Jeff Wagner, former editor of Metal Maniacs, has produced an invaluable compendium with his new book, Mean Deviation: Four Decades of Progressive Heavy Metal. The history of prog metal starts with the genesis of progressive rock back in the late ’60s with the appearance of King Crimson, and moves all the way through, right up to the modern era, with bands such as Between the Buried and Me and Mastodon, “bands whose histories are still very much in the making.”
The book, covering the history such as it does, is jam-packed with names. It seems that Wagner is determined to give everyone in the genre of progressive metal (as well as the tangentially-related field of technical metal) a sentence or two. The “Big Three” of Queensryche, Dream Theater, and Fates Warning all get lengthy focus, as do progressive forebears Rush. However, the smallest and most cult of all bands get some form of mention, even if just a line dismissing them.
The description of Finland’s Funcunt is a perfect example of how Wagner can simultaneously give coverage to and make mockery of a band:
“Later morphing simply into F, Funcunt/F was too weird for words. Songs like the twenty-minute “Pronimo” and 1993’s I-III album will forever wallow in the furthest corners of obscurity. Don’t look for them. You probably won’t find them, and if you do, you probably won’t like them.”
With so many bands and names, it’s a good thing Wagner has a sense of humor that’s well on display throughout Mean Deviation. Lines such as “Get your geek helmet on, people, we’re going in…” lessen the barrage of innumerable Swedish, Norwegian and Finnish names. Cornelius Jakhelln of Solefald is one of the more easily pronounceable names in the history.
It should go without saying at this point that Mean Deviation is not for the lightly interested. The casual fan of metal or progressive rock is going to find themselves lost in a morass of names, time signatures, and genres. The earlier chapters, which focus on a single band at a time, are much easier to navigate than the latter two-thirds of the book, in which the band names come fast and furious, barely giving the reader a moment to absorb one before two more are thrown at them. Only the patient reader will make it through this as entertainment.