Black metal’s most sophisticated prodigy, Ihsahn has created a staggering career as a composer and progressive musician. During his reign in Emperor, Ihsahn also impressively managed to personally avoid the controversy surrounding the much publicised actions plaguing members of the second wave of black metal. From masterminding Emperor’s symphonic works of art and having the awareness to know the right time to step down from its icy throne, to insidiously crafting a solo career under his own name, Ihsahn has always put the music first. This is the reason why he is still a major force in underground metal. Since releasing himself from the self imposed limitations of Emperor’s complex compositions, Ihsahn’s solo work has contained a spirited sense of freedom. Encasing captivating moments of jazz and progressive rock around a menacing metal core, Ihsahn has gained a fresh musical perspective and his constant sense of adventure makes him a true visionary in every sense of the word.
Many a band in this circus of depravity called underground metal has suckled at the hairy teat of the Melvins (Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover). Kurt Cobain even carried this band’s gear just to be in their presence, and subsequently stole their Beatles-sludge by the bucketful for Nirvana’s debut album Bleach. Always in a constant state of re-genesis, the Melvins have experimented with their sound on countless occasions—dropping a doom-bomb on Bullhead, flexing their avant-garde muscle on Colossus of Destiny and collaborating with deviants’ Jello Biafra, Lustmord and Big Business. They even expanded their line-up by adopting the Big Business duo as full-time band members, only to let them fly the nest for upcoming album Freak Puke (released under the moniker Melvins Lite). Their cavalier attitude and self-centred approach to career choices may have disorientated some fans over the years, but it’s this selfish thought process which has made the Melvins career so engaging to follow.
Meshuggah have created a movement with their polyrhythmic imperialism, and “djent” is the onomatopoeic word on everyone’s lips at the minute. The only surprising thing about the materialization of this genre is the fact that it hasn’t come sooner. Meshuggah have been dropping jaws and frying brains since 1987, and over seven albums have constructed a discography the quality of which still has not been fully realised or understood. It may take music historians centuries from now, who unearth Meshuggah’s aural treasures and spend years studying each jolting movement and alien diatribe communicated by the disengaged bark of Jens Kidman, to fully appreciate these architects of intellectual discordance. Shrines with be erected and every child the world over will be forced to learn “New Millennium Cyanide Christ” for each school recital… or maybe this is just wishful thinking! Either way, for those who have been re-aligned after encountering Meshuggah, nothing will be the same again.
Napalm Death have been a grinding institution of extreme metal for over three decades. The fact that some past members appear above on this list is an indication of the pedigree of musicians that have slummed in Napalm’s squats over the years. An anomaly of the scene (none of the original members are currently in the band), Napalm Death are a movement in and of itself and have been a hive for extreme musicians who share similar socio-political ideas. Having managed to maintain a stable line-up since 1990’s Harmony Corruption (with the exception of late guitarist Jesse Pintado), Napalm Death have been the voice of the moral minority and have survived many fleeting music trends. With each release since 2000’s Enemy of the Music Business, Napalm Death have managed to make their music more intense than what proceeded it, and this is a testament to the passion for extreme music existing inside each of the surviving members. Leaders not followers, indeed.
Adam Darski (under the Babylonian pseudonym of Nergal) has worked tirelessly to make Behemoth a premier death metal band. Initially inspired by black metal, Nergal meticulously incorporated the slick mechanics of death metal into Behemoth’s sound while preserving their black metal aesthetic. This gradual shift in dynamics has culminated in a magisterial run of albums: Demigod, The Apostacy and Evangelion. The reason these albums have been so powerful is due to the maturation of Nergal’s songwriting running in tandem with his elaborate album concepts. The riffs he writes have a commanding presence about them that carries aloft the classical song structures and hold the weight of drummer Inferno’s blackened blast beats. If this wasn’t remarkable enough, Darski has also fought personal demons in the form court cases in Poland for accusations of blasphemy and also leukaemia, both of which have been mercifully crushed.