Welcome to the second part in our ongoing series of Heavy Blog Is Heavy’s “Best Of” selections where we explore a genre of music and each of our dedicated authors pick a favorite album to share a personal experience with. For our second round, we have chosen a genre that is somewhat controversial—Progressive Metalcore. It’s controversial in that its boundaries are somewhat unclear and therefore host a slew of different bands under their wings. In addition, the word metalcore itself is enough to set many a mouth foaming.
Harnessing the aggression inherent in metalcore, the progressive end of things seeks to give it a more subtle or varied expression. Taking the normal tools of the trade; breakdowns, harsh vocals and chuggy bass to name a few, the genre further expands on them in many different ways. Sampling, peculiar structures or the introduction of unexpected genres (like jazz for example) seek to modify the basic metalcore formula. The bands on this list excel in fusing the two halves together to create an intriguing, yet still aggressive, whole.
Misery Signals – Controller
Controller is, quite simply, a masterpiece. Produced by none other than Devin Townsend, it’s one of the most pristine and masterfully delivered creations this genre has to offer. It doesn’t lose anything in the emotional punch department either: the lyrics are some of the most memorable created and cover a whole set of melancholy, frustration and rage. The vocals manage to be intelligible while still brutal and the whole thing takes so many twists and turns through what seem to be, on first listen, simple riffs that its progressive title shouldn’t be hastily challenged. There is a filling of uniqueness to the way the guitars work on this album: on the surface they seem simple enough, but as you listen again and again, more layers and complex interactions with the drums and bass can be heard. This is an album for the ages, a magnificent, well thought out treatise on modern aggression and despair that demands its listeners dive deep.
Between the Buried and Me – Colors
Colors was a turning point in my life as a fan of music. It changed my entire perception of genre and the arbitrary lines we draw around it. Opening like a Queen ballad and running through cycles of death metal, jazz, world music, polka, bluegrass, and everything in between, Colors was an album that went completely over my head upon first listen. Its grasp wasn’t immediately felt, though its grip tightened when the group released Colors Live, wherein the album was performed live from start to finish — over an hour of intensely progressive and technical music recalled in tight perfection. That’s when the album really clicked for me; Colors is an epic journey meant to be heard in its entirety, running the gamut of moods and themes across its breadth in a way I had never heard before. The album is a modern classic, one that many of us feel lies at the apex of progressive metal.
The Contorionist – Exoplanet
I actually hated Exoplanet when I first listened to it. “A bunch of dumb breakdowns and random ambient sections” was my initial impression of the album. However, when I came back to the album a year later, it clicked completely. Exoplanet is an album all about contrast. The songs are all masterfully set up to take you to a serene place with the beautiful, well written mellow parts, then they punch you in the face with some of the heaviest breakdowns ever. This album truly transcends its genre. There is so much progression even within riffs, changing time signatures and keys with reckless abandon. The lyrics are very memorable, the riffing is always interesting and catchy, the production is superb… The Contortionist’s debut album is masterful and still unmatched with its unique sound and exquisite grasp of songwriting and dynamics.
Psyopus – Odd Senses
Odd Senses is the third album by progressive metalcore band Psyopus, and like everything else they’ve done, it’s a bit of an acquired taste. Sounding like the music aliens who’d only heard The Dillinger Escape Plan’s Calculating Infinity would make if they came to Earth, this is a dense, swirling void of insane guitar theatrics and time signatures. As crazy as all this is, blending elements of instrumental guitar music, mathcore, noise rock and more, it’s never overblown or tasteless, and each song sounds different from the last. While it may be difficult to grasp at first, repeated listens will give way to an appreciation of the incredible musicianship on display here.
All of Psyopus’ albums are worth a listen, but I think Odd Senses does the best job of capturing what’s so incredible about this band.
Between the Buried and Me – The ParaIlax II: Future Sequence
While it could be said that the term ‘progressive’ is bandied about a little too liberally these days, Between the Buried and Me are its very epitome, having somehow contorted the seemingly limited metalcore template into some of the more sophisticated heavy music released to date. Despite this, I was not a particular fan of the band until the release in 2012 of The Parallax II: Future Sequence, when the band, in my opinion, finally struck upon that tricky balance between intellectualism, technicality and emotiveness that, while elusive, is the hallmark of truly memorable progressive albums. No less dense or intense than its predecessors, The Parallax II is by far BTBAM’s most cohesive effort, seamlessly blending their signature genre jumps and manically rhythmic riffs with explorations into atmosphere and groove, and bringing its listeners to variously satisfying points of vocally melodic climax. Given that its lyrics also reveal a complex and conceptual narrative, The Parallax II is a major feat of composition, and has not only cemented BTBAM as a band of exceptional talent, but marks an important step in the evolution of heavy music itself.
No Consequence – IO
Having seared our earlobes with the intensive rough-edged ‘core of 2009’s In The Shadow Of Gods, last year the UK’s No Consequence set about joining up the dots and coloring in the spaces with a good dose of progressive layering. Listening to IO now, still the key to unlocking the beast within lies in the lyrical content. Here, is a bunch of pissed-off individuals, angry at the way that this modern life of ours works. Fists are shaken at the lies that are fed, the political red tape that we have to cross and the cover-ups that keep those to blame safe. Married to these strong, emotive hardcore ethics comes either a focussed, fiery assault or subversive side-steps into spaced-out, atmospheric prog. Whether screamed or sung, played at break-neck or ponderous speeds, the whole is balanced beautifully. It is the sort of loud, impactful music that current heroes The Safety Fire have been blowing our minds with of late. One defining focal point that says it all comes worming its way through the skidding middle-distance wedge of strings and drums, from behind the drop-offs and dreamscaping, from beyond even the distant, meandering lead. One solitary voice; a bellowed front of house vocal that builds to scream “What have we become?” in our recoiling faces. Yes, busting with infectious hooks, introspective wit and some of the most gorgeous segues this side of an Arusha Accord construction, IO marks one giant leap in the evolution of No Consequence.
Ovid’s Withering – Scryers of the Ibis
Because Eden already covered Controllers and Elizabeth already oozed over Volition (see below), I decided to go with an album that recently secured a place in my musical heart: Ovid’s Withering’s monumental Scryers of the Ibis. I named this album my album of the year last year, and for good reason: it’s a freaking masterpiece, and in the short time I’ve been listening to it, it has quickly become one of my very favorite progressive metalcore albums. Ovid’s Withering have taken everything that makes progressive metalcore so great and upped the ante in almost every way. You can try pigeonholing the album into a particular genre if you so please, but really, it doesn’t matter, because the band touches on elements from pretty much every possible genre and subgenre of metal in the 70+ minutes of Scryers of the Ibis, and they do so in a way that is not gimmicky whatsoever. Every note on Scryers of the Ibis was meticulously crafted to be exactly where it should be. The orchestral elements add to the overall epicness factor of the album, and the compositions are incredibly complex and demand your full attention. It’s also no coincidence that Ovid’s Withering are signed to Subliminal Groove Records, because Scryers of the Ibis is easily one of the grooviest metal albums you’ll ever shake your ass to. In fact, some of the riffs and breakdowns contained within Scryers of the Ibis are so ass-shakingly groovy that by the end of it, you might need an ass massage. Overall, Scryers of the Ibis is an exceptional example of progressive metalcore, and one that will likely influence legions of bands to come.
Protest the Hero – Volition
Nearly ten months ago, when Protest the Hero released Drumhead Trial, the second track from their fourth studio album, Volition, an uneasy thought occurred to me: “What if this is it? What if this is the highlight of the album?” My intuition was spot on, but my uneasiness was unwarranted. Drumhead Trial is, for me, the peak of Volition, and perhaps of Protest’s career in general. However, nine months and nearly six hundred listens later, I can safely say that the rest of the album falls closely behind, and that Volition in its entirety is Protest’s strongest effort thus far. This album marks a turning point in Protest’s career, as it was to be their first independent release. Expectations for Volition were high as the band turned from the restricting grasp of record labels to the financial support of the fans themselves to fund the album through a highly successful Indiegogo campaign. To say the least, the boys delivered. Volition showcases a diversity in sound unparalleled by its predecessors. Tracks such as “Mist” and “Skies” push the boundaries of genre expectations, while “A Life Embossed” is perhaps their heaviest song to date. Numerous guest appearances from campaign contributors are executed effectively and in a way that does not feel at all gimmicky, and are alternated with supplementation by fan favourites such as Jadea Kelly on Plato’s Tripartite, and current stand-in bassist Cam McLellan on Without Prejudice. It is also worth mentioning that, while I’m personally a fan of Rody Walker’s lyric writing efforts on Scurrilous, the improvement he exhibits on Volition is jaw-dropping (Plato’s Tripartite, anyone?). Simply put, this album is a winner. Protest have emerged from a period of turbulence including line-up changes and financial woes and have proven that they are still very much capable of creating awe-inspiring music. If you’re still hung up on Kezia, it’s time for you to sit down with Volition and appreciate just how far Protest the Hero have come.
All Shall Perish – The Price of Existence
Arguably deathcore, grind and for many, not progressive at all, The Price Of Existence is my choice for progressive metalcore because it latched onto genre clichés and tinkered with them like a mad scientist – palms rubbing together in adulation of his most vile creation. This was my first introduction to All Shall Perish and they were the first band for me that managed to blur the line between metalcore and death metal. Breakdown heavy but still technical and catchy, every song is full of unforgiving percussion and tempo shifts that can generate their own G force. The now instantly recognisable vocals of Mr Hermida collide with buzzsaw leads and a guitar and bass attack that made metal riffs interesting again. This opened my eyes to a new breed of exciting bands out there at a time where Lamb Of God and Killswitch Engage were blowing up commercially. It was The Price Of Existence, for me, that showed many where metal needed to go.This will continue to be an exemplary “core” album that supersedes genre pigeonholing.
Oh, Sleeper – Son of the Morning
There are very few albums that stand the test of time and hold their appeal for me as well as Oh, Sleeper’s Son of the Morning. In many ways it was an album ahead of it’s time, showcasing a vibrant infusion of progressive elements into metalcore similar to what Erra are currently doing now. When many of their peers were still content to just stick to playing open-chug breakdowns, this was a pretty big deal. The insanely catchy choruses and memorable songwriting help make this album a classic as well, not to mention the lyrical theme about what a conversation between Satan and God might be like. With a record this groundbreaking and innovative, it’s no surprise that 5 years later when other bands are putting out similar material, it’s still welcomed and celebrated.
Veil of Maya – Common Man’s Collapse
In 2011, I had strayed far away from metal. I had lost interest in heavy music because I wanted to focus on other genres and I thought (falsely) that metal had gotten a bit stale. Then, one day, I saw that a friend of mine had posted a song to Facebook. It was Veil of Maya’s ‘Mark the Lines.’ Taking a listen was one of the best decisions I have made to this very day. This was the song that reinvigorated my passion for the genre and the album it comes from only made my love grow stronger. The entire record is punishing from start to finish. The submerged under water-esque growls of vocalist Brandon Butler over the endlessly interesting/bouncy riffs and breakdowns of Marc Okubo are an absolute treat to listen to every single time I decide to give this album a spin. Though many bands have taken the bands sound and tweaked/perfected it, none of them will do what this album did for me. Without this record, I may not have been here to write this. This album not only did wonders for the genre, it also hold a piece of who I am today.
Textures – Silhouettes
Many may argue that Textures is djent, and yes, I am aware that everyone thinks IT’S NOT A GENRE but sorry, ya’ll made it that way. They certainly had a huge impact on the scene, and this album arguably made the biggest impression. Labels aside, Silhouettes changed my life. Luckily this was in 2008, before I dove into the frustrating world of the overhyped music scene on Facebook, and therefore I was able to experience this album with nothing more than my own imagination. I experienced a band finally coming into their own, simmering their melting pot of Meshuggah, Devin Townsend, Tool and many others into a thick, hearty, and cohesive broth that enriched me for an entire summer. The production was notably warmer too, and I enjoyed watching the short studio documentaries the band posted on their YouTube channel. Vocalist Erik Kalsbeek turned in the performance of his career, melding soulful and soaring vibrato, passionate raspy screams, and a soft near whisper. The keyboard and guitar ambience is never overwhelming, and the bass and drums are in each other’s pocket like a 7th grade couple’s hands, but with an effortless and organic feel. This band and especially this album made a huge impact on my own band, and I was beyond amazed to find out that the band enjoyed my music as well, which led to a great friendship. Fundamental.
Picture It In Ruins – Solipsism
Picture it in Ruins, the pride of that International Entertainment Mecca of Green River, Wyoming, is proof that great music can come from anywhere. The band’s Jamie King-produced 2011 release Solipsism is simply one of the greatest prog metal records that you may not have ever heard. From the opening riffs of “ImmortaliTV”, it’s clear that this is going to be a record for people who adore catchy, guitar-driven music. Edward Kopfman and Chris Chambers take you on epic BTBAM-esque guitar journeys (pay special attention to the extended solos on “Time Vampire”) while brothers Cody and Caleb Stevenson create a rhythm section that keeps up with where the guitars are leading. Perhaps what sets the PiiR sound apart from others in the sub-genre, vocalist Luke Friebel never lets you forget that this is, at its heart, heavy music. He never succumbs to the clean vocals temptation. The only downside is that, at 25 minutes, we expect something on a grander scale from music this inspiring and epic. I am happy to report that Picture it in Ruins is still alive and that the band is “very very slowly working on stuff.” So let’s hope we see and hear new music at some point.. In the meantime, check out Solipsism on Bandcamp and strap yourself in for a very prog trip.