Arch Stanton Guest Post: Introduction to Metal

One of my life’s biggest laments is that I am forced to trawl music blogs for good metal music. You see, none of my friends are cool enough to listen to the metal genre and save me from being forced to read idiots complain about music on their blogs. Today, this idiot is going to EDUCATE about music on his blog, in the hopes that maybe he could entice some people into giving metal a chance.

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I understand the reluctance to listening to metal: the obscene amounts of leather outfits, Cookie Monster-vocals, vulgar cover art, band names and song titles/lyrics (cough cough Cannibal Corpse), and a musicality many people would politely refer to as “four douche bags in black t-shirts who can’t play their instruments”. All of these are very fair assumptions and concerns; as I mentioned, I have been subjected to the taint of the metal scene in searching for bands who actually put some effort into learning their instruments or finding a vocalist who doesn’t hate his dad.  This primer hopes to show you some metal bands who still embody metal with singers you can understand with the throbbing guitar riffs that make metal so goddamn awesome.

I took some of my favorite bands and broke them into three different categories – beginner, intermediate, and advanced – so you can dabble to your comfort level, and so I can talk about my favorite songs. No one said this wouldn’t be self-indulgent. The best metal balances a fine line between “fucking awesome” and “this is so corny” – your breakdowns and solos better make up for extended lyrics about love-making orcs. I will point out the corniest shit so you can see metal is not nearly as intense as these dorks tend to imagine themselves as.
(Note to anyone who happens to stumble across this looking to claim ‘THESE AREN’T REAL METAL BANDS, THEY’RE SLUDGE/STONER/GRIND’ – just fuck right off. This is why no one likes metal fans. They argue endlessly about the classification of a band versus, ya know, appreciating them. This is a second reason I don’t have any other fans who like metal – metalheads tend to be the most obnoxious people.)
BEGINNER: These bands each feature relatively crisp vocals and heavy-but-not-alienating riffs and rhythms. Most of these bands have a pretty straight delineation from Black Sabbath, so heavy chords, but not especially fast or oppressive. When I run very, very slowly, these bands are my go-to because the tempo is steady and predictable. In other words, these are metal bands you can get stoned and listen to.
The Sword: From Austin, TX, these guys sing a lot about Norse mythology, which was pretty cheesy until Thor became the guidepost for best Marvel movies, and now Norse mythology is cool! Their bass lines are not the most oppressive on this list, nor are their drums the most overwhelming, or the guitars fiercely intimidating, but all together they have a heavy groove-based style that real geeks me out. They are a direct descendant of Black Sabbath — the music video for “How Heavy This Axe” is a… parody? homage? to Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid” video from the 70’s to a T. But check out “Lament for the Aurochs’ from Age of Winters (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1h4cbPEfWs) — look at that cheesy-ass French art-noveau style album work! I love it so much.
Torche: I first checked out Torche because I saw a review of their album Harmonicraft called them “bubble gum metal,” and if that description doesn’t fascinate you, well, you probably don’t like metal that much. Or bubble gum. I don’t know your business. It’s hard to describe why that tag fits – soaring guitar riffs that butt up against bass lines designed to pull you into the earth. If you check out Torche, make sure you put your speakers/headphones to maximum-bass, because these guys really embrace the “it goes to eleven” of bass. You will feel it in bones, and that is rad as hell. The vocals for Torche tickle me, because I always imagine lead singer Steve Brooks standing like six feet from the mic as he sings like he’s trying to project to the International Space Station. I saw them live, and that’s pretty much exactly what he does. Listen to “Loose Men” off the Restarter album (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baCPf7W8fgc), but really the Harmonicraft album is top-to-bottom nearly perfect and worth listening to.
Baroness: I would describe Baroness’ sound as naturistic. I know that’s not a word, but it all feels very natural and the type of shit I would listen to on a beautiful spring afternoon walking through a field of blossoming flowers, but like, with a metal band singing about Sherman’s March. We’ll call it ‘vernalcular’, as in ‘vernal equinox’. Roll with it. Baroness’ lead man Jonathan Dyer Baizley’s voice is so great – he’s one of the few who actually kind of sing in different octaves, and he manages to convey real emotion in these songs in way most others on this list can’t. Besides “mad” obviously, they all do that one pretty well. My favorite song of theirs is “Take My Bones Away” due to the coordinated, cresting guitars in the solo, but I would recommend “If I Have to Wake Up (Would You Stop the Rain?)” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hHPTd8RrDgk) — it manages to be heartrendingly sad but mixed with an optimism. Gives me chills every time I hear it.
Red Fang: Where Baroness is sincere and elegant, Red Fang is the polar opposite. My favorite song of theirs, “Prehistoric Dog” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VufilzHKTqk) opens with the lines “dogs that howl from outer space” in a music video where they shotgun tallboys and yell at guys LARP-ing in a park. I recommend you watch this video if only merely for the armor made out of empty beer cans. Do not confuse the full awareness of their corniest distract you from the riffs — these dudes bang. Sharp, plodding rifts are the big takeaway here, not that they made a music video devotion to the movie Predator.
INTERMEDIATE: We’re getting to heavier riffs and more growling vocals, but still relatively accessible compared to the depths of the metal genre. I think someone new to the genre can find a lot to appreciate here — I really never fully got into the genre until listening to Mastodon. On that note…
Mastodon: Possibly my favorite band ever, if not Queens of the Stone Age. The band name perfectly encapsulates their sound – heavy, plodding, hairy and mean. They wildly evolved over the course of their albums, starting with leaning on Brent Hinds to snarl through vocals like he was trying to blow down the houses of the three little pigs, but eventually giving forking more of that responsibility to Troy Sanders and Brann Dailor and delving into wacky time signatures resembling those of our Canadian overlords Rush. I am at a loss for what to recommend to a newcomer to Mastodon – do we go with something from Remission, their heaviest and least polished album, or maybe Leviathan, a concept album based on Moby Dick (remember when I said the best metal runs the fine line on corny and awesome?), or maybe Crack the Skye, a seven song masterpiece that essentially involves a paraplegic astral projecting to a parallel universe where he does battle with a cult from the future who worship Rasputin? If I wanted to really get to you like Mastodon I would recommend something off their Once More ‘Round the Sun or Emperor of Sand, far more accessible to a newbie, but no – MARCH OF THE FIRE ANTS (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uShqlufsq5w). I bet everyone who listens to that hates it, but man I want to fight an entire army listening to it. This song should be the soundtrack to Jurassic Park deleted scenes where the T Rex just stomps every person into dust; but as he’s snuffing the life out of Chris Pratt or Dallas Howard, there’s a moment it looks like they’ll escalate, but JUST KIDDING, you are being curb stomped through the crust of the planet. FUCK this song gets me worked up.
Metallica: Whatever, you know Metallica. If you can appreciate Metallica, you are halfway to appreciating metal. They are the platonic ideal of metal. Their first five albums (Kill Em All, Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, …And Justice for All and the Black Album) will go down as the greatest streak a band has ever had. Suck it, Beatles. Their other albums, uhhh, will be forgotten entirely. You know a dozen Metallica songs, but check out this live version of “Master of Puppets” from 1989 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Gtf5-PjqRg) — tell me you don’t get the appeal now. How could a hormonal teen before internet porn get that pent-up energy out before a band who got absolutely loaded every night, fucked every groupie possible and sang about various ways to kill each other told them how? If time travel is every invented, I’m going to a Metallica concert circa 1989, where I will be promptly punched in the face.
Mutoid Man: I was on the fence about putting them in the beginner or here, but then remembered no one reading this gives a shit, and I needed to round out the numbers a bit, so here we are. The vocals here are pretty clean, with some real magnificent odes to Ronnie James Dio throughout their catalog and they lean heavily on a thrashing bass line, but the rhythms are much quicker than most of what was detailed in the beginner part. As my responsibility to detail the corny parts of metal bands who are still kicking ass – “Date with the Devil” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1griB-cC10). Not my favorite song by them by any means, but the riff still knocks you back into your seat. This is the song because I really need to talk about the lyrics — “climbed all over Satan’s daughter / nothing’s ever made me harder” and “came inside of Satan’s daughter / nine months later, who’s the father?” and “i did the walk of shame from hell” — somehow, these lines are still not enough to push this song from “metal” to “corny”.
Black Tusk: You can tell it’s a metal band because they are “black” something for a band name. I would list all of the metal bands that have black in their name, but because time is finite and we are all one step closer to death everyday, I will not waste your time or mine. Black Tusk is similar to Red Fang in the sense they do not take themselves too seriously, with song titles like “Set the Dial To Your Doom”, “Desolation in Endless Times” and “God is on Vacation”, an album titled Taste the Sin and a song that opens with Andrew Fidler yelling, “SIX! SIX! SIX!”. That’s the devil’s number you guys, if you didn’t know, and them singing that means they are HARDCORE. The guitar work here is super riff driven – is it the most technical? No, but you will be headbanging to every song. Listen to “Resistor” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1AV9-K0Lj4&list=PLT3u6m6ilncwOjjbJu78_H9y2yXDxgE9j&index=8) but only because I couldn’t find a good version of “The Ride” on Youtube.
ADVANCED: There’s going to be some screaming, fast rhythms, and bruising chords. PREPARE YOURSELF.
Deafheaven: I have recently come to the conclusion “Sunbather” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylTY9WbMGDc) is one of my favorite songs of all time. Remember when I made up the word “vernalcular”? It describes Deafheaven so well. “Sunbather” is about the time lead singer George Clarke drove through San Francisco suburbs and first understood income inequality; you will not discern this deeper meaning from the lyrics without looking them up. They sift from downtrodden isolated guitars to a wall of sound impenetrable to someone unfamiliar, but this song paints a gut-wrenching sad soundscape reminiscent of the ‘denial’ stage of Kubler’s model of grief, but gently turns a corner into ‘anger’ about five minutes in where we shift from a major key into a minor, suddenly giving a much more hostile edge to the tone of the song. In spite of this, the song resolves itself and ends on an emotional breakthrough with a glint of optimism. This is almost always the first song I play in my car, and yes, I scream until my throat is raw. I. Love. This. Song.
Lamb of God: Originally named “Burn the Priest”, they changed to something with more mainstream accessibility. I don’t know what the point of this move was, because it’s not like mom was suddenly going to check out “Ashes of the Wake” because of the name change. Same thing goes to you, 2 Chainz, previously known as Titi Boi. Lamb of God is probably the most technically proficient and complex group on this list – you many not be able to get past Randy Blithe incredibly blistering vocals, but I like to imagine people can recognize the guitar work Mark Morton puts in (NOTE – I know you don’t). I saw them once in concert, and they dedicated the “Eleventh Hour” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2HpBs_ri808) to anyone who served in the armed forces, and are notoriously famed for being aggressively cool to veterans. Anyway, the breakdown here brings the roof in every single show, and how could it not?!? I’m writing this and looking out my apartment window for someone walking down the street for someone to start fighting.
Meshuggah: This is your final. “Bleed” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qc98u-eGzlc). The video is gross and disorienting and violent and features bugs and flash photography with the most brutal of riffs and drums and vocals. The first time I heard Meshuggah, I thought it was a Tool b-side until I heard the song opened up like sinkhole to the center of the earth, and I thought, “even Maynard James Keenan isn’t this angry”. Meshuggah is oppressively heavy, fast, technical and organized chaos, and here to fucking disembowel you with their interludes. Solos? Nah, they’d rather blow your head open with fucking lightning bolts through your skull  with their riffs. There is no mercy in Meshuggah. You listen to Meshuggah for one reason, and that is to start a fucking riot.
Anyway, I could go on for hours more with other bands and songs I like, but I have cars I need to flip because I mistakenly listened to Meshuggah without an outlet to use this adrenaline. To reward you for indulging me this far, here’s Baroness and Mutoid Man covering “Purple Rain”, the most perfect song every devised (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5PXu34mYGA).
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