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The historical origin of progressive metal is tied heavily to the revolutionary style pioneered by 70s rock outfit Rush. Musically it tends away from traditional structures, and goes both down the road of virtuoso musicianship and heavily varied progressions. Lyrically there is even less attentiveness to conventional approaches, as sci-fi and fantasy concepts, social and political awareness; and the twisted realm of introspective storytelling (often dealing with madness) are only some of the many subjects that are open to the writer.
Although much credit should also be given to Black Sabbath and several members of the NWOBHM for paving the way for the merging of Rush’s progressive innovations with heavier music, the advent of Progressive Metal first shows itself on this album, Queensryche’s “The Warning”. Like every pioneering effort, this album does not conform to the genre that it spurred, but instead is a hybrid of many potential outcomes. This album carries as many Power Metal elements musically as it does Progressive elements in its lyrical subject matter, and listens more as a Power/Prog. Hybrid than the more Rush oriented Prog Metal style of acts such as Ayreon and Dream Theatre.
The music on here carries a heavy amount of NWOBHM influences. The title track, “Before the Storm”, and “Deliverance” all could pass for songs put out by Judas Priest/Iron Maiden, save Geoff Tate’s remarkably distinctive vocal style. “En Force” and “NM 156” are a bit more progressive, carrying some tasteful keyboard use and odd time beats. “Take Hold of the Flame” and “No Sanctuary” carry some inspired acoustic/clean guitar devices, yet keep the metal edge nicely with triumphant choruses to contrast the darker quiet sections.
My two picks for musical highlights on this album are the closing 2 tracks, which are about as different as night and day. “Child of Fire” is pure metal, from start to finish, in the vain of Iron Maiden. The driving main section of the song and the contrasting slow section are highly reminiscent of such classic Maiden songs as “22 Acacia Avenue” and “The Drifter”. By contrast, “Roads to Madness” is a progressive magnum opus that takes its cues from both the Sabbath Bloody Sabbath/Sabotage era of Ozzy Osbourne Sabbath and the Ronnie Dio era. Structurally the contrasting sections carry some similarities to such tracks as Megalomania and The Writ, although in terms of riffs and melodies it has similarities with Heaven and Hell.
Lyrically this album is pretty much a concept album, although in the sense of an overall theme connecting all the songs, rather than a specific storyline. Mostly this album deals with social awareness through Sci-Fi and Drama based metaphors, although the closing track reveals a more philosophical tendency that is reminiscent of transcendental idealism. From start to finish the lyrics are thought provoking, yet simultaneously dark and lacking in optimism, save perhaps the more uplifting words of “Take Hold of the Flame”.
It is here that we see a separation between Queensryche and Rush, as the socio-political themes of this album are highly collectivistic, which clashes with Neil Peart’s advocacy of Ayn Rand’s philosophy of rational egoism. The result is a musical rehash of the politics of George Orwell, whom was an apologist for collectivism, yet simultaneously a critic of its inevitable results when they came to light. Although his books, like this music, are highly entertaining and thoughtful, philosophically they carry little significance for someone seeking answers to the questions that these works pose. It does not take away from the value of the art work, but it does shine the light of perspective upon the inequality between the different philosophical viewpoints that are championed by various artists.
In conclusion, this is a piece of metal history that ought to be considered by anyone who loves NWOBHM, Power Metal, Progressive Metal, or any other style that seeks to break down barriers. It is the greatest full length work ever put out by this band. It has a top notch production and has aged better than many other albums that were recorded during 1984.