In our ongoing investigation of deceptive and outright fraudulent extreme metal acts, we pull the rug under a handful of established outfits that don’t even seem to bother hiding that they are after your money first, artistic integrity a distant second - an audience satisfaction not even registering. The more we pull away the blinds the more obvious these practices become. Maybe your favorite band is in here, maybe your life-long inspiration only cares about the dollars/euros you’re giving him/her? Don’t be fooled, there are plenty of honest, hard-working metal bands everywhere in the scene. It’s just that these money-hungry, artistically vacuum units make it difficult for everybody involved. These bands stopped caring, they lost the passion and fire. In short: they Sold Their Souls...
killing the myths...
Sold Their Souls
last good album: Burning Bridges
With ties to legendary early Swedish death metal clan Carnage and bloodties with UK death/grind outfit Carcass, everything lined up ideally for Arch Enemy to make their mark. Their first three records with original frontman Johan Liiva were a potent mix of Swedish melodic death metal and NWOBHM styled harmonies and guitar solo’ing by veteran guitarist Michael Amott. These records were melodic but not necessarily accessible upon a first listen. Then they signed to Century Media...
In 2001 Arch Enemy released "Wages Of Sin", the first to be fronted by German journalist-turned-vocalist Angela Gossow. The record was met with critical acclaim from fans and press alike. But was the record really that special? No. It was a dime-a-dozen melodic death metal album by-the-numbers, the only defining factor were the vocals of Gossow. Surely, a blond woman fronting a death metal band was a revolutionary idea, right? It was a sign of female-empowerment in a mostly male-dominated scene and industry?
Sorry, no. It wasn’t. Arch Enemy just had a good marketing scheme.
German heavy/speed metal act Holy Moses introduced the female singer as early as 1986 with Sabina Hirtz-Classen and their "Queen Of Siam" record. Dutch early death metal group Acrostichon had a woman fronting their band in 1989, although their debut "Engraved In Black" would only arrive in 1993. Norway’s Theater Of Tragedy debuted in 1995 with their self-titled album, placing Liv Kristine Espenas in the same and equal position as vocalist Raymond Istvan Rohonyi. Another notable Dutch death act was Pathology, fronted by Rachel Heyzer. Dutch death/thrash act Occult (pre-Legion Of the Damned) followed this example in 1999 and hired the same Rachel Heyzer for the "Of Flesh and Blood" album. Heyzer would later briefly front veteran act Sinister for a couple of albums, before fronting the Sinister side-project Infinited Hate for two albums.
In the US there was all-female death/doom act Mythic in 1991, led by the enigmatic Dana Duffey, who would later form Demonic Christ. Italy spawned the promising female-fronted Opera IX, who debuted in 1995 with "The Call Of the Wood". In Hellas there was Astarte, an all-female black metal act, who would debut with "Doomed Dark Years" in 1998.
Since then Arch Enemy has released a string of albums to the ignorant masses who aren’t able to look beyond Angela’s looks. "Anthems Of Rebellion", "Doomsday Machine", "Rise of the Tyrant" and most recently "Khaos Legions" are thinly veiled pop/rock songs under the guise of Gothenburg death metal packaging. Gossow is increasingly reliant on studio effects and the novelty is rapidly wearing out of its welcome now that the farce has been exposed for what it truly is.
Arch Enemy was never an innovator. These proud women were...
Corinne Van der Brand
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Maria ‘Tristessa’ Kolokouri
Last good album: Spiritual Black Dimensions
Ah, yes. Dimmu Borgir, if there was ever a more polarizing metal act, than this is the one. Once upon a time they were called the new promise in symphonic black metal and at one time that wasn’t too far from the truth. A brief look into their history reveals a band with modest beginnings. Although the band never formally demoed their first two records ("For All Tid" and the original "Stormblast") were nothing but glorified demo sessions, with all the defects that usually entails. Nevertheless these two sessions showed a band with potential and their heart in the right place, the primitive musicianship and blooming songwriting easily overshadowing these flaws.
Upon signing to Nuclear Blast Records for the release of "Enthrone Darkness Triumphant" it was clear that the band had changed direction. The early black metal riffs were replaced by watered down thrash – and death metal riffs, the drumming was never this band’s strong suit but it was never problematic, repetition became more prominent. Another record followed with "Spiritual Black Dimensions", which by all accounts was this group’s last tolerable record. Soon, the elephant in the room would rear its ugly head.
|The Lord of the Rings casting sessions didn’t yield the desired result.|
Repetition, watered down riffing, an over-reliance on synthethics and orchestral backing and the oversimplification of song structures was the final straw that broke the camel’s back. Latter-day Dimmu Borgir is but a shadow of the promise they once held. They are a gateway band for many. Commercially successful? Yes, but also artistically bankrupt. Which band regresses and devolves as the years pass by? Who became less guitar-driven with lethargic pop structures to boot? Who manages to make symfo black metal sound like circus – and kindergarden music? Our Norwegian friends here.
As recent events have shown (the pre-"Abrahadabra" internal drama) Dimmu Borgir are ran by the Shagrath/Silenoz/Galder triumvirate, and as past precedents have indicated – these men tend to excise whoever has more talent than them. Nagash (bass) and Astennu (guitars) were ousted post-"Spiritual Black Dimensions", Nick Barker (drums) was relieved of duties post-"Death Cult Armageddon" and more recently, ICS Vortex (bass, vocals) and Mustis (keyboards) were cut loose from the line-up in the run-up to "Abrahadabra".
The band were without a full-time drummer from 2003 until 2008, with Mayhem’s Hellhammer sitting in for recording (as a guest/session musician on the "Stormblast" remake and "In Sorte Diaboli") and touring commitments, before a neck injury eventually forced him to bow out in favor of former Vader skinsman Daray, who’s not even credited as a full member, as of this writing.
Last good album: Comalies
Italian gothic metal act Lacuna Coil is another tale of artistic promise smothered by the craving for mainstream acceptance. Toiling away in the gothic/symfo metal underground these Italian men and woman started out promising with the pair of albums "In A Reverie" and "Unleashed Memories". Playing a derivation of gothic metal akin to Theater Of Tragedy, these Italians fused ethnic and Mediterranean melodies with bouncy rhythms, soothing keyboards and the alternating vocals of frontwoman Cristina Scabbia and the male vocals of Andrea Ferro. Never the heaviest or technical demanding of acts, Lacuna Coil was able to write two very good and one divisive record, "Comalies".
"Comalies" presented a dire change in the then-established formula. The guitars were pushed back even more, Scabbia’s vocals took front-and-center while the quota of electronics was beefed up considerably. Unsuprisingly the songwriting took a nosedive as well. Pop structures (verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus) were abound and the midtempo now became locked. Is this still gothic? No. Is this still metal or rock? No. The Lacuna Coil that arose here is a power-pop band, building an empire of out their frontwoman, Cristina Scabbia. But no, they are not exploiting her for that end, no.
|Cristina is not the selling point, the music is. Why would she dress so sexily otherwise?|
However, the band and their label would like to remind their fans that Lacuna Coil is all about the music and not image. Surprising to see that the entire "Comalies" promo campaign (and subsequent album cycles have followed suit) was built around Scabbia posing in various ravishing outfits, baring her long legs and cleavage to almost striking similarity of certain non-nude glamour models. The videos for ‘Heaven’s A Lie’ and ‘Swamped’ serve to prove this point. The first sees Scabbia in a revealing white dress and red tinted geisha outfit, the latter in a short-skirted robe, skulking around in various other little covering garments around the interior of a fancy loft. Subsequent albums like "Karmacode", "Shallow Life" and "Dark Adrenaline" continue this downward spiral of diminishing returns and further musical regression.
At this point LC is nothing but a pop act.
Last good album: The More Things Change
If there ever was a chameleon act in metal, this is the one. Hailing from Oakland, California Machine Head (named after the Deep Purple album, no doubt) burst onto the scene with their Roadrunner debut "Burn My Eyes". The band’s focal point was singer-guitarist Robb Flynn, who formed the band after being ousted from Vio-Lence in 1991 after internal trouble and a fight with Vio-Lence members. "Burn My Eyes" isn’t exactly high art, but for a groove/thrash metal crossbreed it fulfilled its duties splendidly.
It had everything to make a metal fan mouth water: carefully arranged tunes that combined grooves with neckbreaking rhythm sections, spirited drumming by Chris Kontos, blistering guitar solo’ing and a high end crunchy production by Colin Richardson and Vincent Wojno. Flynn’s angry barked vocals were both venomous and emotive. The band was able to back this up with their second album "The More Things Change", but cracks in the foundation were starting to appear. Nobody could foresee what was about to transpire...
Machine Head’s first two records were nothing but thinly veiled cuts that worshipped at the altar of post-"Cowboys From Hell" Pantera (groove) and "Chaos AD" era Sepultura (delivery, lyrical content). The band recalibrated what others had done before them and liberally borrowed elements to pass off as their own. The period of 1999-2001 was interesting as the band released two criminally insane bad albums with "The Burning Red" and "Supercharger" – which saw MH jumping on the nu-metal/mallcore bandwagon. The results? Flynn rapping, far less solo’ing, KoRn mimickry and a fanbase divided in disgust and disappointment. Not only was this bad judgement on part of Machine Head, the fallout would follow them for years to come. Who can forget Flynn’s genius 2001 idea to convert a legitimate thrasher as ‘Old’ into a rap song? Bad judgment, alright.
|MH: prouding riding the coattails of trends and fads since 1992.|
2003 was the year of the supposed big comeback with "Through the Ashes Of the Empire". The PR and media frenzy was unreal, this was a "back to the roots" effort to regain credibility lost in the years prior. Sure, it was heavier, more mean and traditional compared to the band’s last two stinkers, but it also coincided with the resurgence of thrash metal, both of the retro and neo kind. Well-timed and surely the ignorant masses ate it up. "The Blackening" (2007) dabbled in thrash metal (attempting to replicate Metallica’s "Master Of Puppets") and metalcore, the hot trend at the time. 2011’s "Unto the Locusts" sees them building upon the established formula and much is ado about the children’s choir used in ‘Who We Are’. Children’s choir is revolutionary? Didn’t Pink Floyd already do this much better in 1979 with the double concept album "The Wall"?
Robb Flynn is a fraud. MH’s discography reads as a timeline for trends.
In the wake of Machine Head’s success, the 90s and 00s spawned even uglier beasts with even lesser ideas in this genre with the likes of Pissing Razors and Skinlab.
Last good album: Cowboys From Hell
Pantera, the brainchild of Arlington, Texas brother duo Darrell and Vinnie Paul Abbott. One of the most important bands of the 90s according to some. The band who saved metal from extinction when the Seattle/grunge rock craze took reigns of the charts in the 1990s. Pantera had all elements in place: a singer that could both grunt, shout and sing Rob Halford-like falsetto, thundering bass lines, piledriver riffing with exquisite solo’ing that was equal parts metal as it was southern rock plus a hefty pulse held by eternally cowboy-hatted Vinnie Abbott. They were the self-proclaimed "Cowboys From Hell".
The downfall began with "Vulgar Display Of Power", arguably the most popular and commonly referred to groove/thrash metal record of all time. Perhaps Machine Head’s debut "Burn My Eyes" was more musically accomplished and Sepultura’s "Chaos AD" had more street credibility, it was Pantera who catered to the disenfranchised youth who burned themselves on Metalllica’s foray into more mainstream territory with their self-titled "Black Album" the year before. Pantera, was the real thing, right? They were the voice of a generation, a breath of honesty in a scene of deception and backstabbing. Little did they we (they) knew that Pantera had lifted everything that made them popular from a certain little heard New Orleans, Louisiana metal act called Exhorder.
In the timespan from 1983 to 1988 Pantera was a glam metal act, modelled after the likes of Bon Jovi, Cinderella, Poison and Twisted Sister. The band’s core line-up was the same (Darrell Abbott, Rex Brown, Vinnie Paul Abbott) with a revolving number of frontmen. 5 years, 4 albums – Pantera built a modest following through constant touring and a consistent flow of newly recorded output. Then 1990 a shift in the equilibrium occurred... Roadrunner Records released Exhorder’s debut "Slaughter in the Vatican".
In 1990 Pantera "debuted" with "Cowboys From Hell" a record modelled piece by piece after the template set by Exhorder merely months before. There was tons of groove, splitting thrash metal riffs and Darrell’s always fiery leads/solos – all this was fronted by an angry barking frontman Phil Anselmo.
|The face of true American metal or a cleverly marketed make-over?|
With "Far Beyond Driven" Pantera took "their" sound back to the basics. There was a pronounced reliance on groove alone, Dimebag’s riffing was less acrobatic as before and Vinnie Paul played with far less style. Anselmo’s vocals became harsher but also notably more monotonic, the falsetto was all but abandoned. "The Great Southern Trendkill" was better, but was the template for related acts such as Down. The cleverly titled "Reinventing the Steel" didn’t help matters either. Reinvention was never Pantera’s forte and this album helped cement that crucial flaw. Everyone involved was phoning it in. There were less solos, the drumming is underachieving and the vocals weren’t that much to get excited about. At this point Pantera was a caricature, of itself and of the scene it was supposedly defending. Finally reality caught up with them.
SIX FEET UNDER
Last good album: Maximum Violence
Talk about a waste of potential. Six Feet Under had an all-star line-up of Florida luminaries with the likes of Allen West (Obituary), Terry Butler (ex-Death, Massacre) and the relatively unknown Greg Gall behind the drumkit. These men were fronted by one of the most enigmatic frontmen of early American death metal, Chris Barnes. Barnes was much of the creative force behind Cannibal Corpse’s first four records, an early peak was reached with "The Bleeding". A record that is catchy, groovy yet insanely dark and brooding in some of its slower and more downtempo sections.
The prospect of it wasn’t all that bad. Groovy, midpaced to slow death metal with thick riffing and Barnes’ patented cavernous growls. "Haunted", while not good in the traditional sense of the word, at least displayed a halfway competent act. The material written by Allen West (leftovers from the "World Demise" sessions, no doubt) was simple, albeit refined in a way that there was more depth to it than meets the eye. There is nothing wrong with groove death metal after all, bands like Bolt Thrower, Jungle Rot and Obituary prove it to be a valid subgenre.
|Death metal god or stoned out, washed up has-been in need of a haircut? You be the judge.|
When Allen West left after the "Warpath" sessions, something went terribly wrong. Not immediately, mind you, "Maximum Violence" is still one of this band’s best records (although that’s not saying much) – but the quality soon would take a monumental dive. "True Carnage", "Bringer Of Blood", "13" and "Commandment" all deserve special mention for their reeking wretchedness and lack of enthusiasm. From Barnes’ piss poor vocal performances, Steve Swanson’s inert riffing to Greg Gall’s terrible rock drumming – nothing isn’t phoned-in with these guys. Hadn’t Metal Blade continue to invest in this gimmick act, it would have been forced to evolve, by sheer Darwinian necessity.
While arguably the band has two veritable adequate records (1995’s “Haunted”, mostly written by ex-Obituary guitarist Allen West, and 1999’s “Maximum Violence”) the majority of their recorded output has been met with scorn, derision and disinterest – most of which was warranted. Was “Warpath” a good idea? No. Who can forget Ice-T’s infamous expletive-filled flow on “True Carnage” or Chris Barnes stab at socio-political lyrics with ‘Amerika the Brutal’ on “Bringer Of Blood”? Or the German translation to the title track of that same "Bringer Of Blood"? Not content with only terrible original material, Six Feet Under is also responsible (although Brian Slagel and Metal Blade are accessory to the crime) for the entirely misguided “Graveyard Classics” sub-brand, a series of classic metal and heavy rock cover EPs/albums that no one in the right mind should be forced to pay for.
In 2011 Six Feet Under was joined by journeyman drummer Kevin Talley (ex-Dying Fetus, ex-Misery Index) hopefully this will result in something actually listenable for a change.
Last good album: The Dance EP
This Dutch gothic/symfo metal act was a promising addition to the canon established by Finland’s Nightwish and Sweden’s Tristania. After the obligatory demo session Within Temptation holed up in the studio to record "Enter". This was a lush exercise in emotional gothic/symfo in the tradition of The Gathering ("Mandylion") and Theater Of Tragedy ("Velvet Darkness They Fear", "Aegis"). There were colossal riffs, however simple sounding, minimal but thunderous drumming and the contrasting vocals of Robert Westerholt and the always stunning Sharon den Adel. At least gothic had a representative again.
|That was before the single ‘Ice Queen’ was released and things changed...|
Due some twist of fate ‘Ice Queen’ (from the "Mother Earth" album) bombarded charts all over Europe, furthering the band’s more mainstream profile. ‘Ice Queen’ was still a relatively metallic song, but the fact that two videos were shot (one mainstream, one metal) was a sign on the wall. Unbeknownst this single would form the template of Within Temptation’s later work and albums. This is where the downfall began...
|WT would like to remind you that they are not abusing Sharon’s image to sell records.|
With the success now cemented Within Temptation continued releasing albums to an ever-increasing fanbase. Once exclusively catering to metal fans Within Temptation began to alter its sound to cater to the radio and mainstream. The guitars were pushed back further and further, the drums became less prominent and Westerholt decided to forego his grunt vocals in order for den Adel to shine. "The Silence Force" was less metal and more pop/rock oriented in structure, while keeping the orchestral edge. Lead single ‘Stand My Ground’ was a carbon-copy of the established ‘Ice Queen’ formula of less is more. The masses and radios ate it up. With a newly established line-up, a succesful international touring campaign and accolades from the mainstream press Within Temptation now fully exiled their metal past.
"The Heart Of Everything" was the final nail in the creative coffin of this act. The single ‘What Have You Done?’ dumped all pretense of either metal and/or gothic-symfo wih a watered down rock delivery and "harsh" vocals courtesy of Life Of Agony frontman Keith Caputo (that luckily don’t rap). Within Temptation was now catering to the taste-du-jour, more in particular the sound of American emo rockers Evanescence. Put ‘What Have You Done?’ next to ‘Bring Me To Life’ – the equation should be pretty clear.
|Within Temptation would like to remind you that they’ve grown as artists. No, really..|
"The Unforgiving", the band’s latest album, culminates the regression and drops all pretense of even having being associated with extreme metal to begin with. The single ‘Faster’ sounds more like a club tune, strangely similar to Sharon den Adel’s guest appearance on the Armin van Buuren hit single ‘In and Out Of Love’ from 2008.
added by: Wouter Roemers
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