In the world of music, a rock opera is any album that tells a chronological story over the course of multiple songs. It’s certainly not a new idea; the term was originally coined in the 1960’s, and shows no signs of declining in popularity.

Less common, however, are instances where rock operas have been adapted into feature films. I’m going to address that oversight today by calling your attention to these five Hollywood-worthy rock operas.


Gazpacho – Demon

Released earlier in 2014, Demon is unquestionably a crowning achievement for this Norwegian band, and an important step forward for progressive rock. Gazpacho’s music has been described as “classical post-ambient nocturnal atmospheric neo-progressive folk world rock.” It’s a mouthful, but it’s true: this is some of the most evocative and mysterious music I’ve ever heard.

The band’s latest studio observation, Demon, concerns a journal found in a long-abandoned apartment by a previous tenant. The mad ramblings indicate that its author has spent his entire life traveling the world searching for the source of an “intelligent will” that has been pursuing him for hundreds of years. Yes, you read that right. In turns achingly beautiful, uncomfortably spooky, and devastatingly melancholy, Demon is a must-listen for any fan of experimental rock.


Dream Theater – Scenes from a Memory

This is the big one from Dream Theater. Released 15 years ago, Scenes from a Memory is still named by fans and critics as the band’s strongest album to date. If the storyline is slightly hard to follow, it’s only because there are about half a dozen characters and frontman James LaBrie uses the same vocal delivery for all of them.

Even so, it doesn’t hamper the musicianship or the quality of the story. The main character, a man named Nicholas, begins to see visions from another life that have a strong resonance with him on a personal level. After seeking help from a morally ambiguous hypnotherapist, Nicholas begins to pick up the shattered pieces of a previous lifetime. Musings on death, life, and predetermination abound.


Beyond the Bridge – The Old Man and the Spirit

Hailing from Germany, Beyond the Bridge are relative newcomers in the progressive metal scene. Thankfully, their inexperience doesn’t show in their masterful debut, The Old Man and the Spirit. While there’s certainly a continuing narrative that connects each track to the next, the album perhaps works best as a philosophical exploration of mankind’s limited perspective.

The story goes something like this: an old man is reflecting on his life – the good times and the bad, the triumphs and the many mistakes – and he finds himself wishing for the proverbial meaning of life: the fabled nugget of wisdom that will help it all make sense. As a result, he enters into a Faustian bargain with a mysterious spirit who promises to show him the meaning of life.


Devin Townsend – Ziltoid the Omniscient

I like referring to Devin Townsend as the “mad scientist” of the metal world. He’s not only one of the most prolific musicians working right now, but he’s also one of the most experimental: his discography, more than 20 albums strong, features a truly stunning variety of musical styles including extreme metal, progressive rock, bluegrass, new age, ambient, and electronica.

Released in 2007, Ziltoid the Omniscient was Devin’s eighth solo album. The story – there’s no two ways about it – is deliciously absurd. The titular Ziltoid, an ostensibly omniscient alien being, attempts to invade earth in order to seize what he’s been promised is the “perfect cup of coffee.” Like everything Devin does, Ziltoid is steeped in metaphors, social commentary, and existential crises.


Ayreon – The Theory of Everything

Arjen Anthony Lucassen may be the undisputed master of the progressive rock concept album. The band’s name, Ayreon, is derived from a character from the first Ayreon album, The Final Experiment. Literally every album he’s released under the Ayreon name – eight in total since 1995 – has been a rock opera, and most of them have spanned multiple CDs in length.

His latest album, The Theory of Everything, follows his rich tradition of working with a colorful cast of progressive rock musicians to bring his many characters to life. In this album, a gifted young boy tries to navigate the field of young love, parental overprotectiveness, and manipulative mentors in order to pursue the single unifying theory that will unlock the secrets of the universe.

It’s no wonder rock operas remain so popular; they’re a perfect escape from our largely pedestrian concerns, such as how much money we spend on cars. And while some famous concept albums, like The Who’s Tommy, have already gotten the film treatment, here’s hoping Hollywood recognizes the potential in some of these others.