The way in which the metal community reveres Slayer puts them in a class truly of their own. The name has almost come to represent unrelenting, anti-commercial metal as a whole. In the modern environment where branding is paramount, no metal band carries a more legitimate brand than Slayer. Speed, anger, haunting soundscapes, and sinister imagery are all hallmarks of their legacy.
This is an important time for the band. Slayer will release their 12th album, and first without late guitarist Jeff Hanneman, entitled Repentless on September 11th, 2015. They are also currently on the road headlining Mayhem Festival across the US. Slayer’s primarily older fanbase might not be as clued in to some newer (and older) bands that have been waving the flag and sharing the same values as Slayer. There are some obvious torchbearers like Lamb of God and contemporaries like Exodus, but I view it as my responsibility to expose the under-appreciated and not tell you about bands you already know.
The Haunted made a big splash right away with their self-titled 1998 debut as the membership included three fifths of the then-defunct At The Gates. Right out of the box, The Haunted embodied the thrashiest version of Slayer while still maintaining some signature Gothenburg melody. Throughout their career, there have been several line-up changes and stylistic experimentations— from their streamlined and frenetic debut with vocalist Peter Dolving, to almost teetering on death metal with replacement screamer Marco Aro on 2003’s One Kill Wonder. Dolving later returned, and the band ventured into moody, blues-rock with underrated albums like Dead Eye (2006). Recently, The Haunted have kept things together by releasing the impressive Exit Wounds in 2014. This marked a return to their speedier, heavier sound, and reunited the group with Marco Aro and original drummer Adrian Erlandsson.
Battlecross are what I would describe as a throwback metal band, in that they maintain many traditionalist heavy metal characteristics: precise and intricate riffing that keeps things whiplashing and thrashing without losing the epic melody that classic metal is known for. The band made their mark with the track “Push Pull Destroy,” which earned a boatload of spins on Sirius/XM’s Liquid Metal and 1.8 million views on Youtube in 2012. The best thing about Battlecross is their live show. They are road warriors who never seem to stop touring. I guarantee you will have a sore neck because of the incredible intensity they bring to their performances. Some Slayer fans might not be into the screaming vocals, but you cannot deny the legitimacy of Battlecross’ approach. Their new album, Rise To Power, is set for release August 21st, 2015.
Death Angel are not a new band by any metric. The band infamously broke up after a devastating bus accident that forced them to drop off the 1990 “Clash of the Titans” tour featuring Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax. After a 14 year gap between albums, the band returned with 2004’s Art Of Dying. Previously not being exposed to the band, I had the fortune to tour with them in 2008 and couldn’t believe how incredible they were. Death Angel were really the forgotten stars of the original thrash metal scene. Each subsequent release just keeps getting better and better, and I would count them as one of the best live metal bands in the world. So if you were like me, and missed them the first time around, do not miss Death Angel on the second go around. Don’t call it a comeback.
Extinction A.D. have risen from the ashes of hardcore band This Is Hell. They started their thrash-y leanings near the end of their old band, and decided to start fresh because the sound was so much different. I should make it a point not to lump Extinction A.D. in with the re-thrash trend of a few years ago. This band is not just a pure retread of nostalgia with Suicidal brims pointed permanently to the sky. Their forthcoming album Faithkiller, set to be released August 21st, reminds me of a blend of early ’90s Slayer and Sepultura filtered through a prism of Kill ’Em All. Check out Extinction A.D. if you’re in the mood for groovy thrash that explodes with modern energy.
Poland’s Vader would certainly be in the death metal hall of fame if one existed. With a career spanning over 20 years, 10 albums, and over 20 band member changes including two deaths, Vader are true survivors. They are the godfather to notable Polish death metal titans Decapitated and Behemoth. I had the fortune to play a show with them in 1998, and they were an extremely impressive live act. Vader is really the brain child of guitarist and vocalist Piotr “Peter” Wiwczarek, as he is the only original member. Although they are known primarily as a brutal death metal band, their latest release, Tibi Et Igni (2014), boasts a much groovier and thrash-oriented sound a la Slayer.
I don’t think you can get more thrash than Havok. These dudes live and breathe this style of music. Although they emerged during the re-thrash frenzy, what I like about Havok is they represent the Overkill and Exodus side of the coin more so than DRI or Suicidal Tendencies wing of thrash. It’s more metal, less punk. If you are looking for a band that gives you the feel of classic thrash, but isn’t tongue-in-cheek or ironically engaging in heavy metal cosplay, then Havok will be right up your alley. I can’t wait to see what’s next from these guys. Their last album, Unnatural Selection (2013), was released on Candlelight records.
Gojira does not sound like Slayer, but I saw them open up for Slayer at the theater at Madison Square Garden in 2013, and one could argue that Gojira went over better than the headliners. Even those in attendance who weren’t previously familiar with Gojira couldn’t help but be swept up in the power of this transcendent band. They are undoubtedly one of the most important bands in metal at the moment. Like Slayer, they do something completely defined by their own identity. Their heaviness and integrity is without question, but there is also an expansive, accessible quality that has pegged Gojira as the next “big thing” in heavy music. I could describe them as Morbid Angel meets Candiria groove with a knack for atmosphere and Devin Townsend on vocals, but that is a disservice: they are just Gojira.
Swedish black metal outfit Watain appeared on my radar around 2010. There seemed to be a lull after mainstream black metal bands like Cradle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir, and Satyricon had experienced their peak in the limelight. Unlike those bands, Watain avoided symphonic sterility, and kept their black metal intense, raw, and vile, but still displayed a knack for songwriting and musicianship. Watain achieved infamy for their brazen Satanic allegiance, going as far to cover themselves in real pig’s blood and furnish the stage in rotting animal carcasses during live shows. Watain’s affinity for the occult and authentic danger keeps a lineage in extreme metal going all the way back to Black Sabbath to Venom to Slayer. Bands like them were built to make parents worry about what their kids were listening to. Watain is the real deal.
Few in the heavy metal world have quite a storied and prolific career as Max Cavalera. In fact, if you aren’t paying attention, you may miss out on all of the records he releases with his various bands. Cavalera Conspiracy was formed as an outlet to reunite Max with his brother and former Sepultura drummer, Igor Cavalera. Their debut, Inflikted (2007), also featured Soulfly lead guitarist Marc Rizzo, and Gojira frontman Joe Duplantier on bass. Although the two most recent Cavalera Conspiracy records have not moved me in quite the same way, I would count Inflikted as a more inspired and effective album than either Sepultura or Soulfly has created in the time since Max quit Sepultura in 1996. It reprised the speed and aggression that hearkened back to records like Beneath The Remains and Arise. In short, it’s a modern classic.
I discovered Darkane in 1999 when I stumbled across their debut, Rusted Angel, in a record store due to its amazing album artwork. I noticed Daniel Bergstrand who also produced favorites of mine like Meshuggah and Strapping Young Lad, had helmed the album. I bought it without hearing a note, and was absolutely blown away. If you are a fan of melodic Swedish death metal, but are disappointed bands like Soilwork and In Flames have lost their ferocity, Darkane are for you. The key calling cards of the band are speed and technicality with a flair for bombastic orchestration. Thankfully, their original (and best, in my opinion) singer, Lawrence Mackrory, returned for their excellent 2013 album, The Sinister Supremacy. Darkane is criminally under-exposed and under-appreciated. Dig in!