What is post-metal? It may mean different things to different people, or if you aren’t familiar with some of the key bands in the movement, it may mean nothing to you. Adding the prefix “post” to hardcore or punk, and now metal, really speaks to artists transcending the previously perceived creative boundaries of a particular genre. It’s all about expanding the rulebook, or throwing it away all together. Post-punk or post-hardcore bands would count as some of my favorite heavy acts like Refused, Thrice, Quicksand, Glassjaw, Converge, etc.
Post-metal, as a movement, has really been a sparse and non-unified entity, especially in the early days. Some bands that come to mind are Neurosis, The Melvins, Mr. Bungle, or some bands that came later like Candiria, Dillinger Escape Plan, or even Mastodon. It’s non-unified because the distinctive characteristic of most of these bands is their individuality: they buck trends and zig when everyone else zags. Most of these bands would probably scoff at being called “metal” to begin with. Relapse Records was the home for a few of these acts, so maybe that’s the common ground. Relapse deserves credit for being a label that championed true artists and stuff that didn’t fit neatly into pre-fabricated categories. It was a place for the weirdos, abstract noise, and mad science experiments.
Today, post-metal has been somewhat decried as hipster-metal or beardo-metal by many meat-and-potatoes metal fans or traditionalist media. Doing my time in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, I have been a little guilty of this. The rise of hipster culture, and their subsequent co-opting of a certain subset of the heavy music brought more than a handful of pretension and flippant snobbery. Painting with too broad of a brush as a way of judging people, and their music by proxy, is shortsighted and dickish on my behalf, if I’m being honest. The truth is post-metal is philosophically progressive and feels objectively more intellectual than most sects of metal.
I am by no means an expert on this scene, and many of these bands are well covered by Decibel, Pitchfork, Noisey, Metal Injection, and Metalsucks if you want to go for a deep dive. But, I do see a groundswell of very interesting and artistically vibrant music that is penetrating the walls outside of our little metal culture. Here are a few of the bands that have caught my attention that I recommend you check out if you haven’t already.
Baroness are truly post-metal in that the band’s sound has evolved rather quickly after the more metallic and muscular early Red (2007) and Blue (2009) albums. While always left of center from traditional metal, the band broke ground with the exquisite 2012 double-album Yellow & Green. It still had big riffs and metal leanings, but there was an emotional heft and frailty that felt more like a rock band. Being “post” is often about defying categorization. After surviving a devastating bus accident in 2012, Baroness have emerged with the forthcoming and eagerly anticipated Purple album, due to be released in December. The epic single “Chlorine and Wine” shows yet another plateau for an already luminary band.
Shining is a band that’s been making a lot of noise for a while, but the fact is there are 2 bands called Shining: one from Sweden, and one from Norway. Both are contemporaries, both are associated with the avant-garde Scandinavian black metal scene, and both are very impressive. I didn’t know this until recently, so the buzz I’ve been hearing is probably an amalgamation of both bands’ achievements. Though, it was the Norwegian Shining that caught my attention recently with their new live music video for “Last Day” filmed on a Nordic mountaintop. Their sound reminds me of the rockiest version of Nine Inch Nails meets Danko Jones with a smack to the face of synthwave and jazz-fusion. That saxophone solo as the climax of the song is absolutely hair-raising. Shining is explosive.
Deafheaven is a band that’s impossible to ignore as a key figure for modern post-metal. Their breakout 2013 album Sunbather became a critical smash in several realms outside of the traditional metal media. Unfairly or not, they also became the poster child for hipster metal. Their major key black metal meets ambient space rock or as it has been coined “blackgaze”, is reflective to me that black metal has become a sub-genre that is ripe for innovation, especially as a frontier for post-metal. Sometimes overhype can cause disdain, and their image aligning more with The Smiths than Emperor rubbed some metalheads the wrong way, but the band deserves a lot of credit creating a dynamic conversation through their haunting and beautiful music. I will say if you aren’t pissing people off, you aren’t really making a dent. Dig into their new album New Bermuda, out now.
Brooklyn’s So Hideous popped on my radar just in the last few weeks. Not unlike several of the post-metal standouts I’ve raved about in the article, So Hideous have a clear black metal backdrop to their presentation. What makes So Hideous special is the classical inspired composition and orchestration, which remind me a bit of Muse’s symphonic side. There is clearly a sharp mind behind these grandiose conjurations. On first listen, So Hideous appear to be an instrumental act, but then tortured vocals emerge to tatter and claw at the pristine sonic layout. If there is one area I think the band can improve, it would have to be in the vocal department. The music is so big and elegant that there should be something vocally to tie everything together more neatly. I always appreciate ambition, and So Hideous certainly has an ambitious and promising future. Their new album Laurestine is available now on Prosthetic Records.
There’s definitely something in the water in Georgia with post-metal superstars Mastodon and even new jacks like Royal Thunder emerging from Hotlanta. Savannah’S Kylesa are veterans of the sludge-y, doomy, stoner-y, not exactly metal, but too heavy for straight rock scene. They are really a band to witness in a live setting, boasting 2 drummers and 2 lead singers. Kylesa is obscenely heavy, dirty, and rough around the edges, while still being professional. What sets them apart from the typical Sabbath worshipping stoner rock rank and file is making a definitive choice not exist exclusively in the mid 1970’s. While there is there is plenty of respect paid to that era of pre-metal, Kylesa showcase a healthy dose of 90’s grunge influence that gives the band a more timeless and genre bending quality. One thing about post-metal is it’s affinity for the organic and analog. Few bands represent that ethos better than Kylesa.
An old booking agent friend with a keen eye for talent hipped me to Russian Circles around 4-5 years ago, but I didn’t really glom onto the band until I saw them live at a sold out show at Saint Vitus last year in Brooklyn. They are an instrumental 3-piece, and the performance was mesmerizing and the breadth of the sound was HUGE. The guitarist used looping delays to create a layered effect not dissimilar from bands like Botch or Tosin Abasi when he played with Reflux. The cascading and rising dynamic melodies would hypnotize you, and when a heavy riff finally hit, you were pummeled. I really loved that the band grooved, and while the drummer was flashy to a degree, the pulse was never lost. When a band understands atmosphere and heaviness to the level Russian Circles does, I am unable to resist.
There are many other fantastic up and coming post-metal bands I’ve failed to mention, so please share in the comments.