heavy metal

…And so we come to the main stage. Mayhem Fest, in a credit to its organizers, did a much better job this year of spacing the last second stage set (Children of Bodom) and the first main stage set. The crowd was settling in but present when Amon Amarth was revealed. For all that the Swedish band eschews the dramatic musical flair of their contemporaries, they swing a very large hammer when it comes to set design.

Unless you're one of the small number of people who are devout fans of power metal, the term tends to lead you towards the ludicrous. Power metal is an exercise in excess, the kind of metal that doesn't ask why it's so over the top, but rather asks why the top is so low. While there are heavier strains of the music, the common denominator is that it's the kind of stuff 'true' metalheads are loathe to admit they have a soft spot for. To be fair, the reputation for being ridiculous is well-deserved, and Powerwolf wears that like a badge of honor.

Certain things just don't seem to go together. So when I see a band describing themselves as a mixture of death metal and progressive rock, I wonder how those two things can possibly coexist. Death metal, even in its progressive form, is all about relentless aggression, while progressive rock is focused on nuance and development. Combining the two isn't exactly a recipe for smashing success. Yet, GrandExit claims to do such a thing, and if it is indeed possible, it would be a welcome relief from the never-ending flow of boiler-plate death metal I see.

Off the top of my head, I can't think of a more influential band that got none of the attention they deserved than the one and only Trouble. In the American scene, Trouble is as much a part of the foundation of heavy metal as any other band. Their first two albums laid the blueprint for doom on this side of the pond, while their self-titled reinvention not only served as a cornerstone for all the groove and stoner metal that followed, but it stands as one of the truly great heavy metal albums ever made. No band has ever made guitars sound heavier than Trouble.

Orphaned Land is a heavy metal band from Israel who has spent two decades preaching the message of universal brotherhood and religious peace. That sentence in and of itself is astounding for the number of contradictions it would seem to contain. But every word of it is true, and we should all be so blessed to be so passionate about such an important message. I'm going to come out and say it: I am a person of mixed religious heritage, and I feel so incredibly privileged to have been born in a time and place where that has never been an issue. I can't what my life would have been like if that hadn't been true. It's in that spirit that I take the message of Orphaned Land so seriously. I sat down with Chen Balbus, guitarist and instrumentalist for Orphaned Land, to talk about their new album, the creation of the band's unique sound, and the brotherhood that music inspires in us all.

There are two reasons I do this. The first and most important reason is because I love music. The second reason is because every now and again, I am totally and pleasantly surprised. Let me cut to the chase before we get into the minutiae – Battlecross’ new album “War of Will” readily fulfills both of those reasons.

At some point, we lost our collective minds. Obsessed with classifying everything, the amateur Linnaeus in us all has created a staggering matrix of labels we apply to the metal we listen to, to the point where describing a song can sometimes take longer than the actual track (and I wish I were making that up). By splitting the music into ever smaller pieces of understanding, we are able to better predict the likelihood of enjoying something before ever hearing a note, but we also reduce our exposure to new things, because we know exactly what we're getting.

Nickelback.

That’s an extremely charged word for anyone who has a more-than-casual interest in music of any type. Nickelback has come to symbolize all that is wrong with mainstream radio, the music industry and the lowest common denominator. More to the point, Nickelback also represents the current state of popular rock, encompassing the twin ideas of sleaze and arena rock.

I like to think of myself as being somewhat well-versed on metal and its history. But there are limits to anyone's capacity for knowledge, and when it comes to metal, mine is a mile wide and an inch deep. Only getting into heavy music after the glory days of the first wave bands was long over, my knowledge of the seminal roots of metal will never be as complete as someone who lived through those times, nor have I put in the effort to come closer.

We typically use this space to discuss the comings, goings and debuts of heavy metal, but let’s step back a second and ask a metaphysical question: What makes great music? We can all voice our opinions about why we love music to our very cores, and in a debate rarity, we’re all correct. The point is, no matter what our personal reasons are, they are all permutations of the same umbrella concept; like any non-visual medium, we appreciate that music gives us a mental image, or inspiration or a journey. Simply stated, no matter our stripes, music takes us someplace.