Few groups come as burdened by stereotype as the metalhead. From long, scraggly hair, beards and dirty denim, to back-patches and boozing, they’re a group often boxed-in by expectation. Look beyond the cliché, though, and there’s a whole world of brilliant, exciting new music just waiting to be unleashed. Heavy music’s inaccessibility is part of its charm – it embraces the chaos and anger of modern life, in a way most musical genres might shy away from. After all, who hasn’t longed for a screaming fit or two in their time? This lot just do it into their microphones, instead of their pillows.
Heavy music’s public persona is undoubtedly due a spruce-up, though. Whether it’s Download Festival wheeling out Ozzy for his umpteenth headline performance, or larger, more mainstream fests only ever taking a punt on the Metallicas and Slayers of the world, there’s a chasm between the musical risk-taking of the underground and the industry’s reliance on safe bets that’s impossible to ignore. Once the old heads have popped their studded boots, who’s being built up to replace them in the top spots?
Below, we’ve picked out some of heavy music’s brightest hopes. From hardcore heroes packing out basement shows and beyond, to metal so grisly it belongs in a dungeon, these are the groups who could – and should – be headlining the muddy fields of Download, Bloodstock and more in years to come. Some are fresher faces; others have been building foundations for some time. What they all have in common, however, is their relentless appetite for the darker side of life, and the artistry and intelligence to take heavy music far into the future.
The relentless, mutating metallic hardcore of Code Orange’s second LP ‘Forever’ pitched them leagues ahead of their peers upon its January 2017 release. Equal parts jarring, industrial noise-rock and punishing hardcore bluster, the reaction to ‘Forever’ said it all. From primetime Cartoon Network slots, to performing live on WWE, right through to a Grammy nomination, the Pittsburgh group are breaking down the walls of metal and hardcore’s past, and charging forwards – last year, they supported System Of A Down in European stadiums, and lost none of the energy of the sweat-soaked DIY punk shows they grew up on. Undoubtedly the guiding force in heavy music’s resurgence, as ‘Forever’’s title-track so eloquently puts it: “The freaks will finally have their say / There is nothing you can do to take it.”
Born out of a desire to inject some fun back into hardcore’s oh so serious straight-edge scene, Baltimore gang Turnstile bring both fury and frolics on their new album ‘Time & Space’. The likes of ‘Real Thing’ and ‘Can’t Get Away’ channel the thundering of their harcore background, but it’s on the piano-led whirlwind of ‘High Pressure’, which comes off like Meatloaf in a mosh-pit, or the Diplo-featuring ‘Right To Be’, with its swirling electronics, that this lot push the boundaries til they shatter. What’s more, they invited a bunch of Syrian refugees to a show in Paris, and brought hardcore’s political mindset to the fore with a statement on their recent show in Israel. “Whatever happens, you gotta embrace that,” vocalist Brendan Yates told NME of the wild, unpredictable ride of a hardcore show – it’s that inclusivity that makes Turnstile one of rock’s most exciting young prospects.
Now over a decade into a career of pulverising riffs and beaming, Aussie-surfer-bro smiles, Parkway Drive are surely next in line to headline arenas. Their last album, 2015’s ‘Ire’, took the thrash-metal influence of their past, and brought a new anthemic edge to proceedings. Judging by ‘The Void’, the first single from 2018 follow-up LP ‘Reverence’, they’re about to amp things up a whole lot more. Recent intimate tours both at home and abroad have proven a Parkway Drive show is one of the most cathartic, unifying experiences in modern metal – take that atmosphere to a packed-out arena, or a festival headline slot, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better representation of heavy music’s future glory.
Favourites of hipsters and heavy metal purists alike, Deafheaven are a prospect like no other. Taking crushing black metal atmospherics and post-rock passages and melting the two together, they sit somewhere between Sigur Rós and Slayer, and effortlessly flit between the two. Frontman George Clarke is an underground icon in waiting, his seared vocal chords delivering poetry like the book’s been set ablaze. Not since Future Islands’ Samuel T. Herring first barked his way through that iconic Jools performance have the indie world so readily accepted such punishing roars. With a new album reportedly due later this year, there’s no-one better placed to fuse beauty with brutality than Deafheaven.
The freshest face on our list, don’t let Conjurer’s youth disguise their dastardly intentions. Debut album ‘Mire’, released earlier this year, is a relentless stomp through some of metal’s murkiest swamps, documenting disgust and declining mental health through relentless pessimism and gut-wrenching heaviness. The grisly-but-gripping likes of ‘Retch’ and ‘Hollow’ feel like they could single-handedly bring about a plague. The wrinklier corners of the metal world might still bang on about the 1980s’ New Wave Of British Heavy Metal like it’s the only thing of note, but here we are nearly 40 years on, with bands like Conjurer proving the UK scene’s never been more fertile.
Darlings of the UK’s underground scene, Rolo Tomassi are proof that, no matter the dunderheaded image of the old-school metalhead, there’s brains within the brawn. As complex as a calculus finals paper, their intelligent approach to metalcore has reaped dividends for a decade. It’s new album ‘Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It’ that’s their masterstroke though – basking in both light and shade for the first time, Rolo Tomassi have delivered a record that could crumble mountains, and then plant flowers in the rubble. A thoughtful look to the future of heavy music’s oft-ignored beauty, it deserves sunset slots at metal fests and hippy communes alike.