Progression

Might sound like a cliché, but progression is the only constant in life, and this is especially true in music. In fact, incessant change is the norm in prog. For instance, Dream Theater used to define progressive metal. But it’s safe to say that benchmark is now comfortably buried — under layers of odd time signatures, robotic precision and polyrhythms.

But change is also an obvious broader pattern, manifesting over time and at numerous levels.

Both artists and their listeners tend to evolve, often in different trajectories. We are all simply wired differently and more importantly — we constantly learn. At least most of us do. In that sense, it’s also impossible to listen to the same song twice – because each iteration would be perceived through a slightly different neural filter.

Nothing illustrates this more than going back and listening to our decade old favorites. This will inevitably reveal a new facet to the very same sound, something which was never obvious before. Essentially, artistic experiences tend to forge new sets of mental connections, and this way we progressively develop our own individual palate.

A fellow metal-head and a Progarchy reader had recently managed to summarize her own progression, and that also in just about six artists. This sort of prompted me to jot down and share my own seven song list. Needless to say, Powerslave to Funeral Fog took a few years.

Stained Class

It’s 40th year of Stained Class.

70s sort of form that bedrock of heavy metal, those initial rungs of a genre now riddled with thousands of sub-categories. With early Judas Priest we actually get to experience that seismic shift – how that relatively upbeat hard rock and electric blues start to exhibit darker tones. In other words, Stained Class provides numerous glimpses into the impending transformation of metal.

“The streets run with blood from the mass mutilation, as carnage took toll for the bell” – is definitely not characteristic blues rock Led Zeppelin or an Aerosmith take. Nor is that intense and multi-faceted– “You poisoned my tribe with civilized progress, baptizing our blood with disease” – lyrics which could be easily perceived as a commentary, critique or British sarcasm.

Scorching leads, layered and progressive dual guitar melody and that inimitable steely Rob Halford scream. All the vital components which would later shape 80s metal can be traced back to Judas Priest. Essentially, they accentuate the downtuned darker aspects of blues rock, and did that without significant deviation from that blueprint. Stained Class is part of that framework which directly leads to speed, progressive and power metal – essentially triggering a wave – still mutating and afflicting all corners of the civilized world.

By Sibuachu (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Southern Storm

Two seconds of those blast beats and we can instantly discern, Southern Storm is no misnomer. From the land of Sepultura emerged another prominent force — Krisiun — their extraordinary precision and extremity can be always a tad overwhelming. These compositions are like a complex death metal alloy, intricately structured on electric blues like shredding with over-the-top intensity. That steady hammer of drums can be daunting, and recede slightly only when getting carved up into slices by piercing guitars.

Rooted firmly in Terrorizer, Grave, Immolation and Nile school of old school death – Krisiun’s craft is flawless. They reflect all the essential deathly qualities — constant and subtle shifts in flow, melodic leads and demanding riff/drum patterns. Quite like Sepultura, this band of brothers consistently pushes musicianship to disturbing levels of fury. With songs titles like “Slaying Steel”, “Minotaur” and “Massacre Under the Sun” – lyrics undoubtedly become that last cowing piece of this technical death storm.

By S. Bollmann (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

E

‘E’ is among the most brazenly progressive Enslaved records. Experimental keyboard passages, abrupt shifts in tempo and frequent bursts of those aggressive riffs, instantly reminding us of their Viking metal roots. Basically, art rock to symphonic prog to post-metal like atmosphere is effortlessly brewed with some inhuman screams. Not to mention the use of flute, a surprising jazz segment and a Norwegian electronic synth-pop cover.

Without completely abandoning their sonic extremity, Enslaved has carefully adopted some avant-garde progressiveness. Within these uncharted fields, it’s not surprising that they sometimes lurch between sheer greatness to downright peculiar. But for long time listeners there is nothing unexpected here. The band continues to walk their chosen path – constructing a curiously rich, polarizing, and at times uneven mosaic of progressive symphonies.

Dark Apostrophe at English Wikipedia [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The Evil Divide

Heavy metal scene is actually swarming with cross-genre bands, and then there are a few like Death Angel. Over thirty years, and they still wield an uncompromising intense arsenal of old school thrash. Decked with stunning guitar harmonies, intricate progressions and ultra-thrashy riffs — ‘The Evil Divide’ is a new album with mid-80s sound. Thrash at its creative best.

With that NWOBHM train of break neck riffs and pristine melodic hooks, Death Angel is elegant and aggressively loyal to their founding roots. They are sort of unique in persisting with this age old musical terrain. As expected, most of their illustrious contemporaries have mellowed, and now fear to tread through these very furious paths.

By Fileri (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Under the Red Cloud

Unlike their neighbors to the west, Finnish scene evolved late and also in relative isolation. Quite like how they took their own time for economic industrialization, Finnish metallers were also late to the planet’s extreme metal feast. Finns do come across as one wary lot. But, circa 1990, evolution took a huge leap. They seamlessly adapted their classic metal roots into a Black Sabbath influenced death/doom, and accomplished it within an absolutely meager time. Not surprising why Amorphis developed such distinct signatures — they never did follow that conventional trajectory.

Now, after twenty five years of folk and melodic metal, you would think they won’t have much to say. Go with that expectation and get ready to be mowed, by some quirky progressions and subtle rich melodies.

Moments where you get to experience glimpses of their glorious past are frequent. Creative folksy hooks and abrupt bursts into melodic death segments – guaranteed to overwhelm even their ardent listeners. Undoubtedly, Under the Red Cloud forges more than quite a few steps, onto a distinct path carved over the past two decades.

By Cecil (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons