Sep 142010
 

Who hasn’t heard of Slayer? Even non-metalheads who’ve never heard Slayer’s music have heard of Slayer. (Though most of those people are ministers.) The band created ground-breaking music and have been vastly influential on the development of generations of bands, but they also had the inspiration to pick one of the best metal band names of all time.

That same talent for name selection is recognizable in the other members of the so-called “Big Four”: Metallica, Megadeth, and Anthrax. Wholly apart from the music, those one-word names are fucking metal.

How much does it help to have a badass band name in the microcosm of metal? I’m really not sure. What if the music of the “Big Four” had sucked ass? What if they had appeared on the music scene and then rapidly sunk beneath the waves like dense turds, never to be seen or heard from again, and taking their awesome names down into the depths with them?

That could have happened, because I don’t think picking a great name means your music will be great, and all those great names would have been lost to the world of metal forever. On the other hand, if Slayer had called themselves Behold the Arctopus or Attack! Attack!, would the music have somehow become worse? Would Slayer have become less popular? Picking a sucky name doesn’t necessarily hurt your chances if the music is good.

There just doesn’t seem to be any necessary correspondence between the quality of band names and the quality of the music or success of the band. But it is entertaining to consider the evidence — the ass-kicking bands with ass-kicking names, the ass-kicking bands that have succeeded despite piss-poor names, and the bands whose names are just perplexing.

We’ll kick around some examples after the jump, and then we’ll invite your participation . . .

ASS-KICKING NAMES → ASS-KICKING MUSIC

Aside from “The Big Four”, other bands have picked great one-word names and have also churned out music that matches up nicely with the killer connotations of those names. To list a few that readily come to mind: Death (of course), Carcass, Immolation, Immortal, Venom, Behemoth, Bloodbath, Obituary, Entombed, Exodus, Kataklysm, Enslaved, Dissection, Grave, Unleashed — and more recently, UnearthPsycroptic, Carnifex, Decapitated, Tombs, Howl, Goatwhore.

And, of course, how could we forget the immortal Blastanus?

All of these are badass names for badass bands, but I’d probably still listen to their music even if they were called Miss May I, which is a really awful name for a band that actually plays decent music. Which brings us to the next category . . .

PISS-POOR NAMES → ASS-KICKING MUSIC

There have certainly been bands who have achieved popularity for their kick-ass music despite having picked off-putting, meaningless, or downright awful names.

Take Melvins, for example. Awesome music, but the band’s name makes me think of a pair of cretinous, in-bred cousins with identical names who drool and break wind at inappropriate times.

Between the Buried and Me: Great band, but if you knew nothing about the music and you heard that name, would you wanna dive right in to their tunes or run away? What kind of name is that anyway? What does it even mean? What is between the buried and you?  Dirt?

Meshuggah? It goes too far to call that an ass-sucking name, but the only reason we don’t laugh at it is because the band’s music made such a heavy mark on the scene and continues to be widely copied. It’s an interesting spelling of the Yiddish word for crazy, but how many metalheads even know that? And for those who do, do you think it’s a metal name?

I don’t have any idea what Scar Symmetry is supposed to mean. I guess being scarred can be metal, but what do symmetrical scars have to do with anything? Same issue with Veil of Maya: it’s a very good band, but the name, at least on its face, is meaningless.

MyChildren MyBride? What about your children and your bride? And can you not afford spaces to separate the words?

And I’m sorry, but as much as I like Norma Jean, in what universe is that a name for a metal band? I suppose it’s better than Bobbie Sue, but still. And Naglfar?  In general, I think it’s best to avoid names that have three consonants in a row. It sounds too much like throat-clearing.

Strapping Young Lad was a brilliant band, but that’s another example of music that succeeded in spite of a truly awkward, non-metal band name. We could go on, but time for the next category . . .

PERPLEXING NAMES

I never really got into the music of Behold the Arctopus, but I remember the name because I can’t imagine the discussion that led to that epiphany, or what kind of intoxicants were in use at the time. Did the name just spring forth fully formed, like Athena from the brow of Zeuss?  (Dude #1: I’ve got it! We should call ourselves “Behold the Arctopus”! All other dudes: Fuckin’ A! Awesome name!)

Or did the words magically come together in collaborative effort, like the magical union of, uh, Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne? (Dude #1: We should call ourselves “Behold the . . .somethingorother.” Wouldn’t that be cool? We just need to figure out the last word. Dude #2: I’ve got it! Arctopus! All other dudes: Fuckin’ A! Awesome name!)

Then there are those bands whose names the fans don’t know how to pronounce and therefore make up their own widely varying pronunciations rather than spend the hours of internet research necessary to nail it down accurately. Like Eluveitie, or Negura Bunget, or Kivimetsan Druidi, or my personal favorite, Drudkh. These are not names that roll off the tongue.

Equally perplexing are all the Latin band names. For example: Disarmonia Mundi, Mors Principium Est, Ne Obliviscaris, Omnium Gatherum, Odem Arcarum. I like all those bands, but are there any schools that still teach Latin? And how many metalheads do you know who are conversant in that great but completely dead language? I can pretty much guarantee that if Slayer had chosen Mors Principium Est as their name, their fans would have been calling them “MPE” in no time at all.

Some band names are perplexing because they seem to be a mismatch with the music. Apocalyptica is a good example. I heard the name before I heard the music, and what I expected wasn’t what I got.  I do like Apocalyptica’s music quite a bit, but it’s not nearly as brutal as that name would suggest.

I’m sure I’m overlooking lots of other examples of bands in each category — so please feel free to add to the lists in the comments. And even better, if you can name bands with badass names whose music is mediocre or worse, we’re all ears.

Maybe some day we’ll talk about bands who changed their names, like Phladelphia’s Rumpelstiltskin Grinder did just the other day. Their old name seemed perfectly fine to me, though it did have a lot of syllables, but they’re now calling themselves The Devil. And I thought that name was taken.

P.S. That very eye-catching photo of Slayer’s Kerry King at the top of our post is a shot by Jacqueline Cheng from a collection of photos she took for MetalSucks of Slayer, Megadeth and Testament on their American Carnage run when it stopped in New Jersey on August 12th.  More of her excellent photos from that show can be found here.

  45 Responses to “WHAT’S IN A NAME?”

  1. I think a lot of the younger bands coming out now are just trying to come up with something completely new since a lot of the really great single-word names you mentioned above have been taken. I mean “The Tony Danza Tap Dance Extravaganza” – really? For me, they fall into the definitely-good-music-but-not-sure-what-to-make-of-the-name category. I also don’t like the name August Burns Red, it sounds emo to me, but the music is great. And then there is Bring me the Horizon, who have a terrible name and play terrible music.

    I definitely agree about Miss May I, they have some catchy shit, but that name is horrendous.

    Arsis is one of my all time favorites (though I may be biased since I used to take guitar lessons from Nick Cordle) and I also always thought that Despised Icon had one of the sickest names in modern metal.

  2. I don’t know when you got into Apocalyptica, but when I first heard about the band, it was when they only had Metallica songs as part of their inventory. So, the name kinda made sense to me, while someone discovering the band today might not get the -ica connection. Okay, so Metallica doesn’t have a monopoly on those three letters at the end of a name, but still.

    You forgot Vader. Simple, kick-ass name that represents kick-ass music. A recent addition to the simple kickassery would be Leprous. Might not be your thing, but they were tapped as Ihsahn’s band when he was supposed to open for Opeth and Einar Solberg (vocals, keyboards) was part of Emperor’s reunion tour. Speaking of, Emperor should go to the list also. And don’t forget Coroner. Pestilence.

    To add to the names whose names you aren’t sure how to pronounce at first, Hermh comes to mind, as does Comecon. Sepultura provided a challenge for a while until I heard someone from the band say the name, and thankfully I had been saying it the right way.

    For the perplexing category, I would have to add 3 Inches Of Blood, Sunn O))), Endomorphism, Die En Grey, Cock And Ball Torture and the fucking cube would come for me if I didn’t mention Goat The Head.

    Also, I think there’s a category for misleading names, or at least names that might make one jump to conclusions.

    Testament is one such band, associated with Christian metal among certain people, maybe by the name alone or having played with bands that were earlier on. I requested something from them one day at the college radio station and the dick who was on the air said he wouldn’t play any Christian metal, which Testament is not. However, when I pointed out that Mortification, who he had played a bit earlier, is a Christian metal band he hung up on me. When I first saw the name of Fleshgod Apocalypse, I was expecting some uber grotesque death metal, or maybe some grind instead (although a lot of those bands have names that make it easy to know what to expect).

    I’ll dig through my collection to see what else I can dig up. I’m sure I can find many, many more examples. And maybe some kick ass names that betray the sucktitude behind them. Of course, we could do the same with album and/or song names, but that’s an even bigger task.

    • How could I forget Vader! Absolutely great name and one of my favorite bands. And Emperor, Coroner, and Pestilence definitely belong on the hot-shit list. Leprous is a great name, but I didn’t know about them until just now. Hermh, Comecon, and Sepultura are all worthy additions to the hard-to-pronounce list. How do you say Sepultura anyway? And in the how-could-I-forget category, GOAT THE HEAD! I blame the fucking cube for for my oversight.

      Testament/Mortician: great story and great example of how names can be misleading. There are some other Christian metal bands with brutal names out there, too. Fleshgod Apocalypse is a good example, too. I thought that was going to be a brutal death-metal or goregrind band for sure when I first heard of them. I still think it’s one of the best-ever metal band names, and if I’d expanded the list beyond one-word names, they would have been on there.

      • Mortification, not Mortician. The former is from Australia and an example of a Christian metal band that doesn’t really get too preachy – at least in what I’ve heard, although the delivery may play a role in the band seeming more like a band that uses scripture as inspiration and not as a message. Odd that one band gets labeled as one because of who they’ve played with in the past and one that isn’t immediately obvious. And the dick at the radio station who apparently didn’t like being told that he played Christian metal on his show. Oops, didn’t do your homework.

        Metal comes in many forms and the subject matter shouldn’t be what separates the suck from the awesome. Hell, you can have songs about puppies and flowers and pink things and still manage to have it kick ass. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised is some of the bands with completely unintelligible lyrics are fucking around with us, using nursery rhymes and non-metal things in their music. Maybe when I get better at playing again and have enough money to hit the studio for a day or two, I’ll do something like this. Well, maybe not. Who knows.

        Sep-Ool-Tour-Uh is the way it’s supposed to be, at least according to what I’ve heard band members say and other times they’ve been mentioned in videos or on TV. The other way I heard a lot of people say it was Sep-Ull-Tra (three syllables instead of four). But like many “hard to pronounce” band names, it’s actually from another language, as opposed to shit bands make up or mangle to create a name. So, in this case, I can’t be sure what the pronunciation is, so I go with what I’ve heard.

        I really liked Leprous and Tall Poppy Syndrome gets a lot of play, but they might not be to your liking. Most of Einar’s singing is of the clean variety, but there are some screams, a few falsettos and places where he breaks out harsh vocals instead.

        Moving on, iwrestledabearonce has got to be one of the worse names out there, while I grew tired of seeing xBANDNAMEx back when straight edge bands started creeping out of every corner.

        Of course, there’s the matter of multiple bands having the same name, often with varying results. Just look at Slaughter for one of the best known examples, but Death is another great example. They were a trio of black musicians from Detroit that started off as an R&B group, moving on to punk after seeing Alice Cooper in concert.

        • I worried, but not very much, about coming off too parochial in complaining about hard-to-pronounce band names because many of those are unpronounceable only to people who don’t speak the band’s native language. I should have added Children of Bodom to that list. I’m still not sure how to pronounce Bodom (a place-name in Finland).

          I suppose iwrestledabearonce is a fittingly goofy name for a band that seems to be mainly a goof outfit. Maybe I’d feel differently about the awful name if I liked the music, but I can’t get into it.

          As for multiple bands having the same name, I had a hell of a time tracking down info about that Spanish black-metal band I wrote about a few days ago. Turns out that lots of bands around the world use the name Frozen, and they’ve all got MySpace pages. I suppose some words are so common they just can’t be copyrighted as a band name.

          If you do discover a metal band singing about puppies, flowers, and pink things, be sure to share the discovery. You’d think that extreme bands could get away with singing about anything, since the vocals are mainly unintelligible, but it’s amazing how many sing-alongs break out at live death-metal shows. Some fans clearly study the lyrics. Come to think of it, I’ve been known to do that too. 🙂

          • Okay, with most metal you probably couldn’t get away with it, but maybe some of the distorted gurgling/vomit from goregrind bands and their ilk.

            Although, there is GWAR’s “Hate Love Songs” until that time:

            I love puppies
            When they’re roadkill
            They’re too cute too live
            Too cute to live
            Like you

            • That is so excellent. I’ve been underestimating Gwar. For reasons I can’t quite put my finger on, those lyrics reminded me of this verse from a band I just found out about last week called Woods of Ypres: “I hope it’s cold, everyday, where you are.”

  3. What’s Between the Buried and Me? The rest of my life. I think it’s a brilliant name to go with even more brilliant music.

    • Oh man, how could I have missed that? Now that you say it, it seems so obvious — and it is indeed brilliant. I’ve completely changed my mind about that name.

      • It’s taken from a Counting Crowes song anyway.

        There’s so much I could/would like to say about the issue of band names, but it would take pages and pages and pages… so I’ll bullet-point a few key ones…

        Meshuggah and Scar Symmetry are great nams. I can see by your contrary opinion that you are obviously mentally retarded though, so I shall forgive you.

        Strapping Young Lad is one of those rare names that is SO awful it works.

        Miss May I is both a terrible name and a terrible band.

        Fleshgod Apocalypse are a brilliant band, but it’s not a great name all in all.

        Living Sacrifice are a badass Christian band.

        Disarmonia Mundi is one of the few Latin names I approve of (and I like MPE, but come on… really?)

        Certain bands are utter bastards for taking the BEST names ever, simple, short and iconic… damn you Testament and damn you Emperor.

        As a final example i’d say that choosing the right name is important, but can be dealt with if/when you get stuck with a bad one – look at everyone from Korn to Slayer, bad, cheesy names that have become inescapably associated with THE BAND, rather than THE WORD. It’s a good sign for your band when you are the first entry in everyone’s mental “google search” over and above the original term.

        • See, it was so much easier for me to just spill out my reaction to band names without actually researching where they came from or what they mean. This is what comes of mental retardation.

          Meshuggah/Scar Symmetry: Thank you for being forgiving. I have survived mainly on the forgiveness of others.

          In defense of Miss May I, I’ve seen them live twice (because they were on the bill with other bands I actually wanted to see), and I really enjoyed both sets, enough so that sometimes (though not often) I listen to one or two of the songs I remember from those shows. But this is what comes of mental retardation.

          I don’t think the name “Fleshgod Apocalypse” makes any sense, but to me it has a great ring to it, unlike Behold the Arctopus. I know, I’m retarded. And I don’t want to know what Arctopus means.

          Living Sacrifice is indeed a badass Christian band. I saw their “comeback” tour with Demon Hunter a few years ago and was completely blown away by how good they were and how good their songs were, and promptly went out and gathered up almost their entire discography, which is consistently strong. I do have episodes of lucidity.

          “Slayer” is cheesy?? “Korn” is cheesy, I’ll grant you. But not the name Slayer! And I say that as someone who can take or leave Slayer’s music (yes, I know that’s heresy; I’m a heretical retard).

        • Testament was their second choice. They were originally The Legacy but that name was already legal;ly tied but by someone else.

          • True. Forgot that entirely. Testament is, thankfully, a better name – one of the ebst out there if I do say so myself.

            Fleshgod Apocalypse = so badass, yet so nonsensical.

            Slayer is VERY cheesy. Come off it. Doesn’t necessarily mean it;s bad, it’s iconic and dark now yes, but if a band were to come up with it afresh (in the hypothetical absence of the current Slayer ever existing) they’d be laughed out of the building. Maybe i’m just bitter and jaded.

            There’s quite a few portmanteau-style names I like (Darkane, Soilwork, Evergrey, etc), but I think that’s mainly because I like the band anyway, creating a name in that manner can often be a recipe for disaster and/or badly translated comedy

            • The truth is, it’s very difficult to objectively assess a band’s name without being influenced by how you feel about the music. Not impossible, but difficult. I have lots more band names I could make fun of, but I like the bands’ music too much to do that.

              I’m a bit surprised no one has yet said anything about “Iron Maiden”. I think that’s a name you really have to understand in order to conclude that it’s a metal name.

            • I agree that Slayer is some slight cheese, but it’s not stinky cheese either. It’s like a decent cheese that most people who aren’t lactose intolerant can enjoy, even if there’s better stuff out there. Had Slayer not existed up until now, I don’t think whatever band grabbed it would be laughed out of the building unless they were of the ‘suck so hard it bleeds’ variety or were one of the power metal bands that uses keyboard and/or fret wankery way too much. Those cases aside, some might still moan about the band not taking a better name.

              Fleshgod Apocalypse isn’t so much a great name in and of itself, but it has a curiosity factor to it. I suppose the same can be said of Scar Symmetry.

              • So Slayer is like gouda. Gouda is good.

                I think you’re onto something there with the curiosity factor. Along the same lines: Landmine Marathon, Made Out of Babies, Mammoth Grinder, Nachtmystium (that’s not really German or Latin, is it?), Toxic Holocaust, Old Man’s Child, Septicflesh, One Man Army & The Undead Quartet, Pig Destroyer, Ion Dissonance, Porcupine Tree, The Rodeo Idiot Engine, Skeletonwitch, Swarm of the Lotus . . .

                • Nachtmystium is apparently a purposeful weird mish-mash of “Nacht” and “mysticum”. Apparently.

                  Old Man’s Child is a way of saying “Son Of Satan”. Septic Flesh is still two words.

                  • More education — I love it! So Nachtmystium is a bastardized word meaning something like “mystical night”? Old Man’s Child makes perfect sense now, and is an even more intriguing name than I thought (and it was pretty intriguing to begin with). I’ve seen Septic Flesh as two words and one in different places, but was just too fucking lazy to go look at one of my CDs to get it straight. But go here, and tell me what you think:

                    http://www.myspace.com/septicfleshband

                    • Well, following the reformation and release of “Communion” (one of the best albums in existence) they appeared as Septicflesh… but recently released a statement syaing that’s just a logo issue and they’re still Septic Flesh as two words.

                      In all honesty it’s a terrible name either way. Great band, awful name – deserve better, something that more encapsulates their epic, transcendental sound.

                    • Thanks for clearing that up. I sure agree that “Communion” is one fantastic collection of music, and not what you’d expect from the band’s name. But I still like the name — it just sounds so deliciously nasty.

  4. Another one that I think is great is Lamb of God. I think Randy Blythe has even talked about back when they were Burn the Priest, people would immediately make assumptions and prejudge the music and dismiss the band. But with a name like Lamb of God, he said it wasn’t immediately obvious what the band was about. Until of course you’ve heard the music, which destroys.

    • So, it was an intentional misdirection? That name certainly belongs in the Perplexing category. Completely wonderful band, but if you really could imagine knowing nothing about the music and having only the name, I doubt you’d be expecting what you hear. I wonder if the successful trajectory of their career would have changed if they had called themselves Agnus Dei? Speaking only for my retarded self, I think sometimes it’s better to go with a translation of the Latin.

  5. Dude, Naglfar is an awesome name for an awesome band http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naglfar

    • Oh hell, that IS an awesome name! I’m learning so much cool shit with this post! And they are definitely an awesome band, which is why I included them in one of the “ass-kicking music” categories. But — I still have no clue how to pronounce that name. I guess my main question is whether you pronounce the “g”.

      • I’m pretty sure you do, so, if you say ‘nagl far’, you’re saying it right.

        • OK. So it does sound like throat-clearing. But such an awesome definition (thanks to byrd36 for that link to The Font of All Human Knowledge): In Norse mythology, “a boat made entirely from the fingernails and toenails of the dead. During the events of Ragnarök, Naglfar is foretold to sail to Vígríðr, ferrying hordes that will there battle with the gods.” I know what to do with my clippings now.

          • While you stock up on super glue to make that boat, I’ll use my underwhelming carpentry skills to build one out of scrap wood and whatever else I can find. Unless there’s something special about Norse toenails, I think my crappy wood boat’s going to do better than your nail boat.

            • I don’t think super glue is allowed. You probably have to tie the thing together with the hair of frost giants. I may have trouble finding that at the hardware store.

              • Just go to Heim Depot.

                  • Naglfar are better than Nagelfar.

                    Discuss. Lol.

                    • Oh bloody hell, how could there possibly be two bands with that name, even separated by a vowel? I’m now inspired to do something else about confusingly similar band names. But Andy, I don’t see how you can be putting Nagelfar lower on the musical pedestal than Naglfar. After all, who could forget these brilliant Nagelfar lyrics from “Schwanengesang”?

                      Verklungene Mären in des Skalden Hall
                      Als der kühne Degen am Saume des Waldes den Hauch vernahm
                      Ein Hauch waidlichen Stolzes vermummt in Huf und Mantel
                      Gar groß war der Wonnerausch der seine Seele beflügelte
                      Gleich einem Sturmhengst
                      dem lockenden Gewieher
                      Nachpreschend
                      seiner Bestimmung entgegen …

                    • Hmmm, they had a singer named after the dragon from The Hobbit (although that was admittedly based on Germanic) and ended up with a drummer named Alexander von Meilenwald (or Rykthius V. Grhabakk von Meilenwald). Where to begin?

                    • Okay, so you have Nagelfar and Naglfar, but don’t forget… The Ocean, Oceano and Oceana. One letter does indeed make all the difference.

                      Sometimes it’s a z instead, but some of those bands used makeup that wasn’t corpsepaint and/or KISS frowny faces and lots of hair spray.

                    • I think you’ve just written the first part of the next band-name post. There are some wonderfully similar band names out there sporting some very un-similar quality music. Now I just have to figure out what you meant by the “z”.

  6. @ ElvisShotJFK on Nagelfar: Makes you wonder how they could fail, doesn’t it?

  7. My favorite band name and one of my favorite bands is Heaven Shall Burn. The name sounds just like their music: vicious.

    • Absolutely right. If you’re an HSB fan, you may know this, but there’s an interesting story about that name. When the band formed, it chose the name Consense, but then changed it to Heaven Shall Burn not long after. The name is taken from a Marduk album titled “Heaven Shall Burn… When We Are Gathered”.

      In one interview, the band said, “It’s not that we’re huge Marduk fans, but we liked the name. It sounds a bit provoking and so people ask us again and again for the meaning behind our name. It has been like that since the very beginning. We use the term heaven as a metaphor for some kind of a fake paradise that people create in their heads. Some people close their eyes and don’t see the truth surrounding them. So this kind of fake heaven should burn.”

      An inspired choice — and a fortunate one, because Consense was a pretty terrible name.

  8. I know I’m coming way late to this post but I just discovered this site and.. well. Borknagar. Regardless of how I feel about their music, the name just makes me giggle. I know, other languages. I’m not excusing my ethnocentricity. But seriously. Just say “Bork” a few times. It’s funny as shit.

    • Welcome aboard! And yes, Borknagar is a good example of a decent band (I’m not hugely in love with them) and a piss-poor band name. Not only does it have the word “bork” in it, it has awkwardly placed consonants.

  9. Red Jumpsuit Apparatus? Awesome band, ridiculous name.

  10. i think fleshgod apocalypse comes from the fact that according to Scripture Jesus is a persona of god who became / had flesh and apocalypse means destruction. put it together and you have the destruction of Jesus.

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