#9 Dabblers and Perfectors

To simply say a band like Huntress is an updated Judas Priest is massively missing the point and unduly reductionist.  First, it is putting form over substance.  What do people like about the Judas Priest “formula”?  The speeding anthems for the open road?  The magnetic frontman?  The searing guitar work?  Of course, any one of those three things is transcendent when done right, almost by definition.  When done right, those things cannot be “like” anything else.  No, such reductionism is akin to saying that because Judas Priest has lightning-powered, rollicking songs led by a charismatic singer, they are a Led Zeppelin clone.

This also brings into focus the concept of songs.  What do we love about, say, catchy Metallica songs?  That they are good?  That they are original?  An original song is not reducible to anything.  An original song is a thing in itself; a unique musical map.  If it can be reduced to anything, it is sheet music.  The particular stylistic characteristics are secondary, which is why other artists in entirely different genres can cover a good song, or why an artist can render an acoustic version of a good metal song or even a good electronic song.

Finally, a brilliant performer can be imitated, but never copied.  No other person on the planet has Jill Janus’s voice.  Even if we cloned her in a vat, it is dubious that her clone would contain such a righteous soul, a prerequisite to truly nuanced and impassioned vocal performances.

Falling head over heels in love with “genres” is what gets us into trouble and leads to us having C.D.s that need reselling.  Since bands with singular performers and good songwriting are so rare, it is understandable that us music fans from time to time succumb to the magician’s trick of technicality, and are seduced by subpar music in the process.  We can all bear reminding, if you are enjoying the technical parameters of a genre that is all well and good, but do not get so befuddled in the process that you can’t recognize a truly great artist when he/she arrives.  A corollary is that I am guilty of listening to some music that can only be truly understood when a person is extremely high, but if I can’t even sit through the whole album sober, it probably isn’t truly good.

As metal became more specialized, the need for songs diminished, if you can follow me.  There is really no such thing as truly good NWOBHM  metal that doesn’t have good songs.  As the thrash drama unfolded, the music became more and more defined by blazing speed and complex compositions.  In defiance of convention, you really can have good extreme metal that doesn’t have good songs.  When you are stoned higher than the clouds, does a song need to make sense in the traditional sense?  No.  If the track’s Byzantine unfolding “looks” cool projected on your third eye, it is good.

You know though, thinking back to my original point about Judas Priest–  the more I think about it, the more I doubt that any critic in the history of rock has ever seriously dismissed a band by just saying “they are like Judas Priest”.  When would-be critics dismiss something in that manner, it’s not them being serious, I think it’s just because they’re tired and lazy and don’t want to actually listen to something and then come up with something thoughtful to say.

 

Modern Music

But sometimes lazy ideas catch on even if they are devoid of reason.  Sometimes truth is not intuitive or apparent on the surface.  Other times, a pack of painfully literal thinkers will have a loud voice and gain an early and unfortunate chunk of the popular opinion on a subject.

Take, for example, the idea of musical trailblazers in the context of the current musical climate.  It is, in fact, a greater prize to find a band today than it was to find a band back in 1975, or 1995.  This should be obvious–  look how hard it is to find good bands these days– but for some reason it isn’t. To say that Huntress is as good, for instance, as Accept, or Manowar, might be controversial to some people. If for no other reason, some will rebel against the idea on the basis that Accept did their brand of speed metal decades earlier, and ergo, were trailblazers.  The easy, unthinking conclusion people make when two bands play in a similar style, is that the older band is automatically better.  But that is illogical and denies the primacy of good songcraft.  Moreover, anyone who knows musicians or has a handful of favorite metal or rock bands from the last decade knows at least one thing– line-up changes are a near constant.  The music economy has degenerated to the point that it is generally accepted these days that bands can only survive by touring, and that record deals are far less lucrative than they were a generation or two ago.  Perhaps most devastating of all, the kingdom has decreed forthwith, that no rock & roll band, no matter how good, shall ever again gain artistic leverage or zen inspiration in the riches, drugs, and groupies that, like sandy atolls, once lined the warm seas of rock & roll success.  The argument can be made, then, that it takes a better band to survive and release multiple albums these days.

Another reason why the “trailblazer” band is not automatically better than a subsequent “perfector” is that many so-called trailblazer bands (especially in rock) are more preoccupied with form over substance.  Now on the other hand, I despise a melody or rhythm that “reminds me of something else” when I hear it, and uniqueness is often a natural extension of musical talent.  But by the same token, is it not harder and harder every year to unearth a vein of originality, of “novelty”?  If it is so hard to find a “new chord progression” or groove, is it not possible that some of the new bands (the ones that buck the odds and come up with original songs, that is) are actually better than the trailblazers?  It borders on paradoxical.  But one thing I know for sure is that when I was a stoned college student, there were these ultra-weird grad students with pallid complexions who thought The Pixies were better than Nirvana.  Man, being aged a mere quarter-generation longer was all it took for them to be so damn wrong.  You almost have to feel bad for them.

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This reminds me of a conversation I had with a co-worker last Summer.  It turned out that he liked some metal, and I mentioned that I regard Avenged Sevenfold as leading the pack.  His response stupefied me.  He said, “aren’t they just kind of a re-hash of Metallica?”

WUT.

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#8 Tearing Down the Curtains

The metal-herd isn’t into the wild & crazy lifestyle I talked about in my last post.  Maybe they are like my wife (if my calculations are correct, she is Lawful in alignment, using Dungeons & Dragons terms, with a distaste for genuine chaos).  Or maybe the metal-herds are– well, let’s not sugarcoat it.  Most are sweet, virginal, oh so jealous haters.

Certain Decibelite critics face a genuine challenge with Huntress, Blood Ceremony, Avenged Sevenfold, the most popular albums from Corrosion of Conformity, AC/DC, Metallica, and Megadeth, and can even balk at Municipal Waste.  Not to mention ALL ROCK & ROLL.  They pay lip service to Rob Halford only because it is metal law to do so.

For the stoic who doesn’t welcome the intrusion, hearing the diamond-sharp voice of Jill Janus is like looking at the sun.  It is a call to live life.  The euphoric guitar solos of Avenged Sevenfold threaten to tear the drapes down and blast light on the shoe-gazing stoics and bedroom skeptics.  Municipal Waste embody a larger-than-life spirit from the past that awakens uncomfortable feelings– of having missed out on something fun.

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The oppressed modern metalhead now finds his gaze fixed on the visage of a being very different from himself.  A newcomer like Jill Janus or M. Shadows is strangely familiar, shielded in the brawny invulnerability of classic metal, truly evoking what He-Man would look like, if that archetypal hero meant to us now what he did when we were children.

For some folk it sounds paradoxical, but to the extent Manowar is absurd, or that Judas Priest or Huntress occasionally borders on camp (e.g. the awesome “Sorrow” video, with lyrics penned by the 17 year old Jill), it is made more serious in exactly equal proportion– as only a madman or true hero literally laughs in the face of death.  As Udo would say, “I’m living for tonight.”

But leaving behind a world of hooded mystics and noble savages, heroes and dragons, not to mention wine, women & song, modern metal has pulled its tail all the way through the wormhole, and now resides in the desolate realm of the cold machine god.

The reclusive metalhead worries that to fully acknowledge a band like Huntress, a traveller outside of time, as legitimate and an equal would be tantamount to admitting that metal has made no structural progress, that at the end of the day, the rock & rollers were right, all that matters are songs.

But to dismiss the traveller for being “retro” is equally devastating, for now the poor modern metaller is making an admission that his own contemporary precious metal heroes will be irrelevant in a decade or two– which is indeed tantamount to denying the existence of any canon or way of ordering the world.

A few might posit that to be truly epic, you need to be both cutting edge and have great songs. But “cutting edge” is  a concept that is even more subjective than what constitutes a good song.  It’s not just the underground metaller who knows almost all his indie metal bands would be annihilated by such a stringent two-pronged test of greatness (to be crystal clear, I do not believe that the concepts of “technical innovation” or “cutting edge” compose a definable/valid prong on any such test.  If anything, greatness is a function of pure songwriting ability combined with raw conviction– when that alchemical combination occurs, the result is unique / “innovative” by definition every time).  Lacking any articulable argument, the worst of the Decibelite / MetalSucks crowd chooses to reject the occult maestros of Huntress and Blood Ceremony (mysteriously, he may accept Ghost), but cooks up a reason immune to accusations of sexism or hipster/nerd technical obsessions– he just makes the bald faced lie that the bands are average.

But such a lie is easy to see through.  In at least one parallel dimension Huntress are the biggest metal band on the planet.  Starbound Beast and Static sound like long-lost greatest hits albums curated for the impoverished denizens of our world by an old and loving portal-hopping wizard (this mysterious benefactor could be the same character depicted in Black Sabbath’s song “The Wizard”).

the wizard card

#7 Recipe for Success

This is my personal recipe for success.  Step 1:  Kids under 18:  stay in school and don’t do drugs.  Really.  You have better things to be doing like playing Dungeons & Dragons and video games with your friends.  I say that with no sarcasm or irony.

The writings that follow come from the perspective of an older man.  What I am picturing is the advice I would give a wet-behind-the-ears kid just setting off for college.  A road map for life, so to say, and some tips on how to milk your emotional capacity in order to derive the finest aesthetic experiences.

Don’t get sanctimonious about my references to drug use.  Few wise voices will ring with greater certitude than his who knows stress, induced by massive life changes, works much more drastic and unpleasant alterations to human brain chemistry than the use of drugs ever could, whether said drug use is sustained or not.  Compared to the stress of say– having your life turned upside down when you leave for college, or adjusting to the mindless grind of life in the full-time workforce, or going through a divorce, or experiencing the death of a loved one– drug use is child’s play, and should be treated as such by our legal system.

My dad used to ask, rhetorically, about what a person is more likely to regret when one lays on his death bed.  Are you going to regret all the times you spent getting high and having fun?  Or all the days you spent in an office?

For those who are ready, I strongly recommend that you start your weed-smoking career with the best rock & roll on the planet, and only when you run out of that, turn to more extreme sounds.  The reason is twofold.  On the one hand, your first 1-3 years of smoking is likely to yield your best results.  And the best rock can actually transport you to planes of existence even more distant than those made accessible via metal. Part of rock’s power to move is owing to the synergistic combination of alcohol and weed. The first heightens your emotional sensitivity, and the latter opens your third eye, amplifies the power of your conceptual thought, and may endow you with musical synesthesia. While metal takes you to another plane, it doesn’t generally activate the emotions.  Rock does, so for a while it can take you even farther.

Over the course of your first year or two of smoking, you are likely to experience a change in the way the drug effects you.

At the same time, you are going to burn through most of Earth’s good rock.

The good news is that a new world of music will then be waiting for you, just when the emotional payoff of the weed/beer/innocence synergy is wearing off!

The ever more extreme sounds of metal will also begin to sound better than rock, and pretty soon you will be desensitized to hard music. Chances are you will begin to crave more and more extreme sounds, which is a path you DO NOT want to start down prematurely.

For best results, indulge in one or more of these advanced techniques:  a spiritual awakening / suicidal love affair / travelling the world / becoming an artist.  For me, the feeling of love inspires me, it fills me up until it feels my heart will burst and tears flow- these are the things that make me demand God, a higher order.  Insist that there be justice, that the Universe embed all the subtle details of this world in the Akashic Field or an Afterlife where these beautiful things that inspire you so much will be honored and preserved for Eternity.  When you open your heart fully, that is when your third eye can also open– to synchronicity and other forms of magick and heightened perception.

The problem with being overly skeptical from the get go, is that skepticism itself can never prove anything.  In the event there is a mystical secret to the Universe, you will never find it unless you experiment with actually living the idea.  A bias in favor of crude Physicalism is exactly that– a bias, unbecoming to the researcher.  You have to be open minded.  It’s just how it works.

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that the primary constituent of the universe IS consciousness itself (no spoiler), it would not be surprising that good phenomenological technique (i.e. open-mindedness) is critical to coming to an ultimate understanding of reality.  While I absolutely believe in the importance of empirical evidence, empirical evidence can take the form of phenomenological experiences. And you have to be a little bit open minded in order to become sensitive to the higher-order patterns that constitute phenomenological empirical data (mainly Synchronicity).

Of course being “open minded” can come from desperation or a personal meltdown.  For me it was coming face to face with the unbearable philosophical concept of Determinism. Being unable to solve the problem with my rational brain, and then obsessing over it (perhaps as a strawman for other more “real” problems in my life) led me to a state of great angst.  But the conflict and failure of my rational brain was the catalyst for a subsequent spiritual awakening.

The true experience of love in all its forms– familial love, brotherly love, passionate love, even religious love– these feelings give shape to ontological as well as teleological beliefs– namely that only in a world so good that it is ruled by God could these beautiful things come into existence in the first place– they would never flourish in an ugly, dead universe.  If you hold these beliefs deep in your heart– and then it happens to turn out that the Universe is ruled by a higher Order, there is a chance the Universe will gift you with actual knowledge of that Order.  On the other hand, the skeptic will remain incapable of seeing it.  The skeptic will call it selective perception or wish fulfilment.  Proving them wrong is beyond the scope of this post.  My point here is in line with William James’ thought:  “believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.”  In subsequent posts I will provide “empirical” evidence.

But woe is nigh, for while you were busy working on your soul, your head in the clouds, things were likely falling apart in your physical universe.  But even things coming to a head in your socioeconomic existence (i.e. end of college, etc etc) can be a good thing.  It’s going to suck balls and knock you down a few notches, but the stress can catalyze additional change and yet new beginnings.

You will likely enter a period of artistic and creative stagnation as you are forced to spend your mid-20s sitting in an office or some other aesthetically-squalid environment, sorting out what you “want to do with your life” and learning to survive in a cold, heartless world. It won’t be easy, but there is good news. I can honestly say that the best is quite likely yet to come!

If you put in a little effort, by the time you hit thirty or so, you will have achieved a certain level of professional or financial stability.  If “stable” is a bit overly-optimistic, hey, that’s what credit cards are for!

The key is that a measure of success in the physical universe will bolster your self-confidence, which helps with your relations with the opposite/same sex, which in turn influences the music you want to listen to.

My brother and I were driving out to Burning Man for the second time and we were discussing girls.  At that moment his position was that if you have a really good thing (i.e. a festival like Burning Man and the requisite substances), you don’t need to add other good things to it (i.e. a love affair while you are there).  I argued the counterpoint.

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With your newfound late 20s / early 30s confidence, you are likely to have some wild adventures and a wave of intoxicating love affairs on par with the best of your early 20s.  What will you listen to?!  Not death metal– not when you are on a roadtrip across the Rocky Mountains to meet up with some chick you met at Lightning in a Bottle or Coachella (or if you really know what is good and play your cards right, Burning Man).  Hell no.  Ultra-hardcore, stoned-friendly death-thrash, deathcore, and death metal is not emotional music.  And you probably don’t want Nirvana either.  When your emotions are engaged in the euphoric direction, you will less often indulge in music that speaks to your existential angst.  For one thing you have less angst at this point (remember, you are more confident now).  For another, you have already been there!!  You have listened to so much Nirvana and AIC and Tool and Danzig and Smashing Pumpkins and Manson and Tori Amos and RATM when you were high as fuck.  Eventually you will have had peak experiences with it and used it up.  Remember?  That is part of the reason why you started listening to heavy metal in the first place!!

So what?  If you are a real rebel you aren’t going to be nerding out on indie rock (you will instead plunder its weak-kneed catalogue for a wealth of one-hit-wonders for your booty call playlists).

Lo, I have an answer for you. For your most high-on-life moments later in life, flying down the open road, you blast classic metal. See, you probably wore out the peak-era Megadeth and Metallica when you were on the highway during Glory Days I. Now in Glory Days II, what is the manic music you turn to? I’ll tell you.  It’s Judas Priest, Sabbath, Dio, Rainbow, Motorhead, Manowar, AC/DC, and the modern version of that kind of manic metal– from Appetite for Destruction -era Guns & Roses to Pepper-era Corrosion of Conformity, Huntress, and Avenged Sevenfold.*  Let me tell you, when you are madly in love and travelling the country, nothing sounds better than some Point of Entry or Overkill.

 

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#6 Snowflake Lords

The thing about heavy metal is that for the longest time it struggled for legitimacy.  Like punk, its practitioners faced accusations of making senseless racket and of not knowing how to play their instruments (or sing).  In light of this, the inferiority complex built into its young personality was forgivable.  The genre would strive harder and harder to prove its worth to the mainstream, in the process producing musicians of dazzling technical ability and songs that define the very essence of compositional complexity– and everyone cheered for the underdog.

As time went on, “Metal” got so good at what it did that eventually, it replaced “rock & roll” as the default linguistic placeholder for the outcast rock & roll set’s guitar-driven music of choice (tinkly indie rock arose to fill the void for those timid urbanites who eschew bong hits in basements in favor of sucking down microbrews in yuppie pubs).  Alas, a lifetime of being picked on didn’t bequeath to metal an empathic soul.  No, it seems to have made a bully, now the genre is all grown up.  Looking at its own success, metal’s conservative quarter has given rise to a reactionary movement– a violent reaction to anything that appeals to the traditional rock & roll values of sex, drugs, and, well– rock & roll.

 

The Metal-herds, aka Snowflake Lords
You could say that metalheads always took themselves a little too seriously, but in the early era of MTV, you could see whether people were having fun in their music videos, and if they weren’t having fun, they looked like idiots.  Popular thrash metal acts at least tried to bill themselves as part of a big hard-partying family.  Subsequently, in the 90s, metal could only sulk as grunge stole its intensity and married it to existential awareness and a more robust sense of melody.

But oh, how times have changed.  Maybe the change has as much to do with the wider society, with the zeitgeist, as the subculture.  An empire in decline, its resources drained by foreign wars and its jobs outsourced, is not the soil in which old hippie ideals of peace, love, unity, and fun are like to thrive.  A populace given short shrift by bankers and psychotic corporations, an inch from collapsing in a stiff lump after working all day to earn a meager wage, is not one quick to celebrate excess.  Combine this catalytic economic climate with a ravaged music industry, and fuel it with a form of instantaneous communication that is as accessible to the most emotionally regressive member of society as well as the most refined, and the seeds have been planted for a totalitarian regime to arise in the world of music criticism.  And arise it has.  A faction of metal demagogues, entrenched equally in both British metal press and the internet, is not merely emboldened, but now made downright smug in light of metal’s vast technical superiority and dispassionate invulnerability.  For reasons that I will venture to guess at in a moment, this dominant faction tries to tear down anything that arouses the emotions of euphoria, empathy, or sentimentality– or which might sound good when you are fucking in the woods under a full moon.  Bands that embody the passion of the Goddess and true Dionysian ideals– Huntress, Blood Ceremony, and Ruby the Hatchet– are ignored in favor of pointless underground black crust bands that make metal hipsters feel special.

Meanwhile, bands that embody true Apollonian power, from Suicide Silence to Whitechapel, are marginalized in favor of tech wankery.

My wife is a rock & roll chick, but she was never that into drugs.  She was into the scene.  She likes some metal now and again, when it is in unrepentant cheese mode a la power metal (take recent Gloryhammer), or when it spins tales of prankster spirits bolstering the little guy in his battle against the bully (take recent Coheed & Cambria).  But when things get too crazy, either along the Apollonian axis of drug-fueled, extreme metal alternate states of consciousness, or along the Dionysian axis of sexy drunken orgiastic debauchery, she bows out.

She’s not a member of the metal-herd, but those more uncontrolled areas of life are not her cup of tea.  My next post is for those Lords of Chaos who drink deeply from the well of life.

#5 Context is Everything

Across all of high school I pretty much listened to a grand total of five albums. Every single darn time, it was Vulgar Display of Power or Far Beyond Driven in the weight room. For in the car or when hanging out with friends, it was either Anthrax’s Attack of the Killer B’s, White Zombie’s La Sexorcisto, or last and maybe least, a tape of Metallica hits a friend made for me (and we mainly only listened to Anthrax for two songs– we loved “Startin’ Up a Posse” for its comedic value, and “Milk” because it has, like, Anthrax’s best riff ever).

I didn’t seriously get into music until ’96, after my third eye was opened during a dorm-room stoning.  It was the marriage of melody and intensity embodied by Alice In Chains that attracted me more than anything that summer.

I bless you with this personal information because I think it illustrates the rock / metal division well.  The Metallica album that summer was Load. To this day Load is my favorite Metallica album.

“Amazing! How is that possible?!”, I hear you gasping.  Simple.  From a rock & roll standpoint, Load is the best Metallica album.  The band themselves admitted to being inspired by AIC.  To me, METAL meant one thing:  the piledriver riffs of Pantera.

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There was another factor.  When my metal friend got me listening to Pantera (circa ’93 or so), Metallica had already hit such a massive level of popularity that it was nearly impossible to perceive them as anything hardcore or rebellious.  In the long run it was my loss to not be able to get heavily into Metallica. On the other hand, my lack of expectations about the band allowed me to see Load for what it was, which was a brilliant piece of alternative hard rock.  (There was no backlash against Load in the town I grew up in, though of course any backlash against it might have caused me to embrace it even more.)

To summarize the point here, where your definition of metal lies on the “punk metal” spectrum is largely decided by the year you first dove head-first into music.  If “metal” to you is Pantera, then more classic-style metal like Metallica and Judas Priest is “rock”.

On the other hand, if “metal” to you is Metallica, then Pantera and Slipknot is more closely related to something like “hardcore”.

Even if you hate the way I just presented it, I think we can agree that there is at least one major dichotomy in metal, or stated another way, at least two large branches can be identified on the metal Yggdrasil— hardcore, riff-focused metal a la Pantera, versus the classic, melody-focused metal a la Metallica.  The downfall of the 00s metalcore movement should have been easy to predict– the two styles cannot be successfully combined. They cannot breed together, which is a concept important to my theory and which I want to discuss again later.

Metallica’s rise to stratospheric popularity with 1991’s self-titled album probably caused a lot of musicians to sell their guitars.  No, not because they were mad that Metallica “sold out”.  Because those bedroom superstars couldn’t top The Black Album in a thousand years.  Pantera itself may have been reacting to Metallica when it perfected its “groove” sound on 1992’s Vulgar Display of Power.

On the other hand, bands in Sweden clearly did not think melody was mined out. Melodic death metal arose in the 90s. One could argue that its lack of success in producing many great bands shows just how hard it is to craft original, appropriate, and agreeable melodies.

 

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But a lot of the world finds error in my proposition that Gothenburg melogoth is for the birds.  Notable among those people are the types from Decibel magazine.  When you consider how that set worshiped At The Gates so hard it verges on stalking, and then started backing black metal in its most absurdly over-the-top form– laying on keyboards, choirs, “clean vocals”, clean guitar, and other melodic devices like they were going extinct (see Emperor circa Anthems, and the attendant orgiastic hysteria of the day in the metal press, ~1997-2001)– it becomes apparent why the Decibelites only grudgingly acknowledge Pantera.  Many Decibelites think concussive, riff-based metal is, well…    NOT METAL.

What is the problem?  What held many of the Decibelites back from riding out with Pantera to metal Valhalla?  I believe I know why, and I will discuss it in my next few posts.

#4 Stick to the Geniuses Pt. II

Luckily, modern metal is teeming with geniuses.  Here is a far-from-exhaustive list that comes to mind without even trying:

Flo Mounier of Cryptopsy is a drummer nonpareil. Trey Azagthoth of Morbid Angel is the personification of death metal guitar pyrotechnics.  Alex Webster and the three guitar players that have played in Cannibal Corpse compose the ultimate in brutal riffage. David Blomqvist, the lead guitarist presumably responsible for those eruptions of brilliant classical melody on Dismember’s albums– a goddamn prodigy.  Vogg from Decapitated.  Allen West from Obituary is the most underrated metal riffmaster of all time, laying grooves down for miles like a death metal J.Yuenger.  J. Yuenger, in turn, is like the Dimebag Darrel of industrial sleaze rock.  Brilliant.  Varg Vikernes of Burzum, the Nirvana of Black Metal–  while not the most politically correct fellow around, probably at least borderline genius at crafting riffs and atmospheres that move you to a cold and surreal ancient world. Morten Veland, founder of both Tristania and Sirenia, is the ideal symphonic/gothic metal song-writer.  Now on the other hand, no way am I giving a genius award to Tuomas Holopainen of Nightwish.  Fine, the earlier material is pretty high-level, but not the wince-inducing spoken word and theatrical excess of the current Floor-era. While I can grudgingly give murderers a pass if I have to, there is a limit to how cheesy something can be and still get the genius tag.

Don’t forget Ritchie Blackmore, who as Blackmore’s Night released All Our Yesterdays this year (sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be wiser to listen to that for our ren faire folk, and listen to Pantera for our metal).

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Hallelujah, the halls of the musically mighty are walked by the self-effacing Blake Meahl.  I was just listening to Kill ‘Em All at work the other day, and while I don’t usually listen to Huntress at work, I then listened to one of their songs.  I challenge you, metalhead people:  listen to any song off Kill ‘Em All, or the whole thing, then listen to “Sorrow” by Huntress, and tell me Huntress isn’t great. That is not even an exaggeration. After blasting through a Huntress album you really can only go to a band of Metallica or Pantera’s caliber . While they’ve worked with a couple guitarists, Blake Meahl is a constant on lead guitar– and every song on every Huntress album resounds with a jouissance that cannot be attributed solely to the musical nous of Jill Janus.

Sepultura’s ever-inventive Andreas Kisser comes to mind as a top-shelf riff chef.  I would argue that Chris Storey, the shredder from All Shall Perish’s classic line-up, is genius-level, not to mention whoever is responsible for the riffs on The Price of Existence and Awaken the Dreamers.  Alia O’Brien, flutist, organist, and vocalist for Blood Ceremony, is off the charts.

My wife used to think Mustaine was hot.  Now Mustaine looks like Donald Trump, literally:

Mustaine-Trump combo

While it pains me to say it, given his recent music and public persona, I will grudgingly concede that Dave Mustaine is or was a song-writing mastermind and guitar virtuoso.  Then, there is some uncanny concentration of pure metal luster in Metallica, Avenged Sevenfold and Slipknot that consistently produces jaw-dropping songs.

Speaking of, if you listen to the drums on Avenged Sevenfold’s cover of “Walk” off Live in the LBC / Diamonds in the Rough, you will see that the Rev really knew what he was doing. He nails it, and even adds something new and brilliant to the song, which is like adding something new to God.

Of course, some geniuses are not for everyone. I’m still trying to figure out what the fervor is about Mike Portnoy (but then again I’ve been saving Dream Theater for my old age– you can only get into so many new bands in a year, right?).  My main exposure to him so far is via A7X’s Nightmare, and I don’t think there is a single moment on that album where I sit up and go, “whoa, check out those drums!”  Instead, Portnoy is the definition of a workmanlike session musician on that album.  The kid on Hail to the King, on the other hand (Arin Ilejay) stood out as starkly brilliant in comparison– it saddens me to hear he is out of the picture already.

We all recognize the voices that speak directly to our souls, and that recognition is usually immediate.  There are a lot of vocalists who are geniuses, but not all are geniuses in the traditional musical sense.  Phil Bozeman reminds me of a stunted, genetically-compromised attack dog cloned from Phil Anselmo, and I mean that as a compliment.  Oli Sykes used to be genuinely frightening, before he went emo.  David Vincent and John Tardy?  Devil and Demon respectively.  Is George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher or Lord Worm a better exemplar of the brutal death style?!  Or for that matter, how about Lord Worm’s successor, Matt McGachy?  Can grunting noises be considered an expression of creative genius?  (I’ll give that a provisional “yes”.)    Clearly the list of clever and forceful extreme metal vocalists goes on and on; the aforementioned are only some of my personal favorites.

R.I.P. Mitch Lucker.

 

My nominee for musical genius of the current decade

When you move to the realm of traditional metal and hard rock, truly great vocalists are always a rarity.  Genre conventions (and subsidies for “raw creativity” and intimidation factor) fly off into the wind, and in their place a high bar is raised for pure spirit and physical vocal chords.  A handful of the classic bands are still operating (e.g. the obligatory giants; Metallica, Megadeth, Maiden, Priest).  I guess Down is still relevant.  Maybe.  Corey Taylor has completely sold out with Stone Sour, but is still an imposing force in Slipknot.  Other than C. Taylor, M. Shadows and possibly P. Emeritus, there is only one true genius-level vocalist who rose to prominence in the current century– and that’s Jill Janus of Huntress.  Not only is Jill Janus a compelling singer with a powerful voice, but she is a musical genius in the traditional sense.  To find a singer who delivers so many indelible, original hooks with such intensity, one must go straight to the classics.

Hard rock’s late 60s/70s voices like Robert Plant, Jim Morrison, Grace Slick, John Fogerty and Janis Joplin, and 90s voices like Maynard James Keenan, Layne Staley, Kurt Cobain, Glenn Danzig, Billy Corgan and Tori Amos, achieved their place in the rock pantheon by virtue of pleasing vocal timbre, melody, pathos, and a fathomless worldly and spiritual wisdom.  They are outside the realm of metal (arguably, Ozzy belongs in this group as much as among the metal gods, infra).

To find the kind of pure puissance and adrenalized energy prized by traditional metal, you have to go to the thrash titans (Hetfield, Mustaine) or to Rob Halford, Dio, Bon Scott, Lemmy, Axl Rose, Pepper Keenan, and Manowar’s Eric Adams.  Jill Janus belongs in the ranks of the Metal Gods, the only singer of the decade to earn that accolade in my book.  For metal or rock to receive a boon like this is a phenomenal blessing!  The militant mobilization of this blog is in part a reaction to the fact that Huntress is not on the cover of Rolling Stone yet.

Janus gets my vote for most relevant metal genius of the decade so far. The most viable competition would be Papa Emeritus (not that you only get one great new singer in a decade– these two bands compliment each other).

One night I was a little stoned and heard Papa Emeritus’s voice on “From the Pinnacle to the Pit”. I immediately saw it as something sinister, and reminiscent of my favorite singer ever, Layne Staley. But unlike, say, that humdrum chart-topping band that named itself after an AIC song (in addition to borrowing AIC’s logo and then additional inspiration from Mad Season), there was nothing derivative here, just a genuine voice that at moments echoed another genuine voice (come to think of it, that’s how I feel about William DuVall.  I think Cantrell did a good job finding a voice sufficiently similar but at the same time different from Layne’s– different faces of one much bigger soul).

Ghost has achieved fairly widespread popularity, by which is demonstrated that no reason exists to believe the world isn’t ready for Huntress (or for that matter Blood Ceremony).  Don’t fight the genius the way I fought grindcore’s shining star.  If you give Huntress’ new album Static a fair shot, you will agree.  And if I can learn to worship Scott Hull, you can surely learn to worship Jill Janus.