According to The Daily Dot, 1970s heavy dark rock with metal influences band Dream Machine has been dropped by its label, Castle Face Records, for “controversial” statements regarding feminism and immigration.10 Comments
Article by Johan P.
The creation of this brief introduction to some of the more prominent bands of 70s progressive rock was directly inspired by David Rosales’ shooting down of late-60s/early-70s Pink Floyd. My article should not be viewed as a polemic against the conclusions drawn from ”A Sadistic Dissection of Classic Pink Floyd”. On the contrary, many of Floyd’s recordings – not least in a prog rock for hessians context – fall short in several respects compared to fellow prog rock groups of that era. The first section of my article (”Background”) serves as a necessary bridge between David’s article and what will follow below.
To keep the potential reader in mind, Pink Floyd might not be the most compatible progressive rock band for someone whose tastes run along the lines of the music promoted by the Death Metal Underground. Therefore, I will in this series offer a brief introductory piece on the genre, followed by a presentation of classics of progressive rock in an attempt to light a spark of interest among metal enthusiasts may become acquainted with this genre that developed in parallel with heavy metal. The focus will inevitably be on artists with British heritage, since most of the more prolific bands were English. Of course this doesn’t mean that prog rock was solely a UK phenomenon. There were loads of bands hailing from all over the globe; many good enough to reach the heights of the established British bands.
Before moving on to the presentation mentioned above, it might be a good idea to study the music of Pink Floyd with the purpose to discover why this band may not be the best entry point to the genre. There are at least three major reasons that could cause disappointment when listening to even the “best” (that is, the records closest to the more adventurous and ambitious side of prog rock and metal music) of Pink Floyd: shortcomings and discrepancies regarding song structuring, musical style and concept:
First, although some Floyd tracks (e.g. “Echoes”, one of their better numbers) features extended song structures or long compositions of an episodic character, they often lack the coherent narrative present in some of the more accomplished epics of progressive rock. For example, a composition featuring an “extended song structure” could be an ordinary rock song built around the usual verse/chorus/bridge components with the addition of one or more elongated parts that are to varying degrees connected to the main song. With “compositions of an episodic character” I refer to songs that are made up of several discrete musical events that are joined into one composition. Extended song structures is more frequently used by Pink Floyd than episodic compositions, although the latter method is very common in progressive rock in general (side note: an example of episodic song structuring gone wrong in metal is Satyricon’s first album, Dark Medieval Times). Quite a few Pink Floyd songs are long alright, but they are often built around roughly three extended song structure sections: first an introduction where the band presents a main theme, followed by a middle section with (often instrumental) excursions and some experimentation (creating atmosphere through electronic effects, guitar solos which builds up tension followed by a potential release, juxtaposition of found sounds, etc.), and finally a closing part, where the main theme returns. Or, if a long Floyd track follow the episodic song template, the compositional method appears to be taking several unrelated songs/ideas and forcing them together into one piece. This last method seems to be applied most carelessly on a larger scale in whole Pink Floyd albums as well. Several of their albums contain contrasting songs placed in an apparently random order, resulting in the works at large sounding both irrational and inconsistent.
The song writing procedure described above doesn’t necessarily count as a bad compositional method, but one of the bigger pitfalls of which the Floyd succumbs to all too often is that if done without enough finesse and thoroughness, these compositions end up with not much development or connection between the different parts. In many cases not just isolated to Pink Floyd, songs of this type end up being flawed by an arbitrary and fragmentary character. It could be the case that Pink Floyd did not have any sort of epic narrative, lyrical or musical, in mind when writing many of their longer tracks – or maybe they did, but just couldn’t pull it through. But why then did they chose to record such long, meandering songs then? Maybe it was more a question of shady conceptual ideas. Parts of the psychedelic/progressive rock ideology appears to have gravitated more towards the whimsical, escapist side of romantic art. Such an outlook shouldn’t be completely dismissed as inappropriate for a progressive rock band but it can pose problems if this attitude to romanticism isn’t backed up by adequate ideas of making a coherent statement. Especially in their earlier years, Pink Floyd made several peculiar attempts at playful and dreamlike tunes, which more than once failed because they turned out to possess an unfinished and pointless character. The reason these songs didn’t turn out so well is that they suffer from a lack of adequate compositional ideas suitable for creating the intended moods and visions.
When it comes to style, Pink Floyd were an early bird among late 60s prog rockers, even pioneering some techniques in a rock music context (experimental use of synthesizers), exploring multisensorial experiences through psychedelic music, live light-shows, and drugs. As Rosales’s Pink Floyd article correctly points out, it often led to nothing but “interesting”, fragmentary, and meaningless ideas. While the band members’ lack of virtuosity doesn’t necessarily pose a problem, it’s a disadvantage that throughout their career they never dared to step too much outside the boundaries of the blues-derived rock style like so many other progressive bands did.
The confused, fragmentary, and unfinished nature of many Pink Floyd songs stems from lack of conceptual substance. Many of their compositions leave the listener with promising impressions left unfulfilled or worse bored with the bads subtly ironic stance working as a defense against such accusations. Few were probably surprised to watch the band (especially band dictator Roger Waters) growing more and more cynical in relation to their own work, their fans, and the music industry as the years passed after their massive public and critical success with Dark Side Of The Moon.
However it would be unfortunate to end the story of progressive rock here. Even Pink Floyd managed to put worthwhile compositions together once in a while. I have a soft spot for the space-rocking live concert part of the double LP Ummagumma, where, surprisingly, there is less trace of whimsy. These compositions are allowed to breathe and linger on to reach the conclusions missing on less adventurous Floyd records. The four tracks on the first disc of Ummagumma are actually live re-workings of older songs performed with a possibly more refined sense of dynamics and texture than in their original studio forms.
If you take a look at the more established narratives of rock history, you will learn of a horrible aberration of 70s rock called “Progressive Rock”. Presented by many rock critics as a genre made up of spoiled middle-class kids trying to impress others of the same ilk with their pseudo-high-art, when all they really produced was kitsch. These musicians’ attempts to become accepted as members of the cultural elite (or the cultural underground for that matter) were, according to “rock history”, crushed with the arrival of punk in the mid-70s. After a dark century of both stadium spectacle and general pretentiousness, people could resume enjoying down to earth authentic rock once more. Some of this might sound reasonable but in several respects, this tale doesn’t live up to reality.
First, although the creative momentum of the original movement had started to wane considerably by the mid-70s, progressive rock bands were more popular than ever among the public in this period. This is an indicator of the survival of progressive music in the aftermath of punk’s simplicity. Furthermore, as the 1980s dawned, a new generation of underground progressive groups set about revitalizing the genre. Although I would say that not much prog rock produced post-1970s can compete with the original wave, the assumption that Sex Pistols and their ilk obliterated progressive music is plain ignorant. The legacy and influence of the progressive old guard may be heard and seen in much contemporary popular music, including metal.
Critics pointing at the corporate selling out and stadium rock syndrome of the bigger progressive groups but a defense may be raised for the accused. Progressive rock interestingly differs in one important respect from most rock music. With prog it is not just a matter of smaller, more worthy bands getting overshadowed by the larger established ones, even if this surely happened. Some of the biggest bands of the genre,somehow managed to perform grand stage productions that still carried meaningful art. The established critical narrative may be a result of the situation of the music industry at the time: record labels, fat and rich thanks to the decades of explosive growth in post-war media consumption, were convinced that obscure groups playing this new form of rock music were highly marketable. Parallels may be drawn to the various metal sub-genres. Those lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time could get considerable production budgets, granting a creative freedom never experienced before in the music business.
Pinning down the characteristics of progressive rock (or any musical genre for that matter) is not the most grateful of task. Neither is this the purpose of this series. Instead, it will contain rather brief background information and descriptions of the featured bands, giving more space to the musical and conceptual content of the selected albums. Hopefully this approach will make sense and awaken an interest of discovery of a genre that I believe has a lot to offer, not least for fans of extreme metal. Some sort of framework might be needed so let’s go back to the infancy of the movement to see where it started off.
Like hard rock and heavy metal, progressive rock stems largely from the late 1960s psychedelic milieu. This was a time of experimentation with not only drugs and alternative lifestyles, but new sounds, musical ideas and approaches. With the aid of mind-altering substances, younger artists took pleasure in finding new meaning in pushing the frontiers of the staling and commodified art forms of rock ‘n’ roll and jazz. These psychedelic explorers (primarily males of European descent from an upper middle-class background, although counterexamples abound) founded groups that in the late 1960s lingered ever closer to becoming progressive rock. In addition to rock and jazz, they also brought into their bands an interest in classical, choral and folk music. However as with any historical narrative, there are of course other factors that could be addressed as well as contradictory and arbitrary information. Take Yes for example, one of the most prominent prog bands to promote virtuosic musicianship and toss classical music topes into the stew. Contrary to common assumption, their guitarist Steve Howe is a self-thought musician who never bothered with learning notes or formal music theory while their ethereal singer Jon Anderson came from a working class background.
There is another facet of progressive rock with a notable parallel in heavy metal music and culture that needs to be addressed: it’s relation to the Romantic Era. This connection is thoroughly stressed and analyzed by Edward Macan in his excellent book on progressive rock, Rocking the Classics: English Progressive Rock and the Counterculture. Macan explores not only the ideological roots of progressive rock, but manages to highlight the more crucial musical influences that helped create and crystallize the genre. He shows progressive rock’s origin in late 1960s psychedelia and what caused the music to take its particular form. As a tribute to Macan’s groundbreaking work, I will conclude this introduction with two interwove quotes from the aforementioned book:
Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with progressive rock is usually aware that it represents an attempt to harness classical forms into a rock framework, to combine the classical tradition’s sense of space and monumental scope with rock’s raw power and energy. Understanding the role classical forms have played in progressive rock, then, is essential to understanding the genre as a musical style.
For musicians of the late 1960s who wished to continue with instrumental music – and these were increasingly drawn to the emerging progressive rock, jazz-rock, and heavy metal styles – the question became how to bring a sense of organization, variety, and climax to the music without completely destroying the spontaneity and sense of timelessness which characterized the best psychedelic jams.
The musicians who pioneered progressive rock found their answer in limiting the role of improvisation to one or two sections of a piece, and carefully organizing the rest of the material along the lines of nineteenth-century symphonic forms. […] Nineteenth-century music and psychedelic music are both Romantic in the fullest sense of the word, sharing the same cosmic outlook, the same preoccupation with the infinite and otherwordly, the same fondness for monumental statement (often conveyed through very long pieces), and the concern with expressing epic conflicts.
Stay tuned to this series for the successive revelation and discussion of some of the best and genre defining albums of progressive rock!23 Comments
According to Wikipedia and internet sages, David Parland (Necrophobic, Dark Funeral, Infernal) has died at the age of 42 on March 19, 2013.
Parland was a founding member of Swedish melodic death metal band Necrophobic whose album The Nocturnal Silence proved that death metal could be both musically erudite and intense, and opened the doors to many others who wanted to make elegant music in a time when most wanted chromatic brutality.
From Necrophobic, Parland went on to start Dark Funeral and make a melodic and essentialist version of black metal that later worked more occult heavy metal into the mix. After that, he joined Infernal and developed their unique style of intensely violent music.
With the passing of Mr. Parland, death metal loses a talented musician and someone whose forward momentum launched more vital projects than most can dream of. It is hope that his legacy will not be forgotten.20 Comments
Since other media outlets are weighing in on the recent debate on crisis actors being used to push gun control in the wake of mass shootings, let’s see what DMU readers think! Vote in the comments section below:
(a) crisis actor
(b) shooting survivor
(c) where is the metal?
(d) DMU IS DEAD AND THE EDITOR IS A FALSE WAHHH MUAH HESSIANS WAHHHHH MUAH PHILOSOPHY WAHHHHHNo Comments
In addition to its notoriously contradictive definitional nature, doom metal remains something of an enigma in terms of its enduring popularity. Whether or not one chooses to view it as a distinctive subgenre, style or even technique, doom metal must bear one of the most in-proportionate quotas within metal music when it comes to quantity over quality. If attempting to depict doom metal from the perspective of enduring releases, the list of canonical works would become surprisingly short. It seems plausible that part of the explanation to this sad state is embedded in the very characteristics of the style. Doom bands have generally prioritized development of exceptionally powerful tools for conveying sonic heaviness at the expense of other aspects of the music. It might even be so that the techniques in themselves has forced artists into a particular way of writing music. Either way, there appears to be a widespread discrepancy between the means of expression and what is actually being expressed in doom metal; which in turn provides clues as to what makes for a genuinely satisfying doom-offering. With the above discussion in mind, today’s written offering presents the Australian death/doom act Paramaecium – one of few bands bearing the doom-tag that has managed to write compositions to match the sonic gravitas associated with said style.
There won’t be a challenging listen anytime soon from millennial metal bands. The best we can hope for is something engaging, because given how neutered the general public is today, most things, “underground” or not, will be geared with mass appeal in mind. When we as seasoned listeners encounter a new metal band we approach their newest release with the hope that they at least have some framework of metal history at hand to draw from in order to at least give their inherently gimped effort a palette of direction that resembles metal. But with that mass appeal looming in the back of the creator’s mind, that history may be utilized as a checklist for social acclaim to adorn empty musical gestures instead of a well to draw inspiration to guide a commanding voice. Those type of Frankenmetal releases are easily dismissed as a series of “Ta-da!” moments wrapped around a rancid kernel, but by blunting the confrontational elements of disjunct pieces you can somewhat pull the wool over the listener’s eyes as if you are more steadfast in your artistic message than you actually are.4 Comments
Welp, another school shooting is in the books, and this means we begin the cycle of another nationwide emotional meltdown of reactionary liberals over a founding pillar of our “evil” American culture. Since metal heads and metal journalists everywhere are weighing in on this, and since most (all?) of them are too dumb to say anything logical or researched, it once again has fallen on the staff of DMU to be the sole voice of high-IQ reason in the metal world. For despite guns being legal in America for over 200 years (with over 200 being free of school shootings), despite automatics/machine guns being loose on the streets since at least the 1920s (with 70 of those years being free of school shootings), and despite gun ownership being in steep decline the last few decades (despite school shootings being on the rise), liberals everywhere continue to fall for the totalitarian “give up the gun” scam and blame our second amendment for the mass murder of innocent children. While stats clearly prove otherwise, many miss the true root of this tragedy: the individualism our society has been embracing since the cultural revolution of the 1960s.53 Comments
Accept is a band best remembered for their old school song called “Balls to the Wall”, which used to play on the Headbanger’s Ball. Driving my BMV down the Autobahn at 120MPH through the Black Forest, I stopped in Bad Reichenhall. You know how they always have insane amounts of Gummy Bears everywhere in Germany. And then next to them are porno mags and stuff like biker lifestyle mags. Those were where I found out that Accept was still going strong at the time. It never ceases to amaze. This band just keeps hanging around, like a bad STD. Here they are again 20 years later. And they have this new album Rise of Chaos, which sounds like a cross between Sabbath’s Dehumanizer and an Exodus album.4 Comments
Few places charm the radiant, open soul like the Tobacco Barn. These little additions to Brookshire Brothers stores are the one place in the world where you can buy smokes and beer in an enthusiastic and friendly setting with far more variety than you will find in a liquor store or anything short of an old-fashioned tobacconist.8 Comments
Beta-male posterboy and alternative rock tragedy Marilyn Manson has been tormented beyond comprehension ever since publicly disrespecting God’s hand-picked ruler of this nation, Donald J. Trump. After filming a music video of in which he beheads a Trump look-alike, Manson has been the perhaps the most decimated victim of the merciless Trump Curse– he was crushed by a stage prop last October, he cut his set short following a complete psycological breakdown while onstage a few days ago, and now he has become the latest victim of leftism’s idol-killing suicide machine: the #metoo movement. In an article featured in The Guardian this morning, tweets were featured of a Chinese actress accusing Manson of both sexually harassing victims and making racist remarks: