New Prog Gets Heavy
Prog rock never died -- it just went underground. Like, into Middle-earth maybe. But as soon as the original '70s big kahunas like Yes and Genesis tightened up into more pop-friendly structures in the early '80s, a younger generation of true believers took hold of ye olde pomp and circumstance and wacky time signatures. The British band Marillion were probably the most visible, though in the States -- where they only had one Top 50 album -- that wasn't saying much.
Still, ensembles kept coming, as pretentious as ever, even if you had to visit an annual live fest in the struggling steel town of Bethlehem, Penn., to learn about most of them. Or you could do what I did and comb through the 300-album discography appending Will Romano's 2010 Mountains Come Out of the Sky: The Illustrated History of Prog Rock for occasional list entries after 1990, or even 2000. That's where lots of the obscuros on this playlist were dug up: Pain of Salvation, Pendragon, The Flower Kings, Echolyn, Upsilon Acrux, on into infinity. Porcupine Tree and Spock's Beard probably come the closest to household names here, but that's partly because I decided neo-prog crossovers from metal (Dream Theater, Tool), alt (Radiohead, Tortoise), or both (Mars Volta, Coheed and Cambria) should be off limits.
Hippie-dippie crossovers Umphrey's McGee (from Indiana) and Ozric Tentacles (from England) got a pass, though. And the other part of the concept ("concepts" obviously being of utmost prog importance!) is that, once I tracked down the orchestras in question, I tried to opt for their heavier tracks, guitar-wise or at least drum-wise. Which is to say a bunch of these songs suggest the musicians enjoy imagining they're in Rush or King Crimson. Whether that makes them deluded -- about grandeur or otherwise -- is for you to determine.