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The first, and the most obvious, was the group's relatively heavy emphasis on classical music in their sound.
Yes, progressive rock almost always has at least a tinge of some classical elements, but ELP's music had the greatest concentration of it in their music, BY FAR.
merson, Lake and Palmer are quite possibly the world's most reviled band.
No, what distinguished ELP was the amount of venom spewed upon them by other "high-brow" artists and their various followers.
ELP, however, was "pretentious" and progressive from the very beginning, which makes sense.
Both Keith Emerson (The Nice) and Greg Lake (King Crimson) were former key members of groups that had pretty much created the genre, and as such one could only expect them to continue what they seemed to have a knack for.
Regardless, however, this is a perfectly legitimate statement on the general level.
Fans of punk have always detested them as they would any prog band, but this extended far beyond normal levels of loathing; as an example, one of the staples of late 70's Sex Pistols shows was to burn life-size statues of Keith Emerson in effigy (or so the legend goes, and I really hope it's true because it's a hilarious legend).