Today I’m taking a slightly irreverent look at heavy metal bands and what happens to the ones that stop climbing.
How do you define a band that’s ‘made it’? Personally, I’d say if earnings from the band are a good deal more for each member, than the average wage in their country of origin, then that’s a band what’s ‘made it’. These days ‘making it’ in music, especially in the world of heavy metal has never been more difficult. Metal fans spoiled by a huge variety of new and classic acts are an increasingly tough nut to crack. Gone are the days when the likes of WASP could drop a half decent album and a get a few radio-friendly songs played and find themselves in the big time. Doesn’t often happen like that any more, as many have found. But what does happen, increasingly often is bands ‘make it’ and then, instead of imploding like Stone Temple Pilots and Pantera, stick around for years.
The best metal bands of all time are Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Metallica – everybody knows that but who are the bands bubbling under, always on the verge, but never quite achieving worldwide super-duper stardom? Hold on to you studded belt – let’s jump into the pit.
The godfathers of nu-metal. That’s enough to turn anyone off. Sadly a dearth of duff albums and infighting scuppered their chances of roping in the crown of best Metulz – Ever. Still going strong, as a live band they’re a force to be reckoned with, and with 20-odd years worth of brooding songs with which to deafen and delight their followers, Korn have found their niche and hopefully there’s plenty more still to come.
Dio Band (Mark II)
The first Dio band featured a line up that’d make any old school metaller shit their studded pants, the second version of the band, not so much. Oh, why didn’t the world love them more? Led by one of the most charismatic and downright astounding vocalists of all time, the songs were bombastic ballads that could level a whole street with their musical girth. Sadly, those Grunge and Nu Metal years of the 1990’s weren’t kind to the ‘traditional’ metal Dio’s band were offering. With his steady involvement with ex-Black Sabbath bandmates in the newly branded Heaven and Hell, and his worldwide sell out tours, it seemed to have all ended just as Ronnie Dio was starting to undergo a re-appraisal from fans tired of nu metal. The years that had been unkind to the Dio band mark II was in the rear view mirror. With bandmates led by legendary drummer Vinny Appice, Dio were poised to have everyone singing along to songs about dragons all over again. Sadly now that Ronnie’s has gone to the big backstage party in the sky, all that remains of the Dio band are the also-rans.
Led by Corey Taylor, in 2006 Stone Sour were strongly pushed into a forefront position by the musical press, in their narrative SS were set to eclipse Corey’s other band, the mighty Slipknot. But Slipknot had masks and furiosity. Stone Sour are just a bit too dull in comparison.
The metal band that sings in German. Why? Because their German, you knob. The people that told them they’d only go so far if they continued to sing in their native tongue were wrong, and sort of right. They went much, much further with their shtick than anyone initially gave them credit for. Artistically, they’ve never conformed, or followed a trend – they’re just Rammstein, plain and simple. No scratch that. They’re Rammstein -loud and frequently surprising. Will they conquer the world and have metal fans in every country singing back to them German? They already are. How much further can they go? With Rammstein, that is always the question.
If any band deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Metallica, Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath it’s Megadeth. Mercilessly brilliant, ocassionally irrelevant but always value for money – nothing stops the Megadeth train from running on. Inter-band arguments, in-fighting, tragedy, health problems – whatever, Megadeth ride the wave and always come out fighting. They’ve made it all right, but to the constant ire of Dave Mustaine, they’ve never ‘Metallica made-it’ which is a shame because just like Metallica, in their arsenal they posses some of the finest metal songs ever written
This band proves there is no God. Not because their stock in trade is ‘the devil’s music’, but because they’ve released some mighty albums, and one or two slightly less mighty albums but overall the musical output of Trivium has been rock-solid. Perhaps a trifle underwhelming at times, but there’s about two songs in the entire back catalogue I could describe as “bad” – the vast majority are fun and interesting with a intruiging mixture of subject matter. At the heart of Trivium lies clever, adventurous musicians, playing the guitars fast, but they also play fast and loose with song structure, introducing time changes and surprise standout moments. But for all that Trivium are another band that rose steadily ten years ago and then plateaued. If their future provides just as much honest to goodness metal as everything else before it, that’s no bad thing.
Once poised to escape the shackles of their metalcore sound, they instead embraced and then became entombed within it. To think just ten years ago these guys were on the verge of being ‘the next big thing’. Killswitch still release albums and tour the world, but on the big stadium and festival stages, they’re forever destined to be ‘special guest’ fodder.
My Chemical Romance
Technically not metal but heavy rock, yet I can’t help wondering what happened to these guys. One minute they’re headlining festivals all over the world in support of only their second studio album, the next they all but vanished. Plenty of people were glad to see them disappear back into obscurity, but for twenty-somethings everywhere, they sit alongside Fall Out Boy and Panic at the Disco as the defining sound of an era. A very short era.
Yes, I remember a time when music magazines from Austria to America to Australia tipped them as the successors to the throne. Yes, they were battle metal, and yes they owed more to Manowar than the stakeholders in Gillette, but they were there and then, well, they were still there – just really hard to see.
Coheed and Cambria
Believe it or not, 10-15 years ago these guys were dubbed “The Next Led Zeppelin”. If that’s not sure to turn people against you, then nothing will. Are their multi-layered concept albums musically dizzying and technically brilliant? Well, yes but were they up there with Led Zep IV or Physical Graffiti? No. The next Led Zeppelin? We’re still waiting. If they ever show up.
Their sound is relentless and their dedication to the cause is never in dispute. Artistic integrity and making a bloody fantastic noise with their instruments is what they’re about. Mastadon songs will never be played on BBC Radio 1, and you won’t see them anywhere near a Glastonbury Festival main stage, but if you want to know what metal sounds like in the 21st century, look no further.
Their live shows are a powder keg of perofrmance that goes off right in your face. This band deserves to be much more widely known. You should be able to walk down the street tunelessly whistling any one of their songs and then have people waiting for the bus turning to you to say “hey that’s an Enter Shikari” song. You should but you won’t.
WWE wrestler Chris Jericho fronts this band but it’s solid stalwart Rich Ward who provides the musical chops. With Jericho’s undeniable charisma up front and an increasingly strong back-catalogue from which to draw upon, their live shows only ever get better and better. Sometimes there’s a gap of 2-3 years between Fozzy gigs, for me anyway, but each time I see them they’re even better than the time before. They haven’t taken over the world but it’s still early yet.
I mention them in the same breath as Maiden, Metallica and Sabbath. You should too. They’re fucking awesome. Priest! Priest! Priest!
Love to know where Jeff Waters went wrong. He should be a huge star. Born of the thrash metal era of the mid 80’s, Annihilator didn’t let ‘band shit’ stop them bringing out great albums like their fellow stable mates, Anthrax and Testament. Waters has always been the creative driving force behind this band, and it’s thanks to his impeccable musicianship and wicked imagination that’s kept them going. Annihilator are adored in Europe but we don’t seem them much here in the UK. A shame because most of their albums, especially the earliest efforts, I consider true masterpieces of the genre.
Why didn’t Saxon rule the Earth? Their songs are about fast stuff (cars, bikes, trains, women) and rocking out. What could go wrong? I guess for about 15 years from 1988-2003 they simply weren’t “cool”. Something changed about ten years ago, or so. They went from forgotten heroes of the new wave of British heavy metal era, to utter obscurity. Then, like a be-horned behemoth the Eagle rose from oblivion to conquer us metal heads all over again. Very cool. Very Saxon.
System of a Down
The thinking man’s metal band, SOAD once had the world at their mercy. In 2005, with their (to date last) album Mezmerize / Hypnotize, it seemed like nothing would stop them. Unfortunately the band members couldn’t get on with each other long enough to make another quality album or two (and make themselves few million more). Instead the band went on extended hiatus, for ten years! They come back now and then, for a victory lap of a tour, wheeling out all their old, but admittedly belting songs. The simple fact of the band’s rarity on the live scene has put them in the festival Headliner camp but had they not behaved like a bunch a whining wussies they’d have had your everyone from Joe down the pub to your Gran talking about them. Thinking man’s metal band they may, but men in metal band thinking? Not so much.
Last but not least, The Darkness. They’re about as metal as Tony Blackburn but if ever there was a band that halted their upward trajectory it was these boys from Lowestoft. They’re still around, still knocking out decent albums but the arena sell-out days are long since past. Their height of popularity is confined to a very short period in 2003, when these guys surprised everyone with their trend-defying Queen-meets-Bowie glam/cock rock mash up. In the end there proved to be too many drugs and not enough days to get stupidly high and perform in front of thousands. It’s the old, old story of too much, too fast, too soon – this one just happened to involve a lot of spandex.
That’s all for now.
Up the Irons!
Copyright “Metal” Martin Gregory.