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On the Side: Metal Artists Whose Secondary Projects Span Genres

write home

For metal artists, it is common to color outside of the lines from time to time. Whether it be starting an album with soft folk strumming or interjecting sampled industrial clanging at just the right moment, dabbling into new horizons can turn a good heavy album into great work that presents a point of view all its own. When these sketches happen to turn into a Picasso, some practitioners of death, decay, and stormy days explore this emerging path. While musicians certainly retain the heart of what they are about throughout this journey, a newfound refraction of darkness and light shows the best of genre-bending.

Too often, the non-metal side projects of heavy musicians fall into the category of criminally underrated. This trend is a travesty not only because hard work runs the risk of falling on deaf ears, but because our potential for the enjoyment of other music stylings as metal fans is stifled. Regardless of the size or clout of home base bands, let’s take a moment to show some of the highlights some love. So, which of your favorite artists are composing trad jazz odysseys or belting out emo hits in the making? Here’s some examples among many in the scene.

Write Home
Billy Melsness of Unreqvited

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Unreqvited caused quite a stir in the underground with 2016’s Disquiet. Bill Melsness — the brainchild behind the symphonic, post-DSBM meditations on fragility — is no stranger to bringing feelings to the forefront. His emo-esque Ottawan rock project Write Home is a bloom from two highly-emotive roots that have been running concurrently for some time. Being just 24 years old, Melsness grew up alongside post-hardcore and 2000’s rock, even serving as a contributing vocalist to nu metal outfit, Vesuvius. While Write Home’s story is still unfolding, it is serving as a chance to enjoy Melsness’ songwriting prowess with a gentler spin.

Serj Tankian of System of a Down

Open the vaults and you’ll find an avant-garde animal ahead of its time. Back around the time of the release of System of a Down’s arguably most immortal record Toxicity, frontman Serj Tankian was cooking up another piece of greatness. Serat — a collaboration by Tankian and folk instrumentalist Arto Tunçboyacıyan — is a departure from what Tankian’s solo work would come to look like during System of a Down’s hiatus. Opting for a blend of traditional Armenian music, spoken word, and jazzy beats, it is almost impossible to place this project into a tidy box like radio rock. Whether you remember seeing whispers of Serart around music message boards back in 2004 or never had the pleasure of making your acquaintance, give this project a minute of your day.

The Happy Pals
Lucas Gadke of Völur

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While Lucas Gadke of experimental doom venture Völur may be from the great white north, a slick turn of his upright bass bumps the best of the South. Serving as the low warmth of New Orleans traditional jazz collective The Happy Pals, Gadke brings the carefree style to Toronto — specifically, Grossman’s Tavern in Chinatown. Lauded for their authenticity, the group has had residency at the intimate club for decades, welcoming new contributing musicians as needed. Through his varied work, Gadke uses his trained talents for the brighter times as much as he does for the bleak. Bonus: check out our recent interview with Gadke.

Corrections House
Mike IX Williams of Eyehategod, Scott Kelly of Neurosis, soloist Bruce Lamont, and producer Sanford Parker

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A look at great side projects would not be complete without at least one supergroup. Encapsulating some of the most respected, enduring, and boundary-pushing figures in metal, Corrections House is a smart instrumental collage fit for industrial fans of all generations. Pulsing samples and spoken word are accompanied by consuming guitar and saxophone, creating an aura of futuristic decay. The coordinating black bodysuits sported by Williams, Kelly, Lamont, and Parker during live performances are unified by a single ominous symbol, presenting particularly polished cohesion in a room of rhythmic chaos.

Déhà of Yhdarl, Slow, and more

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As a prolific force within underground depressive black metal and funeral doom circuits, it may come as a surprise that Yhdarl mastermind Déhà has resonated with the youth movement associated with the DIY rap scene. Inspired by the likes of Lil Peep, he decided to launch a depressive hip-hop project of epic proportions. With a wrenching mix of unclean vocals, rhymes orchestral samples, and trap beats, Nadddir is “cloud rap” through Déhà’s gravely serious approach. Last year’s release I’m a Fucking Plague appeals to a mature crowd, tapping into a fanbase of metalheads that may be otherwise alienated by the hordes of impassioned teens keeping the new school of emotive hip-hop alive.

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