What is progressive metal? It’s a question that has perplexed philosophers since the days of ancient Greece, or at least since the late 80s, when metal took on the DNA of progressive rock, resulting in a mutating strain of music that married volume and aggression with brain-melting complexity, far-reaching ambition and insane concepts.
Of course, progressive metal is really what you want it to be. It could be the intricate explorations of 70s icons Rush or the arena-sized anthems Dream Theater and Queensyche. It could be the jagged techno-thrash of Voivod, the vaulted post-black metal of Ihsahn or the interdimensional shamanism of Tool or…well, pretty much anything.
But who is the greatest progressive metal band of them all? It’s there that you intervene. To answer this burning question, we threw it at you – and you answered in the thousands. We’ve tallied up the votes, tossed out the wild cards (whichever wild card voted for Machine Gun Kelly, go to the bottom of the class), and came up with the definitive list of the 20 greatest progressive metal bands of all time. Buckle up, it’s going to be epic…
Many 80s metal bands kept their love of prog in slow motion, and Florida’s Savatage was no exception. Until the triumph of 1989 gutter ballet threw the doors wide open – it was Broadway-scale power metal, especially on the title track’s orchestral overload.
From then on, they went racing: the albums got bigger, the concepts got more complex, and the music got bigger. Outrageously multimedia symphonic metal extravaganza OTT Trans-Siberian Orchestra started as a side project of Savatage, which says it all. OF
Progressive Metal’s Greatest Moment: gutter ballet (1989)
Ihsahnbeen experimenting since day one. The Telemark native became the brains of Emperor: the first symphonic black metal band and mainstays of the Norwegian scene of the 90s. Then, after their breakup in 2001, he got even weirder with his solo stuff.
Ihsahn’s debut in 2006, The adversary, intentionally regressed to his early influences: NWOBHM licks, symphonic swells and black metal tremolo alongside his seething screams. From that foundation, he built all sorts of weird stuff. Eremita shouted with discordant jazz before Ámr’s synths bubbled up. Rarely is metal as malleable as it is in this guy’s hands. MM
Progressive Metal’s Greatest Moment: The Eagle and the Serpent (2012)
In 1993, Florida’s Cynic released their debut album through Roadrunner: a time, place and label obsessed with death metal. Focus was marketed to capitalize on the genre, but its cosmic vocoders, synths and lyrics had nothing to do with it. The backlash catalyzed their breakup the following year.
When they reunited in 2007, Cynic was rightly recognized as a pioneer. Come back traced in the air proved they weren’t a one-hit wonder by doubling down on ambient jazz accents. Even after 2020 left Paul Masvidal as the only surviving member when Seans Reinert and Malone passed away, he channeled his grief into the heavenly and beautiful. Ascension Codes. MM
Progressive Metal’s Greatest Moment: How can I (1993)
17. Fate’s Warning
By any reasonable measure, Fates Warning was way ahead of the prog metal curve. Formed in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1982, Jim Matheos’ team took a few records to hit their stride, but by the time they released Wake the Guardian in 1986, their transformation into progressive pioneers was complete.
Alongside Queensryche, Savatage and a handful of other lesser-known bands, Fates Warning were the first to think beyond metal’s traditional four-minute format and take it into a much more imaginative future. Still in exceptional form over the 2020s long day good nighttheir legacy is long and indisputable. DL
Progressive Metal’s Greatest Moment: Exodus (1986)
Leprous first caught people’s attention as a backing band for frontman Einar Solberg’s brother-in-law, Ihsahn. However, more than a decade of creating avant-garde anthems has proven that these Norwegians are not cases of nepotism.
Leprous got its start as a maximalist metal band: the scope and majestic voice of Big Poppy Syndrome carved out a home for them in the contemporary prog scene. On the third album Coal however, the heaviness and breakdowns were relegated to the back seat, and the melodies began to drive their polyrhythmic songs. Refreshing resulted in earworms such as The price and of the flame — not to mention their reputation as the catchiest band in prog metal. MM
Progressive Metal’s Greatest Moment: trim (2015)
15. Coheed and Cambria
Coheed And Cambria makes even the most ambitious, concept-minded band look like top hobbyists. On nine albums (taking a brief break with those of 2015 The color before the sun), they charted a course through a multi-media space opera epic, with each album detailing a different part of the leader Claudio Sanchezit is The Amory Wars script.
Beginning in post-hardcore and emo territories (sharing stages with My Chemical Romance and Thursday), Coheed’s songcraft quickly grew to incorporate everything from heavy metal histrionics (welcome to the houseanyone?) to pure pop delight (Jesse’s Girl 2), the best “nerd feels good” tale since Weezer became an international star. HR
Progressive Metal’s Greatest Moment: welcome to the house (2005)
Slave are hailed as leaders in Viking metal, but their palate ventures far beyond that. Mayhem guitarist Euronymous turned the band to Tangerine Dream at his record store, Helvete, and it sparked a passion for esoteric sounds that made them the most impactful band of second wave black metal.
Heavy music, folk, prog and krautrock are all weapons in the arsenal of these berserkers, while their lyrics kneel before the pantheon of Norse gods. Where to start with their discography is entirely subjective. Black metal devotees stick best to the first fifteen years, as the mid-2000s of Enslaved and Beyond are filled with expansive songs and melodic vocals aplenty. MM
Progressive Metal’s Greatest Moment: mountain roots (2012)
13. Iron Maiden
No one would argue Iron Maiden‘s as one of the greatest heavy metal bands of all time, but their status as authentic prog metallers is somewhat less celebrated. Founder and bassist Steve Harris has always been heavily influenced by ’70s progressive bands like Genesis and Jethro Tull, and their influence can be heard in every elaborate epic Maiden has ever recorded.
Lately, they’ve fully embraced a progressive metal ethos, and their music has become more adventurous and pleasingly indulgent. It would be hard to overstate Maiden’s influence on just about everyone, and the entire prog metal scene owes them a debt of thanks. DL
Progressive Metal’s Greatest Moment: The legacy (2006)
12. Symphony X
Led by virtuoso guitarist Michael Romeo, Symphony X is never knowingly underrated. Exploding into view with their self-titled debut in 1994, Americans took the pattern set by Dream Theater, Queensryche and the like, and pushed the intensity to boiling point.
With Romeo’s searing technique and vocalist Russell Allen’s soulful rasp as focal points, Symphony X have become one of prog metal’s most revered bands, yet the ferocity of their collective attack is still truly astounding. Hear the expansion of the concept inspired by Milton in 2007 lost paradise and witness progressive metal at its most crushing and precise. DL
Progressive Metal’s Greatest Moment: The Odyssey (2002)
When brothers Joe and Mario Duplantier co-founded a chamber band called Godzilla, they just wanted to emulate their heroes Machine Head and Morbid Angel. Now the duo are the core of the hottest progressive metal band since Tool.
The Gojira journey has been a twenty-year upward slope, which began with the grunts and thumps of 2001 Unknown land. Follow The link began to flirt with prog in his melodic detours, then From Mars to Sirius asserted Gojira as forward-thinking warriors fighting for mother nature. Magma and Courage later he used heavier grooves and choruses to achieve arena stardom. And they succeeded. MM
Progressive Metal’s Greatest Moment: The art of dying (2008)