I often talk about the connections between metal and rock music. As far as I am concerned, metal is just rock’s pissed off younger brother. As a budding teenager discovering heavy music, my gateway was hard rock with a metallic slant like Guns N Roses and Alice In Chains, or thrash metal bands that were going through a rock-ish faze in the ’90s like Megadeth and Metallica. The lines were very blurred from a categorization standpoint. Before I became enamored with extreme metal, the grunge and alternative explosion of the ’90s (which really were new repurposed words to define the exciting wave of fresh rock music) defined a large part of my identity as a music fan. It never left me even if metal held my heart for quite some time.
The sheer quantity of ’90s rock bands that have earned classic and timeless status is staggering: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Alice In Chains, Nine Inch Nails, Tool, Weezer, Smashing Pumpkins, Stone Temple Pilots, Soundgarden, Rage Against The Machine, Faith No More, and that’s just off the top of my head. The aftermath of post-grunge with bands like Nickelback, Creed, and Days of the New changing the aesthetic of rock radio for the subsequent decades have left the current state of commercial hard rock music a primordial soup of unimaginative formulas and knee-level pandering.
Thankfully, despite what Gene Simmons and Lenny Kravitz (in that one song) say, rock n roll is not dead just yet. There are some exciting new and definitely not new bands that are still waving the flag for well-intentioned and artistically viable rock music.
Is Ghost metal? Is Ghost rock? If you removed the ghoulish imagery, Ghost would fit more in the rock category, at least in modern terms. Their level of heaviness and dark tonality is probably close to a band like Black Sabbath, but if Sabbath came out today, they would probably called rock. I think Ghost’s affinity with rock and their poppy sensibility is what turns off so many metalheads to begin with. I don’t get it. I just think they are amazing. Right out of the gate, Ghost presented a fresh, albeit vintage take on dark rock with just enough metal and catchiness to grab a wide swath of fans. And to those who think the band’s success rides squarely on their image, understand that you need to have the songs to back up the imagery, and Ghost have great songs in spades.
Islander is one of the more exciting new rock bands in that they combine a lot of styles. There is a groovy hardcore vibe, an almost rap rock tinged early Deftones feel, and yet the band knows how to create spacey dynamics and clearly has chemistry as an organic unit. The band they actually remind me of is the woefully underappreciated Swedish post-hardcore band, Blindside. Islander seem to be making a great impact as they just wrapped up a stint as the opening act for the Korn 20th Anniversary tour.
Sleepwave is mostly known as being the new band from Underoath frontman Spencer Chamberlain. Sleepwave couldn’t be more of a departure from Chamberlain’s former outfit. Although I appreciated Underoath, this new band was much more appealing to my sensibilities. With Chamberlain’s vocal style and the band’s keen use of keyboards and electronics, they come off as a more modern and harder edged mash-up of Linkin Park and Filter. Their 2014 debut Broken Compass has some real high points, but I think the band is just scratching the surface of their potential.
If you’ve been anywhere near an active rock radio station or Sirius/XM Octane in the last couple years, then you’ve probably heard Nothing More’s smash single “This Is The Time (Ballast)”. I discovered them on an unflattering metal blog piece on the single. Despite the negative article slant, I thought it was completely refreshing. It was like Sevendust meets Mars Volta, which is a combo I’ve never even imagined before hearing Nothing More. They are an anomaly amongst the rock radio crowd and are bringing some musical credibility to a tired environment. It turns out that they had 5 independent releases before their 2013 (re-released in 2014 on Eleven Seven Music) self-titled breakthrough, so this is another example of years of hard work paying off.
Failure are no new band. In fact, I could have easily included them in the list of legendary ’90s bands in my preface. The extremely influential 1996 cult classic album Fantastic Planet has seemed to only gain popularity in their absence after the band broke up in 1997. Considering the massive success of Failure’s reunion shows and incredible new crowdfunded album The Heart Is A Monster (2015), it reflects well on Failure to mention them in the same breath with some of these newer bands, because their current relevance probably surpasses many of their peers from the 90’s. They still might be a cult band, but Failure’s importance to the state of rock music is invaluable. Take notes on how it’s done young bucks.
New York City’s MoTHER are one of the more obscure bands on this list, but they definitely deserve to have more people check them out. What I love about them is that they are no-frills rock n roll, but they don’t rest on being a revival act. We’ve seen enough bands living in the past trying to be the Rolling Stones or AC/DC or Mötley Crüe, but MoTHER just do their thing. It’s pure hard rock, with a bluesy underbelly. Lead singer Nick Fargo brings a unique, piercing vocal delivery along with dynamic keyboard and piano playing in the mix, which gives the band another dimension to their meat and potatoes rock.
Royal Thunder’s new album Crooked Doors stormed it’s way into my headspace this year and hasn’t left. The first thing I noticed about them is they don’t really sound like anyone in particular, and capture much of the artistic ethos of the ’90s alternative rock movement. This has 120 Minutes clip in 1994 written all over it. Lead singer and bassist Mlny Parsonz is an absolute star. She has an all-time great voice, and I heard in an interview that she apparently used to be in a cult. She’s cool. (Insert Beavis and Butthead laugh here) Hopefully, my clear infatuation hasn’t diluted this blurb. My favorite thing is the band manages to walk a perfect tight rope between progressive machinations and attaching massive hooks amidst the instrumental exploration.
Danko Jones – the man and band, have been around for years, but really hasn’t gotten the exposure in the United States they deserve, in spite of being a very successful international band. Their brand of rock is old school in that it is simple, full of attitude, and is thematically tied to rock n roll’s primal roots. As a frontman, seeing Danko perform live is something to behold. His brazen character draws you in to a palpable and furious energy. The band just released their seventh album Fire Music in 2015. I also recommend Danko’s insightful interview podcast The Official Danko Jones Podcast.
Bring Me The Horizon
My old buddy Sergeant D at StuffYouWillHate.com sarcastically coined the term New Wave Of American Hard Rock last year on Metalsucks. He was referring mainly to scene bands like Of Mice And Men and Asking Alexandria transitioning into active rock radio bands from breakdown-y deathcore or metalcore. Bring Me The Horizon is definitely in that camp, but they have become one of the best metallic rock bands in the world on their new album That’s The Spirit. I write a lot about these guys, because their ascendance has the feel of something bigger. They are a key figure in a generational and cultural shift in heavy music. It just seems important. I don’t think the band is perfect; They lean a little too heavy on tracks live. The Linkin Park comparisons are valid, but I just like it. Sometimes, that’s the only reason you need.
Vagus Nerve is actually my new band. Yes. You read that correctly. Maybe some of you are worried about the journalistic ethics of pimping my own band in an article like this, but luckily since I never went to school for journalism, I can lean heavily on my ignorance as an excuse for my transgression. All kidding aside, I felt that the style Vagus Nerve plays is extremely relevant with regard to the collection of bands discussed in this article. Whether it’s more of a throwback or a completely new take, perhaps there’s no better reflection of my views on where the state of rock music should be than throwing my hat in the ring, and adding something more to the conversation than just…words.