heavy metal

The Middle East in Cambridge, Massachusetts is a wonderful place to see a show, offering a fill menu of quality items upstairs and then…the basement. Going down those black, diamond plate steps into the din of the restaurant’s basement is enough of a sensation to make the concert patron feel like he or she is a part of something. You become a member of the privileged few, the crowd who is enough in the know to want to know more about the evening’s music to come.

Every now and again, I’m faced with an album that I don’t quite know how to decipher, or how to react. It is a bittersweet experience to be sure; the joined sensation of exposure to something totally new which also makes you consider how much you’ve ever really known about music.

It annoys me when rock and metal fans use the word 'pop' as an insult, acerbically spitting the words through snarled lips. It's meant to be an insult, but it misses the mark, and instead of branding the music as heretical to the cause, shows that it's the 'fans' in question who deserve the harsh treatment. I often cite the adage “there's nothing better than a three minute pop song”, and for good reason; it's true. No matter what style of music you're a fan of, there's something comforting and enjoyable about hearing music that wants you to enjoy it.

Sometimes all we want is for an album to come along and kick our ass. That is, in essence, what heavy metal has always been about, at least since the bands that were initially spawned from the days of Black Sabbath came to life. You didn't need to have artistic sensibilities to listen, nor did you need any sense of nuance. Metal was the music that was heard and heavy, the soundtrack to a party in Hell.

There's something to be said for bands taking grand risks. It may be comfortable to pump out album after album of songs that are slight derivations and deviations of the norm, but those can't always satisfy the creative yearning to do something daringly unique, to embrace the spirit of art in a way that popular music doesn't often accept. Not all of these endeavors turn out well, but there's something intriguing about hearing music that's completely unexpected, that turns expectations on end, and delivers an experience no one could have seen coming.

There are times in a band's career when they need a shock to the system. For whatever reason, they get stuck in a rut and lose the spark that made them what they were. Fans can hear it, and when that happens, the critics begin to grow louder. Each album becomes less beloved than the one before it, there's more talk about their prime being over, and anticipation for the future begins to wane. When this happens, there aren't many things that can be done to return a band to their former glory.

What a surprise out of left field. When you look at Skeletal Remains album “Beyond the Flesh” and consider the name of the band combines with the album cover’s Cannibal Corpse motif, you think you know what you’re getting.

Yet, you would be wrong! Okay, there are the given deathmetal and grindcore standards, including the scowling vocals, nightmarish lyrical themes and generally ghoulish presentation, but the twist comes in the unexpected form of catchy and melodic riffs and purely free-form Van Halen style soloing.

When you think of women in rock, the number of names that come to mind is small. When you think of women in metal, that number shrinks further. And when you think of women in metal who have been able to survive for twenty five years, one name comes to mind; Doro. For a quarter century, Doro has been defying stereotypes and putting out old-school metal that never fails to recall the days when the star of heavy metal burned brightest. Time may not have been the kindest to the style of music Doro has always stood for, but it has been kind to her.

What makes Dethklok unique among gimmick bands (which is not an insult, merely a fact,) is that the “band” plays the role totally straight. Most metal fans’ exposure to the blend of comedy and metal comes through bands like GWAR or Haunted Garage, who make no secret of their over-the-top motives. Even the mighty Spinal Tap played up their persona, skillfully reveling in and mocking the signature characteristics of metal.

Both as a fan of music, and someone who dabbles in it, I'm a big fan of the vintage revolution that has taken hold in large swaths of the rock and metal world. There's something about stripped-down, simplified, authentic music that is appealing on a level no amount of modern flash can replicate. As more and more bands find new ways to combine computerized sounds with nearly inhuman displays of fretboard acrobatics, the old-school approach of building a song out of a riff and then playing it as a band holds more and more power.