My arrogant choices of 2013

The more I think about prog music in the last year, the more I think that things are not as rosy in the garden as they first appear. Sure, the sheer volume of music, some of which is slickly produced and marketed, is something to be jolly pleased with. But underneath it all lies a pervasive style which is taking over the genre and reinventing it to fit its own requirements. I’m talking about Heavy Metal.

For decades the sound of metal has evolved and reinvigorated itself through many sub genres within itself. Hair metal, thrash and so on. But in recent years the progress of metal has been slowed somewhat with the lack of any new direction. Step forward progressive rock, a style that has its roots in hard rock, and features lengthy passages of intricate playing. It would seem that the two genres are naturally going to dip into each other. But the result is mostly one way. This is the time of progressive metal, and not heavy progressive. There’s a significant difference. Metal takes a style, be it, funk, dance or whatever and assimilates it, making it metal, like a Borg, or cyber man takes the bits it wants and discards the rest, and it does it in such a way that we barely notice.

I look around at the top tens and beyond of this year and see the evidence. Of course as I said earlier, there still diversity and alternatives. But it’s slipping.
Haken, Maschine, Kingbathmat, Tesserac T, Steven Wilson, are the obvious candidates for this year, hugely popular and increasingly heavy. However it’s reach extends into the heavier Flower Kings, Cosmograf, Also Eden. For many the tendency to slip into a drop key, low, thunderous chug seems hard to avoid, and it’s that element that is obliterating the intricacies, the delicacy and subtly of prog. I’m not saying that metal prog isn’t intricate, far from it. But it centres around clever time changes and thrash like shredding and histrionics, rather than melody and space.

Prog through all its incarnations and technological advances has largely stayed true to its origins for the most part until recent years. Does it need to change to survive? We think so, because that’s the kind of world we live in. Things need to keep moving and evolving towards new styles because that’s the future. But is it?
What we say and what we do are at odds with each other. The pop music charts strives to be new but revisits the past for all its ideas and polishes them, representing them, hardly different at all.

If the editors of Prog magazine are to be believed, and I’m sure they are, the design and content of their publication is designed to maximise sales, based on what the buyers want. That usually means 70s style prog music, Yes, Tull and Genesis. Is that a bad thing? Possibly if there is be to a younger audience going forward.
Should we really care that much about a younger audience? Not really. We are an ageing population with more youthfulness and money to spend that the younger end of the music scene, and we have staying power. It’s this age we need to keep on board.

I don’t believe we should sacrifice the music to the gods of metal in the belief that this is in some way the path the future. I would like to see more from the likes of Big Big Train, and The Tangent, and Sound of Contact, and a return to the subtler Flower Kings, all whom employ far more shades in their palates than the grinding technical wizardry and Wayne’s world style head bobbing of an ever increasing number of bands.

I must point out, I have ‘The Raven’, ‘Overcoming the monster’ and a few others. But the tipping point away from the music we fell in love with isn’t far away. A top ten in a year or two will resemble something from Kerrang, it’s coming….

My top albums of 2013-
1: The Tangent – ‘Le Sacre Du Travail’
Epic, important and classically inspired.
2: Big Big Train – ‘English Electric part 2’
Sophisticated, moving and sleek. More of the same but wow, that’s okay!
3: Sound Of Contact – ‘ Dimensionaut’
Space prog, alien, and catchy. Great first effort!

3 thoughts on “My arrogant choices of 2013

  1. Eric – i don’t think you need to be concerned as there’s still an awful lot of classic and neo-prog being released.
    Personally I like a bit of ‘chugging’ and i’m happy for it to co-exist/be part of the genre. In my view those albums you have mentioned have incorporated metal riffing to help create the atmosphere necessary for (usually) lyrical messages to be delivered – dark, troubled etc. And they have done so very successfully. Perhaps it’s because we live in troubled times or perhaps it’s just one of those years where many artists have started to experiment with this mix. Whatever the reason many fans like it and if that sells more records and creates more awareness of the Prog genre then I’m all for it.
    As an asideI have a colleague at work who is 34 ( a mere youngster) and used to be heavily into Doom Metal but is looking for something different. I recently lent him Haken’s The Mountain and followed this up withSoNGS by Riverside, Nine Lives by VHB and The Void by Beardfish…he really liked them all and is now actively seeking out more on his own. A convert indeed !!


  2. Eric, I tend to agree with Ian. Too much of Jon Anderson’s “love is everywhere” tends to become tiresome, and like Ian, I also enjoy *some* of the metal influences in modern prog (I can even tolerate a few moments of “cookie monster vocals” now and then). But I can’t see bands like Big Big Train being overwhelmed by metal fatigue, and I’m greatly encouraged by the fact that bands such as Riverside are stripping away some of their metal influences for a more varied and textured approach. Let’s not slide into metallic despair quite yet – our beloved prog still has a lot to offer…



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