One of the beautiful things about progressive music is that it expects listeners to have more than a three minute attention span. These artists understand how to craft songs that are meant to be listened to in succession. Sure, it’s great to enjoy an à la carte selection from time to time, but many artists intend their albums to be greater than the sum of their parts.
For the committed listener, there is no greater pay-off than absorbing an entire album front to back, and discovering all of its secrets. One of the most powerful elements tying a concept together is the motif—those great moments when you notice something familiar, either consciously or subconsciously. With this in mind, I present to you my top five favorite prog metal callback moments:
- Insomnium—”Winter’s Gate pt. 2″ and “Winter’s Gate pt. 4” off Winter’s Gate
Sure, it’s a little cheap picking an album that originally was literally one song, but I chose these two tracks more because I appreciate how the theme is transformed from the first section to the next. The lyrics are the more direct tie-in than the melody. “Still I bear the flowers of pain. Still I bear the flowers of solitude.” The line is slightly wrist-cutty, but I still love how the words land within these two melodies.
- Ihsahn—”Undercurrent” and “On the Shores” off After
This one was a layup. After is one of the greatest concept albums of all time, and it bears one of the most memorable motifs as well. Aided by the inspired saxophoning of Jørgen Munkeby, “Undercurrent” delivers a gripping, soul crushing melody that returns with even more impact at the album’s conclusion, in “On the Shores.”
3. Pain of Salvation—”Chain Sling” and “Beyond the Pale” off Remedy Lane
PoS are masters of motif, and I had several moments to choose from. An interesting contender would be “Deus Nova” and “Latericius Valete” off the album Be—the lyrics of the former being simply a chronology of the population growth of the earth, and the only lyrics of the latter being “2,060 AD: 1.2 Million people.” Neat callback, chilling concept. But, Remedy Lane is the best. So….
2. Black Crown Initiate—”Stench of the Iron Age” and “Song of the Crippled Bull,” off Song of the Crippled Bull
Song of the Crippled Bull is a four track e.p. and the superb debut release from Black Crown Initiate. The e.p. is deliciously book-ended by these two sections. The latter is a very direct return to the opening theme, but I put this callback at number two off sheer impact. The first time I heard this, I was floored, and I highly recommend hearing the whole e.p. to get the full effect.
1. Devin Townsend—”Numbered” off Addicted and “Planet of the Apes” off Deconstruction
Okay, so this one makes my number one due to its subtlety and audacity. This is not a motif within a concept album. These songs aren’t even on the same album. These two passages share only six words and two bars of music. Devy decided to put this little wink and nod at the very climax of “Planet of the Apes,” an 11 minute behemoth of a song. I’ve included the parts both in larger context and then back to back.
So, those are my top five callbacks. I’m sure I forgot something obvious, or maybe you’ve got a favorite that I’m not familiar with. If you think my choices are crap, let me know why, and I’d love to hear your selections.