Progressive music, and progressive metal in particular, has come a long way since its roots in the Yes and Rainbow-esque days of superfluous virtuosity that inspired a generation of musicians to improve past a passable level of playing. While the heyday of bands such as Dream Theater and Symphony X has long since passed – leading to the likes of Opeth, Steven Wilson, and Haken taking up the mantle – the footprint of the style can be seen time and again among lesser known acts in the genre. Today I want to present a batch of prog rock/metal tracks that emulate this focus as progressive music on the whole moves toward a more streamlined approach. So let’s delve into overlooked modern traditional prog metal/rock songs!
Seventh Wonder – “Break The Silence”
A part of Seventh Wonder’s heartbreaking concept in Mercy Falls, “Break the Silence” is a track that wholly exemplifies this early set of musical ideals: soaring clean vocals, emphasis on guitar during heavier parts and extended segments of melodic instrumental compositions throughout. The entirety of Mercy Falls is worth your time, but this song works as a great reminder of what makes progressive music so great.
Age of Nemesis – “Plummeting into Eternity (Zuhanás az örökkévalóságba)”
This Hungarian prog metal band takes more than a small amount of inspiration from the likes of early Dream Theater, but what sets them apart is the consistent and melancholic tone throughout their works. Through being released in two languages, as well as the band having split-up many years ago, it’s quite difficult to find their music in English. However, the final track on 2007’s Terra Incognita contains some of the most criminally underrated musical segments of any prog song to date, and is by far one of the most memorable melodic segments I’ve had the pleasure of listening to.
Riverside – “Escalator Shrine”
Riverside have been able to achieve a certain amount of success among prog fans, but they never quite reached the heights of their more modern-sounding contemporaries. A bit more laid back than the previous entries, what “Escalator Shine” manages to do well is create a heavy atmosphere laden in a thick but clear tone. This song reaches its peak in its patient and emotional final two minutes, elevating the song above those in a similar vein.
Anima Tempo – “Confessions”
Perhaps the most recent release on the list, this Mexican prog metal band released the fantastic Caged in Memories in early 2016 to little fanfare outside of their dedicated following. Bringing a touch of modern metal sound to a wholly traditional structure, this is the song that will convince you to appreciate this style of prog if you’re a relative newcomer to the genre. Furthermore, there’s an aggression present here that really keeps things feeling fresh and driven.
Beardfish – “The Platform”
One part Yes, one part Opeth: Beardfish combine the old and new and wrap it in a neat little package that’s entirely gritty and fresh. Along with the fantastic band name, there is a level of musicianship on display here that rivals that of the rest of this list. This one leans away a little from the metal formula, but is still deeply entrenched in a traditional prog ethos that makes it a good fit for those who hearken back to old-school prog.
Anubis Gate – “Destined to Remember”
Continuing the trend of European bands doing traditional prog metal better than anyone else, Denmark’s Anubis Gate has an approachable sound that makes it much easier to digest than the ten-plus minute epics that define the genre. While not doing anything with their music that hasn’t been done before, the vocal melodies maintain a catchiness to them that keeps the song in your head long after it’s over.
Flying Colours – “Infinite Fire”
Flying Colours are not quite as underground as many of the entries in this article, being composed of various high profile musicians, but hidden away on their pop-fueled and commercial début is a very traditional progressive song that you might have missed. Taking clear inspiration from their individual works, this twelve minute track has an air of playfulness that contrasts the sombre and aggressive tones that have become a staple of the group’s sound. If you let that convince you that this is a lesser song as a result, you’re only fooling yourself; you’ll find all the great shredding, keyboards, and unique drum patterns that you could want in the latter half of “Infinite Fire”.
Circus Maximus – “Architect of Fortune”
There are a host of Circus Maximus tracks that deserve to be on this list, but the one that most illustrates the idea of a traditional sound in a modern production has to be “Architect of Fortune”. In a time when Death Theater were slowly losing their footing, along came this Norwegian band to do what fans of this style had been waiting for all along. The result is a strong emphasis of vocal melodies and heavy but varied musical arrangements from a set of musicians that know how to play with excess and restraint in equal measures.
Vanden Plas – “Holes in the Sky”
There are arguably much better songs that exemplify why Vanden Plas deserve to be on this list, but I chose “Holes in the Sky” because it was my personal introduction to the band. The chugging riff of the intro and terribly catchy chorus work well with the short run-time. While this song in particular doesn’t bring anything new to the table, there are many songs from this German band that will most definitely scratch that itch. It helps that their single has the exact kind of visual cheesiness that permeates seemingly all traditional prog metal bands’ videos.
Sound of Contact – “Mobius Slip”
Those that know this band will probably argue that they are too high profile for a list like this (given the members involved), but the fact remains that with a single album release and less than 10k likes on Facebook, this band has less notoriety than almost every other entry here. For the uninitiated, it’s best you go into it blind. With obvious overtones of Genesis and a soft but musically impressive composition, this is the kind of prog you can relax to and still find technically stimulating. The latter half of “Mobius Slip” manages to kick things up a notch, so stick with this one.
Myrath – “Tales of the Sands”
Tunisian progressive oriental metal band (that’s a mouthful) Myrath combine a lot of that 90’s prog metal sound with a distinct middle eastern vibe that creates a sound all of its own. Simple riffs are the core of the band’s sound, but hidden are some fantastic pieces of true musical talent sprinkled throughout. This song perfectly captures their style and ability, with a fantastic – albeit, short – guitar solo toward the end. If nothing else, it’s the most unique entry here.
Transatlantic – “Is It Really Happening”
This is my one cheat for the list. Transatlantic are far from a lesser-known group, and the song itself is actually quite non-traditional in its structure. The reason it’s here is that is still manages to elicit the ideals and tone of traditional progressive music in a modern sound. Moreover, while the band is known, the song itself is one with little exposure due to its lengthy and slow introduction. Once the song get’s going though, it continues to build up into one of the most impressive displays of musical talent and virtuosity, firing on all cylinders for several minutes.
There you have it. Twelve songs and hours of music to satisfy the prog-hungry listeners who’ve been looking for a bit more of a traditional sound to their music. Do you think this style of music is worth exploring in today’s modern progressive landscape? Or is this a genre best left in the past (and in Europe apparently)? And, as always….
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