Metal. It’s one of music’s most maligned and misunderstood genres, a culture that exists perpetually outside the mainstream and for the most part is perfectly happy doing so. Back when we were growing up in the ’80s, metal meant big hair, devil horns, and intimidatingly fast guitar solos. Of course, it can still mean exactly that, but happily these days the genre’s more diverse than ever. In particular, there’s a breed of bands playing ominous, black metal-influenced music that’s much more powerful than any of yer super-fast thrash noodlings. With the new Baroness album out this week, we thought we’d celebrate some of these bands, both old and new (and we’d like to acknowledge the assistance of design whiz and metal expert Manual Graphics in doing so.) Who did we miss? Let us know, nicely, in the comment section.
Although they blend the sort of sludge sound we’re looking for here with other elements – there’s a distinctly noodly flavor to some of their work, as exemplified by the above “Take My Bones Away,” from their new record Yellow and Green – Baroness still make a fine jumping-off point into the world of slow, nasty metal.
Now here’s the real thing – riffs that sound like tectonic plates moving, and vocals that sound like the last rasp of a man dying of thirst. This needs to be loud. (Fun fact: guitarist Nathan Smith is a highly acclaimed homebrewer, which may or may not explain the title of the above track.)
High on Fire
We’ve written extensively about our love for stoner metal pioneers Sleep (and especially their magnum opus Dopesmoker), and we’re similarly delighted by High on Fire, the side project of their guitarist Matt Pike. They’ve been a going proposition for the best part of a decade now, and they’re louder and faster than Sleep without losing any of that band’s earth-shaking power.
A band called “The Sword” releasing songs like “How Heavy This Axe” and “Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians”… if it all sounds a little bit Manowar, then never fear, The Sword are more akin to Mastodon or even Magma in mixing outlandish concepts with thunderous sounds. We’re not such big fans of the new, more grunge-y direction they’ve been taking of late… but even so, at their best, they still rock like few other bands.
One of the pleasant things about metal is that it’s a truly international genre – whereas indie, for instance, can seem awfully focused on one city (or, indeed, one district), metal seems to transcend geographical boundaries, and you tend to find excellent exponents of its various genres from all around the world. Take French band Monarch, for instance, who’ve been quietly churning out excellent drone/doom sounds from their base in Bayonne for nearly a decade now.
Similarly, no list of doom-influenced bands would be complete without at least one band from Scandinavia, so behold the majesty of Saturnalia Temple, who hail from Sweden. This song goes for 21 minutes, contains lyrical references to Isis, “Time, the three-faced mistress,” and something called Thantifaxath, and may well melt both your head and your laptop speakers. Excellent.
Wolves in the Throne Room
The consistently excellent Southern Lord label, founded in 1998 by Goatsnake guitarist Greg Anderson, has been the most influential imprint over the decade since in bringing ominous metal sounds to the world. Their roster is a grab bag of goodness, but we’re particularly partial to Wolves in the Throne Room, whose almost classical black metal soundscapes are as evocative as they are strangely beautiful.
And while we’re on Southern Lord, we’d be remiss to mention the band who’ve arguably done more for slow, atmospheric metal than any other – the mighty Earth, who have been cranking out bowel-churning riffs since the early ’90s (albeit with a decade-long hiatus due to main man Dylan Carlson’s drug “issues.”) They’re only getting better with age, and are also diversifying (their 2005 record Hex was a concept album inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian).
And similarly, it’d be remiss to mention Earth without mentioning Sunn 0))), who basically formed as a tribute to that band. Their rather cryptic name comes from a brand of amplifier, and they’ve probably imploded plenty of said amps in the course of creating music that feels like being slowly ground into powder by an advancing glacier.
And finally, we’ll leave the last word to this New Zealand band. As per their YouTube profile: “Genre: doom/sludge. Lyrical themes: pain, suffering, mental illness, horror, sewage, drugs.” Which pretty much sums it up, really. (Meth, for those who don’t know, actually stands for methylated spirits in this case, the drink of choice for terminal alcoholics with a penchant for rendering themselves blind. Literally.)