What comes to mind when someone says the word progressive? While it may be a steady linear climb to a climax, in the realm of heavy metal, it can mean an endless sea of musical possibilities composed together in a way that exemplifies one or more progressions. On Saturday, June 17th, 2023, at Teragram Ballroom in Los Angeles, a predominantly progressive heavy metal tour spread their wings onto the stage. Headlining this tour was Florida’s Cynic, supported by their Florida neighbors Atheist and Los Angeles’ own Witherfall. All three of these bands have their progressive elements, and all three put them into a musical composition very differently.

A newish trend that seems to be happening at a few venues in Los Angeles is booking two completely different events in one night, which is just what they did this evening. The Cynic show began just before 6:30 pm, followed by another event, which happened to be a 90’s dance party, which began shortly after 10 pm. Three bands total at a metal concert with the attention span of people today seems to be the perfect amount, regardless of the early start. As Witherfall started the night around 6:30, they engaged with a smaller audience than they may have had if they had gone on later, but no matter because by the end of their magical set, the audience filled up the entire venue.

Witherfall is an interesting mix of heavy dark melodic, progressive metal with a touch of power metal. Joseph Michael’s vocals always soar to ultrasonic levels and eventually, return to sounds the human ear can comprehend. It creates a magical dynamic with Jake Dryer’s intense guitar riffs and solos. The “more than four-stringed” bass always sounds perfectly compatible with the guitars at hand. This is all interspersed with very progressive style drumming and some keyboard melodies that change up to mix up the progression from one to many, sometimes perhaps even overlapping. There is a complexity to the song structures that is admirable in its uniqueness. Joseph Michael also sporadically takes over on the double stack keyboard, and as he does this, the keyboardist will jump on rhythm guitar. This lineup definitely collaborates well, and the fluctuation of the music genres takes flight through the only constant, which seems to be the progressive beats.

After this successful set, the highlight, and perhaps the misfits of the predominantly progressive metal evening, hit the stage just before 7:30 pm. This band initially entered the Florida death metal scene in 1984 and continued a ten-year burst before disbanding. In 2006, they started up again, but to this day, the band only has four studio albums released, with another one set to finally release this year. Through thick and thin, vocalist Kelly Shaefer had now brought in a great team of players who are mostly from a generation that wasn’t even born when the band started. It’s obvious that Kelly Shaefer is giving back to the younger generation to get them involved in this timeless technical death metal that rendezvouses with thrash and progressive-style musical elements. Both guitarists have a knowledgeable grasp of the inner power of the tunes, and the skilled bassist also brings in his additional charm with some hair whipping and other stage antics. At the very end of this wildly entertaining set, the bassist held his bass out to the enthusiastic audience who played the last notes for him. Shaefer seemed very content with his well-trained team, even when he jokingly told the lead guitarist to stop smiling. It’s not death metal to smile too much, but it was good to see how much the band was enjoying playing to LA. Standing outside, witnessing a few moments where Shaefer would give a kind word to his fans, pose for a photo, or make room for an elderly lady to transport her cart down the street, was further proof that this man is a genuine soul.

Atheist has gone through many member transitions, but these hired young guns truly created a fresh new vibe that in no way discounts any of the original members who were not present on the stage. Highlights they ravished through were “The Formative Years,” “Fire,” “Water,” “I Deny,” “Unquestionable Presence,” and “Piece Of Time.” Overall, with Shaefer as great as ever and the audience plus some band members sporting the fresh blood of a younger generation, everyone at this all-ages show had a blast during the hour-long Atheist set.

What could possibly top that energy? As Cynic took the stage, they began to portray an opposite, more ethereal approach to their keyboard-heavy, no headstocks on the string instruments, progressive metal. Although they have a keyboardist, they chose to automate him during this tour. There were a few tunes that started with verbal backing tracks, plus with the well-timed recorded keyboard tracks, it wasn’t completely necessary to add the extra person on stage. Live human energy has its special moments of appreciation, however, that can’t be completely understood when the process is not being shown. All in all, they really gave a beautiful performance that flowed nicely as a completed set. Highlights for Cynic were “Celestial Voyage,” “I’m But A Wave To…,” “Uroboric Forms,” “Kindly Bent To Free Us,” and “Aurora.” Just before “Kindly Bent To Free Us” was a sage ritual where just main vocalist Paul Masvidal wandered around the stage honoring those members who have passed on from Earth.

What is unique in the way it is structured is the dueling of Paul Masvidal and Max Phelps with both their guitars and vocals. The primary cleanliness of Masvidal’s vocals, and the juxtaposition of Phelps’s growls, complete that “ethereal with an edge” progressive body of movement. Although they still focus on performing the ‘Focus’ album, they haven’t played live in eight years, so just hearing and witnessing them live was a treat. This marks their second show in Los Angeles this year, and it was still a packed house. Whether the audience is on a mind-altering substance or not, Cynic still has a beautiful live energy about them. This was yet another trio of compatible excellence on tour together. Stay metal, and stay excited for what’s coming next.