Progressive metal first emerged in the late ’80s, a whirlwind of ambitious themes, sprawling concepts, aggressive precision, ambitious arrangements, off-kilter time signatures and wild displays of chops. Bands like Queensrÿche and Fates Warning would have varying intensity of the spotlight, but nothing matched the commercial and critical success of Tool, the uncompromising band that released the biggest rock record of 2019, the 86-minute Fear Inoculum.
However, the seeds of lofty, lateral-minded metal churn go back to the ’60s and ’70s. Pioneering prog artists (and Tool influences) King Crimson and Pink Floyd would often venture into the heavy and strange. Lesser-known bands such as Britain’s Atomic Rooster, Germany’s Lucifer’s Friend, and Los Angeles’ Captain Beyond sunk deep into proto-metal moods. Jazz artists like Tony Williams, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and ’70s-era Miles Davis mixed bonkers playing with abrasive rock energy. French “zeuhl” bands like Magma and Belgian “rock in opposition” band Univers Zero played with time signatures in disorienting ways. Here are some bands that paved the way for prog-metal’s lofty ideas.
Photo Credit: Travis Shinn