In hindsight, 1988 would prove to be one of the most important years in the development of progressive metal with established acts embracing ‘the prog’ and new blood channeling the fearless spirit of the genre!
Here’s our pick of 10 albums that made 1988 such a defining year for progressive metal……
Crimson Glory – Transcendence (1988)
Approaching progressive metal from a fast-paced, power metal angle, Crimson Glory‘s seminal second album is a full-on metal assault with it’s opening two tracks, Lady In Winter and Red Sharks, providing a welcome kick to the nuts.
So far, not so progressive we hear you cry!
Well, it’s true, Transcendence often smacks of straight-up American heavy metal but its progressive nature subtly reveals itself, the band enhancing progressive metal’s standing via lyrical concepts and rapid-fire tempo changes.
“In Dark Places”, the album highlight, is a progressive metal updating of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” and “Burning Bridges” takes the slow burn approach to epic balladry; consummate musicianship backed up by vocalist Midnight’s powerful, classic metal delivery.
If released today, Transcendence‘s classic metal stylings and adventurous compositions would still turn heads, its ability to stretch minds and bang heads proving as formidable as ever!
Queensrÿche – Operation: Mindcrime (1988)
Another release from 1988 and a landmark concept album from a band who epitomised ‘progressive’ in the 1980’s.
Queensrÿche‘s Operation:Mindcrime virtually needs no introduction, it’s place in progressive metal history so firmly set in stone that it practically holds together the entire foundations of the scene.
As concept albums go, it’s also a masterclass in world building, each track serving the narrative perfectly yet never forgetting that infectious melody and memorable riffs are equally as important as ushering metal into new directions; “Spreading The Disease” and “Revolution Calling” proving that ambitious concept albums can be fiercely intelligent and still rock hard!
Queensrÿche returned to their finest hour in 2006 with Operation: Mindcrime II and vocalist Geoff Tate eventually adopted the moniker after the band splintered in 2012; proof that this undisputed progressive metal classic is as important today as it was 29 years ago.
Kings X – Out Of The Silent Planet (1988)
Out of the Silent Planet was the debut album from Kings X and this most unique proposition instantly adhered themselves to those looking for complex arrangements and more than a little melody!
Kings X’s fearless experimentation and melding of styles on Out of the Silent Planet placed them firmly in the progressive metal camp, even if the ‘metal’ may not be as metallic as many of the bands in this feature. Quintessentialy a bands’ band, Kings X took the best bits of Pink Floyd, Rush and The Beatles and added funk, soul and harmonies so rich that if it weren’t for Ty Tabor’s crunchy riffs scattered throughout, they could almost qualify as prog-pop.
Predating a grunge sound that Alice In Chains would build an entire career around, Kings X’s accomplished debut would prove to be highly influential and this astonishing album still sounds fresh and vital today.
Metallica – …And Justice For All (1988)
This album is rightfully celebrated as a milestone in thrash history and Metallica would never be this expansive, this experimental and this progressive ever again.
…And Justice For All rivalled technical thrashers Heathen, Realm and Believer in the progressive thrash metal stakes, as Metallica recovered from the death of Cliff Burton by proving they could not only survive without his guidance, they could flourish! While it may have its flaws (bone-dry production and Jason Newsted’s mostly inaudible bass spring instantly to mind) it remains a milestone of technical/progressive thrash.
With a clinical approach bordering on maniacal obsession the likes of the epic “…And Justice For All” and “One” were the epitome of surgical precision and it was left to “Dyers Eve” to remind fans that this was the band that once penned “Whiplash”!
“Do you hear what I hear?”, snarled James Hetfield on the absurdly catchy, stop-start rifferama of “Eye Of The Beholder”.
We did James, and we still like it!
Iron Maiden – Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son (1988)
Iron Maiden‘s first real dip into pure proggy waters came on 1988’s bona-fide classic, Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son.
Adding keyboards to their trademark sound upped the already intensified drama and the epic title track indicated that Maiden were no strangers to abrupt time changes and high-brow concepts.
Their trademark gallop wasn’t gone – “The Evil That Men Do” maintained the desired grit of old – but a new found finesse now accompanied the memorable choruses and elaborate structures. Somehow, despite composing some of the most progressive songs of their illustrious career, Maiden were still savvy enough to include their obligatory hit single in the shape of “Can I Play With Madness”. A song that maintained the high quality found on the preceding “Wasted Years”, “2 Minutes to Midnight”, “The Trooper” and “Run To The Hills”.
Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son remains a significant moment in Maiden’s formidable back catalogue and we doubt anyone would be unhappy if Maiden released an album of this calibre in 2018!
Fates Warning – No Exit (1988)
Similar in style to Crimson Glory, Fates Warning were another band to adopt a power/thrash approach to progressive metal.
No Exit thrashed hard, check out “Anarchy Divine”, while incorporating progressive metal’s composite structures and Ray Alder’s intensly powerful vocals continued where his predecessor, John Arch, left off; vocals that may be an acquired taste but were to become a staple in late 80’s/early 90’s prog metal.
Formidable and frenetic, it’s the 22 minute epic,“The Ivory Gate of Dreams” which looms large over prog metal history; Fates Warning taking the genre by the scruff of the neck and dragging it kicking and screaming into mainstream acceptance.
No Exit is as surprisingly experimental now as it was in 1988, its rampant time changes and falsetto vocals proving as indelibly effective as ever.
Blind Illusion – The Sane Asylum (1988)
Blind Illusion‘s debut is a cult item of considerable aplomb, growing in stature as the years roll by and claiming its place as one of thrash metal’s unsung gems!
Featuring guitarist Larry LaLonde (Possessed) and bassist Les Claypool (before they went on to form Primus) and produced by Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, The Sane Asylum is one of those unique recordings which practically defies categorisation, such is its idiosyncratic nature and distinct lack of conformity.
An alchemic brew of jazz-influenced, progressive time changes and abstract song structures, The Sane Asylum was conveniently wrapped up in a technical thrash bow, a description which doesn’t even come close to describing the sheer madness at work here.
Quite unlike anything recorded before or since!
Deathrow – Deception Ignored (1988)
Where this came from is anyone’s guess!
After the relatively no-thrills thrash found on Deathrow’s Riders Of Doom aka Satan’s Gift and Raging Steel, there was virtually no indication that Deathrow would break boundaries with their 3rd full length release!
Complex and rhythmically confounding – but never at the cost of a satisfying sense of structure – the likes of “Narcotic” were insane blasts of technical wizardry and should have marked Deathrow out as pioneers of progressive metal this early in the game.
Instead, obscurity beckoned with Deception Ignored initially receiving a lukewarm response from a legion of confused fans. Fortunately, this outstanding album has gone on to be revered as a work of almost labyrinthian art, misunderstood by many but now beloved by those in the know.
A technical masterpiece from a band way ahead of the curve
Sieges Even – Lifecycle (1988)
Sieges Even may have gone on to become a more considered, melodic progressive metal act but their debut was a beast of technical/progressive thrash, powered by the almost falsetto delivery of Franz Herde.
Comparisons with Watchtower remain rife but to dismiss Lifecycle as a mere clone of Control And Resistance would be missing the point. This was an era of exploration and of pushing boundaries, which is exactly what Sieges Even were doing from the outset.
Sure, both bands were influenced by the prog giants of the 70’s – alongside the thrash boom led by Metallica – but Sieges Even took everything that much further, splicing the DNA of prog and thrash to create a new, extreme, version of both. The results were extraordinary, dazzling the mind with a series of labyrinthine structures that were brooding, malevolent and practically beyond judgment!
Voivod – Dimension Hatröss (1988)
One of thrash metal’s most distinctive bands, Canada’s Voivod have spent their entire career releasing music that barely stays within the confines of thrash and purposefully flaunts the rules. However, Dimension Hatröss was arguably the first time Voivod perfected their noise and channeled their unearthly visions into their most wilfully obscure – yet somehow coherent – collection of songs ever.
Atypical and abstract, the riffs of Piggy and vocal delivery of Snake remain utterly unique and otherworldly and this twisting, turning, tumultuous sci-fi nfever-dream made flesh still sounds like absolutely nothing else on earth. With the likes of “Tribal Convictions”, “Brain Scan” and (the aptly titled) “Experiment”, Voivod were lightyears ahead of the pack and their peers (if they truly have ever had any) are still frantically trying to keep up.
Not too shabby for an album that’s well over 30 years of age!