2011 is coming to its halfway mark already, and suffice it to say, we rock fans anticipate some heavy hitters on deck: Soundgarden and A Perfect Circle have reunited, both with respective circulating stories surrounding new material; Rammstein are finally touring their “once in a lifetime” sets for us North Americans; 3 of the “Big 4” touted Jagermeister’s banner last year; Mastodon and Liturgy are, in varying ways, experimenting with the metal medium as we know it; Disturbed and Machine Head are returning to the Mayhem Festival bill for its fourth year, booking Megadeth and Sweden’s own In Flames as supporting acts.
This is phenomenal news. We in the hard rock categories–despite Clear Channel radio–are vying for major support and getting it by all means. What’s a moshin’ kid to do? Who do we root for? The progressives? The ol’ school thrashers? How about speed or thematic metal? You would think we have been enveloped by spikes and sweaty concert tees all for naught. The sad truth is, no one could effortlessly peddle 13 albums encompassing the past 10 years; misses were made, but in retrospect, ’tis still a labor of love.
Please note that this list is in no particular order or sequence of any kind, I merely winged it and tweaked when necessary. To Static-X, Slipknot, Type O Negative, Amon Amarth, Borean Dusk, and otherwise noteworthy bands that did not make the list — feel free to crucify me later, it was not meant personally. Love me or hate me, letters to the usual address (that goes to our Comments section, too).
Meanwhile, as I replay my copy of Iowa for the 1,000,000th time…
…the following is a tiny audio assortment I personally thrive on with my car’s shitty stereo, my computer’s shittier speakers, and my iPod’s blessed earphone jack. One-half egotistical, one-half introductory–from the turn of the millennium to last New Year’s–this is a testament to the tunes I head-bang or wax poetic alongside, a list which noticeably consists almost entirely of CDs this site has not reviewed (go figure). [For a handy reference to any of the below, check out the Map of Metal.]
The hard rock lives on, and should you want to square off with yours truly for a rough tumble in the dirt, meet me at Mayhem 2011 in Raleigh, NC next week. I might be inclined to have a beer with you, shoot the shit at where I went wrong, or something else degrading for the sake of putting rears in the audience.
Nothing on film, though. That’s my word.
Senior Staff Writer
Powerglove – Metal Kombat for the Mortal Man (2007)
While Juggalos and WoW enthusiasts tend to sacrifice most of their own dignity up front, it was once stigmatizing to be labeled a gamer or a metal fan. Though self-deprecating humor of the “comedic vengeful nerd” variety has become commonplace now, present-day game geeks realize the legacy inherent to things like Commodore 64s and Ataris, whereas metal fans never fail in pulling some classic 80’s hair and thrashing for nostalgic purposes.
To access a little of both worlds, however, we run to Powerglove. If there was ever true tribute to be displayed, it runs through the veins of this band. Prior to things like rap/video game music mash-ups a la Vinyl Fantasy, The Ocarina Of Rhyme, etc., Powerglove dropped 2005’s Total Pwnage–a short but sweet seven-track CD release, comprised of metal-stained covers from Sonic the Hedgehog to Super F-Zero to Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (the original series). It’s dorky; it’s even been done before by orchestras or live bands, especially the Super Mario Bros. theme. It was a debut full of heart and honesty but lackluster in the length and production department.
What is so special about Powerglove, aside from “so bad” a name?
Powerglove’s 2007 sophomore album is proof that (A) slumps are not always a given and (B) “duck grinder” is a title you wish you could have copyrighted upon purchasing–and annihilating–Duck Hunt, although your wrath may have only been directed at the laughing brown dog. Super Mario Bros. gets a radically more impressive do-over than most re-imaginings I’ve heard, Mortal Kombat was already sitting there in angst over waiting to be truly dominated in electric six-string, and I dare anyone to listen to “Red Wings Over Baron” and not get psyched up as hell for some innocuous triumph only you really know to be triumphant–maybe finally getting laid?
Where’s Lonely Island when you need ’em?
This is not the best album in history, nor the best album containing video game score aggrandizement. It does happen to be my favorite of the latter, and I invite you to join the ride. Power, wisdom, courage… and shredding. I guess that’s the Quad-Force? Moving on.
Marduk – La Grande Danse Macabre (2001)
Allow me to educate: “Death metal” focuses primarily on post mortem subject matter; “black metal” just tends to be vaguely reflective of dark topics. Death makes its presence known in both but more predominantly inside its namesake genre.
Marduk is a death metal/black metal band from Sweden (genre differs, depending upon what era you’re privy to). This band comes complete with bare essentials in songwriting, namely blasts against Abrahamic religions and wartime. Marduk’s history is bulging with lineup changes, and as such, the sound has shifted over time, with La Grande Danse Macabre following a drastic alteration from death to black metal, thanks to its predecessor, Panzer Division Marduk.
There is shock, gore, and even its own originator claims he was motivated to form the “most blasphemous band in the world.” This is all purposeful, should the debut demo, titled Fuck Me Jesus, be absent of any hints. Marduk’s recent albums are better built in terms of sound, and if we were focusing purely on importance, La Grande Danse Macabre lands as evidence of atmospheric changes being beneficial toward a second coming (no pun intended).
I’m partial to the word “macabre,” but that’s just me. If you’d like a taste of the game this act is playing, kindly take a gander at the songs “Bonds of Unholy Matrimony”, “Ars Moriendi”, and “Death Sex Ejaculation”. Never a dull moment, and this is coming from a Cannibal Corpse fan.
Mastodon – Crack The Skye (2009)
As if I’d be brazen enough to ignore this. Please.
It appears as though the ol’ ATL has more going for it than OutKast, and no other metal band of the ’00s sounds exactly like Mastodon. Spanning a catalog soon to be five LPs strong, I first heard of this band when seeing promotion for 2004’s Leviathan in a copy of Revolver; later down the road, I took CoS to cover their stunningly under-attended main stage set at 2008’s Mayhem Festival. What a mind-blowing surprise that turned out to be, friends.
A proper send-off was littered with advertising for the above album — 2009’s Crack The Skye, a loosely-thematic record with emphasis on astral projections and the legend of Rasputin’s cult, as opposed to previous works of elaborate sludge and stoner metal circa Kyuss on brimstone. Why select this release? Get inebriated, pop it in, and you be the judge. One listen through “Oblivion”, “Divinations”, or even the ominous warning song titled “The Czar”, is enough to induce feelings of traveling through black holes. Something tells me Crack The Skye will be deemed a metal classic in the coming years, but maybe I’m biased to a vocalist who occasionally sounds like a non-British version of Ozzy Osbourne.
From Russia, with love. From Georgia, with acid. Who knew?
Opeth – Blackwater Park (2001)
There are some who mock this particular Swedish rock act’s popularity as “selling out”, however I feel passionately that Opeth has instead unearthed a veritable tempest of fresh brooding metal fans worldwide. Opeth flaunts progressive elements, caters to its demographic to boot, one most assuredly tied between the bombast of Katatonia and the doom of Candlemass; this band also bears a determined and far-reaching listener potential due to the post-2000 catalog featuring more elegant, even medieval nuances (2003’s absolutely beautiful and acoustic-driven Damnation, for example).
Thus, the cusp of Opeth’s sonic shift — 2001’s quintessential Blackwater Park.
On the one hand, you get tragic-yet-devastatingly brutal pieces like Still Life and Orchid; on the other, you get Ghost Reveries and Damnation. In between, there rests the pinnacle of Opeth’s greatest strengths in both melody and metal. You could go either way in the greater picture, but for those new to Opeth’s canon, take a listen from Blackwater Park‘s polarizing and strangely cohesive tracklist: sudden, shattering opener “The Leper Affinity”, borderline madrigal “Harvest”, the somber-turned-epic “Dirge For November”, the rises and drops of “The Drapery Falls”…it’s rife with all the darkness and daring you need.
Blackwater Park was my impromptu initiation to this style of metal music, and to an old friend without whom none of this would be possible…many thanks.
Ministry – Animositisomina (2003)
One name: Al fuckin’ Jourgensen. Seriously, is there anyone else?
Animositisomina is an album that represents turning points for both Ministry’s leading figurehead and his band’s sound as a whole. Written and recorded after Jourgensen kicked his heroin habit due to a life-threatening encounter with a poisonous spider (at least it wasn’t a sting ray… too soon?), sculpted with a more metal-esque tone, and designated as bassist Paul Barker’s final recording with Ministry, there are surely enough landmarks here to cite relevance.
Let us dig into the music.
Before driving a beeline straight toward the Bush administration Jourgensen would criticize frequently in the coming years, Animositisomina’s very album art gives away obvious religious undertones with zero empathy. Unleashed, unfettered, unreal… Ministry had come a long way from its synthpop roots via With Sympathy, fully embracing industrial metal for years and definitively so (resembles Trent Reznor some, no?). Intended as singles, “Animosity” and “Piss” automatically stand out in the track listing, though as a bigger entity, Animositisomina is relentlessly and naturally heavy, from an Ozzy-like “Lockbox” to cover song “The Light Pours Out”, fully ignorant of bad critique and bad sales.
I’m a late bloomer to Ministry’s catalog, having walked the spin-off efforts of Revolting Cocks before finding this amazing outfit. That said, this is my second favorite album by Ministry, where Psalm 69 is the first, and I highly recommend it to all who enjoy this brazen taste of Chicago-bred metal.
Animals as Leaders – Animals as Leaders (2009)
A lot of things can happen once your band decides to call it quits. Some men march on to greater wars with larger successes, some fall off the map, and some just exist in a sort of limbo while contributing elsewhere. Technical guitarist Tosin Abasi is an existence in and of himself, but to be clearer, he’s succeeding on his own terms. This is where Animals as Leaders comes into play.
The project formed after Abasi’s original group, a metalcore act called Reflux, disbanded. While he’s worked with the likes of a Suicidal Tendencies drummer, Abasi also appears to have become another Reznor, fronting what’s essentially his solo passion pieces under the name Animals as Leaders. This particular band is tagged as “instrumental progressive metal” (i.e., Mastodon meets Mogwai); in no small feats, and with little recognition outside the West Coast, Animals as Leaders is a forefront of late-’00s metal music, featuring time signatures that could make Tool curious.
Truth be told, there isn’t much to say unless you’re heavy into the deeper knowledge of playing instruments (which I am sadly not); what I can say regards the band’s one and only full-length LP release thus far, and their first tour ever, which came to fruition in 2010. My advice? Take a listen below, and keep your eyes peeled for where this band goes in the coming years.
Chances are it’ll be something worth seeing.
The Ocean – Heliocentric/Anthropocentric (2010)
Comprised of two actual albums, I count this as a “two-in-one” set of companions. Moving into German bands (Rammstein and Laibach notwithstanding), we get the primary reason I faulted Liturgy for going so far over its mark in terms of transcendentalism.
The Ocean (aka The Ocean Collective) is identified by a sub-genre called “post-metal,” though practicality suggests a heavier meaning; emphasis on philosophy, plus histories on both mankind and spirituality, and particularly critical thought toward religion, allows the listener to read in-depth at will. While both albums here present a complex narrative between the lines, my draw toward The Ocean was strictly a musical one–fully orchestrated heavy metal, exploratory and brave, with all the inflated epic capacity you’d expect from albums whose names infer both the sun and animals as centers of our universe (obviously, the sun won its fight against the churches, eventually).
I will not divulge much here, for the albums speak for themselves. The good news? Whether you’re a scholar or a layman, these absolute marvels known collectively as The Ocean will leave you awash in tsunamis of sound, quaking the faculties.
Tool’s Lateralus (2001) & ISIS’ Wavering Radiant (2009)
Maynard James Keenan’s main prog-rock project past Children of the Anachronistic Dynasty’s Fingernails cassette, Tool stands for what the mainstream metal fans considered the brink of “experimental” in its heyday, particularly videos associated with 2001’s Lateralus; ISIS was around for what feels like a blink in time, but 2009’s Wavering Radiant was their finale to the world, and I’ll be damned if it didn’t bring the bread of its own accord.
These two records virtually bookend the aforementioned decade in modern metal, and if I were so bold, I’d label the ’00s rock scene as “The Decade Prog Took Over.” Both releases, no matter their distance apart in time, hold qualities that show why this sub-genre is so well-respected in the metal community: time signatures, powerful imagery, mathematical equations, explorations of gender roles and the human psyche–the list goes on, and I didn’t even need to mention Dillinger Escape Plan.
Anyway, as different as both acts are, I could not leave either off this list without feeling as though I’d slighted someone. ISIS is no longer around, and Keenan is mostly wrapped up in A Perfect Circle or Puscifer, as of late; the two are entities of themselves but share common ground. From the video for “20 Minutes/40 Years” resembling an Adam Jones demo reel to “The Grudge” being one of the best rock album opening tracks ever crafted…
For real, why are you even still reading this? Go. Listen. Now.
Metallica – Death Magnetic (2008)
Unlike the majority of this list, Death Magnetic does have a review on our site, and I urge you to take a look. Fans and enemies have both watched the saga of Metallica at different stages, from the changing bassists to the bluesy radio rock days of Load/Reload to the steel drums of St. Anger (wherever the fuck they came from).
In 2008, hype was all over the place: “The Day That Never Comes” hit FM radio and YouTube, a song that closely resembled “One” in mood and pacing but not so identical that it qualified as blasphemous. Eventually, we got Death Magnetic. This damned CD, I swear… it was a cock-tease, had to be. Years playing Metallica apologist paying off? Years being brought up on Metallica’s eponymous middle act, just to ride the motions of adults bitching over haircuts? Is this the reward? Yes, it is.
No matter what side in the debate pool you claim, one thing will not be forgotten: Death Magnetic, by all accounts, is the return of Metallica. Aside from the seemingly random placement of “The Unforgiven III”, songs like “All Nightmare Long” and “That Was Just Your Life” never seem to get old, no matter how often I listen. Is this a future classic? No. Is this a Metallica standard? Quite feasibly, because for a band that helped to spearhead American thrash at its infancy, Metallica was returning to form, as it were.
Is it better than the majority of the band’s output post-Metallica? Admit it, this is in fact true. To be fair, for my part, I did like the Load/Reload era, too… but this shit is black gold. Death Magnetic, welcome to the fold.
Lamb of God – New American Gospel (2000)
On to another granddaddy metal act; the Virginian group Lamb of God unleashed the lo-fi, click-heavy New American Gospel in 2000 to major acclaim. This album helped begin an entirely new phase of the metal regime, hearkening back to the birth of black. It’s also part of a group dubbed the “new wave of American metal,” a term I dispute but nonetheless salute, as New American Gospel is not only a suitable album title, but shows mainstream’s more discordant side, frayed ends and all.
The opening clatter of “Black Label”, the roar of “A Warning”, the outright bludgeoning felt in “Letter to the Unborn”, the high electric start and jarring percussion of “The Subtle Arts of Murder and Persuasion”… it never wanes, it never rests. Unlike more recent fare, such as Wrath, there’s no glossy production number, yet each thud and each incoherent scream yields perfect exhibition of speed and skill. A monolithic example of what the next decade has to live up to (I’m looking at you again, Liturgy), Lamb of God’s New American Gospel is one monumental kick-off chapter in the reign of ’00s metal.
For once, I’m calling “definitive” release: If you are a metal fan, you must own this album, if only for posterity’s sake.
Slayer – Christ Illusion (2006)
There are many different kinds of metal fans, just as there are many subsets of metal itself. Rounding back to thrash, I bring thee a most brutally infamous incarnation, if not at least one of the most controversial in the eyes of the religious right: Slayer.
2006 marked drummer Dave Lombardo’s awesome return, a presence sorely missed since 1990’s metal classic, Seasons in the Abyss. The original line-up being rebuilt to retake a throne is old hat, yet Christ Illusion merged with what could easily be considered a throwback to early Slayer art design, tied into current event foothold “Jihad”, written from the perspective of a 9/11 terrorist. Indian Christians recalled and destroyed copies of this record upon release, what more could it do?
“Eyes of the Insane”, “Skeleton Christ”, the alternately disturbing “Final Six”… these pulsated with the warm blood of an act who has spit in the face of conservative viewpoints since its inception. Araya, Hanneman, Lombardo, King–the four members of Slayer, the four men who stand embattled before large audiences, armed with explosiveness spilling out of amp stacks stories high. Curtains come down, the big reveal, and it’s a wave of metal sweeping all mortals into a frenzy.
This was Slayer’s transcendent resurrection (pun intended?), and while not necessarily on par with the band’s top marks (i.e., Reign in Blood, Seasons in the Abyss, etc.) in terms of overall legacy, Christ Illusion does demonstrate the very reason Slayer will stick around in the history of metal. It is the main reason this breed of rock music will not be silenced:
You cannot fucking break it.