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Metal for Ambient Fans (and Vice Versa)

by Philip Sherburne

Metal for Ambient Fans (and Vice Versa)

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At the risk of stepping on the toes of my colleagues Chuck Eddy and Mike McGuirk, proud keepers of metal's flame on Napster, I'm going to take advantage of the post-holiday lull and venture outside my customary electronic niche.

The past few years, I've noticed a pattern developing in my listening habits. As the year draws to a close -- and I decide that I've had it up to here with genre recaps and list-making obligations -- I take refuge in heavy metal. In part, that's thanks to those very same year-end lists I dread making myself. I'm a tourist when it comes to metal -- a day-tripper, a Sunday driver, a fair-weather fiend. So I rely on December's annual overviews to get me up to speed. In 2012, I came away with new infatuations with Horseback, Eagle Twin and Pallbearer, all of whom delivered exactly the kind of spine-tingling menace I look for in my metal.

Metal also fits my proclivity for seasonally affected listening of course: All those shades of gray seem tailor-made for overcast skies and perennial penumbra, and the chill in the music is a perfect match for the numbness in my bones. More than anything, though, as January 1 draws near, metal seems to be my reset button. It's a way of withdrawing from the world I'm used to and wiping the slate clean.

Perhaps it's because I'm looking for those kind of restorative properties, but I'm particularly drawn to metal that's slow and meditative; the kind of music that may feature guitars and growls, but could easily sub in for Brian Eno. It blankets the sound field like a slow, persistent snowfall; it lends itself to burrowing deep inside rabbit holes of your own imagination. Sometimes it doesn't sound very "metal" at all, no matter the pedigree of the artist or label involved. You could just as easily call it "drone" or "noise" or even "ambient," but the upshot's the same: It carves out a space for contemplation. Except, of course, when it grabs you by the lapels, dangles you above the abyss and dares you to look infinity in the face. But that's just another form of contemplation, right? To that end, here's two hours of blackened vibrations and imperial distortion to aid the start of 2013, a lucky number if ever there were one. Happy New Year!

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