9 Modern Non-Metal Bands That Metalheads Should Be Listening To
Last year, Invisible Oranges contributor Jonathan Dick wrote a piece for Paste, “10 Metal Albums For People Who Don’t Like Metal.” It’s a topic that comes up a lot and it’s still one worth talking about, because it’s tough to figure out why rock-obsessed non-metalheads would ignore bands like Torche or Pallbearer other than lack of exposure or a misconception of what those bands actually sound like. I thought it’d be worth taking the opposite approach, because for all the Deafheaven-loving hipsters out there, there are plenty of bands in the non-metal world that the heavy music fans among us might be mistakenly missing out on. Of course non-metal bands have impacted metal from the start (Black Sabbath came up on blues just like the rest of the classic rock bands did) and they continue to. It’s probably harder to find a metalhead who isn’t down with Pink Floyd or Rush or Black Flag or Swans than one who is. So I decided to pick 9 modern non-metal bands that metalheads should be listening to, in case you aren’t already.
I tried to stay away from obvious metal-adjacent stuff like Chelsea Wolfe (who has already appeared on this site), Marissa Nadler (ditto), Nothing (ditto again), and so on. Not to suggest that this list will 100% be news to anyone, but hopefully it opens an ear or two.
Check out the list, in semi-particular order, below. Let us know in the comments what other bands you would have put on a list like this (or which ones you think I should have left off).
LA’s HEALTH have been making noise rock for about a decade now, but it’s last year’s great Death Magic (their first album since 2009 and their first on Loma Vista) that makes them best fit for a list like this one. It was produced by the fine electronic musician The Haxan Cloak, who picked up his metal cred when he produced The Body’s I Shall Die Here, and its industrial-tinged pop has more than a few hints of legendary metal-adjacent bands Depeche Mode and Nine Inch Nails. Plus they still work in the noise blasts of their earlier material, and what metalhead doesn’t like a little noise? But the main reason metalheads need HEALTH in their lives is this band’s live shows. They’re crushingly loud and heavier than a handful of bands who are considered metal. This Pitchfork.tv video from Primavera 2015 gives you a good idea:
It’s no secret that punk and metal are friends, and White Lung are arguably the best punk band of the current decade, which should be reason enough to give their records a spin. But there are a handful of specific reasons this particular punk band would go over well in the metal world. Sometimes they get genuinely metallic, like with the chugging main riff of “Demented,” but that’s actually one of the band’s simplest riffs. Usually guitarist Kenneth William’s fingers are flying all over the fretboard, working more riffage into these 20-30 minute albums than certain two-hour prog albums have. For a genre where complex musicianship actually matters to the fans (unlike punk), his playing is a massive selling point. It’s not the only selling point though. Singer Mish Barber-Way has a kind of delivery, charisma, and ability to mix aggression with melody that’s seriously missing from a lot the other punk bands picking up buzz lately. Stream their recently released Paradise:
Destruction Unit’s shows are as genuinely psychedelic as the original acid rock era, but they’re also fast, loud, and truly heavy. It’s the kind of show where you’re never sure if you should be moshing or just tripping out. And no two Destruction Unit sets that I’ve seen have been the same. I’ve seen them with two drummers, one of which was smashing an extra large cymbal with a stone mallet, plus another guy joining just for auxiliary noise/effects. At some shows they’ve set smoke bombs off during their set. At others they’ve played entirely in the dark and trashed the venue. When the lights are on, they’re such a thrill to actually watch perform. All three guitar players are entirely in their own worlds, and often looking like their bodies will explode at any minute. Metal musicians have often acknowledged the influence of and even collaborated with members of Sonic Youth, and if there’s one current band whose show makes me feel like SY’s shows did, it’s D Unit. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a band put on a better show than Sonic Youth, so that’s not the kind of praise I’d just throw around. If you like heavy, outsider music played by people who sometimes literally put their blood, sweat and tears into it, Destruction Unit are your band. This Newtown Radio session captures how far off into outer space this band can go, but really you just have to experience it in the flesh:
Considering stoner metal bands like Uncle Acid and Blood Ceremony owe a very real debt to ’60s psychedelic rock, it’s surprising to me how infrequently bands like that cross paths with rock bands who owe that same debt. One of the best to recently form is Heron Oblivion, who are actually something of a supergroup. They’re fronted by the folk singer Meg Baird, and the band is made of members of psych bands Comets on Fire and Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound. Their self-titled debut album, which came out on Sub Pop earlier this year, is a serious riff machine. It’s loaded with wah pedal, fuzz, and all the other good stuff that weed-fueled guitar nerds worship. And given heavy metal’s approval of powerhouse singers, there’s nothing to dislike about Meg Baird’s soaring voice. Anyone who’s ever dug through vinyl bins for Blue Cheer or Iron Butterly or Vanilla Fudge records (or Jefferson Airplane or Fairport Convention) is gonna dig this from the second they hit play. So go ahead and do that:
Whenever someone would tell me that Deafheaven’s Sunbather was the black metal album that hipsters like, I’d suggest that more accurately it’s the black metal album that (post) hardcore kids like. It came out on a label run by a member of Converge, its much-talked-about artwork was designed by a member of their then-labelmates Touche Amore, and it was produced by a member of the sorely-missed Comadre. It really belonged as much to that world as it did to the world with Woods of Desolation and Ash Borer. Likewise, considering Deafheaven and Converge were regulars in the metal world, I’d wonder why fellow Deathwish band and tourmates of both Deafheaven and Converge, Touche Amore, were considered off limits. I almost made this spot on the list about TA themselves, but considering that they’re pretty popular in the hardcore world now and haven’t released an album in three years anyway, I decided to go with vocalist Jeremy Bolm’s other band Hesitation Wounds, who are heavier and who have a new album out this month. Part of the reason they’re heavier is no doubt because of bassist Stephen “Scuba” LaCour, formerly of metallic hardcore greats Trap Them. And the rest of their not-too-shabby lineup includes Neeraj Kane of influential melodic hardcore band The Hope Conspiracy and drummer Jay Weinberg (son of Max), who’s played for Against Me! and also currently plays for the awesome metal (just kidding) band Slipknot. Like Converge, or more accurately like another Deathwish band, Modern Life Is War, Jeremy Bolm has a cutting delivery that’s pissed off, but with clarity and passion. This album in particular is the most political thing he’s ever done. To get an idea, here’s a sample of recent single “Guthrie”‘s lyrics: “This is the land of opportunity, this is the land of the free, this is the land made for you and me… it’s all bullshit.” Over thick, low-end riffs at a mosh-ready pace, it sounds like pure aggression. Stream “Guthrie” and previous single “Teeth” from the upcoming album:
The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die
TWIABP are not like any other band. They’re popularly considered an emo band, but they have similar post-rock influences to bands like Neurosis, Isis, and Cult of Luna, and are more likely to appeal to Invisible Oranges readers than your average Kinsella worshippers. And besides, it’s not like metal and emo haven’t gotten along before, whether it’s a shared love of Quicksand or Hum or latter-day Brand New. TWIABP also pull directly from atmospheric metal on songs like “We Need More Skulls” and “Katamari Duquette.” They have a rotating lineup that often includes four guitarists, at least four singers, strings, horns, keys, and a seriously talented drummer. They’re proudly huge trolls (they’ve sold branded plastic forks and “covered” John Cage’s “4’33′”), but when they’re being serious they’re passionate, earnest, and dedicated. And hey, maybe the metal world already is catching on to this band. When I saw them in New York recently, I spotted Pig Destroyer and Neurosis shirts in the crowd. Stream 2015’s excellent Harmlessness:
Emily Jane White
I mentioned in the intro that I wouldn’t discuss obvious metal-adjacent musicians like Marissa Nadler and Chelsea Wolfe, but if you like them there’s a good chance you’ll like the similarly haunting folk singer Emily Jane White (who has collaborated with Marissa Nadler) too. She debuted in 2007 with Dark Undercoat — home to one of my favorite Emily Jane White songs, the Neil Young-ish “Hole In The Middle” — and she’s gotten progressively darker and more ethereal. This year’s They Moved in Shadow All Together, which is already out in Europe and will be out in the US in June, is her most haunting yet.
None of the music from that one is out in the US at all, but there’s a live video of lead single “Frozen Garden” with Emily performing in a setting as dark as the song itself (watch below). In it, she’s backed by a drummer whose pounding toms make it closer to the kind of folk that Michael Gira plays than the more rootsy or precious stuff. That type of drum work shows up a few more times on the new album, but mostly the arrangements are very bare-bones. The album itself isn’t “metal,” but when you consider the solo material of Neurosis’ Steve Von Till or Windhand’s Dorthia Cottrell, or Chelsea Wolfe singing with Converge, Emily Jane White fits right in. Watch that video:
UPDATE: A few hours after we posted, the single came out in the US.
A lot of bands have been mixing post-hardcore and shoegaze lately, but none of them are quite as sludgy as Cloakroom. In fact, if you saw them live without knowing what their records sound like (or more accurately, what label they’re on), you might leave thinking they were a sludge metal band. As just a trio, they often manage to be louder and heavier than plenty of songs by Torche or Baroness or something. (Not throwing shade, just saying.) Their tones are thick and swampy, and their vocals are always sorrowful. Not to mention, since the shoegaze thing has been sneaking into metal so much lately (Deafheaven, Alcest, Lantlos, etc), it only makes sense that the opposite would happen too. Dig in to their 2015 album, Further Out:
Wait no, don’t leave! Hear me out! Arctic Monkeys may have begun their career as one of the buzziest, most instantly-popular bands in the garage rock revival, but their three most recent albums include music that belongs on this list. For all the talk of how there “Will Never Be Another Metal Band as Big as Metallica,” Lars Ulrich himself said “Arctic Monkeys are a heavy metal act disguised as an indie band,” and he’s not crazy. (Alright, maybe he’s crazy, but not for saying that.) They’re not exactly a metal band, but they’re certainly the most popular band who sounds anything remotely like early Black Sabbath, and that shouldn’t be taken for granted. Songs like “Pretty Visitors” and “Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair” actually have riffs that would’ve fit on Master of Reality, and even the very popular single “Do I Wanna Know?” is the doomiest thing to become a hit in years (even if they back the riff with a hip hop beat). They still don’t solve the problem of there being no modern metal band as big as Metallica (and of course they aren’t that big yet), but it’s a much, much better gateway to heavy music than Five Finger Death Punch or whatever. Listen to “Pretty Visitors” (and don’t turn it off before the 2:12 mark!):