Metal and post-rock might seem like two opposing styles of music on the surface. Where one emphasizes power and intensity, the other focuses on abstraction and contemplation. What would a band like Mastodon have in common with, say, Tortoise? But the cinematic soundscapes of post-rock have been influencing the face of metal for decades, to the degree that it inevitably led to what is now dubbed ‘post-metal,’ wherein the heaviness of metal swirls with epic instrumentals and more abstract, atmospheric elements. In fact, the line between a band like Neurosis and Mogwai or Godspeed You! Black Emperor isn’t necessarily that far—all three bands tend to write lengthy, climactic dirges that explore the space within their sound as much as the sound itself. And the most harrowing moments of Slint’s Spiderland can stand on their own against the most intense metal albums.
While post-rock itself is a fairly difficult to define term, its best-known bands tend to incorporate many similar elements, namely unconventional song structures, psychedelic and ambient influences, epic sonic journeys, and a tendency toward the abstract. So with a handful of post-rock’s most celebrated bands having released new albums this year, here’s a set of 10 post-rock albums that every metal fan should seek out…
Earth, Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method (2005)
Earth’s Dylan Carlson has one foot in the metal world, though few Earth albums sound like any conventional metal album. Hex is its own unique creature, a gothic western painted with the darkened hues of doom. Inspired by Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian, the 2005 album is an electrified interpretation of Ennio Morricone’s western film scores, with an added dose of heaviness and grit.
Explosions in the Sky, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever (2001)
Best known for their score for Friday Night Lights, Texas’ Explosions in the Sky have a particular knack for crafting epic instrumentals. Each track on their standout 2001 album takes the listener on a journey from moments of defeat to flashes of triumph, from quiet contemplation to soaring bombast. Much of the record is awash in shimmering beauty, but around every corner is a powerful climax, giving each of these self-contained epics the satisfying closure it deserves.
Godspeed You Black Emperor, F# A# ∞ (1997)
“The car’s on fire and there’s no driver at the wheel/And the sewers are all muddled by a thousand lonely suicides.” It’s hard to imagine a more harrowing beginning to an album. That narration, from “The Dead Flag Blues,” paints an apocalyptic portrait more isolating and bleak than most metal albums. On vinyl, Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s debut album comprises only two long compositions (the CD version adds the 24-minute piece “Providence”), but within those two pieces are an entire world of nightmarish imagery. F# A# ∞ is alternately beautiful and deeply unsettling, stitching together grand, orchestral instrumentals and sequences of dark ambience and found sound, telling a powerful story without words.
Grails, Doomsdayer’s Holiday (2008)
Portland’s Grails, whose lineup includes Om drummer Emil Amos, take pretty wide stylistic swings between albums, but their default setting is cinematic. The band’s 2008 album Doomsdayer’s Holiday, with its demonic album art and ominous title, certainly looks like a metal album on its face, and it’s by all means the heaviest of the band’s efforts, from the thunderous riffs of its title track to the blazing psych-blues of “Reincarnation Blues” and the chilling drones of “x-Contaminations.”
Mogwai, Young Team (1997)
Glasgow’s Mogwai created the archetype for the epic post-rock album with their debut, Young Team. Rooted in shoegaze and the experimental indie rock of bands like Sonic Youth, Mogwai stripped away conventional song structures in favor of moodier passages and long build-ups, which often came down with crushing climaxes like that of standout “Like Herod.” The album’s greatest moment is its colossal closing track “Mogwai Fear Satan,” a whirlwind of big, distorted guitars and powerful rhythms that stretches for a mesmerizing 16 minutes.
Mono, You Are There (2006)
Japan’s Mono have a tendency to operate on a massive scale. On their 2006 album You Are There, recorded by Steve Albini, four of the six songs stretch well past 10 minutes apiece, and there’s a sense of raw dynamism to each of them that feels connected to bands like Isis and Neurosis at their most ambitious. But they often take their time to reach those heavy, powerful moments, reveling in the stillness before bringing the hammer down.
Russian Circles, Station (2008)
Where is the line between post-rock and post-metal? The answer is essentially where Russian Circles’ Station exists. The second album by the Chicago trio is evocative and nuanced, tense and haunting. It also rocks like hell when it really gets going, particularly during the furious finger-tapping sequence of “Harper Lewis” and the heroic gallop of the title track. There are moments here that are arguably more metal than “post”, but the complete picture is one of richly detailed soundscapes and vivid ambience, the kind that riffs alone can’t provide.
Sigur Rós, Kveikur (2013)
Icelandic icons Sigur Rós make music that feels otherworldly, sometimes featherlight in its supernatural atmosphere. The same can’t necessarily be said of their 2013 album Kveikur. Their darkest, heaviest record by far, it finds the group distancing themselves a bit from their prettier, ambient soundscapes in favor of buzzing, industrial production, gothic moods and a penchant for dissonance and noise that they’d never embraced so readily before this record.
Slint, Spiderland (1991)
Slint’s legendary 1991 album is both the template for post-rock and an album that’s arguably even more frayed and intense than what came afterward. The Louisville, Kentucky band’s second and final full-length comprises moments of nuance and eruption alike, each lengthy foray into instrumental meditation counterbalanced by a harrowing act of musical violence. The album’s creation was the subject of urban legends, like, for instance, that the band’s members were all committed to a mental institution after it was recorded. That isn’t true, but with something this sinister and tense, it’s understandable how its legend became so outsized as it was passed, telephone-game-style, from person to person.
This Will Destroy You, This Will Destroy You (2008)
Much like Explosions in the Sky, This Will Destroy You hail from Texas and employ a similar approach to soaring feats of instrumental dynamics. As far as the name is concerned, there’s certainly an explosive power to what they do, but on their self-titled 2008 album, it’s more an emotional kind of destruction. As loud and forceful as these songs are, they’re also able to touch something deep and fragile within the listener.
Words by Jeff Terich