As the five-string bassist in the tech-death destroyers Rivers of Nihil, it makes total sense that Adam Biggs loves prog-rock. For over the decade, the 33-year-old virtuoso has been making some of the most advanced and mind-melting music in his band's genre, combining the wandering complexity of progressive metal with the beastly force of a contemporary death-metal act.
Rivers of Nihil will unleash their latest opus, The Work, on Friday September 24th, but in advance of that, we wanted to learn more about Biggs' love for one of tech-death (and metal writ large's) mother genres.
"Progressive rock can be a surprisingly controversial point of discussion among its fans," Biggs says. "But I don't want to be controversial here. This is a genre of music that I love, and so this list is just that; 10 progressive rock albums that I think are great."
"Sure, you could point out more obscure gems from the movement like Camel and Gentle Giant," he says of the underrated Seventies bands. "Or maybe some that are a little more 'important' to the genre like Jethro Tull and Radiohead. But these are the ones I really like, the albums in this genre that have stood out to me the most over time."
From Between the Buried and Me to King Crimson, these are Biggs' 10 favorite prog records ranked accordingly.
Look, I know. I'm the 100,000th person to put this album on a list like this. We all know how good this record is, even if some of us don't know it directly. That's how ubiquitous this thing is. It's somehow the pack leader for a genre that's known for its oblique-ness and its push against popular rock songwriting while also being one of the most successful rock albums ever made. Almost every aspect of this thing is legendary at this point; the writing, lyrics, performances and overall flow are really second to none when you tally up the score at the end of the day. The only real flaw of this record is that it's maybe too perfect. It's definitely the big jock strolling down the halls of Prog-Rock High School holding up Frank Zappa for his lunch money, but damn if it isn't charismatic while doing it.
I could have chosen from a lot of modern prog records that had an impact on me (the first three The Mars Volta records), or even ones that fall into the more "metal" end of the prog spectrum (Meshuggah's Catch Thirtythree) to represent the list, but there's something about Colors that takes both the "modern" and "metal" tags and sort of makes them irrelevant, because at its core it's a lot closer to something that Seventies-era Yes might have been proud to write. It's got enough switch-ups and acrobatic playing to keep any of the best musicians on their toes, hooks to keep you humming for days and lyrics and imagery that really stick with you and flourish the more you explore them. I have a lot of personal traction with this one, too, probably because it's the only album on this list I was alive to experience at the time of its release. BTBAM playing this album front to back on the original Colors tour remains one of my favorite prog/metal/musical memories ever though, and I think it more than deserves a spot on any list like this.
I've had a rocky relationship with Rush. Their fans always make me feel like I don't love this band enough. Maybe that's true, but I find it hard to connect with anything they've done quite as effortlessly as I did with Moving Pictures. Every song on this thing is a goldmine. Catchy melodies, thoughtful lyrics and instrumental performances that are pretty much second to none. If there was ever a time where this band was more finely tuned then I've yet to discover it, but luckily this thing is so good that it doesn't really matter.
I think a long time ago, I heard a well known music critic call Emerson, Lake, and Palmer "musical sterility." I've also played this record for people who think it sounds like a piano falling down the stairs. These two opinions are both kind of correct, and they contradict one another in my opinion. Also, it's great! There's enough noisy bombast on this thing to make the beautiful moments on this record really pop (Greg Lake's vocal on "Stones of Years") while still feeling like the product of the insane genius of guys like this. This record is bonkers. Half sci-fi prog epic about a giant armadillo-tank-thing and half pop-rock record that explores the preposterous indifference of God? Yeah, sign me up.
Before Genesis did their damnedest to not go down with prog's ever-sinking ship in the Eighties, they were actually pretty good at making sure this thing was going to sink to begin with. Selling England by the Pound is my favorite Genesis record. It's just enough of a taste of their more out-and-out pop sound to come than some of their earlier stuff without it going way far into that territory like they eventually would. The thought of Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins shredding their asses off on a prog album almost seems a little too wild to be a real thing in today's context, yet here it is, and it's awesome.
Never enough credit to The Moody Blues, aka your, and definitely my dad's, favorite prog band. Days of Future Passed sets a lot of groundwork for progressive rock that tends to go somewhat unnoticed. It has just about everything you'd want in this style of music right there; a sweeping narrative that comments on our daily lives, fantastic performances and ground-breaking (for the time) stereophonic production. But where this album really sells itself almost entirely is on "Nights in White Satin." Justin Hayward's transcendent love-epic is so powerful that it's difficult to ignore, and strong enough to keep The Moody Blues from being anything less than prog royalty.
The 1980's were a tough time for the prog rock movement. New wave and punk came crashing in and burst the bombastic bubble of sequin-clad arena rock/prog bands like ELP in favor of something a little more grounded and gritty, and a lot of prog bands found themselves struggling to keep up. Of course, by this point, King Crimson had been lying low since their split after 1974's Red (another King Crimson album easily worth your time), but their return with Discipline sort of saved the genre's credibility in the long run. This album sits every bit as comfortably with pop records of the era like The Talking Heads' Remain in Light and David Bowie's Scary Monsters as it does with any other record on this list. King Crimson not only rode the tide with Discipline, they established that their level of creativity wasn't limited to a single idea and that's something even their biggest peers and rivals weren't ever able to do. Discipline is mind bending, wild, coolly calculated and heartfelt all at the same time.
By the time 1972 rolled around, Yes already had this thing pretty much figured out. They had huge hits and tons of respect from all corners of the music industry really. 1971's Fragile took them from the precipice of, "Are they the next Beatles?" directly to the front seat of the Seventies prog scene. But Close to the Edge is really where this band hits their stride. The title track is an album all by itself, it has so many gorgeous movements that it's hard not to feel like you're being spoiled rotten by the band as you listen, and the glorious release of the chorus, "I get up!/I get down!" is just incredible.
Not as bombastic and inscrutable as The Wall, and not nearly as commercially viable as Dark Side of the Moon or Wish You Were Here, Animals sits in an odd spot on the Pink Floyd continuum, but a spot that's probably the most overtly "prog" for them. It's an unusual thing when a mammoth hit-making machine like Pink Floyd puts the brakes on writing radio-ready rock anthems in order to go a bit deeper and really just sort of flex the muscle that writes the most interesting ten minute songs imaginable. Surprisingly slick, and expertly executed, Animals is a masterclass of prog song writing from a group of guys who really didn't even have to go that hard to prove they were this good.
To be honest; I could have made this entire list about King Crimson. So in lieu of that, I'll do the equivalent of doing my "prog-taxes" by putting this album at number one on my list. It's so influential and important to the genre that its exclusion from any list of this sort would be a crime on those merits alone. That would be all well and good, but the record is great on its own. It's breathtaking, surprising and heavy as hell when it needs to be. If you're on the fence about getting into prog because Dark Side of the Moon wasn't quite daring enough for you, you'd be well served by a retry of the genre in the form of Court.