06.30.2016
culture

Drone Metal: Trip With Caution

Pure psychedelic exploration, one hour-long riff at a time.

Drone metal combines the heaviness of doom with the boundless creativity of rock's most daring experimental composers. In every sense, this music is acidic. Slow, pummeling, boundless, and overwhelmingly ambient, drone has become the hallucinogen soundtrack of choice among headbangers—a next-level plane of sonic transport and transcendence. Drone metal is the answer to what comes after a hard-rocker’s beer-blasted first steps toward higher consciousness and even the marijuana-elevated enlightenment of the stoner rock realm.

Roots-wise, drone metal arises from multiple depths of primordial gunk. Among such oozing pools are the krautrock of Can, Faust, and Kraftwerk; the industrial pioneering of Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire; the fearless experimentation of Frank Zappa, Glenn Branca, and La Monte Young; the space explorations of Hawkwind and Sun Ra; the sheer noise of Whitehouse, Merzbow, and Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music; the electronically percussive rage of Big Black and Godflesh; and the sludge feasts of the Melvins, Swans, Sleep, and, of course, Black Sabbath.

Containing DNA from all those ancestors and more, drone metal burbled to life most immediately during the Pacific Northwest’s mid-1990s post-grunge swamp collapse. The genre has subsequently evolved and mutated in as many different directions as there are skull-flowering visions to be had while turning on, tuning down, and droning out. Just be warned: heavy stuff looms ahead—just let the darkness carry you off to new levels of (pitch black) light.

SunnO)))

As the ultimate monsters of drone, the Seattle-planted, revolving-membered noise-growl supergroup SunnO))) take their name from a classic hard rock amplifier brand and take their listeners to high, dark places with utter unpredictability every time out.

Core founders Stephen O’Malley, a metal god already from his work with Burning Witch, and Greg Anderson of doom titans Goatsnake also started the planet’s premiere stoner rock record label Southern Lord

SunnO)))’s live performances are multi-hour marathons of ear-liquefying madness, with members performing in robes and shrouded by fog that clouds the audiences’ vision in the same all-conquering manner that the group’s music does to one’s consciousness. Every SunnO))) show, then, should be considered one large “freak-out tent.”

Earth

Earth's monolithic 1993 Sub Pop debut Earth 2: Love-Frequency Version, launched the vanguard of hard rock into its drone-dominated post-grunge era. Founding guitar pilot Dylan Carlson named the group after what Black Sabbath originally called themselves, and he has stated that Earth’s “ambient metal,” a term largely attributed to Carlson, resulted from his contending with narcotics addiction. In only the best sense, then, Earth sounds “dopey.”

Boris

The name Boris invokes monster movie icon Karloff (who originally inspired Black Sabbath’s nomenclature) and the Who’s creepy-crawly spider arachnid hero, and both those factors likely figured into the nine-minute spelunk “Boris” by the Melvins, from which this Japanese drone powerhouse actually acquired its moniker. 

The group caught on among experimental music hounds upon their 1996, building a devoted following that led to their major indie-circuit breakthrough LP Pink in 2005. Boris remains a volcanic live attraction worldwide and one of Southern Lord Records’ signature acts. 

For the truly daring, drop something inspiring inside yourself, then drop the needle on any one of their seven collaborations with their fellow countryman and revered noise master, Merzbow. 

Khanate

Khanate rules as of drone’s premiere premier supergroups, aligning SunnO)))’s Stephen O’Malley, Blind Idiot God drummer Tym Wyskida, and James Plotkin and Alan Dubin of grindcore brutalizers OLD. The group issued four LPs between 2001 and 2009; each one is its own chapter in a psychedelic saga of paralyzing potency.

Nadja

Glacially paced yet sonically soaring, Nadja is centrally project of multi-instrumentalist Aidan Baker wherein he constructs mammoth walls of drone richness drenched in the louder-than-life shoegaze of My Bloody Valentine and other unexpected influences. Nadja’s output is prolific, and like the drugs that work best while listening to them, always amped-up with surprises.

Black Boned Angel

Black Boned Angel spreads its wings of perdition from all the way down in New Zealand and all the way up past where any sane consciousness can survive. Borrowing a Godflesh song title for their name, Black Boned Angel provides direct flights through Hell and beyond. Just try to send a postcard. 

Moss

English doom-drone trio Moss invokes the occult, educates all comers on the dark treasures of H.P. Lovecraft (both the visionary scribe and the vintage acid-rock conjurers), and plumbs newly low depths of bass frequency through sheer electronic invention: the group contains no bass guitarist. 

Wrekmeister Harmonies

Experimental composer JR Robinson leads the musical collective Wrekmeister Harmonies, conducting an ever-changing bevy of heavy metal’s most fearsome and fearless figures on uncharted and unparalleled journeys into the creative unknown.

Locrian

A power trio straddling the bum concrete trips of Chicago and Baltimore, Locrian congeal black metal vocals with slimy guitars, electronic pulsations, and jarring blasts of natural sounds wherein chirping birds or wind rushing through a leafy tree simultaneously come off like hope and damnation.

Joe Preston

Beard-metal demigod Joe Preston has thundered on bass guitar for Earth, the Melvins, High on Fire, Harvey Milk, and he’s a sometimes Moog synthesizner-manning racketeer of drone overlords SunnO))). Thrones, Preston’s always ongoing personal project, is a one man wrecking-ball of droned-out freedom from reason, as is his 1992 EP Joe Preston, which was part of the Melvins’ take on the Kiss move of every member releasing a simultaneous solo album. 

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