Photo by More-Sky.com
By Nick Spennato
In 1984, Iron Maiden released “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” a 13-minute long ballad recounting Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem of the name. In 2016, Metallica released “ManUnkind,” a song about how people are bad. Metal, the genre, the art form, is a spectrum. There is the good, and there is the bad. There is typical and there is bizarre. Metal, inherently, is both awesome and kind of lame. It is incessantly brutal while also kind of juvenile. However, it is by this dichotomy that metal manages to be at once brilliantly theatrical and entirely overdramatic. Today we look at this, the more theatrical, more gimmick fueled side of metal, because what is the point of a sweet guitar riff if it is not played by someone in a silly costume.
“When I get back from a mighty quest/I have no need for sleep or rest/
I head to the tavern for a drink/ and get so drunk that I can’t think”
-Wenches and Mead (Captain Morgan’s Revenge, 2008)
We will start off easy. Alestorm, formed in 2004, is the predominant pirate metal band in the world, a category in which, surprisingly, they are not the only ones. They are metal infused with tons of keyboard action and pirate-y lingo and have released four albums, all pirate themed, mind, with a fifth on the way. If you are of the opinion that there are not enough hardcore sea shanties in your life, Alestorm might be the answer.
2. Austrian Death Machine
“You think it might be…/ might be a tumor/
It’s not a tumor/ It’s not a tumor!”
–It’s Not A Tumor (Total Brutal, 2008)
Here we have Austrian Death Machine. You may be unaware, seeing as that man on the cover of their album is obviously a unique creation of the artist, but Austrian Death Machine is a band whose gimmick revolves solely around the film career of one Arnold Schwarzenegger. Their lyrics are generally comprised of quotes from his movies and are sung in an imitation of his voice. Seems pretty unique, save for the fact that there is actually another metal band, ArnoCorps, who use the same schtick. Truly a bizarre situation, Ahnold being a musical genre and all. Almost as bizarre as the band’s lead singer being imprisoned for trying to have his ex-wife murdered. Do not expect any more music for the next couple years.
3. Mac Sabbath
“Butter I must smear/ For Frying Pan to cook steer/
Seafood they sometimes crave/ Filet O Fish we’ll ride this wave”
In 1968, Black Sabbath formed. In 1970, they released their self-titled first album. Its newfound doom and gloom gave birth to the entire genre of Heavy Metal. In 2014, Mac Sabbath formed. Their musical styling gives birth to the slightly less populated genre of “drive-thru metal.” Yes, it is Sabbath but with McDonald’s thrown into the mix along with a heaping helping of satire on top. Now you can watch as Ronald Osbourne takes the fast food industry to task for creating an epidemic of obesity and a despondent consumer culture all while a man wearing a hamburger head named Slayer MacCheeze shreds through a cover of “Paranoid” called “Pair-a-Buns.“
“If I could write off your murder/ I’d save all of my receipts/
“Because I’d rather you be dead than lose a tiny shred of what I made this fiscal year”
-Detharmonic (The Dethalbum, 2007)
Dethklok doesn’t technically exist. They’re cartoons, designed for the Adult Swim program Metalocalypse by series creator Brendon Small. In the world of Metalocalypse Dethklok is the single greatest musical group to have ever existed, putting on shows so dangerous fans literally sign away their lives to see them and generating enough money to classify them as the world’s seventh largest economy. In reality, where they don’t, strictly speaking, exist, they’ve still managed to produce three albums (four if you include the soundtrack to their metal opera, The Doomstar Requiem) and have gone on several tours, played by the people who record the show’s music along with animation of the band themselves.The odd thing is that in spite of being a fictional band for an animated comedy show parodying and paying homage to everything metal, they’re probably one of the better bands on this list and one of the two that I’d genuinely recommend outside of the novelty.
“集合 集合 放課後集合 Party Time
-Doki Doki Morning (Babymetal, 2014)
“Hey there buster, all of these bands have been nothing but white guys with long hair, even the cartoon one. Where’s the diversity?” Don’t you worry, chief. If you need some variety in your goofy gimmick metal bands here comes Babymetal, fronted by a trio of teenage girls from Japan along with a backing band for their hardcore instrumentals. They’re apparently a combination of the Japanese Idol scene (of which I lack the time and inclination to explain, think factory made teenage celebrities) and metal, creating Kawaii metal, or cute metal, and have put out tracks like Gimme Chocolate and No More Bullying. They’re worth checking out for jarring mixture of guitar solos and J-Pop alone.
“I at the time was a communist/ Lived on a collective farm/
She was a part time anti-christ/ our sex went off like a bomb”
-Saddam a Go-Go (This Toilet Earth, 1994)
So, GWAR. They’re… something. There is apparently an intricate lore concerning the characters of GWAR, them being intergalactic terrorists and murders and stuff. They’re known for intense theatrics during shows, gratuitous violence, bodily fluids sprayed over the crowd, massive costumes and pretty much anything shocking. They’ve put out 13 albums since 1988, all with the same excess and flair for controversy, which have helped them maintain a cult following over the years. In 2014 lead singer David Brockie, or Oderus Urungus, passed from a heroin overdose, though the current lineup still intends to play.
“Bark BarkBark BarkBARkBark RRRRrrrr Bark”
-Any of their songs
Budgie and Basil. Those are the names of the two pitbull terriers who front Caninus. Some people may wonder about the logistics of having two dogs as their lead singers, like how do we get the dogs to sing, or how do we make a song happen more than once? Not the humans behind Caninus, who threw caution to the wind and set out with man’s best friend to create music for all (okay, some) to enjoy. Unfortunately, both Basil and Budgie have since passed, and the band has been disbanded. On a lighter note, Caninus did record a split album with fellow animal fronted metal band Hatebeak, fronted by Waldo, an African Grey Parrot, and the fact that somewhere out there exists a deathcore album with songs by two dogs and a bird makes the world just a little bit brighter.
“I was carried on a wolf’s back/Here to corrupt humanity/
I will pommel it with opulence/with corpulence and greed”
-Mummy Dust (Meliora, 2015)
Ghost is really the perfect culmination of an awesome gimmick and sheer musical talent. They would still be a noteworthy metal band without the satanic themes but their commitment to the gimmick elevates them to an entirely different level. The band is composed of vocalist and anti-pope Papa Emeritus and musicians comprised of the mask wearing nameless ghouls. Ghost straddles the line, playing heavily with their satanic themes but never wallowing in excess. Their true identities have never been publically announced, though there is speculation. Members of the band wear full costumes for all public appearances, including their acceptances for Swedish Grammis awards and an American Grammy award. If not their music then I recommend that at the very least you watch a band member give an interview, because watching a musician give a very polite and cordial interview about their inspirations while wearing a black cloak and a silver devil mask is amazing and a pretty good way to summarize the genre as a whole,