15 albums that shaped progressive post-hardcore in the 2000s
Post-hardcore and progressive rock have merged in various aways over the past few decades and continue to do so. This edition of In Defense of the Genre looks at 15 2000s albums that shaped this sound.
Hardcore may have emerged as a reaction to the complexity and bombast of progressive rock, but music genres don't stay enemies forever. Eventually, hardcore bands started branching out from the genre's short/fast/loud formula to the point where they had to start calling it post-hardcore, and later on, post-hardcore bands started fully embracing the exact era of '70s progressive rock that the original '80s hardcore bands rejected. By the mid 2000s, progressive post-hardcore was a full-fledged subgenre, and it's a sound that continues to grow and influence new bands today. By the 2010s, a whole new wave of progressive post-hardcore bands had developed, many of them signed to Dance Gavin Dance guitarist Will Swan's label Blue Swan Records (who coined the term "swancore" to define the wailing, upper-register vocals and tech-y riffs that most of the label's bands employed), and today we're hearing the frenzied sounds of 2000s progressive post-hardcore pop up in many of the best new post-hardcore, screamo, and metalcore bands. Whether it's the shapeshifting song structures, the complex musicianship, the theatrical vocals, or the overall grandiosity of it all, the style of 2000s post-hardcore continues to creep back to the forefront of punk-derived music. It feels more influential now than ever.
With these sounds coming back, it seemed like a good time to look back on 15 albums that shaped the sound of progressive post-hardcore during the 2000s. Some of these bands were hugely popular, but a lot of them had niche audiences, and only recently have been starting to get re-evaluated as groundbreaking bands. Some of them tap directly into '70s progressive rock, while others are more spiritually progressive, and not necessarily pulling from the sounds of the 1970s. Some of these bands are also mathcore, but not every mathcore band is a progressive post-hardcore band and vice versa. Some lean towards screamo and metalcore, while others primarily favor clean vocals. Some of these bands frequently ran in the same circles back in the day, but some of them came from totally different scenes than the others. I tried to widen the scope of progressive post-hardcore enough to include an array of different bands, but as with any subgenre list, there are always gonna be some close calls that ultimately don't feel like they fit. For example, mewithoutYou's Brother, Sister and Thrice's The Alchemy Index fall somewhere near this universe but I think they'd be more accurately described as art rock than progressive rock. The atypical song structures of Circle Takes The Square's screamo classic As The Roots Undo made that a contender too but I think it's more experimental than prog. The Dillinger Escape Plan and Between The Buried and Me are definitely progressive, but they feel more metalcore than post-hardcore. This might all be splitting hairs, but lines need to be drawn somewhere and it felt right to draw them here.
As with any list representing an entire decade with just 15 albums, I'm sure tons are missing, so leave your favorite 2000s progressive post-hardcore albums in the comments. Read on for my list, unranked, in chronological order...
The Mars Volta - De-Loused in the Comatorium (2003)
At The Drive-In had already pushed post-hardcore in a more progressive direction on their final pre-reunion album, 2000's immortal Relationship of Command, but when vocalist Cedric Bixler-Zavala and guitarist Omar Rodríguez-López started their next band The Mars Volta, they went full-on prog, and pretty much became the first post-hardcore band to do so this blatantly. The energy and volume of their previous band still informed the songwriting on The Mars Volta's 2003 debut LP De-Loused in the Comatorium, but so did the mind-melting prog riffage of King Crimson and the psychedelic Latin jazz-rock freakouts of Santana. The Mars Volta almost singlehandedly introduced the influence of those bands into the contemporary punk scene, and they did them justice too. This wasn't a case of imitation; De-Loused in the Comatorium felt as groundbreaking in 2003 as In the Court of the Crimson King and Abraxas did three decades earlier, and like those albums, it still sounds timeless today. Cedric had already honed his singing voice by Relationship of Command, but he was belting it on this album in a way you never would've guessed he could in the ATDI days. Likewise, Omar was fleshing Relationship of Command out with dizzying lead guitar, but on this album he's a straight-up guitar hero. And matching the over-the-top prog of the instrumentation is the fact that it's lyrically a concept album based on an accompanying short story about a man who overdoses and enters a coma. The whole thing is as excessive and flashy as '70s rock ever get, but it still hits as hard as Cedric and Omar did in their previous lives as hardcore kids. The Mars Volta would get more progressive and less post-hardcore as their career went on, but De-Loused will always remain one of the first, best, and truest examples of 21st century progressive post-hardcore.
Coheed & Cambria - In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 (2003)
Sure, The Mars Volta released an album with an accompanying short story, but Coheed & Cambria has an entire ongoing comic book series that all but one of their nine albums are based on. The series began with their 2002 debut album The Second Stage Turbine Blade, a post-hardcore album that flirted with prog, but it was on their 2003 sophomore album In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth: 3 that they fully fused post-hardcore with progressive rock. The difference is clear off the bat -- the album's first proper song clocks in at over eight minutes and goes on all kinds of musical journeys with all kinds of proggy fretwork -- and this album just goes further down the prog rabbit hole from there. It has a three-song suite ("The Camper Velourium" parts I, II, and III) that gets weirder and weirder as it goes on, and the album ends with two consecutive nine-plus minute songs, one of which marries floating Pink Floyd atmospheres to a classic rock wah solo and one of which channels the zany math-prog of Rush. (It's also worth noting that Claudio Sanchez's voice has been compared to Geddy Lee's for his entire career.) Some parts are more overtly '70s-inspired than others, but what made Coheed such a force in the early 2000s is that they really took the concept of prog and made it feel new; they didn't just borrow ideas from the genre's early days. They also snuck in a few screams borrowed from '90s screamo, and this album managed to produce two of the most prominent hits of the emo-pop boom ("A Favor House Atlantic" and "Blood Red Summer"). It's a significant feat that they were able to fit such concise, addictive pop songs on a sprawling prog album; what would Moving Pictures be without "Tom Sawyer" and "Limelight"?
These Arms Are Snakes - Oxeneers or the Lion Sleeps When Its Antelope Go Home (2004)
With members of Botch, Minus The Bear, Kill Sadie, and other bands, These Arms Are Snakes were basically a supergroup of punk-scene musicians with math rock chops. On their debut album, they did kind of an indie/post-hardcore thing -- heavier than Minus The Bear but lighter than Botch and Kill Sadie, and with plenty of synth -- and they used those chops to inject their post-hardcore songs with prog-level complexity. The result is an album that kind of toes the line between math rock and progressive rock, finding time for both the bouncy rhythms of the former and the drawn-out passages of the latter. Their post-hardcore side was vicious -- somewhere between At The Drive-In and early Blood Brothers -- and their songs were catchy too. This is an album that never gets bogged down by its complexity; you can sing to it and dance to it even if you aren't paying attention to Ryan Frederiksen's fretboard workouts.
The Sound of Animals Fighting - Tiger and the Duke (2005)
Two months before Anthony Green released his first album with Circa Survive (and after he had released music with Saosin, High and Driving, Zolof the Rock and Roll Destroyer, and other projects), he lent his voice to the debut album by the supergroup/collective The Sound of Animals Fighting. Circa Survive (more on them soon) had a progressive take on post-hardcore that veered towards atmospheric psychedelia, but TSOAF took a more traditionally prog approach and they also honored the "hardcore" part of "post-hardcore" more than Circa. Some of the gnarliest screams of Anthony Green's career are on this album, and the band -- which on this album featured three RX Bandits members and two Finch members -- churned out some of the most kickass proggy post-hardcore riffs of the 2000s on this LP. TSOAF may have been second fiddle to the members' main bands as far as live shows went (they've played 14 shows total, the first two of which were turned into their essential We Must Become the Change We Want to See DVD), but they took this band way too seriously in the studio for it to be considered a "side project." Tiger and the Duke was one of the most unique albums to come out of this whole scene at the time, and there's still almost nothing that sounds like it. It was as proggy and mind-bending as The Mars Volta but as heavy as Glassjaw, and even that description sells it short.
The Receiving End of Sirens - Between the Heart and the Synapse (2005)
If there's one word to describe the debut album by The Receiving End of Sirens, it's "big." It clocks in at 70 minutes, it employs stadium-sized production, and it features three guitarists and three lead singers, along with seven guest vocalists (including Anthony Green on two tracks). It incorporates everything from sugary emo-pop to chugging metalcore to ambient interludes to electronic industrial rock and more, and it's structured like a '70s prog concept album, frequently eschewing typical verse-chorus-verse song structures and having each song flow directly into the next. Recurring lyrics and melodies appear throughout the album, often delivered with the kinds of multi-part harmonies that you rarely hear in post-harcore. The clean-sung vocals are as wailing as '70s prog bands, and the screams are as harsh as '90s screamo and metalcore. The lead guitar has classic prog complexity while the chunky, power chord-driven rhythm guitar is about as Warped Tour as it gets. After this album, co-lead vocalist Casey Crescenzo would leave the band to focus on his own project, The Dear Hunter, who were a lot more prog and a lot less post-hardcore than TREOS, and TREOS would release their second and final album without him, The Earth Sings Mi Fa Mi. Good stuff came out of both projects, but none of it ever existed at the exact intersection between post-hardcore and progressive rock like Between the Heart and the Synapse did.
Gospel - The Moon Is A Cold Dead World (2005)
Gospel's sole full-length The Moon Is A Dead World indulged in the dizzying riffage of classic '70s prog rock, the droning atmosphere of space rock, and the hypnosis of psychedelic rock, all while keeping one foot firmly planted in classic-style screamo. It made for an album that still sounds like virtually nothing else in the world. It's got all the harsh, impassioned shouts and beautiful aggression that you hope for from screamo, and it trips you the fuck out too.
The Number Twelve Looks Like You - Nuclear. Sad. Nuclear (2005)
NJ's The Number Twelve Looks Like You got lumped in with mathcore, but their constantly-shapeshifting song structures and complex musicianship was really rooted more in prog than in math rock. Their great 2005 sophomore album Nuclear. Sad. Nuclear does share a lot of traits with mathcore and math rock bands, but there's an obvious jazz fusion influence on their cleaner passages and the shredding leads that populate this album are pure prog rock. The album rarely stays in the same place for more than like 15 seconds. Any given song is likely to constantly change timbre and tempo and incorporate anything from screamo to death metal to grindcore to post-rock, but you really need to hear the album as a whole to get a full grasp on this band's musical ambition.
The Fall of Troy - Doppelgänger (2005)
Bands like The Mars Volta, Coheed, and Circa Survive were huge back in the day, but the comparatively underrated The Fall of Troy have recently been emerging as one of the most influential 2000s progressive post-hardcore bands on today's new bands. They get namedropped more and more as an influence, and if you didn't know any better, you could mistake their seminal 2005 album Doppelgänger as something from today's heavy music scene. It was their second album but first for Equal Vision and featured re-recordings of four songs from their self-titled 2003 debut, so it really felt like their proper introduction and it's got all the ingredients of their unique sound on display: flashy math rock riffs, proggy song structures, and a flamboyant scream/sung mix that owed as much to '90s screamo as it did to 2000s emo-pop. Doppelgänger's an album that can be appreciated by guitar nerds and radio listeners alike, and that "best of both worlds"-ness is a big part of what makes it stand the test of time. It's got more musicality than a lot of the pop-screamo bands it sounds like on the surface, and unlike a lot of TFOT's tech-y peers, it's got big hooks that stick in your head for years.
Protest The Hero - Kezia (2005)
Ontario's Protest The Hero formed in the early 2000s as a punk band, but by the time they released their 2005 debut full-length Kezia, they sounded like an amalgamation of some of the best post-hardcore of the early 2000s, progressive and otherwise. In true prog rock form, it's a concept album (about the execution of a young woman named Kezia, and with a political undertone that railed against the right-wing politicians of the time), and musically it pulls from the wailing clean vocals and flashy leads of Coheed/Mars Volta, the metallic riffage of early Thrice, the powerhouse choruses of My Chemical Romance, and more, but Protest The Hero always make it their own. Sometimes it's heavy enough to qualify as metalcore, other times it's as prog as prog gets. It's heavy, catchy, and complex, and it's constantly changing shape -- the prog comes through not just in the technical musicianship and grandiose singing but also in the unique structures of these songs. Protest The Hero would prove to be lifers who still write good music today (a lot of people would pick PTH's 2008 sophomore album Fortress as their favorite), but they never made another album like Kezia. All the over-the-top ambition you could ask for is on this album, but it still has that raw punky edge of their early EPs/demos which they'd shed after this album. That clash between punk attitude and prog excess is what makes Kezia such a unique album within both genres.
Fear Before The March of Flames - The Always Open Mouth (2006)
Colorado's Fear Before The March of Flames arrived on the early 2000s scene as a screamo-y post-hardcore band, but by their third album, The Always Open Mouth, they'd morph into something far more ambitious and experimental. This album featured guest vocals by Circa Survive/Sound of Animals Fighting's Anthony Green, and its self titled followup (released just under the name Fear Before) featured members of The Fall of Troy, Portugal. The Man, Heavy Heavy Low Low, and more, and FBTMOF really ended up somewhere in a venn diagram with all of those bands. After primarily employing screamed vocals on their first two albums, The Always Open Mouth featured a vast array of different screamed and sung vocal styles, and the collage of instrumentals was far from typical post-hardcore. It's not prog in the flashy guitars sense, but in the sense that the album has so many different layers and textures and morphs into something drastically different at every turn. It uses glistening clean guitars, synths, and quietly sung vocals almost more than heavy guitars and screams, but it still feels distinctly like a post-hardcore album. It's "progressive" in more than one definition of the word, and nearly 15 years out from its release, I still can't really think of any other album that sounds like it.
Damiera - M(US)IC (2007)
Claudio Sanchez might sing kinda like Geddy Lee, but I think if Rush formed in the 2000s post-hardcore era, they'd sound more like Damiera. Like prime-era Rush, Damiera's near-perfect debut M(US)IC is constantly utilizing complex time signatures and technical playing from every single member, but at the end of the day, these are hook-driven rock songs. As mind-boggling as the musicianship is, you don't need to be a musician to appreciate this album. Dave Raymond's voice is forceful and punchy, and these songs are as catchy as they are heavy and mathy. (And if you really need an easy in, "Via Invested" is damn near radio-friendly.) These are songs that grab you on first listen and stick with for years, and it's rare that music so welcoming is also so original.
Circa Survive - On Letting Go (2007)
The same year Equal Vision released Damiera's debut, they put out another progressive post-hardcore classic, Circa Survive's sophomore album On Letting Go. Circa Survive had arrived fully formed on their 2005 debut LP Juturna (not surprising as the members had all previously been in notable bands including Saosin, Taken, and This Day Forward), and On Letting Go has always felt like the other side of Juturna's coin. Both albums have immaculate production by Brian McTernan, and both have the same overall sound, which Circa Survive would begin to depart from on their third album and major label debut Blue Sky Noise (produced by prog legend and Tool/King Crimson collaborator David Bottrill). I could've picked Juturna for this list, as that's the album that started it all and also a classic, but I always find myself coming back to On Letting Go the most. They'd further refined and perfected the Juturna sound by this album, and they'd simultaneously gotten more proggy/complex and more catchy. On Letting Go had the backbone of a post-hardcore band (though Anthony Green didn't scream on it like he did in Saosin and TSOAF), but Anthony Green's angelic singing and the band's atmospheric instrumentals always reminded me more of the modern prog of a band like Mew than of any other post-hardcore band. The guitars are constantly off in psych/prog space, noodling and creating soundscapes and basically never resorting to a standard punk/hardcore style, but the forceful drumming, implied chord progressions, and Anthony's barrage of hooks made this album a hit with the emo-pop crowd. It doesn't sound anything like '70s prog, but Circa Survive used the prog mindset to write songs that, over a decade later, still sound futuristic.
Dance Gavin Dance - Dance Gavin Dance (2008)
2000s progressive post-hardcore was kind of the result of a bunch of different post-hardcore bands trying their hands at progressive rock all at once. A lot of these bands ended up collaborating and touring together, but it took a few years for this to seem like a coherent subgenre. When the next wave of progressive post-hardcore bands cropped up at the turn of the 2010s, they very much had a specific shared sound in mind. That sound got dubbed "swancore," and the person who coined it was Dance Gavin Dance guitarist (and Blue Swan Records founder) Will Swan. Dance Gavin Dance served as the direct bridge between the early 2000s bands and the 2010s bands (many of whom were signed to Blue Swan). They took the influence of a lot of the earlier bands on this list and they bottled it up and stirred it around until it sounded like an accessible blend of just about all of them. Their self-titled sophomore LP is their second album and first with clean vocalist Kurt Travis (who would go on to front A Lot Like Birds and also has a band with The Fall of Troy frontman Thomas Erak, among many other projects), following their 2007 debut with now-controversial vocalist Jonny Craig. Kurt's a real wailer who can sometimes sound like a cross between Anthony Green and Casey Crescenzo, and Will Swan's mind-melting riffage exists somewhere in the middle ground between The Fall of Troy and The Mars Volta. Sometimes prog bands get a little too polished, and DGD definitely flirt with the cleaner side of the genre, but they keep things gnarly thanks to screamer Jon Mess, who clearly learned his screaming chops from '90s screamo and splits vocal duties almost 50/50 with Kurt on this LP. (They also had some guest vocalists on this album, including none other than Deftones frontman Chino Moreno.) When this album first came out, it might've seemed like a product of its influences, but at this point, DGD have become a highly influential (and long-lasting and consistent) band themselves, and this decade-plus-old sophomore LP still holds up.
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La Dispute - Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair (2008)
La Dispute's debut album really didn't come out much later than albums on this list by artists who are associated with the turn-of-the-millennium post-hardcore boom, but La Dispute were on the rise as those bands were fizzling out, so they became part of what was eventually called the new wave of post-hardcore. The new wave really hit its stride in the early 2000s, but La Dispute had already released a landmark album a few years before that. Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair is a collage of sounds, which pulled from mewithoutYou's speak-shouting, Circle Takes the Square's shapeshifting screamo, '70s progressive rock riffs, atmospheric jazz rock, tribal drums, groovy bass, spoken word, and still more. Later albums would get lyrically deeper and more conceptual, but vocalist Jordan Dreyer had already begun proving himself as a modern-day punk poet on this one. He's got a Colin Meloy-like ability to reference decades- or centuries-old texts while still making music that's emotionally resonant and highly accessible in a contemporary context. You can dissect it from a literary standpoint and you can also view it as a pained breakup album. It's got instant singalong crowdpleasers ("Such Small Hands," "Said the King to the River," "Bury Your Flame"), and it's also got more out-there stuff like the 12-minute prog trip "The Last Lost Continent," a song which remains an anomaly in La Dispute's catalog. Jordan's hooks make it a welcoming album for casual fans, while the album's many complex intricacies keep the music nerds happy. And if you like prog for its capital-R Riffs, this album remains a highly rewarding album for that. It's not just shredding/noodling; the riffs on songs like "Damaged Goods" or "Bury Your Flame" are as air guitar-worthy as they are hummable and memorable.
Trophy Scars - Bad Luck (2009)
In 2006, NJ post-hardcore band Trophy Scars band pushed the genre to its limits with the genre-defying concept album Alphabet. Alphabets., and with its 2009 followup Bad Luck, they pushed the genre in another direction, this time embracing '60s/'70s prog and bluesy psychedelia. Vocalist Jerry Jones adopted a gravelly, Tom Waits-y rasp, and while Alphabet. Alphabets. had a composite art rock structure, Bad Luck felt much more sprawled-out and improvisational. The songs are peppered with searing guitar solos and jazz sax, and they ebb and flow like the loftiest albums of the '70s prog era. Like a lot of prog, it works best as a full album, and it's sequenced in a way where it builds and builds and achieves its most cathartic payoff at the end. Penultimate track "Years So Much" is the album's most proggy and meandering, and closer "Good Luck" is its most climactic and suspenseful.
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