The roots of heavy metal were established in the ‘60s and '70s mainly by British bands Led Zepplin, Deep Purple, and Black Sabbath. The metal genre has gone on to include many sub-genres such as glam, speed, doom, progressive, death, black, stoner, even Christian. Characterized by a generally masculine sound, it is aggressive, driven, loud, and often emotive.
Lyrical themes swirl around death, destruction, corrupt politics, unknown evil entities, the never ending abyss, anger, rebellion, and even love. Distorted guitars and lengthy solos have always been pretty standard, as well as intricate fast drumming often accompanied by heart rumbling double bass. It is a world wide sound, found on every continent, and in just about every language.
Some global rock bands who have pioneered the way and are household names include Brazil’s Sepultura, Sweden’s In Flames, and Germany’s The Scorpions. Tastes vary and opinions differ, but if you’ve been listening solely to the American metal you were brought up with and crave a new flavor, perhaps it’s time to travel abroad. Let’s crank it up to 11 and explore metal around the world.
Hailing from Bayonne in the South of France, Gojira have been blasting out groovy, unique, thrash metal since 1996. Brothers Joe and Mario Duplantier, along side bandmates Christian Andreu and Jean-Michel Labadie have released six studio albums. Their name is taken from the Japanese pronunciation of Godzilla and it matches their monster sound that incorporates frenzied double bass, gloomy intricate guitar arrangements, and the screaming vocals of singer Joe Duplantier.
Their music is visceral, deep, and intense and includes themes of environmental destruction, the dismal state of current affairs, life, death, and rebirth. They have climbed the ranks over the past couple decades growing from a band that had to re-release some of their LPs to gain listeners, to a band who headlines shows and tours extensively. Their latest release, 2016’s Magma even received a couple Grammy Nomination for Best Rock Album and Best Metal Performance for it’s single “Silvera.”
Alcest hails from Bagnois-sur-Ceze, France. Formed by multi-instrumentalist Neige, it began as a solo project, but would eventually take the shape of a full band before returning again to a solo endeavor. Work with the band, such as ‘99s demo Tristesse Hivernale was pretty standard black metal. However, after returning to his work as a solo enterprise, his music took a turn towards atmospheric “shoe gazing” as some would call it. The 2016 album Kodama, Japanese for “tree spirit,” was inspired by Hayao Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke.
Mezarkabul also known as Pentagram
Originating from Bursa, Turkey, founding members guitarist Hakan Utangac and drummer Cenk Unnu formed Pentagram in the 1980s. Not to be confused with the American metal band of the same name, they started going by Mezarkabul which translates to “accepting the grave.” After adding bassist Tarkan Gozubuyuk and guitar player Umit Yilbar they released their first LP in 1990 aptly titled Pentagram. They are often considered the pioneers of heavy metal in Turkey.
The band would go on to have multiple lineup changes and even lose a member, Umit Yilbar, to a terrorist attack during his time in the Turkish army. It was this incident that would influence the lyrical tone of several tracks on the 1997 album Anatolia, as well as the themes on all of their following albums. It was on Anatolia in particular that the band interspersed English and Turkish lyrics. Very fitting as the word “Anatolian” literally means Turkish rock, the fusion of Turkish folk music and rock. Anatolia “screamed we are the children of these lands” very loud and very clear and put Pentagram on the proverbial metal map.
This in turn, opened the band up to scrutiny and criticism. Not only for their name, which many misinterpreted as being Satanic, it’s not, but also for selling out. Comparisons to Metallica helped and hindered the band and the Turkish media claimed the band with its themes of war, ignorance, suffering, greedwas poisoning young minds. To the contrary, they were opening young minds. Check out 1997’s album Anatolia or the 2012’s MMXII, celebrating their 25th year as a group.
Formed in 1987 in Yurecuaro, Michoacan, Mexico by brothers Lorenzo, Juan, and Javier Partida. Their particular flavor of metal combines winding, technical guitar work reminiscent of Slayer, with growling ogre like vocals and feverish classic metal drumming. With more lineup changes than are worth mentioning, their sound has remained surprisingly consistent over 30 years and 30 albums.
Only a handful of the aforementioned LPs are English speaking, but don’t let that dissuade you. Check out 1992’s Burial at Sea, especially the track “Wishing a Funeral” if you care to try to decipher the death metal lyrics hidden beneath the snarls, or if you speak Spanish or just don’t give a damn and like to rock out to anything, try 1996’s Mexico Barbaro. These extreme metal pioneers have been regularly touring North America for the last 25 years so keep your eyes an ears open and don’t miss them if they roll by your town.
Brujeria, meaning witchcraft in Spanish, formed in Tijuana, Mexico in 1989. Characterized by a grindcore style with lyrics swirling around themes of satanism, drugs, sex, corruption, and a general anti-American sentiment, it’s no wonder they have ended up collaborating with the likes of Jello Biafra and that he released several of their singles under his record label, Alternative Tentacles.
Dressing up as drug smuggling gang members adds to the performance art and the murderous, sociopathic tone of everything they release. It’s dark satire at it’s finest. Check out the 1995 album Raza Odiada, critically perceived as their best work. Or the track “Cuiden A Los Ninos” from the 2000 album Brujerizmo, the last album recorded with both original members.
Born and bred in Olsztyn, Poland, bass player Piotr (Peter) Wiwczarek and guitarist Zbigniew Wroblewski (say that three times fast) formed death metal band, Vader, in 1983. Taking their name from, you guessed it, Darth Vader of the Star Wars franchise. Lyrical themes include but are not limited to Lovecraftian evil and doom, horror, and World War II. An early demo, 1990’s Morbid Reich, was passed around for a couple years and gained a large cult following. This eventually led to the band being signed to a record deal and releasing their first album nine years after the band’s inception, 1992’s Ultimate Incantation, which included tracks from Morbid Reich.
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Vader would be the first death metal band from beyond the Iron Curtain to sign a record deal outside of their native Poland. Successful sales allowed the band bigger opportunities, such as opening for Slayer in 1999, and headlining their first American tour in 2000. The band have sold more than 500,000 records worldwide and their 2011 album Welcome to the Morbid Reich charted in seven different countries including the United States. Josh Homme, frontman and creator of Queens of the Stone Age, famously stated, after listening to Vader for the first time, that they sounded like the eagles of death metal. He later named his band after this metal revelation.
Formed in Helsinki in 1997 by guitarists Tomi Ullgren and Jarno Salovaara, both of whom were in other bands, Rapture is considered doom/melodic metal. Alternating between clear distinguishable vocals and animal like growling, all three of the bands’ albums feature thematic elements of depression, pessimism, and general gloom and doom.
Each album is easy to listen to as tracks alternate seamlessly between aggressive powerful chords and vocals and slower paced, melancholic arrangements. 1999’s Futile, is considered by critics to be the bands’ cynical masterpiece, and their most recent album 2005’s Silent Stage is sure to pull you in regardless of which metal genre you prefer. It’s just that listenable. Strange that this band has remained somewhat underground and has yet to emerge from the darkness, no pun intended. If you are a fan of bands like Paradise Lost, Anathema, or Katatonia, give Rapture a try and convert your friends who say they don’t like metal.