As one of earliest heavy metal subgenres, Progressive Metal has had a lot of time to grow, expand, and become even more progressive. Spawning in the early 1980s with bands like Queensryche, Fates Warning, and King’s X, the genre has become one of the largest and most varied forms of music. However, within the past twenty years there have been plenty of the of different albums – all offering something different than the last. Here, Uncanny Metal takes a look at some of the best Progressive Metal albums that have been released from the past twenty years.
The Swedish band’s fifth studio album, Opeth’s Blackwater Park became a pivotal change of sound for the band. While 1999’s Still Life may be still considered the album with a shift in style, it’s with Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson mix/production on Blackwater Park that really added a sense of progressiveness to Opeth. With their following albums, Opeth style continued to evolve with its progressive and death metal tendencies. Standing back and looking upon the entire discography, Blackwater Park was ultimately considered the tonal shift for the bands future releases.
Progressive metal and the mainstream never came so close to greatness as it did with the ringing bass lines to Tool’s hit single Schism. While previous albums were also progressive, Lateralus turned progressive metal even more popular and threw the already well-established band further into the limelight. While it was years later for 10,000 Days and Fear Inoculum to eventually see the light of day, Lateralus was the pivotal moment for music fans to unite globally.
After having worked with Steve Vai and establishing Strapping Young Lad with an outburst of extreme metal, Devin Townsend’s Terria – while probably not everyone’s favourite release, features some of the most intricate atmospheres from Devin’s signature “wall of sound.” A personal concept album and tackling mental health before the movement was in the mainstream, the ebbs and flows of Terria are astonishing with songs still resonating in relevance today.
Another album with a personal story, ex-Emperor bassist Tchort founded Green Carnation in the early nineties. With their second album, LoDDoD became not only one of the longest songs in the genre of heavy metal, but is also critically acclaimed among metal fans. Crafting an hours worth of music and interlinking it together to unfold a story of both tragedy and life, Green Carnation’s epic stands out as a musical achievement for those who let themselves become encompassed by the grand scope of the song.
After multiple science-fiction concept albums, Arjen Lucassen decided to try something a bit different and delve into the human mind. With multiple singers performing as different feelings such as Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt as Fear, Mostly Autumn’s Heather Findlay as Love, and Devin Townsend as Rage, they battle within the mind of the character “Me” (by Dream Theater’s James LaBrie). The album not only tells a story, but actually features incredible twists and turns of regression, infidelity, and coming to the understanding of one’s self.
The prog power band Shadow Gallery released their Operation: Mindcrime-esque concept album Tyranny in 1998, only to finish the cliffhanger of a story in 2005. While the concept may feel overdone now, the story and impact comes with a familiar X-Files vibe, with espionage and mystery surrounding almost every song. With impressive songwriting skills and the underrated Gary Wehrkamp on guitars, Room V stands out as a brilliant performance – especially from lead singer Mike Baker who passed away shortly after the album’s release.
The last-great Porcupine Tree album, Fear of a Blank Planet is more progressive rock than it is metal – but it’s still hard to not find yourself headbanging along most of the tracks. With the gorgeous, near-twenty minute epic, Anesthetize, to the seductively heavy final track Sleep Together, Porcupine Tree’s theme on reflecting the exploitation and commercialization of drugs and its impact on the human mind, its deep and thought-provoking while still providing incredible music.
While 2002’s The Odyssey could also be on this list, it’s with Paradise Lost that Symphony X really gained their stride. After a five drought after The Odyssey – which ultimately suffers a bit from production issues – Paradise Lost comes in slamming hard and with some of the juiciest riffs from guitarist Michael Romeo. Every song features standout moments from each musician and the album just keeps hitting. Prog/power often gets a mixed reputation due to the power metal elements sometimes overtaking the progressive ones. With Paradise Lost, Symphony X nails that perfect blend with their songwriting.
With their breakout third album, Haken’s The Mountain brilliantly constructs the 70s progressive sound in a modern time, almost coming across like a modern day Close to the Edge from Yes. With heavy influences from bands like Dream Theater, the album never really becomes too technical to the point of becoming overbearing. It’s tame yet still manages to impress on every aspect with melodies and vocal harmonies that will forever stick in your mind.
After 2004’s album FWX, Fates Warning took some time off and reconstructed themselves for an impressive “debut” so to speak. With Bobby Jarzombek on drums, the album felt like a modern re-imagining of 90s albums, Perfect Symmetry or Parallels. With songs appearing straight-forward, their time-signature twists and turns from each song come across as natural, if not subtle. Ray Alder still sounding as great as ever, Fates Warning came back with a bang and have a new album coming out in the Fall of 2020.
Given the lineup changes over the years, Pain of Salvation’s sound had evolved slightly while still keeping their operatic and Andrew Lloyd Weber influence. With new blood in Icelandic songwriter Ragnar Zolberg, In The Passing Light of Day took the album to new heights which the band had never achieved in their 20+ year lifespan. The autobiographical album by singer/songwriter Daniel Gildenlow goes through his near-death experience with an illness and really drives the emotion home in the title track.
Although 2003’s Train of Thought could have also made this list, 2019’s Distance Over Time does instead. With songwriting similar to Train of Thought, Distance Over Time became a bit of an anomaly in Dream Theater’s discography with it being the first album without a song over ten minutes (not including The Astonishing which arguably wasn’t so much an ‘album’). The crisp songs are to-the-point for the band which can win over new fans while still providing enough technical excitement to impress old ones. A surprise to be sure and easily one of the band’s strongest releases in 20 years.