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Too Much Metal For One Land

18 July 2011

Years ago you would have put a “heavy” in front of it, but today it’s more accurate simply to call this breed of music “metal”. After all, it has forked into so many subgenres since the halcyon days of Black Sabbath – those crusty pioneers may have been the original heavy metallers, but today you also get metal of the Viking, oriental, symphonic, folk, black, progressive, groove, death, technical death, power, drone, glam, rap, thrash, sludge, stoner, doom, trance (I kid you not), industrial, avant-garde and post-varieties. Not to mention nu metal, metalcore, deathcore, grindcore and mathcore. Don’t be surprised if a few more subgenres have sprouted up by the time you finish reading this article. Metal is booming, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Storming the World

But this isn’t an article about metal’s mutant-octopus family tree. What really interests me about this unabashedly loud music form is the fact that it’s being created and consumed in ever more countries – and wherever it is found, it takes on the colour of its surroundings, acquiring the unique cultural qualities of its host country while still retaining its proudly anti-authoritarian stance. So not only is metal one of the most prolific genres in the history of music, it is probably also the most adaptable. Of course, you may not be surprised to learn that most of the metal produced in the past 40 years is absolute fertilizer. Thanks to the insane volume of metal being produced, though, there is a lot that’s worth hearing. Some of it is even wonderful. The table below offers a taste of present-day metal confections that are both geographically diverse and genuinely worth listening to.

NAME GENRE COUNTRY GRIMACE FACTOR
Alcest Post-metal France 12% – very pretty, with a few harsh bits; metal for sad romantics
Behemoth Blackened Death Metal Poland 89% – monstrous, merciless, nasty – delightful, in short
Darkestrah Epic Black Metal Kyrgyzstan 30% – pretty with a steel backbone, very more-ish
Eluveitie Celtic Metal Switzerland 25% – catchy, bouncy folk-type metal with some growling
Grand Magus Retro Heavy Metal Sweden 20% – clean, hard, retro metal; time to mosh!
Ihsahn Post-Metal Norway 70% – abstract but still fun; much high-pitched growling
KOBUS! Extreme Metal South Africa 65% – lekker & bitter. Do not play this during huisbesoek
Mar de Grises Doom Metal Chile 45% – psychedelic, slow, fascinating; some growling
Melechesh Black Metal Israel 78% – exotic, melodic and violent “Mesopotamian” metal
Moonsorrow Pagan Metal Finland 60% – epic, powerful, catchy and addictive; love it
Myrath Progressive Metal Tunisia 35% – lovely, mostly in Arabic, tough but melodic
Negura Bunget Black/Folk Metal Romania 65% – harsh, but also atmospheric and alluring
The Dillinger Escape Plan Mathcore USA 98% – very discordant, lots of screaming, yet fantastic

Metal is even starting to take off in countries such as Brazil and China. Africa is not left in the dark either; there are some surprisingly good metal bands in Botswana, including Crackdust, Wrust and Skinflint. Metal’s growing popularity is however not always welcome; concerts in Iran and Malaysia have been subject to government crackdowns. For a fascinating pair of documentaries on the social dimensions of metal around the world, take a look at Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey and Global Metal, presented by Canadian anthropologist Sam Dunn.

A Visceral Reaction to Greatness

How do you know when a metal track is great? Your body tells you: You want to jump, shout and head-butt the air. More importantly, your hand can’t help but do this:

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Older than metal itself, this sign was popularised among metalheads by Ronnie James Dio, Black Sabbath’s second vocalist after Ozzy Osbourne. His Italian grandmother had taught it to him as a traditional sign to ward off evil. In American deaf sign language, it means “I love you”.

 

Too Much Metal for One Hand

And how do you know when a metal track is truly awesome? Well, that’s when there’s simply too much metal for one hand:

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From Black Metal, a 2-part graphic novel by Rick Spears and Chuck BB

On the surface, the metal produced in each country often has stylistic differences – this enriches the genre. But dig deeper and you’ll find that metal everywhere has one thing in common: a spirit of discontent, of rebellion. Perhaps the biggest reason why metal is so popular worldwide is because it gives voice to discontent, and energy to rebellion.

Good or bad, metal is a force of nature.

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