I hate that when most people hear the term "metal," they think of 1 of 3 things: (1) 80s hair bands, which in actuality have nothing to do with metal, (2) Metallica, or (3) a bunch of screaming with unintelligible noise behind it. All 3 are completely misguided. In fact, a good way to know right away whether I'll even consider trying to listen to you speak is how you react when I say I listen to metal, which typically occurs within 2 minutes of meeting me, as I consider it a more fundamental aspect of my personality than my name. Now whether you'd want to talk to me in the first place is highly debatable, but I'll just leave that one for now.
The variety encompassed underneath the banner of "metal" is maybe my favorite thing about it, as unlike every other style of music bands are constantly evolving and pushing boundaries. One record can be completely instrumental, atmospheric, clean-guitar-driven 11 minute epics and another might be 2 minute bursts of blast beats and guttural vocals, and both are properly considered "metal." In fact, those aren't even the extremes of the spectrum. And within this spectrum, you know every year you will hear some band do something that no one had
really pulled off before, create a new genre, take an old one to a place
no one had before. That's why I get frustrated that many people write metal off immediately. Though much of it requires some work on the listener's end to actively engage with the record, the reward is so much greater than just being able to dance for five minutes, and there will almost certainly be some style or subgenre that speaks to you if you give it a chance.
And of course, it helps to be born with whatever that brain tic is that makes one headbang involuntarily.
Some shit you should listen to
Still with me? Ok, that was all precursor (like so much pseudoephedrine or methlyamine) to discuss a couple of the distinct types of metal that to me have come to prominence in the last year or so, which don't really sound anything like each other but are both undeniably metal, and undeniably worth a look for anyone who appreciates good music. I'll call the subgenres trad (i.e. traditional) and urban post-black metal. So if you have an open mind and some patience, or just the strange predilection for snapping your neck so as to show approval of a song, check this shit out:
This is typically Maiden/Priest/Motorhead inspired stuff, with clean singing and dual guitar leads. What is different is that some bands have started working in unorthodox song structures and timing, more extreme parts, and different styles of vocals to carve out their own little pocket. Some mainstays here for me that I've listened to for years are Bible of the Devil and the Lord Weird Slough Feg, which are both totally worth checking out. Like, right now. Just in the last year or so, though, three other bands have put out records that have dominated my IPOD:
1. Christian Mistress--Possession
-Probably the most straightforward of the bands here, with the interesting curveball of a female lead singer. A few more bands are being fronted by women (Witch Mountain and Kylesa most notably for me), and I really like Christine Davis' work here. She is always in command, but keeps it understated (instead of the wailing histrionics which some past women in more gimmicky bands have used), her lyrics are always interesting, and she lets the music take center stage. Which is a good idea, because it fucking rocks.
Christian Mistress--The Way Beyond--http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6khvP-TWxsM
2. Dawnbringer--Into the Lair of the Sun God
-These guys put a great record a year or two ago, "Nucleus," but they topped themselves with this one. A concept album with a coherent, unapologetically metal storyline and some of the more interesting songwriting in this genre I've heard in a long time, not to mention a flair for the dramatic, notably in the solo sections. If you can listen to song below, "I," and not completely lose your mind starting at roughly the 2:45 mark, then I just feel sorry for you.
3. Pharaoh--Bury the Light
-Although power metal is a touchstone for any band in this subgenre I'm calling "trad," I think you'd have to say that Pharaoh is the closest to this oft-maligned style. With the operatic vocals and over the top cheesiness that is only tolerable when the music is fucking amazing, I'll admit that power metal is often not worth a shit. Thankfully, Pharaoh's music is often fucking amazing. Excellent ability to switch between aggressive, hard driving songs and more mid-tempo stuff, a vocalist with outstanding range without becoming obnoxious, an underrated rhythm section which quite often proves to be the key to the songs (especially the drummer), and of course the dueling lead guitars which are basically mandatory for any band writing music like this. I guess I'd say you've heard this type of stuff before, but NOBODY is doing it better right now. Below I've included a song from an earlier just because it might be the most epic, anthemic metal song since The Trooper, and everybody should fucking know it.
Pharaoh--The Year of the Blizzard--http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98-yil0olG8
Pharaoh--By the Night Sky (from The Longest Night)--http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7KfmdoBIOAU
URBAN POST-BLACK METAL
When talking about black metal, it might seem like "urban" is a misnomer. I certainly didn't coin it; I think I probably first ran across it on metalreview.com, but it is strangely fitting for Tombs and Wolvhammer (and to the Atlas Moth, but they aren't black metal at all, so I'll save it for another post). "Urban" is important because most early black metal has some naturalistic aspect to it, typically the forest and/or something vaguely "winter", which is of course due to it coming from Scandinavia. What was interesting was that there was something about the atmosphere in those records that somehow conveyed this--epic, introspective, isolated, and yes, cold. It's beyond my abilities to describe sonically why this was the case, though I'd say it has something to do with the riffing style, tendency towards longish songs, and unforgiving, harsh nature of the music. This has been a theme that followed black metal wherever it went, particularly for the stuff coming out of the U.S. Pacific Northwest (Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room). And it is also why the style employed by the bands below was so striking to me. Though they use a lot of the staples of black metal, they evoke an entirely new atmosphere which conjure the claustrophobia and filth one might associate with a barren, run-down inner city. The addition of "post" is usually lazy in my mind, but I like it here because I don't think you can call either of the below bands a black metal band. This stuff is most decidedly not for everyone, but I think both records offer a lot, so dive in if you're feeling adventurous.
Tombs--Path of Totality
-This was Decibel's album of the year last year, and though it took me a number of listens, it definitely became clear why after investing the requisite time. The record is to be experienced in full, as not unlike one of the forebears of this type of sound, Blut Aus Nord's The Work Which Transforms God, it takes the entire record to really understand and engage with the atmosphere that is being created. There are traditional passages of black metal bursts, and a good amount of the sludge which is also a big part of this "urban" movement (though different from the Eyehategod, southern style). But mainly the album moves in connected passages that make sense as distinct movements of one larger piece. I read an interview in Decibel with the main songwriter (who I believe is also the guitarist and singer), and he emphasized the importance of mushrooms to the songwriting on the record. Hippieish this is not, but that comment made sense to me after listening to this for awhile, and could help to inform your expectations. Below is the record in full (but if you like, buy it).
Tombs--Path of Totality: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNMsBjvB9lc
Wolvhammer--The Obsidian Plains
-On the other end of the spectrum of this sound is Wolvhammer. And no, I'm not sure what the "v" accomplishes that a "f" wouldn't, but it's metal, so you have to allow for these things. Much more traditionally black metal in viciousness, but with the same knack for reveling in the filth of a shady, drug-infested alley that to me is the key to this type of sound. I'm a little tired of myself at this point of the post, so I'll wrap it up. But definitely check these boys out as well, particularly if you don't mind some harshness.