Editor’s Choice: July 2016
I saw one of the best shows of my life this month, and neither act was a metal band.
Last week, I had the opportunity to take in the Rock Paper Scissors tour, a collaborative effort between Sting Sumner and Peter Gabriel. I don’t often leave a show saying to myself “I hope they release a DVD”, but in this instance I would see this show again on my home entertainment system in a heartbeat.
The show sported a stellar set list, but the way those songs were performed made the event so special. Both artists played at the same time. Their bands traded off performing some songs, and performed others simultaneously. Sumner and Gabriel performed many songs as duets, and each covered one of the other's songs. This format injected uniqueness into the performances. Like an ad stinger actually brought to life: you’ve never seen these songs performed this way before.
Metal bands would do well to learn from Sumner and Gabriel. Big-name metal acts tour more frequently than either British pop singer, but perform variations on the same set over and over again.
A recent article on The Great Southern Brainfart beseeched older artists to bring new artists on tour with them. I agree with the premise of the blog - please let me never see Steel Panther ever again, especially performing before Judas Priest. That said, I don’t think a future where Enforcer opens for Iron Maiden is likely. Big money tours still see openers as risks, or at least acts that will not add value to a package. If you’re Iron Maiden, and no opener will bring people who weren’t already going to buy a ticket into the fold, then you might as well give the opening slot to your progeny, at least that way some of the money stays in the family.
The Gabriel & Sumner model offers an increased incentive (see an old band in a new way) while cutting the opening act quandary out of the equation. It deserves exploration.
There’s already some precedent for this in metal. The Big Business & Melvins collaborative act has toured and recorded together many times. In fact some people think of that as the best Melvins lineup. In less heavy circles, Justin Broadrick is actually touring with Mark Kozelek behind their Jesu and Sun Kil Moon collaborations.
With that in mind, here’s some picks for bands that could play interesting collaborative sets or tours.
Napalm Death & Anaal Nathrakh
This one’s a no-brainer, just exchange one Mick for another. Napalm Death currently lack a guitarist while Mick Harris is out of commission, and Shane Embury has guested on multiple Anaal Nathrakh records. Meanwhile Anaal Nathrakh don’t have any steady members outside of Dave Hunt and Mick Kinney. Napalm Death play many songs with industrial influences anyhow, so the two acts could share a synth player or sample pad.
Enslaved & Opeth
Fans want to believe that the biggest issue with current Opeth is that the band has stopped making metal songs. While I have sympathy for that argument, I disagree. If Mikael Akerfeldt wrote better pure prog, his group would still command my undying loyalty. The more pressing issue is that Akerfeldt’s growls are not what they used to be. Meanwhile the biggest problem with his old tourmates Enslaved is that increasingly Ivar Bjornsson’s, and especially Grutle Kjellson’s, respective growls no longer suit the otherwise pristine King Crimson worship they produce. I sense a match here. Let Kjellson roar his way through “Godhead’s Lament” while Akerfeldt’s velvet croon opens up “Building with Fire” the way a drop of water opens good scotch.
Henry Rollins & Pissed Jeans
If Rage Against the Machine can come back with a bunch of rappers they covered as their new lead singers, then Pissed Jeans can tour with the man who basically pioneered their brand of middle class complaint noise rock. Besides, I think the world’s ready for Henry Rollins to return as a musician, having sufficiently conquered literature, television and film. In fairness, you could probably substitute KEN Mode for Pissed Jeans in this equation, as they’ve recently stripped a lot of the metal from their sound, but Pissed Jeans perform with more of Rollins’ dry vitriol. Let the Matthews brothers tour with another vaunted DC hardcore frontman, Ian Mackaye.
Satyricon & Sarke
You’re never going to see Darkthrone live, but this ought to prove decent consolation. Sarke sometimes boast Nocturno Culto as a lead singer, and Satyr and Frost performed the black metal to arena rock turn first. Besides, Steinar Gunderson performs live lead guitar for both bands anyway, and having both onstage might flesh out the instrumentation enough to perform songs from the last two Satyricon albums and do the songs justice.
Testament & Overkill
Testament sink or swim based on their revolving bassist and drummer positions. For best results, see them with Steve DiGiorgio and Gene Hoglan. Trouble is, both DiGiorgio and Hoglan play in so many groups that Testament needs a reliable backup. Solution: Collab with Overkill, the other best thrash band that somehow sells less than Anthrax. D. D. Verni’s a more than capable bassist and Ron Lipnicki is a steady skinsman. Better, Bobby Blitz’s voice hits piercing highs that Chuck Billy’s can not.
Ihsahn & King Diamond
Ihsahn’s eclectic songwriting and instrumentation, coupled with his lack of a dedicated backing band, screams for a collaborative set. Another ostensibly solo artist, King Diamond, might make a decent pairing. Hearing Ihsahn trade solos with Andy LaRocque sounds as stimulating as hearing King try his hand at the cleans on songs like “Arrival.”
Faith No More & Afghan Whigs
The Afghan Whigs aren’t a metal band, but singer and songwriter Greg Dulli has all the loathsome menace of black metal musician paired with sexual lyrics that recall hair metal at its sleaziest as well as Motown. That’s where Faith No More comes in. Not only does Mike Patton share Dulli’s penchant for sexually debauched song topics, but these two bands both brought R&B back into the modern hard rock lexicon in the early '90s. Dulli employs a revolving cast of backing musicians for the Whigs (only bassist John Curley remains from the group’s original lineup), so folding himself into Faith No More onstage would prove relatively simple, likewise Dulli’s experienced at taking a back seat and letting other (frankly better) signers perform his work. Look at this collaboration between the Whigs and Usher at South by Southwest 2013 (Usher shows up at 16:00 during “Climax”), and then remember that Patton’s twice the singer Usher will ever be.
Down & COC & Thou
Hypothesis: the best way to have a Pantera reunion without Dimebag Darrell would be to have no members of the original band present, and that’s basically the idea here. Not that every song ought to be a Pantera cover, although to be sure Thou do spectacular covers, and together Pepper James Keenan and Bryan Funck could cover Phil Anselmo's clean and dirty vocal ranges completely. Thou are no stranger to collaborative sets: they’ve done a few with The Body. Collaborating with COC and Down would constitute something of a passing of the southern metal royalty torch.
Bjork & Mayhem
This sounds strange but hear me out: Bjork’s ex-husband Matthew Barney is a visible black metal fanatic, so we know the Icelandic vocal phenomenon has been exposed to the genre, even if she's oblivious to black metal’s current Icelandic explosion. Moreover she’s a fan of vocalists as distinct as herself, and Attilla Csihar falls into that category. A Bjork & Mayhem set would do well to focus on Mayhem’s less-performed but more experimental middle period. Give me Grand Declaration of War mixed with “Army of Me” or give me death.
Iron Maiden & Judas Priest
The biggest collab on my list in terms of money and prestige might also be the most likely. Dickinson and Priest have played together, most notably during an of-bootlegged 1990 tour stop in LA. Further, Dickinson and Halford sang a duet on Halford’s album Resurrection. Like Gabriel and Sumner, Priest and Maiden share enough musical similarities to perform their songs back to back and form a cohesive set while still sounding distinct. A collab tour would most likely sell out every date, not that Maiden doesn’t sell out most of their tours anyway.