heavy metal

Recent years have been awkward for power metal and its fans. Guitar Hero opened the door for a renaissance of the genre, with Dragonforce making it cool to play happy, major-key metal. Despite the opportunity being presented, the genre has instead seen countless bands taking a turn away from tradition, injecting large doses of classic metal and hard rock into their sound. Always unappreciated in the eyes of most metal fans, the bands did little to take advantage of their chance in the spotlight, ironically by moving in more commercial directions.

You remember that classic Chuck Jones cartoon "Hare Way to the Stars," where Marvin the Martian sprouts a bunch of 'instant martians' from tiny pills by dousing them with water, then hastily sends them chasing off on a fool's errand after Bugs Bunny, who has absconded with the 'Illudium PU-36 Explosive Space Modulator'? That's kind of what Iron Maiden's new live release "En Vivo!" is like. (Albeit without the slapstick.)

As a band, Blackguard is a lot of things to a lot of people. Symphonic metal. Power metal. Folk metal. Death metal. A band that knows how to raise the rafters, bring down the house and entertain the multitudes. A band that puts on the same show, gives every effort, for forty or four thousand. The public face of this non-stop touring train is Paul "Ablaze" Zinay, lyricist, vocalist, frontman extraordinaire, who beneath all the intense metal carousing is a man with a gregarious personality and an easy smile. He and I sat down just a couple hours before he and Blackguard would take the stage to talk music, his native Canada, the nature of subgenres, where the band has come from and where they're going next.

The time-tested axiom holds that a person, by proxy a leopard, cannot change his or her spots. The jaws of this seemingly ironclad tenet have firmly clenched themselves around the world of music, backed up by a fervent fan base who reliably and predictably ridicules a band that attempts to do so.

The retro revival of recent years is an interesting phenomenon, not just because of the reminds the music provides of a different time, but because the bands looking to the past can't decide what era should be resurrected for a new audience. The European metal scene is stocked with bands calling back to the 80's heyday of hard rock and glam metal, trying to remind people that this kind of music can be fun. Many of them are ridiculed for wanting to return to a time many true metal fans regard as a blight on the good name of heavy metal, leaving the essential point to go unnoticed.

When a band replaces an iconic singer, it's a no-win situation. No matter the quality of the new voice, it will never be able to counteract the nostalgia we associate with the original incarnation. Accept has come closer than anyone in recent memory to breaking the curse. Reuniting without Udo Dirkschneider was a risk, one that resulted in “Blood Of The Nations”, an album that won critical acclaim and appeared on countless year-end lists.

When Bonded by Blood is the first band of the evening, each paying individual should be well aware of the night that is to follow. A perfect scene setter for everything that came after, Los Angeles’ Bonded by Blood is one of those rare acts who would have exactly the same amount of fun whether playing in front of 20 or 2,000. It is clear from the band’s raucous delivery that they enjoy playing their brand of thrash revival metal whether or not anyone is there to hear it.

Change happens so gradually it's hard to recognize the shift that's been made. Listening to “There Will Be Blood”, the immediate impression is that Dirge Within is a perfectly capable middle-of-the-road metal band. It's only when we stop and think that it becomes apparent how much metal has changed in the last thirty years. From the clinical guitar tones to the gruff shouting that encompasses most of the vocals, this is music that would have been extreme in the 80's, yet today it doesn't raise an eyebrow.

Being in a band that managed to establish a legacy is a blessing for a musician, and it can also be a curse. Once public opinion makes a verdict on your abilities, and your best works, it becomes nearly impossible for anyone to overcome those perceptions and establish a new reality. For Jeff Loomis, who for the last twenty years has been synonymous with Nevermore, everything he accomplishes both with this album and in the future will be seen through the filter of his previous band. Nevermore's breakup seemed inevitable.

There are no secrets here. Not that anyone expected there to be. Municipal Waste is an awful lot of things as a band, but subtle just plain isn’t one of them.

Their new album, “The Fatal Feast,” is sixteen cuts of punk-heavy thrash, and there are no other adjectives that can feasibly be used to describe the style of music. It is those things and nothing more or less.