Styles & Forms | Progressive Metal | Rock

Canadian trio Rush had little idea of the magnitude of their actions when they released Caress Of Steel in September of 1975. Just seven months after the group’s second album, Fly By Night, it saw them board a creative wave that for many fans would peak with their next studio release, 1976’s conceptual album 2112.

Though still recognizeable as a Led Zeppelin/Cream-inspired bar act, the increasingly progressive Caress Of Steel introduced ‘The Necromancer’ and ‘The Fountain Of Lamneth’ – 12-and-a-half minutes and 20-minutes-long, respectively – epic numbers which were infused with an adventurous new spirit and embellished by drummer Neal Peart’s sci-fi lyrics.

Then as now, critics dismissed the trio’s endeavours as overblown and pretentious, but the fans did not care. Rush would release better focused albums than Caress Of Steel over the course of a still unfolding 30-year career, though it undoubtedly served as a launch pad for their own endeavors, as well as a sub-genre now known as progressive metal.

Heirs To Rush’s Throne

In the 1980s, with Rush busy exploring synthesizers, bands like Watchtower and Fate’s Warning took up the baton, mostly missing the point with their combination of unnecessarily shrill vocals and super-technical instrumentation. However, Queensrÿche and King’s X eventually emerged as fitting heirs to the throne, with Savatage lurking not too far behind.

In 1988, Queensrÿche unveiled Operation: Mindcrime. Offering power in the Iron Maiden mould and soaring melodies, the Seattle quintet found themselves billed as the thinking man’s hard rock band. The album tipped its hat at Rush’s own 2112 for its concept of futuristic censorship, and also to Michael Kamen for its lavish orchestral arrangements, yet Queensrÿche’s masterwork is rightly regarded as a power metal watershed moment in its own right. Operation: Mindcrime stayed on the American charts for a year, selling over a million copies, though even those figures were eclipsed in the 1990 Empire album, with its haunting hit ‘Silent Lucidity’.

The departure of guitarist Chris DeGarmo accelerated Queensrÿche’s gradual process of unravelling. Things reached a nadir with the dreary Q2K in 1999, by which time the band had a serious rival. Originally known as Majesty, Dream Theater’s earliest recording line-up had shown potential on 1989’s debut When Dream And Day Unite. Replacing frontman Charlie Dominici with beefy Canadian James LaBrie helped the quintet to gain invaluable MTV exposure for their excellent 1992 follow-up, Images And Words, after which Dream Theater never looked back. The group’s insistence upon performing lengthy drum, keyboard, guitar and bass solos infuriated reviewers, only cementing the enthusiasm of their following. In creative terms, Dream Theater peaked in 1999 with Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From A Memory, an ambitious conceptual piece that the band had modeled upon Dark Side Of The Moon and The Wall by Pink Floyd, Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway and even OK Computer by Radiohead.

Most of the best progressive metal now emanates from Scandinavia,...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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