It’s inevitable that using the word “post” to describe a musical genre leaves you sounding like a pretentious wanker. Also, it seems a bit presumptuous to call something “post”, when the actual musical genre is still very much alive. A bit like calling Joy Division “post-punk” when punk was still very much a thing. These are reasons why I fiercely avoided music labelled “post-metal” for many years.
It turns out that by doing so I was missing out on some pretty amazing bands. So, in order to pass on what I’ve learned about this growing genre (post-genre), I’m having a little “post-metal” week here on the blog. I hope you approve!
So What Exactly Is Post-Metal, Anyway?
Put as simply as possible, post-metal bands tend to combine a mixture of the elements of doom metal, sludge, and/or black metal with elements of post-rock and shoegaze – probably two of the most pretentious names for musical genres in the known universe. For the uninformed, post-rock is basically when a rock band gets together and performs songs that aren’t in any way related to rock, but on rock instruments. Shoegaze is slow with lots of fuzzy guitar effects and vocal tracks that kind of blend into the woeful noise of each song. Generally speaking, I find it shit, but when you add the elements into the post-metal mix, it has its good points.
You might also hear post-metal bands referred to as “metalgaze”, “atmospheric metal”, or “experimental metal”, although those last two are often confused with symphonic and avant garde metal, hence why post-metal as a term seems to be sticking.
Post-rock and post-metal are a form of progressive rock/metal, but are usually slower, sort of “peaceful” – there’s often not the aggression you’d expect from a metal or rock band. Where post-metal relates to metal comes more from the morbidity and darkness in the music, and the harrowing, barked vocals. Bands are often largely instrumental, and any vocal lines resemble an accompanying instrument, rather than lyrics with actual words. This is not so much of a sing-a-long arena genre, more of an introspective listen-quietly-through-headphones-while-reading-The-Bell-Jar genre.
Short and Simple History of Post-Metal
This was a fucking hard section to write, as pretty much every journalist has a different view of which albums cemented post-metal as a genre unto itself, and several even disagree that it’s a genre at all (There’s even a Last.FM group called Post-Metal Is Not a Genre.)
In the 90s, a slew of bands emerged inspired by both the grunge, metal and punk scenes, and were combining these elements in different ways to create gritty, modern, visceral music. Several new sounds and scenes emerged, and many of these bands formed what came to be known as the doom, sludge, and drone genres (the names kind of describe the music). Alongside this, post-rock bands such as Tortoise were starting to do their thing, and there was the huge well of experimentation and inspiration bubbling away in the underground music scenes, especially in North America and Canada.
Neurosis was one of those bands. Originally a crust-punk band, Neurosis began to move away from this sound into something entirely unique. Their 1996 album, Through Silver in Blood, contained the dark, twisted atmosphere and deep, resonant sludginess that later went on to define post-metal. Other influential bands, such as Godflesh with their noisy grind, The Melvins with their atmospheric punk and Tool with their proggy time-signatures released important albums during the 1990s.
But it wasn’t until the 2000s that post-metal as a genre really got off the ground. In order to talk about the history of post-metal, you need to know about Isis. No, not the Egyptian deity or the Islamic terrorist group, but the hugely influential band often cited as the founders of the genre.
Isis started to become prominent in the Boston music scene in 1999, where they released an EP, SGNL>05 and debut album Celestial. They began touring with Neurosis in 2000, and this put their music in front of a national audience. In 2002, Isis released Oceanic, which is considered by most journalists to be the first true post-metal album, a haunting landscape of fuzzy guitar and harrowing, desolate melodies.
Frontman Aaron Turner initially labelled the group “thinking-man’s metal”, and it certainly seemed to be. Oceanic went on to influence several contemporaries – Cult of Luna, Pelican, Tides and Russian Circles, who each in turn went on to release highly acclaimed and influential albums of their own.
Now, post-metal bands are dominating many of the year-end best-of lists, and are influencing other groups within the metal scene to experiment with instrumentation. Many bands, such as Russian Circles and Pelican, even have mainstream cred.
Which Post-Metal Bands to Listen To
So, if you want to get in to post-metal, what albums should you listen to first? Ah, well, I have you covered. Tomorrow I write up 10 of my favourite post-metal albums for you to enjoy. In the meantime you should list any of your favourites here in the comments, or on my Facebook page.
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