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|Cultural origins||Mid 1980s, North America, United Kingdom, Australia|
|Derivative forms||Technical death metal|
Progressive metal (sometimes known as prog metal or technical metal) is a fusion genre melding heavy metal and progressive rock which combines the loud "aggression" and amplified electric guitar-driven sound of the former with the more experimental, complex and "pseudo-classical" compositions of the latter.
Whilst the genre emerged towards the late-1980s, it was not until the 1990s that progressive metal achieved commercial success. Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, Tool, Symphony X  and Fates Warning are a few examples of progressive metal bands who achieved commercial success; additionally, Heavy metal bands such as Megadeth incorporated elements of progressive music in their work. Progressive metal's popularity started to decline towards the end of the 1990s, but it remains a largely underground genre with a committed fan base.
Progressive metal's roots can be traced back to the late 1960s and early 1970s british rock scene, to bands such as Keith Emerson's The Nice and Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Procol Harum, Atomic Rooster, and others which incorporated keyboards and classical music into the heavy early hard rock music of the time. Other progressive rock bands such as King Crimson and Rush were also incorporating hard rock sounds into their music, 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". Rush songs such as "Bastille Day", "Anthem", "By-Tor And The Snow Dog", "2112", "The Fountain of Lamneth" and "Something for Nothing" have been cited as some of the earliest examples of progressive metal. Another early practitioner of heavy metal were Lucifer's Friend. Night Sun was also an early band who mixed heavy metal with progressive rock tones, though only releasing one album. However, progressive metal did not develop into a genre of its own until the mid-1980s. Bands such as Psychotic Waltz, Watchtower, Savatage, Fates Warning, Queensrÿche, Crimson Glory, Voivod and Dream Theater took elements of progressive rock groups (primarily the instrumentation and compositional and Black Sabbath (both of these bands had some progressive influences on their early albums). The result could be described as a progressive rock mentality with heavy metal sounds.
These six early flagship bands for progressive metal (Fates Warning, Queensrÿche, Crimson Glory, Voivod, Watchtower, and Dream Theater) each had somewhat different sounds. Queensrÿche had the most melodic sound of the six and achieved, with Operation Mindcrime and Empire the genre's most immediate commercial successes, which peaked with the crossover single "Silent Lucidity" reaching number nine on the Billboard Hot 100. Fates Warning were one of the most aggressive and heavy and arguably (a band who would incorporate more progressive elements in their later albums). Their 1989 album Perfect Symmetry broke away from their NWOBHM influenced sound and became the mold for early progressive metal that Dream Theater would expand on. Dream Theater drew more heavily upon traditional progressive metal and also built much of their earlier career on the band members' virtuoso instrumental skills, despite also achieving an early - and unexpected - MTV hit with the eight-minute "Pull Me Under" from 1992's Images and Words. Crimson Glory's music featured tight dual-lead harmonies and soaring vocals would be featured prominently on their debut as well as the follow-up, Transcendence. Transcendence was a landmark in the genre, often cited as one of the greatest progressive metal albums of all time, best metal albums of the decade, and an influence by many bands like Cage, Triosphere and Rhapsody of Fire. It also contained the song Lonely, which was their first hit-single and music video. Voivod's mix of Jazz, Psychadelic, Punk, Blues, Space rock, and Progresive Rock to their Thrash sound. They were know
According to AllMusic, progressive metal at the time was "fairly underground (although such Metallica albums as ...And Justice for All were as dense and layered as prog albums)". Though progressive metal was, and has remained, primarily an album-oriented genre, this mainstream exposure increased the genre's profile, and opened doors for other bands. Over the 1990s, bands such as Pain of Salvation, Vanden Plas, Seventh Wonder, Threshold, Circus Maximus, Anubis Gate, Coheed and Cambria, Symphony X, Tool, Andromeda, Porcupine Tree and Arjen Anthony Lucassen's Ayreon project all succeeded in developing their own audiences and signature sounds. In the decade which followed, artists who began their careers outside of the progressive milieu, such as Sweden's Tiamat (originally a death/doom act), Green Carnation and Opeth (both formed in the death metal mould), developed a progressive sound and became identified with the progressive metal genre.
Ayreon stayed with the traditional prog metal themes, but mixed them with many other influences, such as rock opera, folk music, and ambient. Pain of Salvation experimented with both progressive rock and progressive metal, made extensive use of polyrhythms, and abruptly switched between calm and heavy passages. Seventh Wonder stayed within the prog metal mold, but had a larger focus on melody than most other progressive metal bands. Symphony X married progressive elements to power metal and classical music. Tool and Karnivool created a progressive sound using alternative metal elements and odd rhythms. Porcupine Tree began as a psychedelic/space rock band, but developed a progressive metal sound with 2002's In Absentia. 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. Mastodon also combined progressive metal with sludge elements. Opeth, Skyfire, and Between the Buried and Me combined (in very different ways) their prog influence with death metal, as have Meshuggah, whose distinctive sound has spawned the djent movement within progressive metal. Mudvayne incorporated elements of death metal, jazz fusion, and progressive rock into a style which the band jokingly described as "math metal".
Progressive metal can be broken down into many 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 metal-evocative acoustic passages and clean melodic vocals) often see them cited as progressive death metal, yet their vocalist 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, Shadow Gallery and Ex Libris fusing traditional progressive metal with a complexity and grandeur usually found in classical compositions. Similarly, bands such as Dream Theater, Planet X, Puya, Liquid Tension Experiment, The Faceless, Between the Buried and Me and Animals as Leaders have a jazz influence, with extended solo sections that often feature "trading solos". Cynic, Atheist, Opeth, Pestilence, Between the Buried and Me and Meshuggah all blended jazz fusion with death metal, but in dramatically different ways. 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 festivals, with bands such as Fates Warning and Conception originating as power metal bands that incorporated progressive elements which came to overshadow their power metal roots.
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. Martin Popoff argued that the Metallica album ...And Justice for All was a progressive metal album due to its intricate song structure and bleak sound. The band Racer X, featuring guitarist Paul Gilbert, would also fall within this genre of technical proficiency a tendency evidenced on songs such as "B.R.O." from 1999's Technical Difficulties. The band Voivod also combined elements of thrash metal and progressive metal, specifically on the releases Killing Technology, Dimension Hatröss, and Nothingface, in 1987, 1988, and 1989 respectively.
Recently, with a new wave of popularity in shred guitar, the hitherto-unfashionable genre 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 inclusion within the progressive metal scene of bands that do not necessarily play in its traditional style such as thrash/power metallers Nevermore and technical death metal pioneers Necrophagist and Obscura. These bands are often labeled progressive metal, seeing as they play complex and technical metal music which does not readily cleave to any other metal subgenre.
In the mid-2000s, bands such as Periphery, Tesseract, Animals as Leaders and Vildhjarta popularized the "djent" style of progressive metal based in a sound originally developed by Meshuggah. It is characterized by palm-muted, syncopated riffs (often polyrhythmic in nature), as well as use of extended range guitars.
Differences from experimental metal
Although progressive metal and experimental metal both favor experimentation and non-standard ideas, there are rather large differences between the two genres. The experimentation of progressive metal has a strong emphasis on technicality and theoretical complexity. This is done by playing complex rhythms and implementing unusual time signatures and song structures - all with the use of traditional instruments. For avant-garde/experimental metal, most of the experimentation is in the use of unusual sounds and instruments - being more unorthodox and questioning of musical conventions.
- Heavy metal subgenres
- List of progressive metal artists
- Timeline of progressive rock and progressive metal
- Experimental metal
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Djent – an off-shoot of progressive metal that features heavily palm-muted, distorted guitar chords alongside virtuoso soloing – is all the rage these days in the metal world, but let's not forget where it all started. Many of the sub-genre's leading bands will tell you the inspiration for their sound came from one band: Meshuggah.
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[Fredrik Thordendal] is Meshuggah’s lead guitarist and an inspiration to the ax-wielding trailblazers behind the prog-metal djent movement.
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