Just like thrash metal has their “Big 4,” progressive metal has its “Big 3” of Dream Theater, Fates Warning and Queensryche. After tracing the evolution from progressive rock to progresssive metal, Wagner uses those bands as the touchstone of the book, as they influenced and spawned countless bands that followed. He takes the reader on a ride across the globe, from Canada's Voivod to Germany's Mekong Delta to Sweden's Opeth to Florida's Cynic, revealing the breadth and depth of progressive metal.
The difficult part about writing a history of progressive metal is that it crosses over into so many other genres like death, thrash and black metal. What makes it even cloudier is that some bands had progressive influences briefly, maybe even for one album, before returning to their roots. There's so much information to absorb in Mean Deviation that it's a book best enjoyed slowly. I read it over a period of weeks, stopping to listen to many of the bands mentioned, which made both the book and the music more impactful.
Wagner does a good job untangling the equivalent of a 28 minute song and editing it down to a digestible 4 minute track. He also adds in plenty of stories and background information on the bands and albums that make it more than a dry list of discographies and timelines. And at the end of the book, he includes a slush pile of progressive bands that need to be mentioned, but weren't appropriate or there wasn't enough space in other chapters.
I imagine it was a Herculean task to research and put together a book of this magnitude, but the end result of Mean Deviation: Four Decades Of Progressive Metal is a comprehensive history of the genre that fans will enjoy, and future music scholars will use as an essential reference guide.
(published December 2010 by Bazillion Points)