album review

Fates Warning has earned a spot on the Mount Rushmore of progressive metal. Embracing the spirit of progression perhaps more than any other band of their ilk, Fates Warning has continually pushed the boundaries of what progressive metal can be, as well as the boundaries of who they are as a band. Though not as dramatic or publicized as the shifts in sound and style bands like Metallica and Iron Maiden have undergone, the continued evolution of Fates Warning is a hallmark in true progressiveness.

Cory Smoot's untimely and unexpected death was just another blow to a heavy metal community that had struggled through the deaths of James "The Rev" Sullivan, Peter Steele, Paul Gray and Ronnie James Dio. The loss of GWAR's most prominent axe-man caused the holding of breath, the first truly serious press releases from Dave Brockie in recent memory and ultimately the retirement of the Flattus Maximus character, a heretofore untold step in the pantheon of GWAR's fictional story and real-life history.

Objects in the rear-view mirror are closer than they appear. So says the disclaimer as you look to see how close the approaching headlights are while you speed through the dark. You may think you can, but the past cannot be outrun. It is in this spirit that Grand Magus catches me. One of the more interesting developments, to me, of recent years has been the growth of traditional metal. There are more bare-bones, stripped-down metal bands churning out the kind of music that filled the early 80's than at any point since the days of big riffs and even bigger hair.

Miseration's new album "Tragedy Has Spoken" makes me feel like the old cop in a Frankie Avalon movie who pulls over the young feller in his new red convertible GTO and gives him a stern but fatherly warning: "Whoa, where's the fire? Slow down, son, you'll get yourself hurt, and then you can't go to the beach party with your combustion engines and your rock music and your make-out parties." I think we may have gotten off on a tangent there, but you get the idea.

Power metal has always been the red-headed step-child of the metal world, largely because of its reputation for being anything but heavy. The major-key riffs, high vocals, and songwriting that isn't obsessed with death gave rise to a slew of critics who think 'flower metal' is too embarrassing to be classified as metal. What they miss, aside from the very spirit of inclusion and open-mindedness metal is supposed to be about, is a wave of power metal that doesn't play by the old blueprint. Many bands use big melodies and bigger choruses to wrap up messages that are as heavy as any other.

Perhaps no subset of metal has exploded from creation as quickly as djent. The style born from the embers of Meshuggah's techincal percussive onslaught is the sound of the moment. While there are still more bands playing the more established colors of the metal rainbow, djent is where the attention of younger metal fans is focused. Every generation needs a sound of their own; for those currently coming of metal age, this will be theirs.

The Bunny the Bear is a post-hardcore band that some have said incorporates dance elements into their music to flesh out their sound. More than that, the band is equal parts musical and theatrical experiment, attempting to push both the envelope of the hardcore sound and the envelope of presentation. This is one of those situations where fans will stand by and argue that detractors simply don't understand the fusion and exploration that's going on, and that might be true; but it also makes the bold assumption that the fusion and exploration is worth getting.

SIVA Addiction pounds out heavy metal in that uniquely blue-collar American way that is totally untouched by other countries, influences or genres. There is a sliver of the genre that remains impossibly true to the original form of heavy metal; a logical, blown-out extension of rock and roll from the middle seventies that revels in all the pomp and dirt that the legacy of that era entails. That sliver thrived in the U.S.

One thing that can be said about progressive rock and metal musicians is that there's no short supply of ambition in their work. Whether talking about concept albums, hour-long songs, or star-studded lineups, there is no such thing as 'too big' for their thinking. In large part, it's this kind of boundless creative energy that makes progressive rock and metal such an interesting landscape. So many sounds, feelings, and approaches can fit under the banner and be accepted that there's always a bit of a mystery when you first hear a new band, no matter the pedigree of the musicians involved.

One of the questions that has long puzzled me as a music fan is to what degree an artist's standing as an innovator and genre-definer should be incorporated into their legacy. While being the first to travel down a certain path does necessitate a historical remembrance of that person's efforts, it doesn't mean that the work done to blaze that trail is worth remembering.