New Wave Of American Heavy Metal
Written by Dux, September 2010
very decade or so
has its permutation of metal that emerges as the preeminent sound; that
generation's "scene," if you will. With the deathcore sound
and culture in full swing as this decade's newest trend in metal, I thought
it would be an appropriate time to reflect on last's: the New Wave of
American Heavy Metal.
ome of you may
be scratching your heads as to what I am talking about. The term refers
to the crop of aggressive metal bands that came up at the turn of the
century and undoubtedly takes its inspiration, at least in nomenclature,
from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal label used to classify the second
wave of metal in the late '70s/early '80s. Unlike its forbearer, the term
has not caught on as ubiquitously as a means to describe its scene and
sound. At this point in time, I am unaware who originally coined the term,
but it has shown up with some frequency on message boards and web articles,
as well as in Metal: A Headbangers' Journey.
the use of undescriptive labels to categorize bands. However, unlike a
genre name, the NWoAHM refers less to a sound and more to a movement and
era. Admittedly, there are certain stylistic elements that the classification
carries with it, but there is far too much variety among its bands to
use it just as a means of speaking sonically.
So what exactly is the New Wave of American Heavy Metal? The term refers
to the second wave of young, purely American bands playing heavy, aggressive
metal, with the first wave presumably being the thrash and death acts
of the 1980s (Metallica, Slayer, Testament, Possessed, Morbid Angel, and
Death, to name a few). Following in the extreme metal tradition of its
predecessors, the NWoAHM combines the sharp, palm-muted riffs and melodic
solos of thrash with the throaty, screamed vocals and breakdown/stomp
riff sections of hardcore.
he origins of the
NWoAHM are murky, as there is some debate whether or not the classification
was applied retroactively by metal critics or whether there was an actual
established scene and culture during its inception in the same way that
there was for previous metal movements like Bay Area thrash or Norwegian
black metal. In any event, the bands practicing its work ethic and sound
were seen as something of an antithesis to the complacent state of modern
rock music during the late '90s/turn of the decade, namely: alternative
rock and nu-metal. '90s aggressive bands Pantera and Machine Head (whose
origins lay in the thrash band Vio-lence) have often been cited as the
progenitors of what would become the New Wave of American Heavy Metal
aesthetic and sound.
s far as locale
is concerned, there wasn't really a centralized location. The Boston area
of Massachusetts produced many noteworthy bands including Shadows Fall,
Killswitch Engage, Unearth, and All That Remains, with many members starting
off as friends and playing in various less successful projects during
the scene's formative years. California also was home to such acts as
Avenged Sevenfold, As I Lay Dying, and Atreyu. Despite these small pockets,
the geographic area was widely dispersed, with bands coming from all over
would term the sound "metalcore," which is not far off the mark
for the majority of the groups in the movement. However, the NWoAHM has
its foot planted far enough in the camp of heavy metal to remove it from
the sound of the bands of the second wave of metalcore (Hatebreed, Converge,
Earth Crisis). Indeed, many of the bands of the NWoAHM would eventually
be classified as "melodic" metalcore, and would be considered
the third wave of metalcore in addition to its designation as the NWoAHM.
he adjective "melodic"
comes from the NWoAHM's comparative lack of dissonance to its predecessors,
and greater emphasis on hooky guitars and catchy choruses. Once the metalcore
practiced by NWoAHM bands began to become more commercially viable circa
2004, the emphasis on cleanly-sung bridge and chorus sections began to
increase. The cleanliness of such sections ranges from poppy crooning
(Trivium, Killswitch Engage) to more mid-range, on-key shouting (Shadows
Fall) approaches, but is a staple of nearly all bands in the movement.
Furthermore, many bands would go on to incorporate conventions of the
Swedish melodic death metal sound of the '90s, utilizing the dual-harmonized
leads and tremolo picking of bands such as In Flames and At the Gates.
Metal author Garry Sharpe-Young describes its use as a "marriage
of European-style riffing and throaty vocals."
hough many bands
would adopt the musical attributes previously spoken of, there have been
a few to break out of the mold and separate themselves from the pigeonholing
metalcore tag. Lamb of God for instance, the harshest of the NWoAHM bands,
started off as a groove-infused metalcore outfit that has never used sing-songy
vocals or melodic leads, eliciting comparisons to Pantera, and has progressed
into a full-on modern thrash outfit. Another example on the other end
of the spectrum is Mastodon, who started off as something of a sludgey
mathcore band with spastic starts and stops and screamed vocals, who have
since matured into a legitimate progressive metal act in their own right.
he subsequent generation
of metalcore has taken the extremes of the NWoAHM to new boundaries. The
latest trend in extreme music, deathcore uses full-on growled death metal
vocals, a high level of technicality, and a lack of the more mainstream-accessible
songwriting of what came before it. Though it has effectively brought
aggressive metal back into a niche audience of people who have acquired
the taste for its brutality, it as commercially popular, if not moreso,
than the NWoAHM, appearing in Hot Topics and having its own entrenched
he NWoAHM has largely
moved away from its more trendy, metalcore roots, with many brands attempting
to make their sound more timeless and mature. Most new releases from bands
of the movement could be considered something of a neo-thrash sound, albeit
separate from the Bay Area-inspired revival happening parallel to it.
Either way, the movement is credited almost singlehandedly for bringing
riff-centric metal back into the American mainstream post turn of the
Dux - September 2010