The Birthing of a Self-Confessed Prog Nerd

Thinking back to my adolescence and the musical paths I chose to take while exploring my insatiable hunger for heavy metal as a youth, the fact that I spent at least a fourth of my formative years in Europe, even though I was born and raised in New Jersey, is probably what allowed me to seek out stuff that not many kids my age in Jersey, or America for that matter, were tuned in to at the time.

My first steps into progressive metal and rock were fairly accidental, ordering some Dream Theater and Rush albums on a whim from Columbia House back in the day, but as soon as I heard “Awake“ and “Moving Pictures“ respectively, I knew that this was the kind of rock music I gravitated to most. I was listening to the usual suspects, Black Sabbath, Ozzy, Pantera, Megadeth, and I remember that I always tapped into the bands that had more challenging and virtuosic playing more than anything else. From Megadeth and my fascination with Marty Friedman‘s playing, I got into Cacophony and soon began binging on Shrapnel Records releases, basking in the glory of over-the-top, complex guitar playing.

David Lazar Galić with Warrel Dane of Nevermore, 2000

Since I spent nearly all of my summers in Serbia, I was better exposed to the more melodic bands that some of my friends there were listening to, like Helloween and King Diamond, bands that none of my peers in the U.S. liked.

I also remember finding a haven in WSOU, Seton Hall’s Pirate Radio programs that played a lot of metal that you would never heard on normal rock stations, which were all playing grunge and nu-metal stuff that did not interest me in the slightest. I remember listening to a late night show in the early spring of 1997 that featured tracks from Fates Warning‘s then upcoming concept album “A Pleasant Shade of Gray“ and being completely blown away.

The summer of 1997 was probably the biggest turning point for me – the moment I discovered the progressive metal underground that I had been searching for all this time. I remember that my friend Dragan Mirković, who funny enough, plays in Temple of the Smoke, a band featured prominently on ProgSphere recently, brought over a CD sampler from some metal magazine he had bought, probably Metal Hammer.

Dragan and I played in a Megadeth tribute band for shits and giggles that summer and were hanging out a lot. I remember we were both also completely obsessed with Cynic‘s “Focus“ at the time as well. Anyway, one of the songs on this CD he brought over to me house was Symphony XOf Sins and Shadows. I literally shat a brick when I first heard that track, taped it over, and pretty much wore out the tape just listening to that song all summer. It was everything I ever wanted – the heavy, progressive staccato riffs of Dream Theater, the vocal harmonies of Queen, the guitar shredding of Cacophony, and the soaring and powerful Dio-esque vocals – I had found my new favorite band. I had also seen a video on some German metal show that was airing in Serbia at the time of a band called Elegy, the song “Visual Vortex“, which also floated my musical boat perfectly.

Coming back to New Jersey that September, it was my goal in life to seek out these CDs and get to know more about these great bands.

Of course, distribution for these types of bands was not that great at the time and I had to special order imports of both the Symphony X and Elegy albums, but money was not an issue for me and I was willing to pay well over 20 bucks for each. I had finally gotten a pretty decent computer at the time and started going online, which is where I was able to find small communities of people who listened to this kind of stuff. Of course, most were much older than I was, mostly guys who grew up in the 1980s and loved bands like Queensryche, Fates Warning, Crimson Glory. They were all very knowledgeable and also gracious, I remember people from these message boards constantly sending me tapes by mail of bands that I might dig, which is how I found about a ton of new stuff, really underground stuff like Psychotic Waltz, and a bunch of Magna Carta Records releases like Enchant, Altura and what have you.

Through these message boards I also stumbled onto the mail-order store of mighty prog titan Ken Golden. His Laser’s Edge store was where I ended up spending the lion’s share of my measly paychecks during the late 1990s.

I remember this period of my life as a consumer of music quite fondly, since it was a time where you often went out on a limb and purchased albums blindly after reading a short description, but since money was scarce as a teenager, the four CDs you bought that month were going to be in permanent rotation until you saved up some money for more. So even if the albums sucked a little, you were still listening to them. I remember that my first order from Laser’s Edge included Angra‘s “Angels Cry,” Superior‘s “Behind,” Stratovarius‘ “Visions” and Treasure Land‘s “Questions.” Treasure Land was the obvious stinker of the bunch, but I still played the fuck out of it and know it note for note to this day.

Even though this was a great period for my music-wise, let’s not kid ourselves, there were tons of mediocre Dream Theater, Fates Warning and Queensryche clones coming out at the time that I was digging but would probably never listen to again in my life, and some of the albums that were amazing to me at the time have aged pretty horribly, but there are a good amount of gems from this period of the international expansion of the progressive metal underground – these are the albums I will be trying to highlight in my column. The obscure diamonds in the rough that I think people who don’t have the history I have with the genre will still be able to enjoy today from a modern perspective. Hopefully you’ll find something you like as well.

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