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OpEd

Too Much Is Never Enough: Technical Metal in 2009

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Band Photo: Opeth (?)

Earlier in the year Metal Underground presented its annual “Best Of” awards and with his finger always on the pulse, deathbringer mentioned a new dominance in metal leading us into 2009. Maybe you’ve noticed the extra acoustic interludes, the blazing shred solos, the disjointed poly-rhythms or maybe you haven’t - but either way a cloud of progressive influence has undoubtedly emerged over the metal scene. Not just in our minds here at MU, but in the minds of fans Opeth, Cynic, Meshuggah, Nachtmystium and Ihsahn stood out with impressive 2008 releases. Even more excitement and interest has been generated by collaborations between Ihsahn and Opeth, and 2009 hasn’t let up with Mastodon’s progressive opus “Crack The Skye” and Obscura’s “Cosmogenesis” leading the charge.

So what magic is at work here aside from great prog-metal releases? Larger bands such as the explosive power metal act DragonForce and progressive groovers Mastodon have played a large part in the uprising of the pursuit of extreme talent for more mainstream metal fans - opening legions of otherwise clueless greenhorns to the bar of instrumental ability. Old hands such as Deicide, Cannibal Corpse and numerous thrash acts have also not been untouched by the progressive aura and have regained the thirst for pushing technical boundaries - a truly founding ideal of metal if ever there was one. Another force at play here is the power the internet has had in exposing technical freak shows like Necrophagist as well as many young tech-metal heads being introduced to metal and fostered through 90s progressive acts such as Tool or Dream Theater. Not enough for you? Let’s take a little trip back in time then.

"Progress comes slowly - always met with a measure of ruthless resistance"
Watchtower, "Control And Resistance"


In the 1980s metal emerged as a genre more technically demanding and aggressive than any of its bluesy rock predecessors and towards the end of the decade popular thrash bands like Metallica, Kreator and Megadeth began writing compositions fraught with complex riffs structures that exemplified progressive ideals. However, one small Texan band named Watchtower raised the bar for generations to come to both marvel at and spend their teenage years boarded up in practice rooms to best. Watchtower's 1989 technical metal opus "Control and Resistance" contained all of the hallmarks of technical and progressive we know now and still stands among the elite of musical shred fests.

It wasn't until 1993 however that saw a primal scream from the death metal genre in an explosion of talent which building from the inspiration brought on by thrash metal. Pestilence's "Spheres," Atheist's "Elements," Believer's "Dimensions," Demilich's "Nespithe," Gorguts' "The Erosion of Sanity," Cynic's "Focus," and genre spearhead Death's most technical album "Individual Thought Patterns" all surfaced in what was the heyday of technical metal.

As it would be, the scream of death metal acts would be a final one as a new wave emerged to wipe the slate clean. The early 90s were a time when grunge prospered and technical metal just didn’t sell enough albums for labels such as Roadrunner to support them properly. In the metal world, simpler visceral music was in with acts like Sepultura, Pantera and White Zombie leading the new sound. Bands chose to reject the self-indulgent wankery of 80s shred metal for forms of raw aggression and groove. The main thrash metal warriors of the 80s (arguably bar Slayer) all branched out into more commercial sounds with varying success and the flame of technicality was extinguished in the metal mind.

"We’re the carriers of a new anomaly; Fold, unfold. Bend, shift color."
Meshuggah, "Corridor Of Chameleons"


While many technical bands influenced the progressive micro-trend we see today, acts like Necrophagist, Opeth and Meshuggah in particular caused the sort of commotions that forced musicians to take notice.

Meshuggah is a band with that could have gripped a whole fan base with time-signatures alone. An almost complete paradigm shift from any other metal band before them aside from lost gems like Confessor, Meshuggah carved their own path into the face of metal with a mathematical devotion to industrial heavy grooves. Necrophagist, on the other hand, was the poster child for technical death metal. Technical simply does not describe the laser sharp, sterile and calculatory riffs intertwined with unmatched neoclassical fury of band mastermind Muhammed Suicmez. Lastly of course is Opeth, a band who epitomizes the progressive spirit. Matching brute with beauty and epic death metal with forlorn acoustics in a seamless display of song writing genius, Opeth have been reigning the progressive metal kingdom since the mid 90s.

The progressive power of Dream Theater has been another force bubbling up through the 90s to draw a raft of young fans into the more cerebral of metals subgenre pantheon. In fact, Dream Theater was one of the few bands to escape the curse of grunge and prosper with highly praised albums such as "Awake" and "Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory."

And so it seems the seed was planted - along with other juggernauts like Nile, Cryptopsy, Gorguts and Martyr the rising of influence of technical metal has been evident in the last few years with the unnatural popularity of new acts like Behold... The Arctopus.

"Cosmogenic cycles, universal dreams, the unseen essence, energies refreshed"
Mastodon, "Capillarian Crest"


So where to start with all the bands making waves today?

There are bands that praise the mighty Cynic (Alarum, The Faceless, Exivious, Textures) and like Opeth and Atheist freely include jazz influence in their music. A common influence on progressive metal, jazz is a genre renowned for technically superior drummers and bassists. For any readers wishing to dip into jazzy waters, Allan Holdsworth is a widely hailed guitarist whose influence extends deep into bands like Meshuggah, Blotted Science, Cynic and many more.

There are the truly out-there bands for which metal is a safe haven to explore musical boundaries. Ephel Duath has long been the figurehead in avant-garde technical metal (trumpets and all), and Braindrill is a band quickly rising to DragonForce-like infamy with anything resembling normal riffs becoming second fiddle to maniacal tapping and sweep picking. Psycroptic, Behold... The Arctopus, Dysrythmia and Psyopus are also worth a listen for the open minded adventurer.

Those who air on the progressive side will probably already know of the mastery of Symphony X and Dream Theater, but bands like Twisted Into Form, Liquid Tension Experiment and Zero Hour are also worth a listen. In particular, Norwegian band Spiral Architect springs to mind as contender for "Most Insanely Technical Prog," taking the blueprint Fates Warning laid down in the 80s and taking it to new extremes.

In black metal, Emperor is the stand out with "Prometheus - The Discipline of Fire & Demise" being nothing short of a masterpiece. Ihsahn's solo work is more than worth checking out, and bands like Borknagar, Arcturus, Direwolf are also highly recommended. With only a demo to their name but a large amount of hype, Aussie metallers Ne Obliviscaris also garner a mention, if not least for their drummer crowned “Fastest Feet In Australia.”

Fans of Meshuggah might also want to check out guitarist partially self titled side project Fredrik Thordendal's Special Defects, or similar bands like Theory In Practise and Coprofago. Of course, we can't forget the strong undercurrent in today’s metalcore and hardcore scene either. Bands such as Between The Buried And Me, Textures, The Dillenger Escape Plan and Protest the Hero have helped the idea of technical ability being something to strive for settle into the mindset of younger and non-metal fans.

As a full circle, guitarist Ron Jarzombek from the aforementioned seminal metal band Watchtower is still shredding on the sharp side of the technical metal blade alongside Mr "Hammer Smashed Bass" Alex Webster in the form of Blotted Science. One of many bands to rise up in '08 as technical metal titans, fans new to Jarzombek's handy-work should check out Blotted Science's predecessor, Spastic Ink - some of the most technically demanding musicianship to be laid down in metal without question.

"Always in motion, circling a notion (of fixed unchangeability), truth itself untrue to those who stop to think, fluently fluid, subjectively in sync"
Spiral Architect, "Adaptability"


And so we can see, it is quite curious that the influence of progressive metal has permeated into many corners of the metal kingdom. The old guard are also enjoying a new found popularity, one much more open minded to progressive philosophies than the past. In the near future Cynic, Atheist, Believer, and Pestilence will have all produced new music to meet a new era of fans. A band like Cynic who were once misunderstood and had a tough time while touring with Cannibal Corpse are now after 15 years, being properly rewarded for the youth they sacrificed to their instruments - enjoy it while you can prog nuts, and make sure to support the great new bands time has fostered.

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34 Comments on "Too Much Is Never Enough: Technical Metal in 2009"

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Anonymous Reader
1. Peter writes:

Truly excellent article! In my never-ending quest to find new bands and strivingly more original forms of rock and metal, I was drawn to technical death metal through a love of Meshuggah, Death and Between the Buried and Me. Now, thanks to this article, I have a sh**-ton of (I'm sure) equally if not more impressive tech-metal bands to check out. As a drummer I'll certainly be running the rule over Ne Obliviscaris, and I'm sure with releases by Mastodon and Necrophagist and many others, this is going to be a huge year for technical metal in 2009!

# Mar 31, 2009 @ 9:01 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
utoad9's avatar

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2. utoad9 writes:

Great article. The history was spot-on.

# Mar 31, 2009 @ 9:08 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
DeathInEye's avatar

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3. DeathInEye writes:

I've got a lot of bands to check out here. I've heard about 50% though and of those I love about 30% so....

# Mar 31, 2009 @ 10:48 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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4. americanpatriot1 writes:

Good article dude.

NP: Sepultura= Meaningless Movements

# Mar 31, 2009 @ 12:06 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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5. LordAssenfroth writes:

oh do i love prog <;3

# Mar 31, 2009 @ 12:30 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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6. Fuck_A_Name writes:

Honestly...I wish it was possible that you culd have written a piece like this a LOOONG time ago, so that I could have found half these bands twice as quickly, instead of my sordid journey of death and misfortune through the world of metal.

However, I understand that isnt possible, considering the topic is just now becoming fully realized lol.

To anyone who reads this article, I highly reccomend Brain Drill, Blotted Science, Spastic Ink, Spiral Architect, and the Faceless to anyone who hasnt noticed them yet. The rest of the bands...if you dont know who they are...shame on you for not having good taste in prog haha

Now Playing: Meshuggah- aztec two Step

# Mar 31, 2009 @ 12:36 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
7. DeathRich writes:

I'll be the token hater here. Tech metal = dull wankery, Prog metal = even duller wankery.

Have fun!

# Mar 31, 2009 @ 10:05 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
psythe's avatar

Writer, Reviewer

8. psythe writes:

"shame on you for not having good taste in prog" - This is pretty much the motto of my life lol. What do you MEAN you havn't heard of Oceansize??! Dysrythmia?!! Synthetic Breed!?? Psyopus!!? Psycroptic AT LEAST!?!?! hahah... I have a LOT of trouble talking good metal with anyone anywhere - except on MU :)

# Mar 31, 2009 @ 11:43 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
deathbringer's avatar

Founder, owner & programmer

9. deathbringer writes:

I'm glad you all enjoyed Cynic's article. The knowledge of metal that he and a number of our contributors has is quite amazing and humbling. I've been doing this for a long time and between posting thousands of news stories about thousands of bands as well as my wide tastes I know a lot about metal. But I'm still happy to get a history lesson and recommendations on genres I was not into back in the day as well as bands past and present.

# Apr 1, 2009 @ 10:41 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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10. That_One_Guy writes:

Excellent article. I'll have to check out Watchtower and Spiral Architect sometime!

# Apr 1, 2009 @ 11:58 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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11. IWrestledABearOnce writes:

^ yes, yes you will TOG lol

# Apr 2, 2009 @ 1:57 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
12. Beck writes:

the new mastodon album landed at 11 on the billboard charts!!!! Metal is Back

# Apr 2, 2009 @ 6:23 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
13. ServantOfTheNight writes:

good article, though no mention of Origin or Arsis :(

# Apr 2, 2009 @ 9:05 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
14. ServantOfTheNight writes:

oh and Spawn of Possession, Deeds of Flesh, Cattle Decapitation, Beneath The Massacre, Neuraxis, Paria and Severed Savior

# Apr 2, 2009 @ 9:19 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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15. Fuck_A_Name writes:

Or gojira, or Sol Asunder, or Cephalic Carnage, or Car bomb, or....he cant mention EVERYBODY now.

Though Origin and Arsis are pretty important right now I think. Thats what the comment section is for. Anything the article doesnt mention can be thrown in for extra goodies in here by people like us who know a bit more on the genre ourselves.

So anybody even more interested in the topic, just got 13 new bands to check out on top of the dozens mentioned in the article. Hooray for that person. :P

Now Playing: Gojira- Oroborus

# Apr 2, 2009 @ 9:42 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
16. ServantOfTheNight writes:

yeah , i was pretty much just throwing some names out there. alchohol and posting comments sometimes dont mix.

# Apr 2, 2009 @ 9:47 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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17. Fuck_A_Name writes:

you can mix anything with alcohol imo, but that's just me.

Personally, I love getting on this site just after I get home sh**-faced, and then waking up the next morning to see what nonsense I just spewed. It's good fun.

# Apr 2, 2009 @ 10:07 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
deathbringer's avatar

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18. deathbringer writes:

LOL. nice.

# Apr 2, 2009 @ 10:25 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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19. That_One_Guy writes:

Of course you cant list every band... but its a good sampling.

# Apr 3, 2009 @ 12:42 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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20. IWrestledABearOnce writes:

Mastodon should be at number 1 FOR LIFE! haha, but seriously. There new album was AMAZING! Check it out if you haven't yet!

# Apr 3, 2009 @ 2:30 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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21. ChassMasterPlus writes:

dude, i STILL havent heard the new mastodon album.....leviathan made me a true beleiver in them. and i gatta be honest, not a huge fan of dragonforce. if ur ganna go balls out enough listen to music that has lyrics about slaying dragons and meeting wisards and all that wacky sh**, why listen to dragonforce when u can just turn on a rhapsody album? its like eating purina when u can have fancy feast.

P.S. BLAAAAAACK DRAAAAAGON FLYYYYYYYYYYYY HIIIIIIGH!!!

# Apr 7, 2009 @ 2:34 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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22. Blindgreed1 writes:

Exelent job Cynic. \m/\m/!!!

# Apr 7, 2009 @ 4:14 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
23. That one guy writes:

Just bought in absentia by porcupine tree... these guys are phenomenal!

# Apr 7, 2009 @ 5:22 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
24. Kat writes:

I've got to say thanks for this article. I've been wanting to get more in to prog and this has lots of reccomendations. Great job on it! \m/

# Apr 7, 2009 @ 11:36 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
25. Synne.R writes:

I get to see The Faceless, Neuraxis and Obscura at the end of this month, on their tour with CC!
So excited :D
And props to the writer of this article!

# Apr 8, 2009 @ 4:53 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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26. Gunface138 writes:

Fan-f***ing-tastic. Outstanding article, Cynic, and thanks much for all the band recommendations. Good to see I'm not the only one who appreciates bands like Psyopus and Origin nowadays. Stay metal, brothers and sisters! \m/

# Apr 13, 2009 @ 5:17 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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27. btbamfav20 writes:

f***, i have to go to work, so i bookmarked this page, and am going to look up all the bands u've listed that i haven't heard of yet! (bout 1/3)

Now listening to: Walk Alone - God Forbid

# Apr 13, 2009 @ 8:29 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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28. americanpatriot1 writes:

I know there are a ton, but as far as old school, you missed Confessor.

NP: Iron Maiden= Face In The Sand

# Apr 13, 2009 @ 2:15 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
29. kyle writes:

you forgot about obscura

# Apr 14, 2009 @ 11:11 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Cynic's avatar

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30. Cynic writes:

Hi everyone, thanks very much for reading the article - As far as Confessor (a favourite of mine) and Obscura, both were actually mentioned in the article (search the page if you don't believe me!)

Hi ServantOfTheNight, yes those are all valid bands I could have mentioned - perhaps I should have mentioned Origin... but in anycase, I tried not to get too in depth into the tech-death realm since there are so many technical bands in that direction. In fact, the line between a tech-death band and a death metal band these days is getting thinner, so I thought I'd stick to the stars.

# Apr 14, 2009 @ 3:57 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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31. Blindgreed1 writes:

Excellent read Cynic. \m/\m/!!!

# Apr 14, 2009 @ 3:59 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Cynic's avatar

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32. Cynic writes:

Cheers BG!

# Apr 14, 2009 @ 7:33 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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33. BitterPeace writes:

How the hell did I miss this article? This is one of the best articles I've ever read about prog metal in general. I can't believe Porcupine Tree wasn't mentioned in the prog section, but kudos to the Allan Holdsworth mention! So I'll take this time to add to the article: Porcupine Tree, Katatonia are both musts if you like Opeth. If you want to explore some truly f***ing awesome weird jazz and jazz fusion, check out Miles Davis' "b****es Brew" album, and "Inner Mounting Flame" by Mahavishnu Orchestra! Thank you so much for posting this article!

# Apr 17, 2009 @ 2:48 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
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34. Netromancer writes:

Yeah, Mahavishnu Orchestra is awesome. Anything featuring John McLaughlin is pretty damn good actually. I have to list Mr. Bungle among many of the bands we are talking about here. Bill Laswell's Praxis is pretty interesting as well. "Transmutation (Mutatis Mutandis)" is a good place to start with them. Being a Bootsy Collins fan I latched onto them right away. However, if you arent a fan of quirky, eclectic music you might not be able to appreciate it. It's good that bands like these and the ones Cynic listed push the boundaries of metal and music in general.

And of course, great article, Cynic. I always enjoy your writing on this site, and it's nice to get to read something "official". Keep it coming, Bro.

# Apr 17, 2009 @ 3:09 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address

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