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Unearthing The Metal Underground: The Prog Rock Scene

As a child growing up in the late sixties/early seventies listening to Emerson Lake & Palmer, Yes and Jean Luc Ponty, progressive rock was and is a large part of my musical foundation. The orchestration of prog rock expanded music from anthemic songs with a simplistic chorus-verse structure into compositions that took on a life of their own through arrangements that incorporated elements of jazz, folk and other forms of music in atypical time signatures. These musicians represented a skilled genre, one where a band had to know how to play far beyond 'adequate' and know all types of music.

Likewise, prog rock's themes were miles ahead of the mainstream love and party themes that make up the bulk of popular rock songs. Conceptual albums became the musical equivalent of storytelling, bringing far pithier and intellectual lyrics with them about existentialism, fantasy and society. In some instances, over-the-top shows and costumes turned songs into productions, while the lengths of the tracks became exaggerated and instrumentals were commonplace. The album art of this period also set the mood into a very interpretive one.

One of the very best and most informative resources out there for progressive rock is the Prog Archives, an extensive blog chronicling the early origins of prog rock throughout each decade until the current era. The early symphonic, hard prog and Canterbury genres, including the music of Genesis, King Crimson and Allan Holdsworth respectively, created active scenes in other countries such as Italy, Yugoslavia and Great Britain.

And when progressive rock, a largely ignored genre compared to most, saw its popularity seemingly wane by the end of the seventies - it in all actuality went deeper underground. While a new wave of progressive bands emerged in the eighties, ushered in by the mighty Marillion, Saga and several others, the prog scene had already fragmented into a couple dozen subgenres. Among them came synth bands influenced by Vangelis and Jan Michel Jarre, krautrock represented by Tangerine Dream and Ash Ra Tempel and countless other communities like the math rock scene and its Zeni Geva and John Zorn offshoots.

In today's Unearthing edition we will explore three different northern European bands that play different styles of prog rock. While their influences might be as far reaching as the Mahavishnu Orchestra or as modern as Presto Ballet, these artists represent some of the more recent standard bearers in the incredibly big prog rock community. Also, do check out the Prog Archives to learn much more about the last half century of progressive rock, and the many huge scenes that are in present day Britain, Italy and several other places.


Lugnoro

Lugnoro is, to me, the Swedish hybrid of Kansas and Deep Purple. The Goteborg quintet creates a most genuine 70's style with its organ-driven polydimensional melodies and winding bass grooves. The interplay of Bjorn Hansson's vocals and the wa-wa of the guitar make you double check your wall calendar to make sure you really are in this century. 2012's "Annorstades" is streaming in full below, an album that took the prog/retro underground by storm. Lugnoro has also uploaded a couple of new tunes, "Kung" and "Fools," to YouTube while its vocalist backpacks around Europe until the end of July.

Lugnoro - "Annorstades"



Lugnoro - "Fools"


Magrathea

No doubt coined after the planet in Douglas Adams' tome "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy," Magrathea is a must for fans of Genesis. This is fantasy/sci fi British prog that is masterfully executed and poetically narrated. The duo of Glenn Alexander on vox/keys/drums and Gary Retep Gordon creates the tight lush sounds and effects that one would expect given their twenty year collaboration. Magrathea's album "In Search of the Crystal" is streaming over on bandcamp along with a remaster of the "Legends" album.

Magrathea - "Into the Drink Once More!"



Magrathea - "Brainwash"

King Bathmat

Another favorite of the British prog rock scene is King Bathmat, a band now on its seventh album. Hailing from Hastings, these four gents are hard to categorize into one given constant. Their sound on "The Fantastic Freak Show Carnival" is a 180 degree about face from 2012's "Truth Button," an album about killing the deception in everyday relations. That psychedelic/grunge turn they took on last year's release reappears on their brand new one "Overcoming the Monster." A six track sampler consisting of one track from each of their albums is also posted over on bandcamp.

King Bathmat - "Behind the Wall"



King Bathmat - "Sentinel"


Only an encyclopedia could truly give this far-reaching scene the justice and representation it deserves. The progressive rock of today is composed of many bands, a fervent following and exists in a more subterranean level. Explore it further and join us again next week when we unearth yet another underground scene or genre here on Metal Underground.

sonictherapy's avatar

Vicky Willis has been a freelance journalist and former college radio disc jockey for almost twenty years. She has been contributing to Metalunderground.com since 2010.

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