is only truly progressive when it has the courage to be ambitious and different. The Mars Volta is the epitome of this definition because the mass musical freak-outs could never be replicated by another band. With one of the busiest drummers in the business, a sax player, an explosive frontman and a guitar player who claims to “hate the guitar,” the Mars Volta writes interesting music that even its most hardcore fans sometimes find difficult to comprehend. Definitely not a band for the faint of heart; its music is either worshipped or despised.
Suggested tracks: “Tetragammaton,” “Televators,” “Day of the Baphomets.”

Porcupine Tree: Porcupine Tree is one of Britain’s best-kept prog secrets. Though not a particularly heavy group, the band writes music that is both dark and mysterious. Add a healthy dose of psychedelic electronica and acoustic ballads and you’ve got albums that have so much variety, it’s a shame to confine them within one genre.
Suggested tracks: “Lazarus,” “Blackest Eyes,” “Half Light.”

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