The definition of “underrated” is one that is hard to grasp if you don’t have a pre-determined scale that you’re utilizing. In my opinion, the few albums I’ve listed here were unique for their time (and still are), and may have even been highly lauded when they first came out, but I feel like they did not get the recognition they deserve in many retrospective, best-of-the-decade lists.
300% Density, by Candiria
Of the NE Noisecore/Mathcore/Whatevercore bands that made waves in the late 1990s and early 2000s (such as Converge, Cave In, Botch, The Dillinger Escape Plan, etc.), Candiria was by far the least abrasive. Despite their constantly shifting tempos and time signatures, Candiria had a smooth, fluid sound. That’s not to say that I’m comparing them to the languid sounds of Smooth Jazz. It’s more like Candiria were the “Kind of Blue” cool jazz to the others’ “Giant Steps” Bebop. This comparison is also quite apt, because Candiria injected a heavy dose of Jazz into their particular brand of Noisecore…not to mention Hip-Hop and Progressive Rock. Furthermore, their heavy use of Hip-Hop rhymes and beats was coming at a time when Rap Metal was almost universally panned by fans and critics alike in the metal underground, but they did it both intelligently and unashamedly.
Seminar II: The Holy Rites of Primitivism Regressionism/Seminar III: Zozobra, by Old Man Gloom
Featuring an all-star lineup of Aaron Turner (Isis), Caleb Scofield (Cave In), Nate Newton (Converge), Jay Randall (Agoraphobic Nosebleed), Luke Scarola, and previously unknown drummer, Santos Montano, one could tell from listening to Old Man Gloom’s albums as well as reading the liner notes that the band is/was a sort of concept-oriented joke (as also evidenced in some strange interviews). What that concept might be is…uh, up for debate and may be part of the joke. Something revolving around returning to a primal state, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, and smoking gargantuan amounts of weed. The sequencing of “Seminar II” goes something like this: one short burst of sludgy metalcore followed by one song of ambient electronics. On the other hand, “Seminar III” is one 30-minute track. Both albums are two of my favorites from the 2000s and both helped to usher in a new interest in sludge metal (nu-sludge?) by the mid-2000s.
entire discography, by Khanate
Khanate is one of those bands that I simply don’t listen to on a regular basis because they are so emotionally draining, which is similar to how I feel about Neurosis and Swans. The latter are two of my favorite bands, however I wouldn’t consider Khanate to be one of my favorites. This is mainly because their later material got too sparse and improvisational for my tastes. For example, listen to over 30-minute track, “Every God Damn Thing”, from their last album, “Clean Hands Go Foul. There is nary a discernible riff in the entire song. Some guitar noise here, a drum roll there, a blood-curdling scream of pain here…etc. I simply think that songs like that lose the power of their earlier material. Yet I still feel that their entire catalogue is underrated? Yes, and I’ll tell you why. Khanate is the first Doom Metal band (at least, to my knowledge) that incorporated a Black Metal claustrophobic aesthetic into their particular style of Doom Metal. While most Doom Metal bands focus on creating a lumbering wall of sound to encompass the listener, Khanate was busy crawling under/within the negative space to explore existential agony. Maybe the loss of the discernible riff, and therefore the power, was the point…
self-titled, by Phantomsmasher
If “The Inalienable Dreamless” by Discordance Axis was Grindcore 2.0, then the self-titled Phantomsmasher was Grindcore 5.5. Phantomsmasher was the brainchild of guitarist/bassist/electronics guru/general weirdo, James Plotkin (also of Khanate). While most consider this album to be experimental/electronic Grindcore, it’s also much more than that. While there is a colossal barrage of breakbeats and electronic glitches (in part, courtesy of drummer assassin-for-hire, Dave Witte), Plotkin’s oddly pastoral guitar parts ring out, and DJ Speedranch’s vocals (more than a little reminiscent of Yamataka Eye of The Boredoms) maniacally blabber from the undertow of it all. I don’t think this electronic maelstrom will be fully understood by anyone (including myself), until the Terminator comes back from the future to destroy it.
From Wisdom to Hate, by Gorguts
Needless to say, Gorguts was going to have a hard time coming up with a follow-up to the stone cold (stoned cold?) classic, “Obscura”. This was, if only retrospectively, apparent after the departure of second guitarist, Steeve Hurdle after the release of “Obscura”. From what I remember reading and seeing, “From Wisdom to Hate” was considered a disappointment by fans and critics alike because it didn’t continue the noisy, avant-garde nature of “Obscura”, and seemed to rather take a step back. However, in my opinion, “From Wisdom to Hate” is one of, if not the best, Death Metal albums of the decade. The songs were thoughtfully composed, memorable (one can almost forget that Death Metal can be such), and reeked of absolute top-notch musicianship. True, there were some pretty obvious nods to Morbid Angel, Incantation, and the like, but I think that can be forgiven when taking “From Wisdom to Hate” as an effort unto itself and not in the context of the successor to “Obscura”.
Grand Declaration of War, by Mayhem
I don’t think anyone could have prepared for hearing this album. In fact, I don’t think anyone could have even imagined hearing this album, except in passing jokes:
(while headbanging to “Wolf’s Lair Abyss” upon it’s release)
“Dude, this shit is so kvlt! I just knew Mayhem would continue carrying the flag for Trve Norwegian Black Metal!” – Metal Dude 1
“Dude, I know! But wouldn’t it be funny if they had a trip-hop song on the next full length?” – Metal Dude 2
“Dude…(pauses music)…don’t even say that.” – Metal Dude 1
(Metal Dude 1 resumes playing music and both Metal Dudes resume headbanging)
Sure, prior to “Grand Declaration of War”, we had equally weird (OK, much weirder) albums from Black Metal weirdos Ulver and Dodheimsgard, with “Themes from William Blake’s Heaven and Hell” and “666 International”, but Mayhem at that point were legends in the Black Metal scene. They were supposed to be the flag-bearers of Trve Norwegian Black Metal! When this album came out, it not so much stuck out like a sore thumb as it did a giant middle finger to the people that were expecting the next “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas”. “Grand Declaration of War” (GDoW) featured electronic experimentation (yes, a trip-hop song), Maniac’s auctioneer-like barks having even more of a presence, crystal-clear production, electronic drums (gasp!), and a surprising amount of technical prowess. All elements that were (and in some circles, now) still looked down upon in Black Metal. Of course, GDoW got torn to shreds in a lot of reviews and forums by the kvlt naysayers. Nonetheless, as the old saying goes, Mayhem can be credited with tearing apart the rulebook. The fact that it was Mayhem, the flagship band of Norwegian Black Metal, who wrote GDoW, gave other bands the right to fuck with the playbook. Oh, and GDoW is an extremely well-written and performed album, too.
Dulling Occam’s Razor, by Found Dead Hanging
I’ll start this one off by saying that 99% of Metalcore and Deathcore is just not for me for a variety of reasons that I just won’t get into. Found Dead Hanging (FDH), however, are part of the lucky 1%. Unfortunately, these dudes just released one EP and then called it quits, but in my opinion, their sound had much more in common with NOLA bands than their contemporaries in the then thriving Metalcore scene. This gritty, southern quality, gave them personality amongst the stale clones in their scene. However, they still retained a technical acrobatic nature to their song structures and riffs. I hate reverting to simple band comparisons, but if Eyehategod decided they wanted to start sounding more like The Dillinger Escape Plan, “Dulling Occam’s Razor” might be the result. After FDH broke up, most of the remaining members ended up forming a band called Architect whose material wasn’t nearly as technically interesting or full of personality. Finally, it’s also worth mentioning that one of my favorite song titles of all time is from this album: “Solar-Powered Sun Destroyer”.
s/t, by Humo Del Cairo
OK, admittedly, this release didn’t see the light of day in the United States until Meteorcity released it in 2010, but was released all the way back in 2007 in Argentina by label Estamos Felices. Yes, I am guilty for throwing it on my top 10 for 2010. Guilty as charged.
As one collective sub-genre, I love stoner metal. However, I have my grievances when it comes to individual bands. There are very few stoner metal bands that I can hear, and almost instantaneously say, “OH! Orange Goblin!” or “OH! That’s the new Acid Witch!” Meaning, I hear very few stoner metal bands with unique sounds, or very few stoner metal albums with distinguishable songs. Maybe it’s the fact that there is TOO much Sabbath worshipping (who knew that could be a bad thing) or that I stopped smoking the ganja many moons ago, but sometimes I resignedly think, “For fuck’s sake, I’m just going to throw on a Melvins album!”, but Humo Del Cairo changed that. Dynamic and variable song structures, memorable (even catchy!) riffs, and a variety of sounds. Not to mention a punchy/groovy as fuck rhythm section, and a masterful guitarist/vocalist. There is a lot of substandard stoner metal out there, but Humo Del Cairo is far in front of the pack!