Progressive rock, born in the 1960s out of the desire to push the boundaries of rock, calls for musical sophistication over accessibility. Characterized by complex instrumentation and experimentation with sounds, the genre tends to avoid the typical verse-chorus song structure found in most rock songs. Additionally, progressive rock takes notable influences from jazz, classical, and psychedelic music. The best way to define progressive rock is through its lack of artistic boundaries.
Whether you’re just learning about the genre or consider yourself a prog snob, it would be impossible to talk about progressive rock without mentioning these five genre-defining albums:
Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory by Dream Theater
Like many progressive rock albums, Metropolis Pt. 2 follows one consistent story. In this case, it’s the story of a man going through past-life regression therapy and takes the listener on a journey. Each song works like a chapter in a book; you won’t know the whole story without listening to the entire album. Furthermore, this album features unpredictable song structures throughout, whether the song is a ballad or full of fast guitar riffs.
The Wall by Pink Floyd
As a concept album based around a fictional rock star, Pink, the album manages to tackle topics applicable to every generation, including emotional trauma and rebellion. Additionally, what makes this album so genre-defining is that it connects popular music with progressive rock. The album remains experimental, yet it’s easy to follow since its concept is often emphasized over instrumental complexity.
In Absentia by Porcupine Tree
Porcupine Tree knows how to make good use of the artistic freedom that progressive rock provides. The Pink Floyd influences are apparent, but the band blends the psychedelic side of progressive rock with just a dash of metal. The best part of this album is that it has something for everyone from metalheads to fans of ambient post rock. What makes this album so appealing is that it’s a culmination of sounds from all over, yet nothing comes off as forced.
Ænima by Tool
This album is where “classic” and “modern” come together in progressive rock. Ænima appeals to prog and hard rock fans alike, combining ferocity with unusual time signatures, which gives the band a lot of room to experiment with the structure of their songs. Lyrics deal with abstract concepts, such as evolution and enlightenment, making their music very philosophical and ideal for the aspiring intellectual.
Language by The Contortionist
This album shows that the genre has evolved to focus more on ambience than ever before. The album’s theme of being connected to all life works well with its soothing sounds, making the listener feel at peace. However, the album also includes heavier moments of aggressive screaming and guitar chugging on tracks like “Conspire,” as metallic elements are becoming more common in modern progressive rock.