Thursday, November 10, 2011

Eleven Songs for 11/11/11

VH1 classic has declared November 11, 2011 (11/11/11) to be National  Metal Day. The date was chosen, of course, for the same reasons I chose the name of this blog- that famous scene from the move "This is Spinal Tap" involving a Marshall Amp Head that has dials that go to eleven so the band would always be able to go "one louder" whenever they wanted. It is only natural that I should take the time and put together an extra-heavy playlist to commemorate this "Day that goes to Eleven." What is my criteria? To be honest, I don't really have any criteria, it's just songs that I consider to be very heavy, worthy of mentioning on National Metal Day presented in no particular order.

1) Initium/Samhain - Samhain, 1984
After the breakup of horror-punk legends, the Misfits, and before forming the more straightforward metal band Danzig, Glenn Danzig  formed the band Samhain, and specialized in a heavier, darker brand of horror-punk than the Misfits. Initium/Samhain is the opening track from their 1984 debut album. The Initium part is a creepy piece of spoken word that leads into the "Samhain" section- where Glenn Danzig poses the question "Do You Want A Sacrifice?"  The song isn't really heavy metal, but it has a very heavy attitude, especially in the spoken words section, that gives it a spot on this list.

2) Black No. 1(Little Miss Scare-All)  - Type O Negative, 1993
Type O Negative has become synonymous with Gothic Metal. Frontman Peter Steele's impossibly low and deep voice, combined with ponderous, sludgy riffs that combine doom metal styled riffs with depressing, sexually charged, and romantic (in a creepy way) subject matter- with an odd dose of humor thrown in for good measure. The band also had a penchant for writing epic-length songs that cycle through a wide variety of moods. Black No. 1 is probably one of the most iconic examples of their style. The song culminates in the refrain "Loving you is like loving the dead" - an attitude that earns it a nod here.

3) Follow the Tears - Heaven and Hell, 2009
Heaven and Hell was formed as a one-off reunion of the 1980-1981, Ronnie James Dio fronted lineup of Black Sabbath for a one off tour supporting the "Black Sabbath: The Dio Years" box set- but the project took on a life of it's own resulting in more tours and an album titled "The Devil You Know". The 2009 release was packed full of songs that can only be described as unrepentantly heavy. Of all the heavy, bone crunching, tracks on this record, Follow the Tears stands out as a leader (by a small margin!).

4) Ground Zero Brooklyn - Carnivore, 1987
Before there was a Type O Negative, Peter Steele was the frontman/bass player for the crossover thrash band Carnivore. While there were certainly "heavier" bands out there in the mid 80s, none had the sheer attitude and audacity of Carnivore. Ground Zero Brooklyn dates back to the days of the cold war, and very graphically talks about what would happen if the bombs started dropping. The climax of the song is a musical break, where Steele shouts out a plea to Jesus to return him to the womb because it would've been better if he were left unborn... The song captures the politically incorrect, bluntly brutal, pessimistic tone that was the band's hallmark, and in it, one can easily see the seeds that would later develop into the gloomy, gothic style of Type O Negative.

5) Black Sunshine - White Zombie, 1992
White Zombie burst on the scene in the early 90s, and Black Sunshine was one of the songs that helped catapult them to stardom- no small feat for a somewhat unusual metal band in the post-nirvana world- when the entire music industry suddenly decided that grunge was the be-all-end-all. I suppose their "alternative" leanings helped them gain traction when the industry suddenly lost interest in most metal. Black Sunshine is a fantasy about driving fast and reckless in a muscle car, and features a very memorable, driving bass line. This song is probably responsible for many speeding tickets and incidents of aggressive driving - if you hear it in the car, you'll feel compelled to drive fast and hard...

6) Walk - Pantera, 1992
Pantera pioneered a few new ideas in metal- they integrated the idea of infusing metal with interesting rhythmic grooves- without sacrificing heaviness. Driven by Dimebag Darrell's crunchy guitar riffing, Pantera survived during the height of the grunge movement- which was the death knell for a large part of the heavy metal genre. Pantera did it by being very good at what they do, and adding something original and different into their music.

7) 4th of July - Soundgarden, 1994
Soundgarden was one of the leading forces behind the Seattle grunge movement- but they always had a strong vein of heavy metal and doom metal influence. 4th of July, is a somber and depressing tune, but is about as heavy an example of doom/sludge metal as you can find. Detuned guitars, plodding patient riffs that crush the soul slowly, and lyrics that evoke frontman Chris Cornell's vision of the apocalypse characterize the song. Technically, it's not metal, but it's still about as heavy as it gets. I've  spoken about this song in more depth here.

8) Song for the Dead - Queens of the Stone Age, 2002
The more modern alternative music typified by the Queens of the Stone Age can reach impressive levels of heavy as well. Featuring down-tuned guitars, and crunchy riffing, combined with the raspy vocals of Mark Lanegan (formely from the Screaming Trees), and you have something really heavy sounding, that clearly isn't metal, but is clearly inspired and informed by it.

9) Symptom of the Universe - Black Sabbath, 1975
Black Sabbath invented heavy- they were the band that started it all - heavy dark scary riffs, lyrics straight out of a horror movie- they did metal before it even had a name. Most metal guitarists are directly, or indirectly influenced by Tony Iommi's work with Sabbath in the 70s - he invented, or at least popularized many of the techniques and playing styles considered to be the vocabulary of heavy metal guitar. 1975's Symptom of the Universe is a great example of this- it's main riff became the pattern for many metal bands in the 80s. Just listen, you'll understand.

10) Sad But True - Metallica, 1993
Many people view Metallica's 1993 "Black Album" as a turning point- where they gave up their thrash metal supremacy in favor of more mainstream appeal. There is probably some truth behind that statement- gone were the lightning fast, ever shifting riff patterns of their previous albums, replaced with more easily digestible, stripped down riffs. But then there's "Sad but True" - slow, pounding, and sludgy, it sledgehammers along in a very un-radio-friendly way.

11) Synagoga Satanae - Celtic Frost, 2006
Celtic Frost was known as a pioneering force for early forms of black metal and death metal in the 80s. They continued to evolve and became a huge influence on the European metal scene, infusing their crushing heavy sound with ideas taken from the art of H.R. Giger, Early religious painting, and poetry into a genre bending form of art metal described as "Avant Garde" for lack of a better definition. Their career, however, rapidly dried up after an ill-advised attempt to reinvent themselves as a glam-metal band, and they eventually broke up. But not for good. In 2006, they reunited, and released the album Monotheist- which brought back the ultra-heavy, artistic extreme metal of their past with a vengeance. The album seethes with naked aggression and anger, and in an album packed with as much heavy music as any album could hope for, Synagoga Satanae stands out above the rest. The title is in hebrew, and literally translates to "A Gathering of Adversaries". Clearly, this song goes all the way to eleven.

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