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What music has dominated your past 12 months? Cast your votes in this year’s Kerrang! Awards now!
More often than we'd like to admit, we rock fans assume that our favorite bands simply exploded onto the scene whenever they became famous. But this practice often rewrites history, and does a disservice to all the hard work that these musicians put into their careers. Rome wasn't built in a day, and it's undeniable that Romulus and Remus had to play to crowds made up of their girlfriends and get stiffed by promoters before they could finally make it big.
No matter how quickly an artist takes over the world, their history usually includes year after year of slugging it out in clubs and wondering if they'll ever make it. And even when they blow up, every choice made by these musicians – from who they want to open for to the date they want to release their album – is vital to their success. It's therefore important to think of a band hitting it big as an iceberg of sorts; you may see a huge mountain of success, but below the surface is an even larger base of doubt, sweat, sacrifice and stamina on which their acclaim rests.
Here are 11 bands who have been swinging for the bleachers for longer than most fans probably realize…
When The Satanist blew everyone’s mind in 2014, many metal fans and press syndicates alike began hailing Polish death metallers Behemoth as a new force within the scene. Except Behemoth hadn’t been new for ages – the band formed in 1991, and had first made waves within the death metal world with 2002’s Zos Kia Cultus and 2004’s Demigod. Even after a song from the former of those albums became the title for Glenn Danzig's yearly metal festival and frontman Nergal started dating Doda, the Polish equivalent of Britney Spears, Behemoth remained an opening act for many years, only receiving the full rock star treatment in Europe.
As such, The Satanist’s deft philosophical approach came at the end of an extended period of paying dues, and the band’s refusal to appeal to mainstream audiences earned them a special place of reverence among even elitist metalheads when they finally blew up. Evil things come to those who wait.
Long Island’s Stray From The Path are one of the most exciting, merciless acts in the hardcore scene – but in 2021, the band shockingly turns 20. For as youthful as they sound – producer Will Putney likes to describe vocalist Drew York’s screams as those of a “little kid having his baseball cards taken away” – Stray From The Path formed in 2001, and released their first record in 2002.
Especially notable is that the band's journey to success on a grand scale hasn't just been a series of basement shows and split 7"s. Stray From The Path have consistently put their money where their mouth is, supporting charitable organizations; the band raised money for The Ghost Inside after their bus accident, and traveled to Nairobi as part of the Clean Water Project, which guitarist Thomas Williams described as “was one of the most life-changing experiences we’ve ever had". One play-through of 2019’s Internal Atomics, however, will show fans that the past two decades has been time well-spent for the band.
For many, David Draiman’s infamous 'OOOO-WAH-AH-AH-AH' from Down With The Sickness was the starting gun for the 2000s, automatically announcing the band as superstars. Except that Disturbed had already been working on their craft for half a decade and change – the band formed in 1994, originally playing under the name Brawl. In fact, David Draiman wasn’t even Disturbed's first vocalist: he replaced singer Erich Aswalt in 1996. After that, the band still had to make their nut in tiny clubs, as above footage of Disturbed playing infamous NYC punk dive CBGBs proves (imagine Disturbed playing a room that small in 2020…).
And while some might think that Disturbed just saw Korn's success and decided to hop on the hype train, that's not the case -- David describes Metallica's Ride The Lightning as the album that saved his life. “The power, the complexity, the aggression – there’s so many things that would attract anyone to Metallica,” he told Kerrang!. “I think that they are the prime example of a metal band." Further proof that any band one thinks of as an overnight success had to duke it out in the local scene before they made it.
The throbbing doom metal of Pentagram feels so old-school and timeless that it can hard to pick a decade to predict when they formed. Was it the underground of the ’80s, the groovy counterculture of the ’90s, or the doom boom of the late 2000s? And yet it was earlier than all of those – Pentagram first hit the scene in 1971, just one year shy of Black Sabbath’s massive debut.
Forty years later, Pentagram singer Bobby Liebling became the subject of the documentary Last Days Here, focusing on his turbulent career and personal life – but only last year, the band announced a new tour with the rehabilitated vocalist. No matter how long they've been around or how important they've been to the underground, Pentagram are proof that sometimes making it isn't something that just happens, it's an ongoing struggle for those with the temerity to keep up with it.
It was 2003’s Sing The Sorrow that brought AFI to the attention of the world at large. But by that time, the band had already been slugging it out for over 10 years, having formed in 1991. Maybe it’s just that their sound wasn’t quite ready until then – with every album after their 1995 debut Answer That And Stay Fashionable, the band went harder and harder in the goth-punk vein, until they were ready to drown the world in a deluge of black.
During their hardcore beginnings, AFI weren't exactly the vampiric heroes we think of them as. Frontman Davey Havok told Kerrang! that the first time he heard his band on the radio, it was four years before their sound-defining All Hallows EP, and Davey wasn't exactly riding in style. "I was in my 1983 Honda Accord when it happened. Only one of the speakers worked and I had a toothpick jammed into it to keep it stuck on FM." Sometimes, punk rock bands just need to be brined in sweat and make-up before they can take over the world.
When one thinks of Faith No More, one thinks of the transition between the ’80s and ’90s, and the weirdo MTV art film that is the Epic video. But the band was formed in 1979 under the name Sharp Young Men, and didn’t even bring frontman Mike Patton into the fold until 1988. Though they had a sizeable hiatus in the middle of their career – from 1998 to 2009 – Faith No More have officially spanned over five decades in some form or another.
Not only that, but their career was always an uncommon one. When he finally came out in 1993, keyboard player Roddy Bottum was pretty much the only openly gay man in rock'n'roll, immediately making their continued existence once that stared in the face of rock's cliches. "There is still the stereotyped heterosexual scenario of teenage girls falling in love with macho guitar heroes," Roddy told Kerrang! "But there’s just as much homosexual infatuation in rock music as heterosexual – it’s about time that it’s recognised."
Read this: 10 albums that signaled the death of a trend
Looking back, it’s as though Lzzy Hale emerged from the womb midway through writing a song. While Halestorm didn’t become the hard rock juggernaut we now know and love until the mid-’00s, Lzzy and her brother/drummer Arejay had already been performing heartfelt music and posing aggressively (and at times adorably – see below) for almost a decade. Interestingly enough, the band name never changed – even then, they were Halestorm.
Not only that, but Lzzy has dealt with obstacles and gatekeepers since day one. Speaking to Kerrang! in 2018, the singer and guitarist revealed how she was taken aside at her Catholic middle school and discouraged from making rock music. "It was me, the principal and two other teachers – it was an intervention. It was like, ‘Hey, I know you’re trying to be a musician, but where’s the ministry in this?’ and, ‘We’re not going to allow you to talk about it or to pass around your music any more in the school.’" Thankfully, she didn't listen, and all these years later, we're here to reap the benefits.
Plenty of punk fans automatically associate NOFX with the ’90s pop-punk boom, which certainly rocketed the band to widespread success. But they formed in 1983, and released their first two albums in the late ’80s. Fans used to their more nuanced sounds might also be surprised to hear the band’s early stuff, which is often more straightforward Cali punk rather than the jaunty, dub-tinged music from albums like Punk In Drublic and Pump Up The Valuum.
If there's anyone who's surprised that NOFX have come all this way, it's Fat Mike himself. When asked if he thought he'd still be making music last year, the singer said, "If you’d asked me that question 20 years ago, I’d still have been impressed (laughs). NOFX is my family. They’re not like my family, they are my family. But punk bands don’t know when to fucking quit." Further proof that after the atomic bomb goes off, only roaches and Fat Mike will remain.
There's something about Gojira that feels fundamentally novel. The band's progressive take on hard-hitting groove metal seems to twist the genre into exciting new knots with every album. But the band formed in 1996 under the anglicized name Godzilla, only switching to the traditional Japanese word for everybody's favorite city-destroying monster in 2001.
Their secret has been the same since day one: staying hungry and writing good songs. Even after the band were a name within the scene, pleasing fans was a priority. "We’re still constantly worried about doing the right thing, and struggling to make a living with music," said frontman Joe Duplantier in a 2011 interview with MetalSucks, after the band were already pretty established. "We’re not super-good at business. We’re not good at Facebook and all that stuff. We’re just about music." That they continue to sound so fresh and new with each album is merely a credit to their musical prowess.
Older heads might think the new guiding force in modern metal just appeared on the scene, but that's folly – they've been around for over a decade. Granted, Code Orange started under the somewhat more jaunty name of Code Orange Kids, but the band remains the same for the most part, playing huge, bone-snapping bounce riffs since 2008.
Just how long have Code Orange been around? Joe Goldman used to go to their early shows. The bassist may have been in the band for nine years, but a recently-resurfaced video of one of their recent shows features Joe up front at a performance in a tiny venue. Just another reminder that no band leaps fully-formed from the Devil's brain – though if anyone did so, it might be Code Orange.
We already think of Judas Priest as a classic metal band, but the extent to which they're classic might surprise even some old-school fans. Judas Priest formed in 1969, one of many Birmingham groups who were experimenting with the heavy, soulful blues rock sounds that would eventually become heavy metal as we know it. Frontman Rob Halford didn't even join Priest until 1973, with bassist Ian Hill remaining the only founding member of the crew.
That said, if someone told you that Judas Priest were playing in Hell when Lucifer fell from Heaven, you probably wouldn't be that surprised. Rob himself was quick to note that the band's staying power has always been its consistency and dedication. “I won’t say [our new album's] been done before, because you can say every James Bond film has been done before," he told Kerrang! in 2018, "but it’s the way you reinvent – actually, not reinvent, approach – that gives it its validity and its original twist.”
Read this: The 10 best Judas Priest albums
What music has dominated your past 12 months? Cast your votes in this year’s Kerrang! Awards now!
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