One of the first things anyone who performs onstage has to learn is that there’s no room for self-consciousness — if you believe in something, and do it hard enough, it’ll be awesome. For no art form is that truer than heavy metal, performances of which include cheetah-print spandex and guitars full of fake blood. The only way to do metal well is to give yourself over to it entirely, to the point of being a total nerd about it. And while some people might laugh at them — ‘might’ nothing, they will laugh at them — metalheads can take solace knowing that they’re living their dream, and that those who get it will absolutely love it.
Since grunge’s blue-collar flannel-wearers first snickered at its spiked gauntlets and eyeliner, metal has been torn between the urge to go totally over the top and an insecure need to seem gritty and serious. But today, a new crop of bands has emerged who are unafraid to put themselves out there, at the risk of being a little cheesy in the eyes of the world. Here are 10 metal artists keeping cheese alive so that we can love the genre for everything that it is.
If Avatar were self-conscious about their sound and image, they might never have reached the heights at which they currently sit. The band’s sonic profile — a bounding combination of death metal, groove metal, power metal, and nu-metal — has made them a standout act, while frontman Johannes Eckerström’s harlequin appearance is instantly memorable. While other bands were still distancing themselves from bounce riffs and clown paint, these guys were embracing them, and now they’re reaping the rewards. Behold the colossus.
Every Enforcer song reminds the listener that during its infancy, hair metal was real as fuck. The band’s over-the-top image and gripping tracks about monsters, Satan, and the excitement of heavy metal basically sound how you always wished early-’80s metal did. This comes from the Swedish four-piece constantly bringing elements of everything from thrash to arena rock into their music, in order to craft something pure in its tastiness. You can snicker at big hair and bare chests under vests all you want, but if you don’t get down with these choruses, you’ve lost your way.
Mixing the blackest metal with the pinkest Japanese punk, Devil Master sliced through the metal scene as a standout act from almost the instant they formed. This culminated in 2019’s Satan Spits on Children of Light, a collection of crypt-shakers that combined the harshness of the extreme underground with the cackling glee of mainstream ‘80s metal. Armed with a none-more-steely guitar sound and pretense-less love of old-school horror, the band remain one of the more exciting project to emerge in the last decade. Of course, creatures this unabashedly raw and evil could only come from one place: fuckin’ Philly.
On their 2020 album The Affair With The Poisons, Scottish one-man thrash act Hellripper bring it all. There’s a track about a hanging tree. There’s a song about a vampire’s grave. There’s a cover where a burning witch is being watched over by a Baphomet face in the smoke of her pyre. And between all of that is a stampede of killer riffs and unholy howls that transport the listener to a sweaty club in ‘86 that only exists in their dreams. Perhaps it’s for the best that they’re a new band — it would’ve been almost sad to watch these guys blow W.A.S.P. off the stage night after night.
Broken doll carnival metal? Yes please. Raven Black’s facepaint and costumes aren’t just for show, but hint at a whole backstory that the band have developed around themselves. That said, the proof is in the pudding, and Raven Black definitely don’t shy away from the metal, their music merging nu-metal’s drops and goth-oriented spookiness with groove metal’s aggression and heaviness. The whole thing is tied together with a stage show full of whips, ripped tutus, and skull-faced dudes with mohawks playing punching riffs. Right the fuck on.
While so many other bands strive for grit and scene cred, Canada’s Striker remember the golden rule of metal: it should be tough, and badass, but always fun. The band’s music has a consistent spring to its step which so many of their peers have lost in the gauntlet of Trying To Get Respect; 2018’s Play To Win has a sunset-colored cover and more squeals than a pig farm, but it’s also one hell of a ride. This isn’t to say that the band are a joke — their songs show incredible technical talent, and their dedication to their craft is audible throughout their catalog. We also just a love a band who’ll play Wizard Staff for a music video.
A band like Acid Witch reminds fans that the first metal band ever was named after a horror movie, and smoked a ton of weed. The Detroit spook-doom act make sludgy, sleazy music about Halloween, gore flicks, and getting high while celebrating both. Truly devoted to all things October 31st, the band include items like pumpkin-carving templates and spinner decorations in their special-edition vinyl (which is usually tri-colored to look like candy corn). If you can’t get down with a stony death-doom track about evil trick-or-treaters, then you lost something special a long time ago.
Sometimes, you just want to hear metal that sounds like the Grim Reaper shotgunning a beer while Ed Gein windmills his dick in Hell, and South Carolina’s Demiser are here to play it for you. The band’s upcoming debut Through The Gate Eternal is as exciting a blackened thrash record as the scene’s heard in years, and the fact that it’s played by guys with names like Gravepisser and Raw Fucking Vomit makes it all the more entertaining. In this way, the band remind fans of a principle that Bathory and Hellhammer always promoted: extreme metal is totally cornball if you pull your punches, but the minute you go full blasphemous night stalker, it’s the raddest music out there.
Unleash The Archers
Nothing about Unleash The Archers is small. The Canadian quartet play festival-sized power metal on multi-part concept albums about galactic domination, and they do so with complete dedication to their work. 2020’s Abyss is a whirlwind of shredding riffs, galloping drums, glittering synths and space-opera poetry that is undeniable in its heft and catchiness. The beauty about this level of complete commitment is that it separates the wheat from the chaff — if you put on “Faster Than Light” and aren’t immediately along for the ride, that’s okay, because it was never meant for you.
Vile A Sin
It speaks to the strength of their cheese that Vile A Sin were hand-picked by Glenn Danzig for the soundtrack to his directorial debut Verotik. The band’s horror metal definitely has a hostility to it, but one that’s always tempered with a Murderdolls-ish sleaze, setting them apart from the myriad of other tilted-head goth metal acts out there. One playthrough of their “Crimson Lust” video also shows that they’re also fully invested in the cinematic side of their art. A band for those of us who can get down with an evil riff and a shriek about blood any day of the week.
Words by Chris Krovatin