This witchy week of all weeks, let us speak of the much-maligned genre of metal: the hairdos, the dilettante Satanism, the lace-up leather trousers, the impassioned power ballads, the creative spelling. Pentagrams and pyrotechnics. Impossibly dextrous guitar solos and insanely complicated drum kits. Metal is the musical genre for which the universal hand signal for "to rock" (the devil horns) was invented. If metal were a country, its primary export would be awesomeness.
The two main geographical centers of metal are Sweden (for guttural, Cookie-Monster-vocals doom rock) and Los Angeles (for sparkling guitar work and screech-like-a-girl singing). However, in his 2002 book Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural North Dakota, Spin magazine senior writer Chuck Klosterman makes the point that metal is the indigenous music of middle- and working-class suburban white males; a class that's not by any stretch disenfranchised in America, but one that does, he says, suffer from a sort of general identity malaise. The book, which was half-memoir, half-cultural study on living amid metal in the hair-band heyday of the '80s, was clever, exhaustively informed, really funny and really hip. Today, the genre just keeps growing, from nu-metal to rap-metal to vintage-sounding, Steppenwolf-and-Black-Sabbath-derived hard-rock metal. New Orleans itself has a pretty fine metal pedigree -- spawning Outlaw Order, Eyehategod, Corrosion of Conformity, and of course Phil Anselmo (who next week, along with COC's Pepper Keenan and other members of his sludgy Southern metal supergroup Down, will lead one of Tipitinas' afternoon music workshops for kids -- presumably teaching small music prodigies how to thrash, shred, and conjure demons from the lower circles of Hell).
If I sound irreverent, it's because metal, like all earnest things, begs for a little levity. (This is why Metallica's 2004 documentary of their time in group therapy, Some Kind of Monster, was such a comic gold mine.) Some of the acts coming through New Orleans in the next few months are so white-knuckled sincere about the forces of darkness of which they sing that even their cover art prompts a snicker. Some of the most notable of these are on the Napalm Records roster, which gifted Gambit Weekly with promo releases for their acts Ahab, Draconian, Ragnarok, and Leaves Eyes (the only one to be playing in town -- on Dec. 9 at the House of Blues -- but the whole package has way more impact when considered as a whole.) The cover art on Ahab's album, The Call of the Wreched Sea, depicts the white whale upending a pair of canoes, at night, with a blissful smile on its whaley face. The press release notes that the lead singer has read Moby Dick twice in German, and has just started on the English original. Track 4, "Of The Monstrous Pictures of Whales," starts with the lonely, chilling sound of howling winds on the sea and cuts to vocals not unlike Godzilla on Quaaludes muttering about coming to eat your soul. (Draconian's album, The Burning Halo, actually did have a song with lyrics about eating your soul; at that point I felt sick and very sad, and had to turn it off.)
This week, there's an early double-header of fine head-banging quality at One Eyed Jacks, both acts with a vintage bent. Danava's 2006 self-titled release is hypnotic, grinding and psychedelic; the five six-minute-plus songs can be mesmerizing, with lots of tweedly guitar repetition and creepy chanting of the lyrics that could, potentially induce a bad acid trip -- although one track, "Lovedance," with its cheery syncopated beat and fuzzy guitar, sounds a little like T. Rex, albeit on a grouchy day. Sharing the stage with them is Witchcraft, Swedish doom-rock with an impeccably authentic, retro-'70s Black Sabbath sound. Also this week is an act --ÊHanzel Und Gretyl, who play Halloween night at the Howlin' Wolf -- which has a keen awareness of how hilarious excessive solemnity can be in the realm of metal. Their buzzsaw industrial sound -- like the war songs of an encroaching army of angry robots -- is only half the appeal. The rest lies in the fact that their 2004 album is called Scheissmessiah; that their lead vocalist wears a pointy metal helmet a la Kaiser Wilhelm (his name, in fact, is Kaiser Loopy), and that their songbook includes the titles "Scheissmessiah," "Scheissway to Hell," and "Kaiser von Schizer." The songs are sung partly in German, which the band is not. Two unhappy angels writhe in the flames of hell on the album cover. To be fair, for metal fans taking umbrage at my lighthearted tone, I'll admit that my favorite band in seventh grade was Skid Row (because they were cute and girly, their songs had clear narrative structure, and they were less scary than my best friend Michelle's favorite band, Megadeth). I am aware how embarrassing that is now. However, their new album, Revolutions Per Minute (sans Sebastian Bach) was released last week, and I'm rocking. Secretly. At home.
- Napalm Records matches overwrought metal sounds and cover art, like Ahab's The Call of the Wretched Sea.