Monday, March 18, 2013

Retro Rock: 70s and 80s Heavy Metal being Made Today




     If you love heavy music you probably like some of the following bands: Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Mercyful Fate, Deep Purple, Scorpions, Venom, Metallica, Motorhead, Motley Crue, Slayer, Anthrax, Bathory, Death, Mayhem, Alice Cooper, Led Zeppelin, Saxon, Queensryche, UFO, Pentagram, Riot, Overkill, Testament... These are just some of those essential bands that helped shape the heavy metal genre and are thus considered must-listens by many headbangers. Some heavy music fans, particularly those who were around when those bands formed and unleashed their first few albums, often get nostalgic. Hell, I get nostalgic. I headbanged until my head hurt, driving down the road in my car blaring Holy Diver, Melissa, Master of Reality, and La Sexorcisto Devil Music Vol. 1. A friend and I actually pulled a Wayne's World on multiple occasions, trading off vocal duties to a noise ordinance-defying rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody. Today as I spin new albums by new artists, I don't feel the same since of excitement I had when I heard Hell's Bells and Working Man. Why is that? Maybe it's because I didn't grow up with these new bands. The old guys had already popped my sonic cherry and once you go old school metal, well, everything else just pales in comparison. 
      Some of the biggest obstacles to overcome in enjoying the new stuff are the vocals, the overly clean digital production, and the complete lack of showmanship being displayed by most bands these days. When it comes to vocals, I'm looking for someone who can belt it like Rob Halford or Bruce Dickinson. I love those insane glass-breaking high notes and I tremble at the sound of deep evil-sounding grunts. These days it seems like the vocals have literally morphed into an instrument. They have lost their humanity. For instance when I attempt to listen to a grindcore tune, I can’t follow the lyrics even with a print out of them in my hand. The vocal delivery is a series of shrieks, snorts, and squeals with no attempt to make the message of the song known. Don’t get me wrong. I can’t perform grindcore. Saying that most people can’t has to lend it some sort of credibility no matter how much I’d like to reject such a thought. If you like grindcore, good for you! But for me, it’s a bunch of incoherent noise. This is where I start reminiscing again. Remember when guys like Alice Cooper and King Diamond would sing songs as a part of a greater story? They would change their voices to match different characters, sometimes within the same line. Or who in heavy music today, has a more memorable voice than Bon Scott or Ozzy Osbourne? And vocals aside, whatever happened to being able to hear that fuzz, that accidental clanging of a drumstick slipping out of the drummer’s hand, or bands dressing up in costumes and makeup and setting things on fire? It’s those things that made shows a lot of fun and gave records a flawed human touch.
            Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know, you’ve heard this all before. That’s why I’m not going to waste any more time trying to convince you why the gray-hairs are so much better than the plaid-shirted bearded young folk hitting the skins, shredding the guitar, and commanding the microphone today. So the point of my post? Hope is alive! Out there right now there is a plethora of great young people making kick-ass metal tunes. They’re making music that will remind one of the 70s/80s heydays of the genre whilst infusing a modern touch to keep things fresh. It’s the perfect balance between the old school and the new school. As always, the metal community has already placed a label on these throwbacks. They call them The New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal. Other terms that have picked up steam are: retro rock, retro metal, and new old metal. Call it what you want, most of it is pretty good. I hear some metal purists complaining because these bands won’t get with the times or because they aren’t as good as the bands they’re playing homage to. My answer to that? Who cares? No one is going to replace the old guard. Plus, like I said earlier, if you grew up with the old guys, nothing will ever be able to compare to that spark you felt when it was new. Just enjoy it for what it is. I mean, what do you have to lose? What are your other options? Collect all the old stuff and then eventually have no new music to listen to? Or maybe you’ll suck it up and go buy some metalcore or grindcore. Not this guy! There is a way to continue to enjoy new heavy metal that sticks truer to the foundation of the founding fathers of heavy and it’s called The New Wave of Traditional Heavy Metal.

Traditional Heavy Metal Bands of Note:

Ghost- Check out Opus Eponymous
Jex Thoth- Check out Jex Thoth
Christian Mistress- Check out Possession
Black Moth- Check out Killing Jar
Holy Grail- Check out Ride the Void
Orchid- Check out Capricorn
White Wizzard- Check out Over the Top
Enforcer-Check out Diamonds
Blood Ceremony- Check out Living with the Ancients
Speedwolf- Check out Ride with Death
In Solitude- Check out The World the Flesh the Devil
Portrait- Check out Crimen Laesae Majestatis Divinae
Witchcraft- Check out Alchemist
Cauldron- Check out Chained to the Nite
Steel Panther- Check out Feel the Steel
RAM- Check out Death
Striker- Check out Armed to the Teeth
Witch- Check out Witch
Crystal Viper-Check out Crimen Excepta
Bullet- Check out Bite the Bullet
Widow- Check out Lifes Blood
Ravage- Check out End of Tomorrow
Early Man- Check out Closing In
Kobra and the Lotus- Check out Kobra and the Lotus
Graveyard- Check out Hisingen Blues

            The bands are a mixture of styles from the good old days. You get a little Black Sabbath or Pentagram-like doom, a little Blue Cheer blues, a little Alice Cooper horror rock, some Motorhead or Metallica like thrashing, Mercyful Fate or Venom styled speed metal with occult overtones, and even really catchy 80s arena rock tunes from more glam-like acts. Fans of hard n heavy from 1968 to 1995 should find something from these bands that reminds them of the bands that got them into this music in the first place. Even better, it will give you that sense of hearing something new but with just enough familiarity as to not make you want to gauge out your eyes. Metal is changing and you can either get with the tide or seek out these guys and gals that are keeping that old school mentality alive. See, its a great compromise. You get to move forward while staying right where you like it. 

P.S. For the more open metal heads, there are a lot of new bands keeping thrash and death metal equally rooted and exciting right now. Maybe I'll talk about them soon.  Oh, and death to grindcore, metalcore, post-grunge, and emo. It has to go.

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