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).
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:
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.
Sure I could edit my post, but I only discovered Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats in the last year, so it might seem “intellectually dishonest” to insert them above. My litany of metal geniuses is just a sampling, but I am hereby amending it anyway, to include: K.R. Starrs aka Uncle Acid himself, the guitar slinger and singer, a no-brainer.
Huntress have a little too much “unsafe” material, and hang around in metal circles. Not necessarily a way to get widespread mainstream attention. Ghost have a lot of what I like to refer to as “safe rebellion” – costumes and satanism have become camp in the modern musical landscape. Whereas, a song titled “I want to fuck you to death” sung by a woman will never make it to the radio or mainstream charts. Even if it was penned by Lemmy himself. I think that’s one of the things I love about Huntress – they’re big in the groups/circles that “matter”.
Nobody else on earth would have the gusto to replace Johan Hegg (Amon Amarth) onstage last minute when he lost his voice. Jill is a metal goddess.
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You’re whining abt Trump. Wtf?!?! Seriously, only a crying, whining bitch complains abt Trump how you did. Ugh.
Whoa, Nepthys. Five months is a little longer than I like to take to respond to a comment, so I think apologies are in order. Sorry. I don’t think you are serious, but for the sake of compassionate discourse let’s assume you were deeply upset by what I said. Also, Nephthys. She was so hot in Gods of Egypt!
What I said was “[m]y wife used to think Mustaine was hot. Now Mustaine looks like Donald Trump, literally.” Then I said “[w]hile 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.”
I am not sure how those words comprise a searing indictment of Trump. As for Mustaine, I got annoyed when he started drizzling cheesy political soundbytes all over his albums, and then when I couldn’t escape hearing about his political and born-again Christian views (because the “metal press” was all over it). No more NEEDS to be said here– for all I know you are a Metalsucks-style neoliberal trying to lure me into a trap.
However, I will use this as an opportunity, because I came here today to write a political post anyway (still in process).
Admitting any kind of weakness is tantamount to committing suicide on most parts of the internet. But this isn’t a MetalSucks peanut gallery. It’s MY blog, and my intention is to be honest– even when that means that I need to admit a mistake. For example, I edited my post, #13 The Occult Cauldron Boils Pt. II, to admit that I was a fool for having previously dismissed The Devil’s Blood. In a similar vein, I didn’t get heavily into Electric Wizard and Uncle Acid until last year, even though I had an Electric Wizard disc sitting here for years. For better or worse, people learn at their own pace. Speaking of that, I frankly didn’t experience the epiphany of how hopelessly corporate / Deep State / neocon the Democratic Party had become until after Trump got elected. I had my head in the sand. I hated Dubya Bush and Cheney so much that I was just happy to have a Democrat in our nation’s highest office.
BUT– for the year before the last presidential election, I WAS quiet while many of my friends mocked Trump for his vulgar demeanor and alleged buffoonery. Those guys mocking Trump included both mainstream liberals and mainstream conservatives. On the other hand, I knew that Trump was a “threat” because I grew up in a rural area. My city friends couldn’t see it. Instead, I was just laughing to myself about how Trump was destroying the RePub party from within.
Of course, I turned out to be wrong about that. The Repubs are probably stronger than ever. And even though I knew Trump was a contender, I would be completely lying if I said I wasn’t pacified by the MSM hype that Clinton’s victory was assured. As soon as she lost, I knew it was because she ignored the economy and working class America. I respected the nationalism and populism of Trump’s notorious campaign adviser. While Hillary was busy talking about identity politics and the evil of Assad, Trump was busy stealing the entire Democratic platform of being the party of the working man. Everybody knows this stuff now, though.
Then Russiagate was instituted, and the Resistance born, and it was at that time that I was forced to REALLY take my head out of the political sand and come to understand what was going on with the Dems. I love this Bannon video at 25:45 – 30:00, where he describes how the the Hillary campaign “walked into a trap.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hz9FqepcRUM Of course I don’t fully trust that guy’s motives, but he is smart– no one can take that away from him.
What I didn’t fully appreciate the day after the election was that Hillary’s loss was also caused by widespread weariness over “liberal interventionism” aka neoconservatism. I educated myself on the fact that the Deep State is not a conspiracy theory; it’s something that exists by the very definition of the term (unelected power structures like IC / MSM / donor class / MIC). I became a de facto Trump apologist in my circles. Note, I said apologist, not supporter. I don’t like his attitude towards the environment and the prison-industrial complex and healthcare and a lot of other things, but anyone who is hated by the Deep State, IC, MSM, and neocon-neoliberal axis as much as Trump is has something going for him. He did punch holes in the TPP and “our” efforts to topple the regime in the sovereign nation of Syria. Therefore, I don’t blame people who voted for him, whether it was a “burn it down” vote or from a genuine belief that he would adhere to a nationalist and populist agenda that would benefit the working man. And I don’t know if I can support the Democratic Party anymore. I have to thank Trump’s victory for shaking me awake. Not that it is cool to be awake– it sucks.
Russiagate is a distraction (i.e. American propaganda tool) to keep the rank-and-file voting Democrats from challenging their oligarchic overlords– and to generate a consensus for more war in Syria, Iran etc, to generate consensus for more defense spending, and to generate consensus for more censorship at home. Credit to Caitlin Johnstone for most of my terminology on this subject: https://medium.com/@caityjohnstone Anyone who doesn’t see that is deeply deluded and/or just really dishonest. There are better ways to argue for getting rid of black box voting machines than escalating tensions with a nuclear superpower.
Trump has probably been neutered by the Deep State already anyway. We will see. All that he is doing now is letting the RePubs do whatever they want, and that is not good for working families or anyone besides the “1%”.
I recently decided I have to take a look at my own Jungian “shadow.” The fact is, I had a spiritual experience of a christian character 20 years ago. I don’t walk around saying I am a “Christian.” I think that term is corny as fuck. I also think bandying around a label like that is a form of idolatry– not that I personally have a problem with idolatry– but I wish people who fancy calling themselves “Christians” would be a little introspective and realize that they should focus on the substance of their belief rather than worshiping a label. Apparently Mustaine feels the same way– he said “I don’t believe in religion. I have a personal relationship with God and with Christ, and that’s it,” as reported by Loudwire (itself reporting on a Nashville Scene interview). I saw Megadeth in concert last year (yet again), and it was great. I still don’t like his new music much, and I can’t stand the political soundbytes on albums like United Abominations and Endgame because they are cheesy AF. I’ve pretty much reverted to paganism (with christian ideals that are in alignment with actual historical forms of christian mysticism), but otherwise I suppose I am starting to look more like Mustaine as I get older. Figuratively. Finally, why would I write such a long response to what appears to be a troll comment? Well, I came on to write a political post I had been ruminating on for days, and when I saw your comment, it was like seeing my shadow.
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