Armin Ronacher's Thoughts and Writings

There’s Music, And then there is Progressive

written on Monday, March 17, 2008

Many of you probably already know that I'm one of those metalheads. But mainly because the number of concept albums is a lot higher compared to other genres and that most of the songs are very technical and tell a story. There is one metal subgenre I like most: progressive metal. There are tons of bands in said genre and some of them go into the direction of progressive rock (or the other way round of course). I would compare progressive metal more with Jazz and classical music than with thrash metal or death metal (both subgenres I like!) which are what people think of when hearing about metal.

But I think progressive metal is one of the not that extreme genres you usually don't hear on the radio. The reason for this is probably that the average length of the song is far beyond the usual four minutes and because the songs don't make that much sense if you don't listen to them in the context of the rest of the album. Whenever I play selected songs to my pals that don't listen to progressive normally the reaction is: "hmm. sounds not that bad, but I wouldn't listen to that myself.". And yes, progressive metal is not that kind of music you would listen to in the background only. It's that kind of music you listen to like you read a book.

If you are a metal fan and you don't know one of the albums below: visit the pirate bay, download one of them and listen to them (And if you like them, buy the CD/send the musicians money, whatever). The following list is my all time favorite collection of progressive metal albums.

Pain of Salvation — One Hour by the Concrete Lake tells the story of a stranger that works in the weapon industry who begins to have doubts about the morality of his profession. He realizes that he's just a part of a big "machine". The album then follows him on his voyage around the work that finally ends at Lake Karachay, the concrete lake, a lake in the former USSR where so much nuclear waste was dumped over the past fifty years that if one stood by the shore for one hour the radiation would be lethal.

For me it's hard to say which of the POS albums is the best one and I really can't say but "Concrete Lake" is one I can listen to over and over again. Both from a philosophical and musical point of view.

Dream Theater — Octavarium is a tricky beast. While it's not a concept album that tells a story it certainly has a concept (a very complex one) behind it. It starts with the fact that countless things in the artwork, songs somehow have to do with the number eight and continues with ascending keys in the eight songs. The first song is in F, the negative time of the second one F#, the second one G, the negative of the third is G# and so on, all the way up to the next F which finishes the octave and the album. You can read a detailed analysis of the album at

It's hard for me to select the Dream Theater album as all of them are incredible pieces of music but Octavarium is one of my personal favorites and every song on the album is totally different.

Opeth — Still Life is a great death metal – progressive metal cross-over concept album telling the story of a young Christ that discovers that Christianity isn't exactly what he thought it would be and gets expelled from his home town. 15 years later he returns and is looking for his former love "Melinda" just to find out that she become a nun in the meantime. He asks her to come with him and she tells him that she still loves him but will not break her promise to the church. Later she's killed by a soldier and the protagonist in rage kills the soldier and everyone he meets until he breaks down in total exhaustion. It ends with him being executed and right before his death he thinks he sees Melinda once more waving and watching him.

I think that album was the first real success of Opeth and if you like death metal elements it's an incredible good one. If you like the story or not is a completely different thing but that shouldn't stop you from enjoying the music.

Ayreon — 01011001 is one of the Ayreons albums, my personal favorite but probably not the best choice to start listening to Ayreon as the album somewhat continues the story from earlier albums. The album title is actually Y (1011001 is 89 which is the ASCII code for Y) tells the story of the planet Y and the seafaring 'forever' that lost their emotions and send their DNA to the earth in order to rediscover their emotions. Their comet extincts the dinosaurs and seed humanity. The experiment however fails as humanity becomes more and more depending on technology over time and in the end all tries to save them fail. The 'forever' leave the planet together with the migrator from a former Ayeron album.

Personally my favourite Ayreon album mainly because the synthesizers transport a very "spacey" sound and you can feel the story. Additionally the singers on the album (among others Hansi Kürsch from Blind Guardian, Daniel Gildenlöw from Pain of Salvation, Floor Jansen from After Forever and many more) are split up into man and forever and their duets and given roles match their characters and the characters in the story perfectly.

Blind Guardian — Nightfall in Middle-Earth is strictly speaking more power metal than progressive metal but an awesome concept album. The album is based upon Tolkien's "The Silmarillion", a book of tales from the First Age of Middle-earth. The album contains not only songs but also spoken parts narrating parts of the story. A true masterpiece and a great album to listen to while playing warhammer.

There are tons of good conceptual albums and progressive metal bands but time is rare and I could only pick a few of them. As I said earlier: if you like metal but never "tasted" progressive metal so far, give it a try :-)

This entry was tagged music