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How I Got into Heavier and More Progressive Music

Everyone has a reason for why they developed the tastes in music they did. My taste in music has always been grounded in the rock/hard rock genre. But over time, I opened up to several subgenres under the rock/hard rock umbrella. From djent to neo-progressive rock, metalcore to symphonic metal, I became more aware of the treasures that lie outside of my musical comfort zone. Over the past four or five years, I have discovered several new bands that I never thought I would like. Spock’s Beard, Tool, Redemption, and While She Sleeps come to mind. Despite my ever-expanding musical tastes, I credit five bands for “enlightening” me. This post highlights those five bands. Maybe what I have to say about any one of these bands will spark some interest to check one or all of them out. Now, let’s go.

Rush

This Canadian power trio will always go down as one of the best progressive rock/rock bands of all time. For all Geddy Lee’s, Alex Lifeson’s, and Neil Peart’s accomplishments, I must admit that I was somewhat late to the Rush party. When I first discussed Rush, the trio had already released eighteen studio albums, several live albums, and an EP. At the time I really checked Rush out, I had only known about the legendary live album, Exit…Stage Left (1981). But when you discover a band with an extensive discography, it is quite the reward to have so many hours of new listening material. That excitement and curiosity motivated me to explore Rush’s entire discography, from Rush (1970) to Snakes and Arrows (2007). At one point, I had written down every Rush album’s track listing, including live albums, on sticky notes and placed them on my wall. Needless to say, I had missed out of some many years of great music.

I discovered Rush during my freshman year in high school. I constantly looped Exit…Stage Left and Beyond the Light Stage (which introduced me to more of Rush’s catalog). I even modeled parts of my drum set off of Neil’s post-Test for Echo (1996) drum kit. In my fascination with such an iconic band, I always wondered if they would ever release new music. In 2012, my wish came true and Rush gifted its fans with what is the “last hurrah:” Clockwork Angels. Clockwork Angels may not have been the best Rush album, but it is certainly one of the band’s best. It is also a fitting end to such an amazing career. It was during the supporting tour that I got to see Rush. I remember the day fondly: the chilly night before an Advanced Placement Psychology test. Looking back on that night and what would come, I would not change a thing.

Rush has always been classified as a marvel in the music industry. Three men creating such bombastic and layered music with precision. If there is one thing that I thank my dad for, it is certainly his interest in Rush. Exit…Stage Left introduced me to the band, and the rest is history. Neil Peart is one of my favorite drummers and biggest drumming influences, and Rush is one of my “holy trinity” bands (no pun intended). A fitting way to kick off this post.

Iron Maiden

Rush was not the first band that I really got into. That honor goes to Eddie and the boys: Iron Maiden. I have done several posts now featuring Iron Maiden, so it comes as no surprise that this band is my favorite. My fascination in Iron Maiden began at the end of my middle-school career, when my band said that he would do an Iron Maiden cover band. Initially, I did not think too much of the idea, writing it off as something that I would not like. Then he and my brother showed my Flight 666 (2009), a live DVD recorded during the first leg of the Somewhere Back in Time tour. From then on, I was hooked.

Just to contextualize things, I had preferred more commercial, radio-friendly songs. Even my drum set represented that taste. Once I discovered Iron Maiden, things changed. From a musical influence standpoint, my drum setup mimicked Nicko McBrain’s massive nine-tom drum set. Although the hardware I had altered the setup (the tom toms closer to chest level), it was fitting. Maiden influenced my playing style, as I adopted McBrain’s swing feel and tom-tom mannerisms. After that, I took a deeper dive into Maiden’s extensive catalog. Up to that point, A Matter of Life and Death (2006) was Maiden’s most recent album. I was surprised with the varying qualities of Maiden’s studio releases, doubly so for The X Factor (1995) and Virtual XI (1998). Like with Rush, I had wondered whether Maiden would release new music. That wish came true with The Final Frontier (2010).

In 2010, I had earnestly discovered Maiden. I even burned my own Maiden CDs so I could have the full Maiden catalog. Of course, No Prayer for the Dying (1990) and Blaze Bayley-era albums eluded my grasp, but that did not matter as much. This fascination with Maiden still persists even today. To date, I have seen Maiden twice: the Maiden England Tour and the Legacy of the Beast Tour. Each show was an absolute treat. Although they were five to six years apart, Maiden still had it. Maiden really kicked off my journey of musical exploration, and I am very much proud to call Maiden one of my “holy trinity” bands.

Dream Theater

There is one common thread I can trace for all my “holy trinity” bands: my dad. About a year I became enamored with Iron Maiden and Rush, my dad showed me Dream Theater‘s Chaos in Motion (2008) live DVD. One thing stood out immediately: Dream Theater felt like Iron Maiden and Rush combined. I characterized Dream Theater as Maiden and Rush on steroids. The group’s songs had such force and power, but they were also long songs. Actually, to that point, “In the Presence of Enemies” was the longest song I had ever heard up to that point. Chaos in Motion was more of an amuse bouche though.

During my high school years, I cherrypicked various Dream Theater songs. Between “Constant Motion,” “In the Presence of Enemies, Pt. 1,” “Metropolis Pt. 1: The Miracle and the Sleeper,” “Take the Time,” and “Fatal Tragedy,” I had selected a good offering, at least in my opinion. Then I decided, “screw it.” Let’s get the full albums. The albums that most impressed me offered Dream Theater’s most layered songs: Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence (2002), Train of Thought (2003), and Black Clouds and Silver Linings (2009). Each album offered that one song that practically characterized a part of my senior year in high school and my first year in college. “The Glass Prison” was the hype song that prepared me for my best cross country race ever, while “The Count of Tuscany” most captured my feelings about high school coming to an end. “Endless Sacrifice” was my go-to during both high school and college. Even today, every time I listen to the song I get a comforting feeling. Musically, Dream Theater had just as much an impact on me as Iron Maiden and Rush.

Although Dream Theater is the final band in my “holy trinity,” with excellent songs up and down their catalog, the Mike Portnoy era stands out the most to me. That era of Dream Theater introduced the final piece of my drum set: the stacked cymbal. Like with every drummer, my influences are actually embodied in my drum set alone. Only when I get behind the kit does the musical influences come out. Dream Theater will always be a favorite band of mine even though they are the only band in my “holy trinity” I have not seen live. Maybe that will change, but maybe not. Only time will tell.

Avenged Sevenfold

Avenged Sevenfold was always one of those bands for me that I did not know what to think. The first A7X song I ever heard was “The Beast and the Harlot.” For the longest time, “The Beast and the Harlot” was the only Avenged Sevenfold song I had on my phone. At first, I did not know why I liked the song so much. It was a couple of years later that I discovered how incredible of a drummer Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan was. I once tried to play “Beast” on the drums. Only then did I appreciate Rev’s technicality and incredible drumming. After that, I decided to expand my A7X horizons, settling on “Nightmare” as the next song to add to my collection (another Mike Portnoy nugget that I found only about a closer listen).

Impressed with everything I heard, I dove straight into A7X’s discography. Nightmare (2010) and City of Evil (2005) remain two of my favorite metal albums. I also checked out Waking the Fallen (2003), which allowed me to fully appreciate A7X’s metalcore beginnings. Avenged Sevenfold (2007) felt like a continuation of City of Evil, while The Stage (2016) shows the band’s dabbling with progressive metal. “Exist” shows this best. A7X represents so many elements of my music taste. and although A7X does not influence my drumming, M. Shadows and the guys made a lasting impression on me. I will always thank Avenged Sevenfold for broadening my musical horizons.

Trivium

The most recent find on this list, Trivium was always the gem band that was right under my nose. In 2009, I read a rock and metal music magazine that I got at Richmond International Airport. A list of the best metal albums of the decade was included in it, ranking Ascendancy (2005) in it. I thought nothing of it at the time. Fourteen years later, I realized just how much I had missed although my Trivium journey started with The Sin and the Sentence (2017) instead. For most of my final semester in college, I listened to only a handful of bands with Trivium being one of the most-listened-to bands.

Trivium was my band of the year for 2017, as I explored their entire catalog over a four-week period before classifying them as one of those gateway bands for me. In early 2018, Trivium was my obsession band. I blasted Shogun (2008) and In Waves (2011) on repeat. Matt Heafy is quite the talent, and I cannot impress how influential Trivium has been in broadening my horizons regarding screaming vocals. Such harsh vocals are not for everyone, but some amazing bands are worth checking out when those harsh vocals are paired with clean vocals. The Sin and the Sentence and Ascendancy balance these two vocal styles perfectly, making Trivium a perfect bridge band.

Like Rush, Iron Maiden, Dream Theater, and Avenged Sevenfold, Trivium offers something new that I had not encountered before. Trivium’s heaviness included melodic, multi-layered guitar solos, technical drumming, and thought-provoking lyrics. Combined with the metalcore elements, Trivium embodies metal at various eras. Trivium also had an amazing collection of drummers backing Paolo, Corey, and Matt. Travis Smith’s first four albums set the tone, while Alex Bent has carried the proverbial touch without hesitation. Without Trivium, my interest in metalcore, death growls, and screaming would surely not exist.

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