For Fans Of is a column that takes one very well-known and popular band that our writers and readers are fans of, and then our staff write about a small group of lesser-known bands that do similar things and who we think you all might like as well and give a listen to. Check out past entries here.
Dream Theater. In the annals of metal, whether you like it or not, they will be remembered as one of the most important bands of the era starting with the 90’s and moving well into today. There are many reasons for this but the one we’d like to focus on here are the sheer number of bands that they’ve influenced. Forging ahead, although by no means alone as some entries on this list hint to, Dream Theater basically created the progressive metal genre, enabling the classical influences of bands like Rush or Yes to fuse with metal and create a more complex heaviness and an emphasis on musical training and complexity.
Within that scope, countless numbers of acts were spawned: ranging from those whose emphasis lay in deepening the ties into the past and those would cut loose the chains of prior inhibitions and explore completely new avenues. Progressive melded with melodic, black, death and countless other sub-genres to create a lot of the plethora of metal we see below. The list below perhaps focuses on the core Dream Theater sound though, parsing through the insane plurality to try and trace some common ground. Even with that in mind, the list below has plenty of variation, each one shining a light on a different facet of the whole. They all have several things in common: they bring emotionality step by step with technicality, creating that intriguing sound that progressive metal is best known for.
Dream Theater do a lot of things well: whether it’s complexity, concept or nostalgia you go to them for, you’ll get your fix. However, for me, it’s always been about the emotion. Tracks like “Space Dye Vest”, “Through Her Eyes” or “Solitary Shell” have been my mainstay for that. Luckily, as these emotional loads tend to suffer from diminishing returns, plenty of bands are keeping that legacy alive, blending their progressive metal with over the top emotional material and delivery. One of the best bands to do that, and in 2015 nonetheless, is Teramaze. This veteran band recently got a new singer and with that, a whole new style. Now, they handle an infectious, major, over the top progressive metal that hits heavy and hard on your emotions.
Take “An Ordinary Dream” for example. It’s middle part, composed of an eerily death-defiant sample, is bracketed by an intro and outro which compete for scope and range. The basic formula are instruments that border on power metal in their delivery and yet have a complexity and approach to layering that will please any fan of progressive metal. On top of those we have soaring vocals, reminding us of the iconic place that James LaBrie has carved for himself in the history of metal. These are all coated with exquisite, modern production and penchant for the theatrical, turning the whole thing into a wave that’s hard to avoid. It sweeps you from the heart first, appealing to your sense of wonder and hope and then bringing in the musical progressiveness that any entry on this list should have.
By focusing on their emotional and lyrical delivery first, Teramaze has shone a light on a part of Dream Theater that’s often overlooked: the use of dramatical scales, sweeping melodies and a grandeur that’s childish and poignant at the same time. The band don’t only accentuate it; they also build upon it and perform it in the best way possible.
It’s hard to stop praising Native Construct. Only one album into their careers and they’re receiving heaps of praise for being one of the best up and coming progressive metal bands in recent memory. They’re so good, that we think they might satisfy a lot of your Dream Theater related itches. Hell, Mike Portnoy even put them on his year end list! With music that is just the right amounts of over the top, Native Construct seek to defy expectations and flex their daunting chops in ways that are tasteful, yet jaw dropping. With emotive vocals that would make James LaBrie proud, performances that Petrucci would more than likely approve of on the spot and an attention to detail that doesn’t mimic the progressive overlords’, but seeks to pay homage and improve upon it, the band can only launch themselves further and further into the hearts and minds of listeners.
Prymary. No, not Primary, stop trying to autocorrect me, Google! With the drummer from Redemption behind the kit, it’s a good start, and even though the other musicians involved aren’t as well established as Chris Quirarte, they definitely stand their ground. Of course, I’m looking here at their 2009 album, The Enemy Inside; I think their previous album was horrible. Everything fans of DT crave is here: odd-time signatures, lengthy songs as well as more concise ones, high-level musicianship from every instrument, and a singer with a peculiar voice, more emotional than LaBrie but with a lesser range. It is truly beyond me why this band didn’t get more attention after the release of their last album! There are great riffs, engaging songwriting and solo spots for every member of the band. To this day, I’m still waiting for a new album from them, but there is no word about that anywhere, only that the band is still listed as active. I guess we’ll have to wait a bit longer and hope that later comes sooner rather than never.
The primary pull of Dream Theater has always been, in one way or another, their aptitude and incredible skill at creating cohesion out of chaos. Their songs are steep cliffs, sheer in angle and towering in scope, tangled and complex in nature, yet somehow the group still manages to creates aurally pleasing arrangements out of these monolithic structures. A Sense Of Gravity takes this to the next level entirely: nothing about their songs should be nearly as memorable as it all is, given how many different great ideas they seem to cram into every track and how stuffed to the brim each minute of their sonic assault is. But it works, and, by gum, it works damn well; these guys are the cream of the progressive metal crop, and their 2014 debut, Travail, is nearly an hour of heavy, melodic, moving prog that shows a band one album in and already bringing an A-game strong enough to potentially dethrone the long-seated kings of the genre.
From the lilting sway of opening track “Wraith” to the djenty crunch of “Above the Horizon”, the entirety of Travail is a fantastic adventure through the various tropes and formulae of progressive metal, worthy the time of any listener. Somehow combining the genre’s typical fair with a fair amount of emotion, something usually relatively foreign to prog metal stylings, the sheer prowess of musicianship on display across this release is above and beyond just about anything else the genre has ever seen from such a young band (“just about” because, well, Native Construct exists). Far more than being just for fans of Dream Theater, these guys are for any fan of progressive metal.
The recently defunct Arcane are perhaps Australia’s best answer yet to Dream Theater, the parallels between the two bands striking. It’s obvious that Dream Theater have been a huge influence on the band, yet it would be a misnomer to state that they are nothing more than a worship band, a carbon copy regurgitating the same material with a slightly different spin on it. Instead, they draw from a wider palette of influences including bands such as Cynic and, in particular, Karnivool, whilst adding in elements wholly their own to craft truly masterful progressive rock/metal, music which should thrill any fan of the genre.
A crucial feature of Dream Theater’s output is the sheer length of their songs, and since their very beginnings Arcane have shown a penchant for writing similarly lengthy compositions. Indeed, their 2007 debut Ashes doesn’t feature a single song under seven minutes in length, whilst they were already introducing their fans to multi-part suites and a mammoth, 24-minute long title track, elements sure to crop up again throughout their career. Their follow-up, Chronicles of the Waking Dream, saw the band branch into the art of the concept album and, whilst they were yet to perfect their sound, it was certainly a step in the right direction. Each band member raised their game on this release, especially frontman Jim Grey, whose story-telling abilities came on in leaps and bounds to make Chronicles a truly cinematic experience. Yet, it is 2015’s masterpiece, the double concept album Known/Learned, which best defines what the band represents, and which comes closest to capturing the lofty heights of Dream Theater’s peak.
In the vocal department, Grey’s ethereal and angelic voice complements the music perfectly and, like James LaBrie, his greatest strength is an exceptional ability to stir emotion in the listener. Whilst their range is similar, Grey’s delivery has less of a power metal feel, and his lyrics are at a consistently high standard, never appearing cheesy, and thus helping Arcane achieve a more modern sound. Musically, guitarist Michael Gagen and keyboardist Matt Martin are the band’s centrepiece, much like Petrucci and Rudess before them. The two of them have an innate musical understanding with one another, knowing exactly when a song needs the guitar to shine, when the keyboards should take centre stage, or when the two of them should play off one another as Dream Theater so often do. The drumming is not as powerful as can be heard in Dream Theater, but it complements Arcane’s softer, more mellow take on progressive music, which, in conjunction with a more audible bass, ensures that Arcane are not let down by their rhythm section.
Long, progressive songs? Check. Ambitious concept and/or double albums? Check. High pitched, emotional vocals? Check. Diverse music driven by the interplay between guitars and keyboards? Check. If you like Dream Theater, you really are missing out if you haven’t listened to Arcane.
If you take the musicianship and songwriting aspects of Dream Theater to the extreme, there we find Unexpect, a six-headed monstrosity of avant-garde metal. Remember how cool it was to see Myung play that 6-string bass? Well, Chaoth plays on 9-string. Synthesized violin? No: real violin. One singer? Why not three? Two males doing a variety of harsh and clean vocals, and one female’s entrancing melodies and soothing voice. Unexpect is not for the faint of heart, but the sheer depth of composition and degree of skills necessary to craft and play these songs are just on a whole nother plane of existence. The band has a history of experimenting with metal, twisting the genre in a lot of unnatural ways, but their best efforts are, and by far, In a Flesh Aquarium, and Fables of the Sleepless Empire, which is their last album as they broke up earlier in 2015.
This may have been somewhat of an obvious choice for some of our readers, but it’s really that important of a choice. Jersey’s Symphony X are, without a doubt, one of the finest and most consistent bands to ever come out of the 90s prog/power movement. Whether it was their perfect fusion of the two aforementioned styles in 1996’s masterpiece album The Divine Wings of Tragedy, tackling epic, Rush-sequel epics in The Odyssey, or experimenting with groove metal hooks, the band has always prided themselves in endless sonic exploration. Frontman Russell Allen’s vocals are simply stunning and are often unfortunately overlooked when the discussion of metal’s greatest active singers. When you pair that with the furious and inventive lead work of Michael Romeo with Michael Pinnella’s expansive and virtuosic keyboard work, you know that you’re in for one of American progressive metal’s greatest active acts. Feel free to really start anywhere in the band’s nine-album catalog too, you can’t really go wrong with any of them. But maybe just for now, give The Divine Wings of Tragedy, V: The New Mythology Suite and Paradise Lost your immediate attention.