Opinion Piece

Define Prog.

I hope this becomes as civil as possible, and creates positive encouraging and educating discussion. To clarify my taste for the prog gatekeepers: I love classic, modern, instrumental, cinematic, extreme, forward thinking and any kind of experimental progressive music. Some might draw me in more than others, but that’s life and also having a certain taste. It’s a niche term, and yes there’s lots of gatekeepers as much as technical death metal fans alike.

To generically state….progression means moving on, exploring new territory and that means new musical ideas…..right? Well, if you put out the same album every time there isn’t much PROGress, right? I’m in the small company of loving Steven Wilson’s music on “To The Bone” and moreso in “The Future Bites”. He’s written catchy lines, songs in Porcupine Tree songs before….what he’s been mixing and mastering for vinyl releases hints at what he’s currently interested in,and shouldn’t have shocked diehard fans he would want to do some 80’s dark pop albums. Speaking of, Porcupine Tree IS releasing a new album and going on tour around the world as well. Wilson always enjoyed pop music and has showed itself plenty of times in his artistic life. Whether you like it or not isn’t the fact of the matter….the fact of the matter is he did what he wanted to do and PROGressed to new territories. He did the dark pop his mastering work has been hinting at, “To The Bone” was a good start and loved the dark parts of “The Future Bites”. KEEP THE CONVERSATIONS CIVIL, PLEASE.

There is also other “versions” of prog. Some bands like Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson, Persefone, Haken, WIlderun and countless others don’t always have complicated pieces but have a lot of layered cinematic vibes. I guess you can lump Opeth, Dream Theater and BTBAM into this as well. That is also a big part of the “prog” stereotype….if your music isn’t overly complicated, it must be overly layered! So, generally assuming if your music is layered fairly heavy between vocal harmonies, keyboard/synth work, extra guitar parts including guitar harmonies and maybe some brass or exotic instruments. Dream Theater are virtuosos and the same can be said for BTBAM, technically proficient to say the least. Thank You Scientist is a great example of that as well who also have brass work. They are constantly switching distorted and clean guitar with a higher range of vocals. Some bands also have a vocalist or two with a higher range, in some instances.

Classic prog is older bands such as King Crimson, Rush, Genesis (first handful of albums before they went pop), Yes (same as Genesis although the new album is very good), Camel, Goblin, Pink Floyd (classic rock/psych that unintentionally influenced a ton of prog) and lots of other great bands from the 70’s and 80’s. It’s taken on the previously explained paragraph but no growling which is prevalent in the debut album to Watershed era Opeth. Lots of newer bands take influence from the past, not just the present. It shows in the music and even if it’s new, it’s still recycling the past to an extent.

Now onto the instrumental stuff…..Animals as Leaders basically created a new genre blending modern metal, jazz, pop and electronic music all on 8 string guitars and a drummer. Yup, extended range guitars and no bassist….with a technique called “thumping” which you use the two thickest strings as bass strings per say. For any older person that hasn’t given them a chance, trust me they will blow your mind. If you don’t like it, you don’t. There’s also a sub genre “math rock” which is kind of technical but also kind of poppy sounding with instrumental bands like Polyphia and Chon leading the charge. Ichika Nito is a huge guitar player right now in math rock and is a mind blowing guitarist. They have catchy melodies, lots of emphasis on string tapping and use a lot of clean guitar not a lot of distortion. Now is this considered progressive? Personally yes, without a vocalist I think it’s tougher to write music and also base concepts without lyrics. That puts an even larger emphasis on art, album titles and song titles as well. Do you think instrumental bands are “prog”? Do you think math rock should be considered “prog”? BE NICE IN THE COMMENT SECTION WHERE YOU ARE, PLEASE. IT’S MUSIC AND IS MEANT TO BE SUBJECTIVE!

Here’s more food for thought, to keep beating the dead horse so to speak. When does categorizing go too far? Progressive melodic technical death metal is a thing but that’s larger than most album titles! Is it considered progressive if there’s growling or guttural vocals? I know the old timers will easily say no, but is it progressive and forward thinking if you always have the same formula? Some bands have ventured to 100% prog like Opeth (Akerfeldt is almost 50 and has growled for almost 3 decades come on!) and have always had hints of prog since the debut album. Mastodon has went from straight metal to prog since “Blood Mountain” specifically? “Crack the Skye” was as prog as Mastodon got, and the latest release “Hushed And Grim” is a double album full of the latter.

Let’s add weird avant garde bands into the mix like Imperial Triumphant and Portal into the mix. Those bands have a ton of influences, never write the same song but the only thing in common between the two might be the spontaneous nature of the bands? All sorts of metal is found, but there’s a plethora of sounds the bands include in their music. Is there a certain level of progressive elements in their music? Definitely, if they are wanting to explore new territory and ideas. Do you think avant garde bands are progressive or do they need their own branch Discuss!

So in a nice manner, please talk about what you consider prog. Does it need to be melodic? Does there need to be structure or what has to be included or not included? Talk about music theory….tons of odd time signatures, odd rhythms, complex guitar work and vocal harmonies/melodies, stacked/layered music with all sorts of stuff in the background is THAT prog? Old timers….are you against or interested in the “newer” wave of stuff from 2000 and on like Opeth, BTBAM, Mastodon, The Mars Volta, Persefone, Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree, Animals As Leaders, Chon, Polyphia and countless other bands? I love every era and style of prog and still discover new bands….maybe suggest new bands that isn’t your own band in the comment section of where you’re discovering this article. So PLEASANTLY among your peers talk about what you think is prog! Time to talk endlessly!

Categories: Opinion Piece

2 replies »

  1. You evoked a term that never fails to make me grin: ‘prog gatekeepers.’ Those who decide what is prog and what is not. A generalized description on my part, perhaps, but I’ve witnessed and experienced such self-assured pronouncements plenty enough to make me wonder how many of these ‘gatekeepers’ are still listening to the same narrow selection of music, and how many are actually channeling the spirit and intent of prog itself while seeking out new sounds and new approaches?

    Thanx for the article.

    • This is the reaction I wanted! It’s a great genre and so many unique bands, no reason to go overboard…..let people enjoy what they want. Glad you feel the same! I haven’t seen any badmouthing or gate keeping in regards to my article….yet lol

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