Shouting out the opinions you won’t say out loud. This week: the 90s, Morbid Angel, Sepultura, and Meshuggah.
With Metal comes passion, followed by analysis, followed by debates and disagreements, followed by a furious hornet’s nest of opinions.
Sardonic jokes aside, our passion to debate and defend Metal music is what makes it so interesting. But lately, it seems there are a lot of blanket opinions and ‘accepted truths’ on bands, albums, or eras of music that metalheads simply refuse to budge on. Make the slightest effort to challenge these assumptions, and you’ll probably be looked down upon like a Limp Bizkit fan at a Kreator concert — which is why a good number of us just shut up and nod along.
BUT, where’s the fun in that? With courage in my heart, steel in my balls and a lack of original ideas in my mind, here are my Unpopular Metal Opinions.
‘Illud Divinum Insanus’ is a GOOD Morbid Angel album
BOY, are the Death Metal purists going to come after me for this.
‘Illud Divinum Insanus’ had a lot riding on it before its release, and a lot more going against it. It was the first Morbid album since 1995 to have David Vincent on vocals, the first album in almost 10 years since 2003’s ‘Heretic’, and the first not to feature long-time drummer Pete Sandoval. Moreover, fans had a sneaking suspicion that Vincent would bring over some Industrial influences from his wife’s band Genitorturers, which was confirmed as soon as they heard “Radikult” and “Destructos vs. the Earth” from the new album. And thus began the critical paddling session on this release, which continues to this day.
But here’s my rub: ‘Illud…’ is a classic example of an album misjudged by just a few of its songs. “Radikult” and “Destructos…” were destined to screw with Death Metal fans, but other tracks like “Nevermore”, “Existo Vulgoré” and “Blades for Baal” are sharp, brutal and heavy turn-of-the-century Morbid Angel. David Vincent’s vocals have never sounded better, and for all the shade thrown at the album’s drum-sampling, drummer Tim Yeung is certainly no slouch behind the skins. While it’s true that this album doesn’t have the dense layers and dark atmosphere of classics such as ‘Altars of Madness’ or ‘Domination’, it’s a perfectly serviceable Morbid album with its own sound, that doesn’t deserve its pariah status.
The experimental 90s NEEDED to happen
Very few look back fondly on the dreaded 90s — when basically all the bands behind the ‘classic’ rock and metal sound moved as far away from it as they could. From Metallica and Iron Maiden to Judas Priest and Kreator, every one of them it seemed, had deserted the faith and bowed down to ‘popular trends’. But let’s look at this another way.
This experimental phase may not have been good for the old-school fans, but it did bring in a new group of alternative fans who could then backtrack to their classic material. There are a number of metalheads today who opine that their favourite band’s first album (and perhaps their first Metal experience itself) was something like Metallica’s ‘Black Album’, Iron Maiden’s ‘X-factor’, Kreator’s ‘Outcast’, or Testament’s ‘Demonic’. And that’s perfectly fine.
Moreover, it’s just a fact that every musical group wants to experiment with different styles. It’s part and parcel of being a musician in any genre. It was better for these bands to get all this experimentation out of their system in the 90s, when the Internet was still too primitive to provide the opinion boombox we have today. And more often than not, they then entered the 2000s with renewed perspective and returned to their classic sound — now with the support of both old-school and 90s fans on a more connected Internet. Could you imagine if say, Megadeth threw the curveball that was ‘Risk’ in the late 2000s or even now? The backlash would definitely be more intense, and even career-changing.
Derrick Green’s Sepultura is GOOD
It seems that Sepultura will never escape the shadow of Max Cavalera, with persistent fans screaming that the band basically died with his departure. Truth is, Sepultura didn’t die — they just became different. And ‘different’ can be good.
While it can be said that their 2000s material just doesn’t hold up to classics like ‘Beneath the Remains’ and ‘Chaos A.D.’, it is fascinatingly different from anything the Cavaleras have ever put out. One thing that has always defined Max in any project is his primal intensity, fuelled by years of living in poverty and police brutality in Brazil. He writes in-your-face metal with simple lyrics, and rarely aspires to any high-minded concepts — and in most cases, we love him for that. Sepultura’s ‘Caval-era’ was the purest distillation of that anger, with the musical experimentation between ‘Arise’ and ‘Roots’ simply sweetening the deal.
But not so, post-90s Sepultura. With Andreas Kisser largely helming creative control, the band began to dig into more sophisticated themes. Sepultura has so far borrowed from works such as ‘The Divine Comedy’ (‘Dante XXI’), ‘A Clockwork Orange’ (‘A-lex’), and the German Expressionist masterpiece ‘Metropolis’ (‘The Mediator between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart’). Talk about heavy-handed! Could you seriously imagine the Cavaleras going along with all this if they were still in the band today?
And besides, we’re seeing a great turnaround in Sepultura since 2011’s ‘Kairos’. ‘The Mediator…’ was subsequently better than anyone expected, even with its preposterously long title and slightly muddy production by Ross Robinson. And if this new track from their upcoming album ‘Machine Messiah’ is anything to go by, Sepultura might just strike the remaining haters down with a vengeance.
The 90s were the best years for Heavy Metal
Look, I get it. The 80s was a golden period for Metal, with the trio of Glam, Thrash, and NWOBHM dominating popular music in a way that has never been seen to this day. But as big as they were, Metal’s true global expansion only came in the 90s.
Death Metal emerged from Florida and Sweden courtesy bands such as Death and Entombed, Black Metal broke out of Norway in a flurry of church-burnings, Death/Doom and Gothic Metal made proliferated through the ‘Peaceville Three’ (Anathema, Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride), Death Metal further received a melodic treatment through the ‘Gothenburg Three’ (In Flames, Dark Tranquillity, and At the Gates), Industrial Metal started its journey with bands like Fear Factory and Ministry, and Pantera basically set the blueprint for the new wave of American Metal that would follow in the 2000s! And I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting a few more beloved subgenres that were established in this decade.
The point is, Heavy Metal’s genesis and high point may have been in the late 70s and early 80s, but to label the decade that came after it as the ‘worst years for Metal’ just because of the Alternative boom, is sheer lunacy.
Meshuggah are stagnating
Meshuggah have had the same sound for 25 years. There, I said it.
Don’t get me wrong — I LOVE Meshuggah, and their’s are some of the most frequent songs on my playlist! It’s just that ever since the release of their new album ‘The Violent Sleep of Reason’, their music has sort of blended together into a homogenous brew of palm-muted riffs and erratic tempos.
In fact, it can be said that Meshuggah have taken just one sound through slightly different styles — the quasi-thrash of ‘Contradictions Collapse’, the fully-formed extreme-prog style of ‘Destroy Erase Improve’ and ‘Chaosphere’, the down-tuned grooves and polyrhythms of ‘Nothing’ and ‘Catch Thirtythree’, and the mélange of all these influences in ‘obZen’ and ‘Koloss’. And after all this, ‘The Violent Sleep…’ just seems to be a modern update of what they already did in the 90s.
So, where else could they possibly go from here? Their sound is all well and good, but they’ve never really shown any proclivity to go “full Prog” — like say, with keyboards and other instruments, or a completely different change in sound á la Opeth. Plus, they’ve got a fanatical fanbase who are perfectly fine with enabling their same old chug-a-chug sound for another 25 years. This, inevitably leads to stagnation in any band.
I don’t want Meshuggah to get stale like that, and I’m pretty sure you don’t either. I personally would be down to hear a symphonic, prog-rock, or industrial Meshuggah — if only to prevent them from being a victim of their own sound.