2015 is Turning into a Banner Year for Heavy Metal – UW55

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This is a reprint of the letter from the editor in Unwinnable Weekly Issue Fifty-Five. You can buy Issue Fifty-Five individually now, or purchase a one-month subscription to make sure you never miss an issue!


Hi there,

This is shaping up to be an amazing year for heavy metal.

I never stopped listening to metal, but there was a long period in which  I mostly just listened to old Iron Maiden records. There were just two sides of the coin – the new wave of British heavy metal on one, American thrash on the other. I wasn’t interested in black metal or (god forbid) nu-metal or anything else.

When I came back, in 2012, it was a totally different world. High on Fire (one of the few bands I had taken an interest in, since 2005’s Blessed Black Wings) released their ambitious De Vermis Mysteriis. It is a thunderous album, but the thing that made me take notice is where I first clocked it: a full album stream on NPR. How weird is that?

Right around the same time, my buddy Gus hipped me to the Olympia, Washington, band Christian Mistress and the Satanic majesty of the secretive Swedish band Ghost. The former is kind of an amalgamation of the best threads of classic metal, with a female vocalist who takes her cues from the likes of Mariska Veres of Shocking Blue  and Roky Erickson. The latter is…well…magical.

There were others, of course, but those three bands form a kind of trinity for me. They broadened my palette, pushed the definition of what metal could be. Through High on Fire, I took my first steps to appreciating extreme bands like Behemoth and Carcass. Christian Mistress led me to the doomy retro sounds of Orchid and Blood Ceremony. Ghost underscored the idea that metal didn’t need to be fast, or growling, or even all that serious to be worthy of head banging.

All three have new albums out this year.

And not just those three! It seems like there is a new track by someone awesome out there every few days. It’s enough to make my head explode.

So,  in the hopes of turn you into a re-born metal head, here’s a brief guide to some of those excellent new tunes.

1. “The Black Plot,” by High on Fire, is a song about aliens secretly taking over the world. It is absolutely blistering – I have no idea how a three piece band gets so huge a sound, or how Matt Pike can sing like he gargled razor blades and yet still hit those catchy as hell vocal melodies.

2. “Open Road,” by Christian Mistress, may have a throw back sound, but it is so big and bright, it feels so new and current. Just listen to that guitar riff. Like Royal Thunder (below) I feel like I caught Christian Mistress early and it is a real pleasure to hear them mature from release to release.

3. “Cirice,” by Ghost, is definitive proof that heavy and catchy aren’t mutually exclusive. I reckon this band is the best chance for metal to get  mainstream recognition again and their blatant Satanism makes that prospect all the more delicious. Also check out “From the Pinnacle to the Pit.”

4. “Helicopters,” by Orchid, is kind of an inside out riff on Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” Everything about Orchid is kind of an inside out riff on Black Sabbath, though. Except, you know, better than Sabbath.

5. “Waiting for Blood,” by Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, is fuzzy, psychedelic doom at its finest. Ever see an old horror flick featuring a strung out hippie death cult? That’s what Uncle Acid sounds like.

6. “Glow,” by Royal Thunder, is a great example of their unique mix of psychedelic, southern and doom influences. And singer/bassist Miny Parsonz has the best set of lungs in metal right now.

7. “Lost and Confused,” by Kylesa, is more evidence that no other band even comes close to sounding like Kylesa.

8. Chelsea Wolfe’s whole new album Abyss is currently streaming on NPR. Go ahead, tell me she’s not metal. I don’t give a fuck.

9. And people! In case you didn’t know, Faith No More came out with a new album this year. “Cone of Shame” is my favorite cut.

Check those songs out. Then check out Graveyard and Ancient VVisdom and Behemoth and Goat and Witchcraft and Blood Ceremony and Baroness and King Dude and Midnight and Bloody Hammers and Shooting Guns and The Lion’s Daughter out. If you still don’t think you’re into metal after all that, let me know. I’ll find you something. There’s metal out there for everyone.

* * *

If any of that piques your curiosity, you might enjoy rooting through my metal playlists on Spotify. Introductory Hessian covers early metal and hard rock like Blue Oyster Cult and AC/DC. Intermediate Hessian tackles the giants like Sabbath and Maiden while preparing you for extreme sounds with bands like Metallica and Venom. Advanced Hessian is where you’ll find the blast beats and growls (though, FYI, my tastes run progressive, so more Altar of Plagues than Mayhem). Then there is DOOM, which catalogs all the weird, sludgy, retro stuff that has been expanding the borders of metal’s sound in the last ten years. If you want to really melt your face off, all four lists are combined in the Grand Unified Theory of Heavy Metal, which weighs in at a full 48 hours of riffs.

You can also read my Short History of Heavy Metal. That has its own playlist, too.  I like making playlists.

* * *

We’ve got some deep thoughts for you this week. Matt Marrone lets you know what he thinks of Ernest Cline’s new novel Armada. David Wolinsky continues his series investing what kids today think of videogames, this time talking to 13-year-old Cordelia. Rob Haines muses on that gaming stand-by: the treasure chest. Finally, David Carlton takes a deep dive into the economics of the game industry’s unorthodox paths to development. None of those stories have their own playlists, though.

That’s it for this week.

Stay metal, people.

Stu Horvath,
Jersey City, New Jersey
July 29, 2015

Letter from the Editor, Music, Unwinnable Monthly