10 Seriously Great Songs By ‘Gimmick’ Bands
When done right, a gimmick will make your band immortal. While plenty of talented artists and albums will be lost to time, your band’s unique identity or marketing plot — the best noise band from Antarctica! The champions of short-order cook metal! — will ring on throughout the ages. That said, being remembered for the wrong thing can feel shitty, and it’s tough to write a bunch of songs and then be forever identified by your outfit and not your music.
Conversely, however, gimmicks can also be a problem because they’ll scare listeners away from what is, at the end of the day, great music. Plenty of the bands we think of as “joke” or “theme” bands do a lot of hard work, and to downplay their talent due to their goofy outfits is a foolish mistake. Not only that, but sometimes those gimmicks can make their music special — you might not want to listen to pirate metal all year round, but every so often, feeling like a pirate is awesome. In this way, to take a no-gimmick attitude may make some ultra-earnest listeners feel genuine as people, but it robs them of some good times.
To prove this point, here are 10 exceptional tracks from bands best known for their gimmicks. Once you get over yourself, enjoy…
Alestorm – To The End Of The World (2017)
Who would write the ultimate flat-earther anthem? The ultimate pirate metal band, of course. In truth, it’s To The End Of The World’s awesome clean/harsh vocal interplay and effective use of synths that make it an excellent track. The atmosphere of epic adventure and gigantic scope present in the song only heightens the lyrics about the quackery once believed by the Glenn Becks of the high seas. It can be hard for Alestorm to get taken seriously at times — the band certainly don’t seem to care much, with their inflatable float-filled live shows — but it’s impossible to hear this song and not wish that you were steering a boat into a raging storm.
Kittie – Until The End (2004)
The early presentation of Kittie may have been unfair — four women? Playing metal? What a zany concept! — but the band overcame it with their perseverance and dedication to the genre. Until The End, the title track from Kittie’s third full-length album, is proof that the Canadian quartet were more than a marketing tactic. Melancholy and multi-faceted, the song is powerfully-written and deftly-arranged, the kind of track that any doom metal band would be overjoyed to have written. Those purists put off by the way Kittie was sold in the late-’90s do themselves an injustice by missing out on this gem.
GWAR – Krak Down (1994)
Yes, GWAR are space aliens with bifurcated nutsacks whose concerts are disgusting bloodbaths. However, they’re also a sleazy alt-metal band with solid thrash chops, and Krak Down off of 1994’s This Toilet Earth proves it. There are still plenty of lyrics about piles of corpses soaked in phlegm, but the track’s true themes of wanting to get idiotically fucked up and behave like a cretin are universally important in the metal scene. More so, the song’s charging riffs and Dave Brockie’s especially-furious vocal performance give it a harder edge than that of any foam space weapon.
Dope – Kimberly’s Ghost (1999)
Edsel Dope of nu-metal stalwarts Dope dealt drugs and did some time; we know this because the band’s PR machine made a huge deal of it early on in their career (Edsel also went for it on tracks like One Fix, in which he actually says ‘I’ve been to jail, too’). But Kimberly’s Ghost from the band’s debut Felons & Revolutionaries is a solid agro anthem, perhaps in part because it’s more about loss and humanity than doing your nickel for moving weight. The track’s kinetic rhythms and real heartbreak remind listeners why nu-metal blew up in the first place, and why Dope have remained relevant in it.
Ghoul – Gutbucket Blues (2007)
As far as shticks go, Ghoul’s is pretty amazing: they’re masked cannibals from the grave-choked nation of Creepsylvania. But the band’s forceful form of dirtbag thrash just makes their identity feel hard-earned. Gutbucket Blues is an excellent mid-paced stomper that feels like the hangover anthem of a band who’s actually had a truly wretched morning-after. The central riff is catchy as ringworm, while lyrics like, ‘And on top of that, I can’t find my shoes’ smack of nauseous honesty no real drunk can deny. What if the gimmick… is you?
Cannabis Corpse – In Battle There Is No Pot (2017)
Ever heard death metal… on weed?! is the general thesis behind Cannabis Corpse’s music. The band wouldn’t be on their sixth full-length album, though, were they not only talented but also convincingly able to channel the death metal bands whose song titles they parody. Case in point, In Battle There Is No Pot, which is not only titled as a tribute to mid-paced genre legends Bolt Thrower, but is also full of the misanthropic riffage and warlike attitude of that British band. Even lyrics like, ‘Behold the behemoth of bud!’ feel like honest battle cries when growled in a song this killer.
Avatar – Black Waters (2016)
It’s fascinating how Avatar have risen above what was once considered their gimmick. Sure, the band still dress like Victorian circus performers, complete with clown-faced frontman Johannes Eckerström. But with 2016’s Feathers And Flesh, the Swedish band proved they were more than just a rack of outfits. Black Waters showcases their versatility, its dark, bluesy overtones making even the band’s symphonic moments feel inky and bleak. The song adds a bit of murky bite to what’s otherwise jaunty nu-metal, and should impress fans of more ‘serious’ metal subgenres looking to find an access point for the band.
Dethklok – Bloodlines (2009)
After the massive success of 2007’s The Dethalbum, many wondered if cartoon death metal band Dethklok had it in them to be an actual band. But Bloodlines, the opening track of their follow-up, quieted naysayers real quick. With a primal pace, thick groove metal riffs, and an epic breakdown at the end that sounds as monstrous and gripping as the band’s lore, Bloodlines is a near-perfect track; more so, it does the show’s all-metal-all-the-time premise justice by channeling not just death metal, but also power metal and NWOBHM. If you’re going to be a cartoon band, you might as well be the greatest one to have ever existed.
Nekrogoblikon – Dressed As Goblins (2018)
If your thing is having a lead singer dressed up as a goblin, what do you write your biggest hit about? Being dressed as a goblin, natch. Dressed As Goblins would be a rollicking power-death song even if it weren’t so self-aware in regards to singer John Goblikon’s insane lifestyle choice. However, that extra bit of meta hilarity tips it over the edge from fun to brilliant, and proves that John stops every so often to point and laugh at what he sees in the mirror. You’re an idiot if you don’t get it, because there’s nothing to get. It’s called Dressed As Goblins, by a band named Nekrogoblikon, who are dressed… you know what, moving on.
The Residents – Betty’s Body (2002)
Most people only know Louisiana-born art collective The Residents for their signature eyeball masks, not their music. And indeed, their songs are often confusing synth-drenched diatribes that’d leave the average rock fan scratching their head. But Betty’s Body has a bizarre menace to it, and features Ratatat-esque guitar work that’s impressive in its own right. The track sounds like the intersection of Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, and ZZ Top, and is a solid way to start getting to know the massive discography of the weirdest band on the planet.
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