If the commercial success of Metallica's Black Album was a sign of anything, it was that even certain genres of music deemed unlistenable by the general populace can be tweaked, repackaged, and thereby heralded the world over. Who would've thought that four long-haired alcoholics from the Bay could infiltrate mainstream culture the way that they did when "Enter Sandman" hit the airwaves back in '91? The Metallica model is being reintroduced today via bands like Mastodon, and the Mastodon model is being used by bands like Baroness.
I count Mastodon's album Remission among some of the best heavy albums put to tape. The whole feel of the album is relentless and uncompromising, not unlike the first few Metallica studio albums. The next album, Leviathan was excellent in its own right. Although much less heavy, it still maintained the spirit of the band through righteous riffing, epic imagery, and driving tempos. But every album since then has been more watered down, more accessible, and more heavily promoted. I'm not against bands trying something different, but when a band simulataneously signs with a major label AND downplays their inaccessability, you've got to suspect that something is up.
Which brings me back to Baroness. I heard about them through a kid in North Carolina who showed be some of their live footage on the DVD comp Doomed Nation. It was heavy. It was rooted in hardcore. They made a name for themselves playing this kind of punk-rooted stoner rock, and released stuff on awesome underground labels like At a Loss and Hyperrealist. Honestly, I hadn't really kept up with this band a whole lot after that, so when I went to OEJ's for this show I was expecting something heavy.
Well, looks like I'd been out the loop too long. The band I saw on Wednesday night bore little resemblance to the one on that DVD, with their incessant noodling, catchy vocals, rockstar stage presence, and goddamn if I didn't hear one fucking riff the whole time. I was bored midway through the first song. It was as if the band were genuinely scared of their low E strings. Count me out!
It stands to reason that, as with so many genres, underground hardcore/stoner/metal and all its variations will be commodified and introduced to the mainstream in time. Which bands will stand against the grain and which will welcome their new masters with open arms?
I missed the only band worth seeing on this bill: Dark Castle. They are legit, good people. Check them out.