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PopMatters Article on Resurgence of Metal.

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  • Jen
    Interesting article, I think, although I haven t heard of some of the bands mentioned; I ve heard some Amorphis, Opeth, and Mastodon, but haven t gotten into
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 6, 2005
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      Interesting article, I think, although I haven't heard of some of the
      bands mentioned; I've heard some Amorphis, Opeth, and Mastodon, but
      haven't gotten into any of the 'newer' metal/hybrid bands - not
      because of dislike, but I wouldn't know where to start listening!

      I'm more familiar (and, amazingly, not ashamed to admit it) with the
      80's 'hair metal' genre (you know, Dokken, Cinderella, Skid Row) and
      bands like Metallica, Motorhead, early Def Leppard, Queensryche, and
      Megadeth. I just love the melody, power, rage, and guitar riffs that
      was/is present in many a 'metal' band.

      Anyway, for all you metalheads, new and old, and the musically-
      curious/adventurous, here's the article; the more reader-friendly
      text is at:
      http://www.popmatters.com/columns/begrand/051014.shtml

      Jen



      BLOOD AND THUNDER: Regeneration
      14 October 2005

      At long last, indie kids and mainstream critics no longer have to
      listen to their metal music in clandestine shame. Metal's in the
      midst of an artistic renaissance, and, as Begrand explains, it's a
      headbanger's ball out there.

      by Adrien Begrand

      At some point during the past year and a half, heavy metal music saw
      a sudden boost in its street cred. It morphed from a musical genre
      scorned by mainstream critics and the indie elite to one lavished
      with complimentary adjectives; metal is now de rigueur and avant-
      garde. One minute, kids were wearing Iron Maiden T-shirts to be
      ironic; the next, because Iron Maiden, like, rules. For yours truly,
      I began to notice metal's inexplicable crossover into hipster circles
      last year while perusing the new releases at my favorite indie music
      store, Saskatoon's Vinyl Diner.

      Thanks to an owner who prices used metal albums based on his obvious
      contempt for the genre, the store has always been a fabulous source
      of ridiculously cheap heavy music (my greatest coup being a three
      dollar copy of Opeth's Deliverance). On this day, what did I see on
      the shelf, nestled between such comparative fey albums by M83 and
      Matmos, but Mastodon's lavishly packaged, progressive metal
      masterpiece Leviathan. Vinyl Diner, one of the best music shops in
      Western Canada, the setting for many an uncomfortable moment where
      searches for indie rock nuggets often turned into inexpensive metal
      CD purchases ("Hey, do you have anything by the Fall? No? Okay, I'll
      take this six buck copy of God Hates Us All instead"), had dared to
      admit the heretofore unthinkable: metal had actually become cool.

      Once the obsession of surly teenagers who loitered in shady corners
      of their high schools during the 1980s (I'll readily admit, I was one
      of them), and long thought dead by many, a victim of the grunge and
      alternative rock explosion of the early '90s, metal had been lurking
      out of sight from the mainstream consciousness. It was evolving and
      bastardizing at an astonishing rate; bands were sprouting up and
      branching off in different directions so rapidly, Pete Frame would
      have had a heart attack trying to trace it all. Had it not been for
      the "nu-metal" fad of the late '90s, the more classic form of heavy
      metal might have exploded sooner. Instead, over the past few years,
      as the shelf life of the Limp Bizkits, Mudvaynes, and Godsmacks of
      the world quickly dwindled, the real talent was waiting in the wings,
      and today, after 15 years, metal in the truest sense has risen from
      the grave, stronger, more eccentric, and more challenging than ever
      before.

      What's most intriguing is how there hasn't been one title in
      particular that has acted as a catalyst for the burgeoning metal
      movement; instead, multitudes of bands seem to be hitting their
      strides at the same time. The last three years have yielded an
      absolute bevy of first-rate material, and for once, the CD-buying
      public has responded. At one end of the spectrum, you have the
      traditionalists, the bands who choose to remain within the rigid
      confines of whatever style they play; and at the other, the
      innovators who, despite equally strong contributions from the
      traditionalists, are providing the most thrills these days, taking
      metal's sound in daring new directions. People, both those in metal
      circles and curious first-time listeners, are taking notice.

      There's always been a hunger for guitar-driven music that attacks the
      senses, that pushes brutality to new extremes, and the fact that the
      growing critical popularity of aggressive bands like Isis, Blood
      Brothers, and Lightning Bolt, not to mention much name-dropping by
      uber-hipsters like Sasha Frere-Jones and John Darnielle, has helped
      elevate metal in the eyes of the mercurial indie rock crowd. While
      it's great to see the indie scenesters embracing something other than
      New York post-punks or Canadian collectives, it's the kids who are
      most responsible for metal's resurgence. The young underground bands
      have simply stuck to what has always worked best: hitting the road to
      play for whoever would take them, and cultivating strong, fiercely
      loyal fanbases. The younger generation supporting metal's new
      renaissance is armed with money burning holes in its pubescent
      pockets -- it's no surprise that many bands have seen their album
      sales double with each subsequent release. Like the American thrash
      metal underground proved 20 years ago, word of mouth is always the
      best way to promote a young metal band, and it's starting to pay off
      for numerous acts today.

      After a decade of turgid Alice in Chains retreads, the pulverizing
      but limiting mid-'90s industrial craze, and the repetitive, churning
      riffs of nu-metal, it was time for a change. What a change we got.
      Europe has exported an incredible number of traditional, subgenre-
      specific artists who excel at their craft. Operatic goth metal is
      thriving, especially the bands fronted by charismatic female singers:
      Lacuna Coil, Beseech, After Forever, and the best and the most
      popular of the bunch, Nightwish, have all brought a strong, melodic
      sensibility that was long missing, becoming massive crossover
      successes on the other side of the Atlantic. Arch Enemy, old-school
      purveyors of the nimble riffs and dual guitar harmonies of classic
      power metal, are on the cusp of the big time in North America. The
      melodic-tinged, Swedish-born death metal hybrid known as "the
      Gothenburg sound" is still going strong, thanks to the resilient In
      Flames, Dark Tranquillity, Soilwork, and young upstarts Scar
      Symmetry. The pulverizing, free-form antics of death metal continue
      with the prodigious Necrophagist and two of Poland's greatest, Vader
      and Behemoth. And while underground black metal fans will forever
      accuse Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth of being sellouts and
      not "kvlt" enough (don't ask, it's a goth thing), both bands reached
      thrilling, bombastic new heights on Death Cult Armageddon and
      Nymphetamine, respectively. Hell, even those lovable, grease-painted
      goofs in Immortal still sound great.

      As consistently good as the European haul has been over the past few
      years, the majority of groundbreaking music has come from the States,
      and continues to do so in 2005. The more experimental side of metal
      has been flourishing recently, if not in sales, then in critical
      acclaim; recent albums by Isis, Neurosis, Sunn O))), and Pelican (all
      much more expansive, doom-laced music driven by thunderous waves of
      layered guitars, trancelike drones, and hypnotic rhythms) have
      garnered considerable praise. Often more post rock and
      improvisational jazz than pure, simple metal, the artsier side of the
      genre (call it "art metal", "post metal", or "NeurIsis") is a
      fascinating one, but for all the high praise a record like Isis'
      Panopticon has received (deservedly so), that album has been bested
      by a new disc by young Peoria, Illinois band called Minsk.

      Curiously named after the Belarusian city, Minsk sounds as chilly and
      grim as its namesake -- it's enough to make one wonder if there's a
      balalaika band on the other side of the world calling itself Peoria.
      On its very confident debut, Out of a Center Which Is Neither Dead
      nor Alive (At a Loss Recordings), Minsk adds more of an
      introspective, psychedelic tinge to the gut-rumbling din of distorted
      chords, as if both Acid Mothers Temple and Guapo had joined Neurosis
      onstage. Boasting multiple lead vocalists, the songs range from
      wracked screams to soaring, Tool-style melodies, but it's the sheer
      instrumental versatility of this band that is the most exhilarating:
      one second, they're pulling off a brilliant Melvins imitation, and
      the next, they're off on tangents that include acoustic guitars,
      saxophone, and Rhodes piano. On its six-track, 66-minute album, Minsk
      tosses in enough variety to hold our attention throughout, leaving us
      to bob along in anticipation of either a swooping undertow or a
      crashing tidal wave. Out of a Center is sonically adventurous, but
      theatrical as hell, a charismatic record truly deserving of the
      adjective "colossal".

      While Lamb of God has spearheaded the American metalcore movement
      (with Shadows Fall and God Forbid hot on its heels), its hybrid of
      muscular Pantera riffs and Megadeth-style progressive tendencies
      spawning dozens of imitators in a short time span, the biggest
      influence of the burgeoning scene (dubbed by some wise-asses "The New
      Wave of American Metal") has been, ironically, punk. This shouldn't
      be surprising, as punk, like it or not, has always been a strong
      influence on metal, going back to the early '80s: Anthrax co-opted
      the crunchy, mosh-inducing breakdowns of New York hardcore; Metallica
      adopted the streetwise look and attitude (not to mention some killer
      Misfits covers); and Slayer derived its blistering "speed metal" from
      hardcore acts like GBH and Minor Threat.

      Today it's not much different, as those sounds are still detectable
      in much of the best contemporary American metal. The big difference,
      though, is how the bands are bringing in such sounds and creating
      something entirely different than 20 years ago. By adding elements of
      jazz fusion, hardcore punk, and strong vocal melodies to its
      inimitable brand of "math metal", the Dillinger Escape Plan turned
      the genre on its ear with 2004's Miss Machine. Around the same time,
      veteran Converge expertly blurred the line between punk and metal on
      its well-received You Fail Me, and Canadian bands Cursed and Buried
      Inside followed suit this past year with fine releases of their own.
      Most impressively, North Carolina's Between the Buried and Me is
      responsible for Alaska, one of the most unique, nay, demented metal
      releases of the year.

      If Opeth has tweaked death metal into its own unrivaled brand of
      music, so too has Between the Buried and Me done the same with
      metalcore. The most daring American metal album of the year, Alaska
      (Victory Records) draws from a staggering array of influences, from
      the more progressive side of punk (At the Drive-In, Coheed and
      Cambria), to seemingly every subgenre in metal today, balancing pure
      technical flash and economy so well, it trounces the Mars Volta's
      scatterbrained opus Frances the Mute. The opening moments of "All
      Bodies" are a perfect microcosm of the entire record, as we're
      treated to touches of chugging death metal riffs, goth melodies, and
      power metal guitar harmonies in two minutes, before exploding into a
      jaw-dropping, ornate yet beastly black metal breakdown; it might
      sound like pure insanity, but there's a sense of control to the
      music, as it never strays too far away from its starting point. The
      Opeth-like "Selkies: The Endless Obsession" and the epic "Backwards
      Marathon" not only showcase this band's highly impressive
      musicianship, but also the vocal range of lead howler Tommy Rogers,
      who is just as proficient at delivering multi-octave melodies as he
      is at powerful, death-style growls and ee-vil black metal screeches.
      Like the Dillinger Escape Plan, Between the Buried and Me find a way
      to make the progressive sound accessible, right down to the pair of
      startling interludes: the Dead Can Dance-goes-metal "Medicine Wheel"
      and the bossa nova stylings (that's right) of the ironically
      titled "Laser Speed". At one point, Rogers audaciously
      declares, "2005, welcome to perfection" and sure enough, Alaska, in
      all its psychotic glory, comes awfully, awfully close.

      While the Red Chord is just as madly ambitious as Between the Buried
      and Me, it goes about things in a slightly different way. Combining
      the basic elements of metalcore with a strong grindcore sensibility,
      the New England band might pull off the inconceivable by bringing the
      ferocious, controlled chaos of grind to the mainstream. The ultimate
      underground sound, grindcore has been largely a cult phenomenon
      dating back to the late '80s and early '90s, when bands like Napalm
      Death, Carcass, and Suffocation pushed the proverbial envelope as far
      as it could possibly go, delivering cacophonous blasts of noise,
      highlighted by fierce, atonal vocals and machine gun-like drumming.
      The Red Chord's most recent album, Clients (Metal Blade), follows
      that formula closely, but most importantly, throws in plenty of
      metalcore touches, from guitar solos to stomping breakdowns, with
      vocalist Guy Kozowyk hollering away, sounding a lot like Napalm
      Death's Barney Greenaway. The overall effect is crushing; clocking in
      at a comfortable 37 minutes, the album's first half-hour is appended
      by the surprisingly engaging midtempo insrumental "He Was Dead When I
      Got There", which hearkens back to Metallica's "Orion". No question,
      Clients features some incredibly dense music, but the way the Red
      Chord shifts tempos and keeps listeners on the edges of their seats
      makes this album as good an introduction to grindcore as you'll find.

      These days, metal continues its rebirth, rising to greater
      prominence. Both The New York Times and The New Yorker have started
      treating the subject with respect. Lamb of God, Mastodon, and Shadows
      Fall have all made the jump to major labels. Opeth's recent
      masterwork, Ghost Reveries, debuted at #64 in the US, Arch Enemy's
      Doomsday Machine at #87, and even cult fave Clutch cracked the Hot
      100 for the very first time. Day-long concert tours Ozzfest, Sounds
      of the Underground, and Gigantour brought the metal to the masses
      this past summer. And in the ultimate proof that metal is back, those
      Zappa-loving Armenians in System of a Down are selling out arenas
      across the country. And that's not all: Vinyl Diner now stocks High
      on Fire's Blessed Black Wings and Pelican's The Fire in Our Throats
      Will Beckon the Thaw alongside the Decemberists and Clap Your Hands
      Say Yeah. Love it or hate it, metal's back on the upswing, and trust
      me on this one -- there's a heckuvalot to love.
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