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 [USA]
Approaching progressive metal from a fast-paced, power metal angle, Crimson Glory‘s seminal second album is a full-on metal assault with its 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, as it’s ability to stretch minds and bang heads proving as formidable as ever!
Queensrÿche – Operation: Mindcrime (USA)
A landmark concept album, from a band who epitomised ‘progressive’ in the 1980’s, Queensrÿche‘s Operation:Mindcrime needs no introduction, with its place in progressive metal history so firmly set in stone that it practically holds together the entire foundation 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 ever was.
Kings X – Out Of The Silent Planet [USA]
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 [USA]
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 [UK]
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 2022!