I am doing something a little different this time around by writing a series of posts about a topic that I have been contemplating a lot about these past few days – progressive rock. When I first started thinking about this subject, I didn’t think I would have so much to say. I learned that wasn’t the case, one realization lead me to another. Instead of having one really long post, I decided to split things up. So here goes…
A few weeks ago I wrote about how I had just purchased the most recent albums from Opeth (Watershed) and Kamelot (Ghost Opera). I’ve been going back and forth between each of Kamelot’s and Opeth’s albums because I was interested in writing a review about each. As I listened to each, it got me thinking a little more about progressive rock and the natural progression of music. Both artists are categorized as “progressive,” but when I listened to each, Opeth seemed more progressive than Kamelot. My first reaction about Kamelot was that the music wasn’t developed enough. Well, I was really comparing two different kinds of apples. When I eat a Granny smith Apple, I shouldn’t expect it taste like a Braeburn. The same is true when listening to two different kind of progressive artists. Once I realized my mistake I began to think about the key differences and why they were labeled as progressive rock artists. But, that wasn’t easy either.
So, what makes a band progressive? When trying to answer that question, I then began to think about how the music industry has categorized music. I have a decent collection of prog rock albums from artists that include Pain of Salvation, Symphony X, Vanden Plas, Ayreon, Dream Theater, Rush and many others. However, I also have a host of other albums that aren’t considered “progressive” from bands that are labeled “alternative.” So what’s the difference? Am I to believe that just because an arist is labeled as alternative that artist isn’t progressive? I don’t think so. On the contrary, if an album is classified as alternative, that fits into a type of music that isn’t like Dream Theater, but the music still may be very progressive.
There is a natural progression in music that has taken place since the beginning of time. Which raises the question: isn’t all (or at least a majority) of music progressive? When considering modern music, couldn’t we label Rum DMC’s collaboration with Aerosmith progressive? Isn’t the revised “Walk This Way” the first track where rock and rap blended together? Shouldn’t we then consider Beastie Boys progressive for the matter? What about Nine Inch Nails? Or, Kid Rock? Or, Black Sabbath? All of these acts made broke the traditional mold innovating music.
Progressive Rock is more of a generic phrase that was applied to make us think about music in a certain way. Really, it is a marketing tactic. I should know, I work in the field and marketers are constantly inventing things to make the products we purchase more “sticky” in our minds. However, that doesn’t mean the categories that are suggested by the music industry are those we have to abide by. In reality, the music industry has tried to paint a picture makes it easier to recall and associate similar artists. Music labels rarely describe the music we listen to accurately. In retrospect, music labels do not amount to much.
Consider this, if music didn’t naturally progress, we would all still be listening to church music sung by Christian monks aka Gregorian Chant on our MP3 players.