One of the most enjoyable aspects of a musical community is finding and recommending music. It becomes even better when you find not only new music, but new music by artists you didn’t even know existed, or at the very least were only vaguely aware of. So we at Metal Wani are trying to do just that, by recommending and making the lists of “Ten Albums by Bands You Don’t Know But Should.” Granted such a title and statement is in large part pure hyperbole, and certainly some people reading this will know about these bands, and will snarkily tell us about it. Good for you. By and large, though, the intent of this is to give some love and exposure to lesser known bands that have slipped under the radar of popular knowledge.
My personal criteria while making my list was first that none of the bands mentioned had been reviewed on Metal Wani. The second criteria being that since we’re a metal site, the music in question should be heavy to some degree, be it either musical heaviness or the atmosphere the album creates. Therefore not every album on this list is a metal album. However, they are all albums that a broad-minded, discerning metal fan will find worthwhile. Whenever possible I’ve found and included links for the entire album. Sadly, not all albums could be found as a whole, so a single song that I thought accurately represents the band/album was chosen. A word of warning: My personal tastes are geared more towards progressive and experimental/avant garde music, so most of these albums fall into those categories, but not all. If you dislike these styles the list will likely be of little use or interest to you. Such is your loss. I’m also going alphabetically, so the numbers aren’t a rating system.
1. Aghora – ‘Aghora’ (2000)
Released in 2000, this was the debut album of this prog/jazz metal band from Florida. ‘Aghora’ is the brain child of Venezuelan guitarist/composer Santiago Dobles who has created one of the most engaging and twistingly complex prog metal albums in recent memory. Fueled by a love of jazz fusion and Indian music, few albums can compare to it. Besides his own considerable skills on the guitar, Dobles also brought in Sean Malone and Sean Reinhart of legendary prog metal band Cynic for bass and drum duties. The songs are highlighted by the celestial voice of soprano Danishta Rivero, whose voice floats and shines lightly over the frequently heavy and driving music. Among their influences jazz guitar legend/master John McLaughlin and his landmark band The Mahavishnu Orchestra are specifically cited. John being my favorite guitarist certainly adds to my pleasure. Unfortunately, Aghora only put out one album after this 2006’s ‘Formless’ and they have done nothing since. The entire album is unavailable on line, however the below song “Satya” is a great representation and intro to the band. Really, any fan of Cynic, jazz fusion, or progressive metal will find plenty to dive into here.
2. Elderwind – ‘Волшебство живой природы’ (‘The Magic of Nature’) (2012)
I have a love for atmospheric black metal, and the deeply beautiful melancholy that comes with the genre. I stumbled upon Elderwind while randomly clicking albums on an atmospheric black metal channel on YouTube, and I found myself listening through the whole album on repeat over the next couple of days. As is obvious from the non-translated title of the album, the band is Russian, and their lyrics are also in Russian, so unless you happen to speak Russian, and are very apt at deciphering black metal screams, the vocals all become part of the music. The music is a mix of quiet passages, punctuated by the sounds of wind and nature, and the faster, heavier black metal elements. If you’re only a fan of extreme black metal then this softer approach probably won’t be to your liking, but fans of Agalloch, Negură Bunget, or even Summoning will be right at home here. Sadly, the album is hard to get a copy of. When my wife bought it for me last Christmas she had to order it from some place in Europe, but it was well worth it. ‘The Magic of Nature’ is one of my favorite albums, and one of the most beautiful in my collection.
3. Ephel Duath – ‘The Painters Palette’ (2003)
Italy’s Ephel Duath (named after one of Tolkien’s mountains in Mordor) is the manic, schizophrenic, avant metal creation of lone founding member Davide Tiso, and ‘The Painters Palette’ was their first album on a major label. It’s a frantic, jazzy, blindingly intense and original black metal fused album, not dissimilar to Norway’s Shining, if they decided to go totally off the rails. Now calling it a black metal album is to a point misleading. There are many instances of black metal vocals, but they are certainly not exclusive; there are plenty of clean vocals as well. Now many black metal bands do this, but the aesthetic and over all sound of the album is far more experimental than black metal. The obvious comparison to this eclectic masterpiece is the legendary Mr. Bungle, which isn’t to say they sound like Bungle because no one does, but the frantic mix of musical styles and attitude is the same. Ephel Duath have done this, and have created something that despite its wild nature holds together very well. Unfortunately, Tiso put an end to this project in 2014, but not till he recorded three additional albums that are not only equally bizarre, but equally unlike each other as well. Music as wild, and as unpredictable as this will never be popular, but anyone looking for something new and unique will be well rewarded.
4. Kayo Dot – ‘Choirs of the Eye’ (2003)
Kay Dot is the brainchild of musical genius (a term I’m slow to use) Toby Driver who’s other fairly well known eclectic metal band maudlin of the Well was disbanded the same year as this release. ‘Choirs of the Eye’ and the other Kayo Dot albums are unique in the metal world as the music is thorough-composed, and the music much more closely resembles classical music than it does metal in any way. Strings are in abundance, and even when the guitars come in and swirl and become very heavy, the album never feels like a metal album as is generally thought of. All of which only makes the work such a brilliant piece of music. Call it post metal, avant garde metal; whatever, it’s an epic work demanding repeated close listens to begin to hear the layers. Toby Driver not only delivers clean vocals, he provides savagely tortured shrieks. He also plays seven different instruments, from guitar and strings to the tuba. Eleven different musicians play on the album including frequent collaborator, and highly respected violinist and violist, Mia Matsumiya. Ultimately, this is a rich, beautiful, heavy and engrossing work. The band has changed a bit over the years, this year’s album ‘Plastic House on Base of Sky’ is mostly based around electronic music, but the uniqueness and honesty of their work has never diminished.
5. Koenjihyakkei – ‘Viva Koenj!!’ (1996)
Koenjihyakkei is the creation of Japanese drummer/composer Yoshida Tatsuya. Yoshida is best known for his prog rock drum/bass duo Ruins who were rather prolific in their output since the mid 80s. Now, I’ll say right now, that neither group is metal. Rather they are both Zeuhl bands. I’m going to go full nerd for a moment and explain that Zeuhl is a sub genre of not only progressive rock, but also RIO (Rock In Opposition) and was created by the French band Magma, and the band’s mastermind/drummer Christian Vander. The style is largely comprised of the above mentioned prog base, with jazz fusion, math rock, classical music, and operatic vocals completing the rest of it. The lyrics are also typically written in made up languages. Little of this is actually important to enjoy the album. So, while it’s certainly not a metal album, it is a very heavy, complex and frantically energetic listen. Frankly, this album is heavier than many metal albums, and the drums cement that heaviness throughout. Previous albums I’ve mentioned I’ve said were wild or crazy. The truth is they’re all pretty tame and easy listening compared to this album. Yoshida handles vocals as well as drums, and highly operatic female vocals are in abundance as well, as are a full gauntlet of normal rock instruments, all producing highly abnormal music. This album isn’t for the faint of heart, but should be listened to by anyone who believes music should have no barriers or rules.
6. Peccatum – ‘Lost in Reverie’ (2004)
Peccatum was a side project by Norway’s legendary black metal master Ihsahn and his wife Ihriel (also known professionally as Star of Ash) who play all instruments (with the exception of drums, played by her brother) and handle vocal duties as well. I hasten to say, however, that anyone expecting something similar to Ihsahn’s solo work or his work with Emperor will be sorely disappointed. ‘Lost in Reverie’ is an avant garde album of the highest order, although being called a metal album doesn’t do it justice. Much of the album is slow, piano driven, and has far more in common with dark wave than any form of metal. The music is very dark and very moody. Only a few songs contain any metal music or Ihsahn’s trademark screams. The vocals are handled in equal measure between husband and wife, and both fit the mostly slow and somber tone the music creates. They combine to create a very nontraditional album which forms a palatable atmosphere throughout the 49 minute running time. It’s a frequently beautiful and melancholy album, punctuated sporadically by fierce black metal passages. It’s an album any fan of Ihsahn should listen to, but will likely disappoint conventional listeners and people with no patience.
7. Sleepytime Gorilla Museum – ‘Of Natural History’ (2004)
We have finally come to one of my favorite bands of all time. And the band that first drew me into the wild and wonderful world of avant garde metal. Sleepytime was formed by the remnants of Oakland, CA band Idiot Flesh by main vocalist/guitarist Nils Frykdahl, (and other members) with Carla Kihlstedt (vocals, violin and more). The result was this highly experimental and utterly unhinged band. Sleepytime (recently disbanded) were well known for their highly theatrical performances complete with puppets, mimes, and unusual costumes and makeup worn by the performers. Besides the standard rock instruments, the album is also a host to a variety of homemade instruments, both percussion and string. The result is an album and band that sounds like no other that you’ve ever heard. Their previous album, ‘Grand Opening and Closing,’ is certainly wilder and more experimental, but ‘Of Natural History’ finds this bizarre and experimental band at its most focused best. Lyrical themes are based mostly around the destructive nature of mankind and our relation to the natural world, especially the insect type. Sound recordings are in abundance as are spoken word narrations and observations by a variety of people including Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. It’s a wild and unpredictable work, and one I consider a masterpiece of the genre. This will long remain one of my favorite albums ever.
8. Scott Walker – ‘The Drift’ (2006)
‘The Drift’ is, simply put, one of the darkest and most unsettling albums released in the past decade. And I’m certainly not alone in thinking this; nearly every review either professionally or fan related had stated the same. Scott Walker has been a fixture of music since the early 60s when he was part of the pop band The Walker Brothers. Any teenybopper of the time would surely be horrified and terrified to hear this work all these years later. ‘The Drift’ is musically very far from being a metal album, but thematically (dealing with everything from 9/11 and the Srebrenica genocide, to the deaths of Mussolini and his wife Clara) it is very heavy and the atmosphere is far bleaker and darker than most any metal album you’ll ever hear. The album has also been spoken highly of and named as influential by Mikael Åkerfeldt and also Steven Wilson. Both credit this album as a major influence on their Strom Corrosion project. ‘The Drift’ is a very unsettling and uncomfortable album to listen to; to say you “enjoy” the album could well be taken as being masochistic, but despite all of this, it is a highly fulfilling work of a troubled genius who has given sound to the horror and uncertainty of our modern life and the world that affects it. Don’t listen to this album in a casual or half-assed manner, you won’t get anything out of it. Give it a serious listen and let the atmosphere and sounds bring you in. If you do so it’s deeply rewarding.
9. Wovenhand – ‘Refractory Obdurate’ (2014)
Wovenhand is the current artistic outlet of one of my favorite musicians/vocalists/lyricists, David Eugene Edwards. Edwards was previously known for his work in developing the “Denver Sound,” a modern form of gothic/dark roots country music with his band Sixteen Horsepower. Now, before I lose half the readers with mentioning any form of country music on a metal page, I hasten to mention that his music and the genre have NOTHING to do with the abomination that is modern country music. Rather it’s embedded in traditional American roots music, the sounds of Appalachia, and the earnest sincerity of Johnny Cash. I’ve rightly read a description that Edwards’ music sounds like it should be drifting with the smoke over the battlefield of Shiloh. ‘Refractory Obdurate’ is a solidly heavy album, frightening in its sincerity and perfect in its execution. The lyrics are filled with fire and brimstone, and a plea for the listener to repent, which is fitting as Edwards is a devout and unapologetic Christian. Now for listeners with small minds who cannot handle anyone thinking differently from them, this might be a problem.
However, the force and quality of the music, coupled with the earnest conviction of Edwards’ lyrics and delivery should make the issue mute. I’ve only had the pleasure and honor of seeing Wovenhand once in concert. And with the lone exception of Nick Cave, I have never seen a performance more intense or troubling than that show. The music is frequently dark and confrontational, and was named in the top 10 by many musicians who create far different and heavier music. It was released by Deathwish, the label run by Converge’s vocalist Jacob Bannon, who also praised it. For further examples of the love for the band by metal artists, Wovenhand played Hellfest in 2015, and toured with TOOL during their American tour of 2010. Other notable fans would be Marduk who covered their song “Deerskin Doll” and DevilDriver who covered the Sixteen Horsepower classic “Dead Soul Choir.” This album is one of the best and most intense of its kind, and is more than worthy of any metal fan’s collection.
10. John Zorn’s Electric Masada – ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ (2005)
I knew from the inception of this “10 Albums” concept that I had to include an album and project by John Zorn. Mostly because Zorn is one of my favorite musicians and composers, another artist that I will always label a genius. His work is wide and eclectic and is typically categorized simply as jazz. Zorn is of course known for his alto sax work, which often veers into highly unusual and avant garde territories. He’s had many projects through the years, with Naked City perhaps his most famous and infamous; his violent squealing sax work is instantly recognizable and takes no prisoners. It was a tossup for me to choose a Naked City album or an Electric Masada album. Now ‘Naked City’ is the better known and more influential group/album, but his Electric Masada work is my personal favorite. Zorn’s original Masada project was composed of over 500 songs which he wrote in Jewish scales, meant not only as compositions, but also as a improvisational launch point, all intended to be performed by a jazz quartet in the Ornette Coleman configuration (sax, trumpet, bass, and drums).
Electric Masada takes that music and infuses it with furious jazz fusion rock and frequently metal as well. The result is a Jewish infused piece of jazz metal insanity, played by no fewer than eight musicians. Like all of his work, Zorn is in total control of the music, which is both composed and improvised. He sits in the middle of the ensemble and with hand cues conducts the musicians; if he likes a direction he encourages it, if not, he curtails it and sends the music in a totally new direction. His sax work is often at the center of the chaos, as he demonstrates that no instrument is as equally capable of beauty and violence as the saxophone. Zorn’s performance is unforgettable on this album, both in lyrical melodies and violent squeals that leave the listener breathless. This brilliant and fiery album is a top tier favorite of mine, and one of the proverbial “desert island” albums. It has the fire and passion of metal, and the artistry and spontaneity of jazz and prog rock, all captured in a live setting. Few albums will ever match the power and intensity of this two hour plus double album.
Well, there we have it folks, my personal version and list of ten bands that most people haven’t heard of, and their albums that should be listened to. Clearly it’s not a typical metal list, which is fine as frankly I find much of typical metal to be horrible. Hopefully you’ll find something you’ve never heard of, and you’ll find it worth checking out. At the very least you’ll be pushed out of your comfort zone and find a style of music you perhaps didn’t know existed. I hope you enjoyed it and find something interesting and unusual.