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Thursday, March 24, 2011

10 of the Most Important Metal Artists of the Past 15 Years

Rather than debate whether the old school of metal is better than today's crop, let's just accept what is. Metal is still here, though hanging by a thread sales-wise--at least in the United States, anyway. Let's be fair, though. Today's scene has brought us hundreds of wonderful bands who are just getting better and better as more students graduate through the turnstiles of heavy academia. There might not be a better overall class of metal bands than has emerged in the past fifteen years, so we should celebrate them.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, since many readers are going to cry foul their favorites aren't included. Would that I could put Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Motorhead on the list since they represent metal just by name and stature. Would that I could've included Slough Feg, Nachtmystium, Agalloch, All That Remains, Shadows Fall, The Dillinger Escape Plan, My Dying Bride, Enslaved, Katatonia, Chthonic and Wolves in the Throne Room for their dedication, ingenuity and relentless craft. The definition of "important" is subjective, of course, and very much subject to scrutiny, however, The Metal Minute will accept such burden and deliver to you 10 of the most important metal bands of this generation.


It was predicted that Mastodon would change the face of heavy metal after 2002's Remission was released. Leviathan proved the point instantly. Mastodon's articulate reworking of doom and stoner in linear progression has forced most everyone to keep up. There might not be a more universally-respected metal group in the metal revival, save for the next band...


Already one of the most beloved metal acts on the planet, Opeth might be the most fundamentally-sound set of musicians writing heavy music today. You can count their bars of four in nearly every composition and each segment builds towards an emotional climax so few bands are able to master. Damnation, Blackwater Park, My Arms Your Hearse and Ghost Reveries are crucial albums any self-respecting metalhead should own. Opeth has shown that Goth isn't just for self-pitying arm cutters.

Between the Buried and Me

To this point, every album this uber-talented band has released is filled with wonderment. Did anyone think it was possible to see brackish grind metal given a prog twist? Alaska and The Great Misdirect are superlative albums, though Colors has become a masterpiece of the genre. Though Mr. Bungle has really played a hand in their schemes (along with many other bands, if you have their covers album The Anatomy Of), Between the Buried and Me has actually become metal's answer to Yes and Pink Floyd. Like Mastodon, Between the Buried and Me has broken barriers and shown a new dimension to prog, much less metal. If you don't own their entire catalog to this point, that's your fault.


In the wake of ground Neurosis tore open for everyone following in their "post-metal" excavation, Isis went on to refine the form with long compositions that seldom bored and almost always adopted a sculpting motif. Critics have favored Isis' work to film soundtracks and particularly their last two albums In the Absence of Truth and Wavering Radiant have that feel. Isis' influence (along with Pelican and Neurosis) has affected many expressive metal acts operating in the underground. Too bad they hung it up once they finally gained notoriety.


With Isis having split up, the inheritors of the "post metal" crown by de facto vote has to be Pelican. Pelican has worked danged hard to develop a world-class repertoire of impressionistic and expressionistic instrumental metal. Rough around the edges in their comeuppance, Pelican's din has always compensated for a busted chop here and there. 2005's The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw might be the most anxious and satisfying album in their catalog, yet 2009's What We Come to Need has corraled the polish Pelican has been chasing after and now they're just about unbeatable.


Though Japan's Boris consider themselves an abstract art rock band, there's no denying their core audience is metal-branched. If anyone has tapped distortion to its fullest potential outside of Sonic Youth, Boris is the one. They have thrived on it. Each album Boris has recorded is an unknown, be it singular chord drags or Hendix-huffing wah set on adrenaline. This is the most literate fuzz metal band in the world.


Ihsahn is single-handedly responsible for breaking black metal to the world. Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth may be the subgenre's poster children, but Emperor took cue from Celtic Frost and decorated black metal with orchestral and choral accompaniment and lavish fills nobody could've expected. Emperor remains the finest black metal band of all-time, while Ihsahn's solo work has grown breathtakingly adventurous. Ditto for his left-of-center work with his wife in Peccatum. Black metal is his root, yet Ihsahn has shown his affinities for other forms of music from classical to jazz to classic rock. Ihsahn has become a professor of legitimizing the extreme.


While Dylan Carlson's earlier tone-drone sludge as Earth ranks amongst the heaviest aural trips you can take, his love of Duane Eddy in his revival form of Earth has taken his listeners on a far deeper journey along a lost highway. It's your decision whether his dusty, enlongated drive is on a highway to hell or to the gates of enlightenment. Carlson is the Deacon of Drone and nobody in the scene can make more use of a singular twang.


Yes, Slayer have been around for decades, but they are the reason the music industry at-large still cares about metal. It's not just the fact Slayer has lassoed in a couple of Grammy Awards, though it's remarkable a band this extreme has been honored in such fashion. Slayer represents a sound and a lifestyle that in unmistakbly metal. This is the most-appreciated metal band in the entire universe, from doctors to college kids to the Slayer Wehrmacht, who yell their name at-will wherever their feet take them. It helps that Slayer has never compromised themselves in their long run. A few tweaks and experiments along the way, but Slayer is the heaviest of the heavy and they're showing no signs of quitting.


A notorious recluse, Xasthur has shown the way for DIY in black metal. It's a given a large percentage of black metal acts today are one-man-gangs--which brings very dubious results most of the time--yet Xasthur (aka Scott "Malefic" Conner) has grown and matured into one of the most intelligent dark songwriters of our time. Unfortunately, Malefic will cease work as Xasthur following his latest album Portal of Sorrow.


Metal Mark said...

I'd accept Mastodon and BTBAM definitely. Earth would be a definite consideration. Only heard two albums by Boris but liked them quite a bit. Never heard Xasthur or Ihsahn/Emperor. Not so big on Isis and even less interested in Pelican. It's like loss of jamming only without a lot focus or steam. They interested me at first and then they just made me sleepy.
Slayer are without a doubt the best thrash band of all time although most of their best albums were in the 80's. Still they are also the most of the old school thrash bands still going as well. However Celtic Frost have done one album in the last 15 years, but it's better than anything Slayer have done in that time period. CF aren't thrash, but they are old school band and unlike Slayer in recent years Monotheist showed CF reaching out with their sound as well as being a brutal assault on my senses. I'd consider some top stoner bands like Acid king and Black Cobra well on this kind of list.

metalodyssey said...

This list has more than two "progressive style" representatives and that may be too many for that genre. Satyricon deserves a long look into being on a list such as this, as well as Motörhead. Pantera and Slipknot would get my strong consideration as well.

Regardless if KISS has only released two studio album since 1998, they are a must for my top ten list of most important Metal artists of the past 15 years. The reason: it seems every Metal or Hard Rock musician I've ever interviewed has mentioned KISS as being an influence to them. It's amazing as to how many musicians bring them up in conversation.

As you mentioned, any list is subjective and open to debate. It would be impossible to make the "perfect" list and please everyone. I do appreciate your bringing this subject out into the open and your list as well.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

I always reconsider every time I even propose doing a list because I'm sure to offend someone, myself included. My only true regret was ommitting Enslaved because from Isa on, they've written some incredible music. But I had black metal well-covered and with only 10 picks, I felt it prudent to pick the best one-man-show and the best band (that became a one-man-show, lol).

I put Satyricon into a mental battle against Emperor and because of Ihsahn's pedigree of craftsmanship and my use of his entire body of work (i.e. Peccatum and solo albums), Emperor won. That is a world-class black metal band, even if it became more Ihsahn's gig at the end due to circumstances we all know about. I even battled them against Marduk and Dark Funeral.

Monotheist well deserves to make a top 10 of the most important ALBUMS of the past 15 years. It's dark, it's gloomy, it's emotional, it hurts like motherfucker and it's one of the metal experiences I've ever listened to. Seeing Frost perform on that album cycle was like going to metal church...yeah, I know, forgive the bad pun.

Slayer is the only old school band to make the list because I wanted to focus largely on those who came up in this revival scene. The old dogs deserve inclusion because they're still doing good work and keeping the flame alive. However, Slayer made it because they are indeed the finest thrash act of all-time, they're still going, they still sell out arenas and did anyone EVER expect the most-feared band on the planet to take two Grammys? Say what you will about the Grammys and I'll likely support you, but Slayer's Grammys legitimize the genre, at least in the eyes of the American music public. Their audience is so diverse, demographically-speaking, and nobody else has a ravenous fan base that screams their name everywhere they go, every show they attend. I even recreated a scene of Slayer fans going nuts when "Angel of Death" is played in a club in my novel, "Saved by Zero," because it's a fact of the metal community.

Slipknot hung in there a bit, though I favor Mushroomhead, even if I haven't yet heard the new 'shroom album. Pantera, yes, I hear; they are one of the most beloved metal acts ever, but their core action was relegated to the late eighties to mid nineties, even if they started much earlier. Again, it's about a core timeframe I focused on.

Kiss, well, they are indeed one of the most elite acts of all-time and I was their fan well into my teens. However, they've done nothing I'd consider "important" in the last 15 years except for the awesome Kissology DVDs which pressed and satisfied my nostalgia button with delight. Unfortunately, it's been two original members with two other men portraying former members while the core two have turned the Kiss name into a brand. You're a Pepper, I'm a Pepper...

Mark, even I'd agree that Isis and Pelican their ilk take a special ear to fully appreciate them. They require patience since they sculpt and seldom get to the point, but I really admire their techniques and my eyes and ears are always at attention when I play their work. I've seen Isis three times live, one of them Pelican, and Isis are master live performers, who make use of the sculpting with their bodies. You start shimmying with them because it's translucent and mystifying. I think the Isis/Pelican show I saw is a personal highlight because each band poured themselves into the moment and it was breathtaking. And Earth, you should see some of the people at their live shows...they hold their hands out and drown in Dylan's presence. I closed my eyes and drifted with Earth, particularly since I was fortunate enough to attend their sound check first before the gig, so I got to drown the second time around.

devin said...

This is a tough question to have the right answers too...whether you like them or not, I'd vote for Slipknot - just being able to reach their commercial success while being such a "scary" metal band to the laymen deserves some recognition.

I think I'd also vote for In Flames and or Children of Bodom for really helping bring Euro, esp Scandanavian metal, to the USA and the world.

plus I think you meant MetallicA instead of's ok..I'll let that one slide

Anonymous said...

High on Fire.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Anon, dang skippy on HoF. Love those guys and they crossed my mind. Good call.

Devin, I would take At the Gates first for breaking out the Scandinavian scene, though In Flames especially did help their scene break out, but so did Dimmu Borgir and Cradle of Filth. And I assure you I meant Slayer. :)

DPTH International said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DPTH International said...

I'd like to throw out Virgin Black for this list. Even if only for their "Requiem-Mezzo Forte" album and its brilliant blending of haunting orchestral work and brutal doom/death. One of the greatest bands I've seen live as well. Mesmorizing.

cjk_44 said...

Thanks for going out on a limb with this – sometimes these kinds of lists can set oneself up for ridicule from ignoramuses and experts alike and everyone in-between.

From your list I’d drop Slayer (yes, still very much relevant but less impressive over the last decade or so), Boris (mostly from ignorance as I am still exploring all they have done), and Xasthur (I have yet to hear them, although I hear great things about them).

In their place and from my admitted selfish prospective I’d add:

Dark Tranquillity (took the promise of melodeath and fulfilled it with an eight album and counting string of high quality releases)

Meshuggah (proper recognition is necessary because they’ve influenced a ton of bands)

Enslaved (wow, just wow, all the way around)

Other bands in serious contention had I the time to truly discern overall impact: Porcupine Tree, Katatonia, Agalloch, Wolves in the Throne Room, and The Dillinger Escape Plan

Anonymous said...

I would say Exodus in the last ten years. Slayer have become irrelevant for the mainstrem metal community. I agree with Mastodon. Thats it.
Wow you listen to different stuff than I do.

Anonymous said...

And as Slayer being this relevant band. My god. They have released average dross for a decade or even more. I have read your defence of later albums. They just do not stand up. Kreator, Artillery, Overkill have surpassed them. The evil riffing of Slayer and its perfect combination is blurred and confused in these later releases.
Please enlighten me to their beauty.

metalodyssey said...

Ray, I admire your patience in making a list like this. I also give you a horns up to your defending your choices. The longer I think about it... one "anonymous" mentioned Overkill and whoa... that is a band that defines consistency since their debut album. Add in the "quality" of their catalog of albums too.

I don't think there has been a more consistent Thrash Metal band out there, when it comes to album releases and touring since the 1980's. Slayer yes... only Overkill has done it without the "media attention" and plastic Grammys. Megadeth deserves a strong nod... Dave Mustaine has been quite busy over the last several years.

Again, a Metal kudos to you for embarking on such a list... maybe some day I'll be brave enough to attempt such a task, revealing it to the world. Then, after I click the "publish" button, I'm gonna duck for cover!

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

Appreciate everyone's feedback, thank ya. Anon2 (and Metalodyssey), I favor Overkill for many reasons, consistency, the number of interviews I've had with Blitz, Rat and Bobby G, which have all endeared me to Overkill. Slayer I interviewed Araya on the phone and Lombardo on their bus in a lightning round session. The Araya interview was a total trip. But Overkill's always been one of my all-time favorites. Personal favoritism be damned, unfortunately, when picking an old schooler to make this list.

My original basis was to omit all old school bands and focus upon those who have come up in this resurrection. Much as I kept trying to keep Slayer out, their relevance, their unyielding agression (I've never said they play beautiful music; in fact, it's some of the harshest music you can purchase today), their continued ticket sale prowess, their willingness to tour with outside-the-norm acts like Marilyn Manson and now Rob Zombie coming up, and the fact they maintain a worldwide audience...that's why they made the list. They are important to this scene because 7 out of 10 metal fans own at least one Slayer album in their collections and you can't deny their audience is simply enormous.

Exodus is a great band, Holt is a very cool guy to chat with, but they are still a cult metal band, albeit one of the best around. The case is definitely made for Enslaved, who I adore, and if I'd put this as a 15 band list, they would be a gimme. This newest album was my pick of 2010 and if they keep to course, they'll bump somebody out with ease. Meshuggah is an excellent band and they did have an influence.

Dpth, I'll admit I don't have Virgin Black, but I'll make a note to hear it sometime.

Hell, I could've put Korn on this list simply because they deserve a ton of credit for keeping an interest in metal for North America. Whether you like their style or not, they definitely are a bridge band and worthy of huge kudos.