(Andy Synn is back with yet another of his five-item lists of favorite things.)
TheMadIsraeli’s review of the newest Killswitch album (which I still haven’t actually gotten around to listening to) got me thinking, mostly about missed chances and wasted potential. As a fan of KsE, even I have to acknowledge that, due to a variety of factors, some beyond their control, some due to their own decision-making, the band may have squandered some of their early potential.
That may sound rather harsh; it’s not meant to be but it may sound it. But I think it’s unfortunately an accurate assessment of things as they stand. Losing Jesse, the stalling of their initial momentum while they recruited Howard, the more simplistic, mainstream leanings that sanitised their most recent work… all these combined with the general state of the music industry and some unfortunate timing, have meant that the band never reached the “megastar” status which was, however fleetingly, hinted at by their early potential.
Now I know what you’re thinking. Killswitch Engage are pretty damn mainstream, at least by metal standards, right? Well that’s kind of my point… we often forget, we proud underground warriors, that for most bands, being part of the metal “mainstream” means fuck all to the “actual” mainstream. Bands with legitimate underground cred who get the merest sniff of wider exposure are immediately attacked for “selling-out” even when they’ve not changed a thing, they just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
But what I’m talking about here are five bands who had the possibility, however slight, of achieving real recognition (mainstream or otherwise), real status, without sacrificing their integrity or identity, but for whom it never quite “happened”.
I’m sure you’ll disagree with some of my choices, but please bear in mind that I’m a big fan of all five of these bands, and would have been happy for them to blow-up big, because I trust – as a fan and as a “critic” – that they’d have stayed true to themselves despite all that. And, as a result, I’m actually quite sad that these bands never received the success or rewards that I feel their hard work deserved.
Buddies, bros, and bffs of the Killswitch boys, it’s arguable that Shadows Fall had the best potential out of all the “New Wave of American Heavy Metal” to carve a long and successful career for themselves at the top of today’s metal dogpile. And I’m not sure why they never really “broke big”. They certainly have all the tools:
Two killer guitarists. A seamless bass player. A prodigiously gifted sticksman. THREE talented vocalists – providing varying levels of harsh, death, and clean vocals – and an instantly recognisable, eminently likeable frontman (who also has a knack for writing some very memorable lyrics and vocal hooks).
I’d argue that, since getting Fair on board, they’ve not produced a single “bad” album, with only Threads Of Life letting the side down somewhat… although I still contend there’s some killer songs on the second half of that record.
Equal parts Testament-style thrash, aggressive melodic death metal, and metallic hardcore bite, they had/have such crossover potential it’s a shame they never managed to become “the next Metallica”.
Potential Superstar song – “Those Who Cannot Speak”
Another band whose basic ingredients suggest that, on paper at least, they should have been absolutely huge, Byzantine have the hooks, the songwriting, the technical skills (along with the wherewithal to know when/when not to use them), the soaring clean vocals, and the melodic heaviness, to have been a huge crossover smash.
The hints of Meshuggah and Opeth endear them to the underground crowd, the soaring clean vocals stand head and shoulders above most mainstream dross, and the memorable, distinctive riffage and solos provide a perfect rallying point for those in search of something both challenging and instantly accessible. Plus they have more killer riffs than you can shake a stick at.
If Lamb Of God had ever taken a chance and brought these guys out on a major tour as support, I would put money that the exposure might have put the band over the top. Let’s hope that the second chapter of the band sees them get the attention and accolades they deserve.
Potential Superstar song – “Centurion”
Look, I know they’ve had their issues, their ups and downs and what-not (a fluctuating line-up, crowned by multiple singer changes, an extensive hiatus, record label blues, etc) but my god this band should be being worshipped as absolute kings by now.
They crush, they pummel, they bludgeon… they don’t sell out… they won’t sell out… hell, they probably COULDN’T sell out even if they tried. Molten riffage just pours from their fingers every time they’re set to a guitar, and no matter who’s behind the microphone we’re treated to a snarling, unrelenting vocal performance designed to piss on, and piss off, the neighbours.
Now obviously they’d never be the sort of metal band to bother the charts, but they should damn well be the sort of metal band who are headlining festivals by now. I like At The Gates. I do. But it’s The Crown who should be occupying those headline slots, and I’m endlessly gutted that it’s not the case.
Potential Superstar song – “(I Am) Hell”
You may have noticed there’s a fair bit of clean singing in amongst these five chosen bands. It’s not surprising, as the ability to sing cleanly certainly opens up a lot more potential avenues for bands, regardless of whether you consider that “selling-out” or not. Metal began with clean singing. Heck, music itself began with clean singing. It’s a real skill and it’s most definitely art. It always has been. I’d argue that only with the advent of the distorted guitar did the way open up for “harsh” vocals at all.
So clean singing certainly has the history and the pedigree as a musical art form over death growls and the like. And yes, bands with clean singing can be just as “metal” as bands who eschew the style.
Case in point: Novembers Doom. This band should be huge. Don’t argue. It’s true. Effortlessly emotive. Plaintively romantic. Melancholic and melodic, but thunderously heavy when they want to be, they epitomise the perfect balance between clean melody and death-growled brutality. In fact with the recent (arguable) decline of Opeth in the eyes of many, it’s the perfect time for people to switch their allegiance to this Chicago quintet.
What’s more we need to remember that bands can achieve impressive success and recognition without ever going near the Billboard charts, as there’s an untapped market of prog-rockers and fringe-dwelling goths out there who’d doubtless fall in love with the band if we could only get them out of the metallic ghetto they seem to be stuck in.
Potential Superstar song – “A Eulogy For The Living Lost”
Always the bridesmaid, never the bride. That pretty much adequately sums up the situation for Peter Tagtren’s other main musical venture. Major support slots with Rammstein and Nightwish (of all bands) have certainly done a lot for the band’s profile over the last 5/6 years, but they’re still consigned to the mid-to-low-level club circuit on their own tours, and can barely get arrested across the Atlantic.
Maybe it’s because Peter has to split his time between so many different endeavours (not just Hypocrisy, but also the studio he runs and the town he’s mayor of) that the band haven’t taken the sort of leap into the mainstream consciousness (at least in Europe, where things are certainly different than the mainstream in the US) that might be expected of them. Maybe it’s just a case of bad timing, or of “too little, too late” with regard to their recent exposure.
Whatever it is, it’s an unfortunate state of affairs – particularly after seeing how devoted (and mixed) their core fanbase actually is. They’re the sort of band I’m equally happy recommending to someone transitioning into heavier music as I am offering up to someone with more “serious” tastes, who want to relive the sort of shameless sense of fun and exhibitionism that they might have lost along the way. Shoulda, woulda, coulda.
Potential Superstar song – “The Great Pretender”
Because come on… they’re better than Anthrax, they’re better than Slayer, they’re better than Megadeth, and they’re better than Metallica. And I’d rather see Chuck Billy up on stage than any of the other frontmen, any day of the week.
EDITOR’S NOTE: What do you think of Andy’s picks? And what bands do you think should have blown up a lot bigger than they did — or have so far?
Going in the wayback machine here, but I always wondered why Stompbox wasn’t huge. “No Woods” was a monster of an album. I’m guessing they were too post-hardcore for the grunge fans, and too grunge for the post-hardcore fans.
I guess I would first ask what exactly your criteria for “getting huge” would be, because I would consider Shadows Fall, November’s Doom, and Testament all to be pretty fucking big bands by my standards. Sure they aren’t Metallica or Mastodon huge, but that’s a pretty enormous standard to set.
For me the number one band that deserves to be far bigger than they already are is Agalloch. For a (arguably) black metal band, they’re one of the biggest and most popular, but still don’t even come close to mainstream metal levels of recognition. Another band would’ve been “The Ocean” (or The Ocean Collective), but since I started listening to them in the Aeolian days they’re getting a lot more recognition and are getting really huge. Especially now with their upcoming album “Pelagial”, press is going nuts over them now.
It is all definitely relative, though I tried to add a bit of context to each entry.
Shadows Fall could have been the next Metallica, Byzantine could have been the next Lamb Of God, Novembers Doom could have been the next Opeth, The Crown should be at the level At The Gates are at not after reforming… Testament just should be playing bigger gigs than they are, and should be equal to Metallica in my mind.
Oh, and why PAIN aren’t a massive, chart-bothering success is beyond me. And I mean that even for some of the songs that I don’t like.
So at the top you hint at nobody hitting megastar status, but then you say that the Crown should be as big as At the Gates, but AtG where never mega stars outside of metal … you cannot compare AtG with Metallica.
To me this sounds more like “I wish more people listened to these bands that I like”, while that’s all well and good my retort would simply be: why? Few bands have gotten better as they got bigger, Metallica? Slayer? I’d rather a band release quality releases, even if that means less often and fewer because they can’t afford to live off of their music than becoming megastars and pushing out new releases faster than teenage white trash single moms push out new offspring.
In response to your comment I’d probably quote myself where I say:
“But what I’m talking about here are five bands who had the possibility, however slight, of achieving real recognition (mainstream or otherwise), real status, without sacrificing their integrity or identity, but for whom it never quite “happened”.”
Or when I said “Now obviously they’d never be the sort of metal band to bother the charts, but they should damn well be the sort of metal band who are headlining festivals by now.” specifically referring to The Crown.
Or even the fact that the column starts with the phrase “Five Of My Favourite…”
Or where I say explicitly “It’s all definitely relative” right above this”.
Or point out that at no point do I directly compare At The Gates to Metallica.
I’ll asume your very defensive response is due to my poor grasp of the English language and inability to properly formulate questions.
My initial comment was surrounding your choice of the term megastars, now my, perhaps flawed understanding of your article was that bands like Metallica could be considered megastars, bands like AtG I don’t think even come close to qualifying, so in no way do I see a band like The Crown, whom you say aren’t as big as AtG ever reaching megastar status. It was a linguistic quibble, not sure it required such a vitriolic response.
I was much more interested in a response to my second question, however I’ll assume it’s covered by “…my favourites”.
They werent…At the Gates didnt really become “popular” until every two-bit metalcore and melodeath band started ripping off their sound several years after they had broken up
Your second question is an excellent one. From my own observation, there’s a long-standing internal conflict in metaldom. On the one hand, the generous, good-natured part of us wants to see our favorite bands succeed, and maybe some of us also secretly want to see our own tastes “validated” by a mass embrace of the bands we like. On the other hand, there’s that perverse streak that leads us to react negatively to bands becoming “popular”, coupled with a strong belief that if metal isn’t underground, then it isn’t true.
I believe it’s pronounced “Tr00”.
What sort of hell on earth did I spawn with my comment? XD Glad to see the discussion remained fairly civil though, this is why I love NCS. Don’t really have anything else to add, you pretty much answered my question(s) thouroughly. Great topic Andy!
Think you’re mostly correct, while there is a certain amount of, let’s be honest here, envy for bands that make it large I think there is also some fairly certain evidence that as bands get bigger they tend to get crappier, I think that’s partially due to being on a big label and being forced to churn our releases at an industrial pace. Which is why as much as I wish all the bands I like the best and hope they “make it” I’m never too sad when they don’t turn into Metallica.
While Im happy for any band I like that can make a living playing metal..Ive got to agree with the above post. Too often, as a band gets bigger and more popular, they seem to get worse musically. Though, Id attribute that more to a need to water down their sound in an effort to remain popular/relevant to a larger fanbase
I think you’ve both inspired me to look into a follow-up…
Bands Who DIDN’T Get Shitter As They Got Bigger
Oh there are definitely bands that didnt (Immortal, King Diamond, Motorhead off the top of my head)…but Id say for everyone that dosnt, theres another one that does
Very much looking forward to that, as they do exist they’re just so few, which makes it all the more important to highlight when it happens.
For the most part these are fairly accurate. Except Shadows Fall: they are probably the most well-known of the five you listed, and it is my belief they managed to get precisely as big as they should have.
Glad to see the love for Testament — agreed they are superior to any of the so-called Big 4. As are Overkill and Heathen. When it comes to the discussion of non-Big 4 bands, I don’t know why Exodus are so vastly overrated. Everyone wants to talk about how great Exodus are, but I don’t get it.
You must be new here… commenters are not allowed to disagree with writer’s opinions unless given explicit permission to do so!!!
Your mom must be new here…
I totally smell what you’re stepping in when it comes to Exodus. Back in the day, they were always mentioned–right after Testament, of course–when the topic of “bands who don’t get the recognition they deserve” came up. I never understood it either. My theory is that it was a case of The Emperor’s New Clothes. Critics back in 1985 decided that Bonded by Blood was a great album. (God knows why. Maybe because Kirk Hammett used to be in the band? Or they were from the Bay Area, which was the Holy Land back then? Or Paul Baloff’s vocals were awesome, when in actuality they were unlistenable crap?) Anyway, they got a lot of positive press and from there it snowballed to the point where no true metalhead would dare dis them.
And then to make matters worse, they got rid of Baloff and hired Steve “Zetro” Souza, who’s vocals are even more annoying!
But what the hell do I know. They’ve put out another dozen albums since then, so they must be doing something right.
Unfortunately Byzantine’s stagnated success was mostly due to the way Prosthetic records treated them. You’d have to talk to OJ himself about that but, their tenure signed to them was a complete and utter mess. IT IS unfair they aren’t bigger than they are, but unfortunately it was the label that kept them back in spite of Chris Adlers recommendation and props.
I agree with you on The Byz 100%. It breaks my heart these guys aren’t way bigger. I think part of the problem-that-shouldn’t-be-a-problem is that their music, in its own, is pretty complex and maybe even cerebral. That kind of music can be a tough sell. Let’s face it, LoG’s music doesn’t have a lot of subtlety, which I think in part helps them succeed. (Don’t get me wrong, I like LoG and they do what they do well, but there aren’t a lot of tricks in their bag.) If you put the wider mainstream aside and ask why more metal people aren’t into Byz, then that I just don’t know.
I see what you’re saying about Testament, but to my ear, they’ve always been too inconsistent to get to the top and stay there. They’re better than Anthrax,but I think the exposure Anthrax got with high-profile stuff like the collaboration with Public Enemy helped make up for their inconsistencies as far as fan and media attention go. You could also talk about Metallica’s inconsistent output, but the fact that they put out 4 or 5 (depending on how you count the Black Album) really solid records out right from the start helped put them in the untouchable spot they’ve been in so long. If they’d put out LuLu after Master or Justice, then they’d be where Testament is now, if not lower.
Love this post!!! Will have to think about my underrated faves now, one would have to be Overkill!!!! Another, more obscure pick, would be Eternal Suffering, possibly one of the finest proto-slam band of the late 90s? I think so.
The worst song on Among the Living, as if there is one, utterly destroys anything Testament has done or will ever do. I’ve always thought they were extremely overrated (in the metal sense, of course); especially their new output.
I feel like you may be in the minority here…
But I also don’t want this to degenerate into some tit-for-tat “Anthrax vs Testament” argument, so I will simply say that although I disagree with your point sir, I will defend to the death your right to hold it.
I get it. Just never been a big Testament fan. Even when I was 12 and Practice What You Preach would come on The Headbanger’s Ball I would say to myself “Can we get to Nuclear Assault’s ‘Critical Mass’ already?”
Testament isn’t better than any of the “Big Four”, or Overkill for that matter, but you’re entitled to your opinion. I like your thoughts on The Crown, they deserve some recognition.
..and this is a article tailor made for me to usurp. Pretty much all these bands are not only still around, but have put out multiple albums…i.e. theyre doing pretty well in the world of metal.
Bands that deserved to be way bigger than they actually were
Dawn (Swe)..plenty of releases, but only two full lengths. May well be one of the best bands you’ve never heard of
Gyibaaw (Can)..they manage to combine raw blackened death with freaking native american elements
Slugathor (Fin)..with elements of Bolt Thrower and Demigod..this band should have been huge in the death metal world
Sororicide (Ice)…the best band to ever come out of Iceland, dropped one death metal classic that will probably never be re-released as the band actually hates this album.
Well fuck, 3 more bands I’ve never heard (I gave myself a light, one-handed pat on the butt just for having heard of Slugathor).
Yeah…like you need an excuse to pat your own butt
Slugathor was a monster…by far my favorite band to come out of the classic death metal revival. A couple of their guys went on to form Desecresy, and you can still hear a bit of Slugathors sound in that band (though Desecresys music isnt nearly as complex as Slugathors was)
Okay, I bet I can stump you with this killing new discovery: Eastfrisian Terror.
Did I win?
Definitely got me there. I hadnt heard that before…sounds like someone combined a brutal death metal band with Incantation.
I just can’t agree on Testament. I mean if we’re going to compare album to album I’d say that Practice What You Preach stands up against the best Slayer, Anthrax, or anyone else in the scene has to offer (except maybe Rust in Peace). But as far as top notch output goes I really don’t know. They were more of a flash in the pan than most in a subgenre that’s full of flash-in-the-pan artists. Not commercially obviously, Metallica practically makes more money than the Vatican, but you know what I mean.
As far as Shadows Fall goes, I actually really liked Threads of Life but just haven’t felt anything they’ve done since then.
That said, Byzantine’s Oblivion Beckons is possibly one of the most criminally underrated albums of all times. I wish their most recent output resonated with me as much as that album does.
…Fuck, I’m negative today. Sorry.
Oh, so YOU’RE the one who liked Threads Of Life…
I’ve got to agree with Andy about Testament. Between 1985 and 1992, I saw Testament as well as “The Big Four” in concert numerous times. Testament put on the best show of them all. Chuck Billy is an awesome performer and vocalist. (Of his many on-stage antics, my favorite was when he’d hock a big loogie straight up in the air and then catch it in his mouth.) And Alex Skolnick, of course, is a freakin’ genius. I always liked him better than any guitarist in The Big Four. Well, except maybe Marty Friedman.
“my favorite was when he’d hock a big loogie straight up in the air and then catch it in his mouth”: That’s putting it right out there, a true high-wire feat without a safety net. And yes, it’s true, Alex Skolnick is a freaking genius. Einstein bows down before him. Or he would if he were alive.
Yeah…Shadows fall and Testament are pretty big names, both selling over 10k of their latest releaseat at first week . I’d say Psycroptic should be on this list.
Yes, Testament has and still does well. They’ve also been fairly consistent in their work (yes, even The Ritual) and at times could have replaced any of the “Big Four” if there were to be a revolving door, with Megadeth being the toughest of the four to usurp. As for Exodus’ part in that game, I’m also in the camp that has never been convinced that they were as good as their fanbase would make them out to be. True, they were (and still are) pretty good and from what I’ve seen on Youtube, they are still able to get it done on stage.
Good to see some love for Novembers Doom. The Opeth comparisons are inevitable, but if there was a list of bands to climb to the top of the heap today, ND would have be a contender. Paul Kuhr’s vocals have always impressed me, partly because of the fact that you can understand him, not to mention that he’s capable of so much more.
Shadows Fall is a band I’ve tried to get into, but haven’t had much luck. Of the five you picked, I think they’ve had the most success, deservedly so. Unfortunately, my tastes haven’t led me to The Crown, Byzantine or Pain, so I can’t really offer anything there.