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Metal Stuff’s 2017 Review: The Year in Metal

The Good

It was a good year for metal releases.

I think the metal community got spoiled after last year’s “metal bubble” and the Thrash revival. Compared to the incredible amount of good music that got dumped on us anything is going to seem lackluster, but 2017 was a good fucking year for heavy music (once you accept that 2016 was a happy fluke).

Metal Stuff Top 15 albums of 2017

15) Suffer in Paradise – Ephemere

Suffer in Paradise - Ephemere

Quality Funeral Doom from Russia, this album was my “October surprise” for 2017. The synth is a little weird at first, but the contrast lends to the overall atmosphere of the album.

 

14) Loss – Horizonless

Loss - Horizonless

I actually didn’t like this album the first time I listened to it. Glad I gave it another chance – guess it’s more of a grower than a shower. Not necessarily a bad thing, albums like that tend to stand the test of time.

 

13) Nortt – Endeligt

Nortt - Endeligt

Holy fuck. This solo Funeral Doom project from Denmark never disappoints. His last album (Galgenfrist) was released 10 years ago, and the decade long wait for the new album was more than worth it. Dark, gloomy, cold, and most importantly heavy as fuck.

 

12) Belphegor – Totenritual

Belphegor = Totenritual

I’ve been stoked for this album since Belphegor released the video for “Totenkult – Exegesis of Deterioration” 2 years ago. Another album that was well worth the wait.

 

 

11) Akercocke – Renaissance in Extremis

Akercocke - Renaissance in Extremis

A lot of people didn’t like the clean vocals on the album. I’ll admit, Jason isn’t getting any younger – and time has taken a bit of a toll on his vocal chords. But as a whole, that doesn’t really take away from the album for me. The band is as sharp as they’ve ever been, and while the cleans in some sections seem a bit strained, I almost wonder if that’s intentional – because if you listen to other tracks (like the one below), the cleans are pretty fucking good. I dunno, judge for yourself.

 

10) Tie (Cannibal Corpse – Red Before Black and Morbid Angel – Kingdoms Disdained)

I couldn’t choose, both bands released some quality material this year (in both cases, also significantly better than the previous release). Straightforward, in your face death metal with no bells or whistles.

 

9) Kreator – Gods of Violence

Kreator_-_Gods_of_Violence

Right on the tail end of the Thrash resurgence, Kreator dropped an excellentalbum that (like most albums released in the first half of the year) seems to have been left out of people’s top albums of the year. Why/How is beyond me, this album is quintessential thrash.

8) Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper

Bell Witch - Mirror Reaper

Probably the Funeral Doom release that received the most hype this year (for good fucking reason), the album has lived up to and surpassed any expectations I had. Mirror Reaper seemed to dance on that “invisible line” in the doom metal spectrum between Funeral Doom and Drone (not a bad thing)

 

7) Eluveitie – Evocation II

Eluveitie-Evocation-II-Pantheon

I know, I know. It’s a fucking acoustic album on a top metal albums of the year list. Since recruiting like 20 new members, it’s cool to see these guys bouncing back stronger than ever.

The band already has a full-on folk metal album in the works, and I’m as excited as a pig in shit. If the entire album holds up to the teaser single below, we’re in for a treat next year.

 

6) Mesmur – S

Mesmur-S

These guys need to cough up some merchandise so I can throw more money at them. This was another album that caught me completely off guard this year. Pure sonic embodiment of despair.

 

5) Funeris – Dismal Shapes

Funeris - Dismal Shapes

Argentinian Funeral Doom mastermind Alejandro Sabransky delivers another masterpiece. This guy just writes riffs that satisfy my addiction to heavy music. Punishingly heavy – this really is an album you need to lay down, turn off the lights, and let wash over you.

 

4) Frowning – Extinct

frowning - extinct

The sophomore release from German solo Funeral Doom act Frowning was one of the two albums I was most excited to hear this year. I’ll tell you something, Val doesn’t disappoint. This is pure Funeral Doom that doesn’t sacrifice the residual aggression and heaviness of Death Doom. I really can’t say enough good about this album, or this artist. This is what Funeral Doom is supposed to sound like.

 

3) Temple of Void – Lords of Death

Temple of Void - Lords of Death

This was the third album that caught me completely off guard and blew me out of the water this year. Dark, crushing riffs – if a “holy shit” level of heavy is what you’re looking for then look no further.

 

2) Dying Fetus – Wrong One to Fuck With

DF - Wrong one

This is another album that got a lot of beaming reviews, but failed to make most people’s end of year lists. Odd, considering the hype leading up to the album – and how well the band delivered.

1) Unleash the Archers – Apex

UTA - Apex

Favorite album of the year hands down. Hands fucking down. There’s literally nothing I can say about this album that hasn’t already been said. The musicianship is solid, and they’ve managed to capture that “American Metal” production delivering a crystal clear sonic assault directly to your ears. Brittney Slayes vocal chords are simply amazing, I’m a rather big fan of the layered harmonies on a lot of the songs. Even the concept of the album (yes, I’m a sucker for concept albums) is fucking awesome – a stone giant sleeping in a mountain is summoned by an evil sorceress to gather her sons from around the world so she can sacrifice them and gain immortality – told from the viewpoint of the stone giant. Catchy and fun while undeniably heavy and metallic, this is an album you shouldn’t miss.

Honorable Mentions:

Alestorm – No Grave but the Sea, Pallbearer – Heartless, Septicflesh – Codex Omega, Obituary – Self Titled, Myrkur – Mareridt, Electric Wizard – Wizard Bloody Wizard, Skyclad – Forward into the Past, Decapitated – Anticult, Suffocation – …of the Dark Light, Code Orange – Forever, Æther Realm – Tarot

The Year of OSDM

As predicted last year, metal moved forward from a year of thrash to a year of old-school death metal. It’s not some ground breaking revelation, that’s the order extreme metal evolved in organically.

Once you accept the fact that everything is cyclical, it makes perfect sense that the next phase of metal releases would include the original death metal pioneers.

I’d say releases by Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Obituary, Decapitated, Six Feet Under, Suffocation, and Autopsy certainly support my ongoing theory that extreme metal movements will mirror the original evolution of the sub-genres.

At this point I would like to predict a major swath of Black Metal releases next year. Dark Fortress, Isahn, Immortal, Shining, Watain, Dimmu Borgir, and Nachmystium all have material in the studio and are all expected to release albums next year – so we’ll see.

Other cool shit

There’s a new fucking Demons and Wizards album coming out next year. New Eluveitie as well.

Be excited.

Be very excited.

I don’t think there was a single bad Funeral Doom release this year. Obviously, the big story here was Bell Witch’s new album – I think there was better FD released this year, but I gotta hand it to these guys – Mirror Reaper was an excellent fucking album.

 

The Mediocre

There were bands that, by all rights, should have released some groundbreaking fucking material that just decided to coast this year.

Arch Enemy released “War Eternal Part II”, but decided to call it “Will to Power”. For fucks sake, they’ve got Jeff Loomis and this is the best thing they could come up with? Oh, and that thing when Amott said there’d never be clean vocals on an Arch Enemy album? Yeah, that’s gone. Goddamn it. I love every fucking member of this band, which is why I’m probably a little over critical, I just hate to see a super group of this magnitude cashing out so soon.

Empire of Sand by Mastodon was another one that really bugged me. “Show Yourself” was utter garbage.

Also disappointingly mediocre – TBDM, Dragonforce, GWAR, and Trivium.

 

The Bad, the Really Bad, and the Ugly

Shit went down when #rapegate hit heavy metal. Decapitated, Suicide Silence, Inanimate Existence, Twiggy (Marilyn Manson’s guitarist), Anthrax’s old guitarist Dan Spitz, Shining. I’m sure there was more. Oh yeah, Gene Simmons – that one caught me totally off guard.

Deaths:

  • 1/28 – Geoff Nicholls (Black Sabbath)
  • 2/13 – Trish Doan (Kittie)
  • 4/5 – Paul O’Neill (Trans-Siberian Orchestra)
  • 5/17 – Chris Cornell (Soundgarden)
  • 7/14 – David Zablidowsky (Trans-Siberian Orchestra)
  • 7/20 – Chester Bennington (Linkin Logs Park)
  • 9/22 – Eric Eycke (Corrosion of Conformity)
  • 10/21 – Martin Eric Ain (Celtic Frost)
  • 10/22 – Daisy Berkowitz (Marilyn Manson)
  • 11/1 – Scott Wily (Vital Remains)
  • 11/7 – Whitey Glan (Alice Cooper)
  • 11/9 – Chuck Mosley (Faith No More)
  • 12/13 – Warrel fucking Dane (Sanctuary, Nevermore)

 

Black Sabbath disbanded too.

So yeah, there’s all of that. I probably missed something.

Weird fucking year.

 

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Metal Stuff Interviews Italian Death Metal Outfit LECTERN

“Death metal must be a shockwave,with its aftermaths as lyrical subliminality like a shellshock! No compromise, no mercy!”
-Fabio Bava

 

First and foremost, the staff at Metal Stuff are all fans of the extreme sub-genres of metal. In particular, Old School Death Metal.

Usually we have to seek it out (through the net, mutual friends, record labels, etc), so when the guys in Lectern got ahold of us and wanted to do an interview – saying we were thrilled might be a bit of an understatement.

These guys fucking rip.

logo

 

You can check out/grab a copy of the album here. Last I checked physical copies were sold out, but you can always snag a digital download for about 6 bucks.

I have nothing but good to say about the music these guys put out – so instead of an album review I’m going to say check out their bandcamp and decide for yourself.

‘Precept of Delator’
LECTERN
Via Nocturna

Metal Stuff: I have to say, I don’t hear about many metal bands from Italy. How is the metal scene there? And how difficult is it for an Italian death metal band to get a following compared to other places in Europe or the United States? Are there a lot of opportunities to play live shows at home, or do you have to travel?

Fabio: “We had and we have great bands here right now, if compared to thirty years ago. Italian outfits are well known if we speak about Lacuna Coil, Death Ss, Labyrinth and others. The scene is full in every genre, from hard rock to grind as we have also, quite good venues for the shows, but most of the bands prefer to throw shit one to the others. It is a very stupid attitude I think, as for the public, they prefer big names to the underground concerts. Mentality follows how the people is, and it is reflected also in the way musicians play and behave. Do you think is it allowable, that famous musicians struggle each other, through stupid comments on the web? If I would be the owner of a record company, I should fire them all in one instant! Music is not a fucking blog, I think! Am I wrong about that?”.

Marco: “I guess, as for every place you live, it gets easier to play time after time. It depends of course by your popularity. Italy has a great problem about metal music, not very much interesting by the public, especially for emerging bands. So it gets even harder. That’s why we prefer to play outside (of Italy)”.

MS: You guys have been around since 1999 now, and it looks like you’ve gone through a few lineup changes. How have your new members influenced your sound on the new album?

Fabio: “I am the main influence, leading the band into Florida old school death metal. We formed with the only aim, of playing that kind of music, with a brutal but not technical approach. Who comes and went off the band, before joining Lectern already knew the musical direction at first. I hate misunderstandings, you know! Lectern death metal must be a shockwave,with its aftermaths as lyrical subliminality like a shellshock! No compromise, no mercy!”.

MS: I really like the fact that you guys stick with an old school death metal sound on Precept of Delator. How would you say the new album compares to your previous work?

Fabio: “We have not to look backwards, to the previous records and songs we wrote. It is not a sort of challenge! It’s death metal, you cannot always label if old school or classic, it’s fucking death metal! Almost all bands, play in the same fucking way, brutal, splatter and slam, there are no recognizing sides, all is the same! Why? Old school is the only way, as I said before! The intent with the new album, was to surpass whatever we ever recorded
in the years. I thought that we needed the best and raw sound, first of all for the guitars. We returned detuning them down of four tones, got the right cabinet and the best studio to record! Essentially, the songs are more brutal, with grunts  and the right harsh attitude. It’s not easy to reach that point, and for the next works expect certainly more and better!”.

Marco: “This new album is for me, more calculated. Not rushed as the first. With this one, we wanted to focus much on the atmosphere than the technique, while in the first one we were a little show-off. I personally took care of the sound effects, introductions and middle sections”.

the-band

MS: I see you guys have played with some pretty big names (Angra, Sepultura, Incantation) is there any chance you will tour the United States in the future?

Fabio: “I hope so! We spoke about that many times, but we never found the real occasion to come along yet. You know, it’s very far from home, as we have to manage everything in all the aspects. Flights, stayings, coach, instrumentation and  amplification, wages, costs, venues, opening bands, merchandise, promotion and whatever. Playing in the United States will be the final leap into a sort of celebrity, and everything needs to be filled in all its forms. It is not just playing into another continent and Europe is different from North America! Yes, we hope to come one day, finally!”.

Marco: “If they call, we answer for sure, just keep that fake pizza away from me or I could kill someone! Anyway, it would be the perfect place for our music, the country where all began”.

MS: I hear a lot of old school death metal influence in your sound, what bands are you guys influenced by?

Fabio: “Sinister, Pestilence, Asphyx and Gorefest of the very beginnings, for the European side. Early bands of 1990’s Florida scene like Morbid Angel, Deicide and Monstrosity above all. Also the New York area is great with Immolation and Suffocation too, also from the American hinterland like Disincarnate, Incantation and Morta Skuld but without the necessity of being so  slow and doomish! I also appreciate some slam and gore bands, their ruthless approach is basic! I often listen to very old  bands like Cancer, Infernal Torment, Baphomet or Lemming Project. They were great combos with undeveloped ideas!
Not for their faults, but the reason was simply that labels begun not to be more so interested to death metal from the first half of the Nineties, from 1996 and on. I remember that Morgoth just the first name that comes into my mind, was another band in such period! If it is not death metal it is just fuck you!”.

Marco: “My drumming is based for the most on power metal of the 1990 and 2000, I got into death metal relatively later. Gamma Ray, Helloween and Rhapsody Of Fire for sure are bands I follow with attention, then some great inspirational drummers arrived later like Jordison, Mancino, Lombardo, Laureano and Kollias”.

MS:  What are your favorite songs on the new album and why?

Fabio: “As for myself, Palpation Of Sacramentarian kicks some Christian asses making me shitting in my pants alone, as for the first riff! Impressive, talented and fucking nasty as Satan!”.

Marco: “Fluent Bilocation is for me one of the most pleasant to be played, but I’m addicted to the final one, Discorporation With Feral. It gets a Slayer vibe that gets me every time!”.

MS: Is there anything else you want to tell us about the new album?

Fabio:
“It is a great record, buy it! Hush!”.

Lectern is:
Fabio Bava: vocals, bass
Pietro Sabato: guitar
Gabriele Cruz: guitar
Marco Valentine: drums

Contact Info:
www.lectern.in
www.facebook.com/lectern666
www.reverbnation.com/lectern
www.myspace.com/lecternband
www.metal-archives.com/bands/lectern
www.twitter.com/lectern666
www.instagram.com/lectern666
lectern@mail.com

Discography:
Bisbetical (1999)
Salvific Of Perhaps Lambent (2010)
Lectern (2013)
Fratricidal Concelebration (2015)
Precept Of Delator (2016)

Metal Stuff’s 2016 Review: The Year in Metal

2015-2016 has been an unprecidentedly good time for metal. We’re in the middle of a “metal bubble”, the market is saturated with excellent material. Not sure how long it’ll last, but (seeing as there isn’t anything really incredible slated to release in December) I thought it would be a good time to sum up Metal Stuff’s best releases and biggest dissapointments in metal: 2016 Edition.

Metal Stuff’s “Top  15” Best Releases of 2016

15) Vivaldi Metal Project – The Four Seasons

vivaldi

This one hit me out of nowhere. I saw something about the release of the album on facebook, checked it out, and BAM. Blown away. Probably one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve experienced this year.

It’s an all-star lineup of metal musicians in a modern (and metallic) interpretation of Antonio Vivaldi’s masterpiece “The Four Seasons”. And by All-Star I mean they have members of Symphony X, Testament, Unleash the Archers, The Scorpions, Helloween, Within Temptation, Stratovarious, Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Soilwork, and a whole fuckload more.

I really can’t say enough good things about these guys, this is a piece I would reccomend to metalheads, fans of classical music, and just about evreyone inbetween.

14) Scorched – Echoes of Dismemberment

scorched

I first heard this album through my side gig doing reviews for Hard Attack Magazine.  No bells, no whistles, no frills. Just excellent (old school style) death metal with horror b-movie samples. If you’re into old school death metal – be sure to pick up a copy.

13) Rob Zombie – The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser

zombie-electric-warlock

Have to admit, I was pretty eagerly anticipating this album. I participated in the crowdfunding effot they put forth to make the album happen, I went and saw them live twice in the year leading up to it’s release. And I wasn’t dissapointed one bit.

This is easily his best work since “Hellbilly Delux”, and while he hasn’t completly strayed from the hard rock sound, the band certainly went in a more metallic direction. This is the first album the band’s put out in years that I can listen to from start to finish without skipping a single track. If you’re a Zombie fan, you won’t be dissapointed.

12) Blasphemer – Ritual Theophagy

blasphemer

Kick ass album, read my full review here. Brutal Italian tech death that doesn’t sacrifice on the low end (or become riff-salad). Very highly recommended, this album melts faces.

 

11) Insomnium – Winter’s Gate

insomnium_wintersgate

Sooooooo fucking good. Adding layers of atmosphere to melodic death metal seems like a pretty big risk, but these guys took it and the result was (in this author’s humble opinion) a huge fucking success. I would go so far as to say this is the Melo-Death version of the album Opeth should have released. I’ve always liked the band, but they were never really at the forefront of my musical collection. This album changed that a bit, I’ll be keeping an eye on these guys now for sure.

Proggy and ambient, while still managing to retain the soul of melodic death metal – I highly recommend this album to anyone who will listen. And a few people who won’t.

10) The Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence

devin_townsend_project_-_transcendence

I’ve been a fan of Devin Townsend’s work for over a decade now, but I had never given this side-project of his a listen before this year. And I’m glad I finally did, the man’s a fucking genius. His mix of electronic/ambient music and metal is flawless. Transcendence is a fucking masterpiece from start to finish.

9) Anciients – Voice of the Void

anciients-voice

This album was another pleasant surprise for me in 2016. They ran an (apparently) successful Facebook advertising campaign for months before the album released – so when it dropped that whole “name brand recognition” thing they talk about in advertising took effect. I checked them out just to see, and boy am I glad I did.

Excellent prog metal that ranges from melancholy to borderline brutal, with cleans and screams for days. I’ll be adding this album to my vinyl collection shortly after the holiday season ends (when I actually have money again).

These guys fucking rule.

8) Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason

meshuggah-the-violent-sleep-of-reason

This one was no surprise, I’ve been listening to these guys for about 2 decades now (since Destroy, Erase, Improve was released in 1995).

I have to admit, I was nervous about this one. I’m not a huge fan of Koloss or Catch 33, and I thought there was a good chance they’d continue in the “artsy” direction of concept albums and slow songs. Boy was I wrong, this is a return to Chaosphere-level heaviness.

I think some of their marketing strategies were a little campy (a delux edition of the album that includes a vinyl mask?), but as far as I’m concerned this album was pure fucking gold.

7) Saor – Guardians

saor-guardians

Admittedly, I have some very strong (and sometimes conflicting) opinions when it comes to the style of black metal known as “post black metal”. I’m hesitant to embrace “post” anything, and (at least in the US) the post-black metal scene is nothing but a bunch of whiny hipsters aping black metal music to seem edgy, when in reality all they’re doing is playing shitty alt-rock with a few black metal elements thrown in.

Saor, to me, embodies the exact opposite of this. It’s a solo project hailing from Scotland, and let me tell you this guy is a fucking artist. He’s the real deal, and a wicked cool guy to boot. He nails the black metal aesthetic and combines it with traditional celtic instruments to create soundscapes that are melancholy and ambient, without sacrificing some of the pure fucking rage at the heart of real black metal.

This guy is pretty much single-handedly responsible for making me redefine what I consider “heavy music”. Nothing but good things to say about this band, and this album simply cements him as a consistently solid and groundbreaking artist.

6) Wormed – Krighsu

wormed-krighsu

This album will rip you a new asshole. Then it will rip your new asshole a new asshole. I think you can see where I’m going with this. By the end of the album you’ll be shitting yourself out of your asshole’s asshole’s asshole.

This album doesn’t let up for a goddamn second. Full on brutal tech-death. Who the fuck knew Spain could produce (basically) the perfect death metal band? Holy fuckshit. I want to buy two copies of this album – one to listen to and the other to leave unopened for posterity. I’ll be telling my fucking grandchildren about how brutal these guys are.

So fucking good.

5) Infant Annihilator – The Elysian Grandeval Galèriarch

ia-cover

Yo dawg, I heard you like blastbeats. So we put blastbeats on your blastbeats.

In all seriousness, no human on earth has any business playing as fast as the drummer does. This British teen duo actually makes deathcore tolerable. Scratch that, enjoyable. Not quite as good as their first album, but still one of the best albums this year.

4) Fallujah – Dreamless

fallujah-dreamless

Not going to front like I’m some O.G. who’s been listening to them since “Harvest Wombs” – I came across this band by chance right after their previous album, “The Flesh Prevails”, was released. I was just surfing YouTube and liked the album artwork (Totally a valid way of finding new music, it’s scary how good YouTube has become in recommending things you might like). I didn’t listen to anything else for a week, and turned a few of my coworkers on to the band.

When I heard they were releasing a new album I was super fucking stoked, and I wasn’t dissapointed. Every track is pure fire, and I still listen to this album at least once a week. I love the fact that they retained the ambient/brutal sound while making sure that each album has it’s own unique sound, atmosphere, and identity. Easily one of my favorite bands period.

3) Sabaton – The Last Stand

sabaton_the_last_stand

I’ve been a fan of this band since I was street teaming for Nuclear Blast pre-2006, and I have to admit I find it pleasantly odd/surprising that a band I’ve listened to for years is becoming as popular as they are. Sabaton is easily the fastest rising band in metal, and they deserve it. These guys are relentless road dogs, with a solid live show. The fact that you learn more about history from a Sabaton show than you do in an entire year of public school in America is just the icing on the cake.

Plus, they wrote a song about the Scottish battle of Bannockburn (that pays tribute to William Wallace and Robert the Bruce) – what’s not to love?

2) Dark Funeral – Where Shadows Forever Reign

dark-funeral-album

These guys are hands down my favorite black metal band. Every album they release is consistent while remaining stylistically fresh and distinct. “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is, in my opinion, their best material to date – and they’re gaining a lot of well deserved international attention because of it. This includes their fair share of controversy – earlier this year they garnered a lot of attention due to members of a local Romanian government announcing they would allow a church-based political group to vet which bands would be allowed to play in the area (in direct violation of the Romanian constitution). This was a direct response to Dark Funeral’s show at Bucovina Rock Castle.

I don’t think a lot of people realize that bands like Dark Funeral and Behemoth are bastions of free speech in that part of Europe, as many Eastern European countries are firmly in the grip of a very conservative church (the Russian Orthodox Church, especially, seems to be radically motivated against heavy metal music).

Even without all the controversy – this is a solid fucking album that I listen to with some regularity. Lord Ahriman is a fucking musical genius.

1) Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake

testament-brotherhood-of-the-snake

Easily the best album release this year. Probably the one I anticipated the most, my full review of the album can be found here. Heavy metal isn’t a contest, but if it was Testament would be winning. I’ll just sum my thoughts on this album up from the first paragraph of my review;

“The “Thrash Revival” has been in full effect since 2015 – it seems like every major player from the Bay Area Thrash scene is back in the studio pumping out the jams. Testament stands out among these giants – delivering, hands down, the best Thrash release of 2016. In fact, I think ‘Brotherhood of the Snake’ deserves a nomination for the best metal album of 2016, period. Considering how good ‘Dark Roots of the Earth’ was, I had high hopes for Testament’s new album. Brotherhood of the Snake not only met my expectations – it exceeded them (and then some)!”

 

Honorable Mentions

  • Abbath – Abbath (huge fan of the guy, not as good as his work in Immortal)
  • Megadeth – Dystopia (This album made me a fan of Megadeth)
  • Fleshgod Apocalypse – King (Criminally underrated band, excellent release)
  • Rotting Christ – Rituals (Not their best work, but really quite good)
  • Killswitch Engage – Incarnate (Second album with Jesse Leach back on vocals, fantastic album!)
  • Otep – Generation Doom (has a few good songs, but has some stiff competition this year for best album)
  • Aborted – Retrogore (these guys never put out a bad album)
  • Hatebreed – Concrete Confessional (If you’ve heard one Hatebreed album you’ve heard all of them – good but not great)
  • Dead by Wednesday – The Darkest of Angels (Love these guys – from the same scene as Shadows Fall)
  • Death Angel – The Evil Divide (excellent and diverse Thrash album)
  • Nails – You Will Never Be One Of Us (Quite the pleasant surprise this year)
  • Be’lakor – Vessels (Good melodeath, if a little bit stereotypical of the genre)
  • Brain Drill – Boundless Obscenity (Jesus Christ, so good)
  • Despised Icon – Beast (Triumphant return of a deathcore band that doesn’t suck)
  • Running Wild – Rapid Foray (These guys are legend)
  • Sodom – Decision Day (German Thrash, awesome album)
  • Vader – The Empire (Pure gold)
  • Starkill – Shadow Sleep (I helped crowdfund the album, was not disappointed one bit)
  • In Flames – Battles (Had a few good songs, better than their last album)
  • Metallica – Hardwired to Self Destruct (They set the bar so low for the past 30 years that even a sub-par thrash album is praise worthy)
  • Avantasia – Ghostlights (just good fun!)
  • Anthrax – For all Kings (hooray for thrash revival!)
  • Entombed A.D. – Dead Dawn (death’n’roll done right)
  • Lacuna Coil – Delirium (Surprisingly good)
  • Gojira – Magma (Good, but not my favorite)
  • Amon Amarth – Jomsviking (Awesome album, but not quite good enough to make my top 15)

 

Metal Stuff’s Biggest Disappointments in Metal, 2016 edition

Devildriver – Trust No One

devildriver-trust-no-one

Considering the lineup changes DevilDriver went through in 2015, I tried to give this album a little wiggle room when criticizing it. 2 guitarists, no bassist, half the band is green. They didn’t really have time to get together and synchronize as a band – this album sound to me like a record company rushed them to meet a deadline. It’s not bad, but to call it anything other than a disappointment would be disingenuous. I hold DevilDriver to a pretty high standard – Dez is a goddamn genius as far as metal is concerned. I hope their next album will be a little better.

Robb Flynn

robbflynn

This fucking guy. Don’t get me wrong, I love Machine Head – and their album from last year (Bloodstone and Diamonds) was fucking excellent. I just can’t take Robb Flynn seriously. He’s a fucking attention whore who tries to stay socially relevant and apes Corey Taylor to do so. He’s an mildly successful social chameleon at best, and an overreacting turncoat bitch at the worst. His treatment of Phil Anselmo in the media was fucking horrid.

Avatar – Feathers and Flesh

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Maybe I was hoping for “Hail the Apocalypse Part II”, but this album fell flat for me. Which sucks, because they’re a very cool band who’s been underrated for the majority of their career. This album just didn’t clique for me, there wasn’t one song I can honestly say I enjoyed – just a massive disappointment.

Solution .45 – Nightmares in the Waking State II

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I can’t quite put my finger on it, but this album just didn’t feel right to me. Like, maybe it was a bit too rushed or under-produced. Which sucks, because Christian Älvestam is my favorite metal vocalist – the guy’s easily the hardest working man in metal and super talented. From Scar Symmetry to Svavelvinter, Torchbearer, Miseration, Quest of Aidence, and all the fucking songs he’s lent vocals to – this guy is the fucking man. He shits excellence, except this album. I feel like he should have spent a little longer perfecting the songs, and not rushing to release a double album.

Whitechapel – Mark of the Blade

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It’s sad to see a halfway decent band on the downswing of their career. They tried to stay relevant by releasing a song bashing “metal elitists”, and ironically that’s what seems to have tanked their career. Maybe the elitist ones were correct.

Chelsea Grin – Self Inflicted

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Bands like this are the reason I despise Deathcore. They have one tolerable album, and if I’m completely honest it’s only 50% tolerable (the first half).

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I’d rather let this speak for itself.

Sumerian Records

From every single band on their roster, to the act of completely selling out the image of the Summer Slaughter tour to sell a movie starring the lead singer of the Blackveil Brides, the continued existence of Sumerian Records bothers me. Apparently, in the metal scene money = credibility in some circles. Puke.

Hipsters and Social Justice Warriors

I don’t make it a secret that I fucking hate hipsters. They seem to have the innate ability to ruin anything. I can’t wait till hipster metal is no longer a thing.

Opeth – Sorceress

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I respect when an artist or band wants to branch out, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Opeth has earned the right to do whatever the fuck they want, but that won’t stop me from getting my hopes up (and consequently having them dashed on a rock to the point of near death) every single time they get ready to release a new album. The band even signed to Nuclear Blast and were allegedly down-tuning for the record. I was so hyped. I heard the first single, “Sorceress” – SO EXCITED! Then the album dropped, and what transpired afterwards can only be referred to as one of my biggest disappointments of 2016. Fucking artsy prog from a band that had (at it’s peak) some of the best fucking death metal vocals ever.

The Dio Hologram

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Christ, stop capitalizing on the metal god. For fucks sake, he’s dead. Let him rest. It sounds cool, but I really dislike the idea.

As opposed to the Lemmy hologram at the Rainbow that randomly offers you cocaine and compliments your appearance when you walk by. That’s probably the most fitting tribute ever.

So, that’s about it for 2016 in metal.

No, Metalheads Aren’t All Supposed to Get Along

Introduction:

The Heavy Metal sub-culture is a patchwork tapestry of inter-related scenes and subcultures known as a bricolage culture. Viewed as a whole, it can be generalized that it’s dualistic in nature.

I’ve written articles detailing the inherent divide in heavy metal, as well as the current incarnation of that divide. Building on this body of work, the purpose of this article is to discuss the nature of the relationship between the mainstream and underground factions of the culture with the express intent of shedding some clarity on the nature of Heavy Metal Culture as a whole. Specifically, the nature of discourse between members of the culture in relation to the music.

Metal Culture is Inherently Populist

Due to societal reactions to metal since it’s inception, heavy metal culture at it’s core is inherently populist in nature.

What I mean by this is that heavy metal is a musical style that caters to the needs and desires of the fanbase – the consumers tell the artists what they want. This is exactly opposite to the business model of musical culture in general – where major labels and musical oriented media (from now on I will refer to it as the Pop Machine) tell people what to like.

Now, the standard musical model of “taste-makers” telling consumers what is good/popular has it’s benefits – mainly that musical boundaries are clear and concise. There is little to no room for discourse, because musical definitions and standards are pre-defined for the consumer. The consumer is free to take it or leave it, and discussion is set within certain parameters. However, the entire setup is contrary to what a lot of people understand art to be – a manifestation of individualistic expression that exists for personal interpretation.

One of the things that the pop machine has been pretty consistent about is it’s rejection of metal music. Since rock critics first started writing about Black Sabbath in the early 70’s, metal has been institutionally ignored, discarded, set to the side, and left to it’s own devices. Normally, this would mean the death of a musical movement – as a lack of radio play and media coverage by the pop machine is meant to squash out artistic movements that do not conform to the pop machine standard.

The Reactionary/Oppositional Component

A lot of the modern day prejudices against metal bands and fans are a direct result of the pop machine. The very survival of the musical style required a following that, in time, would become a culture. Critics touting the music as a low-brow art form that caters to the lowest common denominator since the 70’s literally set the tone for a key aspect of metal culture – it’s inherently oppositional nature.

This nature served it well in the decades that followed. In the 80’s metal become the moral panic of the day – it was used to scapegoat aspects of the culture that then (then) conservative majority disliked. This peaked in the now infamous PMRC campaign that led to a (partially successful) congressional hearing in the United States relating to the censorship of ALL music.

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Conservatives opposed heavy metal culture due to it’s inherent opposition to authority, and Liberals opposed it due to the admitted hedonistic nature and low-brow appeal. The church opposed metal culture because, well, metal culture opposed the church in most cases. The music and it’s culture were under constant scrutiny and assault for the better part of a decade. This is not an environment that breeds “happy go lucky” or “inclusive” cultural traits. And the 90’s weren’t much better for metal. The police were trained to target metal fans as criminal lowlifes. The pop machine declared metal dead (wishful thinking?). When a few sick kids in Columbine got together and planned a horrible school shooting, heavy metal was the scapegoat. And so on, and so forth.

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A Quick Recap

So, we can see that for (at least) the better part of 30 years heavy metal culture continued to exist specifically because of it’s oppositional nature. And the nature of that culture is reflected in it’s membership. Metalheads, by and large, have a confrontational and aggressive component to their personalities. It’s not up for debate, it’s just a fact. This may seem contrary to scientific studies that state exactly the opposite (that metal fans are creative, easy going, introverts with high self esteem – closer to the profile of a classical music fan) – but it all makes sense in context, so please bear with me as I stumble through an explanation.

I think metalheads, in large part, are attracted to metal because it offers a healthy outlet for negative emotion (i.e. the aforementioned aggressive/confrontational proclivities). Without all those pent up, negative emotions an individual is better able to function – so the personality traits displayed in scientific studies are expressed.

So, while metalheads may be more well adjusted than your average person – they still retain an inherent combative/oppositional nature. The culture reinforces this, and the attitudes then reinforce the cultural position – it’s cyclical.

Back to the Present Day

Applying this to the present state of heavy metal gives a little context and clarity to the situation. As noted by Sam Dunn in one of his Banger segments (I believe it was the one discussing metal in popular fashion) – heavy metal has lost a lot of it’s “outsider” status. It’s not as culturally threatening as it was even a decade ago. As such, major opposition to heavy metal has virtually disappeared – but that confrontational nature still exists. The most common expression of this is through infighting.

Some people might scratch their heads at this, but it makes perfect sense. I’ve heard metal culture referred to as a “big family”, “friends you’ve never met”, and a bunch of similar pseudo-hippy garbage terms. A more accurate description would be that metalheads constitute a “neo-tribal culture” based around a common appreciation for an art form.

So, tribe/clan/family unit are all pretty much synonymous – but there’s an inherent flaw in the way that most people view these terms. The problem is that they’re using a romantically charged view of a family unit or tribe. We’re conditioned as individuals to view families as some lovey-dovey unit that never disagrees. The reality of the situation, whether you like to admit it or not, is muuuuuch different.

Reality v.s Expectation

So, however you want to frame it, the reality of the situation is that the “metalheads are a family” comparison is very accurate. Anyone who feigns surprise that metalheads are going to argue is only kidding themselves (and clinging to a romanticized false notion of a family). It’s as natural as tribal warfare, sibling rivalry, or family feuds (those colloquialisms weren’t just plucked out of thin air).

The thing is, there’s another side to this. Besides all the bickering and feuding – there’s an unwritten rule that applies to both family members and metalheads. I’ll give an example – I’m the only person allowed to talk shit about my family. If anyone else does it, they get the business end of my entire fucking family.

It’s very similar with metal – and this isn’t just theory. Remember the PMRC hearings? Death metal and Thrash weren’t the direct target of that scandal – it was (predominantly) hair metal. Was Dee Snider left to fend for himself? Fuck no he wasn’t – because the only people who can bash hair metal are metalheads.

The same principle stands true today – if there was a large entity attacking heavy metal (using a metalcore or deathcore band as a scapegoat), they would meet with a much larger resistance than originally anticipated – because that’s how the metal machine operates (note – blackgaze isn’t metal so, assuming they managed to offend anyone, I personally would totally throw them to the wolves).

Conclusion

The infighting within metal culture is a good thing, and it’s totally natural. Granted, some of the bigger sites (that started as independent but have since become part of the pop machine) might egg it on for money and website traffic – but they’re not pulling conflict out of nowhere. It’s a natural expression of metal culture, and an acceptable form of participation that (among other things) creates an environment where competition is encouraged.

Competition in the metal scene creates better music.

Last I checked, that’s called winning.

I guess the message here is that newcomers to the metal community need take a step back so they can see the forest for the trees. Because Metal Culture fucking rules, infighting and all.

What a Trump Victory Would Mean for Heavy Metal

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a lifelong liberal. Not just a little bit liberal – very liberal. Like, tree-hugging socialist progressive grass-roots liberal. And I’m not making an argument for or against any presidential candidate. At this point, they all fucking suck.

The one and only point of this post is to illustrate trends in American heavy metal, and their relation to the US political climate. I will also illustrate that the same pattern holds true in Great Britain. Between the two countries, there’s been (for lack of a better word) a stranglehold on major movements in heavy metal history. And any other major movements or players in the global metal scene are subject to the same (or a very similar) pattern.

An important note here – I’m not implying causation. I’m implying correlation. Major trends in American extreme/underground metal have ALWAYS happened during conservative republican presidential terms. Likewise (with the exception of hair metal) all major “mainstream” trends in American heavy metal have happened during liberal (to moderate) democratic presidential terms.

I’m actually not the first person to notice this. I had been thinking about how there had been nothing but regurgitated crap (as far as new metal bands are concerned) coming out of the United States lately. Then it hit me, and I immediately did a google search to make sure nobody had already written an article on the subject. Lo and behold, some anonymous writer for a conservative website had noticed the same trend.

Established bands are another thing altogether, they’re not going to create a second wave of Thrash or Death metal with the same impact as the original. We’re in the middle of a “metal-bubble” right now (the market is absolutely saturated with good metal from established acts), and within the next few years it’s going to burst no matter what – but that’s another story for another day.

American Metal

In the United States, there really wasn’t much to speak of as far as original, ground breaking heavy metal besides a couple of bandwagon bands until the rise of thrash. From about 1970-1981 Americans might have consumed a good deal of metal, but most of the major artists were Brits. Sabbath, Motorhead, Deep Purple – Brits. Judas Priest? English. Iron Maiden? You get the idea.

Then something happened. Ronald Reagan won the Presidency of the United States, and ushered in a conservative era that lasted over a decade. Reagan was sworn into office in January of 1981. In that same year Anthrax, Dark Angel (not to be confused with Death Angel), Metallica, Pantera, and Slayer were formed. The following years saw Death Angel, Death, Megadeth, Testament, Atheist, GWAR, Morbid Angel, Nuclear Assault, Obituary, etc. Literally within a 3-4 year period you’ve got the seeds for two major movements/splits in heavy metal, not to mention about 2/3 of the base of what we now refer to as extreme metal. And it wasn’t just metal – VICE magazine just released an article discussing why Reagan was the best thing to happen to punk music.

I’m not sure if I can stress how big of a deal this is.The seeds for America’s permanent stamp on heavy metal history were planted and germinated during a very conservative time in the American political climate. During Reagan’s first term, the bands known as “the big four” all formed, and by the end of the second term Thrash had taken the world by storm. Metallica became the most successful metal band in the world, and Death metal was blossoming.

By the beginning of George Bush’s (senior) term in 1989, Death Metal had already overtaken Thrash. Obituary, Cannibal Corpse, Death, Deicide, Morbid Angel – Death metal was on the rise until it peaked out and stagnated around 1992-1993. Bill Clinton (Democrat) took office in January of 1993.

From 1993-2000, there were also major movements in metal that contributed to the culture as a whole metal pretty much sucked. And the overall political atmosphere of the United States was predominantly liberal/democrat. Remember Grunge? Clinton era. Nu Metal? Clinton. Slayer’s attempt at nu-metal? Clinton era. Metallica cuts their hair, goes “alt-rock”, and takes photos tongue kissing each other? Clinton era. Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park? Thanks a lot, Democrats.

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Enter 2000, a democrat wins but is rick-rolled out of office by a republican. Suddenly, there’s a resurgence in metal. A lot of players in what is commonly referred to as the “New Wave of American Metal” start picking up and getting more attention and rotation. Killswitch Engage, Lamb of God, Shadows Fall, and Chimaira all released albums – essentially a mutated Thrash renaissance. Also of note, Devourment started getting big. Slam was born, and real brutal death metal started taking off. Tech Death flourished. Ozzfest, admittedly around since the Clinton era, took off and saw it’s highest attendance ever.

2008, Obama wins. Ozzfest stops touring the US. Metalcore devolved into a bad caricature of itself, and Deathcore (a death metal influenced offshoot of metalcore) came to prominence. Blackgaze took off. You get the idea.

I’m not here to debate whether metalcore/deathcore/blackgaze are good or bad, I’m talking about global musical impact. There are Thrash bands, Death Metal bands, and Black metal bands all over the planet. Beyond the United States and Great Britain, there aren’t very many deathcore or metalcore bands. Deathcore has gotten to the point where quintessential founding bands of the genre like The Acacia Strain refuse to be associated with the term any more. And it seems like, while the rest of the world might not mind listening to these bands – by and large they don’t replicate these styles.

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Global Confirmation of the Trend

Black Sabbath released their debut album under a conservative Prime Minister (in fact, he was from a political party literally called “the conservative party”). The NWOBHM occurred during the reign of the Conservative Party in Britain (in fact, the party held sway for 57% of the 20th century in Britain). Grindcore as a genre germinated almost exclusively under conservative control.

In the early 90’s, Black Metal came to the attention of the entire world through a scene that formed, in large part, as a cultural response to the incredible grip conservatives had on the country.

Sepultura? Rose on the tail end of an authoritarian conservative regime in Brazil. Behemoth? Yeah, Poland is still wicked conservative.

And this isn’t to say that there isn’t good metal made by bands during liberal regimes. It’s saying I haven’t seen a legitimate artistic movement within American heavy metal that’s permanently changed the face of metal during a liberal regime. There are probably always going to be dark-horse bands like Pantera that carry the flag for decent metal – I’m just saying as of right now they seem to be the exception, not the rule.

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(Clinton fans, don’t get your panties in a bunch. Hillary Clinton is still more conservative than any honest democrat should be comfortable with. I’m sure there will be plenty of angry music made if she’s elected. I’m just saying it’ll be shitty mainstream stuff that’s overtly politically correct)

Conclusion

If Trump wins, America’s going to start pumping out the fucking jams. The “Metal Bubble” we’re currently experiencing will probably pop immediately following his presidential term (4-8 years, depending on how generous you are. Remember, we as a country elected George W. Bush after he stole the election the first time, so don’t give American voters too much credit). We might even finally get another “real” movement in extreme metal.

If Hillary Clinton wins, subsequent movements in heavy metal will all be mainstream in nature, and the trend of whiny millennial hipsters taking over the American metal scene will continue. Metal concerts will continue to be referred to as people’s “safe spaces”, and former leaders in the metal scene like Phil Anselmo will continue to be demonized. Metal will continue down the track it’s on, and become a bad parody of itself.

  • If you’re voting for Trump (and listen to metal), this is probably another vindication of your choice to vote for him. Good for you.
  • If you’re voting for Clinton (and listen to metal), consider it a silver lining for if she loses. As of right now, it’s not looking great.

Whoever wins, we’re all fucked. We’re literally watching the crumbling decay of an empire. It’s unavoidable at this point. I just want there to be a decent soundtrack.

 

Behemoth’s Poznan Concert a Major Victory for Free Speech in Poland

Metal culture is a global phenomenon that generally transcends nationalistic borders, and as an American Metalhead I like to stay as informed as possible about global attitudes and trends regarding heavy metal.

For example, I’ve written on the illegal promise of a local government to allow the Roman Orthodox Church in Romania to “approve” what bands are allowed to play in the country. This promise was in direct violation of Romania’s constitution – and the government’s silence is the equivalent of supporting this sort of discrimination. Not OK. And small decisions like this have greater cultural implications – if you allow a non-governmental entity to determine governmental policy (including disbursement of public funds), you’re allowing that non-governmental group to make governmental decisions

This is where a recent political decision from Poland comes into play. Since roughly 2007, religion-based political groups have been petitioning the Polish government to ban a list of musical groups they deem satanic from playing in the country. This list included Polish natives Behemoth.

Around the same time, Behemoth front-man Nergal controversially destroyed a bible onstage during a show, and criminal charges were filed against him (I think it’s safe to say there’s no love lost between Polish religious groups and Behemoth). The ensuing court cases stretched over a number of years (until around 2012 I believe), and the last I checked he was acquitted. No surprise – after all, he’s kind of a big deal in Poland.

Then in 2014, a scheduled show in Poznan, Poland was cancelled due to vague “safety concerns”. Nergal rightfully called out the actions of those in power for what they were – political maneuvering to placate religious fundamentalists while avoiding controversy. Article 73 of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland guarantees freedom of artistic creation and scientific research, as well as free access to cultural goods. The real violation of civil rights was not perpetrated by Behemoth, but by the church against the band and their fans.

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Enter 2016 -Bogdan Freytag, chairman of the religious protest group “Faithful Poland”, petitioned Poznan’s Mayor (Jack Jaśkowiak) in the hopes of preventing Behemoth from playing yet again. Considering the incredible amount of legal power these religious groups have wielded against the band, I feel it was a bold move in the right direction for the president of the country to allow the concert to happen. Behemoth seems to think so too.

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At this point you might be asking yourself, “Why is this important?” Well, simply put, it sets an example for other countries in Eastern Europe in favor of free speech, even if that speech offends the church. Which (from what I gather) is a concept that hasn’t fully taken hold in the area.

Essentially, Poland has done exactly what Romania should have done. Because if you look closely, there’s a pattern here – religious groups exercising their constitutional rights in a country for the express purpose of denying those same rights to a large segment of the population. It happened in Poland in 2007, and it took almost a decade to undo the damage. That’s why it’s important to put a spotlight on small local governments making seemingly innocuous concessions to religious groups (or any protest groups) – because those decisions set a legal precedent with far reaching legal implications.

So, in the greater scheme of things – Behemoth’s ability to finally play in Poland is a victory for free speech (and metal).

Why are Hard Rock and Metal Artists Suddenly Drawn to Country Music?

 

At first glance, this might seem like an odd phenomenon. In their current states, country and metal are polar opposites. And research into the personality type/musical preference connection clearly shows that fans of heavy metal have far more in common with fans of classical music than fans of country. But, the more you look at it, the more it makes sense that there would be a mini “exodus” from metal music to country. And, arguably, it’s a good thing for both genres and their fans.

 

Background

First and foremost, it needs to be mentioned that country and metal music share a common ancestor in the blues. Early rock and roll acts and early country acts were almost interchangeable – for example, Johnny Cash and Elvis toured together. Elvis is commonly referred to as the godfather of rock and roll (of which heavy metal is a derivative) and Johnny Cash is widely recognized as a progenitor of Country music. In fact, country music at it’s inception was simply a rural version of rock music.

Now, the two genres have had decades to evolve into two separate entities with distinctive fanbases and cultures that (generally) don’t overlap. But there’s always been a common thread connecting the two – the Rolling Stones “Honky Tonk Woman” is a good example. “Southern Rock” bands have kept a fusion between the two genres (rock and country) alive through the decades, but it wasn’t really until the 90’s that country music and heavy metal met and mixed.

No article dealing with the cross-cultural zone between country and metal would be complete without mentioning two bands – Pantera and Hank Williams III. These two groups bridge the gap between the two genres quite nicely. To further the connection – Pantera’s last real album (even though the lead singer, Phil Anselmo, wasn’t part of it) was a collaboration between the band and David Allen Coe entitled “Rebel Meets Rebel“. Artists like Kid Rock and Aaron Lewis from Staind have kept the connection going.

The Present Situation

Within the past year or so, there’s been more of an “exodus” of metal and hard rock artists in some form or another to the country music medium. Now, it’s not always a full blown transition, and it’s actually been going on for a while (technically since the dawn of both rock and country). I think it’s more accurate to describe the country/hard rock/metal phenomenon in terms of a spectrum: Dabbling (One-Off Country Albums, Collaborations)->Fusion Styles->Full Transition Between Genres (Including solo albums/projects).

In the dabbling category we have  Devin Townsend’s side project (Casualties), Nergal from Behemoth’s country/folk album, Jimmy Bower’s (Down/Eyehategod) Country album, Jonathan Davis’ (Korn) collaboration with country artists Big and Rich, Bon Jovi’s Country album, Chuck Billy (Testament) doing his country tribute to Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades”, and considering I don’t know where Aerosmith stands at this moment I’m going to include Stephen Tyler’s country project as well. And Bret Michaels (Poison) country album.

As far as fusion styles – obviously guys like Pantera and Hank III go without saying. The mutual blues ancestor of metal and country music make them more compatible than you’d think at first listen. In fact, due to the Pantera connection we wouldn’t have groove metal without country.

And for full transitions you’ve got Kid Rock (This guy’s such a redneck, it wasn’t that much of a transition. I think he plays the CMT awards semi-regularly), Aaron Lewis (Staind),  David Vincent (fucking Morbid Angel), and Danny Worsnop (Asking Alexandria). So we’ve got Metalcore, Death Metal, Blackened Death, Doom, Nu-Metal, Hair Metal, Hard Rock, Groove, and Prog represented in country music just from the bands mentioned in this article. I’d say that’s enough of a spectrum state that this isn’t a genre specific phenomenon – the appeal seems to be pretty universal among metal artists.

What Metal Culture Can Learn From Country

In terms of the metal community, a look at the current state of country is a sobering reminder that the music industry (all bureaucracy, in fact) can be a very toxic thing . So, as much as people like to go around bashing elitists – that particular core demographic of the metal community is a big part of the reason metal isn’t a shell of it’s former self. The pop machine has literally eviscerated the entire genre of country music, and left nothing but a hollowed out meat-puppet of a shell that they make perform for fans in a mocking, pandering sort of way. Don’t believe me? Check out this video.

This is what the pop machine does – it analyzes a core fan base to find things they like. It then arranges them into a palatable, pre-digested formula with literally zero integrity. Anybody who’s been alive through the 90’s should remember that country music was a pretty big thing back in the day. And in a matter of a few decades, it’s been reduced to a cultural and artistic void. Boots, cold beer, lemonade, lying in pick-up trucks, some sort of romantic rendezvous, and the month of July – hey, throw that in a 4-chord song format with a steel guitar playing in the background and you’ve got a #1 Country hit! Pandering at it’s best, there’s next to zero substance left in the genre. Probably part of the reason metal artists are occasionally dabbling – they’re filling the creative void.

Also, poser bashing is designed to prevent this sort of thing from happening in/to the metal community. Granted sometimes people take it a little too far, but sometimes you have to take the good with the bad. And in this case, a defense against entryism is much better than the alternative.

 

What Country Fans Can Learn From Metal Culture

Country music, as a culture, has zero defense against entryism. In layman’s terms, this means that there is no cultural “check” or way to stop an outside group from entering into Country music culture and changing it from within.

At first glance, this might not seem like a problem. It didn’t when Country-pop experienced a revival in the 90’s. But, here’s the problem. If any group can gain entry into an artistic culture – that includes a group put together by a record company. And their focus is on dollar signs, not art.

Unfortunately, because record companies already have a lot of money, they can afford to hire people to do studies into what the fanbase likes and doesn’t like (and then plug the results into the pop-machine formula). At this point, it’s not a matter of if or when it happens (because it already has), it’s a matter of what to do about it. I think that country music as a whole can benefit from a little “heavy metal sensibility”.

First and foremost, the artists getting into country are considered staples of their respective metal genres. These are top-notch artists with creative energy to spare. So, you’ve got a bunch of artists entering the scene and playing real music in the creative void left by the pop industry .

Second, I would hope they bring a little of that “elitist” attitude that has helped heavy metal stay out of the clutches of the pop industry for almost 6 decades. Combined with the DIY ethos of metal and punk, it just might be the breath of fresh air that country music needs.

Third, I hope a few metal artists reintroduce a bit more of that rebel attitude country music deserves.

Conclusion

I think it’s good for metal artists to branch out a little bit. Considering how saturated the market is with metal bands right now, it’s certainly not hurting heavy metal at all. And it could make country music tolerable again. Overall, I’d call it a win/win situation.

Metalheads Had Social Networking Before the Internet

In 2016, the internet has become such an integral part of global culture that it’s hard to imagine what life would be like without it. Social media, in particular, takes advantage of this massive global connection by helping people to communicate across the globe in real-time.But, strange as it seems, there was a time before the internet. People still communicated, albeit a lot more slowly.

So, how does this relate to metal culture? To understand how, first we should take a look at why metalheads would need to create a social network. In the 80’s and 90’s, heavy metal and it’s fans had a HUGE stigma attached to them (in some parts of the world, this stigma still exists). There was a large scale moral panic surrounding the music and it’s culture.

In the United States, for example, there was a growing wave of misinformation, political correctness, and organized opposition that threatened the very existence of metal. Police were trained to target metalheads based on the stereotypes propagated by the PC groups like the PMRC. Here are a few examples from a police training pamphlet called “Youth Subcultures”

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By themselves, these images are humorous at best. But the descriptions accompanying the photos labeled all metal fans (and punks, the picture with the mohawk was sadly missing the label) as lowlifes with no motivation to do anything constructive, who’s only source of income was from theft and drug sales (also mentioning that most metalheads were avid drug users themselves).

Combined with metal being completely ignored by the music industry,  disrespected by the media, metal shirts being banned from schools, young fans of the music being sent to counselors and camps for “de-metalizing”, and metal bands being put on public trial as scapegoats for youth tragedy – you’ve got a culture who’s very existence requires it to go “underground”.

And if you can’t find music you want in the normal media channels, where do you go? Simply put, you go to other fans of the music. But metal fans were few and far between – and spread all over the globe. There was no internet, no media, nothing – how did people find new metal that wasn’t a polished, formulaic mainstream parody of real music?

The answer, of course, was tape trading. Metal magazines were essentially the lifeblood of the culture. And the classified ads in these magazines allowed someone to advertise that they had new music for distribution, or to advertise their tastes. All you had to do was put in an ad with an example of a band you liked (and your mailing address), stating you were looking for more bands like them, and wait. People would send you music, mostly free of charge, that was in the same vein. Essentially it was a pen-pals with benefits sort of thing, and it completely cut the record industry out of the picture.

This is where the sub-genrefication of metal started, it was necessary to get people the music they wanted. This was also the time where the unwritten rules of metal started to solidify. These things are all manifestation of “sub-cultural space”, it’s how metalheads communicate aspects of metal culture to one another. It’s also when the metal “uniform” really came together and became a thing. The most important part of the uniform (wearing shirts of the bands you listen to) was a way to show solidarity with the culture, support for the bands (because they still get more from t-shirt sales than they ever did from albums), and personal musical taste to other people in the culture.

Fun fact – with the industry out of the picture metal was free to evolve without corporate influence. If it wasn’t for widespread persecution of metalheads (forcing them to go underground as a culture), you wouldn’t have Thrash, Death Metal, Grindcore, Hardcore Punk, Black Metal, or any of the extreme branches of the metal family tree that exist today.

In other words – this is when heavy metal completely broke off from rock and roll and became a distinct musical style with it’s own unique culture. Just like rock and roll broke off from the blues, metal severed it’s ties to rock music.

So, when you see an article bitching about how downloading music is killing the record industry – take it with a grain of salt. It’s killing the pop-machine entertainment industry for sure, but if you’re paying attention and capable of rational thought you can see even that claim is 100% bullshit. But as far as metal bands are concerned – sure, they’re seeing a drop in record sales. But record labels were pretty famous for signing metal bands to horrible long term contracts that gave away a lot of legal rights and fucked them over creatively for years. So they’re probably going to have to adopt a business model from heavy metal musicians, largely based on touring and merch sales. Soooo… the bands treated like dogshit by the major labels are now going to be their saving grace. Ironic much?

But I digress.

The outsider/taboo status assigned to metal by (and in) mainstream culture is what turned it into the cultural behemoth (pun intended) that it is today. File-sharing and social networking in the metal community is something that was happening for a full decade before the internet even existed. The transition to social networking and file-sharing websites was a natural one, metalheads simply digitized aspects of the culture that were already there.

That’s why metalheads still shit on Metallica on a regular basis. A shitty album or two can be overlooked – nobody bats 1000. But when you go after an evolutionary step of the very cultural mechanism that made you into what you are today (tape trading->file sharing, if you’re not following), you’re selling out completely. They sided with the same corporate entities that wouldn’t have given them the time of day a decade earlier.

Anyways – the only thing metalheads like more than metal is reading about how great metalheads are. So, there’s that. Enjoy.

Oh, if you liked this please feel free to join my facebook group metal stuff.

 

The Two Faces of Metal

I was talking with my friend Raven from “The Vault of Metal” the other day about an interview with Chester Bennington from Linkin Park, in which he stated, “In my opinion, we actually kept metal alive.”

Now Raven (who isn’t alone in this opinion) contends that the “metal” as represented by bands like Linkin Park, Disturbed, Five Finger Death Punch, Slipknot, and the like isn’t even metal. There are elements of this statement that I sort of agree with, but I have to respectfully disagree with the overall statement.

The reason I disagree is because I think there’s a more accurate way to look at the situation. Metal has two faces, a public (or mainstream) face and a private (or underground) face. This isn’t some new or revolutionary observation – it’s an argument that’s been going on since the genre fractured. It’s been covered by every single major metal sociologist; Deena Weinsteen (Heavy Metal: The Music and Its Culture and Heavy Metal: A Cultural Sociology), Robert Walser (Running With the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music), Ian Christe (Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal), Malcolm Dome (The bible of Heavy Metal: Encyclopaedia Metallica, Thrash Metal), Keith Kahn-Harris (Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge), Sam Dunn (Metal: A Headbanger’s journey, Global Metal, Metal Evolution, Banger Films) in some form or another.

The reason that metal culture as a whole can have these opposing factions is because it isn’t a single, unified culture. It’s what’s commonly referred to as a bricolage culture – a hodgepodge collection of distinct groups and scenes with a unifying theme (metal) that form a complete culture.

For the purpose of this article, metal can be viewed like this;
twofaces

Both sides have their positive and negative aspects. An underground band has the ability to gain a significant amount of credibility within the scene, at the expense of a smaller fanbase. A mainstream band has the monetary advantage, as mainstream viability means you’re reaching a broader audience. However, the price of mainstream popularity comes at the expense of a band’s credibility within the broader metal scene. And in metal, credibility is everything.

Bands are not stuck in a single category, movement between these areas is fluid – but with a catch. They can only move in one direction. A mainstream band cannot under any circumstances move back to the underground. An underground band, however, has the ability at pretty much any point in time to move to the mainstream. There’s even a (often overused) term for when a band moves into mainstream territory – selling out.

To become popular, most underground bands tend to try and stay in the grey area between mainstream and underground – maximizing the size of their audience while sacrificing as little credibility as possible.

So, it’s not really a dichotomy. It’s more of a “collage spectrum” that’s defined by the polar extremes.

Cultural fracture point – when metal gained two identities

When metal actually fractured into these two distinct categories (mainstream and underground) is up for debate. The divide became recognizable when Thrash (underground) and Glam (mainstream) arose as two distinct entities in the 80’s. That’s when we got terms like “lite metal“, which were used by members of the underground community to refer to their mainstream counterparts.

Arguably, the divide between mainstream and underground metal goes back another generation. When Def Leppard refused to be associated with/included in the NWOBHM, band members stated it was because they wanted their band to be associated with the greater “hard rock” category (as opposed to the niche underground genre that NWOBHM was at the time). And if you look at the first wave of mainstream metal (Glam), you can clearly see it’s roots in the styles of both Def Leppard and Led Zeppelin.

I think it’s worth mentioning that bands that existed within the cultural sphere of heavy metal before the mainstream/underground fracture are immune to this classification. It was created to differentiate the new bands, and any attempt to use them as anything else would be inaccurate.

Metal in the Mainstream

mainstreamallica fan

 

It all started with Hair Metal/Glam in the 80’s, which combined metal with popular hard rock from the time period. And as with anything mainstream, hair metal was beholden to corporate influence. So when the music industry had completely exhausted the genre (through formulaic “clone” bands and over-promotion), they moved on to “the next big thing” and declared metal dead. So, in the eyes of mainstream culture – metal had died. And in it’s place was a new mainstream genre – Grunge.

Grunge was effectively the anti-thesis of hair metal. It’s combination of metal and alternative rock pushed apathy and mediocrity as a counterpoint to hair metal’s excitement and over the top excess.

In fact, the only thing I can think of that Glam and Grunge have in common is the incredible amount of heroin band members from both genres consumed. Which, in it’s own way, helped define their shelf lives. I guess every cloud has a silver lining.

Then in the mid 90’s a new mainstream contender entered the arena – Nu Metal. Combining rap with elements of alt-rock/grunge and heavy, down tuned riff oriented metal on (typically) seven string guitars. While musically much more aggressive and exciting than it’s predecessor, it remained a relatively simple and easily digestible form of metal that was fit for mass consumption and easily duplicated by the record industry.

The mid 2000’s saw the fall of Nu Metal and the rise of Metalcore. Taking the already established hardcore/metal fusion that had been mixing with the Gothenburg brand of Melodic Death Metal (and adding the signature whiney Emo vocals), metalcore took the mainstream by storm.

Nowadays, as metalcore is waning in popularity, bands like Periphery and Liturgy are crossing one of underground metal’s more extreme sub-genres (Black Metal) and mixing it with apathetic, “self absorbed posing as introspective” hipster Indie rock genres like Shoegaze  to create the musical abomination known as blackgaze. Combined with the large number of bands aping djent and mixing it with mainstream influences, it’s only a matter of time until we see the next big trend in popular metal.

I’m not sure where the fuck Five Finger Death Punch fits into all this, probably the fact that they mixed the groove metal of Pantera with mainstream hard rock. However you want to categorize them, calling them anything other than mainstream metal is a disservice to the intelligence of both the speaker and the listener.

Metal in the Underground

death-metal-bands
(This is where the magic happens)

Recently Thrash, Death, and Black metal have all been encompassed into an overarching umbrella term – Extreme metal. A fair description, as they all tend towards extremity. I like the term, and it puts all the bands in a proper context – all extreme metal is in some way shape or form a derivative of the thrash metal movement of the 80’s, although bands such as Celtic Frost, Bathory, and Venom (generally dubbed the “first wave” of black metal) also serve as the genre’s precursors. I’m pretty sure Keith Kahn-Harris does a better job explaining it all in his book. Also, Sam Dunn did an excellent crowdfunded “lost episode” of his series Metal: Evolution dealing with the subject.

Exceptions

While metal has been, since it’s inception, a predominantly underground phenomenon, when referring to “underground metal” people are generally talking about thrash and it’s derivatives. Like I mentioned earlier, this split happened after bands like Sabbath or Maiden hit the radar, so while they would fit the mold for underground metal – they also (by standing the test of time) fit into the mainstream metal category. They’re neither and they’re both.

It is interesting to note that in the vein of these classic bands, metal in the underground follows a generational musical progression that’s the only consistent pattern in heavy metal since it’s inception – the new stuff is always heavier. It’s harder, it’s faster, it’s more distorted, and it’s progressively more socially transgressive. Sam Dunn touched on this in his first movie, Headbanger’s Journey – new generations of bands continue to strive to sound heavier than the generation before them.

Conclusions

In context, Raven’s assertion that the “mainstream” metal bands aren’t metal at all is technically true. In every incarnation, the thing mainstream metal bands all have in common is that they dilute heavy metal by mixing it with a more “palatable” style of music. With hair metal, it was diluted with hard rock (including rock ballads, ugh). Grunge watered the heaviness down with popular college alternative rock. Nu Metal did it with rap and alt rock. Metalcore did it with emo. And modern day hipster bands do it with Indie rock (Indie meaning hipster/millennial co-opted melancholy, boring, crap rock – not indie as in independent… there’s a huge independent streak in underground metal).

Saying these mainstream bands “aren’t real metal” isn’t (generally) meant as an insult, it’s an attempt to keep accuracy in the conversation. Metal is generally viewed as genealogical, so an example of that ilk might bring some clarity.

If you breed a horse and a donkey together – the resulting creature is called a mule. It’s not a horse, and it’s not a donkey. The two animals are closely related and branch from the same evolutionary family, but distinct enough to warrant a different name for each distinct species. A mule, the resulting offspring from the union of the species, cannot accurately be called a horse or a donkey because it is equal parts horse and donkey. However if the mule proves fertile (most often they’re not) and is bred with another horse, the resulting offspring will be categorized as a horse.

Substitute “metal” for “horse”, and “rock” for “donkey”, and you essentially have the entire argument against “mainstream metal” being considered part of the metal family tree (instead being relegated back an evolutionary step to the “hard rock” category). If any of the mainstream/popular genres spawn/influence new music by being crossed back with metal genres – the result is considered to be part of the metal tree.

I always figured this sort of knowledge was just a given, but apparently it’s not. the massive amount of butthurt expressed online by hipsters and others outside the metal community when they’re improper use of terminology is corrected just seems to be part of the social landscape.

This duality within the genre is also the source of endless frustration expressed in memes like this gem…

girlswholistentometal

Now, as someone who was a pretty big fan of Nu Metal, I might be a tad biased in my opinion. I prefer a touch of holism with my definition of metal – while I’m predominantly a fan of the underground/extreme branch of the metal family tree, I refuse to discount the importance of mainstream metal bands to the culture.

First and foremost, they represent the social gateway into greater metal culture. Nobody starts off listening to Extreme Metal, taste progression in metal is generally a process – and “Gateway Metal” bands generally kick-start the process. They also represent the metal community to the mainstream in other respects.

When the PMRC kickstarted congressional hearings on heavy metal in the 80’s, they completely neglected to mention underground bands. It was Dee Snider of Twisted Sister who went and spoke for the genre, and completely exposed the entire debacle for what it was – a modern day witch hunt. Slipknot and Marilyn Manson (as well as Ozzy, Preist, and Maiden – but if you’ve been reading they’re excluded from this classification as they encompass both mainstream and underground characteristics) were publicly scapegoated as the reason behind public controversies. From grave robberies to school shootings, as soon as heavy metal is found in the mix it’s automatically considered the cause.

So, these aren’t just the people who recruit new member to the metal cause, they’re the ones who defend it in the public eye. They also transmit the norms of metal culture to new recruits. Considering these critical roles mainstream metal bands play in the overall culture, I don’t believe it is accurate to call them anything other than metal.

This doesn’t mean I won’t call a spade a spade, mainstream metal is gimmicky as hell and has a lot of elements of mainstream culture I generally try to avoid. But you can like, or at very least appreciate, a band and the role they play in overall culture without dismissing them because they A) fill a different cultural niche than underground bands and B) don’t conform to a minimalist definition of metal.

Shameless plug, if you like what you read feel free to join my metal facebook group Metal Stuff.

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