-By Doc Coyle
After the release of my Top 15 Bands, Young and Old, You Should Be Listening To In 2015 list, the positive and negative fallout was overwhelming. Some readers were angry because the list was not metal enough (admittedly), and some felt wronged by several overt snubs. Although I have this platform, I am not an all-knowing metal super genius. So, I asked commenters and readers to send me the names of deserving bands that I should check out. I listened to damn near everything that people mentioned, and there is some great stuff out there. Throughout social media, people were sending me really cool bands that I didn’t know existed. There were also a few bands that deserved attention and just barely missed the cut on the previous list. Based on discovering all of this great talent, it seemed appropriate to make a new list: this time focusing on under-the-radar music and under-appreciated veterans.
I hate to do a couple disclaimers, but it seems appropriate. The numbers are irrelevant. Just because I have band listed #1, does not mean they are the best. I am just listing them as I think of them. Also, there are probably a thousand bands that “deserve” to be mentioned, but keep in mind this list is filtered through the prism of my personal taste. It could not be a more subjective process informed by my inherent biases and preferences. As Charles Barkley once humbly stated,” We aren’t experts. We are analysts. Only God is an expert.” If only I wasn’t an agnostic…
1. Ne Obliviscaris
Ne Obliviscaris appeared on my radar recently when I stumbled across the overwhelmingly successful crowdfunding campaign achieved by the Australian Progressive Death Metal band that was completely unknown to me beforehand. They raised over $80K for a world tour. I considered them for the previous Top 15 list, but I just wasn’t familiar enough. They were probably the band people most enthusiastically suggested I check out. In the wake of the global success of versatile Death-Proggers like Opeth, Between the Buried and Me, and Enslaved, Ne Obliviscaris seem poised to be a leader in this current landscape. One element that sets them apart from the pack is that the band features a violinist, which gives their music refined depth and elegance.
2. Ghost Ship Octavius
Most people reading this probably have not heard of Ghost Ship Octavius as they are a brand new band. I have to be transparent and confess that GSO mastermind, lead guitarist and songwriter is Matt Wicklund, formerly of God Forbid and Himsa. Despite my connection to Matt, I can say this is the best work of his career. It’s difficult to listen to their album and not hear the sonic connection to Nevermore, considering GSO has the same drummer as Nevermore, Van Williams, and Wicklund is a fellow Seattleite who also previously played with Nevermore frontman, Warrel Dane’s solo band. The true revelation is teenage vocal phenom, Adon Fanion, who has the talent to be the “Ripper” Owens of his generation. Be sure to check out there forthcoming self-titled release, which a refreshingly classic take on modern Heavy Metal.
I would put Byzantine in the category of tragically underrated and underexposed. They made their first splash as latecomer in The New Wave of American Heavy Metal’s heyday in the mid 2000’s, releasing several albums on Prosthetic Records. Although they had the math-y technical heft and undeniable groove not dissimilar of a band like Lamb of God, they still maintained their own identity that was as effectual as it was definitively American. Despite breaking up for a couple years, Byzantine delivered a very strong album, To Release is to Resolve, in 2015. If you are looking for non-derivative new metal music that keeps the NWOAHM sound alive and thriving, Byzantine is it.
4. Code Orange
The band members were all high school age when they signed their record deal and recently dropped the “Kids” from their original moniker, Code Orange Kids. If I had one word to describe Code Orange, it would be: intriguing. Frank Palmeri from the band, Emmure, put them on my radar. They are NOT a metal band. They are a dirty, noisy Punk inspired Hardcore band. I have to emphasize how fucking heavy this band is. They are heavy in a way that is almost scary, maybe because they are so young. It seems that to have a sound and corresponding imagery that’s so dark and devoid of contrivances, that there must be some real life trauma or neglect beneath the surface. If you aren’t convinced by the video below of “I Am King”, then I don’t know what to tell you. Code Orange is for real.
5. The Agonist
Sometimes, your greatest opportunities are buried within stark moments of misfortune. The Agonist losing their wildly charismatic and talented front-woman, Alissa White-Gluz, to Heavy Metal royalty, Arch Enemy, would seem like a blow impossible to recover from. Whether it was perseverance or blind luck, the band found a more than qualified replacement with Vicky Psarakis. In the midst of the shake up, The Agonist appear to have hit their stride creatively with 2015’s Eye of Providence, which shows a tighter approach to songcraft and hooks, while still knowing when to unleash their studied musicianship. This band is on the rise.
6. Lost Society
I am not a big fan of the Re-Thrash trend that emerged near the end of the 2000’s. I used to think Municipal Waste was the best of the bunch, but I may have to personally crown Finland’s Lost Society as the new King of the Re-Thrash hill. We’ve heard many of these Thrash tropes before, but for whatever reason, it feels so fresh and alive when Lost Society retreads and reinvents common ground. They sound like a Kill ‘Em All era Metallica who never ventured from their roots and just got more pissed and technically spectacular. It’s no surprise they are Finnish because there is plenty Children of Bodom influence on the vocal swagger and bombastic, impressive, shredding leads. This band is fun as hell, and they believe in what they are doing 100%. I also have to give kudos to the lead singer’s shitty 8th grade mustache. Beautiful.
7. Caligula’s Horse
These fucking Australians; there must be something in the water. Aussieland is the current breeding ground for masterful Progressive Rock and Metal. Caligula’s Horse are another brilliant outfit following in the footsteps of The Butterfly Effect, Karnivool, Twelve Foot Ninja, Dead Letter Circus, and the aforementioned Ne Obliviscaris. I really can’t get enough of this style. Thankfully, these bands don’t fall into the common trappings of Djent that may ultimately date the sound. My favorite thing about Caligula’s Horse is how sensitive their music is. It almost ventures into Easy Listening at points, and you can tell that these are trained musicians who cleverly zig when you think they are going to zag. I am so glad I found this band.
I am listing these bands together because I feel like they are in the same boat in their respective careers. They are both traditionalist with a foot firmly planted in Thrash, but diverse enough to play with melody and venture into Prog, Death Metal, and Groove Metal. If you are looking for bands that are not susceptible to trendiness, and hold true to the values of old school Heavy Metal, Sylosis and Revocation are proudly waving that flag. The skill and execution of each band is awe-inspiring and they are also inspiring to the next generation of young players. Unfortunately, despite having loyal niche followings, it seems like both groups still do not get the attention they deserve. It’s probably because they aren’t doing what is considered “hot” right now, or don’t have attention grabbing imagery.
10. Twitching Tongues
I was made aware of Twitching Tongues by one of the VH1.com commenters. These guys aren’t really a metal band, but they aren’t really a hardcore band either. It’s not my usual vibe, but when I first checked out some of the tracks, I felt like I was in a time machine that transported me to the mid 90’s in the underground Northeast US crossover scene that was even before my time. The sludgy stomp riffs and unique vocal approach remind me of bands like Life of Agony, Only Living Witness, and Carnivore. That sound didn’t really last too long after that snapshot in time. They are analog and rough around the edges. What I can say is that Twitching Tongues are doing something very genuine, absurdly heavy, and more importantly, interesting.
I am late to the game with Septicflesh, as their career spans over 20 years. I heard their 2014 release, Titan, and knew something really cool was happening in the world of the extreme. Some of the cinematic orchestration has a symphonic Black Metal tinge to it, but the band they most remind me of is Nile. Although, I find Septicflesh to be more straight forward and tuneful than Nile, which is a bit more up my alley. I could make other comparisons to Morbid Angel or Behemoth, but that would be a disservice as the Greek unit has really made their own mark with a tonality that would provide a great soundtrack to a war march. It’s bands like this that keep Death Metal fascinating and push the genre into new territories. I look forward to enjoying intensity of their live show at some point.
12. 36 Crazyfists
36 Crazyfists have always been a polarizing band. They were signed to Roadrunner Records on the tail end of the Nu-Metal explosion, and had a sound that probably sat somewhere in between Post-Hardcore, Screamo, and Metalcore, but they ended up touring with more pure Metal bands like Machine Head. They never really fit in with one particular scene, but built a nice hardcore group of followers, especially in Europe and the UK. Things have been quiet with the band since 2011, but they have returned with a full time touring schedule to support their new LP, Time and Trauma. They give their all at live shows in order to make a connection with the audience. In my view. 36 Crazyfists have always been defined by their heart. Vulnerability and Metal usually don’t mix, but this band should be appreciated.
13. Bloodshot Dawn
I am a self-professed non-Death Metal aficionado. I don’t even know what counts as being Death Metal these days to point where I can imagine that if Carcass put out Heartwork or Death released Sound of Perseverance today, they might be labeled “Metalcore f-gs”, or something equally repugnant. All of my Metal media and blogger buddies will rave on about band X or Y. Usually, I find the bands to be objectively very good, but I just don’t feel it. Bloodshot Dawn are what I consider to be Death Metal that I can feel. It’s got attitude and all of the musical prowess to hang with the times. I am new to Bloodshot Dawn, but I can say that the United Kingdom has talent abound throughout its metal scene. Check out the Demons LP. You will not regret it.
Sweden’s Despite have several familiar characteristics in keeping with the Nordic groove of bands like Mnemic and Hatesphere. Just when they seem predictable, their songs will take an unexpected turn for the better. I am a bit of glutton for the style, and am helpless when it’s done well. This is a young band, but I see a lot of potential to take that next step to notoriety. I particularly enjoy their new single, “Chaos Trigger.” I really hope the band stays on this path of progress.
It’s fucking Crowbar. If you don’t know about Crowbar, it’s time to go to school. Frontman and riff lord, Kirk Windstein, is a legend in his own right, and he left a much more lucrative situation in supergroup, Down, to reform his original group to release their first album in four years, Symmetry in Black. I don’t know if they invented it, but Crowbar certainly perfected down-tuned, New Orleans, sludgy-doom Metal. The instrumentation combined with Windstein’s tortured vocal delivery produced a one of a kind sound that influenced powerhouses like Pantera and Hatebreed. If you looked up the word “heavy” in the dictionary, would you see a picture of Crowbar? No. You would find the definition of the word “heavy”, which Crowbar fucking are. ‘Nuff said.
[Photo: Getty Images]