Question Of The Week: Horning In On Metal
U know the feeling, the dread, the stomach-plummeting horror of it all: U are having a perfectly nice time at a nice bar, humming along with smooth jamz, sipping dranks and stuff, gabbing with a hot girl, and generally being mellow when over her shoulder u spy a band setting up just meters away. It’s like, Oh man keep it down. We chilling here. And then, sheer terror: Three guys just walked in each carrying a case that can contain only one thing: A brass instrument! GASP SHUDDER BARF.
That’s part of why we love metal: No farty, intrusive horns clogging up the jam and getting spittle all over everything. (There’s a lot of truth behind the idiom “to horn in on” something.) But wait a sec — is metal really so hornless? Let’s decide in today’s MS Question Of The Week!
Fearless. Controversial. Half-baked. We give it to you straight every Friday afternoon. Straight out the spit valve in a drifting string of slob! Here’s this week’s question:
Inspired by being funky and avant garde, we asked our staff the following:
What is the awesomest occurrence of horns in heavy music?
Read us then blow your own horn below!
When it comes to brass in metal, no one does it for me like Sigh. And sure, lots of black metal bands use saxophones these days, but these Japanese nutbars go hog wild with horns, especially on 2010’s Scenes From Hell, which basically invents the genre of “mariachi metal.” Check out “The Summer Funeral,“ which uses horns to play the Funeral March as its opening and then lumbers awkwardly along like some stoned New Orleans band trying to play on the deck of a storm-rocked ship.
The argument could be made that the saxophone work of Jørgen Munkeby or John Zorn (for Shining and Painkiller, respectively) represents high points for brass instrumentalists in heavy music. Toby Driver wrote a lot of space for free-form brass parts into his Kayo Dot and Maudlin of the Well stuff, and that Sunn 0))) album Monoliths And Dimensions has some terrific brass ensemble textures, too. But my one favorite heavy brass moment is the intro to “They Sent You” by the Canadian band Mare. It’s a really lovely chunk of brass harmony punctuated now and then by weird dissonant braying, and accompanied by the angelic voice of Tyler Semrick-Palmateer (who later formed The End). It sounds like daybreak. It’s a reminder that heavy can be dramatic and artful at the same time.
I have faith that at least one MetalSucks staffer will mention Norway’s saxophone-happy Shining, so I’m going to be the old guy here and tout Extreme‘s “Get the Funk Out.” Lots of Extreme jams utilize horns with the express purpose of, uh, getting the funk out, but that song gets my tush shaking like no other. Liner notes credit Andy Armer with the brass arrangement, but I like to imagine guitarist Nuno Bettencourt sitting around in his undies tooling with a trombone to get the parts just so.
There’s like a minute or so in “The Chalice Vermillion” on Thought Industry‘s debut Songs For Insects that is always looping in my head. Like, always! Like, mental illness/schizophrenia always. The passage got wedged in my brain cuz it’s a series of little earwormy riffs, drummings, and alternating solos — like a dozen mini-jingles lined up. Butttt there’s another part of Insects stuck in my auditory cortex only cuz of its flummoxing awesomeness, not novelty or shreddy cleverness. It’s eight measly bars of “The Flesh Is Weak” (at 4:00) in which a lonely trumpet (I picture this) sounds a forlorn, defeated call out over the fields, asphalt, and dust of America. The song’s hero has surrendered (not literally); all that’s left is his destruction. Stirring!
Brass slots most easily into the textures of black metal. The wailing rounds the music’s tortured nature with an angular smoothness, and exaggerates song arcs like stretched taffy. Hungarian black metallers Sear Bliss feature one of metal’s few trombonists, and its effusive sound helps make the band memorable over their peers. The break at 1:43 in “Omen of Doom” is positively boner-inducing, conveying a sense of triumph and urgency that would feel disaffected and flat if attempted by keys or guitars.