The Sounds of Men (Children)
Updated: Dec 19, 2021
Metal has long been held to the high esteem as being a transcendent genre of rage and power that describes the raw masculine energy of real men. The anger in the notes is their anger, the ripping on the bass reflects the ripping of their heart, the thud of the drums the very thud of their soul on this painful earth. With each rugged chord, draped in sewer filled lyrics of doom and and destruction. The mosh pits form as a result of the pure need to release this unchecked power that can only be brought out by the massacring notes of the damned themselves. Hailed as the favorite musical style of Geniuses such as Michael Burry (Christian Bale's character in the Big Short who profited greatly by foreseeing the 2008 Market Crash before it occurred) and even scientific studies have found that teens who listen to metal tend to be smarter. Clearly there is no genre of music that best represents intelligent masculinity than metal?
Except this is all wrong. Metal, it turns out, does not have a particularly intelligent fan base these days, and its exultation (particularly among White males) is the same reason that Lacross gained popularity in the mid 2000s, Burning Man is considered a world class event, and IPAs are so popular:
There is nothing that White men like more than professing their mediocre interest as "great".
Metal bands from Slayer to Dream Theater to Gojira to Iron Maiden to Sabaton are filled with kitsch horror graphics, simplistic riffs, and song lyrics that are straight out of a 14 year old's diary. Rather than growing up, metal teaches the youth they should maintain the mindset of a teenager when dealing with life's problems. It encourages anger and loudness over understanding and reflection. Looking at the Reddit metal subs primer for metal reveals no evidence to contrast this neither does scouring the works on lists of top 10 most genre changing bands. Instead it reveals a list of faux-edgy metal bands like The Hu (cringy Mongolian folk metal), Imperium Triumphant (cringy Goth Metal), and Lingua Ignota (just cringe). (Note that this article did reveal one good metal album I hadn't heard, but more on that later).
Which is a shame because there is room for maturity and thoughtfulness in metal. It is a heavy sound, and when properly applied, it can be an ultimate expression of not masculine emotion, but rather human emotion regarding our struggles with death, destruction, and desolation (the 3Ds of metal). That is why I am writing this article to review what I consider to be the only 5 good metal albums. All the albums were recorded in the last 10 years, and encompass several genres, but generally lean on progressive elements. These albums give the full range of what can be conveyed via metal. They may be dripping with masculinity, but the never let that get in the way with their expression of self and pain. This is the kind of music people should mean when they refer to themself as a "metal head".
(hit ctrl + F and search "Metallica" to return you to this part of the article)
Bible Silver Corner (1994) - Rodan
I am starting this list with one math/hard rock album made in the 90s (this is not one of the five great metal albums) because it represents the first fully realized album that manages to emit vast emotion by wailing on your instruments. Upbeat, but raging, it is no surprised the band named itself after one of the most hardcore creatures in history: the Pterandon. This is what I believe could be called "proto-metal". Give it a listen when you have 42 minutes and 42 seconds to spare.
Sorrow & Extinction (2012) - Pallbearer
The first great metal album ever made, Sorrow & Extinction is a ponderous piece of ambient progressive metal that slowly takes us through the struggle of the painfully painful thing that is existence. Starting with an acoustic opening before breaking into the low grumble of beezelbub, this album works by not demanding a particularly tolerance for harshness, but by slowly radiating a quiet and disturbing cacophony that allows the listener to adjust and be drawn in. You may be mortal, but you can recognize the gift it is to be able to listen to an album such as this; a privilege not extended to any and all who perished before February of 2012. That this was their debut album makes it all the more impressive. Surprisingly, no song on the album has more than 760K listens despite its obvious appeal to metal fans. Their subsequent productions have not managed to match the intensity or purposefulness of this album.
Altered State (2013) - TesseracT
Yup, that's right, more Progressive Metal. The band first formed in 2003, but it took them 10 years to perfect their sound and experience into a complete album. This is actually the second most recently discovered great metal album I put on this list, hearing it for the first time just last year in 2020. It has no trouble crescendoing from soft beginnings to brash climaxes that maintain listenability in spite of their cacophony. Lyrically and vocally impressive as well, Of Mind - Nocture, may be the true climax, but the rest of the tracks serves as a necessary build up and come down. Sadly, or perhaps predictably, their following oeuvres fail to make the same impact, with each track on their 2018 release, Sonder, simply feeling like a lesser version of each piece from Altered State.
Savage Sinusoid (2017) - Igorrr
So this is actually the most recent Metal album I have discovered, which I did last week while researching crappy metal bands for this article. If you are going to go loud, speedy, demonesque and dress up like wildlings, then you best be going HAM in your music, which Igorrr, led by French man Gautier Serre👨🎨🇫🇷, very well does. Starting with the opening nihilistic scream this album embraces strangeness with a true raison d'être. The album also crosses many genres of metal such as speed/thrash, nu, folk, black, which is blended seamlessly with folk, jazz, French accordion, and electric; all to ensure that no specific sound or genre dominates the album. Igorrr also has something that many other metal bands lack: a female. I dont think it is a coincidence that Igorrr manages to balance its masculine rifts and cries with careful restraint so as not to lose the emotional element. As with the other bands listed, this is their masterpiece, with their subsequent albums just not reaching the savage inspiration of Savage Sinusoid.
Eat the Elephant (2018) - A Perfect Circle
Back in the mid-2000s, there was a great debate regarding whether Tool or Radiohead was the best band of our generation, aka the height of White mediocrity debates for two reasons: for one, Radiohead was clearly better than Tool, and for two, A Perfect Circle was at least as good as Tool. Yet despite the duopoly on Math Rock these two bands held in the mid 2000s, Tool and APC went into hiding with APC not making an album after 2004's eMOTIVe, and Tool stopping with 2006's inexplicably obsessed over 10,000 Days. The break from creation clearly served APC well (and Tool, but more on that later). 2018's Eat the Elephant has no problem using other genres such as Jazz, Alt, and Electronica to meld over their progressive metal rifts, while still confronting the irony of society and regaling the asocial elements of the human ego. Proof that maturity does not mean you have to lose your darkness, simply that you must learn to express it in a more complex form. It is hard to imagine the next (and final) album on this list would have obtained such perfection, without having Eat the Elephant for inspiration.
Fear Innoculum (2019) - Tool
Yup, that's right, despite my slight digs at Tool in the above review, I will extol 2019's Fear Innoclum as the pinnacle of achievement for metal. Like a martial arts master in their 40s that still has enough of their youthful strength to compound their experience and practice into ultimate power, from the title track's opening Fibonacci-esque ringing note, to the quiet rise of melody leading in to the first spoke words of "Immunity, Longoverdue, Contagion, I Exhale You" the vocals over the pulsing instrumentation convey a perfect sense of control that would make Tom Yorke himself cry-sing out to heaven. They do not let up, for even a single track, giving only the slightest relief on the humorous "Chocolate Chip Trip". The second song, Pneuma, has emerged as the most popular single, though it still lags behind their older, less refined tracks from the early 2000s in terms of play count. This perfectly encapsulates the resistance your average metal fan has to music that has progressed past them.
The Bends (1995) - Radiohead
Miss Anthropocene (2020) - Grimes
Trivial Visions (2021) - La Morte Vienne Dallo Spazio
So there we have it, the entirety of the catalogue of metal albums worth listening to. Of course you might question how I can say this so definitively, it isnt like I have listened to more than a couple dozen metal albums, and I even admitting to discovering one of these great metal albums only last week (and TesseracT I heard for the first time last year) surely that could mean there are a multitude of great metal albums that could exist. Well, yes, but also, no. The odds that some bands has managed to shed its nagging somnolence to re-invent the completed iteration of metal which has reached peak form starting with Sorrow & Extinction and ending with Fear Innoculum, are close to 0. While some bands, like slothrust, have made impressive derivations on metal, none can claim to have made complete album.
No, impactful metal will return to a period of dormancy, not being awakened again until another period of loss and destruction inspires the great poets of reality to once again seek the unrestrained power of metal to express what words alone cannot. And while I would love for Tool or APC to give it one more go in another decade's time, I know in the interim, the men-children that encompass 99% of the genre will keep screaming to their legions of rapidly aging fans that they never have to grow up.