Unearthing The Metal Underground: Bands That Drastically Change Sound Or Style
The overall realm of metal is an incredibly expansive and diverse place, with many different styles and sub-genres all vying for your attention. To help our readers navigate the metallic landscape we unearth three underground or unsigned metal bands every Monday that deserve to be heard.
Awhile back we covered bands that combine different genres or simply ignore genre trends, and on a similar note this week we’re uncovering three bands that drastically changed either sound or lyrical theme from the early works to their modern releases. There are plenty of more well-known (in the extreme metal community anyway) acts that have gone through such a transformation: Samael’s change from black metal to electronica, Katatonia’s move from harsh growls to a cleaner rock sound, Amorphis switching gears with “Am Universum,” Ulver changing things up on pretty much every album, and so on. Instead of rehashing those bigger names that everyone knows about, instead we’ll cover three lesser known acts that have essentially become different bands over time.
Ereb Altor’s underground days are very quickly waning, with the band now releasing new album “Gastrike” through Napalm Records, but there was a time not long ago when nobody knew about Ereb Altor, and it is a side project of an already unknown band, so we’re going to slip this one in here.
The Swedish duo’s debut album “By Honour” (reviewed here) definitely wanted its audience to take the scenic route and enjoy the ride, with slow moving, Viking-style doom metal that took some clear cues from Bathory. Things started to change a bit and the songs become shorter on the follow-up release “The End,” which as the title suggests, was intended to be the demise of the project. Ereb Altor just wouldn’t die however, and now with third album “Gastrike” (review coming soon) the band has radically shifted gears into mid-paced black metal, with only a few underlying doom and Viking metal moments.
To hear the change, check the title track “By Honour” below, and then listen to either of the two songs from “Gastrike.” With the exception of the atmospheric intros, we’re dealing with two completely different genres between these songs.
“The Gathering of Witches”
I grew up in a very religious home that was not friendly towards metal at all, so I couldn’t believe my insane random luck when I spotted the “Mesmerize” EP by Extol one afternoon at the local Christian book store some 12 years back. At first I was sure someone was messing with me or the case had been shelved by mistake, as that cover was definitely unlike anything else in the surrounding racks of CDs. I kept waiting for the clerk to tell me this wasn’t an album they sold and promptly report me to the nearest religious authority that had grounding power. As I handed over a wad of bills (anybody remember that time when you still had to pay money to physically own an album?) I was already formulating in my head the quickest way to exclaim, “But I bought it at the Christian store!” when my parents inevitably noticed the artwork.
Extol started out as a sort of death/black hybrid that was actually pretty forward thinking for its time (even using the occasional clean singing), and then morphed into an alt rock-meets-metalcore sound on final album “The Blueprint Dives.” Perhaps not surprisingly, the band members moved onto a different project called Mantric to explore that sound and continue with the less extreme side of things after Extol called it quits.
Hear the change that occurred in the band by listening to “Reflections of a Broken Soul” off debut album “The Burial” in the player below, and then check out the two tracks from “The Blueprint Dives.” Even if religiously motivated music isn’t your thing (and it usually isn’t for me), I still recommend checking out some of the early Extol output just to see the interesting blend of sounds this band was playing with and perhaps broaden your musical horizon a bit.
“Reflections of a Broken Soul”
Of the three bands covered today, Vengeance Rising actually has the least noticeable shift in overall sound, as it instead went through a massive change in thematic direction. The group started off in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s as a Christian thrash act with such inventive and humorous song titles as “I Love Hating Evil.” Towards the end of the full-length output from the group, vocalist Roger Martinez renounced Christianity and apparently had a falling out with the other members. Martinez decided to keep the band going, while several other members went on to form the group Die Happy, as well as the later band Once Dead.
On the stylistic front, the thrashy guitars remained similar in style from the beginning up to the last album, although the vocals and tone did shift a bit, with the main change occurring in the move from a pro-Christian act to an explicitly anti-Christian band. (As an aside, this was interestingly later mirrored in reverse form by the band Ancient, which has dropped the themes of paganism and Satanism now that frontman Aphazel has converted to Christianity).
Unfortunately there hasn’t been any new material from Vengeance Rising in quite a long time, but hopefully something comes out of the whole fiasco. If disillusion with former religious beliefs and having friends turned to enemies isn’t proper inspiration for an extreme thrash album, then what is? (Politics of course, but there’s no reason that couldn’t be thrown in as well) For a more in-depth look at the role religion has played in heavy music, you can also check out our article on “The Unblackening of Metal” at this location.
“You Will Be Hated”
These are just three bands that have undergone drastic changes throughout their careers, and certainly there are many more that are worth hearing. Let us know what bands you like that have shifted gears and gone in new directions musically or lyrically in the comments below, and be sure to check back next week for our next “Unearthing the Metal Underground” entry.
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