Top ten retro metal bands currently melting faces and minds
The world of heavy metal can be an exercise in absurdity and uninspired imitation played at blistering volume. With the relatively recent (and fading) popularity of "stoner-rock" and "doom metal," as evidenced by tours including the reunited line-ups of Sleep, Saint Vitus (read our recent interview with Dave Chandler) and Pentagram, a wave of bands inspired by Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer and their ilk have come through and the mark of Sabbath even among non-metal bands appears here to stay. Following is a list of ten of the best of the modern crop of bands that, as Henry Rollins once mentioned for himself, may have had the first six Black Sabbath albums playing in their collective heads simultaneously until they had to exorcise that demon in song. (Notice The Sword on the list, you can see them at Westword Music Showcase on June 18. Buy your tickets here. -ed.)
10. Eagle Twin
When you think of "sludge" or "doom" metal, Salt Lake City is hardly the point of entry that readily comes to mind. But that's where Eagle Twin is based. It's 2009 album, The Unkindness of Crows, released by Southern Lord Records, takes the colossal sound of every band drawing on the sonic legacy of Black Sabbath and injects it with an uncommon literary sensibility as a kind of concept album about crows. Gentry Densley's old band is cited as an influence on Isis, Pelican and Sunn O))) but Eagle Twin is Densley taking it to the next artistic plateau with heady drones, crushing but creative guitar work and a thematic depth in his lyrics rare in heavy music. Recommended track: "Heavy Hooves"
Like a lot of people who went on to do this kind of music, some of the guys in Baroness were in a punk rock band and looking for a change of pace. With more an ear for precise rhythms and song structure, Baroness would be a prog metal outfit but its penchant for unusual melodic passages more often heard well outside metal make Baroness not just an interesting and odd metal band but specifically one in this realm of the art form. Considering the band tapped John Congleton (St. Vincent, Modest Mouse, Wye Oak, The Polyphonic Spree and others) to engineer and produce it's 2009 Blue Record, the sonic connections beyond metal are clear. Recommended track: "A Horse Called Golgotha"
This band sounds like it could have been around in 1986 with its stylistic nods to early thrash. However, its songwriting is clearly influenced directly by that era of metal when bands told epic stories both lyrically and in the sweeping gait of its rhythmic structure. Just check out the band's video for "Lady Killer" and any worries that this band isn't coming from the pure core and foundation of metal that is Black Sabbath with a bit of Judas Priest should vanish. Priestess did, however, weave in a bit of influence from Deep Purple, a band whose music should be at the forefront of any modern metal act. Recommended track: "I Am the Night, Colour Me Black."
7. Lair of the Minotaur
In a field where subtlety is not the most salient trait in both the music and its presentation, Lair of the Minotaur stand out. While it's outward sound is more akin to thrash and death metal, its loping rhythms are right out of Sleep and Black Sabbath. In its video for "Evil Power," the Lair decided to go with a visually unflinching realization of the song's "Raining Blood"-worthy lyrics. While also a bit over the top and silly, Lair of the Minotaur at least sounds like it's genuinely dipped into Black Sabbath's bag of scare tactics. Recommended track: "Evil Power," of course.
6. The Sword
Mike Mezeul for the Dallas Observer The Sword in February in Dallas. See more photos.
Clearly direct descendents of the lineage of bands from Black Sabbath to St. Vitus to Sleep, The Sword writes the kind of music that could have served as an inspiration for This is Spinal Tap. All the excess and bombast but also a clear willingness to go beyond its obvious influences. There is a real drive and fire undergirding The Sword's sludge. As heavy as it is, those traits make this band appealing not just to metalheads but also anyone who appreciates good rock and roll that doesn't try too hard to fit into a specific subgenre. Recommended track: "How Heavy This Axe"