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10 Progressive Metal Bands You Need To Get Into

How many have YOU heard?

arjen_lucassen_daniel_gildenlow_mariusz_duda_sigh
Lori Linstruth / Joel Barrios

If you’re a progressive metal fan, you’re undoubtedly familiar with most of the subgenre’s biggest names. We’re talking about groups such as Dream Theater, Tool, Symphony X, Queensrÿche, Fates Warning, Opeth, Haken, Between the Buried and Me, Coheed and Cambria, Iron Maiden, Mastodon, etc.

Sadly, there are dozens and dozens of other artists who tend to fly under the radar despite arguably doing just as much to stand out. We’re not saying that all of these artists are unknown—some of them have huge followings—but there’s still a good chance that you’ve not discovered them yet.

Luckily, we’re here to correct that with the following list of 10 progressive metal bands you need to check out!

Ayreon

Led by Dutch maestro Arjen Anthony Lucassen, Ayreon is an exceptional sci-fi conceptual project that sees Lucassen gathering incredible casts of prog rock/metal royalty to bring his narratives to life.

In fact, just about every album is simultaneously self-contained and connected to the larger central storyline. With past contributors including the vocal and/or instrumental talents of Anneke van Giersbergen, James Labrie, Devin Townsend, Ed Warby, Keith Emerson, Neal Morse, Floor Jansen, Bruce Dickinson, Simone Simons, Michael Romeo, and Michael Åkerfeldt, there’s no shortage of incredible performances and songwriting.

The Human Equation is widely considered the best of the bunch, but Into the Electric Castle, The Source, 01011001, The Theory of Everything, and Universal Migrator Part 1: The Dream Sequencer are also top-tier.

Diablo Swing Orchestra

As their name implies, this Swedish troupe combines aggressive avant-garde metal, swing, and symphonic metal into delightfully varied, original, and entertaining concoctions. In other words, Diablo Swing Orchestra are like the more welcoming stylistic siblings of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, uneXpect, and Major Parkinson. Cooky, classy, complex, and immensely catchy, you really can’t go wrong with any of their five fairly unique studio LPs (although their third one, 2012’s Pandora's Piñata, is probably their magnum opus).

Pain of Salvation

It's difficult to adequately describe what makes Sweden’s Pain of Salvation so special, but the incredible vocal range of frontman Daniel Gildenlöw – alongside their adventurously tasteful arrangements and mesmerizing melodic prowess – are key components.  They also explore a wide range of topics, from environmentalism (One Hour by the Concrete Lake) and human development (The Perfect Element, Part I) to spiritually rich romantic connections (In the Passing Light of Day) and the meaning of existence (BE). As hyperbolic as it may sound, no one does it like Pain of Salvation.

Parius

Simply put, if you’re a fan of the magnificent prog metal theatricality of Between the Buried and Me, Native Construct, and Devin Townsend (especially his Ziltoid duology), you’ll love Philadelphia’s Parius. As they accurately describe their latest – and possibly greatest – sequence, 2022’s The Signal Heard Throughout Space, they combine “the cohesive songwriting of bands like Mastodon and Opeth with the eccentricities of bands like Mr. Bungle and The Mars Volta.” Endlessly quirky, ambitious, and enthralling, it’s damn near impossible not to be blown away by what Parius put forth.

RedShift

Like Parius, English trio RedShift overtly draw comparisons to other acts (namely, Dream Theater, Rush, Vanden Plas, and Symphony X), yet they nonetheless combine these attributes into extremely commendable and engaging new compositions. Their latest collection, Laws of Entropy, is a superb reflection of that, as it melds more traditional progressive metal with elements of jazz fusion, hard rock, death metal, and other distinctive styles. With any luck, it’ll bring them a lot more attention.

Riverside

Although progressive music is often associated with overtly lengthy and flashy musicianship, the best bands (sans instrumental ones, of course) know that prioritizing quality songwriting is key. Case in point: Polish quartet Riverside. Whether it’s their initial three LPs—which connect as the “Reality Dream” trilogy—or their subsequent collections, there’s no shortage of utterly captivating melodies and lyricism performed by the powerfully emotional voice of bassist Mariusz Duda. Their work runs the gamut of intensity, too, from serene self-reflections to explosive bursts of anger and heartache, and every member fills their role perfectly.  

Sky Architect

Hailing from the Netherlands, Sky Architect earn distinction due to singer Tom Luchies’ characteristic timbre, excellent storytelling, and exploratorily abstract arrangements. True, they often fit comfortably into the metal realm, but their cosmic coatings and freeing jams incorporate healthy doses of progressive rock, psychedelic rock, and jazz fusion, too. In that way, they draw as much from modern prog metal as they do older icons such as King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Yes, and Pink Floyd. Luckily, all four of their records are outstanding.

Sigh

By incorporating bits of extreme metal, black metal, avant-garde metal, world music, and a host of other approaches, Japan’s Sigh have been spicing things up with just about every album since their 1993 debut, Scorn Defeat. At times, they’re relentlessly ferocious, yet they can often be more melodic and welcoming, too, without ever losing a trace of their madcap inventiveness. Honestly, it’s difficult to nail down their sound to just one record, so maybe just start with 2022’s Shiki and work backward?

The Anchoret

The Anchoret are easily the youngest entry here; in fact, their debut LP, It All Began with Loneliness, comes out next month (June 2023)! That said, they embody one of the best parts of being a music fan: discovering a one-of-a-kind group just as they’re getting started. At times, sure, they evoke Haken and Rivers of Nihil, but then they’ll tap into the hard rock savagery of Disturbed and Godsmack. Thus, theirs is a relatively singular, unified, and daring vision—complete with keys, woodwinds, saxophone, and dense harmonies—that’s best experienced from start to finish in one sitting.  

Tranzat

In a nutshell, French ensemble Tranzat is what might happen if you expanded Devin Townsend’s “Bad Devil” into a series of albums and then added pinches of Evergrey, Faith No More, The Contortionist, and early Porcupine Tree.  They even throw in touches of 1970s classic rock from time to time, and their humble tongue-in-cheek nature makes them that much more endearing. All three of their albums are highly imaginative and engrossing, too, although newcomer Ouh La La might be the most economical and accessible. (Plus, how can you not love its front cover?)

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