n case you haven't noticed, it's hip to like heavy metal again—not the ironic kind, not hair metal, and, no, Mötley Crüe isn't metal. The music industry is cyclical, so metal's ubiquity now may be just hype. But metal itself isn't a media-created fad. Beginning with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, it's almost 40 years old. That's a lot of time to drop roots, grow up, and branch out and metal is healthier and more diverse than ever—both musically and business-wise. In the summer of 2005, the genre had no less than three major nationwide festival tours, each with distinct personalities and sounds: Ozzfest, Sounds of the Underground, and Gigantour.
So: “Why metal?" you ask? We’re betting that the majority of our adventurous readers might be interested in checking it out—and we’re also betting that you don't know where to start. To help you out, Stylus is telling the story of how two of our contributors got into the genre and then devoting each remaining day this week to four of metal's most essential subgenres—death, black, grindcore, and doom. Read on, stay tuned, and get those horns up \m/\m/.
Getting into Heavy Metal and Other Parental Nightmares
Few people discover extreme artforms by diving into the deep end. Usually, people need a gateway. Aerosmith's Pump
was my gateway to heavy metal. It was my first cassette tape, and while it was hard rock, not metal, songs like "Janie's Got a Gun" and "Voodoo Medicine Man" were intriguingly dark. More importantly, the tape had a parental guidance warning label. It didn't take long before I bought tapes based solely on the fact they had the distinctive black and white stickers. Tipper Gore's PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center) and its puritanical censorship campaign unwittingly aided hip hop and heavy metal by pointing out to rebellious teenagers exactly which albums to buy.
The first real metal I encountered was Metallica with a little EP called Garage Days Re-Revisited
. It offered revved-up covers of old-school punk and British metal, and the performances were killer. Metallica has never been livelier than on those five songs, sounding not like studio craftsmen, but a real live band bashing out tunes in a smelly old garage. From there it was a short leap to other 80s thrash like Megadeth and Slayer, the latter of which would in turn lead to death metal. Metallica expanded my tastes to include "dark" and "ugly," and I haven't looked back.
Teenagers since then have had various gateways to metal. Much of what was labeled grunge in the mid-'90s, like Soundgarden and Alice in Chains, was in fact metal. In the late '90s and early '00s, the packaged rebellion of suburban choice was nu-metal. Nu-metal's regrettable legacy was date-rape bands like Limp Bizkit and Disturbed, with two notable exceptions: Korn and Slipknot. Korn's self-titled debut inspired Sepultura's Roots
, a groundbreaking album that mixed nu-metal's downtuned grooves with Brazilian tribal rhythms. Slipknot has unfairly been saddled with the nu-metal tag, as the band's sound is much closer to death metal. Drummer Joey Jordison has been a relentless champion of underground metal, constantly namechecking influences and bringing underground metal bands on tour. Post-nu-metal, kids are listening to "metalcore," a mixture of emo, hardcore punk, and melodic death metal. As kids explore the influences behind metalcore bands like Killswitch Engage and Atreyu, eyeliner and emo haircuts are increasingly infiltrating black and death metal moshpits. Metal shows are now twice as ugly, and that's a good thing.
As for adults, gateways to metal aren't far off, either. Dust off those Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath records, for those are heavy metal's foundations. Trace forward from Led Zeppelin, and you get Van Halen in the '80s, Jane's Addiction in the '90s, and, most recently, Corrosion of Conformity, whose In the Arms of God
will have you breaking out your Bonham and Page air drums and guitar. Trace forward from Black Sabbath, and you get the rest of heavy music today.
But for most of the “indie audience” it’s only occasionally that a metal album will leave a mark. In 2004, that album was Mastodon's Leviathan
, which married the prog rock of Rush (minus the keyboards and eunuch vocals) with the ass-kickingness of Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. In 2005, that album was Pelican's The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw
, an instrumental journey through shoegazer tones, acoustic textures, and expansive songwriting. So let’s make one thing clear: metal's not back. It's never gone away. Its apparent resurgence in recent years is due more to market forces than trends. At almost 40 years old, metal ain't going anywhere. One is never too old to feel the roar of loud guitars.
or, Kliff Tha 4 String Motherfucker
Last Winter, underused Wire
scribe Edwin Pouncey spilled some ink on select strains of a genre that’s been getting a great deal more attention than in the past: Metal. Pouncey’s Metal was a macrocosmic beast, encompassing the drones of Sunn O))), Khanate, and Boris, as well as those more resistant to taxonomy—Neurosis, Kevin Drumm, Abruptum—even New York “composer” John Zorn—in but a few pages. The title, “A User’s Guide to Subterranean Metal,” appeared odd when taken in tandem with the daywalking denizens covered therein. Complaints seemed to drown out the faint praise. And their logic was admittedly hard to overlook: Pouncey’s list was heavy on Southern Lord and its ilk, and light on just about every other worthy outfit one could scar the ears with. Yet, the intro was well hewed; delineations of forefathers and offspring even keeled; even Pouncey’s illustrative contribution—showcasing deceased Mayhem guitarist Euronymous and a pentagram—was choice.
When the omnipresent Stephen O’Malley took to the radio waves with WFMU’s Brian Turner, talk predictably steered towards Pouncey’s primer. Turner slipped Freudian, calling it a guide to “Suburban
Metal.” He quickly corrected himself, but O’Malley protested, graciously giving alms to the ‘burbs as home to the Dark Sonic Craft.
The Drone Slut’s dicta must be heeded: Forget the silly punk pathos of Penelope Spheeris’ Surburbia
, or the after-school-special ennui of Jon Kaplan’s Over the Edge
: There is an overwhelming—and authentic—dreariness to high-density subdivisions, limitless strip malls, warring fast food outposts. Before I even knew how to correctly pronounce “angst,” I’d seen friends—and nearly all around them—retreat into the warm introspective shells of denim and leather, homemade t-shirts, defaced school clothes, clunky fuck-shit-up engineer boots adorned with the bones of birds, the skeletons of squirrel and possum. Predictably, the cliques congregated around their own shit piles: High school’s hidden hand dictated social order and the herd acquiesced; there were the underprivileged shop class gearheads, ashen-faced Goths, Joy Division and Cure apologists stained flat black; death rockers and metalheads, all cigarette stench and reefer reek, the obligatory plastic two-liter welled with cost-cutter brown booze and knock-off cola vouchsafed from back seat dirtbrains.
When an LP copy of Black Sabbath’s self-titled effort finally landed on the turntable, rain, slowly tolling bells, and Iommi’s ponderous SG dirge acted as folky panacea, a sonic talisman averting the ruin of teenage boredom. Magazines, LP sleeves, and other ephemera were mined of their resource. Bands’ names proffered a goofy mysticism: Bathory, Mercyful Fate, Samhain, Voivod. Others were deliciously awkward: Exciter, Hallows Eve, Kreator. Pins pocked leather lapels; patches bruised the backs of jean jackets. No one saw my ears for years.
Weekday afternoons were spent watching horror vids, bashing out reasonable facsimiles of Misfits and Sabbath anthems. Weekends were forgotten from the beginning; hours buried by acid eating, malt liquor chugging, tube-pulling antiheroes. There were vandals, shoplifters, small fry pushers, directionless dickheads hell-bent on quasi nihilism. Indifference and academic destruction was achieved; the only things promoted were musical: Cassettes were endlessly traded, as were band t-shirts, studded wristbands; a handful of metal spikes for one’s leather. Memories are as many as they are Proustian: Between class bells bong, and there they were—all rural rococo perms, hair-sprayed wings, lip glossed lips, mouths nervously popping Dentyne gum. The tears must have been a joke, but then I saw them all around: Cliff Burton had died in a freak bus accident. Impromptu homage popped up throughout the rest of the day—graphic arts class provided the necessary time and materials to craft a stencil: Kliff Tha 4 String Motherfucker
. Burton was waked in the woods later that night, cases of Old Milwaukee, quarts of MD 20/20, huddles of buzzing teens singing, “Fade to Black.” Bonfires were stubborn to sleep; countless beers were shotgunned; many skinny-dipped in the pond; a few fucked.
To shout “stereotype,” or couch these moments in post-adolescent silliness is to miss the point. The attraction is obvious. Even then, bands like Death, Slayer, Deicide, Metallica, and the Mike Dean helmed Corrosion of Conformity were singling out societal diseases and their symptoms: Organized religion, depression, consumerism, nuclear arms, fascism, genocide were all taken up; screamed at till their meanings were lost, and left for dead. These bands stood, fought, and in some cases—died—for ideas. Other types of music were infantile in the face of Metal’s perceived potency. Instead of coming to terms with Iran-Contra, they were spun right round, baby—right, round, round.
Murders of “moral values” crows slowly shredding the constitution and placing the populace in the nest of biblical law only makes Metal’s proposition sexier. As sloganeers revel in the ass-backwardness of their slogans, their audience gleefully confuses incarceration with “freedom,” indifference with “compassion,” and hubris with “resolve.” Philosophical “certainty” and necessary connections aside, the east and “left” coasts are counting more than a few vitriolic, hate-emboldened outfits within their panoplies. The Republic’s corpse has provided able compost, as Thralldom, Krieg, Nachtmysticum, Leviathan, et al grow into the adult clothes Absu and Judas Iscariot left behind. While the dread spreads, the tent grows to accommodate the quietly incensed, the palpably weary, the piss-faced and shit-panted lot who’ve forsaken ratrace commutes, and water-cooler scuttle for stomping on the Sovtek, strangling a detuned guitar, shrieking till the eyes roll over black.
Fractured musos Campbell Kneale, Skullflower, Hototogisu, Peter Rehberg, Kevin Drumm, and a whole other horde of disenchanted electronic fiends have taken up the horns, crushed the cross, and spread their brands of noir ambient over online distro units just in time to offer unholy homily to this generation’s legion of the great disaffected. Their pulpits are high school lunchrooms, mega malls, burned out grocery stores, and failed businesses; odorous landfills securing hidden stashes of pilfered prescriptions, liquor cabinets, closet drawer porn cache. Suddenly, Pouncey’s equating of intent, mood, and attribute as “Metal” seems spot-on. It’s not so much about corpsepaint and kneecap length doos; it’s in the mind, the eyes, the way the live ritual is carried out. An ad hoc article here and there in a national newspaper attempting to grapple with the “metal phenomenon” would be laughable if it weren’t gravy. Apparently, globalization applies equally to Metal and microwavable foods. Ain’t hindsight a bitch?
To understand death metal, one must get down with "ugly." Non-metalheads invariably use the term "death metal" to refer to metal that they find repulsive. Perhaps that is the point. Taking any artform to extremes causes unnatural, sometimes grotesque results. In death metal, grotesque is beautiful. Guitars are tuned so low that they roar. Drums are so fast they sound like blenders in heat. Vocals are throat-ripping growls and grunts. And why should you listen to this infernal racket?
Precisely because it's ugly. Because it's interesting. Because it's like spicy food. After one discovers spicy food, normal food is bland. After one discovers death metal, other rock music seems weak, easy, limp. Yes, death metal is rock music. If heavy metal is simply loud rock music, death metal is rock taken to its logical end. People pay money to see athletes push their bodies to their limits. Why, then, do people settle for middling music? Death metal requires humans to stretch the bounds of musicality and dexterity, and is thus, strangely enough, an affirmation of life.
Defining death metal is difficult. One reason is because it grew organically out of thrash, the '80s metal subgenre that Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer popularized. In fact, Slayer's Reign in Blood
is considered to be the best death metal album ever, although the band itself is viewed as thrash metal. The term "death metal" comes from a song title on Possessed's 1985 album Seven Churches
, a vital link between thrash metal and death metal. Through tape trading in the metal underground, bands competed worldwide to push metal to harder, faster extremes. In the late '80s and early '90s, vibrant death metal scenes sprang up in Florida (Death, Deicide, Obituary, Morbid Angel), New York (Suffocation, Immolation), England (Napalm Death, Carcass), and Sweden (Entombed, In Flames, At the Gates).
After over-saturation of death metal bands in the late '90s, and black metal's subsequent takeover as metal's dominant paradigm, death metal sounds are once again pummeling moshpits. Bands have breathed new life into death metal by mixing it with jazz (Cephalic Carnage), prog rock (Between the Buried and Me), hardcore punk (Animosity), and even folk music (Opeth). But at its core, death metal is a feeling. You know it when you hear it. It's ugly, and gloriously so. To wallow in some truly sublime sonic filth, check out these 10 essential death metal albums.
Slayer - Reign in Blood 
In just over 30 minutes, Araya, Hanneman, King, and Lombardo deliver Death Metal’s finest moment: Reign In Blood
. Rick Rubin, producer and facial hair aficionado, reportedly had to fight back tears after the quartet ripped through the set. And understandably so, with the ridiculously animalistic riffs of Hanneman & King, Araya’s battlefield yawps, Lombardo’s crack monkey’d drumming. A classic.
Death - Leprosy 
Floridian horde Death was a brilliant lot, heavily relying on the viscous guitar work and vocals of Chuck Schuldiner and spirited oompah drums of Richard Christy. There’s much speculation about whether or not Death aped California band Possessed, which is tedious, considering the output of both bands. Several Norwegian notables, especially Mayhem and Darkthrone, still swear allegiance to Death’s earlier LPs, heralding them as the urtexts
of Death Metal’s lengthy manifesto.
Obituary - Slowly We Rot 
This is hands down the ugliest death metal album ever. Everything about Obituary's debut is ugly, from the raw guitars to the awkward mixdown to the classroom doodle-grade artwork. Ugliest of all is John Tardy's voice, a jaw-dropping mix of a lion's snarl and a human retching. No other singer sounds like Tardy, which is probably a good thing, but his delivery is so compelling that his vocals alone are worth the price of admission. The supporting material is equally gruesome. Songs alternate between primitive, speedy raveups and slow, sludgy grooves seemingly dredged up from the swamps of Florida. Solos crackle out of the mix with startling electricity. Drums pound with caveman ferocity. On a budget of mere hundreds of dollars, Obituary belched forth a sound so uniquely askew that it still sounds fresh today—slowly we rot, indeed.
Deicide – Deicide 
Coming out of the same sun & fun miasma as Florida’s Death and Morbid Angel, Deicide sought to stand above the pack from the outset. Vocalist and bass player Glen Benton made good on his intention, quickly burning an inverted crucifix into his forehead. Forget the antics, because the music is much more engaging: The Brothers Hoffman engage in six-stringed duel; Steve Asheim machine guns double bass drums until his ankles turn to gelatin, and Benton growls, screeches and howls, sounding like a cross between Beherit’s Nuclear Holocausto and a rabid sow. Deicide are thankfully still at it, and their anti-Christian polemic shows little signs of weakening.
Suffocation - Effigy of the Forgotten 
Suffocation isn't for sissies. Drummer Mike Smith is a big reason why, hitting his drums harder than anyone else in death metal. With many drummers, blastbeats are blurs or mere woodpecker taps. In Smith's hands, the blastbeat becomes a jackhammer, the drum kit a gun battery. But Suffocation knows that dynamics amplify brutality. On Effigy of the Forgotten
, the New York band set the blueprint for technical death metal. Suffocation's innovation was to alternate blastbeat passages with savage breakdowns. Other bands like Slayer had dabbled in half-speed riffs, but Suffocation turned these interludes into hulking stomps that could level buildings. After these ground assaults would come air strikes—swooping, dive-bombing solos, courtesy of guitarist Terrance Hobbs. Frank Mullen's gruff vocals were an acquired taste, but they were the toothpick keeping the knuckle sandwich together. Add awesomely over-the-top artwork by famed metal artist Dan Seagrave, and you have a classic.
Fear Factory - Soul of a New Machine 
Death metal albums are often like runaway trains, with freeform song structures and chaotic solos flying everywhere. Fear Factory's debut is more like the Batmobile—sleek, efficient, lethal. Singer Burton Bell turns in an astonishing vocal performance, mixing guttural death growls with haunting, Gregorian chant-like singing. Bell is credited with inventing the scream/sing vocal style that countless bands use now; the entire genre of metalcore would not exist without this album. Guitarist Dino Cazares and drummer Raymond Herrera crunch out stripped-down, unbelievably heavy riffs in perfect lockstep. Industrial samples and noises pepper the album, suggesting a sped-up Godflesh. Unfortunately, Fear Factory abandoned this sound on subsequent releases for melodic keyboards and greater accessibility. However, the songs here remain the band's most memorable. Without Soul of a New Machine
, metal wouldn't be what it is today.
Carcass - Heartwork 
England's Carcass began as a grindcore band, a Napalm Death offshoot armed with a medical dictionary and a very sick imagination. However, the band's sound gradually became more melodic and complex, shading into death metal. With artwork by Alien designer HR Giger and impeccable production, Heartwork
was Carcass' magnum opus. Guitarists Bill Steer and Michael Amott never sounded heavier, with huge riffs, fluid leads, and crisp staccato harmonies. Jeff Walker's raspy vocals were in fine form, and the lyrics had a newly mature sense of abstraction. However, internal tensions led to the forgettable Swansong
and the band's demise. Amott went on to form melodic death metal act Arch Enemy, whose singer Angela Gossow ironically sounds much like Walker. Carrying the Carcass torch now is Arsis, whose A Celebration of Guilt
might have resulted had Carcass continued in the direction of Heartwork
Morbid Angel - Domination 
Of the seminal Florida death metal bands of the late '80s and early '90s, Morbid Angel was the most mysterious. Sure, its logo had a cheesy pentagram and guitarist Trey Azagthoth would scarify himself on stage. But the band's sound was oddly fluid for death metal—brutal but not brutish, jazzy but not jazz. This open-ended approach made Morbid Angel a major influence on bands like Nile, Behemoth, and Hate Eternal, whose mastermind Erik Rutan did time as Morbid Angel's second guitarist on Domination
. On the band's "D" album (its releases ran chronologically alphabetically), everything came together—the raw brutality of its early albums, the majestic abstraction of its later works, and a slew of surprisingly catchy songwriting. David Vincent's vocals were massive yet hooky, Azagthoth astounded with otherworldly, lava-like solos, and drummer Pete Sandoval thrashed and blasted with reckless aplomb. "Eyes to See, Ears to Hear" still sounds years ahead of its time, as guitar arpeggios modulate up and down, while Sandoval somehow infuses blastbeats with diabolical swing.
At the Gates - Slaughter of the Soul 
God (or Satan) bless the Swedes. When the folks that brought you IKEA and Abba take on death metal, the results are likewise clean, efficient, and accessible. If American and English death metallers were the slobbering drunks at family gatherings, the Swedes were the cousins who shook their heads in disgust and went to their rooms to practice guitar. Overbroad stereotypes notwithstanding, Sweden's second largest city, Gothenburg, developed a unique death metal sound in the '90s that's still going strong today. Bands like In Flames and Soilwork took the melodies of Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, cranked them up to thrash metal speeds, and added a measured dose of death metal aggression. Out of the Gothenburg bands, At the Gates shone the brightest and lasted half as long. The band peaked with Slaughter of the Soul
, then disbanded shortly afterwards. The album is one of the most imitated in metal history, and for good reason—it's the Reign in Blood
of melodic death metal. At 30+ minutes, Slaughter
kicked out catchy, compact, perfectly played jams topped by Tomas Lindberg's anguished rasp. From the riffs to the solos to the harmonies, American metalcore has basically taken this album and copied it a thousand times over. The original still far eclipses the imitations.
Nile - In Their Darkened Shrines 
Few bands operate under a single concept more effectively than Nile. This South Carolina band writes each and every one of its songs about ancient Egypt, combining brutal death metal with sinuous Middle Eastern melodies. On In Their Darkened Shrines
, Nile explores Egyptian death metal to its fullest extent. The pharaohs themselves would approve of this cinematic mix of traditional Middle Eastern instrumentation, war marches, epic song structures, and enough apocalyptic choirs to give Charlton Heston bad flashbacks. If you download this album, you'll miss out on one vital part: the liner notes. Singer/guitarist Karl Sanders is not only Nile's main songwriter, but also its resident Egyptologist, contributing meticulously researched and written essays that explain the historical basis behind each song's lyrics. If you see metalheads rocking ankhs, not pentagrams, Nile's the reason.
Shortly after Newcastle trio Venom got Black
Magic in its Heavy Metal
, Black Metal
became a bona fide genre, uprooting from Thrash and Death Metal strains and planting itself in the nations northern for the onslaught of the “Second Wave,” where Norwegian hordes Mayhem, Darkthrone, Immortal, and others transliterated the churning biker stomp of Hellhammer into a blistering miasmic tongue that spoke simultaneously of heathen origins, Nietzschean might, and the Occult.
The Second Wave saw many salvos, with key players Øystein Aarseth [“Euronymous,” Mayhem guitarist], Varg Vikernes [“Count Grishnackh,” Mayhem bassist; later responsible for Burzum], and Gylve Nagell [“Fenriz,” Darkthrone drummer] taking turns behind the guns; some fired on Christianity, some on other bands; some even on each other. The so-called “Black Circle” [also called the “Inner Circle”] comprised of Aarseth and others, broke bread at “Helvete” [“Hell”]—Aarseth’s record store, likely discussing nothing more than music, despite mainstream media intent to craft the Circle as some sort of heathen jihad, connecting a series of church arsons that illuminated the northern sky to the Circle’s chest beating bravado. The Circle never claimed responsibility for the arsons, only saying that their “activities” likely inspired the criminal hand(s). Vikernes, however, was charged with felling Fantoft stavkirke, a Bergen church that was originally built in 1150.
Fantoft was but one of many, and Vikernes took to committing other crimes, notably the stabbing death of bandmate Aarseth. Vikernes is also tied to the suicide of Mayhem vocalist Per Yngve Ohlin [aka Dead], supplying the shotgun shells for Ohlin’s fatal blast. Roommate Aarseth found Ohlin, and promptly took photographs, documenting the macabre scene. Two years later, Vikernes murdered Aarseth, probably due to the fact that Aarseth, whom had released several of Vikernes’ Burzum records on his Deathlike Silence Productions imprint, owed Vikernes a large sum of royalty money. Aarseth refused to repay Vikernes, and he forfeited his life; Vikernes allegedly stabbing the deceased 23 times with a hunting knife. Incarcerated and sentenced to 21 years in Norway’s low-security prison Trondheim Fengsel, Vikernes was given a longer leash in 2003. Granted a short leave, he sought his freedom; hijacking a car and loading it with weapons, combat clothes, and a GPS system. He was apprehended; given an additional 14 months and quickly moved to maximum-security.
For obvious reasons, the drama dominates the genre, and with a “nationalistic” wave of violence and hatred spreading from Scandinavia and infiltrating France and Germany, the unfortunate exploits of a few will likely continue to supercede the music itself. Which is a shame, as Black Metal has grown into a multifaceted genre as interesting as it is provocative, with current stalwarts Deathspell Omega, Ondskapt, Watain, and Sigrblot staying true to Black Metal’s fundamentals while pushing the boundaries farther and farther apart.
As “Doom Metal” has its innumerable strains—sludge, funerary, stoner, etc.—so does Black Metal: Heathen Metal, Viking Metal, National Socialist Black Metal [NSBM], United States Black Metal [USBM], and so on and so forth. Despite all of these tributaries, the lake seems to consist of two large streams. One of these consists in intricate, and layered guitar riffs; strong sinewy drumming, and gutter’d vocals. Lyrics are a mélange of anti-Christian polemic, and heathen ideology. The other strain maintains all of these aspects, but relies little on ability and eschews high-fidelity recordings, either purposefully, or out of necessity. Therein lies the difference between say Mayhem’s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
and Katharsis’ Kruzifixxion
. Metalheads have obviously guided these distinctions, endlessly arguing about what “true” or “kult” recordings consist of. Of course, bands have often moved from one strain to the other with relative ease; e.g., Darkthrone’s Transylvanian Hunger
to Sardonic Wrath
: Four-tracked buzz to multi-tracked clarity.
Small print runs of recordings helps keep something “kult,” too, as metalheads appear to equate turning a profit with posing. Ultimately, the best way to understand the music is—obviously—to listen to it.
Hellhammer - Apocalyptic Raids 
While Venom’s 1982 album Black Metal
coined the phrase, Hellhammer contributed the sonic template, slowly rolling into the forefront, a Panzer Division of cyclic and churning riffs; beer addled drumming, and Tom G. Warrior’s trademark histrionic vocal style. The track “Messiah” presents the palette that many Black Metal outfits would paint from; Norway’s Darkthrone being one of the more transparent acts, admittedly offering homage to Hellhammer in their later recordings, especially the magnificent Panzerfaust
, a record of unbridled force, and as riff reliant as the classic Transylvanian Hunger
. Hellhammer’s Warrior and bassist Martin Ain would go on to found the equally important Celtic Frost, whose first two LPs, Morbid Tales
; To Mega Therion
, and EP Emperor’s Return
, are completely exhilarating riff driven metal which should be sought out.
Bathory - The Return 
Giving the nod to Hungarian Blood Countess, Erzebet Bathory, this Swedish outfit took Hellhammer’s fundamentals, strengthened and quickened them, and splattered an unruly cacophony of guitar skree and strangulated vox over its face, birthing a blasphemous beast that drew as much from pure noise as it did Metal’s basic structures. Once the treble thinned basement thrash of the self-titled effort was tossed aside, Tomas Forsberg [aka Quorthon] unleashed the war machine with The Return
, an album comprised of sawblade guitar riffs, battle drums, and vocals scratched free of all possible recognition. Marking the solidification of a style that Quorthon would maintain up to ‘89’s epic Blood Fire Death
, Bathory has contributed mightily to Black Metal’s legacy, spawning Viking Metal with ‘90’s Hammerheart
, and inverting the prior notion of the guitar solo as Metal’s quintessence; instead harnessing the potency of riff repetition, and often disintegrating into the chaos of orgiastic electric noise.
Immortal - Pure Holocaust 
As “scenes” are wont to involve very few “key” players, Euronymous was certainly one of those—if not the
key player, as he helmed record label, record store; wielded guitar in Mayhem, and introduced Norwegian Death Metallers Amputation to Black Metal. They shed their prior guise and became Immortal, a fire spitting, snowdrift riding, corpsepaint donning Black Metal juggernaut. Immortal’s self-titled EP, and full-length Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism
are solid efforts, but pale in comparison to Pure Holocaust
, a recording engrossed in Eddic and naturalistic imagery: Frost, fog, and clouds; ice, wind, and snow—the realms of Winter Demons. Abbath takes triple duty, sitting behind the kit, giving vocal and bass, whilst Demonaz shreds mightily, weaving heavily melodic lines that—in the midst of Abbath’s double-barreled drumming—sound like a Shostakovich string quartet being played over the destruction of a battlefield.
Mayhem - De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas 
Mayhem vocalist Dead was—dead; tensions between Vikernes and Euronymous had escalated; bassist Necrobutcher had jumped ship, leaving the four-stings in Varg’s hands. Drummer Hellhammer stayed behind his kit, and Euronymous recruited Hungarian vocalist Attila Csihar in Dead’s absence. What followed was one of the most deservedly heralded Black Metal records of all time. De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas
—“Lord Satan’s Sacred Rites”—was recorded on wrangled studio time, a gong “borrowed” from a university band room; the studio illuminated only by candles, Csihsar entranced, delivering his operatic vocals from behind a curtain. At times, Cshihar sounds possessed, several voices out of one, at times ethereal; other times sounding as if he’s violently retching after a week of subsisting on Cabernet alone. Drums, bass, and especially Euronymous’ guitar all shine brightly, thickly braided riffs stitched upon each song’s skin. A year later, Euronymous was dead; Vikernes was incarcerated; out of the original core, and only Hellhammer remained.
Burzum - Filosofem 
Regularly called “Odinpop,” Filosofem
gives guitar and keys equal importance; melancholic synth provides eerie counterpoint to the reed-thin buzz of Vikernes’ guitar, making songs like “Dunkleheit” [“Darkness”] and “Gebrechlichkeit I” [“Decrepitude I”] sound like something between the ambient works of Aphex Twin and the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Psychocandy
with vocals hidden ‘neath layers of tonally distorted fuzz. Lyrically, Filosofem
melds Nordic naturalism with adolescent angst to surprising effect; Vikernes’ voice is tortured, pathetic, and the lyrics lend this recording its overwhelming feeling of despair and nihilism. Vikernes has yet to hear the finished product, as it was mixed while he was in prison.
Moonblood - Blut und Krieg 
Regularly citing Darkthrone and Bathory as an influence, German horde Moonblood actually have little in common with the aforementioned; the exquisite Blut und Krieg
[“Blood and War”] is pure testament to this. Born the duo of Gaamalzagoth [vocals] and Occulta Mors [all instruments], these Schneeberg delinquents changed their name from Demoniac to Moonblood in ’94 and released the epic slab, Blut und Krieg
, on Sombre Records in ’97. The guitar is relentlessly repetitive; percussion often sounding more like milk cartons than drums; vocals a screeched mess of vitriolic wrath. Egregious production, and dismally minute print run [333 vinyl; 666 cassettes] aside, this is the essence of Black Metal: Bone shaking frigidity, hateful, impenetrably dark, and one of the reasons that P2P exists. Essential.
Gorgoroth - Destroyer 
Gorgoroth: The Bergen Horde, their name taken from Tolkien, meaning “Place of Great Dread,” is more institution than mere band; Norwegian scene greats such as Frost [1349; Zyklon-B], Samoth [Emperor; Satyricon; Burzum], Tormentor [Orcustus] and Pest [Obtained Enslavement] have heeded the revolving door policy, coming into the fold and contributing to the beast. The first three LPs are nearly flawless affairs, but there’s something to be said for the current Infernus, Gaahl, and King Ov Hell lineup. Destroyer
demonstrates the most brutal work of nearly the entire collective; but Gaahl’s vocals are the standout: Pure sacrilege, like hyena torn apart by Stone Giants and left to laugh to death in their own spit.
Satyricon - Volcano 
Tired of "cold" and "grim" black metal that sounds like it was recorded in a trash can? Volcano
, the first black metal album on a major label (Capitol), may be just the remedy. Fortunately, it doesn't "sell out." Sure, the album has keyboards here and there and some sultry Billie Holiday-esque (!) female vocals. But these touches are subtle and well-placed, more headphone accents than stylistic crutches. Since 1999's Rebel Extravaganza
, Norway's Satyricon has fused the wrath of black metal with the sex of rock 'n' roll. Elvis hasn't quite entered the building, but the band occasionally breaks into straight-up rock riffage that's startling, yet effective. Otherwise, the raspy shrieks, tremolo picking, and blastbeats of classic black metal are intact. Drummer Frost, who does double duty in the old-school-or-bust 1349, turns in a powerful, amazingly nuanced performance. The multi-tracked guitars sound huge, and the production is warm and full. Purists will hate this album, but the average listener will appreciate black metal that actually sounds good for once.
Ludicra - Another Great Love Song 
There's an old saying that if one wants justice, one should go to a whorehouse; if one wants to be fucked, one should go to a courthouse. Evidently, there's a shortage of whorehouses, as Ludicra is proof that there's no justice in this world. This San Francisco band writes some of the best songs in black metal today, yet languishes in obscurity. While too many black metal bands sacrifice songcraft in favor of the same old sonics (shrieks, blastbeats, etc.), Ludicra breaks the mold by drawing from old school thrash, doom, punk, and even folk music. The sonic diversity on Another Great Love Song
is incredible, with pianos, feedback, clean tones, and acoustic guitars that would make Led Zeppelin jealous. Laurie Sue Shanaman's anguished howl (yes, that's a woman singing) haunts like old photographs; Christy Cather's riffs (yes, that's a woman guitarist) are dark, dirty, complex. Why isn't this band huge? Chalk it up to record label lassitude, band members living apart, and unforgiving, shitty 9 to 5 grinds. Fortunately for us, Ludicra channels these frustrations into gloriously rough, human music.
Anaal Nathrakh - Domine Non Es Dignus 
Some albums just exude dominance. Domine Non Es Dignus
("The Master Is Not Worthy") is one of them, setting a new standard for modern black metal. Gone are the simplistic songs, ham-fisted riffs, and lo-fi production that have stagnated black metal in hidebound notions of authenticity. Anaal Nathrakh kicks black metal into the future with complex tonalities, total instrumental control, and distortion-slathered, industrial-tinged production. All manner of shrieks, howls, and growls erupts from this mayhem; "Do Not Speak" has operatic Mike Patton-esque vocals, while "Procreation of the Wretched" ends with terrified screams multiplying into white noise. John Peel, no stranger to noise for music's sake (he helped launch the careers of Napalm Death, Carcass, and Bolt Thrower), hosted the band on BBC Radio 1 in 2003. If Ministry's Psalm 69
had been a black metal album, it might have sounded like Domine Non Es Dignus
Freud would have a field day with metal. Gatherings of men watching other men move their hands up and down pointy instruments at waist level? Anti-religious lyrics and bowel-loosening low end? Let's not get started on the long hair and tight leather pants. But whether or not a guitar is ever just a guitar, grindcore, named for its "grinding" sound, is undoubtedly heavy metal's id. Its goal: to make the most noise possible in the shortest time possible. Born out of the puerile urge to bang pots and pans, songs are brief, brutal, often less than a minute long. Lyrics are often political but simplistic, since minute-long freakouts are hardly conducive to nuanced commentary. With grindcore, don't expect bullet belts, spiked armbands, or choreographed guitar-slinging—there's barely time to get the pants off.
Accordingly, grindcore is the form of metal closest to punk. The history of grindcore is also intertwined with that of death metal. As thrash metal stagnated in the late '80s, bands worldwide sought to push metal to increasingly aggressive extremes. Death metal was one result; grindcore was another. Arguably, the latter is simply the former played faster. Birmingham, England's Napalm Death invented grindcore with 1987's Scum
, the world's most brutal novelty record with few songs surviving past one minute. John Peel found Napalm Death fun (yes, fun), and became the band's best publicist via airplay on his BBC Radio 1 show.
But as with any genre that achieves notoriety (Napalm Death's second album displaced Sonic Youth at the top of the UK independent charts), grindcore lost much of its fun. Napalm Death and fellow grind pioneer Carcass slowed down, "matured," and embraced death metal (although Napalm Death's The Code Is Red…Long Live the Code
is a partial but spectacular return to grindcore roots). Grindcore now has established conventions, and an artform devoted to maximum noise is, by definition, limited. But artists now are moving beyond grindcore's limitations by mixing it with keyboards (The Locust), drum machines (Agoraphobic Nosebleed), free jazz (John Zorn's Painkiller) and the rest of the kitchen sink (Fantomas). Grindcore's future, then, is more as an approach than as a stand-alone style. Here are 10 essential grindcore stops on the way to today.
Napalm Death - Scum 
This is where it all started. By today's sonic standards, Scum
isn't much, but it dropped in 1987 like a bomb. Napalm Death's innovation was to mix the raw punk of Discharge and the heaviness of Celtic Frost and Slayer with a nihilistic desire to play music as fast as humanly possible. Accordingly, Scum
featured 28 songs in 33 minutes. The album was the result of two recording sessions, with two almost completely different lineups, drummer Mick Harris being the only common member. Harris invented the blastbeat, a staple of metal drumming today that involves hitting kick and snare drums as fast as possible. Scum
wasn't all blastbeats, though. It had plenty of more conventional punk and thrash numbers, as well as an anthem of sorts, the one-second "You Suffer." Officially the world's shortest song, "You Suffer" consisted of a collective band spasm and the lyrics "You suffer, but why?" John Peel became enamored of Scum
and "You Suffer" in particular, repeatedly playing the song at both 33 and 45 RPM on his radio show. From the Scum
lineups emerged Lee Dorrian, Bill Steer, and Justin Broadrick, who founded Cathedral, Carcass, and Godflesh, respectively. 'Nuff said.
Bolt Thrower - In Battle There Is No Law 
An insanely powerful debut, England’s Bolt Thrower took elements of thrash and hardcore and ground them together, resulting in barbed riffs, undulating war drums, urgent and fevered vocals. Songs oscillate from slower mechanical passages to punishing sonic fusillades. Highly influential, these tropes specific to Bolt Thrower now crop up in unlikely loci, with Sepultura and punk metal outfit Kylesa.
Carcass - Symphonies of Sickness 
Blending Gray’s Anatomy with a fetishistic fascination for disembodied body parts, Carcass not only adorned the sleeves of their records with fluids, skins and organs—they sang about them, too. With song titles like “Excoriating Abdominal Emanation” and “Cadaveric Incubator of Endoparasites” Carcass sounded like Cambridge Dons gone bad. Nothing was wrong with the music, though, which Jekyll and Hyded from cock rocking tremolo wank to hailing blast beats.
Godflesh - Streetcleaner 
Golgotha enflamed, meet a sanitation vehicle whose trunk is doomed to suck up discarded prophylactics, vomit, roadkill: Perfect imagery for an imagistic daymare of a record. Justin Broadrick worked out an emboldened brand of grind, Benny Green’s martial drum programming giving the bad trip riffs a more industrial feel. And then there were the vocals, forsaken’d fits of bleak removing the patchouli and flowers from Jerry’s kids with soul denting track, “Dead Head.”
Discordance Axis - The Inalienable Dreamless 
If Andy Gill played guitar in early Napalm Death, the result might be The Alienable Dreamless
. This album is one of grindcore's most stunning achievements, managing to be both brutal and intelligent. The production is amazingly dry, crisp, and clear. Guitarist Rob Marton alternates low end bludgeoning with dissonant, jazzy chords. Drummer extraordinaire Dave Witte rattles teeth with precise rhythms and colorful fills. Vocalist Jon Chang presages Fantomas-era Mike Patton with manic screams and low growls. At a compact 23 minutes, this album is unusually listenable for such confrontational material. While grindcore can sometimes dissolve into white noise, these 17 tracks never get boring, thanks to tempo changes and switchups attacking from all angles. Grindcore isn't usually associated with depth, but these one- and two-minute songs are yawning pits of abstract aggression.
Nasum - Helvete 
Never in America—this blistering grindcore album won Sweden's independent music Grammy equivalent for best metal/punk album. Helvete
(Swedish for "hell") has grindcore's requisite blastbeats and scorched-earth vocals, but tempo changes, varied tones, and a dual vocal attack add depth. The main vocal is an appealingly full midrange scream, while a lower, more conventional death metal growl occasionally interjects. The lyrics are political and misanthropic, but intelligently so; the playing, while not technical, is tight and brutal. Highlights include "Stormshield" with its clean guitars, and "The Final Sleep," a doomy contemplation on death. Sadly, this latter song proved prescient, as singer/guitarist Mieszko Talarczyk died in the tsunami of December 2004. This was one of metal's great losses, as Talarczyk was a pillar of Sweden's metal scene, doing promotions, production, and engineering for countless bands. RIP, Mieszko.
Leng Tch'e - Man Made Predator 
Few bands have been this funny, yet kicked this much ass. Like many of its grindcore peers, Belgium's Leng Tch'e, named for the infamous "death by a thousand cuts" Chinese torture technique, is socially conscious and misanthropic. However, the band has a uniquely juvenile sense of humor, as lyrics poke fun at fat people, hippies, scenesters, and pretty much anything from red state America. But the vocals are funny even without the lyrics, with ridiculous screams and low growls that make puking sound pretty. The music is scarily professional. Aided by huge, pristine production, the band smoothly rips through grinding blastbeats, chugging death metal, and galloping thrash riffs. Best of all, samples from Army of Darkness
, perhaps the best movie ever, are scattered throughout, usually apropos of nothing. On second thought, the samples are completely appropriate—with his chainsaw hand, Bruce Campbell's Ash character was the OG (Original Grinder).
Premonitions of War - Left in Kowloon 
Kowloon Walled City is one of history's most fascinating stories. Located in the middle of Hong Kong, the gigantic slum was an interzone that had at times been controlled by the British government and Chinese Triad mobsters, but had fallen into anarchy. One of the most densely populated spots on Earth, Kowloon Walled City was torn down in 1987 and its inhabitants relocated. Thus, if one was left in Kowloon, one was, in a word, fucked. Appropriately, this album feels cratered, bombed-out. Fueled by downtuned riffs, crushing blastbeats, and roaring vocals, 12 tracks blaze by in just over 26 minutes. The first 5 tracks are minute-long mercy killings; the astounding "Black Den" then slows the pace with haunting, sludgy riffs. After the industrial ambience of "Cables Hum Overhead," the madness resumes. The latter half of the album adds tempo changes and Black Sabbath-esque grooves, with spaciously dissonant chords throughout.
Pig Destroyer - Terrifyer 
If getting kicked in the head had a soundtrack, this would be it. These 21 songs clock in at just over 32 minutes; any greater length might result in ruptured aneurysms. Songs typically erupt with a barrage of blastbeats, anguished screaming, and razor-sharp riffs, and end just as suddenly. Singer/guitarist Scott Hull breaks with grindcore's usual political/misanthropic themes in favor of dark, emotional lyrics. The standout tracks deviate from typical grindcore; "Towering Flesh" has eerie clean guitars, while the title track has a neck-snapping breakdown. Perhaps Pig Destroyer shines most on Natasha
, the DVD audio disc packaged with Terrifyer
is a single 37-minute track that alternates among electronic ambience, clean tones, sludgy distortion, and oddly affecting singing. With a hot mastering job by Hull himself, Terrifyer
comprise a formidable statement pointing towards the future of grindcore.
Kill the Client - Escalation of Hostility 
There's an unwritten rule that grindcore albums must be under 30 minutes long. Perhaps that's because any greater length would kill both the performer and the listener. Kill the Client more than lives up to its name by spewing forth some of the most pissed-off, socially conscious grindcore since Napalm Death and Nasum. In 15 tracks over 29 minutes, the band skewers the usual suspects, such as Dubya ("Commander in Thief") and pedophile priests ("In God You Thrust"), but with meters-in-the-red intensity that would shame chainsaws. Just when the blastbeats and near-blackout vocals approach white noise, the Dallas band unloads sludgy, bloody grooves to keep hearts beating. Each subsequent sonic hailstorm is the sweetest cruelty. Don't mess with Texas, indeed.
Before Iommi dropped his SG into detuned depths, the eggheaded and cogent lot were spending perhaps a bit too much time at the café, rolling pregnant notions of otherness, deep boredom, and noumena over in their highly caffeinated, and truly eristic thought patterns. The Existentialist dropped angst on us like an anchor; the annoying German noun connoting extreme despair; the tweed and pipe-smoking lot thinking it proved humankind to possess a dimension that naturalistic psychology could not comprehend. Angst eventually dressed down as “anxiety,” becoming a reoccurring problem for the vaingloriously depressed, clogging e-mail inboxes with frowning emoticons; filling voice mails with false urgency.
“Doom” is a nimble noun, running around largely potent notions of death, ruin, and destiny; falling at Fate’s feet, giving up to the guillotine. This decidedly unhappy demise must weigh large; so as to soundtrack the slump, axe wielders gave their strings some slack; drummers hit harder and infrequently; bass seized upon the battery and fell with the fill. The vocalists were a confusing lot; some going nasal; some screaming, some slowly lowering their vox into Hell’s gutters. Of course, it never fits comfortably under one genre’s masthead, and that’s why the separate strains buzz around Doom’s desiccated corpus, swarms of flies fighting for larger portions.
There was Sabbath, and Pentagram; then there were Trouble, St. Vitus, and Candlemass. Others broke molds: The Melvins, Kyuss, Cathedral, Burning Witch, and Dylan Carlson’s Earth. Some stretched free of quality: Swans, Eyehategod, and New York City’s Unearthly Trance. Some sank so slowly into Styx’s quick that they marveled at one another as they tromped out, boots covered in the muck primordial. As is often the case when glomming genre with critical paws, one notices peculiar cases, unorthodox movements, musical mutiny for the fundamentalist captain.
Bands like Stuart Dahlquist’s Asva, Godspeed You Black Emperor, and even Sigur Rós have cropped up in discussions of Doom, even if their craft tends to be more orchestral and nuanced than something like the Redneck Black Magic of Eyehategod’s “White Nigger.” Yet the aforementioned undeniably partake of many Doom droughts, whether it’s slowly paced percussion, moping guitar, or an oddly delivered lyric line.
Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath 
Billy, Tony, Geezer, and Ah-zee. The rain falls; the bell begins to toll; a rumble of thunder and Billy, Tony and Geezer fall in the fray. Ah-zee: “What is this that stands before me? Figure of black that points at me. Turn around quick and starts to run; find out I’m the chosen one—Oh
Nooooo!” Sabbath has its apologists: If it didn’t sound so ominous, it would be silly. Well, it is silly, but it’s pretty fucking ominous, too. -But not really evil
, right? That’s a tall order to fill when photogs repeatedly snap you at home, surrounded by shelves of philosophy books and Laura Ashley wallpaper, as Geezer often was. It matters little, because this is not only a magnificent debut, but also the true origin of Doom. “My name is Lucifer, please take my hand.”
St. Vitus - St. Vitus 
There’s slow, and then there’s slower
. Sounding oddly enough like Hellhammer, or Motorhead on fists of numbutal, Acosta and Adams lock into greasemonkey grind, laying screeching wheels around Scott Reager’s lumberjack sized vocals. Guitars are garbled, drunk on distortion, and gone slack jawed with warbling wah. Swan song “Buried at Sea” crawls to the disc’s close, sounding the ram’s horn’d bellow for future Doom denizens, Burning Witch. Eventually, guitars would spread out in search of greater sustain and presence, two features that only The Drone can deal.
Earth - Extra-Capsular Extraction 
So enters Carlson, Pacific Northwest earthdog who thought slowing down Slayer tunes was a fine way to make a song. Turns out it was, with Carlson bringing Dave “The Alien” Harwell in to bring the bass, and former Melvin Joe Preston to bring the war beatz. What resulted is one of the greatest moments in Minimalism’s history: Slowly evolving, fucked beyond all recognition drum machine permutations that pop and burst over the steel heads of Carlson’s riffs like errant cannon fire. The riffs are a bulky and indifferent lot: At times monolithic, at others yawning bored in the face of the great primordial: Blaaaaaaaaah
. Preston would later hit the bricks; Harwell stayed on board to captain the liner into the heart of unmapped sonic territory: The mysterious and uninhabited island that was Earth 2
Winter - Into Darkness 
Spaß ist verboten! No hope of any warmth on Winter’s Into Darkness
with John Alman’s vocals sounding like an irate Orc, buzzards caught in his lungs and trying to flap free. The guitars respond in kind, dumping quicksand all over the drum riser, and moving miles away to watch the kit consumed. Joe Gonclaves goes down fighting, furiously slashing his cymbals; kicking the kickdrum to sleep. Winter disbanded after one recording, with guitarist Stephen Flam joining progressive metal act Thorn, his bandmates willingly succumbed to obscurity.
Thergothon - Stream from the Heavens 
Thergothon take Carlson’s drone and Alman’s vocals to further extremes. Niko Skorpio’s voice dives into preternaturally low depths, often sounding like de facto Addams Family member Lerch with a particularly razor-fanged case of indigestion. The track “Crying Blood and Crimson Snow” fits the drummer with concrete shoes, and puts Skorpio behind the Vegas funeral home keyboard for doom with a drop of kitsch, and true flashes of brilliance. Bands like Thorr’s Hammer would later improve upon this process to dramatic effect, with more athletic riffs, and muscular drumming.
Anathema - The Silent Enigma 
The clean guitar is somewhat of a lost art in metal. Old school metalheads know the sound well, the glisteningly chorused and reverbed tone that launched a thousand power ballads. Few albums employ this tone better than The Silent Enigma
. Not only is the album full of pretty, arpeggiated clean guitars, it isn't afraid to layer them on top of waves of distortion. Atmospheric piano and keyboards add yin to the yang of the crushing Sabbath framework. The vocals are a tad gruff and pretentious, but fortunately they mostly stay out the way. "Sunset of the Age" is the album's highlight, with crashing chords, epic melodies, and swelling backwards vocals that sound like Armageddon's choir.
Khanate - Khanate 
Named for a period of Mongol rule, New York City’s Khanate is not a band for few; they are a band for no one
. Guitar snarls, spits, heaves and shrieks; horizon wide riffs reveal their selves only to contort into thorny scrabbles of feedback, broken harmonics, dog whistle whine. Drums stalk and plummet and perforate; stabbing, clubbing, and knocking craters into each song’s structure deep enough to fill with the pain that “vokill” troll Alan Dubin must carry with him. Whispers—words given in confidence; screams—declarations of the state of affairs; converse—talk taken into worm-infested graves and worn as a beard of bees. Bassist James Plotkin is an essential part of the Khanate ritual, turning nothing into something; realizing presence in empty rooms via boiling bass rattles, and laptop mad science. “I wear a human shield—shh-shh.”
Bohren & Der Club of Gore - Black Earth 
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Bohren, covering West Coast Cool Jazz in Doom Metal’s grimmrobe, swapping sticks for brushes; bass bombs for brass serenade; gutter vox rumble for a Rhodes’ smoky keys. Black Earth
is Badalementi having undergone electric shock: His instrumentals keep their sass under wraps, like broach sized vibrators clipped to their clits, they numb and nibble, nudging the mind off figurative cliffs only to fall into pits of noir, cliché champagne kisses, leather opera gloved chanteuses silenced—their tongues taken by wraiths and fed to carnivorous beetles. A confusing bit of music—perhaps due to the oppressive melancholy it transmits, like finding out that the geriatric that used to serve you coconut cream pie at the local diner was found dead on the train tracks, choked by being force-fed fistfuls of sea-salt.
Sleep - Dopesmoker 
It was supposed to be a 60-minute song about the spliff, a monstrous rock ode to stinky buds. Record label London did not share Sleep’s affection or vision, heaving a big ol’ bummer over their high times. So they shortened it, nearly rendering the blunt a roach. London still wouldn’t bite, and Sleep put their pipe dream to bed, disbanding in disgust. Matt Pike went on to form High on Fire; Al Cisneros and Chris Hakius contemplate the universe’s navel with Om. The original version of Dopesmoker was eventually released by Teepee in 2003, four years after its initial recording. Well worth the goddamn wait.
YOB - The Unreal Never Lived 
When describing doom metal, "astral" and "spiritual" may not be the first words that come to mind. But Eugene, Oregon's YOB makes doom that's pile-driving yet mystical—imagine Black Sabbath after yoga lessons. There aren't any acoustic guitars or new age vibes here, though. Anchored by a ten-ton rhythm section, singer/guitarist Mike Scheidt, whose voice is an eerie hybrid of Dave Mustaine and Ozzy Osbourne, unleashes massive riffs that mutate and flow into each other. Throbbing electricity sends skyward the spiraling solos of "Grasping Air," the battering ram blues of "Kosmos," and the punishing outro of "Mental Tyrant," which leads to black-lit Buddhist monk chants.