24 Bands You Need to Hear from Minneapolis
A music scene can be judged by the same rubric as a drug dealer. Regardless of day or time, can you score whatever you want? If aggressive music is your poison, you won’t find a better dealer than Minneapolis. The city is a benevolent pusher wandering around with Raoul Duke’s briefcase from ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ and giving its contents away for free.
The Twin Cities area has birthed some the most influential American punk bands, so it’s a no-brainer that Minneapolis would also foster a lively hardcore scene. The sonic assault of legendary crust groups like Misery and Destroy has heavily influenced several active bands in Minneapolis. Profane Existence, an anarcho punk collective that publishes a zine in addition releasing and distributing high-quality music, has laid the foundation for a socially conscious and inclusive approach to hardcore that lives on in the Twin Cities.
For people who don’t care about punk, hardcore or metal, mention of the Twin Cities typically conjures images of long, bleak winters. From November to March, the temperature in Minneapolis frequently lingers in the negative teens and twenties. But there’s a direct correlation between that weather and the city’s smorgasbord of high-quality black metal. Harsh winters call for equally cold sounds, and the Twin Cities’ black metal community delivers ten-fold.
Of course, extended periods of cold and gray also cause self-hatred and depression, both of which can mutate into misanthropy. In the right hands those negative mental states can translate into crushing music. In Minneapolis, a plethora of caustic sludge and doom bands have mastered that process.
Even if you ice fish, snowshoe, cross-country ski, or do something else outside during the winter, you have to find something to occupy the long hours indoors. Many Twin Cities musicians spend that time honing the type of chops that make audiences’ jaws drop, which is one reason why Minneapolis has such a strong roster of math rock bands. Thankfully, most of those bands have the self-awareness to turn that proficiency into interesting music rather than mindless noodling.
Some drug dealers won’t sell to you if you’re from out of town, and the same goes for many cities’ music scenes. But Minneapolis is the opposite, welcoming outsiders with open arms and a supply of music that can satisfy even the most obscure urges. Here are 24 bands that want nothing more than to help you get your fix.
J.J. Anselmi is the author of ’Heavy: A Memoir of Wyoming, BMX, Drugs, and Heavy Fucking Music’, and he plays drums in the post-doom band Former Worlds.
Consisting of members from Näive Sense, No Skin and Hive, the queercore band’s demo clocks in at under four minutes, and yet its raw fury burns an indelible mark onto the brain. A direct embodiment of the Profane Existence collective’s influence upon music in Minneapolis, Contentious has only played a handful of shows but its name already has the weight of a veteran act.
What would Pentagram sound like if Ann Wilson of Heart joined on vocals? Mahle Roth’s haunted croon surfs across monolithic waves of fuzz on each Kult of the Wizard album. The band’s recent single, “Whispers Through The Tide,” hops between a stoner boogie and trance-inducing grooves to create a hazy utopia.
It’s possible that, when Blue Ox formed, the band’s goal was to be a musical version of Macho Man Randy Savage. Featuring alumni of grind outlaws Ambassador Gun and metalcore heroes Dead to Fall, Blue Ox sounds like Torche doing an impression of Pantera. Stray Dogs On Pity Party Island is crushing in the most fun way possible, like a mosh pit in a room of inflatable pool toys.
Remember those kids from high school who spent all their time playing Magic: The Gathering? They might’ve formed Maeth if they’d decided to approach music with that same dedication. Mixing equal parts King Crimson and Helms Alee, each of the band’s songs is a psychedelic whirlpool. Throughout Shrouded Mountain, hypnotic flute and percussion blossom from molten riffage to create the sensation of running naked through a goblin colony.
No discussion of Minneapolis metal is complete without mention of False. Having received deserving praise from such heavyweight publications as Noisey, Decibel, and Pitchfork, False’s untitled 2015 LP is a relentless flurry. But even that record doesn’t come close to conjuring the ice tornado that is a live False show. Perhaps a lesser known fact is how much the band gives back to its hometown, with members playing in bands like Cokskar and booking shows that emphasize diversity and inclusivity, like the upcoming Vile Creature and Contentious show on June 18th at 7th Street Entry.
It’s rare that a post-metal band’s quiet moments are just as captivating as its heavier sections, but Lungs is nothing if not exceptional. “Wintress,” from the As Dust Reaches The Earth LP, is a perfect example. The video for the track follows an isolated woodsman as he navigates life in the dead of winter. Like As Dust Reaches The Earth as a whole, “Wintress” drifts between glacial heaviness and the delicate sounds of a hibernation dream.
The name Cokskar perfectly matches the band’s violent, noise-infused grind. Each of Cokskar’s seven-inches hearkens back to the origins of grindcore, when the genre had more in common with crusty hardcore than death metal. Cokskar’s recent 7”, Sooner Than You Think, is the musical equivalent of a defective blender with rusted blades.
Wanderer is one of Minneapolis’ hardest working bands. Despite its tireless show schedule, the quintet injects every ounce of its energy into every live appearance. When a band is so powerful live, it can make its albums feel dull. With dizzying transitions between feral metalcore, blistering D-beat, and misanthropic grind, 2016’s Gloom Daze is one of those rare albums that actually captures the unhinged aggression of its band’s live presence.
Spilling over with triumphant guitar harmonies, ceaseless blasts, and animalistic howls, Pestifere’s music comes across as totally genuine while also sidestepping self-importance. Though electricity had yet to be harnessed, it’s likely that Vikings across Europe heard Pestifere in their heads as they travelled across treacherous seas.
Botch, Kylesa, Mastodon, and Cult Leader walk into a bar, get shit-faced, smoke PCP in the bathroom, and start a fight club: the origin story of Aziza. The four-piece fluidly mixes a variety of styles into its sludgy stew, combining bewildering changes with knuckle-dragging heaviness. Judging from first single “Imposters,” Aziza’s upcoming Council Of Straitjackets will expand upon its tendency to make music that’s equally crushing and dexterous.
At its roots, punk is antagonistic. Much Worse takes that tradition to heart. Live, the band creates the uneasiness and unpredictability that Black Flag was known for in its heyday. The title of its most recent LP, Chronic Instigation, doubles as the band’s modus operandi. Much Worse might initially sound like a horrible mess, but listen a little more closely and the brilliance of its nimble fastcore will become startlingly clear.
More is More plays some of the finest math rock that Minneapolis has to offer. Ask any Twin Cities percussionist who their favorite drummers are and Chris Dacut will inevitably come up. The same goes with Tim Kraus when it comes to guitarists. The duo’s music is amazingly complex, but its melodies and grooves also attract humans in the same way that a bug zapper attracts mosquitoes.
When a band releases an album as mind-blowing as Urraca, the question of whether or not the group can play it live inevitably comes up. The thing about Sunless: the trio is as precise and uncompromising live as it is on its debut LP. Sunless is technical death metal in the same way that Neurosis is sludge, breaking down and reforming that genre much more than obeying its tropes.
Taking cues from Big Business, Falcon Arrow reminds people that heavy music can and should be fun. Using Dav Kemp’s cyclical drumming as a foundation, bassist Matt Reints builds pyramids of melodic glass that will induce dance-offs before mosh pits. Cities of Gold combines the poppiness of Pinback with KARP’s amphetamine drive to make for a musical sugar high.
Without’s second album, Elaborations: II, has an undeniable weight. Its repetitive churn treads somewhere between doom and no-wave, like Earth playing extended versions of Joy Division songs. Both tracks on Elaborations: II journey across a vast and varied emotional spectrum, wearing listeners down by authenticity and monotony rather than brutality. Without should be mentioned alongside Muscle & Marrow and Chelsea Wolfe in any discussion about the future of heavy music.
Highgraves distills sludge to its filthy essence. There’s nothing new or fancy here, which is exactly the point. Cavernous drums, oil spill bass and lizard brain guitar—Highgraves does it all with the effortless flow of a BMX rider gliding through trails. Its members are grizzled veterans, having learned over the years to avoid the bullshit and just give people what they want: ridiculously heavy riffs.
As implied from the title of Buildings’ new LP, You Are Not One Of Us, the trio’s music has a perpetual sneer. Buried deep beneath the candy apple of its layered, Young Widows-style post-hardcore are razorblades of self-hatred just waiting to get swallowed.
Burn Fetish sounds like The Jesus Lizard reformed in the hands of discontent math teachers. The band’s throat-constricting noise rock works as an argument against the idea that music loses immediacy and verve when played by people who’ve mastered their instruments. Instead, Burn Fetish uses its technical know-how to sharpen its serrated sounds.
The Rigs of Dad Instagram constantly jokes about the tone zone. The thing is, Livid has actually found the portal to that zone. It’s a place that the quartet summons through its impeccable use of gratuitous amplification. Atop the swamp monster of Tim Leick’s behind-the-beat drumming, each of Livid’s riffs opens like a maw, inside of which a black hole of tone beckons.
Adam Tucker of Signaturetone Recording is a busy bee. In addition to running what equates to the GodCity of Minneapolis, he plays bass in a groovy math rock band called Vernon Wayne. The quartet offers all the things fans of this genre crave—overlapping rhythms, confusing time signatures, and a slurry of other musical gymnastics. But the band’s songs and riffs also have the hypnotic lull of the best pop. Vernon Wayne conjures a similar sense of joy and triumph as Pelican and Torche.
War//Plague plays crust on a gargantuan scale. From War//Plague’s side of its recent split with Axegrinder, “Disease” organically transitions between energetic metal, filthy doom, and Neanderthal punk, leaving a smear of grease on anything it touches. War//Plague embraces a mature take on anarchist politics, emphasizing the importance of community in a world where people are encouraged to tear each other to shreds.
Combining the mathematician prowess of Gojira with the delicate touch of Don Caballero, Ghost Replicant is a finely-tuned weapon designed for intergalactic warfare. Wayfarer spends equal amounts of time drifting through space and destroying asteroids, with Ghost Replicant effortlessly gliding between those extremes.
Featuring former members of Wolvhammer, Empires, Manatheren and Censor, Feral Light weaves an entrancing tapestry of black metal, crust punk, and post-metal. Dense layers of guitar engulf whirlwind drumming throughout A Sound of Moving Shields. If Brann Dailor and Brent Hinds of Mastodon formed a modern black metal project, the result might resemble Feral Light.