Or, Things I Would Rather Write About Than the New Record by The Sword
Or, I Can’t Fucking Take It Any More: In Which A Non-Alignment Pact Writer Talks About Something Other Than KTRU
Sorry guys, I need to talk about some actual music for a while in an attempt to regain my equilibrium.
Hey look at that, the Sword just released a new record on Tuesday. Normally this is the type of record I might review for 29-95.com, but I’m not going to do that because I just don’t like the Sword. I think their musicianship is weak, their riffs are dumb and all of their songs sound the same.
That’s right. I’m a hater. But one thing that I do not hold against The Sword is that they are a “hipster metal” band. Now, that’s not because I think that the tag is inaccurate. On the contrary, I think that it describes a real stylistic phenomenon in hard rock- music that has some superficial resemblance to metal, but actually has roots in some other kind of music. The “hipster metal” epithet emphasizes the “superficial” part of this formulation, implying that the music is intended for dilettantes who get their ideas about underground music from mainstream culture (i.e. think all metal is guys that look like KISS playing Sabbath songs) and basically don’t know actual heavy metal from a hole in the ground.
I don’t think this is necessarily the case, although music critics certainly have a tendency to turn into those idiots when they try to write about metal. I think that it’s possible to make non-metal music that sounds like metal for some reason, either intentional or unintentional, without having the end result be something that is itself superficial. Instead of “hipster metal,” call it “false metal.” Like a “false scorpion.” It’s not like those dudes are any worse at being arachnids because they look like something they ain’t.
Maybe we can get closer to some parameters if we look at some records that might fall into the category. Why yes, you clever donkey- this is an excuse to talk about bands I like better than the Sword.
ZZ Top, Tres Hombres (1973)
Top have wicked riffs and awesome solos and their music is heavy as shit, and Billy Gibbons’s singing voice isn’t much more polished than Lemmy’s. But I don’t think anybody would seriously call Top a metal band. For one thing, their records aren’t very loud. For another, their blues influences are too prominent. This is a heavy blues record, not a metal record, even though it shares some characteristics with metal.
Sleep, Holy Mountain (1993)
No record calls into question The Sword’s reason for existence more than this one. As far as I’m concerned, Sleep perfected heavy-ass 6/8 Sabbath worship to such an extent that nobody need have attempted it with a straight face afterwards. Sleep is an interesting band, because while Holy Mountain, in its perverse, almost reactionary rejection of any of the speed-and-technique arms struggle that marked metal from around 1980 on, falls just on the false-metal side of the line, the visionary, monolithic Dopesmoker and Pike’s later band High On Fire step across it to rejoin metal proper, I think.
Cathedral, The Ethereal Mirror (1993)
What was that I said about a straight face? This record, which came out the same year as Holy Mountain, only sounds like lazy doom-rock. On closer examination, the subtle rhythmic and harmonic sophistication of the music, and especially the nutty solos, reveal the metal roots of the musicians. With former Napalm Death vocalist Lee Dorrian crowing rock catchphrases in a ridiculous voice over its crushing riffs, this record really is like a metal band doing a parody of false metal, and doing a pretty fucking kickass job of it too.
This record, a solo project by Dave Grohl, has a bona fide metal superstar singing on every track. So why is it on this list? Because the songs are simple, riffy, hi-fi rock songs like those Grohl’s been writing since 1993, just with crazy (or not-so-crazy) metal vocals on top. This is an absolute gem of an introduction to the pop potential of heavy music for people who like punk and hard rock but are confused by the extreme shit.
Jucifer- If Thine Enemy Hunger (2006)
Boris- Pink (2005)
These two bands share one of the Sword’s primary weaknesses, namely lack of technique- Atsuo of Boris is charismatic but really a laughable drummer at times- but compensate with a penchant for experimentation drawn from Kraut-rock and Sonic Youth.
Jucifer is an incredibly loud live band that can knock you flat with a metal riff when they want to- check out “Superman” from their 1999 debut- but their overall aesthetic is more like alt-rock, among other things because of their extensive use of the loud/quiet/loud technique. Metal bands do not sound like the Pixies. Hunger is one of Jucifer’s heaviest and, interestingly, most accessible records.
Boris, along with The Sword, are one of the bands most often tarred as “hipster metal.” To my mind, they really aren’t a metal band at all. Because they’re loud and raucous they bear the superficial resemblance to “metal” that qualifies them here, but their songwriting, to me, owes as much to garage rock and probably more to shoegaze. Pink isn’t my favorite Boris record, but it does exemplify what I’m talking about here very well: it’s loud, it’s heavy, it’s hard, but it’s not really metal.
Chopper- Born to Ride. . . or Die (2008)
One of my brother’s bands. Colin rarely does much of anything without a wink, but this whole record is like one big joke: a biker-themed speed metal band from three rock geeks who’ve probably never sat on a motorcycle in their lives. My brother used to play in the very un-metal indie band Deerhunter; guitarist George Asimakos used to be in one of the best math-rock bands of the ’00s, the Blame Game, and his playing here owes far more to Bob Mould than Tony Iommi. The gruff, unhinged vocals make this album heavy as shit, but the monster hooks and fuck-you sarcasm push it into the realm of punk rock.
Baroness- Blue Record (2009)
Marshall and I debated Baroness briefly a while back. I never was totally comfortable with them as a metal band, even though I have to agree they aren’t a hard rock band. This band is one of those weird hybrids you find in small towns where dudes who are into different things grow up together: the bass player in Baroness looks like an ’80s thrash dude, the drummer and the guitarist look like preps, and the frontman is a crazy, bearded metal guy. And they play like this, too- the drumming on the Baroness record, in particular, is about as not-metal as you can get and still be in the neighborhood of Hard. The Blue Record is like a metal band trying to write a Wilco album, failing, and ending up with something else entirely.
Torche- Songs For Singles (2010)
This isn’t even out yet, but I’m not sure if there’s another record I’m looking forward to more right now. Oh wait. Well anyway, Torche is a heavy band, but there’s just too much joy and sunshine in their music to really call it metal. Meanderthal is just an impossibly fun rock record, and I can’t wait to hear more from them. I sure wish the new Torche record had come out this week instead of the Sword.
Final note for the rhetorically challenged members of our readership: please understand that the name “False Metal” implies no disrespect to these bands or to metal. It’s just a way to think about heavy music that isn’t particularly good as metal but might be perfectly fine as something else.