In late 2015, Old Skul wrote an interesting piece about metal gateway songs. The editorial basically discussed the specific songs that introduced him to the modern metal scene, and just like any good editorial it promoted thought and discussion. Of course I thought about my own gateways into the metal scene and even considered writing a follow up article, but later decided to scrap that idea due to its derivative nature. Then I thought to myself, “what about gateways into extreme metal?” I had never given much thought to the songs that introduced me to metal’s uglier, nastier, more aggressive side. The line is far hazier, but I feel there are still a handful of songs that allowed for a smoother transition into the Extreme metal universe. Here are some examples.
Slayer – Black Magic
Although I did not grow up in the 1980’s, I was still introduced to Slayer early on through skate videos. “Black Magic” was the first song that ultimately challenged me as a listener. The shrieking vocals, haunting guitar riffs, and overall demonic aura packed together in this rapid-paced tune both frightened and fascinated me. I never knew music could sound so evil! Never satisfied, I sought out other bands that sonically resembled them, eventually stumbling upon Mercyful Fate and Bathory. In many respects, Slayer was not only responsible for my love of thrash metal, but also for my introduction to first wave black metal and other variations of 80’s extreme music.
In Flames – Lord Hypnos
As was the case with Slayer, I was introduced to In Flames via my love of skateboarding (is skateboarding the ultimate gateway into metal?). While “Embody the Invisible” may have been featured on a Tony Hawk game, the In Flames song that ultimately hooked me was “Lord Hypnos”. This was a difficult song to comprehend at first. It had the aggressive tremolo riffing and growled vocals of death metal, yet the lead guitar had a very high-end tone. Furthermore, the bridge was dominated by an acoustic guitar in the rhythm section followed by an atmospheric, melodic guitar solo. In Flames had found a way to make death metal sound beautiful; thus introducing me to the world of melodic death metal as well as other Scandinavian extreme metal bands.
Opeth – Bleak
Opeth were one of those few bands that completely destroyed any preconceived notions that I had about metal. Their song “Bleak” was just as compelling as it was confusing; in a sense that it features just as many non-extreme elements as it does extreme ones. For every dark, heavy riff there is a soft, acoustic one around the corner; for every brutally growled verse there is a beautifully harmonized chorus. Even more intriguing was their ability to incorporate all of these contrasting musical features while also maintaining a cohesive song structure and consistent flow with excellent transitions. Accounting for this along with the eerie black metal atmosphere and running time of 9:15 minutes, and there’s no doubt that Opeth were the kings of composition. By defying the norms of Swedish death metal and black metal, Opeth served as my first true introduction to Progressive Extreme Metal.
Despised Icon – Furtive Monologue
For the longest time I avoided Brutal Death Metal like it was the plague; without a substantial amount of melody I just wasn’t interested. I think that changed around the time that I first listened to Despised Icon. “Furtive Monologue” contains plenty of trademark death metal characteristics, from guttural vocals to downtuned guitars and blast beats, but with production clean enough that it isn’t offensive to the ears of a newbie. With that said, the real hook is the slam riff which is exclusively accompanied by pig squealed vocals. While it was the most bizarre thing I had heard up to that point, it was unique enough to pull me into the band’s discography. After getting used to the instrumental side of Despised Icon, I eventually dug further into the realm of Brutal Death Metal/Deathgrind, discovering awesome bands such as Dying Fetus and Cattle Decapitation.
After the Burial – The Entire “Rareform” Album
I know this is a cheat, but once I heard the first track I knew I had to hear to the rest. After the Burial’s second album really turned the concept of modern metal on its head. While they incorporated many metalcore standards (like breakdowns for days), they weren’t afraid to demonstrate an ability to craft unorthodox, complex rhythms as well as a completely diverse palate of riffing techniques. Contrasts between the tracks “Drifts” and “Ometh” exemplify this. For me, “Rareform” proved to be the ultimate bridge between the aggressive, straight forward stylings of Killswitch Engage with the experimental, rhythmic-centered stylings of Meshuggah. Hell, if it weren’t for this album I might never have gotten into Math Metal bands such as Converge and The Dillinger Escape Plan (and I wouldn’t have been as prepared for the 1,000+ djent bands that arrived during the early 2010’s).
Now it’s time for you, our friends in the pit, to take a few seconds to think about what brought you into the extreme end of the metal universe!