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Heavy Metal Saxophones: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

After writing and researching the last article about saxophones and heavy metal, I had many songs in mind that did not make the original cut as well as many excellent suggestions from the loyal Invisible Oranges readers. Most of “the Good”–many of which I had not previously heard–were taken from reader suggestions. I omitted several songs from the first list because I felt they were not “metal” in the strictest sense or were bands that I wrote down but never had a chance to investigate. “The Bad and the Ugly” are all songs I found when doing preliminary research that might leave you listeners “saxually frustrated”.

As I mentioned in the first article, I am always trying to find new music featuring saxophones and many of you brought up interesting topics in the comments. Reader “Ben” suggested researching sax players that just sound metal, such as Colin Stetson. I highly recommend Stetson’s newest album New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges to see what one man, a saxophone, and 20 microphones can do. Peter Brötzmann, The Flying Luttenbachers, Wasteland Jazz Unit, and Mothguts all operate in jazz or noise circles and play fast, heavy, and hard. Reader “Brendan” brought up Fredrik Thordendal of Messhuggah’s group Special Defects as an example of metal musicians not playing metal. These projects are interesting because they allow us to see our favorite metal artists demonstrating their musical skills in different contexts. Others include Carpathian Forest’s Vrangsinn’s side project A Waste of Talent and Bruce Lamont’s solo album Feral Songs for the Epic Decline.

This project and the IO readers have introduced me to some great and “interesting” discoveries, and I hope everyone enjoys them!

The Good:

10. Callisto – “Wormwood”
(Noir, 2006, Finland)

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Callisto are a post-metal/sludge group from Finland whose lyrics reference the taboo, in metal at least, subject of Christianity. While some have written them off as a Neurosis clone, Callisto still make beautiful and contemplative music. 2006’s ‘Wormwood” is a stunning post-rock song with a jazzy and mysterious sax solo at 3:24.

9. Birdflesh – “In the Sickness of the Sea”
(The Famers’ Wrath, 2008, Sweden)

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Suggested by “coffinpsalms” and “kmfcm”
Sweden’s Birdflesh have been playing death metal and grindcore with humorous lyrics since 1992. The prolific group’s 2008 song “In the Sickness of the Sea” has brutal riffs with a sax solo at :35.

8. Spazz – “Sweet Home Alabama”
(La Revancha, 1997, USA)

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Suggested by user “Steed McCreed”
Spazz were an influential power violence band of the 1990s Bay Area scene noted for their brief and humorous lyrics, trade-off vocals, diverse musical influences, and bassist Chris Dodge’s Slam a Ham records. Believe it or not, “Sweet Home Alabama” is not a Lynyrd Skynyrd cover, but a Beverly Hillbillies-inspired tale of a Southern punk with a case of the noisemaker blues. Alex Yeung contributes some “sax and violence” at 1:10.

7. Cephalic Carnage – “Repangaea”
(Mislead by Certainty, 2010, USA)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NY4xFjSVl1s

Suggested by “Kvlt as fvkk”
When making the first list, I came across the Cephalic Carnage song “Global Overhaul Device”, which was pretty cool, but I decided not to include it. After hearing the grindcore group’s 11-minute epic “Repangaea” I decided this one should definitely be on Part 2. The horn intro is performed by none other than our saxophone savior Bruce Lamont.

6. Solefald “Vitets Vidd I Verdi”
(Norron Livskunst, 2010, Norway)

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Suggested by “Full Metal Attorney”
Avant garde metal duo Solefald have been releasing progressive albums since 1997 and their most recent is 2010’s Norron Livskunst. The song “Vitets Vidd i Verdi” features powerful keyboards, excellent female vocals, and a sax solo at 2:00.

5. Pan.Thy.Monium. – “Untitled (6)”
(Dawn of Dreams, 1992, Sweden)

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Suggested by “Blam Sandwich” and “jamie”
For some reason, I slept on this band the first time around; a mistake noted by several readers. Pan.Thy.Monium were an excellent band led by Dan Swanö that combined death metal and jazz influences with more skill than most. They released three albums before Dan began focusing on his other bands, Edge of Sanity and Nightingale. Dan’s brother Dag played guitar, organ, and Baritone sax and provides the intro and solo at 3:18.

4. Psychofagist – “Corpuscles”
(Il Secondo Tragico, 2009, Italy)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfTOOXObW9c

Suggested by “Sss”
Psychofagist are an intense jazzgrind group from Italy who follow in the footsteps of the great Painkiller. Guitarist Stefano Ferrian (who has played sax with fellow countryman Ephel Duath) began the group as more traditional death metal, but has ventured into jazz territory with the addition of Zu saxophonist Luca Mai. “Corpuscles” is a dissonant track with screeching electronics, technical flourishes, and a blistering solo at 4:25.

3. Zu – “Carbon”
(Carboniferous, 2009, Italy)

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Suggested by “Žarko Milićević”
Zu were not included on the first list because their music is more “fusiony,” but this Italian sax/bass/drums trio is as heavy as they come. Zu’s music ranges from sparse free jazz to distorted noise rock to sludgy doom metal and everything in between. Throughout their 14 albums, they have collaborated with Can’s Damo Suzuki, major jazz players Ken Vandermark and Mats Gustafsson, and metal maniacs King Buzzo and Mike Patton. It was hard to pick just one song, but here is “Carbon” from Carboniferous, their first album on Ipecac Records.

2. Siege – “Grim Reaper”
(Drop Dead, 1984, USA)

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Suggested by “BM”
“Grim Reaper” stands out from the rest of the tracks on thrashcore band Siege’s sole album Drop Dead because it slowly creeps at a doomy pace; not to mention, it is longer than all of the other songs combined. Although omitted from the first list because they are more hardcore than a metal, Massachusetts’ Siege are legends and have inspired countless bands. Vocalist Kevin Mahoney provides the meandering sax and disembodied vocals that haunt this trippy journey into darkness.

1. Painkiller – “Scud Attack”
(Guts of a Virgin EP, 1991)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grIKHrTtGZQ

Suggested by “mcgilroy”
Painkiller, containing John Zorn on Saxophone, Bill Laswell on Bass, and Napalm Death’s Mick Harris on drums, created some of the most extreme music ever recorded. Painkiller released two EPs, one studio, and two live albums, and occasionally still play live. They have collaborated with Yamatsuka Eye, Mike Patton, and Justin Broadrick, to name a few, and there are rumors of a new album. John Zorn had combined metal with jazz in other groups, such as Naked City, but Painkiller is a band that set the standard of what can happen when different musical worlds collide. I left them off the original list because they are not a “metal band” per se, but who needs pesky genre labels?

The Bad and the Ugly:

10. The Organization – “Lift”
(The Organization,1993, USA)

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The Organization formed from the ashes of California band Death Angel when singer Mark Osegueda left the group in 1991. These Filipino thrashers changed their name and adopted a funk metal sound that lasted for two albums until the reunion of Death Angel in 2001. This song is really good for what it is; funk metal just sounds a bit dated by today’s standards. Studio sax player Morey Goldstein’s solo at 2:18 is totally killer.

9. Demonlord – “Kill the Lord”
(Hellforged, 2006, Hungary)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uPuqC-f7ozM

“Kill the Lord” is a decent power metal song, but it’s a bit on the cheesy side. The sax playing (or synthesizer with sax setting) begins at 2:02 with a boogie woogie style solo at 2:24.

8. Mighty Mighty Bosstones – “Devil’s Night Out”
(Devil’s Night Out, 1989, USA)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9outc_g722k

A few years ago, I had a friend who would randomly bring up Chris Gaines, Garth Brooks’ rock alter ego, every six months or so just to remind people that something that ridiculous and stupid actually happened. Even though the Bosstones invented ska-core and were one of my favorite bands in high school, I never really thought to include them on the list; I just wanted to remind people that this song exists.

7. Blackstar Rising – “Rock n Roll Circus”
(Barbed Wire Soul, 1997, UK)

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Originally called Blackstar, but forced to change their name due to copyright reasons, Blackstar Rising are Carcass minus Bill Steer. By their last album, Swansong, Carcass had moved away from grindcore towards a more accessible metal sound, but come on guys, this? Reek of Putrefaction and Symphonies of Sickness to this? Saxophonist Jenny Lamb joins the fathers of goregrind with solos at 2:05 and 2:40.

6. Aborym – “Psychogrotesque V”
(Psychogrotesque, 2010, Italy)

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When I was scourging the internet for the original list, I found Aborym and put the note “good sax but cheesy Italio techno” by this video. Pretty much sums it up.

5. The Cursed – “Evil, in the Bag”
(Room Full of Sinners, 2007, USA)

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The Cursed are a side project from Overkill singer Bobby Blitz who specialize in corny groove rock. As we have seen before with Blackstar Rising and countless others, revered metal musicians can slip into this territory if they are not careful. Scott Mueller plays the solo at 1:50.

4. Violet Sun – “Break Your Chains”
(Loneliness in Supremacy, 2010, Italy)

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As we have seen with both segments of this list, Italy has a lock down on sax metal, from jazz fusion to death metal and grindcore. But of course, power metal and prog are lurking not too far off in the distance. Sicilian up-and-comers Violet Sun are rocking the symphonic jams with female lead vocals, orchestral scores, and sax by Giuseppe Finocchiaro at 3:15. And I thought Alfredo sauce was the cheesiest thing from Italy…

3. Subterranean Masquerade – “Rock n Roll Preacher”
(Suspended Animation Dreams, 2005, USA)

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New York’s Subterranean Masquerade are not too bad; they are just trying too hard and come off as a 5th-tier Opeth rip-off band. They have a few good ideas and the prog attitude down, but this song goes on for waaaaaay too long. It would have been much better with the sax solos at the beginning of the song rather than at 7:15 and 8:00, so that we could hear them and move along. This fan-made video is also pretty good “for the lulz” as they say.

2. Archangel – “You Kill Yourself”
(In Tears the Angel Falls, 1996, Italy)

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Before I start, let me be extremely clear that this is the Archangel from Venice that sings about vampires, NOT the one from Milan that sings about J.R.R. Tolkien. Now that we have that clarified, Archangel throw hokey techno music, poorly produced groove metal, prog wankery, and awkward rap in a blender to create one doozy of an album. For In Tears the Angel Falls, Archangel were a duo, but have now expanded to a full, vampire-themed band. Apparently they are also the first band to use a tuning system based on the Golden Ratio. Use Fibonacci’s sequence to find out where the saxophone is!

1. Trepalium – “Sick Boogie Murder”
(Alchemik Clockwork of Disorder, 2006, France)

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Sensationally spelled album title? Check. White guy with dreadlocks? Check. “Creepy clown” imagery? Check. France’s Trepalium are the nu-metal bastard child of Slipknot, Anthony Burgess, and Herbie Hancock. Named after an archaic torture device, Trepalium’s lyrics deal with serial killers- which is precisely what they are to the eardrums. Most of the song is typical nu-metal fare, but unlike their American counterparts, Trepalium incorporate some jazz influence with sax, organ, and horribly done scat vocals. Wow. Just . . . wow.

— Tom Brandow

. . .

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