Having been partially inspired by the concerts the College has hosted over the past couple of semesters and seeing some of the amazing local talent they’ve featured, I decided to write a piece about local bands. I already had a few favorite (and in my opinion, underrated) bands from the Maryland/DC area, but in order to write about a wider variety of groups, I expanded the criteria somewhat to include some truly great acts from Virginia and included both up and coming artists as well as a few who have been around the circuit a few times. To clarify, the list is not ranked according to any specific order or criteria, but I made sure to encompass a variety of genres from some jazzy fusion-esque acts, punk rockers, bubbly pop, and some pure head-crushing heavy metal in order to illuminate a diverse range of the best that Maryland and Virginia, two lesser-known spots when it comes to music history, have to offer. With each artist I also included a shout out to a particularly notable album or work they’ve done with some details about a couple of key tracks included there.
1. Pentagram (“Be Forewarned,” 1994)
British metallers Black Sabbath are widely credited with being the “first” heavy metal band and rightfully so, as they definitely helped spearhead the movement (the sub-genre of doom metal in particular) with their eponymously named debut release in 1970. However, Virginia headbangers Pentagram had actually jumped on the movement a couple years earlier on the complete opposite side of the Atlantic. Unfortunately though, a plethora of issues from failed record deals to virtually endless lineup changes would plague the band for 15 grueling years until they were finally able to put out their debut album in 1985, which by then only featured lead vocalist Bobby Liebling as the sole founding member still in the group. But it is perhaps the band’s 1994 effort “Be Forewarned” that cemented their status as a cult band among their small but loyal legion of fans. It features some of their most exhilarating stories about werewolves, vampires, and the everyday onslaught that is life through such anthemic compositions as “Live Free and Burn,” “Wolf’s Blood,” and “Bride of Evil,” among others. They showcase Liebling’s soaring yet demonic sounding vocals backed by guitar titan Victor Griffin, who is able to effortlessly blend grinding, blazing, distorted riffs with highly articulate, shredding solos. Rounding out the group on this album are bass and drum masters Martin Swaney and Joe Hasselvander, respectively, who contribute a slew of pounding, liquidy bass lines and thundering, tribal sounding drum attacks, which yield an absolutely relentless, chaotic sounding onslaught of pure metal mayhem. And boy does it ever slam.
2. Super City (“Sanctuary,” 2018)
In just four short years, Super City are on their way to accomplishing more in that time than a good deal of bands do in a decade. Having already put out two full studio albums and garnered a widespread presence on iTunes, Spotify, and Bandcamp, all while maintaining a fairly hefty touring schedule, Super City are gearing up to take on the world. Their 2018 sophomore effort “Sanctuary” delivers a hurricane of powerful, raucous goods and offers a range of zesty spices throughout; the title track features almost sludgy, Muse-like, electronic sounding guitar and synth riffs, while numbers such as “Hurry” and the hauntingly beautiful “Ghost of Love” feature perfect Beach Boy-like choral vocals over soothing, jazzy piano and keyboard layers that soar in “Earth Wind & Fire” magnitudes.
3. The Crayfish (“Red,” 2002)
There was a time not too long ago, in the energetic 1980s, when drummers everywhere were using their floor toms as rack toms, Possessed put out the first official death metal record, the members of Motley Crue still looked like girls and were picking up every girl in every town they toured in, and Pantera was a glam band. Yup, the same band responsible for such distorted, grooving, mayhem-ridden anthems as “Walk,” “Cemetery Gates,” and the infamous “Cowboys From Hell” once looked and sounded like they were the result of a love affair between Van Halen and Def Leppard. And before they landed the maniac Phil Anselmo as their vocalist, they had the equally charismatic Terry Glaze fronting the band whose immense vocal range and stage persona helped jumpstart the band’s career. Leaving Pantera on amicable terms when they decided to pull a 180 in their sound, Glaze partook in a number of other acts, most notably his bar band The Crayfish. Their 2002 effort in particular, “Red,” is a bit of an anomalous album because there is something for everyone, as the album offers a nice range of flavors to choose from. Some numbers like the driving, clunky “Miss Terri” are a nice throwback to Glaze’s glam days; others like the twangy “I’m Almost There” are a nice tribute to the olden days of blues, while the aptly named instrumental “Surf Tune” would be the perfect soundtrack to one’s summer beach jamboree.
4. GULL (“Lurcher,” 2016)
If you had to choose one word to describe one man band GULL’s apocalyptic anthems, you couldn’t really. Or you’d would be very hard pressed to, anyways. However, if anything, the title of his 2016 release, “Lurcher,” actually describes his jams fairly well: a lot of them really do lurch in the literal sense in a variety of tones and tempos ranging from the funky, highly percussive almost Slipknotish groove “Shot Death” to the hip hop oriented, rapped-out beat boxed sounding titles like “Hands Up” that would do Skrillex proud. His live shows and music videos are a spectacle, too, as the fact that he is able to play guitar and keep solid time on the drums all at once without being some sort of octopus with three brains is pretty impressive. In addition, he is able to simultaneously ferociously belt out his angst ridden, hyped up vocals through what is probably a highly constrictive, sweat-inducing Darth Vader/Michael Myers-esque mask (it does have a purpose though, it incorporates a whole system of built in microphones to further amplify his voice), which is even more astounding.
5. Iron Man (“Black Night,” 1993)
When people hear the phrase “Iron Man,” they’re liable to think of two things: the red armored superhero from the MCU played by Robert Downey, Jr. and the Black Sabbath song of the same name, both of which are widely recognized in pop culture. As stated, because of Black Sabbath’s widespread influence on heavy metal due to their helping to kickstart the genre, it’s not surprising they’ve amassed a number of tribute acts to their name over the years, one of the most prominent being the Maryland based act Iron Man. Naming themselves after the title of one of Sabbath’s most famous tunes, the band was started by guitar virtuoso Al Morris III and they quickly started adding their own material to their discography, one of the most prominent being their debut effort “Black Night,” released in 1993. While the Sabbath influence is strong, it also gives listeners something new to chew on with plenty of original, exotic titles and themes ranging from the high-speed bullet sounding “Choices” that actually promotes a woman’s right to choose, to the grungy, chugging-along “Leave This Town” about the complex emotion that is love. The album showcases Morris’s outstanding guitar abilities accompanied by an impressive range of devious, mournful vocal melodies, rock solid bass lines, and jazzy yet pummeling drum beats. While the band came to an unfortunate fold just last year due to Morris’s sudden death, their discography is still a must for any metal fan, or someone who just enjoys a good guitar lick once in a while.
6. Ed Schrader’s Music Beat (“Party Jail,” 2014)
The duo of percussionist/guitarist maniac Ed Schrader and monster bassist Devlin Rice recently joined forces to create an onslaught of soul-crushing honest-to-goodness drum and bass style avant-garde based punk rock. Most impressive is how the duo uses a fairly organic but nonetheless thrashing approach to create their slamming compositions. Schrader’s technique of a floor tom in place of lead guitar blends meticulously with Rice’s thunky, shuddering bass grooves to create a sound that is as gut punching and raw as early Sex Pistols and Killing Joke, yet as groovy and swingy as the likes of Duran Duran and early 80s David Bowie. “Party Jail,” their 2014 effort, has a pretty lengthy list of tunes from the fist-pump-inducing “Pantomime Jack” to the more eclectic, almost tropical sounding number “Laughing” that makes you want to both dance until you drop and slam a folding chair over someone’s back again and again at the same time.
7. Jester Mercutio (“You Shall Find the Devil Inside” single, 2018)
If you have ever wondered what it would sound like if Depeche Mode and Marilyn Manson joined forces, with a dash of M83 and Type O’Negative thrown in for good measure, up and coming Washington DC based gothic/synth virtuoso Jester Mercutio finally answers that question. Although fairly new to the scene with just a few singles out, Mercutio has lost no time in composing some truly gliding, paranormal-atmosphere sounding compositions. One of his most recent singles, “You Shall Find the Devil Inside,” reveals just part of his gothic based electronic music mastery. With raw, David Bowie style vocals and his immaculate skill with composing cosmic, almost sci-fi sounding keyboard and synthesizer anthems backed by grungy guitars and electrical Nine Inch Nails style percussive beats, Mercutio is quick to introduce listeners to a whole new stage. And complete with an accompanying music video featuring Klaus Nomi and Joel Grey reminiscent theatrics, “You Shall Find the Devil Inside” gears up to be a fairly wild ride.
8. Kruiser (“Take You For a Ride” EP, 2019)
Another immensely talented up and coming act, Kruiser’s debut EP, put out just this past year, is no shortage of good old-fashioned rock-till-you-drop style rock-and-roll that will make you nostalgic for the swinging 70s whether you were around for the decade or not. The band does a thorough job paying homage to the heyday of 1970s rock with raw, blues influenced guitar riffs and sweeping David Gilmore-esque solos complete with rushing bass riffs and John Bonham-esque drum grooves. Perhaps most impressive is lead vocalist Mikey Krause’s soaring, powerful vocal deliverance that could easily make Steven Tyler proud. The EP delivers a plethora of jamming compositions, from extremely shreddy, gritty, raucous tunes like “Rebels are Blind,” while others like the power ballad-influenced “Turn Around” takes one back to the heyday of glam rock. In all, there really is not much more to say other than that “Take You For a Ride” is a sonic masterpiece kicking off Kruiser’s epic quest to resurrect classic rock from the dead.
9. Cannabis Corpse (“Blunted at Birth,” 2006)
Formed fairly recently in 2006, death metal parody act Cannabis Corpse lost no time in jumping on the death metal train, but in a twist opted to form more of a parody tribute to all of their death metal heroes. They released their debut “Blunted at Birth” the same year with death metal pioneers Cannibal Corpse (and their cheerful album titles like “Butchered at Birth”) obviously being the main object of their inspiration in utilizing blazing, downtuned guitar riffs, galloping, muddy bass grooves and blast beating drums to create thoroughly crushing yet extremely humorous death metal anthems with lyrics centering exclusively around the band’s love of pot. Cannibal Corpse themselves spearheaded the death metal genre as a whole in the early 90s, achieving mass fame and censorship with such notorious numbers as “Hammer Smashed Face,” “Staring Through the Eyes of the Dead,” and “Force Fed Broken Glass,” among such other equally happy walking-on-sunshine tunes. To add more laughing gas to the mix with Cannabis Corpse, however, in continued homage to their idols, it is easy to see where they get much of the inspirations for their songs with their 2006 debut effort “Blunted at Birth” featuring such numbers as “Reefer Stashed Place,” “Staring Through Eyes that are Red,” and “Force Fed Sh***y Grass,” among others. While they have often toured country wide and abroad alongside such renowned acts as Ghoul, Nailbomb, and Demolition Hammer, they maintain an almost constant touring itinerary up and down the east coast especially around their hometown of Richmond, Virginia, therefore making them a must-see.
10. Raindeer (“Dreambeat17,” 2019)
Truly a unique treasure in an otherwise crowded trove, Raindeer are well on their way to becoming pop rock greats. With already four albums to their name, they know their sound and the soothing, yet lifting affect they want to have on their audience with their highly cosmic, nebulous compositions that are a brilliant throwback to the early days of 2000s era experimental, folk-like pop. Their most recent release, “Dreambeat17,” is an art gallery of euphoric colors that make you feel like you’re soaring in outer space; it offers numbers like the highly experimental, MGMT reminiscent “R U a Dancer” with bubblegum pop vocals and subtle but jazzy guitars and keyboards backed by hip-hop-esque drum beats, as well as the more mysterious, bass heavy “Moon=Hex” that soars to a whole new level of electrical fusion laden Daft Punkish atmospheres.