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20 of the Most Influential Artists in Underground Metal Today

PopMatters celebrates the polymaths who have devoted their life's work to a multitude of artistic endeavours and in turn, emphatically etched their own legend in the annuals of underground metal. This is a list of the genre's most influential bands/artists in existence today. Kneel in reverence; the Gods are amongst us...

Creating stone-cold classic slabs of musical might, crafting iconic album art, harnessing the raw energy of others and becoming the medium through which musical visions become realised, rampaging through a number of decades while re-imagining original musical intent, providing a sanctuary for the promotion and distribution of passionate music, and inventing a sound and inspiring a movement. All of these actions have been masterfully accomplished in one form or another by the musicians listed below. The results of these accomplishments should not be overlooked, for they have had a significant impact on the growing popularity of underground metal over the years.

In light of this, the life's efforts of the following artists and bands need to be honoured, and their influence demands further recognition and praise. In this digital age where music and art have become transient, and where fame is characterised by the celebration of idiocies and lack of talent, the underground and the following creative thinkers provide a satisfying counterculture. For every ten commercially manufactured pop cretins, one iconoclast ariseth. For those who want substance and something substantial to hit you in the gut and heart simultaneously, the work of the following will change your life. For those who have been forever affected by the depth of soul their work contains, this piece is a long overdue acknowledgement of the gifts they have given us. This is a proclamation of individuality and artistry.

Mikael Åkerfeldt

Mikael Åkerfeldt's career has undergone a gradual metamorphosis from a death metal progenitor (Opeth/Bloodbath) who happens to be fond of progressive rock, to a contemporary prog-puppeteer who cast aside the robes of death metal and set them alight in effigy. This move was always on the cards for any ardent Åkerfeldt fan to see and Opeth's latest release, Heritage, was the realisation of this. Heritage played out like an absinthe party full of mellotron flourishes and King Crimson cosmic trusts, with Åkerfeldt's song-writing genius at the forefront. His recent collaboration with prog-peer Steve Wilson under the guise of Storm Corrosion has allowed both parties to satisfy their personal musical urges by diving head first into their Scott Walker, Gentle Giant and Nick Drake LPs for inspiration; producing a work of spectral grandeur. Some less adventurous fans may wish that Åkerfeldt would return to the devilish aggression that made Blackwater Park such a metal milestone. The reality is Åkerfeldt is now one of the best songwriters of his generation, and possibly of all time. Whatever musical choices he makes going forward will be a cause for celebration and a privilege to behold.

Greg Anderson & Stephen O'Malley

This doom duo have dedicated their careers to preaching the Sabbathian sermons of days past. Some may say together they have regressed the metal genre to an ancient version of itself with their tenebrous Sunn O))) project. Anderson and O'Malley have been intrinsically tied together since co-founding the imposing Southern Lord record label back in 1998, and have been highly involved in the progression and preservation of the underground scene. Southern Lord has released albums by hardcore gutter punks (Black Breath/Trap Them), as well as the ecological battery of post-black metallers Wolves in the Throne Room and doomed rockers Goatsnake (of which Anderson is also a member). The label's ethics seem to be based around quality over quantity and expressions of weighty art that holds substance. Without selfless individuals like this backing the underground, it would cease to exist. Through their art, promotion and numerous musical endeavours, Anderson and O'Malley have enlightened those who want more from their music, and for this they should be honoured.

John Dyer Baizley

Towing the creative line between moments of beautiful warmth and understated darkness -- with both his music and his paintings -- John Dyer Baizley is a contrasting and admired figure. Over the course of three full-lengths and two EPs, the Baroness frontman/guitarist has tempered his band's primal sludge metal with a progressive Southern rock streak. Judging by latest release and career zenith, Yellow & Green, he has emerged triumphant. Baizley's art career has also been a triumph. On first glance his paintings are strikingly colourful and full of signature themes, but look to the intricately subtle details beyond the obvious and things are not what they seem. It's this previously mentioned juxtaposition that has his art in such high demand, gracing the covers of enigmatic bands like Kylesa, Kvelertak and Pig Destroyer. With both Baroness and his artwork, John Dyer Baizley has made a lasting impression on underground metal culture.

Kurt Ballou

The creator of some of the most apoplectic riffs in hardcore, Kurt Ballou remains one of the most underrated and imitated guitarists operating in modern metal. Throughout his career throwing riffs for Converge, Ballou has supplied a wealth of skin-flaying licks for Jacob Bannon to spit venom over. The force of Ballou's volatile song structures and abrasive guitar tones (captured by his supreme album production), has made Converge unrivalled as a precise powerhouse in hardcore. In addition to this, Ballou established Godcity Studios in 1998 as a base to refine his production skills. He now sits as the alpha producer for any band looking document the violence of their live shows without sacrificing instrumental clarity. His style is based on capturing a feel and his ability to translate onto record, a true concentration of energy that has every band from High on Fire to Today Is the Day seeking to acquire his expertise.

Jacob Bannon

Inside Jacob Bannon beats the tortured heart of a romantic poet, who also happens to possess the harrowing scream of a fallen angel. Throughout his career as vocalist/lyricist of hardcore lions Converge and graphic artist and label leader for Deathwish Inc., Bannon has shown selfless dedication to a life of hardcore. More importantly, Jacob Bannon has done so without compromising the strong personal ethics which he holds paramount. Whether it is a considered brush-stroke or a viperous vocal line, Bannon has been blessed with the gift of transforming real, genuine emotion into lasting pieces of art. A senior figure-head of the hardcore scene, Jacob Bannon has become just as iconic as the Jane Doe album cover he created. If Ballou, Koller and Newton form the power and sinewy muscle of Converge, Jacob Bannon is the band's soul.

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