October is Metal Month at Radio.com. Throughout the month, we’ll have artist interviews as well as mini-documentaries about metal, metal fans and the birthplace of metal. And book reports: reading is fundamental, even for headbangers, and we’ll have reviews of some of the best recent metal biographies and retrospectives. Horns up!
By Kelly Kettering
Most genres of music have territorial fans, but few are as “I heard of them before you” as metal. Both an admirable yet irritating trait, metal fans have a keen ability to latch onto even the most grainy, basement-recorded, three-song EP because it features the drummer of That One Band and the vocalist of Those One Dudes. Therefore, the definition of “under the radar” has to be played pretty fast and loose as every metal fan will have their own idea of who is the biggest and best, and it often has little to do with album sales or arena shows.
But no matter your taste, these five bands have developed a taste for the extreme and not only turned into something that is all their own, but also made it appealing for fans across the world, and that is no easy task.
Let’s put it this way: If you like heavy music and you haven’t gotten into these five bands yet, you’re doing it wrong.
1. Ghost B.C.
Founded in 2008 and known as Ghost B.C. here in the States for copyright reasons, Ghost is a Swedish heavy metal band that has brought spooky musical and theatrical elements to mainstream music that in this age of trendy indie pop. With a macabre look in mind, all band members dress in hooded robes and face paint while lead singer Papa Emeritus dons the dressage of gothic Roman Catholic Cardinal complete with full skull-face (pictured above).
But what is most impressive for a band that exists in the Internet age is that none of the band member’s real names have ever been publicly disclosed, though they have recently revealed an upcoming EP with Dave Grohl. It would be easiest to compare this band to the classics – Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult – but I’ll let you judge for yourself. Check out their (censored, and you’ll see why) video for the song “Year Zero,” complete with ladies stripping and chants of “Hail Satan!”
2. Power Trip
Tough guy hardcore has been around as long as I have. An impressive act here and there have combined circle pits and gang vocals with elements of Metallica-type thrash, but none in recent years have pushed that hybrid to the brink quite like Dallas, Texas’ Power Trip. Like Ghost, this band first got trip-py in 2008 and slowly slipped EPs and singles out into the heavy metal ether, but their 2013 full length Manifest Decimation is what is really causing fans to sit up and pay attention. While the band definitely identifies with the ‘play fast, blast hard’ philosophy (after all, they are cohorts of L.A. thrash-punk band Trash Talk) dissident echoes and riffs keep you on your toes as you find yourself giving this band way more than one listen.
The equivalent of a black metal black sheep, San Francisco’s Deafheaven often seems too metal for shoegaze fans and too post-rock for black metal fanatics. But no matter which side of the line you are on, it’s hard to disagree that this band is a) heavy and b) good at it. Formed in February of 2010, George Clarke and Kerry McCoy had a record deal by year’s end with Deathwish Inc., the label that was founded by Jacob Bannon, lead singer of legendary hardcore act Converge. After beefing up their line-up in 2013, the band’s sophomore effort Sunbather is an enigmatic record that is in many instances sonically overwhelming – in a good way. As you listen to the title track, don’t be afraid to embrace the shadows created by the music’s bleak notes and Clarke’s painfully taut vocals.
Originating in 1998, we return to Sweden to discuss black metal act Watain. This band is no stranger to the front of a magazine, having plastered their bloodied, black leather-encased selves all over Decibel, Terrorizer, Metalized and many more over the years. Often recognized as being outspoken Satanists that follow in the evil vein of their extreme black metal forefathers Bathory and Mayhem (they even covered a song by metal’s biggest degenerate GG Allin), Watain is keen to embrace musical and ideological darkness where others would turn away. And their live shows are just as relentless as their records – while the GWAR’s of the world may spray red corn syrup on their undying legions of fans, Watain take it to the next level with real dead animal flesh and blood brought along for every performance.
But extremities aside, Watain’s new album The Wild Hunt has pushed the band into a new and frankly relatable place with songs that feature – wait for it – actual singing instead of hallowed screams. This is most apparent on the nine-minute slow jam “They Rode On” which shows us a side to lead vocalist Erik Danielsson we haven’t seen before. So get your lighters up – I wouldn’t be surprised if you catch Watain at a stadium show soon.
Last but not least, we venture back to the states to address the recent uptick in southern sludge metal. Similar in genre to Black Tusk, Kylesa or Black Breath, Savannah, Georgia’s Baroness combine southern rock with doom-filled stoner riffs for a heavy yet humid sound that fans from both sides of the Mason Dixon line can appreciate. Fronted by artist John Dyer Baizley (he designs all of the band’s album art as well as that of Torche, Darkest Hour, The Red Chord, Skeletonwitch and more), Baroness names each of their albums after a color, which then ties into the theme of the entire record for their own brand of Roy G. Biv-core.
Released in 2007 and 2009 respectively, the band’s first two albums, Red Album and Blue Record, are adored both by metal fans and critics alike. Most recently the band debuted a more ambient, rock-facing double album titled Yellow & Green that did less for some critics but debuted at #30 on the Billboard 200, the highest debut ever not only for Baroness but the band’s label, Relapse Records. Tragedy sadly befell the band just a month after this album’s release when their tour bus crashed in Bath, England, leaving many band members seriously injured. While drummer Allen Bickle and bassist Matt Maggioni understandably left the band after the accident to focus on recovery, Baizley has worked hard to maintain Baroness, with new members to boot. It will be exciting to see where this band goes with their next album as they have a lot to overcome and reflect on going forward. But most importantly we should start to speculate now which color the next record will be named after: Purple? Orange?