It's a yearly tradition for metal bands, sometimes of the very extreme death/black variety, to pull out a few tongue-in-cheek Christmas covers around this time.
While most are just jokes or aren't pulled off with much effort, there have been a handful of legitimately awesome heavy metal Christmas albums released, and we're going to show you the ones worth hearing.
If you've got a significant other or family member who insists on Christmas music this time of year, these are the albums you want to pull out to really give them a shock!
Death Metal Christmas - "Hellish Renditions Of Christmas Classics"
Back in 2013, Hate Eternal bass maverick J.J. Hrubovcak released a twistedly unholy rendition of some of the seasons darkest hymns. The EP as a whole is a bit hit or miss, but that death metal rendition of "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" is absolutely killer. For all the hype this got at the time, it's a shame there's never been a follow-up release.
August Burns Red - "Sleddin' Hill"
While I'm not a huge August Burns Red fan personally, this Christmas album is absolutely phenomenal, and filled to the brim with metallic recreations of classic holiday tunes along with some originals. It's also instrumental, which is a plus, as the instrumentation here is top-notch and the band puts a heavy spin on these songs to a much better degree than many heavy metal Christmas albums that came before.
Every year in December we cover the best and worst of metal with a focus on recorded material and live releases, but what frequently gets lost in the shuffle is an integral part of all things metal: the artwork.
While the prominence of physical media that you actually handle and admire while listening to an album has faded with the advent of digital distribution, cover artwork remains a core and iconic part of the heavy music experience across all sub-genres.
From frozen occult black metal to the most over-the-top fantasy power metal, the artwork is the first thing people are going to notice, and the artists deserve more recognition than they typically get.
Our roundup of the most memorable art last year saw jaw-dropping pieces from the likes of Marco Hassman, Par Oloffson, and the increasingly prolific Seth Siro Anton. This year will feature a markedly contrasted lineup of artists and bands as we explore drastically different styles that all express thematic ideas in amazingly divergent ways.
Some art this year was memorable for more negative reasons. Freedom Call, Devildriver, Gojira, and Metallica in particular all had less-than-stellar or head-scratching cover artwork this time around. We'll (mostly) be skipping that sort of memorability below, and instead focusing on things that looked amazing or were too bizarre to ignore.
Alkerdeel – Lede
We have to start here with Alkerdeel's “Lede” cover crafted by Luchtrat, an artist I'd never heard of before who does a variety of graphic designing online. I seriously haven't been able to stop thinking about this cover all year long from the moment I first laid bewildered eyes upon it.
Is it a joke? Is it completely serious? Is it taking square aim at the sort of people who would wonder about the difference? It's both minimalist and somehow simultaneously complex. It's a childish idea presented very simply – a demon taking aim and farting – but also seems to be so much more. Is it a comment on the pointlessness and absurdity of life? Is it meant to be lighthearted or threatening? Are we supposed to be taking something away from the stripped down color scheme and the blank spaces between the lines?
I have no idea if this was even the intention, but this artist caused something of an existential crisis for me. I have to wonder if somewhere there's a farting demon currently laughing about that fact.
When I browse around for unsigned bands, it's hard to find one that I like. Mostly since most unsigned bands lack a record deal for a reason. It's that your band just plain sucks horses. There are exceptions and there are bands who never get a record deal who deserved one but most of the time, most bands just suck too much to ever go anywhere.
Here are the main reasons why I've hated nearly all unsigned music that I've listened to. More...
My biggest issue with metal in the 2010s is that in contrast to the past three decades, there's just a lack of creativity. Newer metalcore is being increasingly influenced by nu-metal and post-hardcore as the new musicians who are in their 20s and 30s are now playing music that's entirely an amalgam of what they grew up with as teens rather than creating anything new.
Blackgaze was novel for the first few years but now feels like the light beer version of black metal at this point that doesn't have the same edge that metal is supposed to have. I'm not sure if I want black metal to have a kinder, gentler, dare I say, “cuddlier” face when compared to the antisocial behavior that defined the second wave. When I hear a band like Alcest or Deafheaven, I don't feel like these are maniacs with serious mental issues precisely because it sounds way too calculated and professional for my aging ears.
Djent is nice but often feels too monotonous to really do justice to how technical it is. For, “progressive metal” the songwriting lacks the same level of unexpected changes in direction that make progressive rock acts like Rush and Yes so appealing. Yeah, Djent is heavy but it's also often predicable when unconventional songwriting is half of what separates metal and makes it so special and unique. Blackened sludge on the othe rhand is only going to appeal to people who want extremely raw production... who will never be great enough in number to establish a trend rather than a fad. More...
Death should be credited with creating death metal, at least the old school style we recognize now, as they birthed the infamous Tampa, Florida sound. Bands such as Autopsy and Obituary—two of the forerunners—would not exist without Death. Death is not the true father of death metal, though. That distinction goes to Possessed. The California Bay Area group not only played a style of brutal, vicious metal, with loads of Satanic imagery, they also coined the term “death metal” on the “Seven Churches” album.
Around 1985, albums similar to “Slowly We Rot” (Obituary) and “Mental Funeral” (Autopsy) simply did not exist. Thrash was the fasted, craziest music around. Of course Possessed has already been mentioned, but the influence of Slayer, who obviously influenced Possessed, can not be under recognized. Where Possessed was different was they used a rougher production. Dark Angel, whose drummer, Gene Hoglan, would go on to be one of the most heralded drummers in the metal biz, certainly showed a good dose of Slayer in their sound. In the beginning, Slayer was nothing more than a faster, nefarious, more solo-oriented Venom protégé. More...
Inspired by Oscuro's “...And Justice For Art” series, I decided to take a look back at some of the metal cover art from 2015 that has stuck with me into the new year.
With hundreds (thousands?) of metal releases every year, there's a ton of artwork that gets splashed across my screen on any given day. While some of it is godawful, for the most part heavy metal gets album artwork right and really creates moods and tones you don't get with the cover designs of other genres.
From Vincent Locke's infamous Cannibal Corpse watercolors to the many, many different cover pieces by Travis Smith, there's some truly iconic artwork in metal and a ton of ground covered in terms of styles and themes.
This past year we got some really great cover art in just about every sub-genre. Unfortunately sometimes killer album art does not mean there will be equally killer music inside, though. The one imbalance that stands out most for me this year was the Marco Hassman cover for Contrarian's “Polemic.”
That cover is jaw-dropping, but it's also intensely interesting in the details. I mean, that's a giant space marlin, and it's apparently engaged in battle with regular old non-organic, metal ships. Everything about that makes me want to hear the album in question. Unfortunately the music didn't grab me (the vocals in particular killed my enjoyment, and the instrumentation was pretty standard tech death), but the artwork unquestionably did its job here.
There are few things more pathetic than supporting a rich and successful public figure's mistakes. Out on the great, glorious internet, I've seen apologists for Mel Gibson, Brian Wood, even Martin Shkreli. So the amount of people defending Phil Anselmo - when he clearly doesn't need defending - is hardly shocking. It's just disappointing.
For those out of the loop, a visibly drunken Phil Anselmo recently closed out a charity benefit concert by shouting, “White power” after covering his former band's, “Walk.” More...
Every year our annual staff awards include a vote for the best new metal band to arrive with a debut full-length. To make the cut, these fresh young outfits have to blow us away and remind us why we love this genre to begin with.
There were a horde of bands nominated for the “best newcomer” category in 2015, and ultimately the title went to U.S. outfit Gruesome, who happened to be in my list of contender.
Since our focus is on helping metal fans find new bands, we're going to take a closer look at all the bands who were in contention for the award, starting with my personal top bands. Here's the 5 groups who just got started in 2015 that you should be getting into as the new year begins:
Fans of Obscura and Blotted Science got an unexpected treat this year when several members of prominent European metal bands came together to release a new album under the banner of Alkaloid. Totally forgoing the label route altogether, Alkaloid's debut self release features the talents of names such as Linus Klausenitzer, Hannes Grossmann, and Christian Münzner.
As might be expected by a band with that sort of pedigree, “The Malkuth Grimoire” is an absolute monster of a release (check out our review here). It's technical, it's progressive, it's melodic, and it's even a little gothic. The end result is some very top notch death metal with a sound you aren't going to hear elsewhere, and it absolutely demands a follow-up release!
You can follow Alkaloid at Facebook here and stream all of the stellar debut full-length album “The Malkuth Grimoire” below.
Three days ago, the musical world was devastated when one its greatest icons was taken after a short bout with cancer. Ian Fraser Kilmister, or as we all knew and loved him as, Lemmy, the lead singer and bassist of Motorhead, passed away on this day, a mere four days after celebrating his seventieth birthday in style, and only two days following his diagnosis. Though in the past two years or so, the man who was a specimen of masculinity had lost a lot of weight and looked very frail, Lemmy fought, and rocked to the very end of his life, and the world expected no less. He was many things to all; A hero, an inspiration, a legend, but above all, he was the embodiment of rock and roll.
Motorhead and Lemmy were always special to me personally. At the age of twelve, I'd begun moving away from the nu metal music I loved as I found the roots and legends of metal. After Black Sabbath, the next band I checked out was Motorhead. Having at the same time got into the punk sounds of the seventies, Motorhead were the ideal band. They were heavier than anyone else when they began, but also faster than many, if not all of their metal counterparts, earning them a place in the hearts of punk rockers too. I remember receiving their box set, "Stone Deaf Forever," reading Lemmy's excellent autobiography, "White Line Fever" throughout a family holiday and then, tickets to see the band at the legendary Hammersmith Apollo (formerly the Hammersmith Odeon.) This was my first concert and to this day, I feel proud that it was (my other choice was Def Leppard.) I went with two friends, Chris and Alex and we arrived early enough to queue up outside the doors, talk about what we were expecting, have a thirteen year old argument about something, then run over to the merch area before there was much of queue, all before heading into the performance area, which was sparsely populated for openers, Young Heart Attack but much busier for The Wildhearts. More...
With the king of music games about to make a triumphant return in less than two weeks, it seemed like a good time to take another look at the limited offerings available where video games collide with heavy metal.
For those who missed our previous three articles discussing various games with heavy metal soundtracks, be sure to go back and check 'em out (and let us know if you end up playing or re-playing any of these gems!):
Part 1: the amazing Brutal Legend, Saints Row III, Killing Floor 2, Pain Killer, and Guilty Gear X2 Reload
Part 2: Splatterhouse, Twisted Metal 2, The Witcher's bonus music disc, and Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost And The Damned.
Part 3 (the retro edition!): Rock And Roll Racing, Beavis And Butthead, F-Zero X, Earthbound, and Heavy Metal Geomatrix
There was this utterly glorious time where console gaming was flush with a stable lineup of music games and every weekend involved a bottle of something hard and your best friends making drunken fools of themselves in your living room till 2 AM. Typically your neighbors would not be amused, but fuck them because they don't like metal anyway.
Unfortunately that time died when Activision decided to flood the market with an absurd number of Guitar Hero entries and the era of the music game came to a sudden, crashing halt.
Obviously the Rock Band titles had plenty of rock tunes, but a handful of legitimate metal was also involved in the various incarnations and weekly DLC updates, adding in the likes of Emperor, Machine Head, and a whole lot more. Where things really took off was in the Rock Band Network, which let bands make their own tracks, seeing tons of underground groups add in their own music.
It was a truly sad day when Harmonix announced there would be no more DLC coming to Rock Band back in 2013, but an unexpected light at the end of the tunnel appeared just a few months ago. Back in March, Harmonix made a whole lot of fans happy by officially announcing Rock Band 4, which seemed like nothing more than a pipe dream up till that point.
Due out October 6, Rock Band 4's launch lineup of metal will include Dream Theater, Ozzy Osbourne, Scorpions, Baby Metal, System Of A Down, and more, with loads of metallic downloadable songs no doubt prepped and ready to drop each week.
Needless to say I'm greatly looking forward to it, except that unfortunately Guitar Hero is also returning. Maybe Activision can keep it in its pants this time around and not kill music gaming again by releasing six or so games a year.
A month back we idly asked why more video game developers aren't using heavy metal soundtracks, since gunning down enemies, conquering rival armies, and slicing apart demonic hordes seem like they should all be tailor fit to shredding guitars and harsh vocals.
We've been bombarded with suggestions from readers since then about games with solid metal or metal inspired soundtracks, and we'll be sharing those every few weeks – but don't stop letting us know about your favorites! Be sure to give us some suggestions below or over at Facebook.
The heavy metal gaming madness continues today, and this week we're going entirely retro, ranging from Super NES and Genesis to the PS1/N64/Dreamcast era, but advancing no further into the ever-increasing hardware specs of consoles.
If you missed our previous examinations of video games with heavy metal soundtracks be sure to check 'em out here:
Part 1: Brutal Legend, Saints Row III, Killing Floor 2, Pain Killer, and Guilty Gear X2 Reload
Part 2: Splatterhouse, Twisted Metal 2, The Witcher's bonus music disc, and Grand Theft Auto IV: The Lost And The Damned.
Without further ado, here's our tribute to all things metal in retro gaming history:
Rock and Roll Racing
This forgotten gem originally came out on SNES and Genesis, but was then later ported to the Game Boy Advance in 2003. For you folks who use emulators like ZSNES, this one is readily available on any given ROM site.
Featuring compressed, digitized versions (minus the vocals) of hard rock and metal songs in that distinctive Super NES quality, the soundtrack included songs like “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath and “Bad To The Bone” by George Thorogood. Like the classic Zombies Ate My Neighbors, in true old school style Rock And Roll Racing spat out a passcode to remember for returning to specific levels with all your car upgrades saved.
I have to wonder if some of the themes and imagery from these cars and tracks ended up as inspiration for the pinnacle of heavy metal video games – Brutal Legend – which featured its share of vehicle mayhem with heavy metal backing. A sequel to Rock And Roll Racing actually showed up for the Playstation a few years later titled Red Asphalt (named after those driver's ed videos meant to scare kids straight) with much updated sound quality. Seems like we're overdue for another one though – so game developers, get on it!
Two weeks back we asked a simple question: why isn't there more heavy metal in the video game world?
Our Facebook page blew up with gamers offering up their favorite titles with metallic soundtracks, and we took a closer look at several worth your time. In that post still available here if you didn't read it, we looked at the king of heavy metal video games – Brutal Legend – as well as Saint's Row The Third, Killing Floor 2, Painkiller, and Guilty Gear X2 Reload.
After that post went online, Zynthetic – responsible for much of the music in Killing Floor and Killing Floor 2 – wrote up an article attempting to answer the question of why more metal doesn't show up in video games since they seem like a perfect and obvious match.
For his take on the lack of metal in gaming, including the difficulties in licensing existing music and the lack of metallic knowledge among composers, read the full article right here.
Since we love gaming and we love metal, it seemed like a good idea to keep checking in every so often with new entries that combine the two, and this week we'll cover four more solid games filled to the brim with extreme metal. Don't see your favorite game listed? Don't worry, we'll cover more in the future, but be sure to still give us your picks in the comments below.
Five years ago a reboot of the '88 arcade game Splatterhouse hit consoles, and it was very much notable for the inclusion of an all-metal soundtrack featuring the likes of Lamb of God, Mastodon, Municipal Waste, Cavalera Conspiracy, and Goatwhore.
As the name would suggest, it's filled with buckets of blood and guts, and the action-oriented beat 'em up style is somewhat similar to Dante's Inferno/God Of war/etc. The frantic combat will see your character Rick frequently losing limbs and more, but that's not a problem because they grow back – and hey, you can pick up the severed appendages of your foes to continue beating them down!
This one's filled to the brim with all sorts of horror goodies (and ridiculousness) like time travel, cosmic horror deities, and plenty of nods to Lovecraft with names like “Dr. West” and places called “Arkham.” Someone helpfully put all the songs from the soundtrack together into one playlist at YouTube here, and you can check out a game trailer below:
Considering the huge potential for crossover between metal and gaming fans, it's always baffled me that there aren't more heavy metal focused video game soundtracks. Rather than going for sounds that make the player bang their heads and launch their controller through the television, most games – even highly action focused ones – tend to stick with more tepid ambient soundtracks based on electronica. Techno is about as “heavy” as most game soundtracks tend to get.
This week we're going to take a look at a handful of games that buck that trend and offer up honest-to-Lucifer extreme metal in their playlists. Not an exhaustive list (and we'll be looking at more in the future), this is just a few that are worth your time and are notable for their inclusion of tracks from excellent metal bands or for having original soundtracks rooted strongly in the metal tradition.
This one's a no-brainer, as it's essentially THE heavy metal video game, created solely to celebrate our beloved genre. Eddie may be a lowly roadie, but through the power of metal (and a battleax, wicked car, and some magic powers) he can annihilate the goths, please the gods, and get the girl (or two).
Although it seems like a gimmick to get heavy music fans interested, the gameplay is actually really solid and revolves around three different styles: strategy large-scale combat as a general over an army, open world GTA car driving shenanigans, and elements of combat-heavy action games like God of War or Dante's Inferno
The game features more than 100 metal tracks (some of which have to be unlocked in-game) covering a huge range of sub-genres with everything from In Flames to Cradle Of Filth, along with a whole lot of classics from the likes of Motorhead and Judas Priest.
Forty five years ago this day (Friday and everything,) a debut album was released that, unbeknownst to practically everyone at the time, would change music forever. Though it would be dismissed quite harshly at the time by critics, Lester Bangs being perhaps the most famous journalist to slam the album, calling it amongst other things, "... just like Cream! But worse," it would go on to become one of the most acclaimed, and many agree first, heavy metal album in history. If you haven't figured it out by now, the record in question is the self-titled first effort from the one and only, Black Sabbath.
As most readers of our Sunday Old School column will remember, the feature dedicated the whole month of October to covering the history of Black Sabbath, so having another look back at the early days of Sabbath may seem like a re-run, but like episodes from the fourth season of The Simpsons, it's a re-run worth looking at. For a more in depth look Ozzy's first era with the band, you can read the first part of the aforementioned series, by clicking here More...
As a geek growing up in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there was little greater joy than in paging through comics in a spinner-stand at my local grocery store. Sure, there were the usual Supermans, Batmans, Spider-Mans, Archies and Hulks, but every now and then, if I was really lucky, a copy of Marvel's "What If?" would be waiting for me. More...
So its Halloween yet again….and for some reason it just doesn’t seem as scary and wonderful as it used to be. Maybe its age….maybe it’s the state of the world….perhaps it’s just desensitization or my state of mind. Though its still my favorite time of year, Halloween used to be "special," mainly due to the fact that I bought into this notion that Halloween is the “world holiday of metal.” Not unlike horror films, metal used to have a creep factor in the 80's that seems all too polished and mechanical in 2014. For me, it's the only time when severely under-produced records can have a massive shock value.
On the topic of special Halloween memories over the years, I distinctly remember 1986 – when Slayer had just released what is arguably the greatest thrash metal album of our time just 24 days prior to Halloween. I begged my parents for money to buy it just around a day or two before Halloween…and it literally scared the crap out of me as a 15 year old kid. Every Halloween in that time, back when more people used to celebrate it with open doors, family, friends and I used to walk 5-7 miles – filling multiple pillow cases with candy…only to return home and dump it on the floor before switching costumes to go out for another 2-3 miles before all the lights went out in the neighborhood precisely at 8:30pm. 1986 was particularly memorable because the topic of discussion was “Reign in Blood.” My friends and I gasped in terror conjured by the album mostly because it was so "rebellious" and clashed directly (and indirectly) with our Roman Catholic upbringing. These were days before we reached the age of reason. More...
I can tell you exactly when my love of music began. It was the fall of 1987 and my friend, Nathan, had brought over a new cassette that he promised would blow my mind. It took somewhere around five seconds, but from the first time I heard Axl Rose's air-raid-siren scream that opens Guns N Roses' "Welcome To The Jungle," I knew I was to be a metalhead for life.
Shortly after that, nearly every penny I could spare went toward the latest works by the likes of Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth and their ilk. Then, as college and the Grunge Era hit simultaneously, I found my musical tastes expanding into alt-rock ranging from the likes of Nirvana and Alice In Chains to the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Primus. In my junior year of college, I discovered the Beatles, with their total disregard for genre limitations. More...
When the members of AC/DC convened this spring in Vancouver, B.C., to record the forthcoming "Rock Or Bust," it was both the end of an era, and the start of an uncertain new one. To be sure, the band has faced adversity and uncertainty before -- most notably in 1980 with the death of singer Bon Scott and his replacement with Brian Johnson for "Back In Black."
This time, the loss is potentially an even greater one, as the band prepares to release its first album without founder and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young. More...
Last Friday, the only remaining original carrier of the most influential name in rock music sadly left us.
Tommy Ramone, the last original member of the Ramones, was the sole survivor of the legendary quartet for ten years following the passing of guitarist Johnny Ramone in September 2004 and with no original members left alive, the Ramones will now be consigned to folklore.
They didn’t sell as many records as the Rolling Stones, open the listeners minds to new concepts like the Beatles, or even reach the big arenas in their home country, but the Ramones changed the face of rock and roll forever, somewhat literally in fact, as their uniform of denim of leather would become adopted by metal fans not even five years after they released their self-titled debut. This was just one of the ways that these four young Stooges fans would influence the music they were accused of trying to replicate.
The most important thing about any band should always be the music, and this where the Ramones helped to change things the most. Spectators of their earliest concerts in CBGB’s recall a constant barrage of noise, an assault on the eardrums without the musicians on stage giving an ounce of a fuck what the audience thought. A description fit for heavy metal if ever there was one. Of course, the first people to use the Ramones as a template for their bands were many of the young punks in Britain, a place where the band would sell out every time, in larger venues than the ones back home too. The Clash, The Damned and Stiff Little Fingers are just a few of the time who adored the Queens quartet and the DIY ethics they espoused helped bring metal back to street level when the New Wave of British Heavy Metal came along, an early fusion of punk rock and the earlier heavy metal such as Budgie, Judas Priest and Van Halen.
A number of the NWOBHM artists cite the Ramones as an influence, including former Iron Maiden frontman, Paul Di’anno, who in an interview for the bonus disc of his album, "The Living Dead," referred to Joey Ramone as the most recognisable voice in rock. Early recordings of the bands live shows, and indeed the ferocious speed they brought to the recording studio, certainly showcase what could be regarded as an early form of thrash metal. The break neck speed, chainsaw guitar and confrontational vocals fit into any playlist alongside the likes of Exodus or Vio-Lence and before long, several recognised names in the thrash genre such as Metallica, Rigor Mortis, Ratos de Porao and Anthrax would cover their songs, not to mention the band being honoured by another forbearer of thrash, Motorhead in their song, "R.A.M.O.N.E.S." More...
This month marks thirty five years since one of the most important terms in heavy metal history was coined. After a show featuring Iron Maiden, Angel Witch and Samson, Sounds writer Geoff "Deaf" Barton wrote a review of the concert in which a phrase was used that still stands strong today. It was the time when head banging public was introduced to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. The term was arguably created to cause a stir amongst fans who would argue that heavy metal bands in Britain was nothing new and that the likes of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest had been packing out large venues and appearing on such television shows as Top of the Pops for the last few years, despite the dominance of punk rock. However, these bands were different. They possessed the energy of punk but had the look and volume of the early metal bands before them. They took heavy metal away from the grandiose indulgence which some bands had become embroiled in and brought it back to the common man.
It was truly an exciting movement, full of high quality bands which would go on to influence hundreds more and in some cases, become superstars themselves. More or less every metal fan will be able to tell you that Iron Maiden was one such NWOBHM band, with a slightly smaller number being able to point to Def Leppard as another group from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal who went on to stardom after the release of their excellent self-titled EP and debut album, "On Through the Night," following which they shifted direction to the band we know today. More...