By Spencer. A year ago, I declared that rock was officially dead. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t bands out there fighting the good fight, though. Maybe it’s my recent reintroduction to vinyl talking, but I’ve been on kind of a classic metal awakening lately. Not glam metal or death metal, but the true roots of metal, back when it first sprung loose from hard rock—I’m talking bands like Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper, Judas Priest, Kiss, and of course, Led Zeppelin. (Though I still insist that it’s a crime to categorize Led Zeppelin first and foremost as a metal band, since their music completely transcended that genre). This brand of early metal gives you the best of both worlds: the darkness and attitude that eclipses mere rock, and the melody, songcraft, humor, and simple fun that were missing from later metal.
But before you accuse me of living in the past, this edition of The Consumer takes a look at a few bands that are reviving that classic metal sound in the here and now.
Sweden may have a reputation for softness, but you wouldn’t know it listening to Graveyard. With four albums of psychedelic metal under their belt to date, this is “classic” metal in its truest sense—their sound dripping with late 60s and early 70s influences like Blue Oyster Cult and Iron Butterfly. Lead vocalist Joakim Nilsson has a schizophrenic voice that, in its lower registers, recalls an early Steven Tyler or even Glenn Danzig, but when he opens up the pipes, it’s a full-on shriek that would make Robert Plant proud. The drums are fast and loose like Mitch Mitchell of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, while the dark, bluesy guitar riffs bring in everything from Hendrix to Jimmy Page to Tony Iommi. All four albums are worth your time; this is not a band that feels compelled to reinvent itself. But if you want to stick with their most recent work, Innocence & Decadence is a worthwhile introduction to the band, offering an impressive diversity of speed, mood, and chops. It’s metal the way metal sounded in its youth, driven by frenetic energy and never dragged down by bleakness.
Graveyard – “Can’t Walk Out”
On the other side of the mood spectrum is a band from the birthplace of metal—darkest England. Don’t forget, it was the Brits who gave us Black Sabbath, the first true metal band. And while the university town of Cambridge may not seem like the most metal of locales, even Stephen Hawking would have to agree that Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats (pictured above) bring the noise. Emulating Ozzy and company’s early output between 1968 and 1971, this is metal steeped in that brooding atmosphere of the occult—and what’s more metal than that? Of course we all know that the lip service those early metal pioneers like Osborne and Alice Cooper paid to the satanic was more tongue-in-cheek than anything else, and that’s what makes Uncle Acid such a fun listen; with songs like “Waiting For Blood,” “Mt. Abraxas,” “Devil’s Work,” “Ritual Knife,” and “Withered Hand Of Evil,” it’s pretty clear that they’re in on the joke. And if you’re looking for an authentic vintage sound, nobody captures it better than Uncle Acid, who record only on 60s and 70s era, lo-fi technology. The guitars are thick and fuzzy, almost collapsing under their own weight, yet without all the heavily compressed low-end we’ve come to expect in the digital era.
Of course, all of that authenticity would accomplish nothing without the songwriting to back it up. And better than any other band on this list, Uncle Acid uses melody and hooks to make lean, highly-listenable songs. Listen closely to those vocal harmonies. You’ll hear more John Lennon in them than anything else, as if “Helter Skelter” had been the jumping-off point for a whole new band. This stuff rocks hard, but it still pleases the ear.
Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats – “Waiting For Blood”
Back in the States, there’s a whole other brand of metal that’s more about machismo than witchcraft. And Maryland’s Clutch are the kind of band that goes balls-out in search of that pounding tone. Like black leather jackets and Harleys translated into sound form, the guitars are muscular and the vocals are deep and aggressive. Judas Priest did it best circa British Steel, and Clutch double down with a style influenced by that late 70s-early 80s eruption of what would later be called hair metal. Before it became corrupted by fashion plates like Poison and Warrant, though, this was still definitively masculine music. And you can hear those influences in Clutch’s speed and power—bands like Quiet Riot and Iron Maiden and even Motorhead. There’s also a heavy southern blues influence in the guitar work, like Stevie Ray on steroids—captured nowhere better than on “A Quick Death In Texas,” a love letter to my home state that has no business being played so well by four guys from fucking Maryland. With a more commercial and more exuberant vibe, Clutch’s style of metal may not have the artistry of Uncle Acid or Graveyard, but there’s zero question that they rock hard.
Clutch – “X-Ray Visions”
Closing out our list is a band who are actually overdue for a follow-up. Scorpion Child’s debut came out way back in 2013, and since then, they’re been going through a few lineup changes, meaning a sophomore effort is still in the works. But if we’re rating these bands on the spectrum of sheer enjoyability, Scorpion Child comes out on top with an upbeat, over-the-top sensibility for the ridiculous. Their single, “Polygon Of Eyes,” veers from rapid-fire to slow headbanging and back again, and it’s crazy entertaining. The band’s style combines the pop accessibility of Quiet Riot or Kiss or Def Leppard with complex arrangements reminiscent of Zeppelin and a winking nod toward parody acts like Spinal Tap or even Monster Magnet. Because that sentence shouldn’t possibly make sense, all I can say is give them a listen, and remember the glory days back when rock was still fun.
Scorpion Child – “Polygon Of Eyes”