I have a friend (who, for the purpose of this blog, will remain unnamed) who has a pretty annoying habit of labelling my taste in music as 'heavy metal' or 'metal' in general, dismissing it as, essentially, crap due to the fact that it's all loud noises and screaming. Now, I can at least empathise with this viewpoint as that's what I think we're all like when we get exposed to the heavier side of music for the first time. But, what I want to put forward today is, firstly, that yes, a lot of metal is bad, very bad in fact, but just because something sounds unfamiliar initially, doesn't mean you should dismiss it entirely.
The term 'metal' is usually associated with bands like Metallica, Deep Purple, Led Zepplin as well men who drink copious amounts of beer, wear lots of denim and have long hair. This associated image makes me quite hesitatnt to tell people that I like bands like Neurosis, ISIS and Sunn O))) as people instantly think that this must be head-banging, binge-drinking, spouse-beating music and that I, clearly, am some sort of lesser person due to my affiliation with these bands. I know I'm not going to change the image of metal, but what you may not know is the immense scope that the word metal encaptulates. Just one glance at the Wikipedia page for heavy metal sub-genres show, most likely, much more variety than most people associate with the metal catch-all term. Led Zepplin, AC/DC and the like represent only a very small percentage of metal's total scope and, to be frank, they suck.
Which brings me nicely to my next point, and by point I mean concession - most metal is awful and is the reason that such a negative image is attached to metal. The vast majority of music written since the about mid 19th Century has been about expressing emotions. Metal, at its core, should be expressing emotions that don't fit into the context of softer music, things like desperation, anger, melancholy and nihilism. What metal should not be about is playing guitars as fast as possible, tight pants and alcohol. Unfortunately, far too many bands fall down the latter path, delivering, at best, uninspired efforts and, at worst, shit. What really gets on my nerves is that the most well known metal bands (Dragonforce, Machine Head etc) fit well and truly into this category. So, to summarise my general point, yes, a lot of metal sucks, so does a lot of other music genres, but just because the metal you've heard is bad, doesn't mean that all other metal bands sound anything remotely like them. The metal I listen to is about creating atmosphere, not extending my index and little finger.
Well, as per usual, I've probably gone on for much longer than I should have, if my aforementioned friend is reading this, I hope you understand what I'm saying; for one to say that all metal is the same screaming crap is the same as one saying that all alternative rock is the same as Nickelback, a hypothetical scenario that makes my spine shudder. Oh, and for the record, metal only makes up about 30% of my music library, it's still vastly dominated by alternative, industrial and electronica.
Before I go though, I'd like to present a quick list of bands that I consider to encapsulate the good side of metal. If you're at all interested, I'd very much encourage to check them out.
Creates a quite remarkable fusion of traditional death metal with jazz-style drums and rarely seen time signatures - check out Unquestionable Presence.
Japanese music isn't all J-Pop and Dir en grey...
Post-metal bordering on 'art core', well worth a look.
Cult of Luna:
Right up there with ISIS and Neurosis in leading the atmospheric sludge genre.
An excellent band that shows that metal can have things like guitar solos and the like, but still have lyrical and atmospheric substance to back it up.
One of the pioneers of the post-metal/sludge genre. Features intricate guitar riffs that establish an excellent mood.
A very important figure in the, if you'll forgive the cliche, new wave of metal that is spreading across the US and the world. Check out Blood Mountain and Crack the Skye.
Psychadelic sludge, which was the initial spark that got me into the sludge genre.
Initially an 80's hardcore band, have since become one of the most important atmospheric sludge bands. Truly an amazing outfit.
Many wouldn't even say this band is even metal, but what they are is a mixture of free jazz and death-metal style drumming.
Steak Number Eight:
Comprised of a group of Belgian teenagers, Steak Number Eight have already released one amazing album and, hopefully, have a long life ahead of them.
Possibly metal at it's most hardcore. Sunn (along with Boris and Earth) have taken drone to the almost mainstream. With live shows that may feature a single guitar chord lasting for over an hour, these guys are completely uncompromising with what they do and provide one of the most atmospheric musical experiences you could have, if you're willing to go along, that is.
I freely admit my list has been a little devoid of progressive metal, so it only seemed right to include these guys. Create both a great aural and, including their album packaging and videos, visual experience.