Metal is alive and well.
A culture of heavy riffs blasted through huge stacks has become the stuff of legend and cultish fandom. Adult Swim’s joyful lampooning and a new exhibit at the Grammy Museum featuring metal icons serve as proof to the genre’s enduring magneticism. Nevertheless, for a generation weaned into music on the lukewarm breast milk of indie rock, Metal is the stuff of school shooters and goths. Growling vox, headbanging and too-fast licks are so un-hip for those “in the know.”
But the metalheads have a secret. Beyond the mainstream rock and overused synths, there’s a beast lurking, waiting to strike. Everyone in attendance at the Gibson Amphitheatre for the Heritage Hunter tour with Opeth, Mastodon and Ghost on April 26th knows: Groove Metal. Groove Metal is simple. Kinetic rhythms, jazzy interludes and piercing harmonies harness the brute force of metal in a dark realm of hard rock that is both extremely compelling and immensely stylish. The bands at the forefront of groove are the heirs apparent to both Black Sabbath and, in a way, the Allman Brothers.
It’s a sonic match made in heaven. The Heritage Hunter tour unites a loyal fan base that’s always merch-conscious and enthusiastic with an accessible, rambling rock feel in a show packed with sensational visuals and an overriding sound that conjures up ecstatic motion in the bodies of everyone in attendance. It’s joyful madness from the onset. Here’s the deal – you know it’s going to be a promising night when the opening band conducts a ritualistic black mass complete with dark benedictions and heavy vamps fed through Orange stacks.
Satanic Stockholm quintet, Ghost, brought the sinister side of groove out early with a show rich in shocking imagery and melodic nuance. It’s difficult to top a band whose singer dresses like an evil priest and refers to the audience as “the beloved of Beelzebub,” but that’s why the world has bands like Mastodon. Always ferocious and backed by an impressive array of lights, the Atlanta Quartet does metal with a wicked little boogie. With a staple of songs from their latest release, The Hunter, and recent albums Crack The Skye and Blood Mountain, Mastodon pulled out their bag of tricks. Double-necked guitars, three-man vocals and a wicked mix all coalesced in a spree of sensory stimulation. The band closed with neo-thrash anthem “Blood and Thunder” and the mellow, mantra-giving missive “The Sparrow.” The only thing more impressive than one band straddling the line between monstrous and meditative is two bands on the same lineup that kill and caress with equal ease.
When it comes to striking the balance between death rattle, overdrive metal churn and loving harmonies with jazz influenced keyboard interludes, Opeth are the true masters. Since 1990, these Swedes have incorporated various progressive, folk and jazz elements into a concoction of Death Metal that can only be described as eclectic. Dynamic doesn’t even begin to do justice to Opeth live. It takes a sage sound guy to balance thundering lows with flittering highs. With Opeth, there’s always a surprise around the corner. Chortling vocals turn into growls and heavy riffs bleed into strange keyboard solos (my God, was that a mellotron?).
It’s nearly impossible to fully capture in writing the magnitude of a show like this. Visuals and an all-pervasive wash of evolving rhythms and melodies force you into motion. Becoming ensconced in the music is unavoidable. In this sense, strange a comparison as it is, Groove Metal concerts like the Heritage Hunter Tour share their closest similarities with a House show. Powerfully loud and inherently kinetic, the shows each feature a tour-de-force of volume and unique technical mastery.
While House music requires an unrivaled creative adeptness at computer interfaces, Metal performers like Brann Dailor and Brent Hinds embody the analog technical virtuosity needed to organically master a fret board or flow through polyrhythms. The imagery of Electronica appeals to life in the digital and virtual world while Groove Metal embraces a return to nature—trees, swamps and vast wilderness figuring heavily into the pantheon of Mastodon and Opeth.
Both House and Groove Metal represent rival poles of new, popular music. Both combine cherished musical forms with style and intensity, paving the road to musical futures borne on the backs of very different beasts. One embraces the synthetic world while the other pines for the organic. Both are cutting edge.
Beyond the reverberations of genre-shaking Metal and the glare of psychedelic lights, the Heritage Hunter Tour comes complete with strange little premonitions. To say it aloud is presumptuous. To wish it were true could be a Faustian bargain. Groove Metal is evolving into something wondrous. Its impact is already immense, but what wisps of magic come now feel like harbingers of something much bigger around the corner. So dust off your Les Paul, hook up your crunch and overdrive pedals and plug in – the beasts are coming.