5 Unique Metal Bands You Should Be Listening To
Think metal's a limited genre? Think again.
If you’re in the market for metal, you probably know there are roughly 500 styles and sub-genres to explore (if you’re new to the metal scene . . . well, there are roughly 500 styles and sub-genres to explore. And yes, in most of them, you can understand the lyrics). Metal, like most genres, is also dominated by the major players, so listeners can be forgiven for thinking that it’s more or less totally comprised of 50% old-school faves, 48% new-school bands captained by sweaty screaming dudes, and 2% Nightwish.
While there are a bunch of really fantastic bands that fall squarely into those categories ---- hey, they’re famous for a reason ---- metal is also home to a whole bunch of slightly lesser-known bands that are absolutely worth a listen. For me personally, I’m a fan of weird bands, and there are a whole stack of them in the metal genre. After all, for a genre that tends to get thought of as being pretty narrow, it’s actually huge. Metal can be influenced by a ton of other genres (electronic music, rap, or opera, anyone?) and played on a massive variety of instruments . . . or, as you’ll see in one band on this list, none at all. Ready to hear about a few awesome metal bands who defy easy categorization? Well, we’ll start with:
Feuerschwanz is a comedic German metal band centered around mediaeval and fairytale themes. They’re ridiculous, over-the-top, prone to raunch, and overall a whole lot of fun. That alone might be enough to put them on this list, but they also have one extra-awesome bonus. What, you might ask? Spoiler: it’s bagpipes. Yes, this is a metal band with a bagpiper. Hold onto your hats, folks, because this just got amazing. Granted, Feuerschwanz isn’t one of the heaviest bands out there and is often slotted into the genre of rock, but they appear regularly at metal shows and are thus metal enough to appear on here. Plus, I just couldn’t resist the lure of those bagpipes.
Probably their most well-known song is Metnotstand im Märchenland. Yes, it’s in German, but the music video is pretty self-explanatory, regardless of what language you speak. Fairytale characters want alcohol, and they want it now.
Want bagpipes? Here’s their song Ich will Tanzen, featuring some excellent bagpiping along with a side of great fiddling ----- and, in the video, all the band’s various colourful characters gettin’ down in a tent. Not only is it a pretty sweet tune, the chance to see a bunch of mediaeval-esque folks having some kind of mead-soaked disco party is well worth your time. Again, not the heaviest, but certainly some of the most fun.
Blackthorn is a Russian ‘Symphonic Hextreme’ (as they describe themselves) metal band. Their lyrics are primarily witchcraft-related, and have a really interesting vocal combination of operatic-style, spoken word, and growling. While that style in itself sets them apart, their major distinction doesn’t have much to do with their music at all. A definite rarity in the world of metal, especially extreme metal, Blackthorn is an all-female band. They’re also great. I was listening to a song of theirs while writing this (Moonbreed Sigil, for the curious), and it was so good that I had to stop writing and just listen until the song was over. That’s the hallmark of a great bit of music.
Strix Nebulosa is a good example of Blackthorn overall, containing a fairly even mix of the various vocal techniques they like to utilize and offering a full dose of their symphonic/gothic/doom tone. Every song of theirs feels like something of a religious experience, and this one is no exception.
Here’s Blackthorn live performing their song Obey the Noxdimensions (+ Intro). It’s a fantastic song, and they’ve got a great stage presence to go along with it. Plus actually getting to watch these badass ladies throwing down on stage is an absolute treat.
Scottish pirate metal anyone? With ---- of all instruments ---- a keytar? Yep, that would be Alestorm. They’ve been getting more attention recently, which is great, because they’re a really fun band. Metal does tend to take itself pretty seriously, and Alestorm, somewhat like Feuerschwanz, has decided to buck the trend and just have a damn good time. In the case of Alestorm, this includes gettin’ down on a keytar and singing about drinking and pirates. Nothing wrong with that. Technically their genre is heavy metal, but, due to their overwhelming piratical theme, they’ve actually inspired a new classification of their own: ‘pirate metal’.
Keelhauled is a classic Alestorm song, one of the first few to get this weird and awesome band noticed by fans. Just remember, real pirates have keytars.
Now we switch to a somewhat more recent Alestorm song, ‘Drink’, where they cut out any pussyfooting around the matter and just straight-up sing about alcohol. And why not? If you’re an Alestorm listener already, you’ll also notice a huge number of references to previous songs contained in this one. (And, if you’re not, this is your cue to go hit up all those previous tunes in order to come back and get said references).
Hailing from Sweden, Amaranthe’s intriguing mix of vocalists give them a sound all their own. They have three: one male rock singer, one old-school growly metal singer (also male), and their only female member, a pop singer. Yes, other than ‘absolutely some kind of metal’, this is indeed a difficult band to categorize. Band member Elize Ryd, the pop singer in question, once referred to their style as ‘dance metal’, but it really tends to change song by song, depending on which singer’s more heavily featured. Their videos are equally incongruous-yet-somehow-working, bouncing around from standard rock video visuals to headbanging and growling to Ryd’s slinky pop star costumes and dance numbers. They’re certainly a band with a little something for everyone.
Besides being a really neat song, The Nexus is a pretty good visual depiction of Amaranthe in general. It jumps around between the rock guy rockin' out, the metal guy headbanging and death metal growling, and the pop singer with her sparkly eyeshadow and constant wind machine. And yet, somehow, it all works.
It was a tough call between Digital World and Amaranthe's slightly heavier Drop Dead Cynical (which you should definitely check out, if you're a fan of Digital World or The Nexus), but Digital World ended up winning the popular vote through simply being so damn catchy. It's like a weird melding of the deep headbanging awesomeness of metal combined with the catchiness of pop, and it's a style that seems unique to Amaranthe. Check it out.
1. Van Canto
Van Canto takes the top of this list for a very very good reason, and, if you haven’t heard them before, prepare to be amazed. They’re a German band, though they primarily sing in English, and their genre is . . . wait for it . . . a capella metal. Yes, you heard me right. No instruments. Not only are they entirely a capella, excepting only a drummer, they’re a damn good (and genuinely metal!) band. They’ve done a bunch of covers ---- absolutely killing each and every one of them ---- along with a number of original songs, and they’re by far the most unique band on here with their near-total reinvention of the supposed fundamentals of the genre. Great metal with no pounding bass line or sweet guitar riffs? Bring it on, Van Canto says. Nothing I can type here will accurately describe the Van Canto experience, though, so let’s get right to the music.
Kings of Metal, a cover of the Manowar song, is the first Van Canto song I personally heard. I was blown away and became an instant fan, and I’ve seen the same thing happen on many an occasion when I’ve played this song to friends. It’s an older Van Canto effort (hence the less-than-distinct video) but has held up very well over time. If you’re watching this for the first time and don’t start helplessly smiling and doing a bit of quiet at-home headbanging, I’ll be genuinely surprised.
Primo Victoria is a cover of the (amazing) Sabaton song, featuring Sabaton’s Joakim Brodén. It’s a tricky song to cover, but Van Canto does it absolute justice and their male lead singer Sly even comes up with a passable Joakim impression. +1 to Team A Capella.We'll finish off with one of Van Canto's more recent original efforts, Badaboom. Not only is it a great song, it's accompanied by a truly epic music video featuring a mad scientist who attempts to kill metal by taking away the guitars of famous bands ---- only to be countered by the unanticipated power of the non-guitar-needing Van Canto. Fantastic.