When Rock Bands Got Angsty: A Musical Trip Through the Childhood I Never Had

I have made it clear before, but in case you’re new to this blog, I’ll make it clear again: I grew up with classic rock. Nothing else was necessary, and there were some legitimate reasons. First off, the first ever music I heard was from Journey, which kind of feeds into the whole “you’ll pretty much be biased towards media similar to the first ever media you consume” mindset (but in my defense, I’m actually not a particularly big Journey fan these days). The second and third reasons boil down to the same source: the student body of my middle and high schools. I hated them all, which is a typical thing for teens to go through. But I was also socially awkward, so I never joined their brooding circles or whatever. As a result, I missed a lot of the bands that came up at the time (plus, I would have a fear of metal music until I heard Black Sabbath’s Iron Man on a classic rock radio station and had my life changed forever). I was SO edgy, hip, and against the status quo, that I reveled in being an outcast by listening to something that probably doesn’t get many new, young fans these days: the aforementioned classic rock. I continued to reject 2000s music until Japanese music further changed my life by showing me that current music can be good. As a result, I steeled my resolve and used the power of Apple Music to take a trip back to the 1990s and early 2000s, and see what bands I would’ve listened to if it weren’t for my sheltered childhood. Results… varied. Just so it’s not about “me-me-me”, this post will serve as a basic rundown of five bands, in case you never heard of them or were considering giving them a try.


Attempt #1: Slipknot

“Wait, what are you hashtagging the number one for?” you ask. Well, you young’un, the hashtag symbol used to be a symbol that meant “number”, hence “#1” in the example. ANYWAY, the first band I tried was Slipknot. They’re incredibly popular, but being the degenerate I am, I only knew of them thanks to a line in Hotel Transylvania that actually made me scared of them for years. From what I’ve heard so far, it seems obvious that this band helped pioneer the new “edgelord” culture. According to the Apple Music bio, they invented a new metal genre, creatively named “nu metal” (SUCH EDGY MISSPELLING), which seems to be just regular metal but with angstier, on-the-nose lyrics about all the tortured thoughts and experiences teens go through.

If you’re new to this blog, I’ll make it clear that I always have a problem with teen angst, at least in the way it’s portrayed here in the U.S. I get that metal was formed out of anger, but that was… well… a more mature anger I guess? But in the case of Slipknot, it felt like they were a bunch of frat boys instead of grown men. I wasn’t really into them until their third album, which I’ll admit had some very good and varied music composition in it.

But the key words are “music composition”. The lyrics grow angstier and angstier. I get that a lot of teens can relate to the lyrics, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t written in “angst-enese” in such a way that makes me cringe. If you wrote out the lyrics of any Slipknot song, 99/100 times it’d look like a passage in a YA novel, and in case you’re new to this blog… I don’t exactly like YA novels!

To top it off, lead vocalist Corey Taylor has an extremely one-dimensional personality in his singing. He’s not bad… he’s just not good. When it comes to vocalists, little nuances in their delivery make all the difference. From iconic things like David Lee Roth’s weird banshee screams, to minute things like Dee Snider’s evil snicker before the first chorus of Burn in Hell, the devil is in the details, and Taylor seems to disregard that. His vocal range is either “brooding teen” or “screaming brooding teen”. Taylor does try stuff, such as ragged breathing and practically making out with his mic at times, but it hasn’t really gotten to me. It took me until very recently to discover why I don’t like his singing: he feels too human. When it comes to my favorite singers, there’s a distinct feeling of “This is an actual person singing this?” Instead, Taylor comes off as “This is an actual person singing this.” (notice the lack of a question mark?). Maybe that’s what he was going for? Anyway, I’m currently halfway through Slipknot’s discography, and in the process of going back through those albums to see if the band grows on me. If you can convince me that Corey Taylor is a really good singer, then I could probably give the band less flack.


Attempt #2: Disturbed

I don’t even remember how I know they exist. But thank goodness I do, because I’m finding Disturbed to be a huge improvement over Slipknot. They have the same angst in their lyrics, but everything else feels… better for some reason. One big factor is lead vocalist David Draiman. While he’s not top-dollar, he at least has some form of identity with what I can only describe as “his impression of Link from Legend of Zelda” that he frequently does in between lines of lyrics.

The thing that got me most interested in Disturbed was their covers. They do some pretty thoughtful remixes of some stuff well outside their genre, such as Tears for Fears’ Shout. These covers are great, and they help Disturbed to stand out from other metal bands.

Unfortunately, Disturbed seems to have trouble standing out from themselves. I get that not every song can be perfect, but a lot of them have kind of been samey thus far. I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but the way Draiman sings verses specifically sounds similar across a lot of their songs. But hey, if that’s the biggest issue I have, then that’s not too bad, especially compared to Slipknot! At the current rate, I’m bound to become a dedicated Disturbed fan.


Attempt #3: Dream Theater

I considered not counting them for this post, because they started in the late 1980s. However, they didn’t gain traction until the 1990s, which I judged would’ve put them just within range of my being exposed to them while I was in high school. Also, if I didn’t count them I’d only have four bands on this post and it had to be three or a multiple of five because I have OCD.

I only know of this band thanks to one of my favorite YouTubers, NintendoCaprisun. In one video (an episode of Secret of Evermore I think?), he discussed listening to this band, Dream Theater, and he said “it sounded like Rush”. When I was a teen, Rush was the first band I consciously decided to get into, and they were one of my favorites. And yeah… they do sound like Rush.

If you want fantastic prog-metal, Dream Theater’s got you covered. Their songs vary wildly in melody, tone, and lyrics and incorporate synth as well. However, my one concern is that while they are a prog band, they aren’t exactly a prog band. I get that there’s only so much a human mind can create, but prog rock- by definition- has to keep pushing the envelope, and that technically applies to the genre itself. Of course, I’m only at Dream Theater’s earliest albums, so that could change. But for the time being, even “faux-prog” is better than most of the crap that’s popular these days, and as such, I fully intend to become a Dream Theater fan… once I catch up to their umpteenth album.


Attempt #4: DragonForce

This was the first band I had never actually heard of until they came up on my Apple Music feed. Yes, the rock I live under is so heavy that I didn’t even know about the “Through the Fire and Flames Band”, nor Through the Fire and Flames itself. I only came across the song during TheRunawayguys Colosseum events, where The8BitDrummer would drum the song… just for the VOD to get muted. Because his other favorite songs were very… memey, I thought Through the Fire and Flames was the same case. But ‘lo and behold, as if it were destiny, I discovered DragonForce.

And boy, what a discovery! In a nutshell, DragonForce has an inspirational, heart-pumping, get-your-ass-out-of-bed mood reminiscent of Survivor, but with a touch of metal. Very fast metal. Part of me even thought that they sped this stuff up in post, but I’ve heard enough talent to know that humans are more than capable of playing like that (also, you know, the fact that The8BitDrummer did just that on a livestream). I can’t help but thump the floor with my feet (since I mainly listen to music sitting down these days) to their psychotically fast rhythms. Plus, their whimsical, positive lyrics, coupled with the members’ choir-like harmonies make any song from them feel like perfect background music for an epic, large-scale fantasy battle.

Of course, such a specific style is going to get repetitive; there’s only so many combinations of chords for this (and tbh the final chorus of every other song is done in a capella). While I’m definitely not complaining about hearing such ridiculous metal, I highly advise against binging their albums. With that in mind, I am finding DragonForce to be my favorite of the bands covered in this post. While some of the others might be more creative, this band has such a fresh identity that they earn a lot of points from me (also the fact that my favorite is the least popular of these five is consistent with my reputation).


Attempt #5: Evanescence

Okay, here’s a confession. I only picked this band for two reasons: one, to make sure this post had a clean five subjects, and two, to share the story of how I discovered Evanescence. Why should you care about how I found this band? Well, because it will likely make you cringe at me. Yes, it’s actually a worse discovery story than learning of Slipknot through Hotel Transylvania.

Earlier this year, around the time that the coronavirus was just starting to spread- before people went crazy over it- there was some sort of collaborative effort with Evanescence and one of my favorite Japanese bands, Wagakki Band (which, for some reason, hasn’t gotten that much publicity despite this event. Good job Japan; you REALLY commit to not promoting your musicians!). I don’t know what happened to that whole thing, but yeah, I learned of one of the most popular metal bands of the 21st Century via a significantly less popular band, when it would’ve been the other way around for literally anyone else in the world.

Assuming you didn’t click off this post, I’ll actually get to my reaction to Evanescence itself. I’m gonna come off as a hypocrite right here, because Evanescence is similar to Slipknot in a way. In YA terms, Slipknot is the brash, loud, and reckless male protagonist, while Evanescence is the snotty, depressed-yet-entitled female protagonist. In fact, Evanescence is so teenager-y, that I initially mistook them as the band that was hired to do the RWBY openings (cringing yet?).

But for some reason, I don’t want to have a cow over this band. The music is angsty, sure, but they kinda have a thing going with their combination of metal, synth, and a sad, sad, ebony piano (all you need now is the world’s smallest violin). Also, their lyrics are a bit more eloquent. To use YA terms, Slipknot lyrics feel like they were written by John Green, and Evanescence lyrics feel like they were written by Maggie Stiefvater. I don’t particularly like either authors, but I definitely prefer the latter (are you REALLY cringing yet?).

The biggest surprise is the proficiency of lead vocalist Amy Lee. While she’s no Ann Wilson, Lee is substantially better than most female singers of this generation. Sure, she might sound whiny, but I think it’s been established that Evanescence is a very whiny band in general. But as much praise I’m singing for them, I only see them in 21st or 22nd in my favorite music artists of all time; barely missing a spot on the big Top Twenty post I’ve been working on. But at this point, I only just started their second album, giving them plenty of time to grow on me like a YA novel that’s so bad it’s good!


Conclusion

For years, I’ve thought that the U.S. and U.K.- the pioneers of rock and metal respectively- have lost their touch. But to quote Genesis’ Land of Confusion (which is on topic because it’s one of the Disturbed cover songs), I can see the fire still alight, burning into the night (now I got the song stuck in your head). Slipknot wasn’t a great first impression, but I definitely found some solid bands, even if I come off as blinded by nostalgia for liking the most eighties-ish of the five, DragonForce, the best.

You’ve probably heard all of these thoughts before, when you were a kid and MySpace was a thing. But regardless, I’d like some feedback. What do you think of these bands, and do you agree with my thoughts? Also, what are other great rock and metal bands of this generation?

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