Current Sounds in Southern Metal
by Justin Farrar | April 24, 2012
Every single American possesses an inflexibly strong opinion about the South: either they love it or absolutely hate it. What isn't debatable, though, is the region's pivotal role in the evolution of American music. In fact, there would be no such thing as American music without the South giving birth to jazz, rock 'n' roll, the blues, country, soul, bluegrass, rhythm and blues, zydeco, Texas swing, funk, old-time, and many of the countless permutations and cross-pollinations they have spawned.
With far less mythology clinging to it, the region has also played a pivotal role in the development of modern heavy metal, specifically Southern sludge and death metal, both of which came roaring out of New Orleans and Florida, respectively, in the late 1980s. It's not surprising then that these subgenres are all over this playlist, with many of their progenitors, from Down and Goatwhore to Morbid Angel and Buzzov*en, still putting out meaningful music. The interesting thing about these older groups (and others from their generation) is how they continue to cough up side projects and side projects of side projects, like Hail!Hornet, Kingdom of Sorrow and the hardcore-smeared Arson Anthem.
In recent years, the more adventurous sludge-like outfits -- Baroness, Kylesa, Black Tusk -- have come out of Savannah, Ga. The mighty (and mighty popular) Mastodon hail from the ATL, but they're totally simpatico. Speaking of Mastodon, they're the poster children for all the Southern groups that take a fusion-based approach to their metal, blending as they do elements of sludge, doom, prog, blues, Southern rock and stoner jams. North Carolina's Gideon Smith & the Dixie Damned, coming together in the 1990s, are a prime example, as are the Lone Star State's Dixie Witch.
A more recent development has been the emergence of a disparate underground fringe that cuts its heavy metal with retro psychedelia, post-rock and brash experimentalism. Originally residing in Athens, Ga., Harvey Milk more or less invented said fringe. Other notables are Pontiak (up in Virginia), U.S. Christmas (southern Appalachia) and The Sword, who are slowly morphing into a classic rock act!
For the sake of thoroughness, we really have to address post-grunge, too. Obviously, the real-deal metalheads out there despise this stuff, dismissing it as "weak sauce" for sure. Yet there can be no doubt that large swaths of the South dig Cold, Hinder, Atom Smash and Black Stone Cherry, the latter of which admittedly groove pretty hard at times, like Clutch meets Alice in Chains.