Progressive metal? : re-evaluating classic, neo- and post-progressive metals and other (post-rock) alloys

Brown, A.R (2016) Progressive metal? : re-evaluating classic, neo- and post-progressive metals and other (post-rock) alloys. In: Metal (&) Musicology, 12 March 2016, University of Hull, Hull, UK.


Is it possible to define any periods or styles of metal music as progressive and, if so, what implications could this have for the extant categories of classic, neo- and post-progressive rock? What is remarkable about Beyond and Before (2011), Hegarty and Halliwell’s re-examination of progressive rock since the 1960s, is that they devote their final chapter to arguing that within thrash, death, doom, symphonic, black, ambient and other metals, there is a progressive strain which has developed through a process of ‘convergent evolution’, employing many of the forms and practices of prog while gesturing back to the ‘darker and less obviously socially progressive heavy metal’ (p. 259). While this welcome discussion addresses the ‘beyond’ of their title it does not, in the case of metal, address the ‘before’, in that the first stirrings of prog tendencies are identified in the mid-1980s, with Iron Maiden’s Piece of Mind (1983) and Powerslave (1984), and the post-punk alliance of NWOBHM and neo-progressive bands and audiences. The suggestion is that ’80s metal was neo-progressive, gesturing back to the narrative themes and complexity of classic prog but only becoming post-progressive in the 90s and 00s, as metal fractured into many sub-genres, allowing greater textural innovation, in production, density of timbres, rhythmic complexity, group virtuosity and ‘aggressive’ punctuation of divergent musical elements and rapid tempos. What this suggests is that Hegarty and Halliwell are themselves also constrained by the ‘punk critique’, which powerfully haunts the previous attempts, by Macan, Martin and Stump, to rescue the critical reputation of progressive rock, in not extending the ‘before’ to include ‘heavy rock’ as part of the rock experimentalism of the late 1960, beyond Hendrix, Cream and the ‘progressive blues’ of Led Zeppelin. Thus, despite the remarkable convergence of the time period within which prog rock and heavy metal achieved (chart and stadium filling) success and then decline, 1969-1976, most musicologists, popular music writers and cultural theorists, consistently define them as musically and socially divergent, while ultimately condemning both for musical and lyrical crudity, on the one hand, or excessive complexity and thematic pomposity, on the other. While Hegarty and Halliwell identify the ‘punk critique’ as powerfully emanating from music publications, such as New Musical Express, that had previously supported progressive rock bands, more significant than this critical reversal, is the importance of American rock criticism as definers of rock counter-cultural ‘authenticity’, which by the 1970s led them ‘to see themselves (and be seen) as participants in rock production’ (p. 165). It is this nexus, of record companies, music media and music scenes, that requires further scrutiny in explaining periods of (non-commercial) fluid-genre musical experimentation and how they lead to industry-defined (commercial) genre-homogeneity, periods of critical approval and critical derision, which is largely reflected in academic writing. Also, hugely relevant here is the rise of the metal magazine press, from the early 1980s onwards, and its impact on metal production and progression, as for example, Kerrang! (36, 1983) special, ‘Progressive Rock, 1973-1983’.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Divisions: Bath School of Art, Film and Media
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Date Deposited: 25 Aug 2016 09:18
Last Modified: 05 Jan 2022 15:43
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