I’ll be honest with you: I don’t really vibe with instrumental progressive music all that much. Like all your average Internet Metal Nerds, I used to listen to my fair share of the stuff; there’s something in the emphasis on technicality that appeals to pasty kids looking for an escape, I suppose. These day, after listening to so many albums of the stuff, so many supposedly “groundbreaking” releases and “best guitarist ever” kind of promises, I’m kind of jaded. I still go back to the classics every now and again but I find myself digging into the more obscure of the catalog whenever I do (seriously, stop what you’re doing right now and go listen to The Isoceles Project, OK?)
That’s why when something grabs my attention within the genre, I know it’s good and I know that it’s worth more of my time. This is what happened to me with Valence‘s Cognitive Dissidents as it landed in my inbox. Yeah, I clicked play but I was ready to hit next pretty quickly. Instead, as the meaty riffs of the opening track first played, I found myself following along, drawn in by the familiar time signatures but enticed by the unique tone and stamp the band on them. I found myself finishing the entire album without even noticing and then diving back in for more, this time paying more attention to what was going on. Which was well made, passionate, and considerate instrumental progressive metal, very obviously indebted to the classics but also dedicated to sounding like its own thing.
The picks which the band chose for this post should reflect that pretty well; you’ll find genre staples like Dream Theater and Animals as Leaders but all of a sudden something like Rage Against the Machine creeps in and makes you scratch your head a bit. Then you hear how loud the bass is, quite uncharacteristic for a genre that is known for abusing its bass players in the mix (John Myung, you shall be avenged). Add in the extremely underrated Al Di Meola (seriously, if you don’t know who this is, do some Googling. He’s practically the father of shred in many ways) and some of the better pedigree of the progressive metal world and you have all you need!
Valence’s Cognitive Dissidents was released just last Friday. Head on over to their Bandcamp page linked below to listen to it and purchase it. In the meantime, head on down below for some excellent progressive choices!
Geoffrey Schaefer (Guitar)
Animals as Leaders – Animals as Leaders
When I first heard “CAFO”, I thought to myself “this is the future of progressive metal.” Animals as Leaders have always been a band that keeps their artistic gaze on the horizon, and even today I don’t think there is anyone else who sounds quite like them. The beauty and innovation that Tosin Abasi displays on this album is what inspired me to start playing eight string guitar and I know I’m not alone in that regard. Hearing this album right before I started jamming with Mike and Chris was undoubtedly influential and Animals as Leaders remains one of my favorite bands.
Rush – Hemispheres
Rush is one of the bands that got me into long-form compositions, and I don’t think they wrote a better epic than “Cygnus X-1 Book II: Hemispheres.” As a teenager, and into adulthood, Rush has remained a constant in my musical interests and this album in particular satisfied my thirst for the most ambitious, brilliant progressive rock. I guess it shouldn’t come as any surprise that a guitarist of an instrumental prog metal band would love the album that contains “La Villa Strangiato,” a 9-plus minute instrumental track that features one of the best Alex Lifeson solos of all time.
Michael Buonanno (Guitar)
Between the Buried and Me – Colors
I grew up listening to an array of musical genres and played in punk, classic rock and jam bands, but I always loved metal, listening to the classics like Metallica, Ozzy/Black Sabbath and Megadeath. I played Viola in the school and county orchestras and fell in love with classical music’s longer form. I was introduced to Dream Theater and loved their instrumentals, but I always thought their vocalist was tacky and lacking. Then one day I heard Between the Buried and Me’s Colors, and that was it, I fell in love. The longer form, multi genre sections, the brutality, the modernization of contemporary metal, the melodies and guitar work were just amazing. I was obsessed and it sparked the endeavor of writing our first album Sleepwalker, leading us down the proggy path that comes to a head in our new album Cognitive Dissidents.
Al Di Meola – Elegant Gypsy
Al Di Meloa was a huge influence on me. As a kid, my parents would play me guitar centric music and classic progressive rock like Yes and ELP. We listened to Elegant Gypsy often and my dad played guitar, including attempts at playing “Mediterranean Sundance”. I feel like Al created shred outside of the metal genre and I loved that moments were as powerful as metal but had Latin and jazz feels. There was a lot of expression in his music and I thought no one could quite play like him. Not to mention, I draw many comparisons to Al (though a lot of that comes from me looking kind of like him).
Joe Satriani – Crystal Planet
This album came out when I was just getting fully into Satriani’s work. My first band played A LOT of songs off this record. It definitely solidified my tastes in instrumental rock records and is still an album I hold as one of the greatest instrumental rock records.
Dream Theater – Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory
This is where prog music came together for me. It had everything I was both into and curious about at the time; long story, connecting themes, odd meter, amazing solo sections, and some interesting scales. More importantly is that it had all that cool music nerd stuff encased in really good songs and memorable melodies that have stuck with me to this day.
Chris Romano (Drums)
Periphery – Periphery II: This Time It’s Personal
This album really got me into how blast beats can benefit the overall sound of the music. I never really gave them a shot. Matt Halpern’s drum parts on this record inspired me to experiment more with the possibilities of the coveted blast. Also, this record just kicks ass in general! I would sit on my porch in the summer with my headphones and drum pad and drum for all the people sitting at the red light on my street.
Favorite Tracks: “Have a Blast”, “Ji”, “Make Total Destroy”, “Erised”
Rage Against the Machine – Evil Empire
First of all, this band was a major part of my childhood. Something that I try to do in Valence is groove. I feel like it’s a great way to engage the audience. If they are nodding their heads, you’re doing it right. This band totally had a hand in my philosophy. This album shines with great grooves and talented lyrical work. Also, Tom Morello is a monster. Even after the group disbanded, I still followed the band into their Audioslave days.
Favorite Tracks: all of them!