While I am guilty of listening to what I like to consider a broad spectrum of music genres, there is no question that in my heart of hearts and mind of minds, the music that resonates with me the strongest and most intimately is heavy metal. Fittingly, the foundation of my metal soul rests in the genre's godfathers and inventors, the immortal Black Sabbath. The first time I heard Black Sabbath, though I was only 15 or 16 years old, my immediate thought was Where have you been all my life? I have listened to the first eight Sabbath albums (the Osbourne era) perhaps hundreds of times. And at the centerpiece of these albums lies what is and might always be my favorite album of all time, their sixth effort: Sabotage.
Sabbath's earliest albums are certainly more raw and undistilled, and I love them for what they are. However, with Sabotage, guitarist and primary composer Tony Iommi spent an unprecedented year crafting a work chock full of not only killer riffs, but a great deal of stylistic variety and expanded song structures. "Symptom of the Universe" starts as a driving flat-five headbanger, but crescendos into a bluesy acoustic outro. The omnipresent keyboards of "Am I Going Insane (Radio)" feel just as at home on this disc as the relentless guitar and screaming vocals of the opener, "Hole In The Sky." Both "Megalomania" and the album's closer, "The Writ," come in around the nine-minute mark and are unpredictable but natural in their evolution. The album is truly a considered work from beginning to end.
It is this direction and interpretation of heavy metal that guides my tastes and listening sensibilities to this day: taking the very heart and primal essence of metal and pushing it, shaping it, twisting it and reinterpreting it into something new. The hammering distorted guitars arrest my soul while the cerebral element of musicianship, lyricism, context and overall song craftsmanship absorb my mind.
At this point, I feel the urge to share with you all the albums in the above category that have most completely enthralled me — like the early albums of Mr. Bungle and Fantômas — but my whole impetus for writing this post was to tell you about two currently active projects that I am thoroughly enjoying right now.
I am currently completely enamored with Kayo Dot. This band is described as a mix of metal, jazz and classical, but by no means in an erratic way. In fact, the tempo never climbs above a funeral march, though the dynamics in each 10-15 minute opus ranges from barely audible whispers to crushingly heavy and cacophonous assaults. Think Sigur Ros in hell.
My first full exposure to them was seeing them live. They had two dedicated guitarists, a drummer, a bassist (both electric and upright), a violinist/vocalist, a trumpeter/vocalist, and their band leader, who handled guitar, clarinet, keyboards and the majority of the vocals. To say the performance was moody, dark and eloquent does not do it justice. It was also eclectic: the last song had the members one-by-one leaving their instrument to go bang on a large metal trashcan. I cannot stop listening to their two full-length releases, Choirs of the Eye and especially Dowsing Anemone with Copper Tongue.
The other band I want to share with you is Behold... the Arctopus. This local NYC trio has taken heavy metal composition to ridiculous, virtuosic levels. The songs are apparently all written on computer by the drummer, the guitarist, and the band leader who plays something called a Warr guitar, a strange instrument that combines a guitar and a six-string bass on one extra-wide fretboard and is played by tapping. Seeing this instrument played at all, much less in a lightning-fast metal setting, is inspiring. They have a video on their website, if you want to see. They have just released their first full-length album, really a compilation of their earlier EP releases, called Nano-Nucleonic Cyborg Summoning.
It's extremely possible that this genre (or sub-genre) of music is not at all to your liking — in which case, you're very generous to have read this far. Thanks! But if you're a little open to something aggressive but unique, check these acts out. And let me know what you think. Remember: God plays the banjo, Satan plays the guitar.