It’s partially Susan M’s influence, but mostly the fact that Greg and Jim at Sound Opinions turned me on to Torche’s Meanderthal, but now whenever I go to my local library I hit the CD bins and grab three or four discs that look like they are by metal bands based on the name of the band, the name of the album and album tracks and the cover art. It’s amusing to me (but probably not surprising) how most of the time my assessment is right on. But anyway, the result has been that over the past nine months (and mainly the past four) I have received a random education in 21st century metal (with some not-exactly-in-genre intruders because of the random element) Â and the beginning of a personal set of likes and dislikes. Here is a list of capsule reactions to the albums in order of listen.
Torche — Meanderthal (2008): This is the album that started me on the journey. Love the vocalist here. Exactly what I want out of a metal/hard rock album. Pretty decent lyrics. Solid songs up and down the track list. It simply rocks. Standout track is “Grenades.”
Thrice — The Alchemy Index Voumes I&II , fire and water (2007): Fire is better than water. This is epic, ambitious, pretentious stuff, but Â it has its moments. Hard rock with prog elements (I don’t know what else to call it) and a bit of rap rock/thrash in places (sorta). Quiet/loud, slow/fast. Stand out track is on disc 1 Fire — “Burn the Fleet.”
The Sword — Gods of Earth (2008): With song titles like “Fire Lances of the Ancient Hyperzephyrians” and “The Frost Giant’s Daughter,” this is your typical D&D-tinged metal band. But I kinda like it. Some of the riffs seem derivative and some of the song structures don’t bring much to the table. But on the longer songs, in particular the aforementioned “The Frost Giant’s Daughter” and the 7-minute long instrumental “The White Sea” you get some interesting structure and movement and some surprising or at least interesting moments.
Ours — Mercy (Dancing for the Death of an Imaginary Enemy) (2008): Picked purely for the album cover and title. Not exactly metal. Anthemic bombast at the intersection of art rock,Â orchestralÂ metal, prog-lite and alternative rock. Like Muse but better? I don’t know Muse well enough to know. Great vocals. The middle sags, but the ends work. There’s some good range here — both in the music and in the vocals. Certain elements remind me of everything from M83 to Interpol to U2 to Torche to The Cult.Â Jimmy Gnecco’s falsetto actually isn’t annoying and his normal singing works. He has nice phrasing. The track with the spoken word thing on it is too much, but on the whole the bombast is pompous but not ridiculous.Â Standout track is — “Ran Away to Tell the World.”
Tool — Lateralus (2001): I reached back for this because it’s such a touchstone album for so many people I know. I’ll be honest: I don’t get all the acclaim. Somebody explain it to me, please. Perhaps the noodling around was fresh at the time. Perhaps it’s just not my style.
Nightwish — Dark Passion Play (2007): Symphonic/operatic metal with prog overtones and a female vocalist. Right up my alley, but sadly, the album doesn’t deliver. The first track is epic even if it gets overly dramatic in places. The rest of the album = boring and predictable. Make it harder and more complex and it’d be so much better.
High on Fire — Death is This Communion (2007): Awesome. The prog elements aren’t fussy. The drumming is fantastic. The cookie monster vocals aren’t my favorite, but I have warmed up to them, and the lyrics are sorta harrowing without being over the top.
In Flames — A Sense of Purpose (2008): Pretty good, rather straightforward metal.
Incubus — Monument and Melodies (2 cd set) (2009): Boring, lame hard rock with forgettable lyrics sung by an annoying vocalist and music that never surprises.
Ivoryline — There Came a Lion (2008): Straight up rock with some punk mixed in. It didn’t do much for me. Some folks may find it pleasantly nonthreatening in the way pop punk is (this is a bit harder than most pop punk), but it has no musical or lyrical ambition.
Dethklok — The Dethalbum (2007): I had some sense that this was a metal parody act, but I had forgotten about the Adult Swim cartoon. Anyway, it’s totally awesome. Hilarious, but the music is also good — there are some chops there. The joke gets a little tiresome by the end of the album, but that’s a minor quibble. “Better Metal Snake” is the most awesome song ever.
Dir in grey — Withering to death (2006): The mix of speed metal, power pop and punk paired with varied vocal stylings should be like crack to me. The problem is that everything is unevenly executed. Suffers especially from boring verses.Â I would definitely try a different album from this group, though. The are some moments that are right on.
Isis — Wavering Radiant (2009): A beautifully complex, cohesive album of 7-minute-plus unfolding songs punctuated with cookie monster and hard-rock crooning vocals and non-conventional song structures all hinged around the short instrumental, electronica-like title track. Languid but still tight.
All that Remains — Overcome (2008): Now I know what Dethklok is making fun of. This may just be my ignorance, but this comes across completely conventional speed metal. The lyrics are so banal as to be painful. In fact I have the sneaking suspicion that All That Remains, in spite of the vocals and speed metal vibe* are the modern equivalent of a rap rock group or a hair band e.g. no substance. The drumming is pretty cool though, blistering and intense. Â *my use of the term speed metal may or may not be appropriate here.
Skullflower — Strange keys to untune Gods’ firmament (2010): Only made it through the first four tracks of disc one. I can see liking this if I was in the mode, but it’s just stretched out guitar feedback and distortion.
So that’s where I’m currently at. I have a stack of recent grabs from the library to go through so the education continues. I also need to dig in to FHL’s Symphonic Rock recommendations and further explore theÂ oeuvreÂ of Torche, High on Fire and Isis. And if anyone has Dir en grey or Tool recommendations, I’m willing to give them a second chance.
For my initial toe-dipping into metal, see my Symphony X word list post from 2008.