‘Metal Evolution’ Makes Case for Rush as Prog Metal Pioneer

Heavy metal documentarians Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen in the last episode of their multi-part documentary, Metal Evolution, on the evolution of heavy metal make a compelling case that Rush is the indispensable band for the rise of progressive metal as a musical genre.

By being the first to combine the progressive rock elements of Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer, and Genesis, among others, with the heavy metal of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, Rush forged a path that continues to this day with bands like Tool and Mastadon.

What they’re doing in the 1970s, Mean Deviation author Jeff Wagner says in the documentary, is “they’re really toying with the new sound of the day, which is this really ultra heavy hard rock that doesn’t have a name yet, and they’re also grabbing for prog rock. So, I think it’s probably the first real significant bridging of those two worlds . . . ‘Bam!’ you’ve got Rush and you’ve got maybe prog metal.”

The full title of Wagner’s book is  Mean Deviation: Four Decades of Progressive Heavy Metal (Bazillion Points: 2010).

In his interview for the documentary, Geddy says he, Alex, and Neil were in agreement that they wanted to explore the more complex side of rock that progressive rock represented, but they never wanted to let go of their hard sound: “Even though we loved progressive music, we also loved to rock,” said Geddy.

2112 was the pivotal progressive metal album, says Jerry Ewing, editor of Classic Rock Magazine, because it showed heavy metal musicians that you can be as heavy as possible and still explore musical concepts and structural complexity. For “metal bands that had an interest in exploring a more progressive side, [the album showed] what they could do sonically, and because Rush had that hard edge to them, it opened up a whole new world to the metal head,” he says.

The timing of the record was key, says Wagner, because in 1976, when the album came out, all the biggest prog rock bands like Genesis, Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer were at their peak or peaking out. Rush, meanwhile, “were not only continually climbing but I think they were providing a heavier take on what these other bands were doing, so the people into Zeppelin and the people into Sabbath had this other place to go.”

In his interview, Geddy says the band’s move to shorter, more radio-friendly pieces in the 1980s wasn’t a move away from progressive metal; rather, it was a way for them to continue exploring progressive ideas but in a shorter format. Not to do that, Geddy says, was to risk becoming a stereotype or cliche.

Given the way Dunn and McFadyen end the documetary, with footage of Rush on its Time Machine tour playing one of its latest singles, “BU2B,” in Cleveland, it’s clear the filmmakers see Rush as returning to its progressive metal roots at the same time that bands it has inspired, including Tool and Mastadon, are enjoying critical as well as commercial success.

“Interesting music doesn’t have a due date on it,” says Tomas Haake of Swedish extreme metal band Meshuggah at the end of the documentary. “You can play Rush songs 50 years from now and it will still be something viable.  You kind of need that.  You’ll need to want to challenge yourself.”—Rob Freedman, Rush Vault

Watch episode 11:

Watch the documentary conclusion

 More This and That.

~ by rvkeeper on January 31, 2012.

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