Article by David Rosales. These three brief reviews continue Death Metal Underground’s journey into seventies progressive rock.
By Johan P, with the amiable assistance of David Rosales. This review continues Death Metal Underground’s 1970s Progressive Rock for Hessians series.
In this part of the article series “1970s Progressive Rock for Hessians”, I have chosen to take on the English group Yes‘ fourth album Fragile from 1971. While their fifth effort, Close to the Edge, is generally regarded as their creative peak and definite statement, Fragile was more important for the development of the nascent progressive rock genre, and perhaps a more suitable entry point for someone who is getting into prog rock from a metal background. There is definitely a sense of power in the works of Yes even if it takes on a different form than what we are used to in metal music. Where early metal bands like Black Sabbath expressed a gritty, doom-laden heaviness through guitar-centered power chord riffing, Yes opted to build momentum through a more instrumentally integrated approach. That is not to say that there are no heavy guitar parts on ‘Fragile’, but here the guitars assume a somewhat different role than in metal.
Article by David Rosales and Johan P. This article is the second in our 1970s Progressive Rock for Hessians series initiated by Johan.
Released in 1974 and signaling the departure of Peter Gabriel from Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway brings the classic era of the band and the genre to an end. It does so rather inconspicuously with a profound accomplishment that is not easy to summarize in such few words. The album materializes the several tacit goals of progressive rock: the incorporation of classical music methodologies into the making of pop rock music, stylistic expansion within coherent boundaries, to the neo-romantic mystical allusions boiling up from vague lyrics into aural explosions in sound.
Musically, it makes use of straightforward pop rock expression expanded with a nod to classical-era structures, while ambients range from avant-garde noise to ambient instrumentals. We may even see the precursor to the post-rock aesthetic but Genesis takes the music somewhere rather than moronically dancing around in the same place. The use of themes throughout songs and the album itself is prominent; it holds the album together and is a direct consequence of that proper classical influence. The lyrical theme of the album is based on Judaic mysticism, with references to the Kabbalah in song titles, concepts, and even the number of total tracks of the release.
The influence of Genesis as per their style at their pinnacle in The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway virtually defines a whole generation of the pseudo-prog we see today in the likes of charlatans to which Steven Wilson belongs, or supreme posers Dream Theater and their numerous unoriginal underlings. Opeth cannot be counted among the superficial fools living off the greatness of Genesis as they are a more eclectic collection of disparaged sources poorly sewn together and because the very little prog rock influence they displayed comes from Gentle Giant. With all certainty, almost any decent-sounding, so-called progressive outfit today that leans towards a pop rock sound with unconventional sound structures is probably directly or indirectly defined by (not merely “influenced” by) classic Genesis.
Particularly outstanding is the elite drumming that underscores the thematic progressions of the rest of the music. At each point it answers to needs in the music, while not shying away from dramatic or even amusing additions to the mix. Jazz percusion technique here is used with taste, forwarding the music, rather than becoming an instrument for divergence into hedonist egotism. Despite this, in The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, none of the elements actually jumps out at the listener: the technical merits are so perfectly fused with the living flow of the music they may be overlooked. In this we may find great contrasts with Yes, whose brilliance was always a close-neighbor to instrumentalist prowess, threatening to and eventually taking over precedence of deeper motivations that move true art (as we see in Relayer).
To finish our brief discussion on this definitive album for progressive rock, we would be remiss in failing to attend to the reasons it achieves such excellence. Considering Nietzschean Apollonian versus Dionysian interplay, a reasonable speculation might start by pointing out that the most superficial and recognizable sounds in this album are distinctively ground in their seventies era. Even the use of avant-gardisms remains within the framework of the experimentation of its time and exemplifies what Pink Floyd were never able to properly approximate. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway does not reject its contemporary influences, but through them accepts the band’s chronological appearance in history and maximizes their channeling of ulterior and less ephemeral reasons.
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!
Article by David Rosales
Pink Floyd rightly reject the tag of progressive rock. Their compositional development falls light years short of what the best bands of that movement were doing with much better taste than Floyd’s false humble presumption. Pink Floyd’s most developed and experimental ambient moments merely point in the direction of the road that their more inspired and thoughtful contemporaries were traveling on. Klaus Schulze’s ambient work in Tangerine Dream is a true testament to experimental, electronic, and sampled music.
Floyd were pioneers at modern hipsterism in rock and metal as we know it today: a brain cancer that places weirdness and forced variety before artful coherence. Their undeserved praise is based on the simple fact that they are marketable to a wide audience. They wrote mediocre rock songs derived from the style of The Beatles: laughable in their ambient attempts and a headache when their ‘creativity’ ran too free. Pink Floyd’s only truly laudable moments are displayed in laid back, long-running rock songs that support narrative on melody lines, include justified interludes. These works approach the story-telling function that reigns in and maximizes the long-lasting impact of their early experimentalism.
A brief rundown of each of Pink Floyd’s early albums is given below in the interest of separating the little good from the large amounts of face-palming, pseudo-progressive posturing:
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967)
The Piper at the Gates of Dawn is too much of a name for too pathetic an album. A careless, random attempt at making Beatles songs take unexpected, sharp turns. .These are not at all pioneering as they simply abuse the Beatles’ wackier tendencies, creating interest through disjunction. These are poorly written pop songs with arbitrary appendages and nonsensical sounds: postmodernism meets banal rock music. Noteworthy are weird passages that sometimes build up to cumulative sequences but these are sparse and lead nowhere.
A Saucerful of Secrets (1968)
Pink Floyd moves on from The Beatles, adopting their postmodernist style consisting of juxtapositions and sequences that might sound coherent if used in a movie soundtrack but that fall short and sound incomplete when presented as music alone. They get points for sounding weird but this work amounts to a childish joke: the kazoos, marimbas, and random found sounds are ridiculous. People tend to like any entertaining piece of garbage. Ghost is an analogous modern band.
Pink Floyd moves on to a bawdier expression of the so-called ‘folk’ rock n’ roll of Led Zeppelin with mediocre results. However, they also continue a refinement of the ambient-oriented light rock interludes. More is intensely nonsensical, free jazz-influenced postmodernist pap.
The songs tend to have unclear curves, directions, or points. These are either standard pop songs that fade away or jumbled messes of random ideas breaking down into incongruent parts. The more laid back and standard pop songs with only moderate introductions, extraneous noises are the most pleasant; they still retain a certain sense of order that doesn’t render them oustanding but intelligible. Their surface traits attain purpose and balance in a way that finally approaches beauty. The random and bunk interludes remain unbearable though. This is music for those who wish to pose as music lovers yet cannot focus on actual ideas and aural concepts that birth, raise, and live lives of their own.
1969’s second release is a much more consciously structured concept album. Again, Pink Floyd bring forth something that is more akin to a weirdo-funny soundtrack that evokes the idiocy of Ghost minus Ghost’s complete lack of talent. The conceptual focus brings to the album a shadow of meaning that is completely lacking from any of their prior releases. We can appreciate their compositional boundaries when the non-interlude tracks crumble and lose coherence in the middle. Entropy at work. The rest of the tracks are simply silly and completely unpurposeful as the band strums away in extremely simple cyclic orderings that are never resolved; they just slide away with no heads or tales. This is music that brings nothing except a meta-feeling of strangeness and not-so-unique uniqueness to make the ego feel smarter for ‘liking’ it.
Atom Heart Mother (1970)
Here, Pink Floyd start to display the sound they will be known for at the time of their zenith. The music flows smoothly and the randomness of sampled sounds is attenuated as they thought more this time around. While everything before Atom Heart Mother is utterly worthless, this album approaches the more orderly works their contemporaries with stronger classical influences. Pink Floyd’s music remains singularly simple but exquisitely developed; the messy pretentiousness is boxed in and reserved for very specific moments. They remain unable to capitalize, creating promising initial ideas but driving them into swamps, becoming brackish in their underlying repetitiveness. The suite bears the weight of the album; the rest of the songs are inconsequential and unworthy of notice.
A coming of age for Pink Floyd. The band is finally able to synthesize the concrete and promising aspects of their music, leaving behind much of the earlier nonsense which must have been explored in a completely intuitive manner. This album sees Pink Floyd apparently learning from their more cerebral peers (King Crimson had released several albums, Genesis was releasing their sophomore record, and Yes was arriving at their most meaningful expression alongside but completely separate from Pink Floyd) and trying to give continuity to the album itself: more tasteful attention is given to details inside songs which are somewhat melodically developed. The band is still mostly unable to conclude them, resorting to fades and cheap bale-outs. Most songs here are little better than augmented pop songs arranged with the whole album in mind, except for the longer stretches like the famous “Echoes”. This last track constitutes the net worth of this release; the rest may be dismissed without great loss.
Obscured by Clouds (1972)
Obscured by Clouds starts out with an intro that might have inspired the work of later Tangerine Dream, who made worthwhile music out of what was merely a random snippet of Pink Floyd. After an album that promised to elevate the band beyond its all-too-mediocre shyness, Obscured by Clouds relies on underdeveloped pop songs, random cool-sounding interludes that are just there as they can be, and the snapshots of what would later constitute the sound of their most prominent mainstream success.
The Dark Side of the Moon (1973)
1973’s classic is probably the one and only Pink Floyd album worth dedicating precious moments of existence to. The Dark Side of the Moon is the final definitive sound of the band par excellence. Their crippling compositional shortsightedness is still present but they have learned to just deal with it through years of perseverance. Through years of refinement the band has turned their prior randomness into sharply-focused moments that finally assemble together yet always remaining unrelated cars in a train of pure intuition rather than one single narrative. Delightfully put-together, each moment in the wide repertoire from this jack-of-all-trades band is brought forth slowly in a way that feels necessary and justified. It has the expectation, delivery and dissolution that any good album should envy.
The Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd’s crowning achievement, deserves an honorable mention, perhaps a footnote under true masterpieces of popular art music that came out the following year through other talents. King Crimson’s Red, Genesis’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Gentle Giant’s The Power and the Glory are albums that appear smooth and simple but are truly only so in appearance. An unseen force is channeled through their inner alignment: complexity is made to seem easy and complex thought condenses into naturally-flowing music that effectively suscitates clear images in the mind’s eye.
Voivod recently released the title track from the upcoming Post Society EP. Its overall Voivodness (in the French-Canadian metal sense, as opposed to the Polish administrative one) supports my previous theory that the band is continuing with the approach that they outlined on Target Earth; in my own previous words, “…an accessible mixture of of their signature late ’80s sound with more modern alternative and progressive rock influences.” The EP is still scheduled for February 26th, and Voivod is still going on tour next month. The good track record so far bodes well for the quality of the involved content, although the fact so much of it having already been released piecemeal may cut into its overall sales.
We got a hint of Voivod’s upcoming plans a while back. Post Society may or may not be building up to Voivod’s next full length, but it still might be of value to fans of the band; it will release on February 26th. Besides compiling the tracks Voivod released as part of their recent splits with At the Gates and Napalm Deaths, this EP will also feature two original tracks and a cover of “Silver Machine” by Hawkwind. At least going by “We Are Connected”, it seems that Voivod is continuing the path set forth by their previous full-length – an accessible mixture of of their signature late ’80s sound with more modern alternative and progressive rock influences.
Steve Wilson of Porcupine Tree recently conducted an interview with Metal Wani. In the linked second part, he suggested an aesthetic reason for the backlash against the swarm of “progressive” metal acts – according to him, there are too many progressive metal bands that are overusing the “metal guitar sound”, to the point that such loses its impact. In the mean time, Wilson is trying to explore dark and melancholic themes outside of metal, most notably in his collaboration with Mikael Akerfeldt in Storm Corrosion. This is obviously a different perspective than our usual narrative here at DMU – if you ask us, your pseudo-progressive band failed not because metal guitar is a cliched sound (which doesn’t eliminate the possibility), but more likely because your songwriting either took the form of modern pop in disguise or incoherent nonsense.
Despite no paucity of topics to possibly review, I took a commentator’s advice (which, for agitprop, I’m going to suggest was inspired by our call to arms) and decided to take a look at the new Sadist album that came out last week and was teased some months ago. Supposedly, Sadist inspired by earlier death metal/jazz fusion bands like Atheist and Pestilence, and I can hear where influences poke through like bones of a half-eaten carcass, but Hyaena also owes some of its genetics to the newer breeds of ‘progressive’ metalcore and djent acts, and therefore walks a fine line between the two.
Hyaena is so thoroughly permeated by its jazz influence that it often sounds like a group of jazz musicians approaching metal, as opposed to the more familiar opposite. There’s certainly a great deal of surface complexity throughout this album. First, it often favors the sort of off-beat syncopation and polyrhythm over 4/4 beat type of percussion popularized by Meshuggah and sons. Secondly, Sadist crams in a great deal of synthesizer and sample presence, including plenty of “tribal” percussion that probably synergizes with the lyrical/visual aspects of this album. What begins to tip me off that this might not just be a mess of pseudo-progressive tropes is Sadist’s adept understanding of modulation and tonality – unlike many bands that play around with it, they actually manage to use this to write more flexible riffs and build some of the changes into their song structures. That is definitely not a mere surface strength.
With further listening, it becomes apparent that Hyaena‘s main strength as an album is its ability to integrate its musical aspects into a coherent whole; as a result, I am willing to forgive some of its weaknesses… which primarily revolve around the fact that this integration sometimes means questionable elements make their way into the album’s sound. For instance, I’m not too fond of some of the sounds used by the keyboardist, but the actual content of the keyboard lines here fits in nicely with the rest of the band, as they end up alternating between providing textural reinforcement and actual counterpoint. This does wonders for the songwriting, as Sadist goes beyond merely using instrumentation to distinguish song sections. It helps that they have two strong sources of musical language that they can pull on for basic elements, but such a potent tool would do little in the hands of a band that failed to integrate those halves.
Needless to say, this puts Sadist at least on a higher level than some of the other metal themed jazz bands. Those with a serious fusion/metalcore/djent allergy will want to stay away, as the ‘heavy’ side of this album seems to lean more core in its aesthetics than not. Still, there is some real depth to this music, even if some of the surface elements seem to chase contemporary trends.
Those familiar with The Heavy Metal F.A.Q. and the The Dark Legions Archive will note the basic thesis of this site: heavy metal arose from the fusion of late-1960s punk, progressive rock and horror movie soundtracks, and this blossomed into its final form in the early 1980s with Hellhammer, Sodom, Bathory and Slayer. From that all underground metal emerged.
On the progressive rock side, the obvious influences are King Crimson and Jethro Tull, but the entire genre had its effect. Much in the vein of Jethro Tull, who wrote the rock equivalent of vast narratives united by leitmotifs in the Wagnerian style, Camel for their second album chose inspiration from The Snow Goose: A Story of Dunkirk by Paul Gallico and crafted an epic instrumental album around it. Lore holds that this may have been in order to avoid a copyright complaint, but that seems ridiculous unless they literally quoted from the book; perhaps the authors always intended, as classical composers did, to translate rather than transliterate great writing into sonic form. The result was a sprawling instrumental work which used themes from the book to inspire melodies, around which it built songs, as a result decreasing the “rock” quanta of progressive rock and transitioning mostly to a new genre. As with most 1970s progressive rock, jazz-fusion and classical/soundtrack-inspired parts vie with bombastic ballad-style choruses and processionals. The absence of vocals allows the layers of guitar, bass, and keyboards to expand their roles, which gives this music both harmonic depth and the ability to transition themes through foreshadowing by different instruments.
The greatest strength of Music Inspired by The Snow Goose however comes in what it did to the songwriting abilities of this band, unleashing the guitarists to think outside the lead and instead write lead rhythm parts based on the motifs of the narrative. As if presaging what Joe Satriani would do for shredder guitar a decade later, Camel often allow single-string melodies to take point and walk through a theme cycle that is then repeated and expanded with stacks of keyboards and guitar harmony. Counterthemes appear as if from a darkened cloud, often transitioning between tracks, and then force a thunderous conclusion which finishes the story arc. That results in an album which is both emotionally satisfying like a myth, and deeply satisfying as a listen because each of its tracks gives itself fully over to purpose. This may be the peak of the progressive rock genre because it fully transcends its origins in those moments and creates a form of popular music which, like Greek theater, connects the listener to idea and sensation at once.
Each melody becomes delightfully distinct in its effort to exemplify a character or situation, and by giving itself fully to that purpose, loses much of the randomness of popular music. While Music Inspired by The Snow Goose may be a bit difficult for popular music listeners who are accustomed to a constant beat with vocals to guide them, a reasonably mentally alert person will find that the melody itself — transitioning between instruments, in the form of a leitmotif — has taken that role, and everything else follows like the reaction of forest creatures to the break of dawn. Forty years later, this album remains a favorite for many prog listeners, and those of us in the metal world can only hope it inspires someone to tackle a hybrid of its narrative approach and the more stentorian sounds of first album Immortal and Incantation.