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Why do we love extreme metal?

For me, the answer can be summed up by one experience: the first time I listened to Morbid Angel’s Altars of Madness. It’s not like it was the first metal album I had ever listened to – it wasn’t even my first death metal album. But no matter how many times I’d listened to Sabbath, or Sleep, or even Amon Amarth, there was nothing that could have prepared me for what I heard when the CD kicked in.

I can’t say I enjoyed it at first - or, more specifically, I couldn’t comprehend it. While the bands I had been listening to use riffs as giant hooks (not that there’s anything wrong with that), Morbid Angel throw them around like shrapnel. And that’s their approach to everything on Altars of Madness. It attacks the idea that music should be pleasurable, and doesn’t relent for 13 tracks. I knew that I had fallen for metal at the moment when it finished, and I, still uncomprehending, couldn’t wait to put it back on.
Many of you have probably had an experience like this, with a metal album that blew away all of your assumptions about what metal (or music in general) could be. To me, those moments of utter confusion when our assumptions are destroyed are the most powerful, and the most real. So it seems only fitting to kick things off here with a mix (loosely) themed on confusion.

To those who didn’t catch Cosmo’s first go-around with this column, here at Strange In Stereo, we’re going to be looking at non-metal music that might appeal to metal-heads. I’m going to be taking a slightly different approach, however; instead of only looking into the non-metal spheres that heshers typically find themselves in - the ones that are tied to metal culturally - we’ll also be looking for tracks that are tied thematically. So that might mean lyrical or aesthetic similarities, or a mutual love of dissonance and distortion, or anything, really.

Now that we have all of that out of the way, enjoy the tape below. To varying degrees, all of the tracks I’ve posted defy instant comprehension, and I hope, somehow, they make you remember why you started listening to metal in the first place. And do stick around with us, too; I think this’ll be fun.

— Michael Cacciatore

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1. Hella - “Netgear”
from Tripper (Sargent House, 2011)

A lot of different people have placed Hella into a lot of different genres, but by my measure, calling them math or noise rock isn’t the whole picture. The problem lies in the fact that there just aren’t many (non-metal, of course) bands out there these days that are as technically minded or idiosyncratic as these guys.

2. Bohren and Der Club of Gore - “Zombies Never Die (Blues)”
from Beileid (Ipecac, 2011)

This track off of Bohren’s latest EP (which features Mike Patton, of all people, as a guest vocalist on one song) starts off along the same doom-soaked path as their last full-length, Dolores, but abruptly rambles off course partway through, bringing in pieces of the sultry noir jazz that characterized their earlier albums

3. Current 93 - "Cuckoo”
from Honeysuckle Æons (Coptic Cat, 2011)

To be honest, this one landed on here because I would feel remiss if I neglected to post a new track by Current 93--probably the first band I think of when I hear “non-metal music for metal-heads”. But disorientation and hard contrasts between lyrical imagery and instrumentation has always been a huge part of their approach.

4. Enemite - The Head-Stream--River of Death
from Wuyuan (Dying Art, 2004)

What’s most confusing about this one is just how well it works, mostly thanks to a beautifully manic vocal performance. At certain points, it almost seems like he is playing different characters with each different voice, giving the track an almost narrative feel. But it also manages to evoke metal without plucking a guitar, which is a feat by itself.

5. Murmuüre - Reincarnate
from Murmuüre (Cold Void Emanations, 2010)

This is the sound of black metal melting.

6. Crooked Necks - Taste the Sounds
from Alright Is Exactly What It Isn’t (Handmade Birds, 2011)

Crooked Neck’s first EP Brilliant Darkness (released under the name “Frail”) was unsettling for unusual reasons; it took Alcest’s black metal formula well past its logical endpoint. On their debut full-length, Alright Is Exactly What It Isn’t, they take it even further. What’s remarkable about Crooked Necks is that they take their non-metal influences--Slowdive, the Cure, et al--just as seriously (if not more so) than their black metal ones. That, along with an obsessive attention to detail, makes it their best release yet.