Is Progressive Metal Progressive?

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I got thinking about this while reading through some of the stuff on The Gabriel Construct’s webpage. He said he wants to make progressive metal progressive again. After thinking about this, I realized that this really strikes a chord with me. It is probably one of the reasons I’ve felt so uninspired by the stuff I’ve been listening to.

Let’s take as a case study: HeavyBlog’s top 12 of 2013 so far list (restricting to 2013 will not influence this discussion at all, since the best prog of 2012 falls into the same tropes) and pull the albums that can be labelled as “prog.” I actually like a lot of prog metal. You should remember this, because it is going to sound like a post in which I slam prog metal. Instead, this should be read as a sadness that such a promising genre has hit a stasis.

This is going to get hairy with putting bands into certain boxes, but as I see it the list is Tesseract (should djent actually count as a form of prog?), Persefone (is symphonic metal a form of prog?), Coheed and Cambria, Intronaut, Extol (OK, I haven’t actually listened to this one, but the list says it’s prog), Leprous, and The Ocean.

What do these bands have in common that makes them prog? They tend to have technical playing with technique that derives from classical skills of fast arpeggios and scale patterns than more traditional metal/rock techniques. The chord progressions tend to be less straightforward. This can mean jazz influenced or excessive chromaticism. The time signatures tend to be less straightforward and can even involve alternating time signatures and metric modulations. Lastly, the songs tend to be longer and more thoroughly developed and tied together with a common theme.

So what’s the problem? Well, at one point in time doing these things within metal was a progressive thing to do. They weren’t being done. It was interesting and new. It was moving the genre forward. Now it seems that these things that define the genre have become tropes. You have to have x number of time changes, y number of chromatic patterns, and z number of songs over 8 minutes long. Oh yeah, and we’ll praise you mindlessly if you make these numbers without actually doing anything original.

Instead of being truly progressive and trying to bring in new influences to make interesting and new music, it all ends up sounding similar. Just because you came up with a way to arpeggiate faster, using a “new” pattern, and you do more chromatic steps doesn’t mean you’re “more progressive” or even more interesting. It is more of the same pretending to be different.

Maybe I’m reacting to an over-saturation of prog lately, and I won’t feel this way after a break from it, but sometimes when listening to prog it sounds like a joke. It sounds like the band is stringing together a bunch of tropes in mockery of how derivative it all has become. Scale the Summit is unfortunately going to get my wrath, but I can’t listen that new album. It has such high praise all over the place, but I’m so bored by it. I mean listen to this. It is pretty, and quite impressive technically at parts, but how many times have you heard this?

No offense to Scale the Summit, I could have picked something off literally any of the bands listed above and some of those albums might even make my top 10 of the year. It is just a feature of the current prog scene. It has become static. There are the occasional minor details that are new, but overall, it isn’t progressing.

Progressive metal can become progressive again. To some people it may seem shocking. What more do I want? They are already employing all of the complexity you would find in any fully trained classical composer. I’d reply, well, yes, any trained composer through the 19th century. But this stuff is more than a century old now. You could incorporate tons of modern developments. You don’t have to write atonally, but you can incorporate interesting post-tonal techniques to make something progressive without losing your band’s characteristic sound.

Other than tonality, there have been tons of other innovations from play style (stop with the incessant arpeggios, please), to modern electronic filtering of sound in new ways, to how your band layers together its pieces texturally, to instruments used (thank you Hybrid for showing us clarinet can be used in metal), to more original genre crossover, and on and on. You shouldn’t have to be an Animals as Leaders or Dream Theater clone to be prog. I bet I could write a fugue a la Hindemith that would sound really good by a metal band. How about someone tries that for originality?

I know there are actually lots of bands out there doing this, but they immediately get labelled as avant garde and pushed out of the prog scene. As I pointed out last time, this term should probably be reserved for the really, really out there stuff. Incorporating these techniques subtly into your standard prog sound should still count as prog metal. We should embrace more experimentation to finally get out of this stasis.

King Crimson – Red

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King Crimson demonstrate within older radio rock style how to destroy the limitations of pop music as a compositional style, both removing popular conventions and launching their own musical lexicon with Red. This group is noted to have influenced Black Sabbath and have in turn influenced the black metal and death metal produced a generation later. Although progressive rock differs in aesthetic and ideology, the fundamental spirit is shared with these extreme genres much as despite their internal diversity they find commonality between radically dissimilar acts, much as Burzum and Sentenced do not share an ideology but have the same approach in spirit to life and music.

Red joined us in 1974, after the great hippie meltdown of 1969 but before the truly industrial product music of the 1980s. Harmonic rhythm notes jump across power chord riffs while motifs range across genre techniques from rock to heavy metal music in an assortment of ecclectic jazz beat music. Much as in the solo careers of these musicians, the music acts as a sort of sponge for influences, styles, techniques and ideas, but remains at its core the kind of imaginative progressive rock that drove Jethro Tull, Yes and Aphrodite’s Child. Notably electric guitar feedback loops amplified by acoustic resonance of room sound are used to produce a sonic resonance and lead melodic development, often resembling keyboard orchestra sounds as they define each song by developing atmosphere through the contrast between texture, tone and phrase.

Vocal songs as popular formatted compositions show movement rather than immediate resolution in music. Violent minimalism becomes eerily present as a lead guitar tone, carving sonic landscapes through sustained notes ringing in what would be describes as loops in ambient music, then intensifying these repeated patterns by doubling the guitars with crushing distortion. Songs show use another method of composition as opposed to the conventional rock major chord resolutions of popular music. Harmonically this album relies on half-steps followed by whole notes in a style then typical of the jazz fusion movement in rock. As if paying tribute to ancients, the rhythm is very rich with guitars producing massive sustain, reminiscent of DBC. A power chord motif leads order into disorder as the leitmotif is repeated inconsistently inbetween chaotic passages of large intervals creating sense of horror. Robert Fripp later innovated minimalist music playing his electric guitar through a tape feedback recorder and distortion and the nascent elements of that idea appear here as well.

If you went to an opera hall for a music performance, “love me do” pop-rock would not provide a sufficient intensity of experience. Redundant and eventually contradicting itself in political dogma, the rock format remained the same — guitar, bass, drums and singing lyrics — as the medium proved adequate enough to express a much wider range of music than what the format was originally intended for, but this required innovation in style and substance as King Crimson set out to do and succeeded with brilliantly in Red. Exceptional guitar works can be found still within parts of songs for those who take the time to listen to the whole album, which creates a feeling of mixed rock, jazz and classical music. The mythological, lyrical content of King Crimson continues a long legacy, reminiscent of much older works of this band, which continues through progressive rock to the underground metal of today.

King Crimson releases teaser of new album

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1960s progressive rock band King Crimson whose evolution paralleled that of Black Sabbath in developing melody-based, complex song structure music using moveable chords and other techniques, have returned with a new recording that at just over a minute shows the direction they will take on their new tour, which will cover the US starting September 9.

The recording shows the new seven-member incarnation of King Crimson which includes Robert Fripp (guitar), Tony Levin (bass) and drummers Bill Rieflin and Gavin Harrison. Observers will note the venerable Crimson fusing its 1990s style of complex atmospheric improvisational music with its more acerbic 1970s work.

King Crimson spinoff group The Crimson ProjeKCt releases Live in Tokyo

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A supergroup composed of King Crimson musicians, The Crimson ProjeKCt, will release Live in Tokyo through InsideOut Music on March 18, 2014. To commemorate the announcement of the live album’s release, the band have issued a video of their live performance of the 1974 King Crimson classic “Red” off the album by the same name.

“Red is one of the pre-80s instrumentals that has remained an integral part of King Crimson’s repertoire up until the early 2000s. Our interpretation of this classic piece is uniquely energetic and always ‘on-the-edge’, especially the double drumming from Pat and Tobias. Markus is doubling the main guitar part in a baritone register, which adds a subtle new pushing element to the song. The roar going through the audience when we start playing this is one of the highlights of our shows for us,” said the band in a statement issued collectively.

The Crimson ProjeKCt is organized in the “double trio” lineup that King Crimson popularized from 1994-1997, and features Adrian Belew, Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto, Markus Reuter, Julie Slick and Tobias Ralph, all of whom have played with King Crimson during the past. The band mostly focuses on later King Crimson work that was popular from the early 1980s through mid-1990s.

Tracklist

  1. B’Boom
  2. THRAK
  3. Frame By Frame
  4. Dinosaur
  5. Industry
  6. Elephant Talk
  7. VROOOM VROOOM
  8. Sleepless
  9. Larks’ Tongues In Aspic Part II
  10. Indiscipline
  11. Red
  12. Thela Hun Ginjeet

Tourdates

  • 5th March – Heichal Tarbut, Tel-Aviv – Israel
  • 6th March – Bingo Club, Kiev – Ukraine
  • 7th March – Usine A Gaz, Nyon – Switzerland
  • 8th March – Amager Bio, Copenhagen – Denmark
  • 9th March – Cosmopolite, Oslo – Norway
  • 11th March – Ziquodrome, Compiegne – France
  • 12th March – O2 Shepherds Bush Empire, London – UK
  • 13th March – Trabendo, Paris – France
  • 14th March – De Boerderij, Zoetermeer – Netherlands
  • 16th March – Arena Club, Moscow – Russia
  • 17th March – Palace of Culture Lensoveta, St. Petersburg – Russia
  • 19th March – Palladium Club, Warsaw – Poland
  • 20th March – Klub Studio, Krakow – Poland
  • 21st March – Neuberin Halle, Reichenbach – Germany
  • 22nd March – Konzerthause, Karlsruhe – Germany
  • 23rd March – Frankfurter Hof, Mainz – Germany
  • 25th March – Grughalle, Essen – Germany
  • 26th March – Z7, Basel – Switzerland
  • 27th March – Archa Theatre, Prague – Czech Republic
  • 29th March – Auditorium Supercinema, Chieti – Italy
  • 30th March – Auditorium Manzoni, Bologna – Italy
  • 31st March – Auditorium Verdi, Milan – Italy
  • 1st April – Auditorium Parco della Musica, Rome – Italy
  • 2nd April – Viper Theatre, Firenze – Italy
  • 4th April – Kongresu Nams, Riga – Latvia
  • 24th June – Auckland – the Studio – New Zealnd
  • 26th June – Melbourne – The Hi-Fi – Australia
  • 27th June – Sydney – The Hi-Fi – Australia
  • 28th June – Brisbane – The Hi-Fi – Australia
  • 2nd July – Fremantle – Fly By Night – Australia