Heavy metal is a fixture, almost like comfortable yet spike-laden easy chair you can always count on here in the desert. We are lucky to have a great mix of local, regional, national, and internationally acclaimed talent.
During a recent conversation with Cannibal Corpse's drummer Paul Mazurkiewicz, he mentioned he had read an article where they had identified 96 different sub-genres of metal. While we can't even think of 96 different Arizona bands, we do acknowledge that the artists on this list do represent a number of different metal styles, but in the long run, it really all just is metal, and beyond that, rock ’n’ roll.
Before the countdown begins, there are a number of bands who were strongly considered, as well as bands who we believe will be on future lists but aren't quite there just yet. It was difficult, for example, to leave off Surgical Steel from the 1980s, who were the first local metal band we ever saw and will always have a soft spot for, even now. Additionally, it was tough to ignore the mighty Soothsayer, who blazed a trail in the late ’80s and the early ’90s.
The current crop of local talent is staggering as well. Gatecreeper, Take Over and Destroy, Sorxe, and several other have the chops to eventually bealice part of the top 10 of Arizona metal, for sure. The future looks dismal and dark (got to keep it metal, people) and destruction is always in the air. Imagine where the metal world will go under President Trump?
Without further ado....
This is a band that has built a steadily growing (and rabid) local fan base by consistently getting better and better with every lineup change and every album. Equal parts Voivod, Tool, and King Crimson, the band’s latest video for their song, “Feed My Psychosis” shows the talent and promise of this ever improving band. From a technical standpoint, guitarist Ray Goodwin is what is known as a “shredder” and could play for just about anybody or just tear it up on his violin, as well. The rest of the band is no slouch, though, and if you haven’t had a chance to check them out, you definitely need to do so now. Vocalist Billy Zane Muna screams and howls with the best of them, bassist David Digilio, and drummer Zack Sewell hold down the core, and rhythm guitarist Zach Kasmer rounds out the stellar lineup.
9) Pelvic Meatloaf
Another band who has rocked the valley for a long, long time, Pelvic Meatloaf is straight up fun and deserves to be considered as one of the best local metal bands of all-time because of their dedication, live show, and relentless pursuit of the heaviest riff possible. Singer Rich Fourmy is one of the valley’s best frontmen and has no problem saying anything and everything that is on his mind. Byron Filson, who also spent time in N17 and runs one of the valley’s best recording studios, Villain Recording, plays a mean guitar, and is joined by Dejan Knezevic on guitar, John Ogle on bass, and Kelly Moore on drums. The band gigs locally on a semi-regular basis so you can still catch them for reasonable amounts of money and maximum amounts of rock.
8) beats the hell out of me
In the early 1990s, let’s face it — metal got very confused. One thing it didn’t do was forget about the heaviness, though, and beats the hell out of me were a band that combined heaviness with precision, melody with heretofore unknown in the desert jazzcore mayhem, and a frontman that knew no bounds. Formed in 1988 and signed to Metal Blade Records in 1994, beats the hell out of me helped define the mid-’90s weird and heavy underground in Arizona better than anyone else. Think Rollins Band meets Fugazi meets Tool (who realistically could have been influenced by these lads), and there you go. Tom Coffeen and Chris Bailey manned the guitars, Michael Pistrui did the singing, Aaron Stewart rocked the bass, and Erik Rogan hit the skins in this seminal east-side band.
7) Landmine Marathon
When former lead singer Grace Perry left the band in 2012, Landmine Marathon fans wondered if they would be able to move forward without the enigmatic frontwoman with one of the most shredded throats in the business. Not only have they moved forward, but with Krysta Martinez fronting the band for the past four years, Landmine Marathon has only grown all the more powerful. Easily the best death metal band Arizona has ever produced, the east valley quintet was tabbed to play the Scion Music Fest in 2010 and the Southwest Terror Fest in 2013 and 2015. Ryan Butler, Matt Martinez, Raul Varela, and Dylan Thomas round out the lineup. Check out their 2008 Level Plane Records release Rusted Eyes Awake. You won't be disappointed.
Similar to their peers in beats the hell out of me, N17 did not fit the mold of more traditional metal. As more and more industrial minded metal bands like Prong and Killing Joke began to take a firmer grasp on the darker corners of the music world, N17 rose to prominence in north Phoenix with a uber-powerful live show and heavier than heavy riffs. The band released two records on Slipdisc records in the 1990s and have played a handful of reunion shows over the last decade. If you ever get a chance to see them and lead singer Trevor Askew starts asking the crowds to split into two sides, you might want to get out of the middle of the dance floor.
4B) Flotsam & Jetsam
The elder statesmen of the Phoenix scene in many ways and the first to get a fair amount of national/international attention. Everybody knows the story of how Jason Newsted left Flotsam & Jetsam to join Metallica in 1987 after their classic record Doomsday for the Deceiver was released, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that Flots (as they are often referred to by their fans and their peers) has continued to crank out one solid record after another for the past 30 years. Led by longtime mainstays Michael Gilbert and Eric “AK” Knutson, Flotsam & Jetsam is poised to release a new record next month and continue to build on their story.
4A) Sacred Reich
Thrash metal powerhouses and current crushers of the European festival circuit, Sacred Reich is one of the best and most consistent purveyors of heavy as fuck, killing your neck muscles, head banging brutality around. Bassist/Singer Phil Rind is always quick with disarmingly honest opinions and hammering bass lines, guitar players Jason Rainey and Wiley Arnett add a layer of guitar sound second to none in their field, and drummer Greg Hall is one of the most underrated drummers in heavy music. Put it all together and what you have is a god damned good time. If you don’t believe me, pick up a copy of their EP, Surf Nicaragua and see if don’t end up rocking the fuck out.
3) Rob Halford (Judas Priest, Fight, Halford)
I was once at a Taco Bell on 40th Street and Indian School in 1992 or so (I don’t think it is still there anymore either) and my friend and I realized we were in line behind Rob Halford. Instantly, we were fascinated and began eavesdropping to see what Halford’s order was because we had to know, when the only openly gay member of the NWOBHM (New Wave of British Heavy Metal) mafia runs for the border, what does he want? Halford has been a fixture in the local scene for a while and his contribution to the world of metal is arguably deeper than any other figure native or almost native to Arizona.
He ordered an enchirito, by the way. They don't even make them anymore.
2) Soulfly/Max Cavalera
There may be a time when Max Cavalera easily makes this list for eternity and regularly sits at number one. The guy just keeps adding more and more cool stuff to his rock and roll resume. Whether it is leading Soulfly now for 19 years or his time in Sepultura or his work on Nailbomb, Killer Be Killed, Cavalera Conspiracy, or any of his other collaborations, which are numerous, Cavalera continues to crank out quality music year after year. Soulfly shows are fun, too, which is always good. Cavalera has great stage presence and energy and truly loves what he is doing. His “Roots” are deep in our desert state and we are all much better off because of it. Rumor has it, in 2016, Cavalera is opening up a studio of his own for folks who want to try to capture some of his sound in their own projects.
1) Alice Cooper
While not a band all by himself, per se, but more of a goddamn legend, Alice Cooper is the most important figure in Arizona metal. An Alice Cooper concert is a spectacle and something any fan of people watching should make a point to take in before you cannot see Mr. Vincent Furnier (Yes, that’s right, “Alice Cooper” is a character and not a real person) any more. The diversity of his crowd resonates with a statement Heavy Metal Television’s Eric Braverman made in an another interview that “heavy metal is America’s music form of choice.”
Sure, Cooper’s music vacillates between straight up rock and roll, hard rock, and metal. There is even some pretty interesting takes on alternative rock here and there in his past. Ever see his 1984 film, Monster Dog? Cooper’s songs in that movie are out of leftfield and fun as fuck. Whether it is the classic hits like “I’m Eighteen” or “School’s Out” or something more obscure like “Spirits Rebellious” off of 2003’s The Eyes of Alice Cooper, Cooper always delivers the goods, even if it is occasionally covered in a fine layer of cheese.
The man’s influence in metal is legion. Would there be, for example, a Twisted Sister without Alice Cooper? How about his influence on a young Lemmy Kilmister (Motorhead) or on the more theatrical elements of black metal? No matter which way you slice it (or use a guillotine), Alice Cooper is the man.
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