10 indie albums that influenced heavy metal

Metal artists don’t sit around listening to metal all day – inspiration comes in many forms. Here are just some of the indie records to influence the realm of heavy music…

10 indie albums that influenced heavy metal
James Hickie

For a genre with a reputation for being insular and keeping itself to itself, metal has taken fascinating cues from a raft of other genres over the years. To answer the question of how it’s been influenced by indie music, however, one must start with a piece of housekeeping to establish what constitutes indie, a tag that’s evolved over the years. It originally referred to music released via independent record labels, but over time has become a rather vague description for any guitar-based music not ‘hard’ enough to be rock or metal, or used interchangeably with terms like alternative rock or guitar pop. Whichever definition you prefer, to avoid confusion this list is made up of 10 records, in chronological order, that meet one or both pieces of criteria, with the overriding thing they have in common being their influence on metal, musically, stylistically, or attitudinally…

1Sparks – Kimono My House (1974)

In 1997, Sparks released Plagiarism, which boasted alternative versions of the best-known songs by brothers Ron and Russell Mael. Naturally, their biggest hit This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us was included, featuring a guest appearance from Faith No More. Mike Patton and co. were among Sparks’ most famous fans, inspired by the eccentricity and offbeat humour of a band that named one of their albums Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins. This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us originated on Kimono My House, their breakthrough record, which cemented that strangeness. Other points of influence include the indelible linking of their music and stage presence, particularly the stoic, Hitler-moustachioed Ron; and their uncompromising nature (the original artwork omitted the band’s name and album’s title).

2Joy Division – Unknown Pleasures (1979)

Joy Division began life after friends Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook went to an infamous Sex Pistols gig at Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1976, so it’s only fair the resulting band would end up giving back to heavy music. Named after groups of Jewish women in concentration camps kept for the sexual gratification of Nazi soldiers, the band’s music was no less bleak. The dark subject matter of Ian Curtis’ lyrics and the big, dense guitar work of Bernard and Peter has clearly made its mark on metal; Celtic Frost and Hellhammer have been vocal about the role Joy Division played on the haunting elements of their sounds. For immediate proof of the metal credentials of Unknown Pleasures, though, listen to New Dawn Fades: it’s practically Black Sabbath.

3Siouxsie And The Banshees – Juju (1981)

Siouxsie And The Banshees were the punks who invented goth. It’s a categorisation they didn’t necessarily agree with, even if singer Siouxsie Sioux could see the reasoning, suggesting one of her band’s greatest strengths “was [their] ability to craft tension in music and subject matter”. It’s this quality, particularly evident on their fourth album Juju, that’s put many metallers under its spell, hence its inclusion here. Dense, dark and foreboding, Juju’s main legacy and point of inspiration for other musicians may be in the way that it branched out its creators’ sound without compromising on its intensity. If that’s not an enduring lesson for metal bands, we don’t know what is.

4The Cure – Pornography (1982)

Metal is often synonymous with sustaining a mood of suffering through density of sound and rawness of lyrics. In that case, Pornography is as metal as they come. Unquestionably the bleakest album from The Cure, a band not exactly known for sunshine, it finds lynchpin Robert Smith in a nihilistic frame of mind, his first words on opening track One Hundred Years being: ‘It doesn’t matter if we all die.’ Instead of being broken by his circumstances, though, Robert channelled his self destruction into art, chronicling an addled descent into the abyss 12 years before Nine Inch Nails would do the same on The Downward Spiral. Unlike Trent Reznor’s later effort, Pornography wasn’t well received upon its release. Thankfully, this dark, claustrophobic exploration of hitting rock bottom has earned greater appreciation in retrospect.

5Echo & The Bunnymen – Ocean Rain (1984)

The Liverpool post-punks’ fourth album is included for some reasons that are musical, and others that aren’t. The main quote associated with Ocean Rain, courtesy of the band’s leader Ian McCulloch, is that it’s “the greatest album of all time”, illustrating the kind of braggadocio that only metal’s biggest egos could aspire to. What’s more, those words acted as the mission statement during the creation of a record that saw an increased accessibility in the band’s sound, while also taking it in more grandiose directions – a similar transition to the one Metallica made with 1991’s The Black Album. That’s when the thrashers started employing an orchestra, too, which Echo & The Bunnymen had done on Ocean Rain to epic effect. While the Bunnymen’s influence on Metallica is yet to be confirmed, there’s no questioning Ghost’s fandom: they covered the track Nocturnal Me on their 2016 Popestar EP.

6The Smiths – Meat Is Murder (1985)

With their lyrical earnestness and reputation for misery, The Smiths are undoubtedly prototypes for emo, but have they made their mark on metal, too? They certainly have, though more for the efforts of guitarist Johnny Marr than singer (and controversy magnet) Morrissey. Like metal’s finest axemen, Johnny’s playing was unconventional, mixing melodic intricacy and chunky riffs to make the efforts of one man seem like that of several, defining the sound of an era in the process. Meat Is Murder features some of his most iconic performances, with the shimmering atmospherics of The Headmaster Ritual and the industrial buzz of the title-track – a song responsible for turning a generation vegetarian – showing the range of textures and moods it’s possible to paint with sonics.

7Cocteau Twins – Heaven Or Las Vegas (1990)

Read interviews with Chino Moreno and you’ll notice he’s more comfortable discussing who’s influenced his music than the process of making it. Chief among those points of reference is Cocteau Twins, who clearly played a role in the side of Deftones’ sound commonly described as ‘ethereal’. Heaven Or Las Vegas is Cocteau Twins’ fifth album, the most confident and commercially successful example of the (now defunct) Scottish band’s dream pop. And it wasn’t just the otherworldly music Chino has taken his lead from. Liz Fraser’s vocal acrobatics often made her lyrics on early albums difficult to understand, and while they became audibly clearer over time, they remained enigmatic and wrapped in dense metaphors.

8My Bloody Valentine – Loveless (1991)

One of the most amusing scenes in Creation Stories, the recent film dramatising the rise of Creation label boss Alan McGee, concerns the making of Loveless. In it, Alan is seen being kept out of the studio he’s paying for by a security guard at the insistence of My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields. And while there’s undoubtedly a degree of poetic license going on, there’s no denying the making of MBV’s second album was arduous, taking two years to complete, costing a fortune, and requiring the services of countless engineers. History has vindicated such indulgences, though, as Loveless still sounds utterly unique, with its shape-shifting guitars still causing listeners to reevaluate what the instrument is capable of. What’s more, the album played a central role in the introduction of shoegaze, a subgenre characterised by distortion and deafening volume that would later be synergised with metal and black metal bands alike.

9Oasis – (What’s The Story) Morning Glory? (1995)

In 2017, months after the bombing of Manchester Arena claimed the lives of 22 music fans, Metallica played a show at the venue. At one point during their set, guitarist Kirk Hammett and bassist Robert Trujillo chose to play a cover of Oasis’ Don’t Look Back In Anger, to convey the wavering spirit of a city in mourning. It was a beautiful moment. In truth, the biggest Oasis fan in Metallica is Lars Ulrich. And while you’d have thought there wasn’t much the drummer, one of the most cocksure figures in music, could learn about bravado, the Gallagher brothers appeared to do the impossible. Oasis’ music, particularly the second album on which Don’t Look Back In Anger is one of many anthems, continues to influence the swagger and a drive for humongous choruses – even now, long after antipathy between Liam and Noel brought things crashing down.

10Cardiacs – Sing To God (1996)

When Cardiacs leader Tim Smith died in 2020, aged 59, a raft of luminaries rushed to pay tribute. Mike Patton sent “tons of love” to a man whose musical ethos was conducted “independently and with no apologies”. Devin Townsend called him “one of the finest ever”. Meanwhile, Shane Embury, a man known for his fast, frantic playing as bassist for Napalm Death would cite Tim’s band as causing him to write speedier riffs. Tim Smith was therefore the cult heroes’ cult hero, and Cardiacs were true one-offs, intricately mixing everything from prog and metal to pop and show tunes. And while all of the band’s albums are like cryptic puzzles eventually revealing themselves as life-changingly brilliant, Sing To God is their masterpiece: a double-LP with more ideas and styles than 10 genres combined – never mind bands. There are two types of musicians: those influenced by Cardiacs, and those who haven’t heard them yet. Listen to the song Dirty Boy and laugh, cry, be humbled, then try to write something a 10th as good and you’ll have accomplished something amazing.

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