New metal bands emerge
Lots of old-school fans can trace the day metal died to a single event: Metallica cut their hair short and ditched their thrash roots for lukewarm grunge. Some would argue that the mighty Met gave up the ghost long before that, but this final deathblow opened the gates to let chugging nu-metal and its irritating brother rap metal flood the mainstream. True metal never really died, of course – it just went deep underground and splintered back into the thousand genres from whence it came. Heavy metal is perhaps unique among musical species because of the sheer number of subgroups and off-shoots it contains: Classic, thrash, grindcore, math, death, doom, progressive, stoner, glam, metalcore, black, sludge metal and much more all fit snugly under the greater umbrella without losing their essential metal-ness.
“I loved old metal, but when I heard nu metal, I thought it was just awful,” said Jaimie Rosen, co-host of Radio Free Minturn’s Killer Metal show. “Those bands have no credibility. But a lot of the bands coming up right now are just so musically talented it blows my mind.”At the forefront of my and many others’ metal reawakening lies Mastodon, a lumbering beast of a band every bit as crushing as its namesake. The Atlanta foursome exists as all things to all people: It assembles throwback metal classicism, insane technical proficiency and buckets of hooks without sacrificing an ounce of hardness. To top that off, its most recent album, “Blood Mountain,” manages the miracle of being an unpretentious concept album about slaying mythical beasts while scaling a literal and metaphorical peak. If that’s not metal as hell, I don’t know what is.
After appearances on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” and a supporting slot behind Tool in Europe, Mastodon is set for a triumphant return to the U.S. after the holidays (no Colorado date yet – cross your fingers). But will the band seduce the rock ‘n’ roll masses with its molten riffs? It seems well on its way, but the jury is still officially out.One band seems to be trying hard to shed its nu-metal skin to survive. Critics and fans often lumped in the Deftones with Korn, Limp Bizkit and their ilk, but the band’s shimmering guitars and the almost feminine vocals of Chino Moreno betrayed its love of British shoegaze and American dream-rock bands like Hum and Failure. Its albums seemed torn between its loyalties, but on its newest, “Saturday Night Wrist,” the Sacramento group seems to have let go of its late-’90s anchor for good. The album revels in skyward melodies and deep-space atmosphere; though the band rarely strays into truly hard territory, when it does, it’s with a renewed and energetic thrust. This might be the sound of a metal band growing up and letting go of anger in favor of beauty.
Chicago’s Pelican drops the screaming, singing and cookie-monster yelps of traditional metal for a purely voiceless take on the genre – call it instru-metal, if you will. Metal bands like Isis and Neurosis and non-metal groups like Mogwai helped carve a path for Pelican’s slow-build, orchestral swells, but Pelican comes closest to perfecting the formula. Its songs often begin with icy, spindly guitar figures that metastasize into hot blasts of riffage with double-bass pedal action rumbling like cannons beneath. Its most recent album, the aptly titled “The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw,” rewards patience: Some songs last longer than 20 minutes, but the climaxes almost always pay off. Just don’t expect the singer to ever show up.Ultimately, the spawn of Slayer have spread and grown too specialized and divergent to truly categorize or recommend; it’s up to the metal fan to dive headfirst into the pool (of lava). Some metal fans might call these recommendations out and choose to replace them with 3 Inches of Blood, Converge, Baroness or Early Man (all worthwhile bands in completely separate genres). Better yet, check out local metal bands like Defying Gravity. Right now, the scene is so fertile, it’s hard to miss, and once the metal spirit takes hold, it’s tough to shake.
“I’m from Old Bridge, NJ, home of Megaforce Records, Metallica’s first label,” Rosen says. “When I was in Middle School, people wore Metallica shirts and no one knew who they were. I started watching “Headbanger’s Ball” on MTV every Saturday, and I never stopped. I listen to it all – I love metal, and that’s my roots.”Arts & Entertainment Writer Ted Alvarez can be reached at 748-2939 or email@example.com.Vail, Colorado CO