With so many off-shoots to the metal mothership, Getintothis’ Mark Davies argues that we shouldn’t get bogged down in labels and just enjoy the music.
We’ve all had or at least overheard that one conversation, that weird exchange between two music fans, when one tries to (perhaps drunkenly) describe what a band or their new album sounds like only using genre labels, it usually goes a bit like:
“Aaaaah, they’re like a doomy, sort of blackened death type thing, with a bit of aaah, like, grind thrown in, you know?”
So the chances are, if you’re into metal or have a general knowledge of it, you’ve probably got a reasonable idea of what that band might sound like, you could possibly even name some bands that fit into that exact category, but aside from drunken ramblings at gigs, what do we need labels for anyway?
Subgenre labels and niche categories can often cause the exploration of new music to feel a little daunting. For example, when an album is described as being “shoegaze, post-black metal” it’s more than a little off-putting, and to be blunt, makes the music sound far more elitist than it should be. One of my favourite releases from 2014, Lantlôs’ Melting Sun, was affixed that exact label, and it is a gorgeous slab of humble brilliance, but if I am honest, had I been a straight up mainstream metal fan and heard someone describe it as “shoegaze, post-black metal” I probably would’ve swerved it, right?
Exploring metal’s subgenres can often feel a bit like walking in late to a house party, when you only know a few people who are already there. You recognise some faces, but they’re already deep in conversation with strangers, and you don’t want to wade in there in case you then awkwardly realise you either don’t want to be there or have nothing to say.
My advice? Don’t wade in, dive face first. The metal community is one of the most welcoming in music today, seriously. Having been to countless gigs, having felt the kinship in the pit of other metalheads, and being involved a number of what can only be described as transcendental experiences (Meshuggah, need I say more?), I can personally vouch for that.
So when it came to thinking about genre labels my first instinct was to create a guide, one that led you through the various subgenres and how they all interlinked, however, I have neither the time nor the word count for such an undertaking! Instead, I thought about how these categories are prescribed, and completely subject to the listeners’ influences and tastes. What one fan might call “progressive metal” another might call “mathcore”, and so on.
The bottom line is that any good metal band, in fact any artist in general, makes the exact music they want to make, and don’t consider how it will be labelled, because at the end of the day, it isn’t important. What matters is that they are happy with what they have created and that you enjoy it, regardless of what category it finds itself in.
So in keeping with this thought, I wanted to share some of the albums of the past few years that really push the boundaries of what we might consider to be “metal”, or simply refuse to be categorised, whilst maintaining the spirit of heaviness.
These are just a few examples of how important it is to not get bogged down in the minutiae but to appreciate the music for what is, as a whole concept. The fact is, if I hadn’t leapt off the ledge of mainstream metal all those years ago when I was first introduced to Meshuggah (not that there’s anything wrong with mainstream, I’m no elitist), I never would have fallen face-first onto countless other musical gems. There’s still plenty of heaviness out there waiting to be discovered by your hungry ears, you just need to worry less about the labels, grab your life by the throat and leap into the unknown!
First up we have the sassy sextet of Dutch progressive metallers, Schizoid Lloyd, with their 2014 release The Last Note in God’s Magnum Opus.
This album takes the definition of ‘progressive’ to lofty (though not necessarily new) heights, with added splendour and a healthy dash of pomp. Upon listening to the track included below it becomes clear that they are a band that unashamedly draws from a multitude of influences. From the Mr. Bungle-esque circus keyboards, the Queen-like choral pieces, the Mastodon-style twin guitar attacks, and even some slow piano-driven tracks reminiscent of Muse. What sets them apart however, is the originality of the album’s composition and delivery.
This is not an album that you ignore whilst you do the dishes, this is an ultimately entertaining and engaging release that manages to stride the boundaries of grandiosity without ever straying into the realms of pretentiousness.
Next up is an intriguing work I stumbled across recently; Zeal and Ardor’s Devil is Fine, which has been gathering praise and momentum since it came out in April this year.
If you’re looking for something different, it really doesn’t get much further from traditional metal than this, a unsettling fusion of satanic American slave chanting, black metal shrieking, jazz, middle-eastern trip-hop and even glockenspiel lullabies. Though no matter how unlikely a mix that may sound on paper, it works, trust me.
The end result is a marvellously atmospheric, and wondrously dark piece of music that needs more recognition than it has currently, and what makes this work even more impressive is the fact that this all came from one man, Manuel Gagneux, who recently moved to New York.
“Up there! In the sky! What is it?” Swooping in from Australia upon the back of giant top-hat sporting robot, ready to crush buildings and get funky, it’s Osaka Punch with their debut album, Voodoo Love Machine, recently re-released in May via Birds Robe Records.
This is a band that not only refuses to be categorised, they don’t even acknowledge that such boundaries exist; much like the family cat that prances through your dinner on the table, nestles into your lap for warmth and then claws your hand to pieces, all within the space of a few minutes. There isn’t a single track or element that feels out of place, and much like the cat, you can’t help but love it.
This alarming fusion of funk, pop-metal one fan once lovingly described as “honky-tonk death metal” is definitely not one you want to miss. Keep your beady eyes peeled for more from this Aussie quintet.