An Intro to Metal

A friend recently emailed interested in getting some recommendations for getting into metal, so I wrote up a little guide for him which I will duplicate here.

The main goal is to introduce somebody with little experience to modern metal, as opposed to something that would commonly be referred to as “heavy metal” in days of yore. Modern here doesn’t necessarily mean recent, I just want to establish that I am not talking about Slayer.

children of bodom

Glossary

So there are a few sort of subgenres in here, I’ll just try to describe the band as I feel them, but some glossary bits of ideas I use.

blast beat
effectively a beat that is fast enough that it is an affronting sound on its own, a little less about rhythm than about being forceful.
melodic
to me this means groovy, predictable traditional pop structure.
black
ostentatiously dark, often also means orchestrated / symphonic, usually with a spritual overtone.
sludge
usually very slow, long, heavy songs with long build ups and payoffs, designed with a metal mentality.
technical
very sharp, clear beats and guitars, usually very fast and clean.
cookie monster
that deep growly type of singing… you get used to it.
epic vocals
I tend to hate these as they make me think of somebody trying to emulate some stereotypical idea of a “rock star.”
mathy
usually this means complex time signatures and “angular” guitar, which in my mind means eclectic and complex progressions.

Classics

In the sort of “classic” style metal, the kind of big names that have songs that are about wild, fast guitars and drums, dudes who eat razorblades for breakfast and like it. These are probably not the ones you are interested in if you don’t already like metal but they serve as the background against which to compare many others.

Children of Bodom

  • Finland
  • Sort of genre-defining for “extreme metal,” smack in the middle of the spectrum.
  • Song: In Your Face, sort of the status quo sound.
  • Song: Warheart, an older song of theirs, one of my favorites.
  • I’m a big fan of the whole Hatebreeder album, personally.
  • Similar:

At the Gates

  • Sweden
  • More on the “melodic” side, these guys are kind of like a more pop structured version of Children of Bodom.
  • Song: Slaughter of the Soul, sort of their perennial song in my opinion.
  • Similar:

Dimmur Borgir

  • Norway
  • Sort of a flagship for the “black” and “death” side of the spectrum.
  • Song: Progenis of the Great Apocalypse … the video will make you hate the song even if you like the music, so you may not want to watch.
  • Similar:

Alright, now that we’ve got the classic scales somewhat defined, I’m not going to go into any music that falls neatly in those categories, but if you really like it 50+% of any random metal album you get will be similar to one of the above.

Sludge, Stoner, Progressive, Technical

Let’s move on to some of the further edges of things that you’ll still find in the metal section of the record store, these are some of my favorite bands (roughly in order from slowest to fastest).

Corrupted

  • Japan
  • These are on the extreme “sludge” end of the spectrum, very atmospheric.
  • Song: …at 924 gillman
  • Well, you may not actually find these guys in the record store since their albums are rare… which is kind of their thing.
  • Similar:

Sleep

  • San Jose, California! Hometown heroes <3
  • These guys are referred to as “stoner doom,” falls similarly to “sludge” although their songs are more “upbeat” (hah!) than Corrupted’s.
  • Song: Dopesmoker, it is a really long song, so this is only the first 7th, worth downloading a real version and listening to all of on a long enough trip, it’s great.
  • Significant slowdown in working on this list as I didn’t want to stop listening so that I could preview other song links :p
  • Similar:
    • Om, they’re actually mostly the members of Sleep.

The Atlas Moth

  • Illinois
  • Sort of halfway between “sludge,” “stoner” and “progressive”, some dueling screaming vocals thrown in, with a good taste for effects and builds.
  • Song: A Night in Venus Arms… , a slowly building flavorfest.
  • Song: A Glorified Piece of Blue Sky
  • Similar:
    • Battle of Mice, maybe? They are sort of halfway between The Atlas Moth and Slint, which is a good thing, too.
    • Neurosis

Gojira

  • France
  • More “progressive,” slower and more apparent overall rhythmic patterns, a nice medium between cookie monster and epic vocals.
  • Song: Vacuity
  • Trivia: their songs are largely about nature / mythic nature imagery.
  • Similar:

The Faceless

  • California
  • A very “technical” band, to the point you start to imagine that the band must lose conciousness while playing and let some sub-conscious rhythmic twitching instinct take control of their appendages.
  • Song: Pestilence they have epic vocals in here that I don’t really like, but otherwise excellent.
  • Song: Leica, starts off very similar to the Children of Bodom style, but then moves into its own:
  • Similar:

Honorable Mentions

Other bands that do a really great job and fall into a mix of categories.

Between the Buried and Me

  • North Carolina
  • If there is a current mainstream metal sound that is still authentically on the metal side of “metalcore”, these are them, thrashy, moshpit metal that can hold a fan base with an unusually high ratio of teenage girls (the singer is cute and has good “epic vocals” when he wants to).
  • Song: Mordecai, gets much more catchy halfway through
  • Trivia: their fans yell “bee-tee-bam” at their shows.
  • Similar:

Demilich

  • Finland
  • Well executed death metal with vocals that sound like the mic is in the guys stomach.
  • Song: The Echo
  • Similar: there are a million bands that sound just like them, but I like Demilich the best 🙂

A Wider Net

Here a few bands I love that I feel have a thick metal streak but probably wouldn’t be classified as metal.

The Notwist

  • German
  • Yes, really.
  • If you get any albums after Nook you quickly progress away from a metal sound into an also very awesome set of music, jazzy moving through indie rock and electronica, but if you see see their live show it is an amazing electronica+metal take on all of their catalog, usually to the surprise of those who only know them from the more popular extremely mellow other albums.
  • Song: Belle De L’ombre / Walk On’, the first song off Nook, establishes the tone of the album
  • Song: This Room live, more glitch or experimental than metal, but a good sample of their live show.
  • They are on a Bay Area label (anticon) so they play shows from time to time with a variety of hip hop / electronica acts, highly recommended.

Capsule

  • Florida
  • Not to be confused with the japanese group.
  • They are more on the hardcore side of the fence but they verge on mathy metal in many songs.
  • Song: Cobalt connection, off the album Blue, this song epitomizes their sound for me.

Pelican

  • Illinois
  • Instrumental, ranging from things that sound like post-rock to straight on progressive metal.
  • Song: Dead Between the Walls good sample of their sound.

Boris

  • Japan
  • Kind of crazy, they do a lot of experimental stuff, but they have a bunch of good doom metal mixed in.
  • Song: Heavy Friends
  • Long Hair and Tights is a decent split of theirs for the metal mood.

Appendix A: Choosing a Random Album

Metal albums have some of the most satisfyingly indulgent cover art around, it is very entertaining to browse through them at a record store. While very generalized there are some rules of thumb for guessing what kind of music you are getting into as in most cases it is unlikely you will be able to read the artist name or even the album name off the cover.

  • Does it have a skull on it? Probably death metal.
  • Is there a vampire or a corpse being eaten? Satanic imagery? Probably black metal.
  • Are you having difficult figuring what the name is even though it is written on the cover? High chance of death.
  • Is there a picture of a viking, a sword or a shield? Viking / battle metal.
  • Is there a dark, full cover photo of a forest / still life? Doom and sludge.
  • Is the cover just some texture? Instrumental doom and sludge.
  • Organic, psychadelic or anything that looks old? Probably Stoner.
  • Digital anything? Drone or technical.
  • Lots and lots of stuff without triggering any of the others so far? Fast, grinding metal.
  • Everything else: probably death metal, but if you’re lucky it will be experimental technical.

Conclusion

Obviously by no means an exhaustive list, there are a ridiculous number of metal bands out there. Metal is has a heavy following in vinyl and going through the metal section at a place like Aquarius Records is a great experience.

Happy headsplitting!

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