Aereogramme/Isis - “Low Tide” (2006)
This track is a collaboration between U.S. post-metal act Isis and Scottish alternative-rock act Aereogramme, released as part of the Konkurrent label’s long-running “In the Fishtank” series. The track is far from textbook heavy metal, but rather an example of how ambiguous the notion of ‘heavy music’ has become in the past decade or so - thanks in no small part to the efforts of Isis frontman Aaron Turner and his, at times, frustratingly eclectic Hydra Head label. With it’s pulsing rhythm, exquisite guitar textures and vague sense of unease, the track could as easily appeal to indie rock fans as broad-minded metalheads. It’s a shame this partnership was not explored more fully by way of a full-length release; both bands have since disbanded and are much missed by their respective fan bases.
Made Out of Babies - “Cooker” (2008)
My intro to Julie Christmas was through Battle of Mice’s 2006 album “A Day of Nights”, a collaboration with Neurosis’ Josh Graham. Lyrically, the record was an account of the pair’s break-up, set to a hefty post-metal backdrop (the relationship had grown so sour that the pair could’t even be in the same room during the recording). What was immediately apparent was Christmas’ talent, especially her range and willingness to drop her inhibitions for a good take. This approach extends to Made Out of Babies, a brooklyn-based group that predates Battle of Mice but who are arguably less well known. Musically, MOoB is much more direct, which, strangely, allows Christmas to explore a broader range of emotions. This track shows that metal doesn’t have to be masculine to be heavy; to the contrary - the female psyche can be downright terrifying!
Galneryus - “New Legend” (2007)
I’ve just returned from a short trip to amazing Japan, so today I present some J-metal for your enjoyment. Hailing from Osaka, Galnaryus is one of the country’s top power metal bands. “New Legend” is a fine example of their work. They conjure a bold and urgent stridency, with vocalist Yama-B pushing his boundaries and lead guitarist Syu providing a shredding solo in an epic instrumental movement across the middle of the song. If this is your bag, there’s plenty more for you to discover. Galnaryus are highly productive, releasing 8 full-length albums since they formed in 2001, and have certainly upped the polish with each subsequent release.
Megadeth - “Rattlehead” (1985)
"The arsenal of megadeath can’t be rid no matter what the peace treaties come to." This is a line from a handbill authored by California senator Alan Cranston. It’s from a time when the threat of nuclear annihilation seemed real and politicians were lining up to exploit a lingering climate of fear. It also served as the initial inspiration for Dave Mustaine - who in ‘83 was reeling from his sacking from Metallica and seeking a new musical outlet to exact revenge on his enemies - to form Megadeth. It’s amazing how brilliantly that one line sums up the group’s 27-year career: a grim, apocalyptic worldview; politically-charged lyrics dripping in cynicism; an uncanny ability to prevail in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. “Rattlehead”, drawn from the group’s ‘85 debut, is the sound of Mustaine on the warpath, one which would eventually lead him to the top of the metal heap.
"Denied" - Sonic Syndicate (2007)
Sonic Syndicate are a young band with a big, brash and enthusiastic mix of Swedish-style melodic death metal and metalcore. Their emphasis lies strongly on melody, as you’ll find quickly with “Denied,” from their 2007 album “Only Inhuman,” their first release after beating 1,500 other bands in a contest to win a deal with big Swedish label Nuclear Blast. You can see in “Denied” the basis of the band’s broad appeal: a driving, keyboard-backed, super-catchy melody, anchored by a soaring, cleanly sung chorus. While they don’t push too many boundaries in this album, Sonic Syndicate are nothing but polished, and are another worthy gateway to contemporary metal.
Iron Maiden - “Wrathchild” (1981)
It’s a topic that can set metalheads to arguing for hours, a la Ozzy vs Dio or Gillan vs Coverdale. Who is the better Iron Maiden vocalist, original member Paul Di’Anno, who performed on the group’s first two seminal releases, or his 1981 replacement, Bruce Dickinson, who led the band to critical and commercial heights? I’m partial the former, as for mine, Di’Anno’s understated, punk-inspired delivery was perfectly suited to the band’s more stripped-back approach of the early 80’s, resulting in a more satisfying listening experience. Plus, the songs were just catchier. This track is drawn from 81’s “Killers”, a jewel in the New Wave of British Heavy Metal’s crown and an album that sounds relevant to this day. Up the Irons!
DragonForce - “Through the Fire and the Flames” (2006)
It’s no surprise that this English power metal band, whose style has been described as “Nintendo metal,” found one of their songs propelled to widespread fame through a video game. “Through the Fire and Flames,” the first track from DragonForce’s 2006 “Inhuman Rampage” album, was featured as the final, most difficult to play song in the popular Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock. Even the shortest of listens will reveal why it was chosen as such; the pace is absolutely frenetic. The song would later also appear in video games Guitar Hero: Smash Hits and Brütal Legend, and the arcade games GuitarFreaks and Drum Mania.
Fear Factory - “Christploitation” (2010)
Fear Factory were part of a wave of bands in the mid to late nineties to take metal in fresh and exciting directions, along with acts such as Pantera, Sepultura and Tool, to name a few. Forming in LA in 1990, the band achieved commercial and critical success with their futuristic, boundary-pushing ‘95 release “Demanufacture”, which took technical precision to a new level. The band then gradually faded into obscurity amidst internal bickering, line-up changes and a string of underwhelming releases. This year, however, marked the return of original guitarist Dino Cazarez, who along with vocalist Burton C. Bell and former Strapping Young Lad members Gene Hoglan and Byron Stroud injected a newfound sense of aggression and urgency into the material. “Mechanize”, from which this track is drawn, is a beast of an album, and a welcome reminder of why Fear Factory mattered, and continue to matter, so much.
Nachtmystium - “NightFall” (2010)
Illinois act Nachtmystium are arguably the most innovative black metal band doing the rounds today, if in fact that tag still applies to them. Across their early releases they played a fairly traditional, albeit exceptionally well executed, form of BM and in the process established a formidable underground reputation. However, by the time of 06’s “Instinct: Decay” the band had started to incorporate more psychedelic influences into their sound, culminating in 08’s highly celebrated “Assassins: Black Meddle Pt I” (the title of course a nod to Pink Floyd’s ‘71 album “Meddle”). The band have expanded their sound once again on “Assassin’s” thematic follow-up, “Addicts: Black Meddle Pt II”, from which this track is lifted, drawing on everything from Ministry, Killing Joke, Joy Division and the Editors to create a sound that is truly their own. The bar has certainly been raised with respect to experimental BM.
Eluveitie - “Thousandfold” (2010)
Swiss band Eluveitie have been riding high on the growing wave of folk metal emanating from Europe in the last decade. Their new 2010 album, “Everything Remains as it Never Was,” marks a return to some more aggressive stylings after the experimental, placid interlude of their previous acoustic outing. Eluveitie fuse melodic death metal into grand, Celtic-inspired arrangements featuring such classic folk instruments as the hurdy gurdy, violin, bagpipes and tin whistle. The album is currently available online, and worthy of a full listen to experience its diversity of pace and vocal styles.