Part of being a Metalhead is being ever vigilant against attempts by the mainstream to co-opt, cash-in on, and/or otherwise dilute and besmirch our beloved subculture. As a result, projects like the upcoming Xbox game Brutal Legend (which features the voices of Jack Black, plus high profile guests like Ozzy, Lemmy, and Rob Halford) tend to be met with suspicion by fans wary of “ironic” takes on metal. Luckily, when the game’s soundtrack dropped in mid-august, so did many of the misgivings of die hard headbangers across the globe. Scattered amongst predictable crowd pleasing heavy hitters like Priest and Sabbath and cred-bolstering underground legends like Carcass and Manowar, the discerning metalhead was greeted with some truly unexpected names – bands that go a long way towards proving that designer Tim Schafer and the crew at Double Fine aren’t just taking the piss with their concept for a metal adventure. For your consideration, here are six killer bands that I never in my wildest metal dreams expected to appear in an EA published video game:
Track: So Frail
When you think action adventure, the first thing that comes to your mind probably isn’t “one-man experimental black metal project.” Luckily, your mind was not in charge of selecting the Brutal Legend soundtrack, because Mirrorthrone is awesome. Up until this point the scariest metal track in a videogame was probably Mercyful Fate’s classic satanic rocker “Evil,” which showed up in Guitar Hero: Metallica earlier this year. It’s quite a leap from King Diamond to a band that’s lyrical themes are listed as “misanthropy” and “futility of mankind” on metal-archives.com. Don’t let that any of this scare you away from Mirrorthrone though, you might be surprised at how accessible their unique brand of symphonic black metal can be.
Track: Machine Gun Eddie
Next up: the complete opposite side of the spectrum – a band that just barely falls under the definition of “real” metal. Most metal diehards would never admit that glam has anything to do with metal, but sometimes the exception proves the rule, and Nitro get a pass from me by way of sheer audacity. Seemingly genetically engineered to be the platonic ideal form of hair metal, Nitro took genre tropes to ridiculous extremes with heavier songs, higher screams, crazier solos, ludicrous wigs, and more necks than anyone thought possible. Lead singer Jim Gillette (now married to Lita Ford, who also appears on the Brutal Legend soundtrack) was legendary for his reported ability to literally shatter glass with his ear piercing screams. For the uninitiated, one look at the video for “Freight Train” will dispel any doubts about the power of Nitro.
Track: Riding the Storm
Currently a few “Pirate Metal” bands are actively touring, and fans of Alestorm and Swashbuckle may have already discovered the originators of the schtick, but those not in the loop on wacky metal fads may still be laughing because I just said “Pirate Metal.” To you, I present metal’s original swashbucklers: Germany’s Running Wild. Fronted by “Rock’n” Rolf Kasparek, Running Wild kicked things off in the early 80s with a few albums of standard Up-With-Satan/Live-For-Metal themes, but by their third album Under Jolly Roger, they had hoisted the sails on the good ship gimmick, and by god they sailed that bastard straight through the rest of their career, using the pirate gag to give some flair to their straightforward Maiden-influenced style. After announcing they were scuttling (get it) the band, they went out with a bang, performing a farewell show at this year’s Wacken Open Air festival.
Track: Angel Witch
A product of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal – a loose confederation of 1978-1981 bands that managed to reignite the fires of metal after the punk and disco dominated 70s – Angel Witch is one of the most underrated bands in the metal pantheon. The two biggest names to come out of the NWOBHM are the movement’s greatest success story and its greatest shame: Iron Maiden and Def Leppard. While Maiden refused to compromise and went on to become one of the longest running and most successful bands in metal, Def Leppard embarrassed everyone by throwing in with the glam set, with predictably lame and sugar pouring-on-you results. Meanwhile, hundreds of amazing and hardworking bands from the vibrant NWOBHM scene languished in obscurity. Angel Witch were at the top of their game when they released their self-titled debut in 1980, and although future band activity was marred by a series of ill-fated roster shakeups and reunion attempts, the Angel Witch LP stands as a monument to true metal and one of the overlooked high points of the NWOBHM.
Track: Warriors Dawn
Slough Feg (formerly The Lord Weird Slough Feg) are my personal pick for Best Band in North America. It angers me that they remain relatively unknown after slugging it out in the scene for almost 20 years, so I’m going to take this opportunity to suck their dick. (Not like a specific dick or dicks of a dude/dudes in Slough Feg but like a collective metaphorical, non-gay, band dick.) A unique blend of Thin Lizzy and NWOBHM with occasional dashes of Celtic flavor, accented with Mike Scalzi’s uniquely over-the-top vocals. Each of Slough Feg’s seven albums is packed with inventive riffs and masterful dual guitar melodies, and they also manage to offer something new and interesting while remaining grounded in a style that will appeal to any fan of traditional heavy metal.
Tracks: Cry of the Banshee, Drink the Blood of the Priest
In this case a picture is worth a thousand words, but if you require additional incentive to check out Brocas Helm after seeing that photo (impossible) read on: Brocas Helm have been the most epic heavy metal band on the planet for almost 30 years, and the reason they are number one on this list is because no one fucking knows it. As criminally underrated as Slough Feg (their bay area brethren) are, Brocas Helm have remained even farther below the radar of the typical music fan, most likely due to their relative inactivity – they have released only three full-length albums and rarely perform outside the bay area. When I saw their name on the Brutal Legend soundtrack, any lingering doubts I had about the game were instantly demolished by a sudden raging music boner. Well played, Double Fine.
Brocas Helm Official Site (Inexplicably, Brocas Helm mainman Bobbie “Dark Rider” Wright appears to be huge into anime and cosplaying, which is why their site is located at such a goofy domain. )