Ever since prehistoric humans began chanting, clapping, banging on logs, and blowing into bone flutes, music has been an outlet. Regardless of era, origin, skill level, or instruments used, rhythms and melodies have always been a means of expressing joy and sorrow, a way to supplicate. Primitive or modern, the aural arts have served to rally, unify, and commiserate.
But heavy music from the last few decades stands in stark contrast to that truism—or at least adds some intriguing twists to it. More than any other type of music, metal and punk (and the many sometimes-silly-sounding subgenres) aim to defy, provoke, and instigate.
There are no clear lines cleanly demarking which bands and movements embody the seismic shift from rock ’n’ roll to a new kind of heavy. Indeed, then as today, the trailblazing bands had their feet in two worlds—how could they not? Regardless, it’s safe to say the origins of punk and metal go back more than 40 years to the mid or late ’60s. And from the Stooges to Sabbath, MC5 to Maiden, Deep Purple to the Damned, Bad Religion to Bathory, and NOFX to Neurosis, headbangers and fist-pumpers have always made their mark on public consciousness by exploring the dark side of the human experience more graphically and unapologetically than any other, whether from a belligerently theatrical viewpoint or an indignant polemicist one.
Given this, it’s of course a bit ironic when razored-up punks and leather-clad metalheads become mainstream stars, their sneering faces sold posthumously on millions of t-shirts and their tunes used to sell product for corporate conglomerates. Some might argue these are small signs of progress or hope, while others see it as sad evidence of art co-opted, misunderstood, and sold out. Even more ironic, many times these travesties may not even be something the artists themselves (or their estate holders) can control. But we won’t get into a rant about publishing rights here.
As musicians, we draw inspiration and insights from these proud misfits no matter what capitalism and fickle listeners do with the rest. Still, all too often the heavies we hear from in conversations about our beloved instrument are … how shall we put it? The usual suspects. No disrespect to the guitar gods of yore—we’ve spoken to them plenty of times ourselves, and we will continue to do so—but not here. Not today.
Heavy music is about confrontation, fearlessness, defiance. And though there’s just as much imitation, banality, and corporatized bullshit in brutal, high-octane music as there is in any other genre right now, there’s also a ton of ragingly fresh and stimulating hard rock, metal, hardcore, et al coming out today. The blitzkrieg pace of change in today’s technology (and the seemingly inverse relationship with our attention spans) will probably never turn the heavy-music innovators of today into the icons of tomorrow in the same way that Ozzy Osbourne became a household name, but that can be said of pretty much everything these days. (Plus, isn’t that a good thing?)
Following in the same spirit that has always guided masters of punk and metal, we decided to sit down with some of the most innovative, unfettered—and, in the wider guitar universe, unknown—guitarists playing heavy music today. Given the breadth of subgenres, we purposely sought out players from different headspaces, though all are masters of guitar who push boundaries in ways both obvious and not. We asked them about the state of metal, hardcore, etc. today. We got the lowdown on what albums inspire them. We got them to go on record about what ills plague this deliciously dark corner of rock. We found out who they look up to, and we got them to offer up uncensored advice on how to stab stagnation and cliché in the gullet. And if you don’t like what they have to say, you can … well, these guys will tell you what you can do….