heavy metal

Doom metal has always been an underground scene, but even in doom there are levels of complete anonymity. While bands like Pentagram, Saint Vitus, and Candlemass managed to make their names known, even if their audiences were always small, the vast majority of doom bands never make it any further than the devoted fans of the genre. Vestal Claret, to this point, has been one of those doom bands that you would never have heard of unless you were deeply entrenched in the doom scene.

Devotees of Cradle of Filth already know much of this story, but way back in the day, Cradle was working toward releasing an album called “Goetia,” which was completely erased when the record label went out of business. The album was scrapped, never to see the light of day, and was followed by the band’s third demo, “Total Fucking Darkness,” before they ultimately got signed by another label and the popular portion of their career began.

Ok, I'll admit it. Everything I know about Russia I learned from watching "Rocky IV" and that's not very much. That being the case, I knew I was in for a challenge with the latest album from Arkona titled "Yav". To be honest, upon receiving "Yav" in my inbox and reading the description, I became a little nervous when I saw that Arkona is a "Pagan Folk Metal" band. Here's the kicker, though; it turns out I'm a fan of Russian pagan folk metal.

First off, what’s important to underline before telling the Battleroar story is that “Blood of Legends” is not merely an album. The record exists as an exhibition in craft and the ability to tell a tale through a mix of classical narrative and metal elements. The metal part of Battleroar is merely the vehicle through which the story is progressed – if the heavy elements won’t or don’t fit, Battleroar is perfectly comfortable dropping them in favor of more atmospheric accuracy.

For all the attention Epica has gotten over the course of their careers are the most visible and consistent of the female fronted, symphonic metal bands, they are a mystery to me. I have somehow managed to go this long without sitting down and listening to a full Epica album, no matter how much praise has been heaped upon it. There's something about their stated mission, the blending of light and dark, soft and heavy, that feels to me like a band intentionally putting on handcuffs.

There was a time when the way a metal band could stand out from the pack was to be symphonic, to play with classic sounds and textures that most metal bands didn't have the musical skill to incorporate in their arsenals. Adding loads of strings and choirs into the music was not just a way of sounding bigger than your contemporaries, but was a way of standing apart and giving yourself a unique identity.

Throughout the history of rock and metal, there have been a number of groups who have replaced their lead singer for various reasons. It's no easy task. A band can replace a drummer with very little fanfare. They can replace a bassist and even a guitarist and generally continue on without fans blinking an eye. But replacing your front man, your lead singer, that's a tricky one. It has certainly been done before with varying degrees of success; Alice In Chains, Exodus and Anthrax did it. AC/DC and Van Halen have done it and continued or built upon previous successes. So has Iron Maiden.

In metal circles, Volbeat has become a household name. The band is loaded with metal chops and yet concurrently appeals to genres outside just their home base. The crowds that gather to see the band perform their art range in age and fandom, covering a wide spectrum of musical taste and appreciation. A Volbeat show has practically become an affirming event – patrons are there to see great music and have a great time, in a shockingly well-behaved fashion, which isn’t unwelcome.

For the last decade or so, one of the paths down which metal has gone involves the fusion of genres that don't, on the surface, seem to go together. It started with Opeth's unique brew of death metal and somber folk, but grew from there to include everything from the death metal meets jazz of Farmakon, to the 'super metal' of Monsterworks, and the kitchen sink approach that typifies bands like Between The Buried And Me. What they all have in common is a desire to do something unique in a space where it seems every good idea has already been explored.

Going the road by yourself in the music world is an admirable goal, but one that is difficult to obtain. The digital marketplace of the modern millennium makes the DIY journey more palatable, but it remains obtrusively difficult to break through in the absence of a record label; their finances, marketing power and presence can do a lot for an artist.