The World is a Heavy Place: 20 International Metal Bands You Should Know
By Saby Reyes-Kulkarni
The world is, literally, a heavy place. According to NASA, the mass of the Earth has been measured at 5.97219 × 1024 kg. In another sense, the world has gotten heavier as the popularity of heavy metal has spread to every inhabited continent. If you’ve ever bought into the stereotype of metal as a form based exclusively in American and British sensibilities, the worldwide metal community now boasts a plethora of artists who will challenge those preconceptions. The following list includes bands from far and wide, all of whom bring a fresh perspective to the genre.
It’s arguable that no one has put more of a Latin stamp on metal than Sepultura, one of Brazil’s most widely heralded musical exports. When Max and Igor Cavalera founded the band in 1984, they were in pursuit of a fairly derivative death-thrash vision modeled on a conventional American and European approach to rhythm. But then, with 1993′s landmark Chaos AD, Sepultura embraced Brazilian textures in a big way. Since then, the band has collaborated with the Amazonian Xavantes tribe and percussion ensembles like Japan’s Kodo and France’s Les Tambours du Bronx.
Triptykon arose from the ashes of legendary first-wave thrash outfit Celtic Frost, whose influence on metal still reverberates deeply among today’s modern bands across several stylistic parameters. As bandleader Tom Warrior delves into darker psychic terrain, Triptykon simultaneously expands upon Celtic Frost’s flair for romance and experimentation. As a case in point, latest album Melana Chasmata contains a song about the poet Emily Bronte that sounds no less tortured than its other material. The band isn’t afraid of melody either, and yet it somehow continues to set new standards for heaviness.
One of the world’s most ambitious technical death metal outfits, Gorguts returned in 2013 with Colored Sands, an album of epic scope that verges on orchestral music composed for cinema. Bandleader Luc Lemay, who once studied classical composition with a Catholic nun, unabashedly incorporates his love of conservatory-borne music. His affinity for, say, Poland’s composer-conductor Krzysztof Penderecki, continues to enrich Gorguts’ singular mission to elevate metal to near-operatic realms.
Fuck The Facts (Canada/Quebec)
Few acts are capable of incorporating as many stylistic changes into a single song and retain a sense of coherence and flow quite like Fuck The Facts. Every member of the Ottawa-Gatineau grind quintet speaks some combination of French and English, both of which the band utilizes freely. At times, the band’s lyrics subtly hints at a worldview that straddles two cultures (French and Anglo Canada), which are often at-odds—not to mention a keen awareness of the US’s towering, even menacing presence on the North American continent. Dig deep enough into frontwoman Mel Mongeon’s high-pitched shrieks and you find an alienation that’s several shades more profound than your typical grindcore angst. Fuck The Facts’ brand new album Desire Will Rot sets a new high watermark for the genre.
Meshuggah’s penchant for overlapping different time signatures simultaneously induces a hypnotic effect, a unique playing style that has been imitated by countless bands. Additionally, the quintet’s preoccupation with existential dread, lyrical and instrumental sophistication, and a fervent drive to continue evolving have all helped consecrate to its towering status among metal’s elite.
Moody, ambitious, prog-influenced death metal with a strong backbone of social and environmental consciousness. Very few metal bands could pull off a concept album involving flying whales and their role in an interplanetary saga, but Gojira does just that on its 2005 album From Mars to Sirius. Even the band’s explorations of death on 2008′s The Way of All Flesh demonstrate a heightened sense of empathy that most bands of Gojira’s ilk spend their whole careers trying to avoid.
Nero Di Marte (Italy)
Nero Di Marte advances the genre by emphasizing mood and atmosphere over sheer aggression, proving that metal bands can be “heavy” without having to rely on the same old excess. On its latest album Derivae, the Bolognese band maintains a haunting tone without ever veering into cartoon malevolence. The quartet wrests elegance out of foreboding with nary a growling vocal or double-bass drum roll in sight.
Polish quartet Antigama manages to stick to a fairly straight-ahead interpretation of grindcore’s rules while demonstrating an ability to infuse its music with peaks, valleys, and innovation—no small feat in a genre celebrated for its constraints. Antigama makes some of the most substantial grindcore currently being made, and the band’s searing social commentary slashes deep to reveal the sharp intelligence fueling the band’s furious drive.
A standout act in its native Ukraine, progressive metalcore Jinjer wants to make sure that you get the band’s influences correct. While frontwoman Tatiana Schmailyuk cites prominent female death metal vocalists like Otep leader Otep Shamaya and Sandra Nasic of Guano Apes, she also draws inspiration from several iconic male vocalists too. On the five-piece’s latest album Cloud Factory, Schmailyuk directs her passionate howling at the fast-mounting global environmental crisis and its culprits in the industry.
Fraught with tension, Israeli sludge-metal trio Dukatalon’s 2010 debut Saved By Fear embodies the sound of looking out at one’s surroundings through wary eyes. Fans of sludge pioneers like The Melvins and High On Fire will find plenty to like here. But the thick, palpable sense of urgency in Dukatalon’s music elevates its slow, churning sound above mere attitude and style. Saved By Fear, in fact, celebrates the primal human fear response as an essential component of our survival.
Melechesh (Israel/West Bank)
Over the past several years, increasing numbers of bands from the Middle East have transplanted black metal from its traditional emphasis on Christian-based imagery to other cosmologies that originated in the region. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense that the tone, intensity, structures, and primary preoccupations of black metal would adapt rather readily to Sumerian/Mesopotamian lore that pre-dates Christ by many a century. Much as the American band Nile has forged a career on setting ancient Egyptian spirituality and supernatural concepts to music, Melechesh—a band consisting of Jerusalem-based Assyrians and Armenians now situated in the Netherlands—explores occultism through the lens of pre-Islamic Assyrian belief systems.
Now US-based—the band’s third asylum-seeking relocation after two forced moves to Syria and Turkey—Acrassicauda first came to international prominence as the subject of the Spike Jonze-produced documentary Heavy Metal in Baghdad. Unsurprisingly, sustaining a metal band in Iraq posed numerous logistical problems for the members of Acrassicauda, whose simple quest to rock out amidst a war-ravaged backdrop. This gives their music a poignancy and context that other artists who play this style of music often lack. The years of hardship seem to be paying off, though. The band’s 2010 EP Only the Dead See the End of the War was produced by Testament’s Alex Skolnick, a debut full-length is on the way, and Ministry’s Al Jourgensen has declared Acrassicauda as his favorite band.
Absence Of Light (Kenya)
Much as ancient Middle Eastern belief systems lend themselves to metal’s attack and longstanding fixations with mortality, Hinduism makes for fertile ground for artists intrepid enough to tackle their endless pantheon of deities and concepts. Consisting of an India-born, Kenya-raised trio, Nairobi’s Absence Of Light makes blackened death metal that, naturally, delves into the shadowy aspects of Hindu spirituality. Poland’s Behemoth has pointed its gaze at Asian lore in the past, but Absence Of Light represents a burgeoning metal movement that takes its musical cues from northern Europe. The group makes use of traditions so old and rooted that artists will never run out of inspiration to give them new expression.
Billing itself as the world’s first Kurdish metal band, Ferec hails from Colemêrg, a city in Turkey’s Hakkâri province, which lies in a nook far at the southeastern edge of the country near the Iraq and Iran borders. Ferec’s lyrics are written entirely in Kurdish, a once-bold step that appears less and less outlandish amidst metal’s ever-expanding global reach. At first, Ferec’s video “Helikopter”—with its scenes of marching armies intercut with the band head-banging in a graffiti-covered rehearsal space—looks like it could’ve originated just about anywhere in the world. But that’s precisely what makes the video worth a second and third look: it urges the audience to take a look at how war has affected this particular part of the world, and what that means to band on a personal level.
Bhayanak Maut (India)
“In order to create something,” proclaims Bhayanak Maut, “you must first destroy something else. Man [its latest album] is the result of us destroying the last ten years of our lives.” Unsurprisingly, Bhayanak Maut doesn’t lack a flair for drama. The groove metal/deathcore sextet tackles macabre themes with the utmost seriousness and a distinct emphasis on precision. As such, the Mumbai-based outfit explores the horrific subject matter with a concern for craft that approaches literary-grade storytelling.
Maximum The Hormone (Japan)
Picking just one Japanese group for this list presents a nearly impossible task when the country boasts a lineage that includes Melt Banana, Boris, Sigh, and Swarrrm—all of whom put fresh, even bizarre twists on metal to the point where they nearly invent styles all their own. But even among such esteemed company, Maximum The Hormone stands out for taking strangeness to another level. “Spastic” takes on new meaning in this band’s hands (and wildly flailing limbs). Think several forms of metal thrown into a blender with bastardized Mike Patton/Mr. Bungle/Chili Peppers-style funk, then splattered all over the wall. The result is Maximum The Hormone’s zany approach.
Silent Hell (Taiwan)
Metal has a long, almost sacred tradition of bands that make environmental catastrophe sound somehow scary and fun at the same time. Metalcore/groove metal’s Silent Hell puts its bid in the apocalypse-anthem sweepstakes with the rousing (but uncomfortably close-to-home) “Tsunami” off its 2013 album Drama. The recent departure of frontwoman Kin Lin adds a sense of intrigue to where the Taipei-based quintet might proceed next. Lin’s diminutive frame belied her ability to summon an impossibly deep, bear-like bellow. (The contrast is highlighted in the video for “Reject.”) New frontwoman Zong has a more melodic, attitude-driven style that certainly doesn’t lack a personality of its own. Stay tuned.
Ulcerate (New Zealand)
This Auckland-based death metal band certainly knows how to make use of dizzying, all-out displays of technical proficiency. On the other hand, when Ulcerate unexpectedly switches gears to a more spacious style of playing, the results can be equally powerful and galvanizing. At times, when drummer Jamie Saint Merat turns on the restraint, his touch verges on jazzy. The quartet is always pushing the envelope to extremities—no small feat following countless bands whose sole purpose have been to earn the title as “heaviest band ever.” Ulcerate proves that heavy is as much a product of the space between the notes as the notes themselves.
Nostalgie Depression (Chile)
For as long as black metal has been defined by misanthropic angst, the genre also inspires what can only be described as gothic romance in some of its most ardent practitioners. Santiago-based outfit Nostalgie Depression plays “depressive ambient black metal” with a self-described “neo-folk” streak. In recent decades, Chile’s capital city has become ground zero for the nation’s growing metal scene. But Nostalgie Depression, essentially a solo vehicle for primary member Nayenezgani, stands out for its unabashed use of gentle textures. While some of Nostalgie Depression’s work is marked by the abrasive lo-fi aggression of classic black metal, Nayenezgani isn’t afraid to use sounds like birds, rain, flutes, and extended acoustic guitar passages side-by-side with throat-curdling vocals.
De La Tierra (Brazil, Argentina, Mexico)
A pan-Latin supergroup, De La Tierra brings together Sepultura guitarist Andreas Kisser, Andrés Giménez, of Argentine groove metal act A.N.I.M.A.L., Argentine bassist Sr. Flavio of Los Fabulosos Cadillacs, and drummer Alex González of Mexico pop-rock group Maná. Unsurprisingly, given the bands that three of the four members hail from, De La Tierra hews close to a more straight-ahead brand of metal, but the Latin influences shine through in a less overt fashion. Nearly two decades after first blazing a trail for metal’s fusion with Latin music in Sepultura, De La Tierra makes that hybrid sound natural as if it were always meant to be.