Today’s mp3s– a short course in heavy:
I feel I need to balance all the recent feel-good music I’ve put up, hence today’s dose of darkness.
In 2004, Revolver magazine made a list of the top 100 heaviest bands of all time. Here were the top five:
1. Black Sabbath
3. Led Zepplin
I read about the list in the November 11, 2004 installment of E-Verse Radio, a daily emailing of poetry, art, and literature done by my friend Ernie Hilbert. I was impressed that the list got Neurosis right, but I was appalled at the top 3. This was my response to the list:
Sabbath and Zeppelin (#1 and #3) top this list, I’m sure, out of respect for the fact that they have both transcended bandhood and now exist on an exalted level of rock royalty and for this I have to summarily ignore both of them since you could replace the world “Heaviest” with any adjective you like and they’d both still be somewhere in the top five spots. Soundgarden (#2), imho, aren’t the least bit heavy and it’s completely random for them to be this far up the list. Maybe Revolver used an electoral college system to tally the votes. But let me get to my point.
Neurosis (#4) is the heaviest band of all time. I discovered them while listening to late night radio during a visit to Sacramento (home of The Deftones– a band conspicuously absent from this list– whose early work is so heavy you feel uncomfortable listening to it, like watching Deliverance or The Deer Hunter for the first time). In reference to a recent show in California, the DJ could not have expressed their heaviness more clearly: “You know when Neurosis has taken the stage.” Neurosis is a platoon-sized group replete with musicians and instruments– massive and redundant arrays of drum kits, bagpipes, an obscene number of guitars and bass guitars, and a singer without equal who barbarically yells/bellows/screams every word with an inhuman intensity that could raise the dead or at least summon a minor demon. They are a death metal orchestra, a Polyphonic Spree for Satan worshippers. Their sound is densely layered, breathtakingly complex, and completely engaging. To experience them properly, and I can’t emphasize this enough, it is vitally important to play them LOUD LOUD LOUD. Anytime I have a party in my honor where I have autonomous rule over the stereo, i.e. birthday party, going away party, I make my guests endure the album, “Times of Grace”. (But I usually have the decency to wait until everyone is properly wrecked and anyone pregnant or with a heart condition has gone home for the night.) And it doesn’t end there, oh no, there’s more. As if being the heaviest band ever wasn’t enough, they continue to innovate by tunnelling to hell while the Tower of Babel is being built to heaven. They have an alter-ego called Tribes of Neurot. All the same members, but an entirely instrumental incarnation. Still heavy, but ethereal and creepy, like what elevator music in a nightmare would be. But here’s the absurdly cool part. Every Tribes of Neurot album is a sort of doppelganger to a similarly titled sister Neurosis album in that they are both perfectly musically synchronized and can be played simultaneously for an entirely new experience in heavy. I say again, Neurosis is the heaviest band of all time.
Also, the fact The Mars Volta is not on this list is just simply immoral, but I’ll save you that lecture. I submit to you an adjusted list:
Top Five Heaviest Bands of All Time
2. The Mars Volta
Maynard James Keenan of Tool was raised in Ohio (many angst-heavy bands grew from seeds in Ohio, including Trent Reznor’s Nine Inch Nails), but later formed Tool in L.A. with Michigan-born Adam Jones. “Prison Sex” is from their second album, “Undertow”, and is probably one of their most well-known and difficult songs. Tool stands strong as one of the staples in the world of dark, heavy prog rock.
Deftones was formed in Sacramento in 1988. “7 Words” is from their first (and most compelling) album, “Andrenaline”. Lyrically and musically the songs are spartan then distorted, alternating between Chino Moreno’s sometimes whispered, sometimes unintelligibly screamed vocals. Like the Tool albums, a horror-movie type mystique was created by the bands, knowing how to present morbid or unsettling artwork in the albums, knowing when to not print the lyrics to the more controversial songs to intensify their impact, and generally having a keen sense of how to package the band’s presentation in a way that gave gravitas to the illusion of the heavy subject matter of their work. The essence of “heavy” bands requires a lot of suspension of disbelief to properly enjoy the ride, and both these bands have always done this expertly.
Neurosis is a different beast altogether. Formed in Oakland, their approach to heaviness is a spiritual one. Sonically they are without peer, but philosophically they fall somewhere between death metal and jam band. But I’ve said enough about Neurosis already. “Under the Surface” is from their sixth album, “Times of Grace.” Enjoy the music. Force yourself to listen to all three songs. Pretend you are a 14 year old boy living in suburban Ohio, escaping the strip malls and the McMansions by sinking into the underlying pathos paved over by Walmart.