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!
6. Pain of Salvation – Remedy Lane (2002)
At the #6 spot, is another genre-standout from Sweden: Pain of Salvation. Many have compared them to American alt-metal band Faith No More, but I can assure you that they have a sound all their own. Of their eight full-length albums, Remedy Lane serves as a kind of peak, as well as the final album of their original sound: dark, grungy, progressive, and extremely emotional. Songwriter/bandleader Daniel Gildenlow performs vocals and guitar (among other instruments), and possibly has the best voice in the entire progressive genre… seriously. One of the key elements to his sound is the amount of acting he puts into a given song. He doesn’t just sing the lyrics… he really becomes a personification of them. This guy could sing a Taylor Swift song and have you in tears.
It’s not just the vocals that are enjoyable though. Drummers and general fans of polyrhythmic experimentation will find something to sink their teeth into. Remedy Lane has some strange, yet extremely interesting drumming. Some of it might sound weird and nonsensical at first, but after a few listens, the genius will begin to reveal itself. That is something that can actually be said for the album as a whole, as well as for most Pain of Salvation albums. On the first listen you’ll be scratching your head, but on the third or fourth listen, your jaw will be on the floor! It’s just that good.
Key Song: ‘Rope Ends’
5. Porcupine Tree – In Absentia (2002)
I’m sure some will disagree with my choice to include this band on the list, because progressive metal is only a piece of what they do, but they are just TOO good to not mention! Porcupine Tree‘s seventh studio album In Absentia is for listeners who like some alternative stylings with their prog metal/rock. Songs like ‘Blackest Eyes’, ‘Strip the Soul’ and ‘Wedding Nails’ have some seriously heavy guitar riffs that should make any metal fan smile, yet other songs like ‘Trains’ and ‘The Sound of Muzak’ have an alt-rock edge that fits more with their previous two albums. The band worked on In Absentia shortly after vocalist/songwriter Steven Wilson finished producing Opeth’s breakthrough album Blackwater Park, so one can only assume that his experience there helped push Porcupine Tree in a more metal direction.
This album also marks the first appearance of drum god Gavin Harrison, who is easily one of the most dynamic and precise players out there. His style is much more powerful and technical than previous drummer Chris Maitland, which only adds to the newer, heavier sound of the band. I also should mention that he uses a completely natural, unreplaced drum sound… so you have to at least appreciate the time and effort it must take to get his kit to sound that amazing. As far as the rest of the instrumentation goes, keyboardist Richard Barbieri really brings an ambient/experimental vibe to the band, and bassist Colin Edwin provides some extremely well-written and catchy bass lines.
All in all, Porcupine Tree is a very unique band that really can’t be summarized easily… you just have to check them out and see for yourself. (Also, check out their album Fear of a Blank Planet while you’re at it!)
Key Song: ‘Blackest Eyes’