The TAM Trade
Nearly thirty years ago, progressive metal began its hesitant journey into the ears of heavy listeners. The budding genre had strong competition from both sides: the loyal progressive rock base with the likes of Pink Floyd and Yes, and strong metal bands, Metallica for instance. More similar to progressive rock, the progressive metal genre was intensely interested in artistic purity and integrity. The staple for which progressive metal became known for is it’s compositional complexity. Long passages of music, sometimes nearing twenty minutes or more, were filled with complex rhythmic structures and incredible virtuosity. The first wave of progressive metal bands, Dream Theater and Queensrÿche, interestingly were more influenced by rock musicians, not metal. These musicians, and others of the time, were usually self-taught, though not always, and played in novice rock bands. They fleshed out the progressive metal genre with the tools they had instead of trying to invent, or acquire, external gear.
Today, progressive metal has become widely varied, but there are a few similar traits from the earlier times that each band shares. The top trends of the genre, artistic integrity and virtuosic passages, are very much prevalent in each progressive metal band. Additionally, each new-age band utilizes some form of exotic technology. For example, most bands use abstract electronic noises in their songs, strange and unusual recording techniques, or using very distant instrumentation. Animals as Leaders and Periphery, two frontrunners for the new age, both make use of 8-string guitars, harnessing their power for perhaps the first time in the genre.
Along with the pair, current new age progressive metal groups have learned from their ancestors: Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and so on. The previous generation also studied from their respective ancestors. Progressive metal is very respectful to the ones that came before; sharing musical ideas, compositional techniques, and performance. And it’s very interesting to see this musical communication: Dream Theater has a very particular sound in their compositions, usually a strong ostinato in the bass, doubled with low guitars, playing a very steady, yet syncopated riff with decorated melody in higher registers. Periphery has latched onto this rhythmic and melodic contrast and use it very frequently. Similarly, Periphery has a certain method of playing arpeggios in which they will play the arpeggio, on guitar, normally ascending, however descending, will sustain the notes, resulting in a chord. Depending on the originally arpeggio, they can get some very wild results. On Dream Theater, the band’s latest album of the same name, they use this same technique developed by Periphery, despite Periphery being a relatively recent band. Unsurprisingly, fans of the genre also try to mimic this copying tradition. Instead of searching through the old musical tomes, progressive metal learns from itself and the ones who came before. Fans listen to their heroes on the radio and try to copy what they do. However, because of this interest in copy, in a genre that does not use household techniques, the industry has taken a closer look at the developing genre.
Endorsements are never unusual, especially in the modern age with popular music and the internet. However, never before has the industry taken such an intense interest in progressive metal. In fact, because of its increasing popularity, the advertisements and endorsements seem to be increasing exponentially. But it is not a coincidence; the industry is always interested in increased profits, and this genre is a perfect place for such business. In effect, modern progressive metal musicians must forsake their heritage: the harbingers have to “sell-out” their sound or gear to these companies so that they can be marketed toward the new bands coming up.
The equipment that progressive metal musicians use is expensive. Recently, Ibanez has released a new advertisement featuring Tosin Abasi, the guitarist for progressive group Animals as Leaders, an instrumental band. In the ad, Abasi plays throughout the entire song “The Woven Web”, on Ibanez’ 8-string guitar. Abasi demonstrates an impressive display of virtuosity, and as a guitarist, his technique is incredibly fascinating. After all, Abasi himself is Nigerian that has grown up in a sort-of jazzy environment, transferred over to progressive metal. Abasi on guitar is undoubtedly never before seen on this planet. And as fascinating as he and his style is, Ibanez makes sure to let the viewer know that the guitar is “…his Ibanez signature TAM10, [doing] the talking in this intimate solo performance…” Indeed, with cutaways of a beautifully rendered and crafted instrument, Ibanez truly wishes to invite the viewer into a new style of guitar. The TAM10 is $1,300 in most retail stores, a considerable markup in price from most guitars. And even the most expensive guitars on the store racks only go up towards $600 to $900. But that’s not all, because of course the budding musician will have to invest in supplementary equipment, such as amplifiers, effects pedals, cables, heads and cabs, and plenty else. Pretty soon, the receipt is going to be rather costly. These are electric guitars and without that other gear, their potential is quite limited. But have no fear, all of this gear is readily accessible through Ibanez, and in fact will probably be a part of some package or deal.
Abasi is not alone. John Petrucci of Dream Theater also has his signature brand of 7-string guitars and amplifiers. Line 6 has their progressive line of effects and pedals. Prospective musicians, fans of the genre, seeing their idols with this equipment, will be compelled to buy through these companies because they are making their product so easy to obtain, if the wallet is fat enough, that is. It is a new time for technology, and it is readily evolving at the hands of the industry. And because of the progressive metal manifesto, using this technology is a key way to enter new sound territory. The industry then sells this equipment to interested musicians and rakes up huge profits. The album sales are just icing on the cake. Unlike before when technology was limited, musicians had no other choice but to get a normal 6-string guitar and the best amp that they could afford. But the standards now are different, requiring a 7-string at least, and it seems the growing trend is headed towards 8-string instrumentation. This is all for guitar, but it is similar for the other instruments of the band: bass, keyboard, and drums. And because the demand for the new gear is so high, the prices reflect that.