Metal, as a genre, is one of rebellion, of showing off to the nth degree, pulling out all the stops with eardrum-shattering instrumentals, stadium-level vocals and costumes and makeup that are gimmicky bordering on iconic.
Heavy and industrial metal are all about putting on a quality live performance; it’s not enough to just listen to the music aurally but to experience a metal concert in all its pyrotechnic, face-melting glory.
Out of any rock sub-genre, the heavy and industrial metal scene is undeniably the best when it comes to delivering visually immersive shows, bolstered by audience participation and pre-show rituals that build that classic rock show atmosphere.
Despite metal’s growing popularity in an era of easily accessible music streaming — hot take incoming — newer bands rely on age-old metal tropes while bands with a solid track record of memorable performances are usually over 10 years established in the scene and have their own original gimmick.
These next four bands, however, have shown themselves to be pioneers in the metal scene, from creating their own sub-genre of music within metal to defying the uncharacteristically strict parameters of the genre by bringing a cute twist to a community that is otherwise dark, edgy and notoriously known for gatekeeping.
The creators of the “kawaii metal” or “idol metal” sub-genre, Babymetal breaks from metal’s doom-and-gloom mold by incorporating inspirational lyrics reminiscent of pop music — all while staying within the bounds of metal’s iconic distorted sound.
Unlike most heavy metal bands, Babymetal’s shows are comparable to a rave a la deadmau5 or any other 2010s dubstep artist; concerts often use lasers, massive LED screens that project the performance on stage or song-relevant storytelling visuals and the incorporation of visual kei aesthetics, a punk fashion movement born out of Japan during the early 1980s.
Babymetal’s primary gimmick, outside of their cutesy goth Lolita fashion, is the traditional Japanese-inspired elements found in their costumes, most of which are modeled after the kitsune or the Japanese fox god. Lead singer Suzuka Nakamoto aka Su-metal told Hysteria Magazine, “Since the first time Babymetal came to be, the fox god was always showing us the path to go to … that’s why we believe in the fox god.” Later in the interview, she continued to credit the fox god with the band’s formation. Although Yui-metal left the band in 2018 due to medical complications, the remaining members, Su-metal and Moa-metal intend to move toward “living legend” status.
Bored of performing with other heavy metal bands over the years and wanting to go on his own solo musical journey, Ghost frontman and self-proclaimed dictator and lyrical control freak Tobias Forge could be said to have “forged” one of the best arena-level heavy metal bands of the 21st century.
Four years post-2006 formation, Ghost was relatively underground and would not hit the stage until their first 2010 show in London’s Live Evil Festival. Unbeknownst to Forge, within days of his release of four demo tracks — “Prime Mover,” “Elizabeth,” “Death Knell” and “Ritual” — onto the still-popular Myspace in 2010, several record labels took an instant liking to his passion project and set Ghost down the path toward making satanic metal history.
In the early years, Ghost gravitated toward a more ritualistic approach to performing: Imagine Anton Lavey’s “The Satanic Mass” meets the love child of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” and every Depeche Mode song combined — kind of a weird combination, but as far as Ghost goes, strange is an understatement when it comes to the band’s avant-garde aesthetics. Ghost’s gimmick, and the entire purpose of Forge’s vision, is that the band is comprised of members of a satanic church created to take over the world by touring the globe to spread their unholy ideologies (10-plus years of lore is better explained in this comedic, yet accurate guide).
It’s not hard to see that Ghost puts on one hell of a show, evident from the gothic stained-glass backdrops, the Victorian-steampunk costumes worn by Papa Emeritus IV — the newest addition to the clergy after the “death” of the last Papa — and the seven “nameless ghouls” that make up the remaining members, as well as the constant interaction between Papa Emeritus IV, the ghouls and the audience. Despite their 16-year run, Ghost is nowhere close to hitting the brakes; their storyline is far from over and with the release of their new album, “Impera,” another tour is on the horizon.
Nine Inch Nails
After 11 full-length albums, four EPs, two Grammy awards for best metal performance and being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2020, Trent Reznor continues to prove his undeniable musical genius years later. The genesis of Nine Inch Nails formed out of Reznor’s job as a janitor at Right Track Music Studios, where the studio’s owner, Bart Koster, allowed him to work on his music between recording sessions. A year later, Reznor released his first album, “Pretty Hate Machine,” and immediately began the “Pretty Hate Machine Tour Series” in 1990 that propelled the band into the mainstream consciousness and led to the success of their second album, “The Downward Spiral.”
Out of all of Nine Inch Nails’ tours, the best of their performances came from music festivals, especially their iconic Woodstock ’94 show and, needless to say, those “2 More Days of Peace and Music” were going to be anything but peaceful.
Nine Inch Nails took on a destructive persona on tour, demolishing their entire set by the end of each performance, from the microphone stands to Reznor’s own guitar. But as the years passed, Reznor’s music took on a muted tone, turning away from the band’s early thrashy guitar riffs common in industrial metal and moving toward albums that veer on the quieter side.
Alongside Atticus Ross, Nine Inch Nails’ second-in-command, Reznor composed several soundtracks for high-grossing films such as “Gone Girl,” “The Social Network” and most recently, Pixar’s “Soul” — which all possess elements that undeniably speak to in the band’s influence.
Saving the best for last, Rammstein are the uncontested gods of heavy metal showmanship, supported by 28 years of unbridled stadium-rocking performances, and are the pioneers of the Neue Deutsche Härte genre. Rammstein’s worst performance is the peak of another band’s music career. Even when the vocals and instrumentals may need to take a backseat — as if they could ever find themselves in dire need of either even at their least popular — they make up for it with sheer pyrotechnical skill and risqué on-stage displays (the kind that get you banned from several countries).
After a particularly fiery performance that resulted in the destruction of major set pieces during a 1996 performance in Berlin, Rammstein frontman Till Lindemann received his pyrotechnician license, and learning nothing from before, took to amping up the danger levels by wearing metal angel wings made of fire and even going as far as to set himself ablaze at some points.
Even after all of these years, Rammstein has only increased in popularity as the metal scene grows through the generations. Their new studio album, “Zeit,” is set for an April 29 release and as the fuel reserves of Rammstein’s pyro crew never seems to run dry, neither do their future endeavors.
From the heavy and industrial metal scene emerged some of the most iconic artists of our time and while the more well-known metal bands of our parent’s generation will begin to fade from the mainstream eventually, these four bands are here to stay as pillars that newer generations of metal bands will look toward for inspiration years down the line.