The Great Discord: How progressive death pop is taking over the world

a press shot of the great discord

When The Great Discord released their debut album Duende back in 2015, its distinctive selling point seemed to be that no one knew quite where to place the Swedish quintet’s strange but accessible blend of metal oomph and melodic prog complexity. Emerging via revered label Metal Blade, it seemed to be aimed squarely at fans of music from the heavy end of the spectrum, and yet its prog ancestry was plainly audible to anyone with working ears. As singer and clavinet maestro Fia Kempe explains, the band themselves have also wrestled with the same identity crisis, which has led to a pleasingly idiosyncratic solution.

“When we wrote the first album, we felt like, ‘Okay, so what genre is this? Is it metal? Is it prog? What are we?’” she grins. “When the album came out, we got the question a lot. People like to put labels on everything so we came up with our own genre: progressive death pop. It fits our aesthetic and our concepts. We have all those influences in there, from the prog side to the pop structures and the metal thing too. Maybe progressive death pop is a new genre now.”

It’s not just for musical reasons that The Great Discord stand out. Their live shows have long been theatrical. Fia Kempe’s masked onstage persona – also known as Fia, helpfully – seems hewn from the purest of prog influences, while new album The Rabbit Hole is an elaborate but relentlessly catchy concept piece that twists Alice In Wonderland into a grotesque but mesmerising existential nightmare.

“The first album had 10 different tales and the Fia persona represented a human being and all the different states of mind, the good and the evil,” Kempe explains. “For this album we wanted more of a red thread, a story that you could follow. The concept of the rabbit character Ire grew stronger and stronger in my mind. I remember starting working on this intro track called Dimman, where you’re supposed to see how Ire comes crawling out of the forest and grabs hold of Fia and she’s enchanted by this charismatic megalomaniac rising out of the fire. Then this whole Alice-style story came up in my mind and everything just fell into place.”

Accompanied by a hardback storybook, written by Kempe and illustrated by fellow countryman Mattias Frisk, The Rabbit Hole could hardly be more prog‑friendly if it arrived at your front door wearing a cape. Somehow, though, The Great Discord have managed to maintain strong support in the metal scene too: evidence, perhaps, that blurring the lines is a noble pursuit with potentially great rewards. It’s certainly an aspect of her band’s approach that taps into Kempe’s admirable refusal to play a traditional female role in the music world.

“Fia is an entity – you’re not supposed to know if she’s good or evil or if she’s a man or a woman,” states the singer. “She’s supposed to be quite androgynous. I just never liked it when they put the label ‘female-fronted’ on a band when females are involved. I really wanted to wash those stereotypes away. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a woman or a man – if you enjoy the music, who the fuck cares?”

Well, quite. And when music is this distinctive and rich with detail, plummeting down this particular rabbit hole seems a very attractive proposition.

“We will always do our own thing,” Kempe says. “We have lots of plans, lots of crazy concepts and other crazy shit. We want to take over the world. Why wouldn’t you aim for that?”

Prog file:

Line-up: Fia Kempe (vocals, clavinet), Aksel Holmgren (drums), Gustav Almberg (guitar), André Axell (guitar), Rasmus Carlson (bass)

Sounds like: A melody-drenched collision between state-of-the-art prog metal and old school theatrics

Current release: The Rabbit Hole is out now via The Sign

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Dom Lawson

Dom Lawson has been writing for Metal Hammer and Prog for over 14 years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He also contributes to The Guardian, Classic Rock, Bravewords and Blabbermouth and has previously written for Kerrang! magazine in the mid-2000s.