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!
Part One: Fates Warning – Disconnected (2000) & Riverside – Anno Domini High Definition (2009)
Part Two: Evergrey – In Search Of Truth (2000) & Ayreon – Into the Electric Castle (1998)
Part Three: Pain of Salvation – Remedy Lane (2000) & Porcupine Tree – In Absentia (2002)
4. Opeth – Blackwater Park (2001)
Opeth‘s fifth album Blackwater Park falls somewhere in between death metal and progressive metal. Although it is somewhat extreme-sounding in comparison to the other entries on this list, I believe it is still closely related. Above all else, this band is known for the juxtaposition of dark and light elements, which they sometimes switch between at a moment’s notice. Acoustic guitar and mellow vocals are the key tools they use for the lighter sections, while the darker sections contain heavy guitars and death growling. Interestingly enough, their sound isn’t based on the palm-muted chugging sound of most metal bands… it’s based more on interesting chords and melodic lines. Don’t let that worry you though… it doesn’t take away from the heaviness at all.
While most of Opeth’s albums have an “eerie” type of sound, Blackwater Park is ESPECIALLY eerie. If you try to imagine what the audio version of the cover art might sound like, then you’re heading in the right direction: grey, creepy, and bleak. As stated in the previous Porcupine Tree section, this album was co-produced by Steven Wilson, with additional help from Fredrik Nordstrom. Wilson’s presence on the record is very palpable, and this collaboration resulted in the best-sounding record of Opeth’s earlier material. Instrumentally, I think the rhythm section really shines on these songs, so drummers and bass players especially should give them a listen. The low end is very thick, and it’s sounds killer when you crank it on great speakers!
If you are new to Opeth, then this is probably the best place to start because it serves as a sort of middle ground in their discography. It is also considered their “breakthrough” album, because it helped give the band more widespread attention.
Key Song: ‘The Drapery Falls’
3. Symphony X – The Divine Wings of Tragedy (1997)
At #3, we have a personal favorite of mine when I was in high school: Symphony X‘s The Divine Wings of Tragedy. The biggest difference between this band, and the others I’ve included, is that they place a large emphasis on classical music. They also incorporate elements of power metal, which includes fantasy lyrics, Dio-esque vocals, and shred guitar. In my opinion, all of Symphony X’s albums offer something interesting, but this one stands out for a number of reasons. First off, it is the heaviest album from their 1990’s output, and it actually has some similarities to the more aggressive style they’ve been doing recently. Michael Romeo’s rhythm guitar playing is the biggest reason for this, as it had a certain “thickness” to it that just might blow you away.
Secondly, this album featured their original bassist Thomas Miller, who’s distinctive sound was a big part of their first four records. Check out the intro to ‘Sea of Lies‘ for an excellent example of his playing… technical, yet classy as hell. My final reason for thinking The Divine Wings of Tragedy stands above their other albums is that it contains a large number of their classic songs. ‘Of Sins and Shadows’, ‘The Accolade’, and ‘Sea of Lies’ are all staples that you will hear at most Symphony X concerts. They’ve even been known to perform the 20+ minute title track, which has a totally badass choral intro.
Above all else, you need to listen to this album to hear the awesomeness that is vocalist Russell Allen. He has a ton of career highlights, but this performance is surely one of his best.
Key Song: ‘Pharaoh’
– ST, TDS