heavy metal

Every so often I get the chance to hear something that catches me off-guard. I enjoy those moments, not just because they're rare, but because they usually end up being some of the more memorable experiences I have with music. It's not always the case, and many times it's with records I would rather never hear again, but the old adage about any publicity being good publicity does come to mind. Whether good or bad, the ability to stand out from the throngs of music I've ingested is one of those things that shouldn't be taken for granted.

There may be no word scarier to the traditional metal fan than 'metalcore'. Merely mentioning the term stirs up feelings of angst and unease, as though the music is a deadly infection that threatens to wipe out earlier strains of heavy metal. Perhaps there was a time for such concern, when it looked as though metalcore was going to grow beyond being the next big thing, and would instead come to dominate the scene at large. Like always, those fears were overblown, and have since been tossed into the pile of absurd predictions that is always fun to dig through for a laugh.

When an album comes across my desk with a press release bearing words like 'sodomy', 'filth', and 'vile', a small part of me has already started writing my opinion before I ever hear a note of the music. It's a lousy form of jurisprudence, but it's one I won't pretend to ignore. They say you can't judge a book by its cover, but we all know that it happens all the time. There are plenty of reasons why we should know better, why we should try to be more enlightened, but in the end, it's difficult to fight our baser tendencies.

In the long, winding story of heavy metal, one of the most under-appreciated chapters is that of American pioneers Trouble. The Chicago band was responsible not only for the rise and development of American doom metal, but three albums later also the development of groove and stoner metal. Their catalog is littered with classic records, and they boast what may be the least known, yet most deserving guitar tandem to ever turn up an amp. Why am I spending a few sentences on a band whose album I'm not reviewing?

Of all the subsets of heavy metal, doom may just be the hardest to do well. While thrash can get by on the adrenaline of speed, prog can get by on intellectual arguments, and death and black metal can get by on sheer aggression, doom has nothing to fall back on. The plodding tempos make doom subject to falling into tepid boredom, repeating the same riffs over and over again until the blur into a mash of heaviness.

Progressive music has been in the midst of a boom in recent years. After a long stretch of time in which being able to play your instrument was deemed unnecessary, and long songs were out of vogue, things have come full circle to an embrace of the reckless creativity that marked the glory age of music. Whether a softer approach as taken by groups like Transatlantic, fully metal statements by the likes of Opeth, or something straddling the fence like Porcupine Tree, more and more bands have accepted the freedom that comes with being progressive.

Death metal has, over time, become a uniquely divided sect of the greater heavy metal catalogue. To ask metal fans on each side of the Atlantic what "death metal" should sound like would elicit two wildly different answers. Overseas, death metal is a genre characterized by high-frequency screaming and a veritable avalanche of non-stop guitar. Meanwhile back at the ranch, American death metal is partially infused with the facets of modern hardcore, to produce a sound that shares a relationship with its European cousin, but is marked with guttural growls and heavy-handed distortion.

In due time, it's almost a guarantee that every sub-genre of metal will end up blended with every other. Bands like to break new ground, to establish legacies, and being able to claim an entire sub-genre as your progeny is an effective way of doing so. As the combinations are used up, it leaves some interesting amalgamations unexplored. What might at first thought sound like an undesirable experiment, could actually turn out to be a pleasant look into the future.

I have never been a fan of Nile. I should probably start by saying that.

It seems like I should be. High speed death metal? Check. Ancient Egyptian mythology? Yep. References to H.P Lovecraft? It's got those, too! If Nile could see fit to squeeze in a couple tunes about chocolate cake and the Oakland Raiders, they'd have a bunch of the basic tenets of my personality covered. Yet, it doesn't work for me.

Metal is an absurd theater, when you stop and think about it. Much of the music we love is played with unwavering conviction, as though an amplifier turned up high enough can actually transmit the music to the Gods. It sounds stupid, but it's exactly why we become fans, and why we stay involved with the scene, no matter how many people may point and laugh at the more outlandish escapades of our heroes. Metal has a long history of being cheesy, over-the-top, and utterly ridiculous, and no band has ever been so guilty as Manowar.