New Kinds of Monsters

Metal's Diverse Underground Leaves Metallica in the Dust

Which is infuriating, because the metal underground Metallica enabled is vibrantly alive, loaded with much more interesting stuff to steal. Instead of the dive-bombing, death-from-above mania that makes metal a wartime favorite, Sunn0))) want to move the earth, plate-tectonic style. The pet project of Southern Lord label chief Greg Anderson, Sunn0)))'s Whiteone is doom metal stripped to the molten core, subdermal guitar rumbling a low end so deep-focus, so distant, as to feel like elemental pure ambient action. The born-again-heavy Julian Cope—whose absurdly entertaining Head Heritage website is devoted to forwarding his Kraut/psych/doom/ancient stone monoliths aesthetic—just adored their 2000 album Void, so he gets to chant over the 25-minute "My Wall" on the new one. But on the amazing "The Gates of Ballard," St. Julian's ravings get shown up by former Thor's Hammer vocalist Rundhild Gammelsæter, and doesn't that name just tell you she was put on this earth to sing a song of gloom? After her Norse euphony, there are 17 minutes of bass hypnosis. It's mesmeric, pagan stuff, as removed from Metallica's clatter as druids from 700 Clubbers.

The doom-psych thing has such legs that it's even found purchase climbing Mt. Indie. Matador recently released Shivering King and Others, the latest album by Dead Meadow. This trio of D.C. kids have slowed down emo-core SGs to Iommi speed, figured out how wah can signify heft, and buried the vocals until nasal whines sound higher than the sun. Shivering Kings wanders along with acoustic detours (the minute-long "Wayfarers All," the six-minute title track) breaking up the shuddering shuffles, which get mighty uniform after a while. Dead Meadow sound like they can barely tie the shoes below their bell-bottoms, but this isn't really stoner rock-the-genre, even if the guitars sway back and forth wondering when the pizza is gonna get here. There's no boogie in the tokes, just the weight of a modern mastodon in search of prehistoric '68, when metal was just a theory in the humid air.

But if speed is your demon, metalcore's promise of barely controlled punk chaos cut with Robert Fripp's style of exactitude has kept thrash vibrant long after Metallica faded to black and orthodox hardcore turned into a bald cul-de-sac.

Dead Meadow, mastodons in sheep's clothing
photo: Jessica Simon
Dead Meadow, mastodons in sheep's clothing

Details

Metallica
St. Anger
Elektra

Sunno)))
Whiteone
Southern Lord

Dead Meadow
Shivering King and Others
Matador

Lickgoldensky
The Beautiful Sounds Of
Escape Artist

In spite of a truly horrific band name, Lickgoldensky on The Beautiful Sounds Of execute flailing tension spectacularly well, throwing precision riffs in the tightest possible spirals, only to yank them out of the air and stomp on them. Every second is a mosh-worthy breakdown; 22 minutes fly by in a screaming fit of incomprehensible vocals, car-crash drumming, and swarming guitar. Yet the hooks encoded in the velocity feel like grooves at that speed, even when the parts keep running into each other and detonating in place.

Look, of course there's no reason to expect Metallica Inc. to dig underground for new tricks; if game recognize game, it's only natural they would look to Korn and Durst and Godsmack to get back in touch with the disaffected masses. But metal is bio(hazard)-diverse like at no other time in its history, and if anyone embodies the genre's ability to innovate from the bottom up, it's Metallica. Like Hetfield says on "Frantic," you live it or lie it. Unless of course, you invented the formula. Then you feel obligated to turn it into New Coke once in a while.

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