Hey everybody! My name’s Shjon Thomas, and I play guitar in a Boston-based progressive metal band called The Deadstation. The awesome guys here at Heavy Blog is Heavy let me write a guest article on whatever I wanted… so I chose to share what I consider to be the ten most essential albums of “old-school progressive metal”!
Since the newer school of prog-metal is so popular with the readers here (Animals As Leaders, Periphery, etc…), I thought it would be cool to share some great albums that follow from the original style of the genre that was popular in the 1990s and 2000s. These albums have also been a large influence on my own music, so if you like something here, you might also like The Deadstation! (You can download our free EP “Episode 01” here)
My hope is that you guys find some enjoyable stuff here that you hadn’t heard before! Cheers!
8. Evergrey – In Search of Truth (2000)
Next up is In Search of Truth from Swedish band Evergrey. Partially inspired by Whitley Strieber’s book Communion, this album features a very dark concept about alien abductions. Basically, if you liked the TV show The X-Files, then this album is right up your alley! At first glance, it might sound like a cheesy subject to write about, but this album really focuses on the deeper psychological elements of abductions, so it holds a very serious tone throughout. In my opinion, the songs on In Search of Truth set up an amazing environment/atmosphere for the listener to get lost in… which not only makes it their best album, but an essential inclusion on this list.
As far as the musical elements go, I believe the standout feature is Tom Englund’s raspy, yet melodic vocals. They are very unique sounding for the prog-metal genre, and they are key to Evergrey’s distinctive sound. I’ve heard many fans say that they didn’t like his vocals at first though, so don’t give up on these guys if you feel the same way… they might grow on you after a few listens. Beyond that, guitar fans will find plenty of heavy riffs here to enjoy, as well as some truly badass solos. (Check out the outro solo at the 4:20 mark in ‘The Masterplan’)
Key Song: ‘The Masterplan’
7. Ayreon – Into the Electric Castle (1998)
If you are a fan of progressive music, and you haven’t heard of Arjen Lucassen yet, then you are in for a real treat. The Dutch composer’s prog rock/metal project Ayreon is known for its “rock operas”, with a large cast of characters played by well-known vocalists from around the world. Past participants include Devin Townsend, Mikael Akerfeldt (Opeth), Jonas Renske (Katatonia), Daniel Gildenlow (Pain of Salvation), and many more. Into the Electric Castle is a 100+ minute double album, released in 1998, and it is considered by many to be Arjen’s best work. The album’s concept revolves around eight characters that are taken from various time periods and put on a spaceship heading to the mysterious “Electric Castle”, where they will face a series of trials. Unlike the Evergrey album mentioned above, this one is specifically meant to be cheesy and reminiscent of a B-grade science fiction film. Don’t be fooled though… Into the Electric Castle has the same power to draw the listener in, even if it is somewhat tongue-in-cheek.
One thing that must be mentioned about this album is the fantastic production job. Every instrument sounds superb and the mix is very clear and powerful, which is not always the case for a 90’s progressive releases. The drums were performed by Ed Warby, who is best known for his work with Dutch death metal band Gorefest. His entrance on ‘Isis and Osiris’ blows me away every time I listen… he’s got insane power and groove in his playing. Since Devin Townsend is so popular here on Heavy Blog is Heavy, you should all be familiar with one of the amazing vocalists featured on this album: Anneke Van Giersbergen. She plays the role of “Egyptian” and she sounds just as awesome as ever.
Key Song: ‘Isis and Osiris’