Progressive metal, in all it’s guises, has been home to a wealth of classic albums since its rise to prominence in the late 1980’s. From death metal’s excursions into proggy territory to thrash metal’s diversions into ever expansive realms and epic song length’s, progressive metal has bloomed in the intervening years and this article focuses on 8 of those classic recordings which have admirably stood the test of time. To put it simply, if they were released today they’d blow your mind, just as they did all those years ago!
To that extent, this article focuses only on those albums released pre 2000, any worthy prog metal albums released post 2000 will be covered in a future article. Also, for the sake of diversity, our usual one album per band mantra applies.
Strap yourselves in for a cerebral pasting, these classic progressive metal monsters were purpose built to fry your brains!
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 it’s 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.
Operation: Mindcrime virtually needs no introduction, its 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 (and power metal precursor’s to boot) 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 all those years ago.
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 Iron 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 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, Iron Maiden were still savvy enough to include the obligatory hit single; “Can I Play With Madness” maintaining the quality of “Wasted Years”, “2 Minutes to Midnight”, “The Trooper” and “Run To The Hills”.
Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son remains a significant moment in Iron Maiden‘s formidable back catalogue and we doubt anyone would complain if Iron Maiden released this epic milestone today!
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.