Heavy Metal Odyssey XV – My name is Thomas and I am a metal head.

The final entry of the Heavy Metal Odyssey reflects on the journey.

(Don’t forget the index to all the other entries)

Heavy Metal

Everyone likes music a little bit. Whether its Top 40, Classical or anything else, the vast majority of human beings enjoy music. Fate intervened in my life and sent me on a strange journey to learn and enjoy the music, culture and history associated with the phrase “Heavy Metal”. Now I will try to articulate my thoughts about this Odyssey and what it means for me (if anything at all).


Heavy Metal is Art.

Ok, I’ll elaborate. At some point in this Odyssey, Heavy Metal music became more than enjoyment. There were albums that I didn’t like (Strapping Young Lad – City, Isis – Oceanic & Dillinger Escape Plan – Ire Works for example) that I would return to and enjoy immensely. Those albums didn’t change, I did.  I had learned the different styles of music, some of which were initially quite inaccessible. When the nuances eventually showed themselves, the joy of discovery felt all the richer. In some ways, Metal has been more rewarding due to the effort required to adapt the abrasive sound and challenging song structures.

This blog in particular has been a great experience in itself. I’ve paid more attention than usual to the music, really thinking about what works in all the different sub-genres and I’ve been able to appreciate even more from it.

My Odyssey has highlighted the bond between Artist and Audience. My instinctive reaction of “Do I like it or not?” still matters a lot. However I have a much greater respect for the technique, atmosphere, the new ideas being used and the established conventions the music is built upon.

The Highlights.

Since the last blog entry (XIV), I’ve been revisiting all my favorite albums seeing which have resonated the most with me. My iPod was refreshed recently, so the play count for albums is reflective of my recent listens. Strangely enough, the results are not that unsurprising.

My top Ten favorite Heavy Metal albums of the moment (as decided by my iPod) are…

10. ISIS- Oceanic
9. Baroness – The Blue Record
8. Arch Enemy – Tyrants of the Rising Sun
7. ISIS – Wavering Radiant
6. Mastodon – Blood Mountain
5. Cradle of Filth – Midian
4. Dream Theater – Scenes From a Memory
3. Lamb of God – Wrath
2. Be’Lakor – The Frail Tide
1. Dillinger Escape Plan – Ire Works

And for the winner, a video clip!

Being a Metal Head

So now I’ve laid it all out there. 14 blog entries, some high brow preaching about Art and proof that my iPod recently played is nothing but Metal. The next question is…

What do I think of this transformation from normal Thomas to Metal Head Thomas?

First of all, I haven’t changed that much. I run into old friends and they don’t notice any difference (till I say I bought a Slayer album).

Secondly, it’s great. It’s great loving things. I love my wife and kids and that’s great. I also remember being not lovingmusic back in 2005. It sucked, but that feeling has gone away now. These days, music feels like an ocean of ideas, textures and emotions ready to be absorbed.


I think I’m ready to really embrace Heavy Metal.

And by that I mean get out to some concerts. Heaps of great bands come to Australia every year. It seems through my laziness I’ve missed Metallica (and more importantly) Lamb of God & Baroness.

But fate has intervened (today!) as a work colleague sent me the band list for the Soundwave festival in Feb 2011.

Basically, I’d like to get out of the house and see some of these bands in person. Then I could check out something like this!

Final thoughts.

I hope those of you who read this had some fun and learned something.

Maybe you already liked Metal and discovered a new band. Maybe you’re ready to give Metal a chance when you wouldn’t before. Or at the very least I hope I’ve convinced you to go find something you love and can get right into.

Who knows, maybe I’ll go and discover a new sub-genre (Pirate Metal? Viking Metal?) and we’ll see blog entry XVI!

Till then, I salute you all!

Note: That’s an advert for a Hard Rock cafe opening in Norway (where else?)


Heavy Metal Odyssey XIV – Thrash Metal

This entry discusses the Big Four of Thrash:

  • Metallica – Master of Puppets
  • Slayer – Reign In Blood
  • Anthrax – Persistence of Time & Among The Living
  • Megadeth – Rust In Peace

(Other blog entries here…)

    Thrash Metal is something of a strange beast. It has produced the worlds biggest and most recogniseable Heavy Metal band in Metallica. However, this success was not immediate . The early 80s provided mainstream success to the NWOBHM bands and then later to the Glam Metal bands such as Motley Crue, Poison and Bon Jovi. For many years  Thrash Metal was considered an underground genre.

    It was during this time, in 1986,  that the Metallica released Master of Puppets:

    My introduction to Master of Puppets comes from several sources:

    • Several tracks are on the S&M album
    • My wife actually got a hold of the older albums and was telling me about them (her personal favorite song is Fade To Black from Ride The Lightning)
    • When my iPod died, I was forced to listen to a couple of CDs some people had at work. This included Master of Puppets and also The Black Parade by My Chemical Romance.

    The surprise for me was…

    The Black Parade is pretty darn good!

    (but that’s another story)

    The other surprise is I fell in love with Master of Puppets. Loved it as an album from end to end. This is the album that doesn’t have:

    • Enter Sandman
    • One
    • Nothing Else Matters
    • The Unforgiven
    • … hardly any well known Metallica songs.

    It starts with Battery and what’s become a cliche on modern heavy metal albums, the acoustic intro followed by the big heavy kickoff. (Note: A cliche, but I still love it.) It’s a great introduction to Thrash with propulsive speed and singing. It slows down into a nice groove and guitar solo, then speeds up again into a second solo. All the while the sound is clear and stays interesting with these changes of speed.

    Second song on the album is the title track and it continues to demonstrate excellent song construction over a full 8 and a half minutes. This is probably my first introduction to Progressive Metal as it goes through various phases of awesomeness.

    The third track is the Lovecraftian The Thing That Should Not Be (and spiritual companion to Ride The Lightning’s Call of The Kthulu). This song is dripping with dread and malice. I feel the gravitas featured here is a key element of Metallicas success. It’s not the shock and gore of Slayer or the cheesiness of other 80s metal bands.

    These opening three tracks are probably the most well known, but the rest of the album holds up. I remember having the chorus from Sanitarium stuck in my head for days after discovering the album.

    It’s an album where the phrases “Best Metal Album” and “of All Time” are often thrown around.

    The Big Four

    So liking Metallica is nothing new. After some reading I learnt of ‘The Big Four Of Thrash‘. By now I was well on my Odyssey and felt I needed to own at least two of the four. I picked Slayer’s Reign In Blood.

    To borrow a phrase from my two year old son, my initial reaction was “Don’t want it”.

    My first issue was I was expecting Metallica, and they aren’t.

    My second issue is this thing is damn fast. And not just fast, it’s oppressive. It’s somewhat similar to how I felt about The Dillinger Escape Plan, like it was noise assaulting me. Nowadays, that’s what I love about. The whole album feels wild and punishing. It’s something I need to be in the mood for.

    Despite the wild fast bits being what makes this stand out, my favorite bits are when it slows down for a while and gets into a bit of a groove (especially the start of Jesus Saves). Second favourit are the solos that sound like a cat attached to a buzzsaw. (No animals were harmed in the making of the blog)

    The lyrics are extremely gory and the vocals are shouted, but understandable. It’s notably that while the album predates the Death Growl, it essentially inspired the entire Death Metal genre. It’s not a favorite album of mine, but it does flesh out my collection.

    A side note is the guitarist Kerry King is an absolute legend. I’ve heard him talk on Triple J a couple of times. He has badass tattoos, takes no shit and collects snakes.

    Dave Mustaine is not a loser just cause he got kicked out of Metallica.

    I have the impression Dave Mustaine is a bit of an ass. He famously got kicked out of Metallica for drug abuse (replaced by the awesome Kirk Hammett!).  Since then he seems to be on a mission to crawl out from under the shadow of Metallica. The primary strategy is by making his own band Megadeth. It also seems to involve getting in lots of arguments. Wikipedia even have a whole page dedicated to Dave startin’ feuds with people. Luckily for him, he’s actually pretty good guitarist.

    Remember this guy?

    Back in Heavy Metal Odyssey Part I, I made fun of the generally ridiculous nature of Metal Album Covers. Rust In Peace is actually considered somewhat of a landmark album. But first lets have a video clip:

    That’s a particularly 80s video clip featuring aliens and an Area 51 style conspiracy for the song Hangar 18. (I actually know this song from Guitar Hero II). The first half sticks in my head as being particularly memorable.

    My impression of this album is it’s an album made for (and by) lead guitarists. There are solos upon solos. The album is still sinking in for me, but that technical focus is ok by me.

    The vocals are often quite cheesy, but in a fun way. I quite like the song Five Magics which is about Dave (presumeably) trying to get a wizard to teach him the five magics:

    • Alchemy
    • Sorcery
    • Wizardry
    • Thaumatology
    • Electricity

    Then he is joined by a Muppet(?) in singing about fighting the Abyss Lord. Great song!

    I find this an odd, but interesting album.

    The other band.

    I could have guessed Metallica and Megadeth were in “The Big Four of Thrash”. I knew Slayer were popular, but it didn’t occur to me they were Thrash. It was only till I read about it that I learned Anthrax were the fourth band.

    It may be obvious, but the last few entries in the Odyssey have been a bit of a cram (I’m still decrompessing from jamming 3 Black metal albums into my brain for the previous entry). In coming to Thrash, I did very a quick search for an Anthrax album and came up with two options: Among The Living and Persistence of Time. I picked the latter after reading some comments that it was a more mature and Progressive entry than the former.

    The thing is, I don’t think Anthrax’s strengths are ‘maturity’ or ‘Progressive Metal’. The songs are often longish (5-7 minutes), but I didn’t quite feel they quite justified their length. The basic sound reminded me of Metallica, but just not as menacing or effective. Every now and then again an interesting idea would pop up, especially around some punchy vocals.

    A bit disappointed, I wondered if I’d picked the right album. After all, it was going to be compared to the three of the most highly respected albums of all time. I decided that if I was going to really visit “The Big Four of Thrash” I would have to investigate Among The Living too.

    This album (which was released in 1987, three years before Persistence) feels more energetic and far more Punk inspired. The guitar  feels Thrashy, but the style of vocals give the band more of a unique style. It’s lighter and basically more fun than Metallica or Slayer. Among The Living also feels a bit dated in the 80s whereas those other bands don’t.

    I do like this earlier album more, but it also makes me appreciate the way the band was progressing on Persistence of Time.

    NEXT TIME!!!

    While the multiple worlds and dimensions of Heavy Metal keep growing and colliding, alas I need to take a bit of a break (and stop buying new CDs) for a while.

    Join me for the special closing entry…

    Heavy Metal Odyssey Part XV – My name is Thomas, and I’m a Metal Head!


    Heavy Metal Odyssey XIII – Goth & Black Metal

    In this entry we take a look at the most controversial Heavy Metal genre, Black Metal. It will feature:

    • Cradle of Filth – Cruelty and the Beast
    • Cradle of Filth – Midian
    • Dimmu Borgir – Death Cult Armageddon

    Black Metal is a Heavy Metal genre named after a 1982 album by the band Venom. Now, I haven’t heard this album or anything by the band. While the music of this album actually is considered Thrash Metal, the aesthetic of the album was quite evil looking and satanic. It’s this dark lyrical and theatrical elementthat led a number of others to be known as The First Wave of Black Metal. However, I’m going to talk about what’s considered the Second Wave of  Black Metal

    Back to Scandinavia!

    Remember Swedish Melodic Death Metal(Arch Enemy) and Swedish Progressive Folk Doom Metal(Opeth)? Get set for Norwegian Symphonic Black Metal! The Second Wave of Black Metal stems from Norway. Apparently since the 1990s it is Norway’s largest cultural export. I’m talking about guys who look like this…

    Those serious looking folks are Dimmu Borgir. The face paint style is known as Corpse Paint. You’ll notice the similarity to Alice Cooper and KISS, only a bit more evil looking. It’s standard attire for most Black Metal bands since the 90s.

    Earlier in the week I picked up Dimmu Borgir’s album Death Cult Armageddon. Strangely enough, what led me to this band was the trailer for the 2004 movie Hellboy which featured two separate pieces of music from the album. For the average listener (eg. Me) it sounded just like an orchestra playing. To my surprise, I later heard one of those pieces again on the  Brütal Legend soundtrack.

    The song in particular is the insanely titled Progenies of the Great Apocalypse. (I didn’t link in the clip since it’s a little bit explicit – track it down if you want). Basically there’s a big bombastic piece of orchestral music and that’s mixed with the staple sounds of Black Metal.

    The staple sounds of Black Metal….

    … are …

    • Creepy Vocals: Shrieking, croaking, whispering and speaking in a very low tone.
    • A generally fast tempo.
    • Blast Beats : Seen in other types of metal but very present here. It’s very fast repetative drumming that Wikipedia tells me is about 180 beats per minute.
    • Disturbing lyrics : The lyrics were mostly undecipherable, but occasionally something especially weird would pop through.

    And maybe more reflective of the albums I picked…

    • Organs, bells ring, chanting and other Gothic Metal trappings : The spooky/haunted/dramatic atmosphere was running high.

    What is critical to mention is the music is good. The genre is not coasting by on its shock potential. It’s essentially complex and dark Progressive Metal. Very little of what I’ve heard falls into the usual verse-chorus-verse structure.

    The most well known Black Metal band

    There’s a TV comedy show called IT Crowd about the IT staff in an organisation. One particular episode features a Goth character Richmond who lives in the server room. Someone has been nice enough to stitch together the flashback scenes of how Richmond became a Goth. (I’ve seen the full episode, but hopefully this clip works on its own)

    Cradle of Filth are well known for their name and a particularly notorious T-Shirt (it’s just Wikipedia, but be careful clicking on that link). They aare not actually Norwegian, but British. In fact they are the highest selling British Metal act after Iron Maiden. The lead singer’s also goes by the name Dani Filth too (Hi, meet the Filth’s!).

    I borrowed two albums from a friend to acquaint myself with the Filth.

    Elizabeth Báthory and Clive Barker

    What’s interesting is both these Cradle of Filth albums are concept albums. The first is Cruelty and the Beast and it’s based on the story/legend of Hungary’s Blood Countess, Elizabeth Báthory. An actual historical figure, she was found guilty of mudering numerous young girls in the late 1500s and early 1600s. The legend goes further to say she drank and/or bathed in the blood of her victims to retain her youth.

    The album really embraces the concept, even hiring actress Ingrid Pitt who played Báthory in the Hammer Horror film Countess Dracula,. She has speaking parts throughout the album.

    More gothic and consistent in style than Dimmu Borgir, but still fast and fairly dense. The crazy shrieking vocals are the majority of the singing, but other styles regularly pop in (including the aforementioned Ingrid Pitt). It took me a day or so to pick out the various bits of the music. Unfortunately the later half had some scratches/glitches so I didn’t get into the whole thing.

    Meet the Breed

    I always wanted to see Nightbreed when I was a kid. The video cover looked like Mos Eisely Cantina – The Movie!”. Anyway, it’s a film based on the Clive Barker horror novel Cabal and is about a city called Midian where monsters live. And so Cradle of Filth’s Midian is based on the book and film.

    Since I can barely understand the lyrics of these albums anyway, it’s probably best to talk about the music. This was a bit more accessible than Cruelty and the Beast. The keyboards and gothic aspects are more evident, and there’s more melody too. It seems like a very goth version of a Melodic Death Metal album. I really like this album. It’s not very subtle, but it’s fun and crazy new bit keep popping up in every song.

    The song Her Ghost In The Fog was another one that caught my attention from the Brütal Legend soundtrack. That games has inspired me to buy at least 5 new albums!

    Can I get it any blacker?

    Ultimately I’ve picked some of the more orchestral Black Metal bands and in doing so I’ve picked the more accessible ones. There are other Norwegian bands such as Immortal and Emperor who are held in high regard. Though Emperor in particular are notorious for their involvement in burning churches in Norway and murder.

    The complexity and the density of the music appeals to me in the same way Post-Metal and Prog Metal does, so I’ve enjoyed my dark trip up to Norway.

    NEXT TIME!!!

    It’s true, the Odyssey is nearly at an end. Next tie I’m visitng some of the biggest names in metal at a time where it was one of the most popular forms of music on the planet. I’ll look at an album from each of the big four of Thrash Metal.

    • Anthrax!
    • Megadeth!
    • Slayer!
    • Metallica!

    Heavy Metal Odyssey XII – Nu Metal

    In this entry we see where Metal was at at the turn of the century. It’s Nu Metal with:

    • Slipknot – Slipknot
    • System of a Down – Toxicity & Steal this Album
    • Various comments concerning Limp Bizkit and Nu Metal

    (Other blog entries here…)

    When discovering new Metal albums on my Odyssey, I initially skipped over the Nu Metal genre without even thinking about it. Eventually it became apparent that the time between 1995 and 2005 was looking a bit empty in my CD collection (the Metal component specifically).

    And then one day I found myself in the CD section of JB HiFI with $30 in my pocket. Fifteen minutes later I was the slightly proud owner of a Slipknot CD.

    Spooky Masks.

    The worst thing about Slipknot is they are so obviously aimed at teenage boys. The escaped serial killer theatrics are on the album cover and can immediately be felt as part of the aesthetic in the music. Lots of weird spirally static noises (like you are crazy man!). Lyrically it’s all aggression, generally directed at the issues related to growing up (in America).

    Getting past that, there’s a some really good things going for the band on their first album (also titled Slipknot). Having nine members in the band (eight now that one died of a drug overdose) helps make an interesting sound. Three percussionists and a turn-table/DJ makes a thick beat sound. Generally it’s a very percussive type of music.

    A notable feature of this ear in Metal is that guitar solos were out of fashion. Instead we get ‘breakdowns‘ which are moshable changes of pace. These aren’t a bad substitute. Interestingly Slipknot has re-introduced solos in later albums. In fact, they’ve brought back more melodic singing and other common Metal aspects. To my ears it actually sounded closer to the Metalcore bands like Killswitch Engage (from my brief listen).

    This music on this first album speaks to my inner desire to go spastic and smash things up. Modern society rarely offers me a chance to do this, but it’s nice to be reminded of the feeling. It’s an album with undeniable energy and a sorta cliched, but interesting sonic texture. I’m glad I bought it.

    The End of this entry

    See, Slipknot was the only Nu Metal album I bought on my Odyssey.So that should be all I have to say. However I was reminded that a few albums I already knew about were actually Nu Metal! I dived back into the iTunes Library and pulled out the oddly named band System Of A Down.

    Chop Suey! was the first System of a Down song I heard. At the time I thought it was crazy. Listening to it again I still pretty much agree with that. A cool acoustic piece builds into a fuller sound and then dives into a crushing riff (of the Nu Metal variety) and suddenly “Wake up!”. The vocals are spoken in otherwise silence. The music starts and stops and crazy little lyrics are blurted out in between. A patchwork of different singing styles, acoustic sections, piano, crushing riffs all hemmed together and somehow it works for the whole song. And somehow it works for the whole album (Toxicity).

    I feel a lot of credit needs to go to singer Serj Tankian. He uses melody, shouting, spoken word, rapping, sound effects and other various pieces of silliness. It’s like Mr Bungle mode Mike Patton crossed with a Punk/Metal band.

    Toxicity is followed by the legendarily named Steal This Album. Legendary album cover below:

    Both are classics and as far as I’m concerned, unique in all of music. No one has had quite the same mix of idosyncratic, politically-minded guitar silliness. They wrote a song about Pogo sticks forchristsakes!

    (Note: After this album the guitarist thought he needed to take a larger role, started singing more and subsequently made the band awful.)

    Wes Borland looks far more Metal than Limp Bizkit actually is.

    Limp Bizkit aren’t actually that bad. They just became far too popular for their own good and basically aren’t Metal. I’m willing to concede Slipknot are Metal, but Limp Bizkit are more like Rap with a heavy riffing component.

    Back in the early 200s I listened to their singles a lot (someone had all sorts of crap on a network shared mp3 folder). I ran through these songs again this evening on Youtube. They are fun and have a health dose of stupid lyrics and potty mouthed attitude. The aforementioned breakdowns work and occasionally they through in fun spacey bits to keep things interesting. Wes Borland still looks striking.

    To make things clear, I would never love a Limp Bizkit album. They remind me of a certain time and are an interesting style that was popular for a while, but that’s where it ends.

    Something is missing…

    Ultimately my trip to Nu Metal land was interesting, but I felt I was listening to a genre outside Metal.  This was a concept I had considered with Punk Music previously. It seems shouting and loud guitars doesn’t necessarily make something Heavy Metal. It’s  missing a certain majesty and epic-ness present in the other Metal sub-genres. I did try to understand why, by actually browsing a few of the particular musical concepts (such as Drop D tuning, Synchopated beats and even the Phyrgian Mode). Unfortunately it went over my head.

    And that’s where I’ll leave Nu Metal… probably for a while :/

    NEXT TIME!!!

    Nu Metal was a bit uncomfortable with the stupid lyrics and tracksuit pants and turned around baseball caps.

    Next up we’ll get uncomfortable for a whole other reason… Black Metal!

    It’s EVIL!



    Heavy Metal Odyssey XI – Sludge Metal & Post-Metal

    This entry will discuss the bands and albums:

    • Mastodon – Leviathan & Remission
    • Isis – Oceanic & Wavering Radiant
    • Baroness – The Blue Record
    • Tool – Lateralus

    (Other blog entries here…)

      My favorite beer is…

      Guinness! It’s substantial. It takes a while to drink and for me it’s the most satisfying beer there is. Now, if Guinness were a type of music I think it would probably be Sludge Metal.

      Heavy Metal can be pummeling, theatrical, fast or a bit scary. Sludge Metal embraces the Heavyiness in particular with dense, distorted and often slower music. The style originated with Black Sabbath, as can be heard with the start of the song War Pigs (if you are familiar with it). It has a few simple notes, but they carry substantial weight.


      Mastodon have had numerous mentions in the Odyssey already. Astute readers will remember that Blood Mountain was one of the first metal albums I purchased. Inspired by that album, I headed into their back catalog and had my first real introduction to Sludge Metal.

      The Moby Dick concept album, Leviathan has a few key characteristics of this style:

      • The guitars feature a lot of distortion.
      • The sound of static is omnipresent. This gives it a full and thick sound.
      • The vocals are not clean. I’d use the word bellowing rather than growling.

      Mastodon in particular do bring their own unique stylings. The songs have a generally fast pace for ‘sludge’ and some fantastic drumming from Brann Dailor.

      An even earlier album, Remission is even thicker and heavier. This weight is evident in song titles such as Crusher Destroyer, Where Strides the Behemoth, Olé Nessie and Trampled Under Hoof. Starting with something that sounds like a Mastodon bellowing (that word again) dives into the surging and crushing music. The music feels particularly elemental, with an unstoppable momentum evident.

      Here’s the single of Remission, March Of The Fire Ants:

      I liked it… on the 20th play through

      If it wasn’t obvious already, this often much less accessible than some of the more melodic sub-genre’s. It’s brain smashingly chaotic like Mathcore or evil like Black Metal. It’s just really loud and dense. The next album was even worse than that. It was repetitive and droning (yes, Drone Metal exists).

      It was the Isis album Oceanic and it seemed like a obvious choice after the water themed Leviathan.

      Initially I didn’t get it and I was somewhat confused. It’s considered a landmark album in the last decade and yet I couldn’t see it. The sound seems simple and slow, but literally heavy. Of all the albums I own, this has been the one I persisted with the most despite not really enjoying it. I suppose I kept at it because of its reputation.

      Then one day, all of a sudden, everything fell into place. I believe the critical factor was adapting to the slow pace of things. What was once a slog had became a revelation. The music took on a meditative quality. Now when I play the first track I feel at ease and engaged within the first 5 seconds. Oceanic by Isis is one of my top 5 metal albums I own.

      The most confusing Sub-Genre yet.

      It seems what I had discovered was a thing that is called Post-Metal. If Sludge Metal is one of the most appropriately described sub-genre, Post-Metal must be the least. I’m still not exactly sure what it means.It stems from Post-Rock which wikipedia calls…

      … the use of instruments commonly associated with rock music, but using rhythms, harmonies, melodies, timbres, and chord progressions not traditionally found in rock.

      From my limited experience, the usual characteristics of Post-Metal are:

      • Long songs
      • Often instrumentals
      • Very atmospheric
      • Building up of layers of sound

      Once I fell in love with Isis, I quickly grabbed their most recent album Wavering Radiant (and also their last album, the band has now broken up). To my surprise it was much more accessible, with clean vocals (Oceanic had none) and more melody. Six long songs and a brief instrumental, I enjoy it quite a bit. (I probably hear at least one track from the album daily).

      I do wonder about the relationship between Sludge Metal and Post Metal. I suspect the connect is that Sludge Metal is very much about the sound of the instruments. The amount of distortion used lends itself to more atmospheric songs. Isis is Post-Metal, but a band like Mastodon is too punchy and songful to be considered Post-Metal.

      An unexpected discovery

      For what sounds like an extremely odd sub-genre, Post-Metal can lay claim to one of the biggest and well known Metal bands of the current age. Tool became a major force in the 90s with their album Ænima. They were one of the first concerts I ever went to (1996 baby!) and I really loved 5 songs or so off that album. I also recently criticised the remaining songs and the overall structure of the CD. The ensuing debate led me to try their next album, Lateralus.

      To my surprise I really dug it. The similarities between Isis and Tool were now obvious to me. Longer songs, avoiding traditional structures and weaving various musical elements through out the song. Later, I would learn that Isis have opened for Tool and also Wavering Radiant featured Tool’s guitarist Adam Jones.

      Red fish, blue fish… Red Album, Blue Record?

      What really intrigues me about this area of metal is it seems so ripe with interesting sounds. Another sludgy album I picked up (on the recommendation of firends) is by Baroness and called Blue Record. It follows the previous Red Album and EP’s First and Second (they like to keep things organised, it seems). The howling/bellowing vocals and fuzzy distorted guitars are there, but it seems much more upbeat than traditional metal. Add in some acoustic sections and it’s a particularly interesting sound. It’s an album I’ve only recently bought so I’m still getting into it (initial verdict is positive). Some crazy lush artwork on the cover too.

      Baroness are but one example, but the ideas and experimentation here appeals to me so much. This is definitely the more arty end of metal. For a snapshot into my brain, I’d love to check out many of the following bands:

      • Neurosis are frequently mentioned as being very influential to the Isis sound
      • The Melvins are cited as the creators of the Sludge Sound
      • Godflesh is a name that pops up a lot as a Post-Metal band and the Industrial Music connection intrigues me
      • Kylsea are mentioned as modern stable-mates with Mastodon and Isis.
      • Thin Lizzy are a 70s rock/metal band and a name I recognized. Reading about Baroness they were cited as a strong influence.

      NEXT TIME…

      From the cerebral to the … err … well… hot dog flavoured water style of metal. Yes, as promised, I’m gonna take a look at Nu Metal. But only the good bands… I promise.


      Index for Heavy Metal Odyssey

      Here’s a handy index to all the Heavy Metal Odyssey entires.

      For the uninitiated, I have spent the last three years venturing (slowly) around the different types of Heavy Metal released since 1970. This is my attempt to pass on my experiences…


      I – Heavy Metal in the Mainstream

      II – The New Wave of American Heavy Metal

      • Mastodon
      • Lamb Of God
      • Machine Head

      III – Swedish Metal

      • Arch Enemy
      • Opeth

      IV – The New Wave of British Heavy Metal

      • Iron Maiden
      • Dio
      • Judas Priest

      V – Comedy Metal

      • This Is Spinal Tap
      • Dethklok and Metalocalypse
      • Brutal Legend

      VI – Metalcore

      • Killswitch Engage
      • Trivium
      • The Dillinger Escape Plan

      VII – Progressive Metal

      • Dream Theatre – Scenes From a Memory
      • Queensrÿche – Operation: Mindcrime
      • Rush – 2112

      VIII – Origin of Heavy Metal

      • Deep Purple’s Machine Head
      • Led Zeppelin’s IV
      • Black Sabbath’s Paranoid

      IX – Industrial Metal

      • Rammstein, Nine Inch Nails and Maryilyn Manson
      • Strapping Young Lad – City
      • Ministry – A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste

      X – Heavy Metal Documentaries

      • Some Kind Of Monster
      • Anvil: The Story of Anvil
      • METAL: A Headbanger’s Journey
      • Heavy Metal Parking Lot

      XI – Sludge Metal and Post-Metal

      • Mastodon – Leviathan Remission
      • Isis – OceanicWavering Radiant
      • Baroness – The Blue Record
      • Tool – Lateralus

      XII – Nu Metal

      • Slipknot – Slipknot
      • System of a Down – Toxicity Steal this Album
      • Various comments concerning Limp Bizkit and Nu Metal

      XIII – Goth and Black Metal

      • Cradle of Filth – Cruelty and the Beast
      • Cradle of Filth – Midian
      • Dimmu Borgir – Death Cult Armageddon

      XIV – Thrash Metal

      • Metallica – Master of Puppets
      • Slayer – Reign In Blood
      • Anthrax – Persistence of Time & Among The Living
      • Megadeth – Rust In Peace

      XV – My Name is Thomas and I’m a Metal Head


      Heavy Metal Odyssey X – Heavy Metal Documentaries

      This entry concerns four documentaries about Heavy Metal

      • Some Kind Of Monster
      • Anvil: The Story of Anvil
      • METAL: A Headbanger’s Journey
      • Heavy Metal Parking Lot

      Metallica and their “Performance Enhancing Coach”

      Back in 2004 I went to see a documentary about Metallica called Some Kind Of Monster. I thought their Symphony and Metallica (S&M) album was pretty good, but I didn’t particularly care for the band or the album St Anger which the documentary was based around. The reason I saw it ( along with a ton of other people) was the warts and all aspect of the doco. The band struggled with the departure of bass player Jason Newstead, internal troubles and the infamous “coach/therapist” who came to help them get back on track.

      The film is entertaining, but it’s sad the situation the band is in. That disappointment is underlined by St Anger being a fairly awful album. I saw the documentary long before I really liked Heavy Metal. It does share many similarities with another film I saw just last week.

      Anvil! The Story of Anvil

      Anvil!: The Story of Anvil feels like a title that has used the word Anvil at least one too many times. It’s the story of an 80s Thrash Metal band trying to make an album in the 2000s. They are at a crossroads, trying to recapture their former success. That description could easily be applied to Metallica and Some Kind of Monster. However, Anvil were only successful for a fleeting moment in the 80s and have been out in the wilderness since. Now they work regular jobs and have families, but…

      Amazingly they have never given up. The film chronicles both a European tour and the production of their 13th album. The singer Steve “Lips” Kudlow still believes they can be successful again.

      I felt the film had more to say about the characters in the microscope, than anything about Heavy Metal in particular. There isn’t much music in the film and what is heard didn’t sound that great to me. That said it’s a good film and indeed inspirational. A particular highlight for me is Tiziana the die-hard European fan who organises the tour for them.

      The Inspiration for the Odyssey

      While this blog is trying to sum up my personal adventure through Heavy Metal, truthfully I was inspired by a similar journey. Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey is a documentary that expores the world of Metal, and specifically sets out to look at why it is (in the films opinion) attacked and discredited by mainstream culture. I watched it again this week and I was concerned perhaps I was covering too much similar ground. Here’s the trailer:

      The film is quite entertaining to watch and covers a lot of interesting ground that I won’t be going near:

      • The specific sound of Heavy Metal
      • Glam Metal and sexism
      • Religion (though, I’d like to check out a few Black Metal albums just so I can say I did)

      The film is strongest visiting the various aspects of the culture, but I found it weakest when tackling the core objectives of the documentary. I don’t find that Metal is demonised as much as the film makes it out to be. On the other hand I don’t have to live with Conservative America.

      Secondly, the final conclusions made are that Heavy Metal is something you “Either get or you don’t”. Having got into it late and introduced a wide variety of people to the fringe elements, I wouldn’t put it so simply as that. I’d say it’s got off putting aspects, but with patience and willingness you can appreciate its strengths. (Though I’d say this could be applied to many styles of music)

      One of the great things to come out of the documentary was the “Heavy Metal Family Tree”. The following 36 second clip goes through it quickly:

      If that was all a bit too fast, there’s a printed version here:

      This tree was what inspired my genre by genre journey. The doco doesn’t go into each genre as much as I do here (and I don’t go that much into it). I’d certainly recommend the film if you want something different.

      Priest Rocks!

      The final documentary I saw is an oddity. Only 17 minutes long, it’s a cult classic short film called Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Essentially it’s a series of interviews with a bunch of teenagers in 1986 who are waiting in the parking lot for a Judas Priest / Dokken concert. It’s funny for the drunken behavior, bad fashion and general over-th- top enthusiasm for the bands. It’s on the net free to watch so you could do worse than spend 17 minutes watching it:


      NEXT TIME!!!

      Into the music again, this time with a double header.On one hand there is the thick slabs of sound and distortion in Sludge Metal. We also look at the enigma that is Post-Metal.

      Right now, these are my favorite sub-genres so it should be a good one.


      Heavy Metal Odyssey IX – Industrial Metal

      This entry concerns Industrial Metal. It’s a sub-genre I’m very well acquainted with, but I still managed to learn some new things on my Odyssey. I’ll discuss:

      • Rammstein, Nine Inch Nails and Maryilyn Manson
      • Strapping Young Lad – City
      • Ministry – A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste

      My young impressionable mind

      Nine Inch Nails has been my favourite band since about 1995. The songs Dead Souls (from The Crow Soundtrack, a great album in its own right), March of the Pigs and Closer all intrigued me. Strange song structures and unusal sonic textures were things I hadn’t seen in mainstream music. Closer in particular caught my attention not for the infamous chorus, but simply the sounds in the song. The final three minutes has buzzing guitars, distorted vocals, bouncy techno, bursts of static and ends with a weird simple piano melody. I hadn’t heard anything like it before.

      If we are talking specifically about Industrial Metal, then the album to mention is 1992 EP  Broken. The video for song Wish demonstrates fairly accurately the Industrial aesthetic.

      The guitars are there, but the defining factor of this sub-genre is computerised elements. Samples, mechanical noise or simply electronic/techno music.

      Trent and Friends

      The lead creative mind behind Nine Inch Nails is Trent Reznor. It’s essentially a one man band, but he brings his friends in to the studio to make the album, then a different set of friends to tour with. Back in the 90s he produced the soundtrack to a David Lynch film called Lost Highway. On that soundtrack were two other Industrial Metal acts worth mentioning.

      Certainly the most infamous of these is Marilyn Manson. Desite the controversy and shock surrounding the band, they actually put out a couple of really good albums including the 1996entry Antichrist Superstar. I was honestly scared what I was getting myself in for with this, but it’s actually not that scary and is quite  accessible music (as far as Heavy metal goes).

      The second band on the Lost Highway soundtrack was a German band called Rammstein. The music is a combination of buzzsaw guitars, techno music, a variety of samples and the intimidating teutonic singing of Till Lindemann. The band are even more shocking that Marilyn Manson, covering all manner of taboo subjects. Sometimes it’s best not to translate the lyrics from German into English. There is a certain tounge-in-cheek element that undercuts it though. The video clip for the song Sonne has the band playing the roles of the Seven Dwarves to an evil, abusive, gold-dust-snorting Snow White.

      Rammstein are still going with the 2009 album Liebe ist für alle da which covers a range of styles and ranks as one of my favorites from them.

      Back to the Heavy Metal Odyssey

      Knowing those previous bands quite well, I didn’t feel compelled to research any new Industrial Metal as part of my Odyssey. However, a number of different sources led me to a band called Strapping Young Lad.

      • I’d been loaned the ambient work Infinity by artist Devin Townsend, who was the lead guy in Strapping Young Lad
      • Dethklok (see my Comedy Metal entry) had a drummer from Strapping Young Lad
      • A friend recommended their album City
      • I had read about the term skullet..

      What’s a skullet? it’s the sort of mullet you have when you’ve got male pattern baldness. Like the one Devin Townsend has!

      Looks pretty badass to me.

      Anyway, I tracked down the album City. It’s one of the few albums that I could not get into and had to come back several months later. It’s very fast and has something of a ‘wall-of-noise’ approach. The vocals alternated between moderately listenable singing, screaming and indescipherable ranting. While the tracks I mentioned above (from NIN, etc) may be noisy and aggressive, they were accessible. And this wasn’t.

      Like most of the critially-well-reviewed-but-I-couldn’t-get-into-it albums, I did eventually get into it. Though I didn’t connect the dots till a friend mentioned it, but learning to love Dillinger Escape Plan has probably helped me get into Strapping Young Lad. I wouldn’t say that City is a favourite album of mine, but when my brain needs to be pounded into oblivion it’s my first choice.

      More brain pounding

      Nine Inch Nails may have had made the Industrial music popular in the 90s, but a band called Ministry were very influential in creating it in the 80s. I was attracted to the album The Mind Is A Terrible Thing to Taste by the first track Theives (I actually heard it on the Brütal Legend Soundtrack).

      At the time of writing I haven’t really had time to fully absorb it. Initial impressions are that Thieves is a little bit more accessible than the rest of the album. It’s broken up into segments, while the other tracks lay down grinding riffs for most of the song with samples and changes mixed in every now and again. The mechanical guitar/noise/sample aesthetic appeals to me, but it’s also tiring.

      The songs are very sample heavy, with soundbites from Full Metal Jacket and Day of The Dead to mention a couple. Other effects sound like birds chirping or rats squeaking. The vocals sound so weird it’s often hard to distinguish between the sound clips and the actual singing.

      I intend to stick with it, as it’s usually a case of learning the pacing of the songs and my brain adjusts. Even as I listen to it now, the underlying groove is coming through a bit stronger.

      NEXT TIME…

      As a spiritual companion to the Comedy Metal entry, Ive decided to head off into a different medium.

      he next entry in the Odyssey will be about Heavy Metal Documentaries!


      Heavy Metal Odyssey VIII – Origins of Heavy Metal

      This entry in the Odyssey will talk about three of the earliest albums to be called ‘Heavy Metal’:

      • Deep Purple’s Machine Head
      • Led Zeppelin’s IV
      • Black Sabbath’s Paranoid

      In the beginning…

      So, Heavy Metal… What is it and when did it start? I have something of an answer and I will get to it bythe end of this blog entry. First I’ll address the music I listened to in trying to answer that question.

      My knowledge of the sixties doesn’t stretch much farther then the clichés. You know, hippies, Jimi Hendrix, etc. Regarding the origin of Heavy Metal, I read aboutthe band Blue Cheer and their 1968 cover of Summertime Blues. Another early song was Iron Butterfly with In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. Neither meant all that much to me,  but I remembered the latter featured in a Simpsons Episode.

      However, the point of my Odyssey was not a purely a history lesson. I wanted to discover music (ande specially albums) that I would really like to listen to.

      Bum bah bah. Bum bah ba-bah. Bum bah bah… ba-baahh.

      Unlike much of my Odyssey, I had to search out the early Metal albums. Every now and again I’d hit a comment that would declare ‘where it really started’. Machine Head, Led Zeppelin IV and Paranoid were three commonly mentioned albums, so I tracked them all down and grabbed a copy. My first thought about the 1972 Deep Purple CD Machine Head was was “It’s the album with Smoke On The Water”.  And it is, but it’s also quite entertaining, so that’s ok.

      From a Heavy Metal Perspective, it’s guitar centric and there’s a fair bit of nooding. Sometimes it’s guitar noodling and sometimes organ noodling. I’m a fan of noodling in reasonable proportions so again the album gets some plus points. The standout tracks for me were the first (Highway Star), Smoke on the Water and the last track (Space Trukin’). It’s quite hard to dislike a song about Space Truckin’.

      Overall, it didn’t really shift my musical universal alignment. I’m glad I bought the album (It was only $8) because it fits a certain mood I hadn’t really catered for previously.

      Led Zeppelin.

      The thing about Led Zeppelin is I feel out of my depth talking about them. It’s like trying to sum up The Beatles in a couple of paragraphs. I’ll give it a go anyway.

      My first knowledge of the band was in the film Wayne’s World where Wayne tries out the guitar of his dreams, but the music store has a rule (and sign) preventing the playing of Stairway To Heaven. Later I knew of the TV show The Money or the Gun (Hosted by Andrew Denton) which finished every episode with a cover of Stairway To Heaven.

      There’s some silliness around the name, but most people know the 1971 album as Led Zeppelin IV. The album is in fact great, but not in the way I expected. It’s diverse for starters. The first two songs are essentially rock songs. The third and seventh are very folky. The fourth is the epic Stairway to Heaven which startS off slow and grows into a blistering final section (a section providing most evidence of being a metal album). And finally the last song is bluesy with a harmonic. What’s shocking is that all the songs are good no matter the style!

      Everyone should listen to this album at least once.

      The answer.

      I said I’d answer it so… The first Heavy Metal band is Black Sabbath.

      I actually knew this when I first head the 1970 album Paranoid. Listening to this album, or even the first two songs, it’s immediately apparent the musical foundations this band laid. Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple are good bands that use the distorted guitars sound well, but they lack the sheer weight and density used on Paranoid.

      Here’s Ozzy Osbourne and guitarist Tommy Iommi looking young and healthy:

      The biggest problem with the album is it has three songs that tower above everything else. War Pigs, Paranoid and Iron Man are indisputable Metal classics. They feature a slow and deliberate pace , with the distortion and weight to the guitar. Complimenting this is the wail of Ozzy’s voice. It all contributes to an element of grandure that is undeniable.

      The rest of the album is passable. The other songs have a noticeable 60s influence. The last song Faries Wear Boots is fun but not very Metal.

      I did find it interesting that Black Sabbath’s Rat Salad and Deep Purple’s Lazy were instrumental pieces that allowedd band members to show off their individual skill. This sort of musical showboating struck me as an interesting cultural artifact of the time.

      Final Thoughts

      Truthfully, the 70s music were interesting, but not compelling for me. Strangely, after listening to this music I found myself drawn to Judas Priest in particular. They were influenced by the earlier 70s bands, but dropped the ‘blues’ influence and sped things up a bit. That helped cement the authoritative Heavy Metal sound.

      Despite that, I’ve found that understanding the bands that influenced later bands has made me appreciate them more.

      Overall this has been a very worthwhile experience. Heavy Metal led me to Led Zeppelin, but I’ve got a lot of enjoyment from that band, even though it stretches outside the realms  of Metal.

      NEXT TIME…

      The next installment will be one quad-zillion miles away from the early 70s as we find where man meets machine with Industrial Metal!

      Ministry, Strapping Young Lad, Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails will be there in black leather for your entertainment.


      Heavy Metal Odyssey VII – Progressive Metal

      This entry looks at one of the earliest aspects that I enjoyed when beginning my Odyssey, Progressive Metal. I’ll discuss a number of bands such as:

      • Dream Theatre
      • Queensrÿche
      • Rush

      Symptoms of Progressive-ness

      I suspect most people have heard a Progressive Rock song at some time. Maybe from this album:

      That’s the third highest selling album of all time, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon. It’s also got to be the most well known Progressive Rock album ever.

      So what makes something ‘Progressive’? Here’s some symptoms:

      • Do the songs go on for nearly 10 minutes?
      • Does it sound like somone mashed 3 different songs from 3 different albums (possibly from 3 different genres) together?
      • Is it a concept album?
      • Is it generally just a bit (or a lot) weird?

      If the answer to any of those questions is Yes…

      … plus there’s some guitars, a double bass and maybe some growling …

      … odds on you’ve got yourself a Progressive Metal album!

      Secret guitar riffs that attack while you sleep

      The first Progressive Metal I encountered was actually the first album in the Odyssey, Mastodon’s Blood Mountain. The single off the album(Colony of Birchmen) is not very progressive, but it is ass kicking and I liked it immediately. Other songs on the album didn’t initially appeal. However, I had a strange sensation.

      Parts of those less accessible song would just pop into my head at 2 am in the morning (or other strange times). As I kept listening , the pieces started fitting together and I felt I was slowly learning my way around the complex music.

      A similar sensation occurred with Opeth’s Ghost Reveries. That album was more obviously Prog in its diverse styles and longer song lengths. A song would start with death growling intensity then switch to acoustic, almost folky sections.

      Now, I’ve talked about Mastodon and Opeth before, so I won’t dwell on them further. Lets take a look at at the Proggiest of Prog Metal bands…

      Time Travelling Murder Mystery Concept Album… Part II!

      Dream Theater is a name (like Opeth) not known to the general public, but very well known to Heavy Metal fans. While reading online about concept albums, I noticed a lot of support for a particular album called Scenes From A Memory : Metropolis Part II by Dream Theater.

      Before I talk about the music, some more random facts about this album:

      • It is split into two acts and nine scenes.
      • There are several characters and the booklet attributes the lyrics to each one appropriately
      • This is a sequel to Metropolis I which is a single song from an earlier album, Images and Words
      • The album starts with a hypnotist hypnotising you!

      My initial reaction (after the hypnotist) was the music rocks! There’s a sweet little quiet bit and that’s followed by the awesome instrumental Overture 1928. When reaching the third track I wasn’t so sure about the vocals. It seemed cheesy, especially after the incredible growling of Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt. Strangely enough (and I still have this problem occasionally) I was having difficulty adapting to non-death growls!

      As I’ve found with most Progressive Metal albums, it took a while for me to learn the songs and enjoy it.  In hindsight, it’s one of the truly fantastic discoveries on my Odyssey. While not flawless ( it does get a little too caught up in it’s own guitar noodling sometimes) it has more brilliant ideas and cool bits than five other albums put together.

      I should also mention large parts of this album are not very metal at all. I’m ok with that. The diversity is part of the value proposition. Special bonus recommendation for being one of the few Metal albums I’ve convinced my Dad to listen to 😀

      How do you put an umlaut on a y?

      After reading about the metal umlaut, I have learned that y with an umlaut is (very rarely) used in the French language. When the band Queensrÿche decided to use it as suggested by their manager, I assume they were following in the steps of umlaut trailblazers Motörhead (not forgetting about Mötley Crüe with their double umlaut).

      I blind-bought the album Operation Mindcrime because I had some money burning a hole in pocket. I also vaguely remembered reading they were an early influential band in the Prog Metal field. Another concept album, it’s about:

      • corruption
      • insanity
      • revolution
      • drugs
      • some revolutionary, drug dealing, prostitute nun(!) named Mary.

      The music soundy extremely 80s. It’s like Warrant decided to make a politically informed album. Anyway, perhaps because of the impulse buy and the 80s sound, I put the album away on the shelf (or alternatively, in the part of the iPod library people don’t use very often) and left it there.

      One day while gardening, I decided to make a play list full of songs over 10 minutes long. That naturally sent me into the Prog Metal archives. Operation: Mindcrime had one song making the list with Suite Sister Mary clocking in at 10:39. Thay day in the garden something clicked and before I knew it I was working my way through the Mindcrime tracks again.

      It’s hard to recommend the album due to its dated nature. I do like it and feel I’ve got more to ‘uncover’. What I can recommend is this video featuring a Super Poodle Mullet.

      Did you  know who Rush was?

      At least, did you know before watching the classic TV epsiode Chuck vs Tom Sawyer? I didn’t 😦

      Rush gets name dropped a lot in Prog Metal discussions. I went and tracked down the album 2112, but I’m gonna cut straight to the chase and talk about the song 2112.

      It’s a 20 minute (20:33 actually) seven part suite & space opera concerning the Priests of the Temples of Syrinx and their apparent domination over everything in the year 2112. In other words it’s pretty batshit insane. Good thing it rocks hard with that awesome squeally singing that is still cool, but no-one outside the 70s is game to do in public.

      Final example of Prog Metal : Everything else

      I believe prog metal has infiltrated a lot of Heavy Metal music. This entry covered older bands, but Progressive tendencies are evident in many modern and successful groups as they push their songs out to greater lengths and complexity. Personally I love it cause it’s always interesting and has provided some of the more rewarding aspects of the Odyssey.

      NEXT TIME!!!

      Just now we covered Opeth in 2007, Dream Theater in 1999, Queensrÿche in 1988 and Rush in 1976…

      Where else to go but back to The Beginning of Heavy Metal in 1970 (or maybe ’68). Expect Ozzy!