A few days ago we published a post about a Chicago band called Demolisher that unexpectedly led to a wide-ranging discussion in the comments that was far more thoughtful and interesting than the post itself. As often seems to happen at this site, the discussion in the comments veered off in directions that couldn’t have been predicted from the subject of the post. We started off talking about breakdowns and bass drops, and by the end we were talking about banjo music — specifically, metal songs that include the banjo.
One reader (byrd36) referred to the banjo intro in a song by Virginia’s King Giant, which is the subject of a brand new video that we included in one of our MISCELLANY posts two days later. Another reader (Andy Synn) thought of a second metal band that had included the banjo in one of its songs.
That was about all it took to send our impulsive selves off in search of more banjo-infused metal, and today we’re sharing the results of our search. Even though my posts usually tend to run on and on (since “wordy” is one of my middle names), this post will require even more of your time than usual, because we’re including five songs. But we hope you’ll hang with us, because there’s some good shit in here, and it just reaffirms what a few of us thought in that earlier comment discussion: Metal needs more banjo!
After the jump, we’ll repeat that King Giant video (cuz that’s where this all started) and follow it with music from The Absence, an early Zakk Wylde project called Pride and Glory, Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, and Béla Fleck and the Flecktones.
Okay, we cheated there at the end — Béla Fleck’s music isn’t metal, but do keep an open mind, because the music is still stunning. In fact, it may be the most interesting and instrumentally impressive of all the songs we’re featuring today.
The King Giant song, which we’ve previously posted, is called “13 to 1”, and it’s from an album titled Southern Darkness that King Giant self-released about a year ago. We’re including it again, because it was the genesis of this post. As we said before, it’s heavy and sludgy and bluesy — slow and nasty, with whiskey-soaked vocals and big, rounded, beautiful guitar tones. And, of course, it includes the tinkling of a banjo during the first 45 seconds.
Not surprisingly, in our hunt for banjo-injected metal, most (but not all) of what we found was from Southern bands with an affinity for music rooted in Southern-style blues-rock. In King Giant’s case, they splice that root-stock with some vines from the land of doom. There’s a moral to the story told in the video, too — be careful who you play poker with and where you play it.
For more info about King Giant, their MySpace page is here and the band’s official web site is at this location. They’re working on a new album for release in 2011.
This next song is the one that Andy remembered in that comment dialogue from a few days ago. It’s by Tampa’s The Absence — one of our favorite death-thrash bands. The song is called “The Murder” and it’s from the band’s stupendously good 2007 album, Riders of the Plague. It’s been a long wait since then, but The Absence have just released their third album, Enemy Unbound. It’s high on the stack of new CD’s we’re in line to hear.
Riders of the Plague featured a slew of guest appearances, and “The Murder” is enhanced by several of them, including Santiago Dobles playing the banjo. This song is just smokin’ hot from beginning to end. Besides the banjo in the introduction, there’s a multi-guitar solo that will make you smile from ear to ear. Bang yo head:
PRIDE AND GLORY
Pride and Glory was a band that Zakk Wylde pulled together in 1991 in between Ozzy’s No More Tears and Ozzmosis albums, and before he formed Black Label Society. Wylde provided the vocals and lead guitar. Pride and Glory released only one album, self-titled, in 1994, and the project ended late that same year.
That one album pulls together some real ass-kickers, including a song with a cool banjo introduction and a blazing guitar solo. Even if you don’t drink, this one will make you want a few whiskey shots.
MAYLENE AND THE SONS OF DISASTER
Our next offering is from Alabama’s Maylene and the Sons of Disaster, and it’s another raucous, blues-tinged rocker featuring a tag-team match of gritty, rumbling, low-end vocals and set-your-head-on-fire, high-end screams. There’s a cool slide-guitar in the intro, banjo-picking in the verses, and a scorching guitar solo.
This song is from the band’s last album, creatively entitled III, which hit the streets on Ferret Records in July 2009. Fasten your seat belts and check it out:
BELA FLECK AND THE FLECKTONES
We couldn’t put up a post about banjo music without including a song from Béla Fleck, even though it’s not metal.
Lots of people think Fleck is the premiere banjo player in the world. He’s won 11 Grammy awards out of 27 nominations, he has a global following, and he’s recorded music with a fascinating array of other artists. The style of music in his large discography is all over the place, including lots of jazz and world music. His band, the Flecktones, is packed with world-class musicians in their own right.
In the song we picked to include here (“Big Country”), the core members of the Flecktones — bassist extraordinaire Victor Wooten, Jeff Coffin on woodwinds, and Roy “FutureMan” Wooten on the drumitar — are joined in a live performance by guest musicians on the bassoon, a soprano sax, and steel drums.
If you’ve got time, watch this all the way through or you’ll miss a wonderful call-and-response solo by Victor Wooten and Jeff Coffin from 2:48 – 4:25, and apart from an attention-grabbing intro, you’ve got to wait until that duet finishes before Fleck really starts to cook, beginning with a one-handed banjo solo. This is a beautiful song by some jaw-dropping musicians and it’s a massive kick in the ass to watch the performance.
Okay, that’s a wrap — except for this invitation: If you know of other metal songs that include the banjo, or if you have any other thoughts about these songs or about banjo music in general, please leave us a comment. There’s no telling where the discussion might lead . . .
Well, this was pretty cool!
Being a fan of both country and metal, this was a pretty cool post. The only band I know of that really tried to do a full blown cross over was Rebel Meets Rebel which was basically Pantera with David Allen Coe. Maybe someone out there can point me in a better direction?
And did anyone else think King Giant sounds like Alabama Thunderpussy on River City Revival?
See, this is what I was hoping for — new discoveries for me! I don’t know about Rebel Meets Rebel and though I’ve heard of Alabama Thunderpussy (a name like that tends to stay with you), I haven’t heard them. Now I need to.
I really like River City Revival. It’s kinda southern rock metal…I don’t really even know what that means. I’m not familiar with their other albums though.
Here’s a YouTube video…
Also, being a Japanophile, how do we feel about the shamisen around here? It sounds a bit like the banjo…
Skip ahead about a minute and a half…
I have a shit internet connection at the moment. I made it through the shamisen video without much problem but have to wait for a better connection before listening to “Heathen” (the starting and stopping is driving me nuts). As for the shamisen, it does sound a bit like the banjo — amazing that he can get so much variety out of a 3-stringed instrument. What is that he’s using in his right hand to play the thing? It looks like he’s changing the angle of whatever he’s holding, but I can’t figure out why that would change the sound.
It’s a bachi. It’s basically a paint scrapper. I’m not even joking, they feel like a goddamn paint scrapper in your hand–but made of bone or wood or plastic.
I’m not proficient (as in I kinda play one song) with the shamisen, but changing the angle of attack doesn’t do much, as far as I know. Most of the variety comes from manipulating the strings through bends and slides. Also, the top string (which is the lowest string as well) has built in reverb. It buzzes when you hit it. It’s one of the coolest sounds in the world, in my opinion.
I would also recommend the Yoshida Brothers. They are billed as rock inspired shamisen. Some of their songs are bit poppy with new agey sounds, but some of their songs just downright rock…
For when your internet is less sucky… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ron17xFNBf0
Yoshida Brothers: Now THAT was cool. I think that qualifies as shamisen shredding. It looks and sounds great as it is, but metalhead that I am, I couldn’t help but imagine what it would sound like if run through a distortion pedal with some heavy bass riffing and a drummer going full-bore with the double-kicks. 🙂
Alabama Thunderpussy: That was naaasty — in a good way. And I can see why you drew the connection after listening to taht King Giant song. Good stuff!
Soilent Green – In the Same Breath
Sounds like a banjo to me after starting after eight seconds (not 100% sure). BRILLIANT SONG, BRILLIANT BAND!
Soilent Green – In the Same Breath
Excellent find! I do believe that is a banjo at the start of “in the Same Breath”, and Soilent Green is indeed a brilliant band.
For some reason all this talk of banjos brought this to mind.
Oh, that is very cool! For those who haven’t checked the link, it’s a dude named Bill Bailey backed by an Indian band playing Dueling Banjos (from Deliverance) with a guy playing the Sarod instead of the banjo.
Holy Shit, I can’t believe that I didn’t think of the Soilent Green the other day, if only I’d chose differently than the Sewn Mouth Secrets album. Also, I’ll now have to dig up my Pride and Glory there are some killer songs on that album too!
Also, how about Children of Bodom’s cover of “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” by CCR? Some pretty amusing stuff.
it took me way too long to find this page! this is great, and you might want to check out my project, blood and banjos!
funny enough, i wrote a post about breakdowns a bit ago, and am currently planning one about bass hits… you guys beat me by a while! i’ll have to reference your page for sure, good stuff!
I’ve been perusing the blog about your nekro bluegrass project, and it’s fascinating. For anyone else who may stumble across this page, here’s the link:
that is simultaneously hilarious and concerning
I dont know about banjos, but if you want to know about trumpets – check “Downshift in case” , and the only REAL jazzgrind band i know, and one in my top 3 list of all times – “le Scrawl”. – in certain songs they have flutes, piano, and whatever else you can imagine…just not banjos. Actually thats how i arrived on this page…during my search 😀 Good day to all!
Thanks for stopping by, and for these recommendations.
“Cinderblox”– an experimental sounding banjo track by Sonata Arctica– would be worth checking out.
Thanks to all for the amazing tunes; and Islander’s great article and helpful moderating.
Einvera’s album In Your Image features banjo (and may be the best banjo-metal ever). Also, Spazz deserves a mention, even though they are in the powerviolence vein of hardcore, and not technically metal.
Jambinai, while not having banjo, uses traditional Korean instruments to make some of the most batshit insane and intense stuff ever! They are generally lumped into “post-rock”, but don’t let that fool you.
Hello. I found this page because I Googled the words ‘banj metal’ as I have made a track called Way Beyod Wrong featuring just such a thing. It’s got a hell of a lot more going on in it than that so please check it out and see if it qualifies as “proper” banj metal. Here’s my track description:
” Probably the greatest banj-metal-hiphop-jazz joint ever. With lead saxophone, house bass, rock and metal guitars, Eastern banjo, jazz and hip hop drums and a tasty dose of drum and bass thrown squarely in your face. You can headbang or throw some body-poppin hippity-hoppity shapes to this mofo, for real. A lot of genres covered in 7 minutes so hopefully the time will fly by. And, yes, there really is acoustic banjo as a lead instrument on top of some crunching and crashing metal guitar and drums. Long live Banj Metal!”
David Eugene Edwards (of 16 Horsepower and Wovenhand fame) plays a mandolin-banjo hybrid:
Even though it is not metal per se I highly recommend seeing them live should you get the chance.They create massive soundscapes of heavy distortion interwoven with the rather haunting sound of the above mentioned mandolin-banjo and the intense vocals of Mr Edwards himself.
For a more straight up metal song, listen to Myr by the norweigan black metal Taake:
The banjo kicks in around 3:20
Thanks for the pointing me in the direction of King Giant and The Absence!
Also, love you for mentioning Alabama Thunderpussy and Soilent Green 🙂
Another one for the not-exactly-metal category is the Seattle band Wages of Sin. They bill themselves as “Appalachian Death Polka” – I might call them thrash-trad, if the term existed. They consist of a bass, an electric guitar, a drum kit, a mandolin, a banjo and a fiddle. The banjo is integrated throughout all the music – not just featured as an intro. Despite the semi-acoustic instrumentation, they have metal sensibilities running through the compositions, and are a hell of a lot of fun. Check out “Belly of the Whale” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elzYRDrZJwg ) or “Portrait of an Evangelist” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=imK5CPZz95g ) I wish there was a video of “Ten Fathoms Deep” online – it makes the point very nicely also.
Thanks for the suggestions everyone else – going to go check out Rebel meets Rebel
Damn — I live in the Seattle area yet don’t know about this band. Thanks a lot for the tip.
They don’t gig a whole lot, but when they do, it is a kick-ass show. They’re playing the Highline on February 5th. (2016)
Ah, cool, my favorite venue. I will try to make that.