“From Skin to Liquid”
Gallery of Suicide
Released on April 21st, 1998
I tried to limit mine to bands that aren’t instrumental (otherwise see Behold… The Arctopus’ “Alcholocaust”), so I chose Cannibal Corpse’s “From Skin to Liquid.” Not only is it one of my favorite instrumental metal songs, but it might also even be my favorite Cannibal Corpse song. Whereas most songs by the band rely on the lyrics to tell a story, this churning song lets you envision skin liquifying as it goes through some hellish contraption through sounds alone – no narrative needed. Cannibal Corpse accomplished something magical with this song that I don’t think they’ve ever dabbled in before or since. It stands as a testament to how diverse the band can be when they wander slightly from their tried and true formula, I wish they’d wander more often.
High on Fire
“Sons of Thunder”
Blessed Black Wings
Released on February 1, 2005
This song is the perfect soundtrack to a Viking funeral. The guitar work is quite stunning, bookending the powerfully held out chords and wailing leads with hazy atmospheric leads, and the constantly galloping toms never feel like overkill. There’s a triumphant yet melancholic surge of emotions felt throughout and the pacing is downright breezy despite it being one of the slowest songs off Blessed Black Wings. This piece made me a deep impression on me and was the leading inspiration for “The Mourning Song” by my old band Spirit Division. It’s a stunning closer in context of the original album and still holds up as one of my favorite instrumentals ever.
“Procession to Golgotha”
Released on December 1st, 1987
In a genre full of beer and pizza-loving reprobates, people sometimes forget the goal of thrash is to remind us that the horrors of the real world exist right outside our front door. Being a band that consisted of individuals that were barely a generation removed from the horrors of World War II, Sodom have always been the best at evoking this dread. Being the first album to feature Chris Witchunter and Frank Blackfire, Persecution Mania really shows their tightness as a trio and the death march that Sodom takes listeners on during this song’s two-minute duration is a frightening experience. In addition, what makes Procession To Golgotha so sublime is that its plodding tempo is not only suffocating but gives an almost proto-doom vibe.
Released on October 19th, 2004
Typically, when we think of an instrumental, what probably comes to mind are songs with a heavy emphasis on musicianship and technical prowess, but these things never seemed to matter much to Isis, and this track is a shining example of that. It begins with a minimal guitar motif accompanied by restrained but tight drumming and slowly takes its time blossoming to explosive proportions as the motif is built upon. An ethereal reverb-soaked bassline kicks in and ambient synths add yet another layer to the atmosphere. From there the track ebbs and flows like a calm morning tide. That’s really all there is to it, but dammit it works.
“Voice Of The Soul”
The Sound Of Perseverance
Released On September 15th, 1998
I found no need to dig into my underground archives to find the most fitting piece for this category. It is, in fact, located in the dead center of what is arguably one of the best extreme metal albums ever released. ‘Voice Of The Soul’ channels Chuck Schuldiners innermost love for music, a further step away from extremity and towards divine and transcendent beauty. Each of its three short movements are driven by major-key acoustics, with the wailing electric guitars reminiscent of a mighty eagle, soaring through the skies, you comfortably at the helm. This is the voice of the soul, the voice of my soul. The voice that communicates without words. I will say no more – no more needs to be said. Chuck’s legacy will live on forever.
“Still I’m Sad”
Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow
Released on August 4th, 1975
Though this is a cover of a song that originally had vocals by The Yardbirds, Ritchie Blackmore took it and made it substantially better by replacing the vocals with guitar leads. The drums, although a small detail, play a huge part in it as well; the sound of them adds so much to the atmosphere. The steady rhythms teaming with Blackmore’s stellar playing render a beautiful passage that displays an emotional wave. What I really love is how crazy shredding is not needed, rather tight melodies are what take the forefront. Between the sadder parts that utilize minor keys and the fewer but still present upbeat tamperings, I can’t say that anyone could have pulled this off any better than how Rainbow did.
Master of Puppets
Released on March 3rd, 1986
Okay, so I took the easy way out with this one. When I considered all of the amazing metal instrumentals out there, I kept coming back to this superlative piece of music. Orion is a bona fide classic. Effortlessly enjoyable, and relentlessly moreish, Metallica have written many fine instrumentals over the years, but this is their crowning achievement. In many ways, this song needs no introduction at all, and all I’ll say is that Orion is quite simply a masterpiece.
Released on October 16, 2007
I was going to write about SUNN O))), but Messick reminded me of a pick very near and dear to my ears. A long time ago, I was playing music and eating copious quantities of Little Caesar’s pizza with my buddies, as we did pretty much every weekend. In between jam sessions and Call of Duty Nazi zombies runs, a friend opened YouTube and insisted on showing me this viral video of an allegedly talentless metal duo with a bizarre name. After “greatest band in the world” in the search bar, he eventually found the sarcastically-named video, which featured two metal-as-fvck-looking dudes tapping away on their shiny and girthy instruments. This was Behold…The Arctopus playing “Alcoholocaust” live, a jaunty tune from the EP Nano-Nucleonic Cyborg Summoning.
Now, back then, people were making fun of BTA for their weird instruments, obtuse time signatures, and even the band members themselves. But, at the time, I remember thinking, “y’know, these guys aren’t THAT bad…”. I went on to order a used copy of the band’s debut album Skullgrid, and it was like a whole new world of metal opened up to me. The first thing I did was run a search on what kind of hellish guitar that guy with the mohawk is playing (turns out, it’s called a Warr guitar, and it’s awesome). Then, I learn that the guy with the mohawk is COLIN MARSTON, one of the more sought after recording engineers in music and someone who keeps popping up in the credits of my favorite records. So, as it turned out, a video attempting to humiliate the musicians instead introduced me to an entire movement of experimental music, and I’ve got Behold…The Arctopus to thank for that. Skullgrid features my favorite kind of BTA songwriting: tightly-wound tracks with angular fireworks and progressive flourishes. Give second song “Canada” a listen, it’s perfect for building your Avant-garden
“Into the Unfathomed Tower”
Tales of Creation
Released on September 25th, 1989
This was an easy pick for me, but it might be kind of an odd one, because I love what this track represents more than I actually like the notes being played, per se. Candlemass were innovators, and innovators innovate by taking something that already exists and then breaking all of the rules surrounding it. Doom was a codified genre by the mid 80s, but Candlemass took the boundaries that had been set (tune low, play slow, give it a bluesy bounce if you want to) and tore them to shreds by making everything huge and majestic, unafraid to pick up the pace and produce some very lively classics. “Into the Unfathomed Tower” is the logical endgame of this, because it’s a completely out-of-left-field neoclassical shred track in the middle of a skippy-yet-oppressive doom metal album. Candlemass not only broke the rules set by Sabbath and St. Vitus and such, but merely a few albums into their career they started breaking their own rules, and as such created something so weird and ballsy that even the bands that followed their template afterward never bothered trying to do something quite so daring.