Thursday, March 5, 2015

Metal Metal Land: Corn-Fed and Free Range: A Look at the Midwest Metal Scene

When it comes to geography, there are very specific locales that come to mind. Birmingham, the birthplace of metal, has forged pioneering bands Black Sabbath and Judas Priest and continues to produce bands out of its metalworks, such as Napalm Death, Benediction, Jesu, and more. Hop into mainland Europe and you'll be drawn to the German thrash and power metal, Swedish death metal, and Norwegian black metal scenes. Across the pond many American cities have specialties too: glam metal in Los Angeles, thrash in San Francisco and New York, death metal in Tampa, and sludge in New Orleans. In general, you're more likely to find bands coming out of coastal states than in the interior. With that in mind, the American Midwest hardly seems like it can sprout anything other than corn and cattle.

But there's a lot of good stuff here. When I came out here to Iowa City, I thought it'd be impossible to find metal. It wasn't until the end of my first year that I went to a show somewhere in the state-- Otep at Spicoli's in Waterloo-- and the beginning of my second year that I caught a show in IC: Gabe's and the Blue Moose Tap House. It started off with me catching bands just passing through-- my first show here being Gwar-- and then perusing their calendars and seeing who the metal acts were. What I have found here has left me pretty entertained.

A lot of acts tend to bypass Iowa and other states, playing only in Des Moines if they do get a chance. I've always been a little curious as to why Iowa City doesn't get more good shows since we're hope to a world-renowned university and take great pride in our wild reputation as party animals. The Midwest as a whole gets a limited run of shows. I can understand not coming out here in the winter since it can be abysmally cold out here, but that's all the more reason to throw a show and get the crowd fired up! Then there's also the fact that many of the major cities are long drives. It's roughly a five hour drive from Chicago to Des Moines; meanwhile, someone driving from Richmond can hit DC, Baltimore, Philly, Trenton, New York City in roughly that same amount of time. Fans and venues are spread out thin in the Midwest while it's all concentrated in the Northeast.

Before I get into the more underground acts, let's talk about the big boys. The first band that comes to mind are Des Moines's nu metal titans, Slipknot; hell, they named their second album Iowa (I'm not sure if that's a sign they've taken pride in their state or if they think it's a place of eternal misery). Since their debut in the late Nineties, they've had a meteoric rise to fame; arguably Slipknot are now one of the most popular acts in metal, with nearly all of their albums reaching platinum and hosting it's own music festival. Oddly enough, nu metal seems to have had quite a following in the Midwest: Mushroomhead are from Cleveland, Disturbed, Dope, and Mudvayne all hail from Illinois, and American Head Charge come from Minneapolis.

For those of you wanting the more brutal stuff, there's plenty of that too! Repulsion, one of the early pioneers of grindcore, came out of Flint, Michigan. Death metal greats Necrophagia and Broken Hope came out of Ohio and Illinois, respectively. Jungle Rot and the stoner-sludge band Bongzilla tore up their home state of Wisconsin. The totally underrated prog-thrash band Anacrusis came out of Misery (oops... Missouri). With the nu metal movement came the New Wave of American Heavy Metal (NWoAHM). During this time, there was a surge of fresh bands of all kinds just KILLING it! Skeletonwitch, the Black Dahlia Murder, Origin, Chimaira, Pelican, Battlecross, After the Burial, Veil of Maya... this list could go on!

Now, let's dive into the REAL nitty-gritty. There's a lot of great bands out there that are so underground, they might as well be worms. I'm gonna dig up some of the dirt on them and let them shine (wow, I'm really sticking to that metaphor...). Some of these bands I've seen live here, others I've only listened to.

I tend to find the good in everything I listen to (generally I like what I write about), so instead of a proper review, I'll briefly describe the band in haiku and let you give them a shot.

Saint Paul, Minnesota
Songs about werewolves,
Pantera-esque thrash and
A killer band live

Iowa City, Iowa
I used to hate
Drone-doom but this kicks so much
Ass, I'm converted

Pella, Iowa
Get trapped in the sludge
Let it drown you and immerse
Be one with Druids

Madison, Wisconsin
Blackened doom crushes
Screams and guitar like blizzards
Chilling to the bone

Sept of Memnon
Quad Cities, Iowa/Illinois
Frostbitten and grim,
Mercilessly hammer you.
This is some good shit.

Wolf Blood
Duluth, Minnesota
Stoner metal rocks
This is no exception, bro
Hey, pass the joint, man

A Hill to Die Upon
Monmouth/Galesburg, Illinois
Easily one of
My new favorite bands that
You need to know now

Green Death
Des Moines, Iowa
Get caught in a mosh
Get your goddamn head ripped off
Get into this band

Eternal Plague
St Louis, Missouri
They worship at the
Temple of At the
 Gates... and do it right

Detroit, Michigan
This is punk as fuck
These guys should tour with Gwar and
Municipal Waste

In the Mouth of Radness
Iowa City, Iowa
Best band name ever
They back it up certainly
Trippy and sweet, bro.

Acoustic Guillotine
Iowa City, Iowa
"Guitarless metal"
An interesting concept
I get a punk vibe

So what do you guys think? Like these guys? Hate 'em? Think any of them have a shot at real success? Know any other Midwest bands? I'll add them to another post later. Speaking of, I'm looking to making this a monthly segment. I'll try to highlight some metal scenes all over the world. Could be a city, region, or a whole country. I already know who I'll be doing next month's post on; just need the scene report to come in from my cousin-- a musician living in the country. It's the last place you'll expect.

I'd love to get some help on this project. Send me messages. Let me know where you're from and the bands around you. I'd love to discover what you have to offer!

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