In other words, metal bands are declining to admit they’re metal — in the same way that many grunge and emo stars of prior decades rejected the orthodoxy of their genres. Baroness and Mastodon have shown that an outfit can climb damn near the top of the metal heap without entirely being a metal band: both create dense polyrhythmic soundscapes fitted into intellectually rigorous thematic frameworks rich with crushing riffery and vicious breakdowns. This high-wire act has allowed them to stand out amid the metal masses. “Although sometimes at festivals we feel like the proverbial turd in the punch bowl,” says Baizley, “whether it’s because we’re too metal or not metal enough.”
But if Baroness can seem guilty of overthinking metal, others are taking quite the opposite tack. “There are a lot of know-it-alls in metal, people who try to put us in a corner, in terms of what they think we can or can’t do,” says Tony Foresta, vocalist of thrashmasters Municipal Waste. “It forces us to punch our way out, and in a way, that shit drives us. When people put us down, it makes us more creative. Spite can be a hell of a motivator.”
SPITE MOTIVATES: Municipal Waste lurched away from the drink-and-puke mentality toward something darker and meaner.
Foresta knows whereof he speaks: for nine years, the Waste have been cranking out slab after slab of increasingly taut jams that meld metal, hardcore punk, funny party rock, and dead-serious bummer metal. They hit the big time with their third album, The Art of Partying (Earache), only to lurch away from the drink-and-puke mentality toward something darker and meaner. “We probably would have made a lot more money if we just did songs about beer and whatnot,” Foresta allows, “but if we didn’t progress, we’d end up hating it. We didn’t want to be a band that relies on gimmicks.”
James Luna was trying to avoid a career full of gimmicks when he quit his happening retro-metal outfit White Wizzard to form the progressive metal juggernaut that is Holy Grail. “Wizzard was very passionate about a traditional movement,” he points out. “We are into that — we didn’t just like old-school metal. We wanted metal that was broader.”
A comparison between Luna’s old and new bands may reveal a shift from British Steel–era Priest metal to, uh, Painkiller–era Priest, but in a world of metal microgenres, Holy Grail’s inclusiveness is refreshing. (So is the jaw-dropping lead-guitar work on their Prosthetic-issued debut EP, Improper Burial, which is meant to tide us over till their full-length debut, Crisis in Utopia, hits in the fall.) The band’s not-so-secret weapon is Luna’s pipes, which hit castrato highs that would put Ian Gillan’s Deep Purple glass shattering to shame. “My singing style is not very conventional,” he allows, “and it might not be the popular way to sing right now. But it’s the only way I know how, so I have to go for it. Because, right now, we’re just really in for the kill.”
Trends and styles come and go; what remains timeless in metal is the desire in fans and bands alike to push it to the limit. Give Scott Lee the last word: “Making metal people happy is tough. Ultimately, though, metal fans are hardworking people who want hardworking music. These bands deliver, this festival delivers, and everyone is psyched! When it works, it’s such a beautiful thing.”