IN THE NEWEST ISSUE of Giant Robot, Japanese psych/doom band Boris describes listening to metal from a psychedelic perspective. This makes a lot of sense considering that most heavy-minded artists are creating an aural version of "the end of the world." Whether it's the doomed bombast of early Black Sabbath or the icy whirlwind of Emperor, there is an elemental level to this music above and beyond the screaming guitars and shredded larynxes.
Whether your definition of metal begins with Sabbath, Blue Cheer, or Hawkwind, the outer limits of '60s rock provided a foundation. In the '70s, amps got louder, drugs got harder, and heavy metal began a series of permutations into dozens of subgenres that continue to splinter today. Doom metal, black metal, stoner rock, death metal, grind—the list goes on and on. And though it takes time and research, it's possible to find some very thoughtful artists in each of these forms that have taken influence from pot, acid, and Pink Floyd.
"Psychedelic metal" conceptually covers a lot of great musical territory, though not an established genre per se. One of the clearer crossover points is a form called "drone." It's a meditative and often instrumental arena for artists like Earth, Sunn 0))), Skullflower, and Boris to create guitar landscapes free from the traditional constraints of rock arrangement.
Greg Anderson, Sunn 0))) co-founder, explains, "I think our roots are based on a common adoration of metal, and there is some 'psychedelic' music we listen to but to me Sunn 0))) is an ongoing extreme experimentation in sound with a focus on distortion, stretching time, and sub-sonics." In other words, the heaviness is achieved without a lot of the more cliché elements associated with rock and thrash.
Perhaps surprisingly, the hypnotic tempos of bands like Neurosis are not a requirement here. French Canadian thrashers Voivod are unanimously considered the ultimate prog-metal act. Their albums are futuristic, environmental concept works that oddly shred like backward Slayer records. They even hit MTV with a fully realized cover of Syd Barrett's "Astronomy Domine." Running with the Voivod influence into harsher terrain are death metal vivisectors such as Immolation, Gorguts, and Norwegian black metal masters Enslaved.
Original guitar tones, lyrics, alternate tunings, and strange time signatures are oft-cited tools for making heavy music weird. Braden Diotte from synth/grinders Tarantula Hawk says "delay pedals and reverb" are the secret weapon. Stoner rock godfather Scott "Wino" Weinrich of the Hidden Hand gets more specific, "Ya got to have at least two delay pedals!"
Truthfully, heavy metal is such exacting music to play, that most artists rely on inspiration from former (not current) drug experiences; unlike drunken garage rockers and bonged-out folkies. Khanate guitarist and Sunn 0))) co-founder Stephen O'Malley explains that a "... psychedelic mindset has more to do with spirituality and connection to shamanic attitude than substances which are tools." Ryan Aubin from Toronto's Sons of Otis agrees "... music inspires music. Not drugs. Drugs are on the sideline."
Current crossover breakout artists Sunn 0))), Dead Meadow, and Isis are enjoying a new fan base that is not derived solely from the metal mosh pit. A lot of those open-minded, short-haired hipsters could use a guide when it comes to sifting through 30 years of metal in search of smarter, less offensive, more mind-expanding albums and artists. Dead Meadow bassist Steve Kille notes that "... the fact that bands like Sunn0))) and Devendra Banhart are both making the same sort of kids excited is a very cool/interesting thing, maybe saying something about music's changing eclectic taste."
Local veteran rocker Joe Wickstrom of Ditchliquor feels similarly: "I think it is fucking great that bands who make metal or doom for 'thinking people' are getting some widespread recognition. I also like that the misogyny and other silly hallmarks of metal music are entirely missing. That shit makes us all look stupid."
10 Psychedelic Metal Records that Will Blow Your Mind
Neurosis—Times of Grace
Dead Meadow—Shivering Kings...
Enslaved—Below the Lights
Warhorse—As Heaven Turns to Ash
Blut Aus Nord—The Work Which Transforms God