How prog is Prog magazine? (originally posted 24/11/13)

By ProgBlog, Mar 25 2014 04:59PM

It will come as little surprise to hear that I consider myself as an unreconstructed 70s progressive rock man and readers of my posts should get an inkling of my musical tastes and what makes me tick through the opinions I express. Since beginning my on-line commentary I’ve attempted to be as factually accurate as possible and, along with a number of texts ranging from the academic to the straightforward biography I’ve used to help me get my point across, I’ve always been able to refer to Prog magazine.

I subscribe to Prog and apart from missing editions 3 and 4 (before I realised it was a periodical and not just a one-off) and number 16 (which was immediately before I set up my subscription) I have an almost entire collection - I’ve subsequently misplaced my issue number 1. I even managed to get a copy of issue 2 (June 2009) “Prog’s Avant Garde Old and New” from Real Groovy records in Christchurch, NZ when on holiday in August 2009.

I accept that there is no way that a periodical dedicated to progressive rock could last for over 4 years by sticking to the music produced in the golden age of prog (1969-1978) or even by appending on the era of neo-prog. That there was a resurgence of interest in the genre during the mid-90s may be testament to the quality of the music but it was catalysed by the assimilation of the progressive ethos into metal. Commoditisation had given music a global outlook and prog metal began to arise in different parts of the world, most notably Scandinavia and the USA. This renewed interest in (or alternatively, a reduction in hostility towards) prog allowed the resurrection of King Crimson, who still felt the need to test the water by releasing the VROOOM EP in 1994. This incarnation of Crimson, the double trio, picked up from where the 70’s Crimson left off, complex and heavy, aligning themselves with prevailing trends and even touring with Tool in 2001. I believe it’s predominantly the links to metal that have allowed Prog magazine to thrive though, as is crucial to the raison d’être of the genre, there are obviously other links that continue to be acknowledged in articles as part of the prog family, including folk, jazz and as alluded to in the current edition of Prog that reflects of the output of Frank Zappa, contemporary classical composers.

I’m not in full agreement with the magazine’s coverage and have written to the editor on a number of occasions. Two letters were published in abbreviated form: one to prompt the readership into political-philosophical discussion; the other to point out that the content did seem to be a bit light on the sub-genre of RPI and the fact that the whole team had missed the rather important release of Le Porte Del Domani by La Maschera Di Cera, a conceptual follow-up to an acknowledged classic of Progressivo Italiano, Felona e Sorona by Le Orme. I’ve also submitted a couple of concert reviews because I’m sure I’d read a short piece encouraging the readership to share their experiences and writer (and fellow Crystal Palace fan) Dave Ling offers advice to would-be music journalists to send off articles to magazines. There was no acknowledgement of receipt of these reviews, which I find a little disappointing.

Getting out a full edition every six weeks obviously treads a difficult path, remaining relevant whilst retaining the ethos of progressive rock. I guess that the readership is mostly made up of people of my generation who have reached a stage in their life where they have disposable income and are happy to see a resurgence of interest in the music of their youth. Some of these people write in to say that they won’t ever buy the magazine again, feeling duped by the list of contents; others embrace new acts. I’m less inclined to buy into the new bands because most of them seem to simply incorporate progressively-inclined moments, rather than full-on prog. Listening to two recent albums, Lifesigns’ eponymous debut and Dimensionaut by Sound of Contact, left me thinking that though there were some nods to the golden era, be it in the keyboard tones or musical motifs, these were just well constructed rock albums, nicely produced and well-played prog-lite; a reasonable reference point might be Genesis immediately following the departure of Steve Hackett and consequently of little interest to me. A similar argument can be applied to Opeth, whose origins lie firmly in the metal genre. Their recent album Heritage is primarily metal, with a few progressive trills, despite the assertion of many that Opeth are now a prog band. The only challenging thing about this new breed is trying to identify the prog!

The magazine currently runs an Outer Limits section: “How Prog is...” This has included Queen and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band amongst others. This is recognition that there are acts that have at one stage or another showed progressive leanings but it runs contrary to the assertion in the second ever issue that there was a new wave of prog, exemplified by Muse, The Mars Volta and Radiohead. The right place for Muse, Radiohead and Elbow is surely in The Outer Limits where the progressive moments can be identified and discussed.

Overall, I’m pleased that I do subscribe to Prog. Without the magazine I’d have been too reluctant to give Anglo-Finnish Wigwam a chance and I’d never have picked up on the excellent Zappa-like Supersister (from a former regular column about prog from around the world) or the amazing Yak that sound like Steve Hackett, only they don’t have a guitarist, or what I regard as an Australian equivalent of Porcupine Tree, Anubis. Prog magazine covers sufficient genuine progressive rock but it also includes many column inches on what is, in my opinion, material that could be covered in alternative titles. Mostly, they get it just about right – but they’re still woefully inadequate at covering Progressivo Italiano, whether past or present.

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