BRO-COUNTRY FOR NO MEN: AUTHENTIC COUNTRY ARTISTS FOR METAL FANS
(We have a little-used category of posts that, for want of a better term, we call “Off Topic”. This is one of those “not metal” posts. But it also fits in another category of posts — “That’s Music — But It’s Not Metal” — which is too complicated to explain in detail, but basically refers to music that isn’t metal, but also kind of is “metal”. I’ll shut up now and let Grant Skelton take it from here.)
I used to loathe country music. Going to college near Nashville, the Mecca of country music, probably didn’t help. Metal was all I wanted to hear. That is, until I discovered late greats like Johnny Cash and Townes Van Zandt.
Whole libraries have been written on each of those two. And even among metal fans, Cash and Van Zandt seem to occupy something of a sacred place. Late last year, Islander gushed over Panzerfaust’s cover of Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” referring to Cash as, “the most black metal country singer you can find.” Neurot Recordings has released two compilations (Volume I and Volume II) of Townes Van Zandt covers by Scott Kelly, Wino, Mike Scheidt, and Steve Von Till. Dorthia Cottrell of Windhand recorded her creepy rendition of Van Zandt’s song “Rake” for her self-titled 2015 solo album The much-hyped upcoming outlaw country cover album from DevilDriver (whether you hate that idea or love it) further underscores my point.
Don’t get me wrong, the country music you’ll hear on the radio is nothing more than the foul ordure of red-state identity politics. The songs aren’t songs, they’re lists of ideals and symbols that perpetuate a mythical, illusory way of life. But this article isn’t about that. It’s about artists whose music, while not metal in the slightest, I believe will still be meaningful and enjoyable to readers of our site. On my honor, here you will find no songs about girls in trucks.
First on our list is Benjamin Tod of Lost Dog Street Band. Tod is currently recording his first solo album, for which he successfully crowdfunded 152% of his goal. Tod’s songs are woeful stories of addiction, dejection, and existential despair. His voice is a quivering, neurotic croon that calms the soul while at the same time wounding it.
Consider the following lyrics to the song “Using Again,” which should appeal to most metal fans:
“The memories I’ve got torture my head
I don’t know God, but I heard he was dead
And If I am wrong, in judgment I stand
I will not repent, ‘cuz I don’t give a damn
You can send me to Hell with the rest of my friends”
Albeit more folk than country proper, DirtyCreed is a band very worth mentioning in this post. Hailing from China, this one-man dark acoustic project released a 7” titled Riverside earlier this year on Pest Productions. Information on Dirtycreed seems hard to acquire; when researching the project I didn’t find so much as a Facebook page. Nevertheless, imbibe in these ghostly psalms below. As an added bonus, the two tracks on this release are available as a Name Your Price download.
UPDATE: Just before I submitted this article, I discovered that DirtyCreed made another brand new track (“A Black Reply”) available on their Bandcamp page. Stream it here:
Kent Stian Haugland, AKA The Drifter, has 17 releases on his Bandcamp page. This Norwegian singer-songwriter’s warm vocal affect and somber guitar tones should nourish anyone hungry for simple, lo-fi strumming. If The Man In Black’s American Recordings albums are in regular rotation for you, get into The Drifter ASAP. Listen to his latest release Here Comes The Rain below. I am particularly fond of the track “Nothin’ As Lonely As Rain.”
A doomy folk duo from Nova Scotia. Their debut album Count The Wicked was released May 30. Fans of Gillian Welch should welcome this release with open arms. Mama’s Broke tell twisted tales of haunted wanderers and scorned souls. Consider the track “Black Rock Beach,” about a woman condemned to hang after murdering her abusive husband. The jovial chorus juxtaposed against the dark lyrical content makes the scenery vivid and easy to envision.
A Southern Gothic scribe whose music could easily be the soundtrack to anything written by Flannery O’Connor or William Faulkner. You’ll hear shades of rockabilly, gospel, blues, and even punk. Lincoln Durham is a one-man-band whose instrumental repertoire includes handmade single-string cigar-box guitars. He is an incredibly versatile live performer, and is solely responsible for each and every bizarre note heard at his concerts. His most recent album, Revelations Of A Mind Unravelling was released last year. I’m including a link to a live performance, which is a must-watch.
Whether or not you like Sturgill Simpson, the man has done more than just about any other country artist in the last few years to draw back the curtain on independent country music. Which brings me to Tyler Childers, whose upcoming album Purgatory was produced by Simpson. It is set for release on August 4. Childers’ dry, haggard twang carries the same afflicted spirit as the Kentucky hills he calls home. Below, find both the full-band album version and the live acoustic version of the track “White House Road.”
Colter Wall has a voice that could make a statue weep. And weep bitterly. This 21-year-old bard from Saskatchewan is a heavy, ominous presence both in the studio and on stage. His album is a jewel — a battered, scarred, world-weary jewel… but a jewel nonetheless.
You may have heard his track “Sleeping On The Blacktop” in last year’s western film Hell or High Water. His self-titled second album includes covers of the Townes Van Zandt song “Snake Mountain Blues” as well as the song “Fraulein,” originally made famous by Bobby Helms in 1957. Look for the aforementioned Tyler Childers in the second verse of that song. Below, check out the murder ballad “Kate McCannon,” “Fraulein,” and a live performance.
If you like the music that you’ve heard here, make sure to check out Saving Country Music. This blog (run by its sole editor Trigger) carries a very similar ethic for country to what we have here at NCS for metal. You’ll find your share of news, reviews, and interviews, but also Trigger’s sardonic musings on the soulless artifice that is modern country music. I highly recommend this blog.
Also, please post your own recommendations! I’m always on the hunt for something new or different.
You just might like this little trio from Santa Cruz, the Gembrokers.
I saw them play at folk life a couple of years ago and they left me in awe. My favorite song of theirs is “Dream Song”
I will definitely look into The Gembrokers. Thanks!
THIS IS SOME TASTY $HIT BRAH
There’s much more where this came from. Keep expolring and you’ll find even more tasty $hit.
I had a ‘tude about country for a long time (with the exception of Mr. Cash), especially since a lot of recent hospital visits forced me to wait in a room whose music was controlled by a Massachusetts redneck. (If the music wasn’t on, Steve Harvey was on the TV. I started hoping for tumors that would attack my ears and make the pain stop.) The “pop country” of today is some of the worst garbage that has ever plagued our fragile planet. Whole songs not just about pick up trucks, but VERY specific trucks. The last one I heard was about a Chevy Silverado (mentioned specifically by make and model) with details about the specific trim level. And then some crap about domestic abuse and drunk driving, too. I don’t remember.
That said, I look forward to checking this stuff out. I once heard Tom Petty say in an interview that it was silly to say “I hate [insert genre here],” because here’s always something there you’d like, if you could just find it.
Except for dungeon synth. That’s complete garbage.
Thank you sir for the Saturday morning chuckles.
Some good stuff there…here are a few to check out. Possessed by Paul James, Amigo the Devil and BJ Barham….enjoy
I will look into these ASAP. Thank you!
I only dabble lightly in country myself, despite growing up with country musicians in the house (who were playing old-time fiddle reels, bluegrass, and squaredance music) because the trends eventually nauseated me. So, I don’t know much about what’s going on now, other than some good names which are hardly obscure — Sturgill Simpson, Whitey Morgan, and my personal favorite Jason Isbell.
But I will pass along recent recommendations from a friend whose name all visitors to this site would know if I identified him: Zachary Lucky’s “The Ballad of Losing You” (he’s from Saskatoon, Canada) and Real Ponchos from Vancouver, whose latest album is “To the Dusty World” (2017). Links below.
My favorite Whitey Morgan album is “Grandpa’s Guitar.” Tearjerker if ever there was one. Isbell just released a new album if you haven’t heard it yet. I’m already sold on Zachary Lucky, but will get into Real Ponchos.
Well, shit. I haven’t got Isbell’s new album yet, but I will rectify that post haste. And thanks for the tip on “Grandpa’s Guitar”. Haven’t heard that one yet.
How about Nocturnal Poisoning / Xasthur, i.e. Scott Conner in other words? Yeah, it’s not the latest hot stuff, but nevertheless the man could have been included as a bonus at least.
I love the new acoustic incarnation of Xasthur/Nocturnal Poisoning. Black metal is a genre I’ve only been dabbling in, but I knew the name Xasthur. I opted not to include them because I was under the impression that Xasthur had a farily significant following and fans were already aware of the “Subject To Change” album. But, I’m always happy to do a future roundup like this one and would be happy to include them!
thanks for your reply && a great article in the first place.
Thanks for reading and commenting!
Excellent piece, Grant! I just got Colter Wall’s album and I’m loving it, and I can’t wait to get my hands on Tyler Childers’ album. 🙂
I thought Colter Wall would be up your alley! Thank you for reading!
Boozy, twangy, and Satan gets a shoutout. (Which is always pretty metal, yeah?)
Missing ‘Murder by Death’ on this list.
Although perhaps not entirely as country as some of these, I would think Sixteen Horsepower, ortheir child of divorce, Lillium, would make it on here. Perhaps you are avoiding more folk styled country though.
Great list. Gotta add my boy King Dude here. Dude is legit metal, was in Book of Black Earth before he went country. He’s the business. Can I say blackened Cash-core? https://kingdude.bandcamp.com/
If y’all were looking for a super metal-friendly gateway, PANOPTICON is a fella from KY, and his album “Kentucky” is moody, doom-y black metal blended with bluegrass and quality storytelling. It’s an awesome concept with beautiful execution.