The 50 Best American Metal Bands From the Last Decade
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It’s difficult to think of the Pacific Northwest’s biggest metropolis, Seattle, Washington, without acknowledging the legendary music that has come out of it. Since the inception of the loud, vulnerable, punk-infused rock ‘n’ roll of the early ‘90s made popular by bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, and Alice In Chains (lumped together under the umbrella of “grunge” by accident), there has often felt like there’s something in the water up there that has lent itself to a unique brand of messy, riffy, unhinged -- yet somehow catchy -- rock ‘n’ roll. Or maybe it’s just 8 months of rain every year and lots of time spent indoors with loud amplifiers and a killer record collection.
But Seattle isn’t the city it once was when Nirvana burst onto MTV. After several population booms due to mainstream pop culture’s sudden obsession with the city during the ‘90s, and the presence of massive tech companies like Microsoft and Amazon, rent has skyrocketed; traffic has become unbearable; beloved venues, bars, and DIY spots have shuttered, and rich tech-company employees in fleece pullovers have largely replaced the flannel-and-ripped-jeans-wearing artists of the past.
“This town’s legacy is not just an influence on its musical output, but also kinda serves as a cautionary tale in the background too,” says James Ballinger, Editor-In-Chief of the heavy-music zine The Seattle Passive Aggressive. “We’ve all seen this town change so much that ultimately I think the mantra is, ‘Nothing lasts forever, don’t make art for anyone other than yourself.’ I think what makes Seattle special right now is understanding that. We’ve all seen buildings destroyed, developers bulldozing practice spots for condos no one can afford. We feel pushed out, and sometimes beat down. I think all of this translates so well to heavy music.”
Despite these changes, heavy music prevails, and the people who want to make music keep finding ways to evolve and adapt. Of the many bands keeping Seattle’s heavy-music legacy alive, here are eight that you should listen to right now.
If you combine the tight, catchy songwriting ability of Soundgarden or Nirvana, the bass tone of The Jesus Lizard, and the energy and buildups of early-2000s hardcore, you end up with a band like Sandrider. The band was formed by former Akimbo members Jon Weisnewski (bass/guitar) and Nat Damm (drums) along with Jesse Roberts (bass) from The Ruby Doe, and even though they’ve only put out three albums (and a split with Kinski) and never fucking tour (which is a goddamn travesty), they’ve cemented themselves as a new Seattle classic.
When asked about Seattle's music scene, frontman Jon Weisnewski says, "The best way to sum it up is unpretentious. Most of the bands and musicians I know just want to get out and play small rooms to local crowds. There's not a ton of grand-standing or inflated expectations, at least that I see. This could be entirely because I'm an old man rocker and the only people I still know are also tired husks who are content to have an excuse to get out of the house. But the lack of ego and competition definitely helps you just write songs that sound good to you and not be worried about getting in front of people to play them.
"You'll probably be loading gear in the rain," he continues. "You can walk from the venue and buy legal pot. You might have to scream at a crowd of drunk Amazon employees to get out of the way while parking your van. I've seen Seattle go through numerous ups and downs, but as a baseline it's been very consistent and that's great. There will always be a deep rooted community here that loves punk, metal, rock, and will keep it real.”
If you couldn't pick it up from their name, Fucked And Bound are a pissed off, aggressive, feminist hardcore band that has zero problem getting in your face. Their songs, which clock in at an average of about a minute and a half in length, cover everything from leftist rage to existential dread, Punishers, and porn addiction. During their explosive live shows, vocalist Lisa Mungo (who also plays synth for Daughters and He Whose Ox Is Gored) fully loses herself in the music by tangling herself up in her microphone cable, screaming and writhing on the ground, and ripping off her clothes as the sweaty, riled-up crowds climb all over each other. Between all of the feedback and growls, the band says they want “to challenge the constructs that keep people down: capitalism, patriarchy, and depression.”
“It’s wonderful, being by the water,” says guitarist Brian McClelland. “It’s dark at times, moody. Lots of music culture still here...it seems to be sort of in transition. A number of bands are turning over and reforming. Younger punk bands are bubbling up and taking the place of some former stoner rock stalwarts.”
“It’s awesome to be a part of a bustling DIY community,” he continues. “Though the classism of the new tech overload could be removed.”
Serial Hawk is a doom band of the meditative, cathartic, all-encompassing kind, born of the legacy of bands like Yob, Om, and Sunn O))). Shockingly enough, despite being one of the loudest bands in the entire Pacific Northwest if not the country at large, their mammoth-sized sound is created entirely by three people. If seeing them live and having the soundwaves vibrate your entire skeleton isn’t enough, they also perform entirely silhouetted against their wall of amplifiers by floodlights on the ground, creating a dramatic experience few will forget. Just don’t forget your earplugs.
“We feel privileged to live in a city that has so many great bands, musicians and artists,” says guitarist/vocalist Will Bassin “Musically there is something for everyone but the rapid growth and development has definitely changed Seattle, in many ways for the worse. It’s sad to see the impact it has had on many people and places who are here trying to maintain what made this city great to begin with.There’s a lot of beautiful landscape that surrounds us in Seattle. The mountains, trees, water, the overcast gray sky, it’s all very powerful imagery and oftentimes lends a hand in creating almost a soundtrack to where we live.”
Photo by Matt Koroulis
Pisswand take hardcore, doom riffs, and an onslaught of steamrolling aggression, and roll it up into their own brand of noisy Seattle heaviness. Though they’re a relatively new band (they only have a self-titled EP and a recent full length, Apex Prisoner), they’ve already proven themselves to be a mainstay in the heavy-music community.
“We don’t try to emulate any particular band or sound, nor do we go to great lengths to sound different,” says guitarist/vocalist Adam Jones. “This mess of noise is what comes out naturally when the three of us play together. We just roll with it. Playing this music provides an escape from daily life and that’s what we hope it does for folks listening.”
On Seattle’s music scene, he continues, “I’m sure the cost of living, horrible traffic and lack of sunlight has affected us to some degree. The influx of tech-industry nerds has inspired a deep hatred as well.”
Ostensibly, Endorphins Lost are a powerviolence band, but much like any other good Seattle band with influences that lie all over the place, their sound touches upon everything from death metal to hardcore and grind. At the end of the day, though, they prefer to describe themselves as “manic hardcore punk.” The band just released their spastic second full-length album, Seclusions, on Head Of Zeus Records, and despite never losing an ounce of energy throughout its 14 tracks, the record also features their slowest and doomiest song yet, Two Minutes Hate.
“People think that it's a very dismal and dreary area,” says bassist/vocalist Brandon Curry. “I think because of the weather. I feel like that bleak atmosphere contributes greatly to our inspiration and sound. Our life experiences from living in such a dark and cold place come through in our lyrical content.”
However, he sees a lot of positivity in the scene as well: “There's a lot of people trying to be more progressive thinkers. It's a very free feeling where you can be into whatever you want to be into and people are generally accepting of that. Or at least tolerant. I feel like it's a scene that is freak-friendly and very pro ‘live and let live.’”
Potentially the most unclassifiable outfit on this list (that’s a compliment), Post/Boredom are fuzzy, riffy, weird as hell, and play shows alongside bands of every subgenre --from goregrind to pop-punk. Don’t bother looking them up for more info either (their bio reads “dirtier than mud, yet cleaner than an angel”...thanks, guys) -- just listen to their album Shaking Hands With Clients below and see for yourself. Or better yet, go see them live and watch them crack jokes to each other onstage in between their spastic songs.
“Metal is alive and well here and there’s a lot of bands doing a lot of different things, yet all coexisting together,” says guitarist Pam Sternin. “The weird, somber part of the old Seattle sound is coming back. There are more women than ever involved in all aspects of the Seattle rock scene, which has developed in its own natural way. There is a serious lack of all ages venues as well as general musical venues in Seattle due to the massive tech industry boom here and it has affected local musicians greatly. We all grew up going to shows as kids and having 'punk rock save our lives,' and it’s important that stays accessible for future generations.”
The Pacific Northwest has always been a great place to find weird, ultra-heavy noise-rock, and Great Falls are the genre’s reigning kings. Their music is jarring, unsettling, and unrelentingly loud -- funny, considering the cheeky name of their latest record, A Sense Of Rest. Unlike other bands whose mere sound is aggressive, their stage persona is mildly violent, too: Bassist Shane Mehling often charges into the crowd, bass and all, daring showgoers to hold their ground. In fact, he once broke his arm mid-set, cutting the show short so he could go to the hospital. (He says he doesn’t want people to be disappointed if it doesn’t happen again, though.)
“25 years ago when people thought of Seattle they thought of Kurt Cobain and now they think of [Amazon CEO] Jeff Bezos. I have no idea how that affects what we sound like, but it’s gotta be doing something,” Shane says. “I have no need to perfunctorily defend my local scene, but I would say that the fundamentals right now are pretty strong. We’ve lived through multiple dead eras, and it’s been a while since it seemed like actual momentum was building. The evidence is with how many bands we’ve played with recently -- bands we didn’t know -- who got up there and absolutely killed it. I don’t have great insight into any other scenes out there right now, and maybe they’re all putting us to shame, but at the moment I feel optimistic.”
There’s something astoundingly powerful about a band with an unassuming, two-letter prefix for a name that sounds like the entire weight of your doomed existence crushing down on you. But that’s exactly what makes Un so special: There’s nothing frivolous or theatrical about their sound, unlike so many other epic, Candlemass-y doom bands from their part of the world, just the simple weight of negation, as their name implies.
Un’s theme is “realization through introspection,” and introspection comes mighty easily while losing yourself in their 12-minute-plus long songs. As guitarist/vocalist Monte McCleery puts it, he wants the listener “to search within, to face your trauma, to examine and uproot problematic behavior, and to re-emerge a stronger, better version of yourself.”
“The Seattle arts community in general is incredibly diverse and supportive of each other, which I believe is seminal to the success of so many bands and artists from here in the Northwest,” Monte says. “Sadly though, every year we are losing more and more venues and art spaces, with nothing new coming in to replace them. It's beginning to paint a very grim picture for the future of our city's culture and lifeblood.”
He continues, “I think it’s a very interesting phenomenon the way that small communities and regions all over the world develop their own styles and motifs within art. I think with Seattle's climate and decades of rich musical history, we definitely benefit from that. Couple that with mental illness and emotional trauma and you have a very potent mixture for creating dark, heavy music.”