Prog-Rock From Different Angles: A Guide For Beginners
The world of progressive music is a relatively small one. Ever wondered how to make this world a little bigger? Connor Shelton has written a guide.
This article is for those who are wanting to make prog-rock converts out of their friends and loved ones, and for those looking to get into prog-rock themselves.
Genre is a construct that has almost little meaning in this day and age. Its purpose is to lump like artists together and make it easier to market said artists towards a targeted audience. Because of this, people have developed preconceived notions of what bands must sound like based on what genre they're labelled as. If it's pop, then it's simple. If it's punk, then it must be raw. And if it's prog, oh boy. Chances are you'll have people scoff at the genre for its goofy pretensions. And while there are some truths to each of these generalizations, they always obscure the big picture. Pop music can be layered and full of lyrical depth, punk-rock can be intimate, and prog-rock doesn't always have to marry the complexities of classical music with the noodling of jazz and the bombast of rock.
Prog has so much more to offer beyond these generalisations. It's a branch of music that contains a vast multitude of artists, sub-genres, and styles as well as a rich history of innovation. In other words, it's not too different from most genres of music. Which brings us to our main point. Here at DPRP.net, we're not only fans of progressive music, but also enjoy artists from across the musical spectrum. From Shania Twain to Marvin Gaye to the Killers, we all are fans of music that we would hardly classify as prog.
Similarly, there are followers of other genres that are bound to dabble in music which resides outside their community. That's the way taste works. Considering these facts, it's safe to hypothesise that within the realm of prog, there's bound to be an artist for everyone. It might take time to locate these artists, but they're out there, waiting to be listened to.
So, in the spirit of compassion, we're going to do our best to help listeners find the prog artists they deserve. And we'll be doing so by pairing several major musical genres with a select number of prog-rock artists who most align with the characteristics of each genre.
Pop / Pop Rock
Where to begin? The realm of pop music is vast, and to find prog artists for such a massive audience is a daunting task given the notable differences in style across the pop spectrum. Nevertheless, we do have several starting points.
If you're a fan of the pop music of the 1960s and familiar with albums such as Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Abbey Road, then the likes of Days Of Future Passed by The Moody Blues, Procol Harum's self-titled debut album, Deceptive Bends by 10cc, and A New World Record by Electric Light Orchestra will be great starting places.
If you're more into the high octane, polished sound of 80s pop music, then check out Genesis's Duke, Rush's Signals, David Sylvian's Brilliant Trees, and/or Kate Bush's Hounds Of Love. (The first two albums fall more in line with the traditional style of progressive rock, whereas the latter two records are more in line with the experimental but accessible sensibilities of art pop.)
As per modern audiences, perhaps those people enamoured with Billie Eilish, Lady Gaga, and Bruno Mars, their attention would best be directed towards the earlier projects of Kevin Gilbert, Lonely Robot and other John Mitchell projects, Bent Knee, as well as Steven Wilson's two most recent albums.
Here you can find a list of all Bent Knee reviews here on DPRP.net.
Like pop, the realm of metal is expansive. The fact that there are millions of bands across numerous sub-genres makes it hard to pinpoint a proper starting point for those metal-heads who want (or should) to get into prog.
That being said, heavy metal is the genre that has most-closely crossed over with prog in recent years, so getting fans of bands like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, and Metallica to venture into the world of progressive metal shouldn't be terribly difficult. It's just a matter of finding the right angle for most of the major sub-genres.
Traditional metal fans should check out Parallels by Fates Warning (check here for all Fates Warning reviews on DPRP.net), Symphony X (reviews here), and Galactic Cowboys' self-titled debut album. Thrash fans are likely to enjoy any number of albums by Voivod and Vektor. Death metal listeners will be fine-tuned to Opeth's early work (all Opeth reviews on DPRP.net can be found here).
Fans of pop metal/glam metal should be prescribed Queensrÿche's Operation: Mindcrime and Extreme's prog-adjacent Three Sides To Every Story. The power metal crowd ought to listen to Seventh Wonder from Sweden. (Click here for all Seventh Wonder reviews here on DPRP.net.) As per alternative metal, we all know that Tool is a solid gateway drug into the world of prog. (DPRP reviewed the Tool albums 10,000 Days and Fear Inoculum.)
For those who listen to Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, or any other classic hard rock band from the 1970s, the go-to prog rock group to check out is Rush. Their 70s albums are an excellent fusion of crunchy, distorted grooves and technical chops.
Also, worth checking out are Queen's first two albums, Atomic Rooster's Death Walks Behind You, and Jethro Tull's Benefit.
For modern audiences, the likes of Haken, Anekdoten, and latter-day Porcupine Tree should satisfy one's listening needs.
Links to reviews on DPRP.net: Atomic Rooster, Jethro Tull, Haken, Anekdoten, and Porcupine Tree.
The most prominent prog-related band with ties to country music would have to be the Dixie Dregs / The Dregs. Their mix of southern instrumentation and a jazz fusion compositional framework made them unique amidst the blossoming realm of fusion that cropped up during the 1970s. More importantly, their music exudes a sense of fun that is infectious.
Other bands of note include the Aristocrats (DPRP reviews here) and Native Window. The Aristocrats are yet another instrumental rock group with ties to jazz fusion. The country elements in this group are questionable at best, but the fact that they evoke south-western vibes on songs such as When We All Come Together and The Kentucky Meat Shower is enough to warrant a mention for this list.
Conversely, Native Window are a group that have notable country overtones found on their lone studio release, but are only faintly related to the prog genre thanks to them being an offshoot of Kansas.
On the topic of Kansas (see a list of all our Kansas reviews here), country fans might be inclined to check out songs like Can I Tell You, The Pilgrimage, and Geodesic Dome and see whether the rustic flavour on each is enough to further explore the band's work.
Despite how different a genre punk is to prog, it may come as a surprise to learn that these two seemingly-opposite titans of music have somehow found middle ground. This usually comes from the punk side of things, thanks to compositions like Green Day's Jesus Of Suburbia and My Chemical Romance's Demolition Lovers, which play around with drawn out, musical storytelling.
If you're a fan of the prog-ish style that presents itself amongst these artists, then we're happy to tell you that there are several bands that regularly meld the two genres. The most notable of these is Cardiacs. Be warned, however, their music might be hard to swallow due to the bizarre lyrical content as well as the dense compositions which stuff implausible amounts of musical ideas into insanely short run-times. Combine this with the unbridled energy on display throughout their discography, and they're a band that, while unquestionably difficult to immediately connect with, are sure to stick with you.
Other artists of note include Osees, NoMeansNo, and Rx Bandits. While some would argue these bands aren't prog, there's enough of a prog element in each, to serve as a gateway into the more accepted bands found in the prog-rock genre.
Though alternative rock has many roots in punk, the genre has far more leeway in regard to being eclectic and experimental. To put things bluntly, it's not as homogenous as punk rock, and as such, has more room to be progressive. So it is that we have artists like Muse and Flying Colors, whose sensibilities would appeal to fans of the poppier, more mainstream style of alt-rock, as well as Radiohead and the Mars Volta whose eccentricities are more likely to interest the hardcore fans of both genres.
Also of note is Porcupine Tree, a band who have dabbled with mainstream alt-rock sounds on 1999's Stupid Dream and 2000's Lightbulb Sun (and click here for all other Porcupine Tree reviews), as well as Tool who (as we have mentioned already) are an effective gateway into the world of prog for those people already attracted to alternative metal.
Though there's hardly any unifying set of characteristics when it comes to the indie genre, the eclecticism on display from many indie acts would seem to indicate that the likes of King Crimson, Gentle Giant, and Steven Wilson are all artists to consider. Each have played around with numerous genres, often blending the most disparate of elements of two or three, and combining them to create something wholly unique.
From Crimson's mix of folk, jazz, and proto-metal, to Gentle Giant's marriage of renaissance chamber music, counterpoint, and Moog synthesizers to Steven Wilson's blend of electronica and hard rock; there's something for everyone when it comes to these artists, especially for indie kids who dig experimentation.
As shocking as this might seem, there is at least one prog-related group that regularly incorporates rap into their sound. Meet Proyecto Eskhata, a Spanish band who have fused the aggressive style of rap-metal with the technical elements found in prog.
It's a groundbreaking sound and shows that progressive rock can still be progressive; that is to say, evolving. Whether more bands will routinely meld the genres of prog and rap remains to be seen, but it's likely to happen at some point.
Folk / Folk Rock
Like metal, folk is a genre that seems to mix well with prog. Maybe it has something to do with the focus on storytelling in both genres. Who can say for sure? Regardless, the distinct sub-genre that is prog-folk has proven quite durable.
Not only did it procure such beloved artists like Jethro Tull, Strawbs (read our review of Prognostic here), and Harmonium, it has continued to evolve thanks to modern practitioners like Mostly Autumn, Jack O' The Clock, Tirill, and early White Willow.
Without question, these artists are all great jumping-on points for this distinct brand of music.
We'll keep things short with this one. If you're a fan of psychedelic music but don't have an appreciation for prog – or haven't given the genre a try – you might want to consider Space Ritual or Hall Of The Mountain Grill by Hawkwind (all Hawkwind reviews on DPRP.net), The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn by Pink Floyd (click here for a list of all Pink Floyd reviews on DPRP.net), Angel's Egg by Gong, and (for more modern audiences) Polygondwanaland by King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizards.
These records are bound to be more palatable for fans of psychedelia than the theatrical stylings of Selling England By The Pound by Genesis, or Jethro Tull's Thick As A Brick.
There's just no excuse. Whatever musical direction you're coming from, you're bound to meet progressive music some time. Wy not explore a little bit?