Strange Brouhaha

Friday, March 14, 2008


We've got a subscription to XM Radio. Now that I've got a car kit installed and can listen to it on my commute, I'm enjoying it quite a bit. Even when I can't find anything I want to listen to.

I'm still learning the channel lineup; there's an Old-Time Radio channel, which plays some good stuff; there's a Show Tunes channel which seems to consistently play selections from "Barnum!"; there's the '80s channel which plays a lot of music that I didn't like then and still don't like; there's Radio Disney, which The Youngster and I listen to on the way to school in the morning.

There's Boneyard, which plays '80s hard rock. It's usually good for a laugh; I like to check it out every once in a while to see what they're playing. Usually I end up chuckling--Sleeze Beez, Dangerous Toys, Trixter, Britny Fox, Enuff Z'Nuff--and then moving on, because a man's got to draw the line somewhere, right? Occasionally they'll play something listenable, although I can't think of an example off the top of my head.

And then there's XMLM, Liquid Metal, the heavy metal channel. I've been listening to it more lately, and I'm not sure why. Nine songs out of ten are by bands I don't recognize.

I think metal has passed me by. I liked it back when bands were still allowed to have musicality, lyricism, dynamic levels, singers and guitar solos. Now it seems like there's a depressing lack of those things, and the music has been reduced to pounding, repetitive rhythms and harsh, processed vocals. Believe it or's background music. Very powerful, aggressive background music, but background music nonetheless.

Bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Testament, Anthrax--these were bands that demanded that you sit up and take notice. "No, you may not do other things while we are declaiming! AND CHECK OUT THIS SOLO! AND THIS ONE! AND HERE'S ANOTHER!" Even the fastest thrash bands like Slayer and Nuclear Assault bore resemblance to music. The stuff I've been hearing over the last few weeks has been surprisingly dull; despite the jackhammer rhythms and half-shouted vocals, nothing has said "YOU MUST LISTEN!" (In one song, I counted four different rhythm patterns, repeated over and over and over again. It's getting to where metal is as bad as some of the unlistenable crap on the top 40 stations. When metal starts treating "uh, uh" as a lyric, I'll really be worried.)

You know, I feel almost old and curmudgeonly about this. I wonder if the metal of the late '80s and early '90s sounds as quaint to today's fans as the rock and early metal of the late '60s and early '70s sounds to me.


  • Wait till they start playing Metallica and Megadeth on the oldies channel!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:34 AM  

  • Rob - have you heard Mastodon? Contemporary metal that I think you might dig. My personal favorite is Leviathan (roughly a concept album about Moby Dick), although the more recent album Blood Mountain is also quite good.

    By Anonymous Josh, at 4:16 PM  

  • I'll check 'em out.

    By Blogger Robert, at 6:44 PM  

  • Looked up Mastodon the other day--good stuff.

    It turns out that what's on XMLM during the times when I can listen to it is a show specifically designed to play the stuff I don't like!

    By Blogger Robert, at 9:40 PM  

  • Also:

    ISIS - long songs, lots of parts, from atmospheric to crunchy. I can see you hating their vocals, so I'd start at the most recent ("In the Absence of Truth") and work backwards. In a similar vein, but more concise song structures, I would recommend "Harmonic Tremors" by Zozobra. Some growly vocals, though, so I don't know your stance on that.

    Pelican - like Isis, but completely instrumental.

    Russian Circles - not like Isis, but also completely instrumental. Only band on Earth that can do two-
    hand tapping without being cheesy.

    Jesu - current band of Justin Broadrick (ex Godflesh). Very mellow, but you might like.

    Not coincidentally, a lot of these bands are on Hydrahead Records, which is run by the main Isis dude.

    All of these fall probably fall in the hipster metal category, and Isis in particular is arguably more derived from hardcore than metal. I don't know that you'd catch a true headbanger at any of these shows. Still, that's not a bad thing.

    Also, some recent output by classic bands has been good. I thought the Celtic Frost reunion album ("Monotheist") was great.

    In a completely different direction, I need to check out the most recent Tomahawk record. This is Mike Patton with the drummer from Helmet and the guitar player from Jesus Lizard. I thought the first two records were excellent.

    I'm sure I'll think of more later.

    By Anonymous Josh, at 12:35 PM  

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