heavy metal

Progressive metal is in a rough period right now. The old guard are either releasing sub-standard albums that only make it more obvious how far they have fallen, or they are drastically uncool with anyone who didn't become a fan when progressive metal was first being created. Progressive today tends to mean djent, a style that has sapped all the life and humanity out of music, turning metal into a math equation of time signatures, and not songs that anyone can actually remember.

There is usually a gaping chasm between the bands and albums that get critical acclaim, and those that get popular acclaim. Part of that stems from the way that critics think about music, which evolves into a pseudo-intellectual statement of one's own musical literacy. The other part is that quality rarely equates to popularity, so many records that get acclaim from people who live an breathe music are likely to go straight over the heads of the masses. Some bands are able to win on both fronts, and one of the more unusual cases has been Primordial.

So, I'm sitting in my favorite chair with a turkey sandwich in one hand and a fresh cup of coffee in the other. The album I'm reviewing this week begins to play on the hi-fi. It starts off innocuously enough with your standard thrash guitar beginning. I take a bite of my sandwich. The song kind of sounds like something Testament or Death Angel might have done back in the day. Then, 48 seconds into the album, it snaps into some killer NYC hardcore straight outta 1993. Was I shocked? Indeed. I nearly dropped my turkey sandwich.

The thrash revival that began some twelve to eighteen months ago has nearly grown stale.  What we’ve seen is a stable of bands who understand the spirit of thrash, but ignore the most effective tenets of its execution.  Speed speed speed is the diet of the day, with nary a thought given to pace and cadence and musical design.

 

The very idea that Slayer, Suicidal Tendencies and Exodus were hitting the road together was enough to make fans check their calendar – had time somehow reverted to 1987 and nobody noticed?  The night to come was certain to be a gleeful revival of Cold War vitriol…with the exception of the fact that Slayer would be watched with eagle-eyed sharpness by all in attendance.

 

Anyone who has read these pages knows that I am not much of a fan of pure death metal. Having it mixed into more progressive sounds (a la Opeth) or played with melodic passages (a la Scar Symmetry) is just fine, but I have rarely ever sat down and played a pure death metal album end to end. That being said, there are a couple of exceptions to that rule. One of those is Bloodbath, who have shown the rare ability to make death metal that is both ferocious and catchy.

You know, there was a time when beards were a rarity in the world of heavy metal music. Lots of hair, leather and spikes but facial hair was pretty hard to come by back in the day. Scott Ian of Anthrax developed some impressive chin whiskers and Kerry King of Slayer grew himself a mighty goatee. Nowadays, a formidable beard goes part and parcel with the heaviest of heavy metal and helping to sustain that trend is UK band Krokodil, who's modus operandi is "mostly beards and riffs".

Australia has a long and proud musical history, both in terms of bands who have come from there and bands who have gone there to play.  The people of Australia are clearly in full support of the musical arts, particularly rock and extending into metal.  Still, for all that exposure and support, death metal is rarely thought of as a genre born Down Under.  Set to try and break that stereotype is Hadal Maw, a fast-rising death quintet hailing from Melbourne.

 

If I didn't know any better, by listening to enough heavy music, I would swear that the gods of rock and roll are the same ones worshiped by the Vikings. Rarely have there been songs written about the Greek and Roman gods, not that they didn't have some twisted stories that could make for interesting heavy metal, but something about the Norse has made them to go-to deities for metal bands. Skálmöld takes up their heritage, as many others have, with a bombastic style that pays tribute to those gods, while making us all feel a little bit more like an avenging warrior along the way.

Metal bands are cannibalistic. I don't say that in the sense of a Cannibal Corpse lyric, but in the sense that it's hard to find new metal bands popping up that don't have members of already established bands in them. It seems like practically everyone plays in three or four bands, which is great for fans of those players, but not so much when it means every band begins to sound even more like every other band. The members of Asphyx have been guilty of this, populating their main band, along with Hail Of Bullets and Grand Supreme Blood Court, and now Soulburn.