This essay compares and contrasts some of the more well known and greatest examples of progressive metal and progressive rock.
The differences between progressive rock and metal are drastic, despite sharing the same adjective. I think that progressive metal can be more technically proficient than progressive rock at times, but it can also be more over-indulgent as well. Progressive rock peaked mostly during the nineteen seventies, while progressive metal didn’t really peak at any particular juncture, though it has had many bands rise to prominence in recent times as well as some classics in the eighties as well. Classic progressive rock has a more subtle way of weaving its magic, while a lot of progressive metal goes for an impressive display and is often more effective when kept at a restrained pace.
The greats of progressive rock of the seventies like King Crimson, Yes, Genesis and Jethro Tull were great at creating an atmosphere that is ethereal and appealing. The songs often attempt to showcase moments that are haunting and memorable. Often times other musical styles like jazz or folk are incorporated as seen from King Crimson and Jethro Tull respectively. The music of many of the greats from the past is interesting yet restrained. There have been some progressive rock bands like Tool and The Mars Volta that have carried many of the traits that the former greats did, but it becomes increasingly harder to find them these days. The best progressive rock has a charmingly inventive and simultaneously contained quality that is difficult to extract from much progressive metal. There may never be a decade as incredible as what the nineteen seventies were for progressive rock.
Progressive metal is excellent when done efficiently. The prime example of this is eighties era Queensryche, who display class in their thoughtful guitar riffs. Albums like the amazing Operation: Mindcrime, as well as the outstanding Awaken the Guardian by Fates Warning, are excellent examples of early progressive metal done in an intelligent fashion. The music of Dream Theater or Symphony X is similar and somewhat effective, yet becomes overly technical and loses some musical appeal as a result. These bands have obtained large following for their style, however. There are bands in the progressive metal genre that effectively blend the harsh with the subtle, such as Opeth, and they are intriguing. The key here is to create metal music that doesn’t become superficial with over-indulgence, but rather has enough charm and atmosphere to win you over. That’s why the more consistently enjoyable progressive rock genre has a slight edge over the progressive metal one for me.
As can be seen, there are great examples of progressive music in both the metal and rock genres. Generally, I prefer metal instead of rock, but in terms of the progressive sub-genre, there are more compelling progressive rock than metal bands. This is largely due to a focus on subtle dynamics within the music as opposed to creating as technical a performance as possible. While I think that metal has more variety on the whole than rock as a genre, I will always prefer progressive rock for the above reasons. Regardless, there will always be a diverse and entertaining number of progressive albums to choose from in music.