heavy metal

When we last heard from Enslaved, they were pushing forward with their blend of progressive and black metal, making a mixture of sounds that shouldn't work together sound unlike anything else. It was still a bit of a messy record, and I was far from in love with it, but Enslaved appeared to me to be one of the few bands in extreme metal that was doing something legitimately extreme; pushing beyond the assumed confines of the genre to explore what else lay beyond the horizon.

So here's how this week's review went down... I popped in the new album from Stormwitch, a band with which I was not familiar. I listened to it a couple of times, jotted down my thoughts and THEN moved on to the bands bio. Imagine how surprised I was to discover that not only is Stormwitch not a new band but they've been around for quite a long time. I had to double check my heavy metal encyclopedia.

There is an old story in the worlds of physics and metaphysics (very different things, by the way) about a confrontation between a scientist and what we will call a layperson. They were debating the origin of the universe, when she proposes that the world sits atop the back of a giant turtle. The scientist asks the obvious question, what is below the turtle? She scoffs, as the the question is ridiculous. The answer, she says, is another turtle. In fact, it's turtles all the way down.

Let us take a moment to stop and ask a rather odd question: what is death metal? It seems sill to be asking such an existential question about a genre that is close to thirty years old, but I'm not sure anyone has ever figured out what the true essence of death metal is. Is it the growled vocals that define death metal? The riffing style? The dark and disturbing subject matter? Some combination of these elements has been needed to truly be considered a death metal release for as long as I can remember, although I can't recall ever hearing an exact formula be spoken of.

I've got some good news and bad news for fans of the Canadian metal band The Agonist. Lead singer and founding member Alissa White-Gluz has departed the group to take over lead vocalist duties for Arch Enemy. But I said there's good news! She has been replaced by the outstanding Vicky Psarakis on the latest release from The Agonist, "Eye Of Providence".

When the touring version of Thin Lizzy announced they were changing their name and releasing an all-new album, there was a huge buzz for the first new quasi-Lizzy music in a long, long time. That did not extend to me, however, as I had never been swept away as a fan of the band. So when Black Star Riders first album came out, I listened to it not with the expectations of a legacy, but as someone walking in blind. What I found was that, over time, the album grew on me, to the point where I can now say it's quite a fine piece of work.

“Well, art is art, isn't it? Still, on the other hand, water is water! And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now, uh... Now you tell me what you know.” – Groucho Marx

When I reviewed Sylosis' previous album, I came away from it thinking that Sylosis was a band that had potential, but was still quite a ways from making the most of it. They were clearly skilled instrumentalists, as it seems the majority of new metal bands are, but their songs were lacking the heart and hooks that are supposed to elevate the music above a parade of guitar store riffs.

Despite what the name might lead you to think, progressive metal is among the most static and boring of all heavy music genres. Half the bands that fall under the moniker exist merely as a vehicle to show off the skills of the players involved, which is fine in small doses, but rarely sustains a creative career. The other half of the bands stick rigidly to the blueprint of one of the fore-bearers of the genre, giving us music that sounds exactly like something we've already heard.

Sometimes when I hear a band for the first time I find myself thinking about their motivation. Why did they choose this style of music? What is their ultimate goal for the band? For example, when James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich started Metallica their stated goal was to create the greatest rock and roll band in the world. Other bands have slightly less lofty goals such as, "I just wanna rock and roll, man".