The Arizona desert might not be the first place that comes to mind when you're looking for a vibrant and diverse arts scene. But the Southwest's creative spirit is world-class, particularly when it comes to heavy music.
We can’t forget the immense influence it’s had on rock artists for decades — from Scorpions’ “Arizona” to the Misfits’ “Teenagers from Mars” to Tool’s “Aenima” to Clutch’s “King of Arizona." The desert is where it’s at, and Phoenix in particular is teeming with life. We've had Soothsayer, Landmine Marathon, N17, Flotsam and Jetsam, Alice Cooper, Rob Halford, Sacred Reich, and the list goes on.
So we took a closer look at heavy metal acts currently active and involved in the local scene. And we narrowed that down to the best metal bands in the Valley right now.
It goes without saying that this list was difficult to choose, and a combination of things influenced our picks. The band’s sound and style, current touring or recording activity, professionalism, fan/social media outreach, branding, local influence, and collaboration were all factors. Here's a look at who was ahead of the pack.
The Industrial Heavy-Hitters: element A440
Imagine if Marilyn Manson, Stabbing Westward, and Orgy had, well, an orgy. The resulting spawn would be none other than element A440. With a stage show that never disappoints, this band is all about breaking out of the synth-metal box, pulling influences from electro pop, death metal, and hardcore, brushed over with vocals that sound like rusty razors scraping over silk. Head to one of their shows, and you’re bound to see writhing half-naked nuns, spinning suspended crosses, frontman Halo’s custom mechanical sculpture microphone, or one of the band members spewing (real) blood onto each other — or into the crowd. Oh, and you'll get a taste of their last album, 2013’s Whips, Knives, Candles, and Quills. In early 2017, element A440 was dual-signed to Monsterman Records (headed up by musician Doyle Wolfgang Von Frankenstein) as well as Dave Ellefson’s EMP — the first collaboration for these two labels.
The Double-Bass Deviants: Incite
Incite knows what it takes to climb up in the genre ranks. Lead vocalist Richie Cavalera is stepson to Max Cavalera (formerly of Sepultura and Nailbomb, currently of Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy). While the groove metal three-piece might get some industry tips from one of metal’s finest frontmen, Incite has developed an artistry and style all their own. Suckers for double bass should dive into the band's catalog headfirst. Start with 2016’s Oppression and make your way backward. Incite has earned “Album of the Week” from Revolver, charted Top 40 on the SiriusXM metal charts, released two EPs and four full-lengths, and shared the stage with bands like Dillinger Escape Plan, Crowbar, and 36 Crazyfists. Best part? Incite is only planning to up their touring game this coming year.
The Death Metal Purists: Gatecreeper
In 2016, Gatecreeper officially got through the gatekeeper of a major player in metal record labels, Relapse Records. They toured, released a furious, energetic debut LP called Sonoran Depravation, and have been repping the desert scene (and the classic death metal formula) ever since. The record's been hailed as a “death metal masterwork” by Cvlt Nation, and “one of the best death metal records” to hear in 2016 by New Noise magazine. Gatecreeper is all about refining the death metal genre by combining tight execution with a heady balance of vocals and instrumentation. So far this year, Gatecreeper has been touring with Toxic Holocaust and Nails, and we can’t wait to see what they do next.
The Up-and-Coming Pros: Murkocet
Since 2013, this band has quickly risen in the Arizona ranks as a strong representative of everything that is, and should be, classic American heavy metal. Murkocet takes pride in being professional, putting in the time, money, and effort to put on an amazing visual show, as well as touring rounds and a solid merchandise arsenal. With influences like Lamb of God and Slipknot, the quartet are all about the brutal grooves, new wave of American metal swing, and heavy breakdowns, with vocals reminiscent of Hatebreed’s heyday. By the end of 2017, Murkocet plans to release an EP for their second full-length album, and they have a tour set for 2018.
The Gutsy Life of the Party: Scattered Guts
This band’s claim to fame is that they formed during a smoke session on April 20, 2008. But stoner thrash act Scattered Guts are more than their backstory. The band has opened for the likes of Sepultura, Deicide, Death Angel, and Marduk, somehow aligning a charismatic, choreographed, and yet lax stage presence with heavy riffage, shredding, and driving drum work. The vocals paired with the low-register guitar riffs offers up great harmony, with a heavy swig of Cannibal Corpse-style aggression thrown in for good measure. One thing that truly sticks out about this band? How they interact with each other and the crowd — you can truly tell that these guys love what they do and are constantly injecting fun and humor into just about everything.
The Experimental Hybrid: Take Over and Destroy
A hybrid of rock ‘n’ roll and sludge/doom metal, Take Over And Destroy’s tagline is actually “an American rock 'n' roll band from the 1970s trapped inside a Scandinavian metal band from the 1990s.” This band has been a staple on the local scene for years, and offers a bit of everything there is to love about metal: ominous black metal tones, crunchy guitars and down-tuned riffs, slinking synths, soaring interludes of classic rock, sprinkles of punk and thrash, classic ‘70s rock, and several nods to old-school horror flick soundtracks. The instrumentals and vocals are always surprising yet effortlessly adapting, like transitioning between piercing screams and growls and to melodic, clean singing. This band is all about combining genres, and playing with the experimental. Recently off a Northwest touring run, you can expect to see them rocking it at some local venues.
The Double-Edged Sword: Ella Kaye
For years, Ella Kaye has made it a point to stand out. Frontman Justin Chard always aims for the stars, despite a hefty number of past lineup changes. The death metal band intertwines a duo of melodic and guttural screaming vocals, soaring bridges, and influences ranging from djent and traditional hardcore to nu and extreme metal. The band’s 2015 five-track EP, which was rated Best Heavy Metal EP by The Akedemia, featured over 12 musicians (including musicians from bands like The Word Alive, Eyes Set to Kill, and From First to Last) to showcase homegrown talent.
The band's latest EP, No Nights, displays the growth of a now-solid lineup and some stellar-quality music videos. Currently, Ella Kaye is recording new music, but rather than another EP or album, they are releasing a series of singles, adapting to how people listen to streaming stations and playlists. Starting in August, every few months will see the release of a new song and accompanying video. Fans might be surprised with the new offerings, as the band is streamlining diversity and thinking outside the box, incorporating more melody in the music and vocals while still being heavy.
The Cultural Kickers: Sectas
With a Spanish name that translates to “doctrine," Sectas has certainly been true to themselves since coming to Arizona from Mexico City in 2000. The power rock/metal trio is strict on upholding positivity and no egos, crafting raw melodic vocals, fiery guitar riffs, and double-kick drum with progressive Spanish guitar and flamenco. Think Megadeth meets Lynch Mob meets Alice in Chains. Sectas built a strong Latin American fanbase across hundreds of shows while in Mexico City, and after moving to Arizona, they felt industry pressure to add more screaming style to their music — but for Sectas, it’s all about keeping it heavy while making music for other musicians to enjoy. The band has shared the stage with acts like Queensrÿche and Yngwie Malmsteen, and recently were the main act at the Las Fiestas del Pitic in Hermosillo, Sonora, in front of almost 5,000 people. The band’s newest album, Bootstrap Paradox, is a solid display of the band’s instrumental prowess and diverse influences. “No More" starts out gently with trickling piano before launching into an assault of guitar and double bass, and “Five ‘5’” runs a frenzy from metal to classic rock to jazz and funk.
The Desert Groove Wunderkinds: Concertina
After initially meeting at Rock and Roll High School, the members of Concertina aren't of age to have a beer — but there are plenty of drinks saluted to this band’s music as is. After releasing a self-titled EP in 2015 and garnering an endorsement from Heavy Metal Television founder Eric Braverman, the word about the band quickly spread. Concertina has created a brand of desert groove, pulling elements of classic, stoner, power, and modern metal into their sound, with influences ranging from Black Sabbath and Corrosion of Conformity to The Sword and Crobot. The result is high-powered and technically tight, yet sludgy — crunchy and down-tuned with gravelly lyrics focusing on topics like discrimination against race and gender. After a guitarist departed in late 2016, Concertina is now focusing on continuing as a three-piece, and this year, they plan to tour and write music for a new album.
The Legacy: St. Madness
St. Madness has been a fixture on the local scene since the early '90s — not only as a theatrical, hard-working heavy metal act, but also as a guiding light and positive influence for dozens of working bands. With a sound that crosses outlaw country, power metal, punk, and thrash, St. Madness helped pioneer our unique desert metal brand, and never misses a chance to jump into a community effort or cause. The band has been on the same bill as several legendary metallers, from Van Halen to Merciful Fate to Lamb of God, and released nine albums, most recently the 20th anniversary “Best of Part 2” double-disc CARNIMETAL, which received the Producers Choice Award for Metal Album of the Year at the L.A. Music Awards. The band has a new record called Bloodlustcapades coming out in early 2018, so keep an eye out.
The Psychedelic Sorcerers: Sorxe
In 2012, Sorxe was founded by staple members of the local metal scene on the premise that the creation of music and energy comes from within. And, of course, they wanted to shatter the preconceptions of experimental metal. As a band with two bass players, they certainly up the ante. Listeners can expect a buffet of technical songs to choose from, whether it’s a fast-paced headbanger or a drawn-out jam that explores different genres in sections with haunting interludes. The band stretched the boundaries with their last album, which included a four-panel digi-pack CD with original artwork — always thinking about the creative side of things — and their upcoming fall album reportedly will be more experimental and psychedelic than ever before.
The Legends: Pelvic Meatloaf
Pelvic Meatloaf, like St. Madness, has been rocking the Valley for a very long time. The band’s live shows, dedication, and antics are legendary — not to mention that the members have never had any problem saying exactly what’s on their mind, sometimes getting excommunicated and blocked on social media in the process. The band gigs all around the state on a regular basis, attracting fans with their machine-gun double bass and throwback to the amazing style and attitude of ‘80s thrash and groove metal. Other standout notes? Guitarist Byron Filson runs Villain Recording, one of the Valley’s recording studio staples, the band still does their own grassroots flier campaigns, and back in ’95, they were one of the first local bands to throw a CD release party.
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The Progressive Emotive: (sic)monic
This progressive metal band is all about the extreme live performance, crushing melodies, and hooky grooves. The band’s albums display an intricate fusion of death metal, jazz, hardcore, and melodic rock, layering different textures and layers of sound to create songs that are all about bringing the listener to a new level understanding of music. Lyrically, (sic)monic’s music is always emotionally charged, and the balance of clean and aggressive, dirty vocals is spot on. Billboard magazine even said that the band is “heavy rock at its best.” The band has opened for several major acts, including Dragonforce, Slipknot, Fear Factory, Five Finger Death Punch, and Disturbed, but they play a few shows a month in the Valley.