The Brainiacs of Alt Metal
by Justin Farrar | April 3, 2014
Not unlike classic rock, alternative metal is less a tidy genre and more a sloppy catch-all for an abundance of styles and sounds. There's political alt metal (Rage Against the Machine), existential alt metal (Alice in Chains), stripper alt metal (Nickelback) and bare-chested alt metal (Soundgarden), to name just a few. Yet another easily identifiable style is cerebral alt metal. Spearheaded in the early '90s by the likes of Helmet, Faith No More, Primus and the absurdly influential Tool, this particular permutation encompasses those sonic brainiacs who approach metal and hard rock from a progressive mindset. Helmet's Page Hamilton, for example, essentially is a '70s prog rocker who happened to come of age during the formative years of America's alternative rock movement. Something similar can be said of self-professed King Crimson fanatic Maynard James Keenan, the mercurial smarty-pants behind Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer.
Over the last decade, a wide variety of outfits and artists have helped to further evolve alt metal's proggy side. Deeply inspired by aforementioned innovators Primus and Faith No More, System of a Down and their eccentric frontman Serj Tankian certainly are the first that come to mind. The singer's solo output, most notably 2013's Jazz-Iz-Christ, is especially cerebral, as it incorporates elements of jazz and modern classical. Also key are Chevelle and Coheed and Cambria. The latter's latest pair of releases, the concept-driven [Afterman: Ascension] and Afterman: Descension, find the band delving into epic (and at times esoteric) science fiction storytelling; the former, meanwhile, just released La Gárgola, yet another slab of Tool-inspired brood-rock littered with neck-snapping, start/stop groove research and riff work so angular it really should be called cubist. Though I can't scientifically verify it, I believe each and every play of our Brainiacs of Alt Metal mix will raise your IQ by a half-dozen points, at least. So crank some loud jams and get smart!