Staying true to roots is difficult because as time goes on and learning increases, one must necessarily spread wings and soar to more ambitious ground. Killing Joke do both on MMXII, an album that showcases the style of their first album as interpreted through a more modern style and revisiting their influences.
Categorizing Killing Joke has never been easy. They sound like they should be an electronic music band, with spacious beats and future pop song structures, but then they add in guitar which sounds like a lighter version of Amebix, and a distinctly sweet-sour male vocal that gives the music an expansive mood and lightens the sometimes intense distortion on the guitars. They augment this with atmospheric keyboards and a throbbing, pulsing aggro-pop bass groove.
On MMXII, the band get closer to their roots in early electro and British techno pop, using melody to lead the otherwise unstoppable fusion of industrial, pop, punk and rock that they wrap into a final product that is both passionate and furious. While this is no way a metal band, Killing Joke has influenced a good many metal bands because it shares a similar mood: mythological, metaphorical, distanced from the human and yet emotional in the sense of someone watching a lovely mountainside burn in a drought.
As fierce critics of the modern life and its favorite crutches, Killing Joke also have a mood that is more punk than the most righteously self-proclaimed punk. This gives the music a surging quality, between a contemplative Britpop melancholy and harmony, and a driving rage during which the vocals distort to the edge of black or death metal territory. The result is an enclosing wall of sound that catches the listener in its emotion.
MMXII presents an amazingly consistent package. While songs are generally verse-chorus with strategic breaks, and cycle around to circular structures that repeat with changes, they are not consistent and each one has a different set of moods. Like actors playing a role in the drama of the album, each seems like a shard of the glass face reflecting the true experience of this album, which is both elaborate and brilliantly compelling.
The Death Melodies Series (DMS) continues with modernist Richard Wagner.
Born in Germany during 1813, Wagner composed his first opera The Fairies when he was 20. He wrote many operas and had successes as a composer and conductor. However, political controversy hindered many aspects of his life.
Wagner was discontent during the industrialization of Europe. Mankind’s lust for advancing technology left many areas poverty-stricken. He became a Socialist in hopes that a revolution would rectify the issues in Germany. Wagner had a small role in the May Uprising in Dresden which proved unsuccessful. He fled to Paris, then relocated to Switzerland for eleven years.
While in political exile, Wagner desired to resurrect the Norse spirit of ancient Europe. He’s best known for the monumental work Der Ring des Nibelungen, which is the most ambitious undertaking by any one person in European music. The Ring Cycle took Wagner over 25 years to accomplish, as well as having a playing time of 15 hours.
Wagner delved into many different Scandinavian sources and fashioned a grandiose medieval drama. Dwarves, Valkyries, heroes and monsters all had roles in the operas. He wanted his work to help strengthen political principles, but he also managed to craft some of the most stunning works in classical music.
In 1840, Wagner started composing his Faust symphony which was inspired by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s play Faust. The symphony was never completed and it was instead turned into a single-movement concert overture.
The job of a reviewer is to describe music, not judge it. Assessment ultimately becomes obvious from the context of expectation created by the reviewer which shows where all things must fit in the bigger pattern.
Monsterworks resembles a mixture of things and prefers to stay that way. The majority of the structural parts of songs are like Led Zeppelin mixed with Southern Rock and early doom metal, using metalcore style rasp vocals, so that most of what you hear is very guitar-rock styled heavy metal. This is a welcome change from the less organic metalcore of late.
If you like guitar playing that is bluesy, varied and emotional, this album will pique your interest. While the vocals rant, guitars hit all the right rhythms and then work in leads with the fills, slowly building up intensity until the song explodes in sound. If you can imagine Led Zeppelin and Ion Dissonance collaborating on a stoner doom album, this might be about it.
Monsterworks create very much in the 1970s style, and yet with its vocals and aesthetics, very much in the 2010s style as well. The result is both deeply engaged and like newer metal hybrids, incessant in its peak intensity, which can make it meld together indistinctly. It often detours into “different” arenas, like progressive rock, tech-deth, and straight up hardcore, as if a variety show.
Album of Man reforms the anti-technical side of post-metal and metalcore however by using the guitar as a voice of its own, and breaking up the strident extremity with old fashioned instrumentalism. This both brings rock and metal back to their core and renews the intensity of the vocals. By doing so, it takes newer metal to a better place and makes for a more satisfying listen.
We can only know the present by knowing the past. In the case of heavy metal, it is a murky past obscured by both the grandiose rockstar dreams of individuals and the manipulative fingers of a voracious industry.
Metal arose through a complicated narrative worthy of a lost empire, and by knowing this history, we can know more of the music we enjoy today.
Specifically of interest are a number of threads that interweave throughout the history of the genre, both as outside influences and later as internal habits, which influence its twisting path from something a lot like rock to a genre entirely separate.
This story then is a tale of how many became one, or how they found something in common among themselves, and how it has taken years of creative people hammering on the parts to meld them into one single thing, known as heavy metal.
However, no one really likes a lengthy essay. Instead, here’s metal’s history the best way it can be experienced: by listening to it.
1968-1970 — the origins
Three threads ran alongside each other: punk, proto-metal and progressive rock. All three are on the edge of being metal, since the type of progressive rock in question is raw and disturbing and not of the “everybody be happy love friends” hippie style. This is music that thinks our society is disturbed, and that therefore many of the values we reject are worth a closer look. Some is fatalist-nihilist, like the self-destructive tendencies of punk, where progressive rock is more clinical, and metal more epic (looking for meaning in the ancients, in nature, the occult and conflict).
Iggy and the Stooges – Raw Power
Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath
King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King
1971-1981 — maturation
A lot happened here, but basically, metal became more like its ancestors (hard rock), progressive rock faded out, and punk got more rock-music-like. The punk from this era is more like normal rock music than the outsider stuff it originally was, but also gains some aggression from Motorhead, who may technically be metal but were born of a progressive rock band (Hawkwind) and sounded very punk and inspired the next generation of punks to be louder, lewder, etc.
Punk music arose from the earlier work by Iggy and the Stooges, but formalized itself into a pop genre that used guitars more like keyboards than like the guitar fireworks of conventional guitar-intense bands like Cream and The Who.
An exception to the metal of the period was NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal). DIY and extreme for the day, it left behind the Led Zeppelin-styled “hard rock” vein of metal and got away from Sabbath’s detuned doom and gloom to make energetic, mythological but also somewhat excited-about-life metal.
Satan – Court in the Act
Angel Witch – Angel Witch
Iron Maiden – Killers
Judas Priest – Sin After Sin
1982-1987 — the peak
Punk got its act together, in part inspired by the more commercial bands like Ramones and Sex Pistols. This is where hardcore punk really happened. That in turn spurred a revolution because music had finally left rock behind, and by mating the nihilistic (no inherent rules) composition of punk with the longer-phrase riffs of metal (derived from horror movie soundtracks), the riff styles of death metal and black metal were born, and the progressive song structures of speed metal evolved. At the same time, essentialist movements in punk hybrids (thrash) and metal (doom) emerged, sending many back to the roots of these subgenres.
Discharge – Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing
The Exploited – Death Before Dishonour
Amebix – Arise!
A second generation arose in the USA (all of the above bands are UK):
Cro – Mags – The Age of Quarrel
Black Flag – Damaged
Minor Threat – Discography
1983 — the big branching: speed, thrash and death/black
1983 is a crucial year, and so it gets its own entry. Metal and punk cross-influenced each other. The result was a lot more metal. If you’re familiar with nu-metal or more radio style metal, start with speed metal, as it’s the most like really violent rock music with influences from progressive rock in song structure. If you like messy punk (!!!) try some thrash. And if you’ve already given your soul to Satan, try death/black. With death/black, there’s also some influences from progressive rock, although they’re balanced with punk technique which makes for a chaotic spawn.
Speed metal took the complex song forms of progressive rock, the muted-strum guitar riffing of the NWOBHM bands like Blitzkrieg, and added to it the high energy of punk hardcore and came up with songs that kept getting faster and faster. This shocked people of the day, and was the primary reason speed metal bands were different from the NWOBHM that came before them, hence it was dubbed “speed metal.”
Metallica – Kill ‘Em All
Nuclear Assault – Game Over
Megadeth – Rust in Peace
Testament – The New Order
Thrash is a hybrid genre that takes punk songs and puts metal riffs in them. Its name arises from “thrasher,” or skater, and those were the people who embraced this style of music that was more extreme than metal or hardcore at the time. While it leans toward punk, it used metal riffs, and wrote short songs that in the punk style lambasted society but in the metal style tended to mythologize the resulting conflict.
In 1983, these bands contributed just about equally to the new sound. In the largest part inspired by NWOBHM like Venom and Motorhead filtered through aggro-hardcore like GBH and Discharge, the unholy triad invented underground metal to come.
Bathory – The Return
Once proto-death/black metal had occurred, people began to expand on the formula. One side decided to make it more technical, and riffy, and taking after Hellhammer’s “Triumph of Death” and the increasingly mind-bending riffing of Slayer, made it use mazes of mostly chromatic phrasal riffs. On the other side, some wanted to preserve the atmosphere of the simpler songs that Bathory and Hellhammer had to offer, but injected melody and loosened up the drums to keep it from being as clear and rigid as death metal. While that latter group went off to figure out black metal, the death metal team experienced a boom of creativity and excess during 1985-1995.
Necrovore – Divus Te Mortuus
Morbid Angel – Abominations of Desolation
While death metal was just starting up, other bands were trying to figure out how to make melodic ambient metal, structured equally after early melodic metal and free-floating songs like Slayer’s “Necrophiliac.” The result had chaotic drums, deliberately bad sound quality to avoid becoming a trend or something which could be imitated, and high shrieking vocals to death metal’s guttural growl. Taking a cue from Bathory, Slayer and Hellhammer, it also embraced the occult and esoteric and rejected conventional social norms and religions.
As black metal matured, it moved into Norway, possibly inspired by the previous generation of melodic Swedish death metal bands who used high sustain through heavy distortion to make melodic songs which featured less constant riff-changing than the bigger bands from overseas.
Immortal – Diabolical Full Moon Mysticism
Mayhem – De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
Darkthrone – Under a Funeral Moon
This is just the beginning; there’s a lot more after this in all of the genres, which kept developing in their own ways. This is only an introduction to the history of it all, and is not designed to be comprehensive…
Satan‘s Life Sentence is going to hit a lot of best of lists for this year because it is the root of the most lastingly popular metal genre ever created.
In the early 1980s, speed metal bands like Metallica popularized the style, but acknowledged their debt to NWOBHM including Motorhead, Diamond Head and Blitzkrieg. These bands were from the far side of NWOBHM as it incorporated more punk influences and as a way of differentiating itself from the earlier versions, got harder, heavier, riffier and generally more aggressive.
Back in those times, Satan’s Court in the Act was considered one of the fore-runners of speed metal. With the advantage of 30 years of wisdom, Satan re-assembled — now with experience spent in bands like Blitzkrieg and Skyclad — and restored its vision of the past with an album that is harder, faster and heavier than their earlier works.
Life Sentence however also includes the best aspects of NWOBHM, which includes the melodic vocals and melodic guitar-based songwriting, with technical chops that aren’t overstated, and a good sense of developing theme. It makes many of the post-Metallica imitators of speed metal seem like two-note template-based song construction, and shows metal a way to renovate its own flagging fortunes: improve songwriting.
It won’t be hard to convince people to enjoy this album. As we pointed out in our review, it’s a winner with metalheads who like musicality with their speed thrills. We were fortunate to be able to talk with guitarist Steve Ramsey.
Back in the 1980s, when asked about the origins of speed metal (Metallica, Exodus, Anthrax, Testament, Megadeth) many people pointed me toward Court in the Act, and others mentioned the “Into the Fire” demo you released in 1982. What do you think your contributions were toward inventing this new style? Do you think it was widely recognised?
I think on the underground it was recognised that the album had some significance. Unfortunately it didn’t seem so to us at the time, hence the name and direction change. We knew we were pushing boundaries in our own way.
What floors me about Life Sentence is how you mix melodic guitar playing with aggressive and fast riffing. Do you get a lot of comparisons to Judas Priest’s Painkiller? How do you think this album is different from your past works?
We were heavily influenced by early Priest, especially the Unleashed in the East live album and the older material on that album. No one has mentioned this until now. Their earlier material in he seventies was very progressive, unlike some of the stuff that made them popular in the eighties. We tried to create what we think would have been our second album had the lineup stayed in tact. We had a few rules we made and stuck to. For instance, we didn’t think we would have written much in odd time signatures.
The term “power metal” popped up a lot in the late 1990s to refer to bands that were melodic in composition but used the more aggressive riff styles of speed metal and death metal, like Helstar and Stratovarius. However, Satan was doing all of this back in 1982. Do you think the community caught up to you, and do you think that your first album would be received differently today?
If the reaction to the new album is anything to go by then yes, I think the album would have fared better now. Aggressive melodic speed metal is a term that could be used to describe a lot of what we are in to writing and performing as a band.
Life Sentence is a remarkably complete album in that every song seems to fit and there’s not a dull moment. What’s your songwriting and quality control process? How do you start writing a song — with an idea, an image, a riff, a melody, or what? — and how do you determine what goes on the album?
It’s strange really, we didn’t have any left overs. Everything we put together is on the album. Russ is the main writer of the music along with myself, but a lot of the stuff is a collaboration between us and the other members adding their bits and pieces to the general picture and overall performance. It’s a true team effort.
Members have gone on to other bands, including Skyclad which claimed your guitarist and bassist for some time. How is Skyclad different from Satan? It is famous for mixing folk music in with metal. Is this a natural progression from what you did with Satan?
Not at all. That was a concept perceived by our ex-singer Martin and myself. We started off playing a more thrashy form of music and gradually added more of the folk element as we went on. Sabbat were a thrash band that Martin was in previous to Skyclad. His vocal style determined what we were able to do too.
How do you see yourself as different from death metal? In the Metal Forces interview, you say Satan changed the name in part to avoid being seen as being like Venom and Slayer. Musically and artistically, how do you see yourselves as different from these bands? In an interview with Snakepit magazine, you mentioned that Satan chose its path before black metal and death metal. What do you think of these movements which have built on what you’ve created?
When we formed the band Russ and I were 15 and still at school together. We thought Satan was a true heavy metal name for a band and of course we’d come up with a fantastic logo. We were into Black Sabbath but they weren’t branded by their name with everyone thinking they were into the occult or whatever. This happened later to the music scene. In the eighties we had some towns trying to ban us from playing and Christians demonstrating outside shows because of the name. We tired of this and having to explain that we weren’t preachers of evil etc.
I think nowadays it’s taken a little more tongue-in-cheek what a band decides to call itself. I like aggressive music and we write songs about the evil things that happen in the world but we have nothing to do with devil worship and all of that stuff and dont want to be associated with it. The forms black and death metal weren’t the issue, it was the message that some of these bands were tring to deliver. Slayer are one of my favourite bands.
In the German TV interview posted on your website, you mention how metal audiences are too trend-orientated. How do you think this has helped you or hurt you over the years? You mention in the context of Skyclad, that not being popular isn’t a judgment on musical quality. Can you tell us more about this?
This is especially what happens in the UK. The popular press lead the fans into liking the music made by the major labels, and of course those labels are the ones that fund the magazines through advertising. We’ve had situations in the past with press in Germany too where you’ll get an album review but no feature because your label aren’t paying for a big full colour advertisement in that mag. This makes it more difficult to be heard if you’re trying to create someting new on a small independent label. It’s really not the audience’s fault, they get into what they get to hear and that goes for mainstream too. This has changed a lot since I made that statement due to the internet and fans being able to find what they like themselves.
In the Snakepit interview, you say that your first gig involved playing covers by Black Sabbath, Motorhead and the Ramones. How much influence did punk have on your music? Where did the Motorhead influence come in? Was it balanced by another influence, that sounds more like traditional NWOBHM and guitar-oriented rock?
We listened to a lot of punk stuff in the seventies and wanted to involve that raw energy in our music. Motorhead were one of the first metal bands to do that for us. Also we played punk stuff because it was easy to play and people would identify with it at school where our first gig was! We were also listening to Deep Purple, Rainbow, Priest and Rush but couldn’t play that yet. We would play a lot of Priest songs from Unleashed in The East, “Kill the King” by Rainbow, “The Trees” by Rush and others later on in our early days.
How is it that people confuse writing about evil, with suggesting that evil is a good idea? Does this reveal something about them? I’m thinking of your comments (Steve and Graeme) in the German TV interview on the Satan page about how people would boycott Satan without knowing anything about the music.
Yes, it is a little naive. Unfortunately there are people out there who make assumptions without listening. There were bands promoting it through their lyrics too though and that didn’t help with us being called Satan.
In an interview with Metal Forces magazine, you said you wanted to get away from darker themes and “all this black death, killing people and devils. We want to get some life into metal. Music isn’t about death, it’s about life.” — is there a way for bands to be about life even with dark themes, or are the two mutually exclusive? Do you think many metal bands are going about this the wrong way?
I think what I was trying to say was that some bands try to deliver a message through their lyrics and sometimes it’s not good. We certainly did that with Skyclad and still do but Satan was never about that. We want people to enjoy listening to the band and the dark lyrical themes suit the music we make but were not trying to deliver any kind of opinion or message with them. There are also a lot of bands that share the same attitude.
You’ve now played a number of festivals, and come out with what I think will be a strong contender for album of the year, and you’ve got a powerful lineup ready to go. Are you going to tour more, or focus on recording more material?
Thanks for that accolade. Everything is very much up in the air and in the lap of the gods! If you’d asked us a couple of years ago are we going to make an album we probably would have laughed. The interest in what we do is leading us. This album went so well that there have been whispers in the camp about maybe doing another. We take the shows we get offered and we have some good ones coming up.
Thank you very much for the great review Brett. It’s great to know there are people out there who really get what were doing and appreciate it and that really came across when we read it.
Many don’t see this as a metal topic, but as Cianide would say, “Metal never bends!” What does bend, to trends? The hipster and all other people who think a surface-level view of life is important.
A hipster is someone who leverages all aspects of their personality, art and social group for the kind of invisible magic karma points that “popularity” and “notoriety” confer upon the narcissistic personality. Like cultists, hipsters have shattered self-esteem and seek to compensate by knowing things that other people don’t know, specifically traded in artistic and cultural artifacts that are special — like the hipsters themselves — for being unique, odd, “different,” unconventional, distinctive, etc.
Notice what’s missing in there: realistic, accurate, informative and/or useful.
Hipsters originally shunned metal because metal is by nature a warlike genre. We look past the surface level of life’s drama, expressed dually by individual narcissism and social group zombie hive mind thinking, and instead pay attention to the situation beyond the individual. The heavy stuff: war, death, metaphysics, infinity, disease, history, the occult and the esoteric.
Ever since the Allies bombed the Axis into submission, Western civilization has had a succession of counter-culture movements that have energetically challenged the status quo. Each successive decade of the post-war era has seen it smash social standards, riot and fight to revolutionize every aspect of music, art, government and civil society.
But after punk was plasticized and hip hop lost its impetus for social change, all of the formerly dominant streams of “counter-culture” have merged together. Now, one mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior has come to define the generally indefinable idea of the “Hipster.”
An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” – a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.
Since that time, the hipster epidemic has only become more pervasive. Famous for being ironic, in order to be unconventional and different, hipsters wander through life making art out of garbage, Instagraming their oddball tastes in food, liveblogging their personal drama, treating their children like press agents for themselves, and generally making society more vapid, plastic, superficial, oblivious, trivial and vain.
Luckily, world leaders and authority figures are stepping in to help out.
First, North Korea is helping by threatening immediate war. But this isn’t a war on the USA. It’s a war on hipsters:
Some Texans, however, suggested the path in fact led 95 miles south to Austin, the state’s capital, and speculated that Mr Kim had taken against the liberal enclave’s young “hipster” population.
North Korea probably doesn’t get a lot of US papers. They probably don’t get too many Americans over there who aren’t credulous tourists or formal State Department types. However, they do get the internet. To them, America is an unending stream of Pinterest, Facebook, Reddit and FourSquare. From their point of view, the US = hipsters. So they’re taking out the real hipster capital of this place, and hope that will kill our culture like an ant mound poisoned with cianide.
From a completely different angle, Taylor Swift is mocking hipsters with her new single, including Instagram-style photographs, ironic hipster classes, and bittersweet lyrics that are poignant through indecision. She is hoping to curry her fanbase, composed of legions of young women with disposable income, to wage war on the hipster. This might succeed even better than Kim Jong-un’s nuclear attack.
And covering the domestic front, Boston’s police department are cracking down on hipster house parties featuring boring two-note pop punk bands with ironic themes about getting lost on life’s highway. Apparently, the officers are impersonating trendy hipsters in order to figure out where the hip ones are congregating in suburban houses, where they and their bad bands and PBR make noise until 4 am, prompting not one but many homeowners to open fire with rusty old weapons from the last real war.
While by themselves none of these seem significant, when added up these commonalities point to one thing: a world-wide backlash against the hipster and its superficial, ironic and selfish ways. As the hipster falls, metal rises, so we’re glad to see this development.
According to a post on their Facebook page, California gore-metal morticians Autopsy are entering the studio in early April to record their next full-length. Described as “monstrous brutality” independent of all trends, this album indicate what insiders suggest could be a return to Autopsy’s roots in complex, esoteric death metal.
During the early days of death metal, Autopsy were distinct because of their ability to use multiple tempi per song, to employ harmony and theme, and to use seemingly sloppy, grotesque, overflowing riffs to convey themes of death, suffering and disease. Their career arguably peaked with 1991’s Mental Funeral, an album of many varied songs of different lengths and song structures, presenting a strange landscape for the listener to navigate.
Last year’s Macabre Eternal showed Autopsy returning to the sound of old school death metal and the abrasive aesthetics that came with it, but not quite entering the realm of the weird where obscure song structures and riffs contribute to mood as much as they did on older Autopsy releases. Although that album showed promise, its somewhat consistent approach created a uniform intensity which resulted in much of the content getting lost on some ears.
The Headless Ritual will be recorded at Fantasy Studios under the care of Adam Munoz, with cover art by the widely-acclaimed Joe Petagno. Slated to be released on Peaceville Records sometime in June, the album is the latest chapter in the continuing odyssey of Autopsy and promises a brutal dose of gore, rancidity and internal decay.
For many years, metal was viewed as being outside the society which it comments on. Recently, as metal has bent closer toward the mainstream, it has become more accepted, which has led to some metal bands going farther in the direction they were originally going.
In return, metal is starting to give back in a big way. Former Anthrax guitarist, current Red Lamb guitarist and autism awareness activist Dan Spitz will be attending the metal conference to serve as a keynote speaker along with noted academics and journalists who have covered metal. Worldwide attendance will make this a legendary event.
Vancouver Symphony Orchestra composer-in-residence Edward Top notes three similarities between metal and classical: both are dedicated to releasing energy, a “shredder” tradition in both and shared enjoyment among musicians, and that both are “outsider” genres to the mainstream, with both coming from camps of people who are probably too smart or too nerdy (I have no idea what he’s talking about) for their own good.
It’s gratifying to see metal get the recognition it has deserved for many years, and for the classical tradition in metal to be acknowledged, at the same time academics are taking metal seriously and digging into its philosophical and social roots. It may turn out that despite years of downturned-mouth condemnation of metal, society is finally taking it seriously and may even learn from what it has revealed.
Noteworthy doom metal band Cathedral has released a new song named “Tower of Silence” from their upcoming album The Last Spire. It features a mixture of old-school heaviness and modern accessibility, wrapped in a package of skillful structure.
Vocalist and band founder Lee Dorian, who assembled Cathedral after his departure from seminal grindcore act Napalm Death, styles the new album as a return to the form that made 1991’s Forest of Equilibrium so powerful.
“This is the album I’ve been waiting to do since the first one, it almost feels like we made our second album last in some respects,” said Dorrian. “We actually recorded a lot more material but decided to sacrifice many of the tracks to make the overall album feel more complete in its nihilism. I don’t like happy endings, I never have. So many good films are ruined by happy endings and I didn’t want that to be the case with Cathedral, it was my dream to bring everything full circle.”
Cathedral deserve their place in metal history for having essentially resurrected doom metal, a style lying dormant except for a few Black Sabbath-worship bands like Saint Vitus and Pentagram. Fresh from the chaos of Napalm Death, Dorrian reversed his deconstructionist path and instead created a somber, resonant and enduring feeling of pervasive darkness and fatalism, using death metal technique and influences from nascent drone and trance genres to create a new form of the oldest form of metal.
“Tower of Silence” shows us a band more inclined toward 1970s style relatively harmonically immobile riffs, in contrast to the phrasal and drone riffs of the 1990s, and not surprisingly, the vocal and song rhythms follow more of a hard rock pattern than the death metal styles of Forest of Equilibrium. This song has a lot more commercial appeal than anything from the early albums of this band, and so despite having a bit more “bite,” probably belongs in the second era and not the first of this groundbreaking doom metal band.
The Last Spire can be purchased from Season of Mist’s online shop. If the rest of Cathedral’s farewell album is of the same quality as this advance vanguard track that combines the psychedelic rock and proto-metal of the 1970s into a bleak but tuneful package, it will feature on many “Best of” lists for 2013.
In the 1990s, mainstream media pretty much ignored heavy metal except to report on the hair bands. The fear of radicals of an unknown quantity scared them away. Then, gradually, media began to find some things in metal they could identify with. And so it became part of the news cycle, with NPR reporting on folk-metal bands and even double-breasted suit The Wall Street Journal getting into the game.
As a result, in 2013 it’s not surprising to see a mainstream newspaper covering metal, and including some of the more extreme varieties in its article. The New York Times ArtsBeat asks “Who are the best voices in heavy metal?” and comes up with a reasonable list, considering that they’re picking from four decades of metal and no conceivable list will satisfy any single metalhead or group of metalheads:
1. Ronnie James Dio (Black Sabbath, Dio)
2. Rob Halford (Judas Priest)
3. Bruce Dickinson (Iron Maiden)
4. Eric Adams (Manowar)
5. Geoff Tate (Queensrÿche)
6. King Diamond (Mercyful Fate, King Diamond)
7. Tom Araya (Slayer)
8. John Bush (Armored Saint/Anthrax)
9. James Hetfield (Metallica)
10. Max Cavalera (Sepultura, Soulfly)
Slayer made it in, as did Sepultura. How did that happen? It could be that, as with most things mass media, this data was culled from a series of press releases or advertising partners. It’s unfortunate that this is too often the situation, even at world-renowned major papers. Equally possible is that this is what an informal survey of the metalheads in the office produced. Either way, it’s good to see this list, and it probably deserves a list of its own.
As our domain name indicates (“deathmetal.org”), we are primarily a death metal site. This means that we treat all influences on death metal, whether heavy metal or progressive rock or even Kraftwerk, as part of our world, but not really the focus. Our focus is death metal and the genres it spawned, starting with the unholy trinity of Slayer, Bathory and Hellhammer back in 1983, following what Discharge unleashed the previous year. So we thought we’d do our own list of the best voices in death metal and associated genres:
This wasn’t an easy list. There are so many vocalists who perfected the death metal growl, or adopted it as their own style, that it’s hard to assess who should go on a list of only ten items. Yet each of the vocalists above contributed to a certain use of the vocal rasp or guttural howl, and thus they all deserve a place on this list, even if we’d like to add a few more (for example, Esa Linden of Demigod or John Tardy from Obituary).
We’d like to think the NYT will read this article, drop everything, and start rockin’ out to Morbid Tales, but that’s probably a bit much to expect. We hope someday they learn to enjoy this vibrant metal subgenre and appreciate it for the unique skills it requires, and the talents it has brought forth from these musicians.