There’s a template to starting a metal band. It’s not set in stone, but when it comes down it, that core combination of guitar, bass, drums and vocals have given some of the greatest metal even known so it’s no wonder that 90% of bands fall back that format. It’s tried and tested, it ain’t broke and it doesn’t really need fixing and it’s probably even fair to assume that many future classics will continue to revolve around those same basic ingredients.
Thankfully though, there’s also a considerable number of bands more interested in blurring the lines and adding their own twist to the standard line-up. It’s not a new idea, hell even Black Sabbath‘s debut contained a harmonica solo — not really a huge leap from their blues background but looking back on it today it definitely seems out of the ordinary. Worth nothing as well that with the advent of cheaper and cheaper electrical equipment, the keyboard was embraced quite quickly, no surprise really when a lot of those original ‘proto-metal’ bands made similar use of the organ but it still hasn’t quite made the leap from ‘optional’ to ‘necessary’ yet.
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Personally, I’ve really been enjoying the stealthy subterfuge of the saxophone into the genre as of late. An instrument more at home in those distant ancestors of metal like jazz and blues, but also a versatile one capable of piercing through the dense layers of electric guitars. For instance, both Shining‘s ‘Fisheye‘ and Yakuza‘s ‘Stones And Bones‘ utilise the sax for a bridge section where it acts as the centerpiece and where as the former is a frantic, tech-y exercise in madness, the latter is a dark and sombre piece. Two sides to the same coin, but those examples show just how powerful the instrument can be, even in the context of a metal track.
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Jorgen Munkeby and Bruce Lamont may run the monopoly (see their guest appearance work with Ihsahn and Nachtmystium respectively), but also worth mentioning are bands like Trepalium, Sigh, Naked City (featuring the legendary John Zorn) and Aenaon who, among others, are doing their bit to pervade metal with brass and ensure the sax gets the attention it deserves. I just hope that we can see more and more of it in the future.
But that’s just me. There’s a whole list of musicians who’ve been willing to overextend themselves and reel in instruments from all over the vast palette of sound that we’ve built up. Maybe you’re more partial to the haunting cello used in Giant Squid or the bouncy hurdy-gurdy that Eluveitue are so fond of? Or maybe it’s all just one big gimmick that just distracts away from the music underneath?