Where to Start: Post-Metal

At this point, the subgenre’s trend level has crested and most of what the specific style of music has to offer has likely been explored, but although it gets the ol’ eye-roll “not this again” treatment these days, it’s worth remembering that post-metal has produced some great, landmark albums, and that the bands who came after had solid reasoning behind being influenced as they were.

Blending post-rock elements with heavier, often crushing guitar work, the classification post-metal is as amorphous as any genre term. I’ve heard everyone from High on Fire to Ulver referred to under its umbrella, but I want to be clear that when I talk about post-metal, I’m thinking of what’s also commonly called “metalgaze,” the specific branch of metal heavily inspired by the bands below.

I wanted to do this Where to Start post not just for those looking to expose themselves to the genre, but also in case anyone who maybe is tired of hearing bands that sound like this has forgotten how killer these records were. Here’s my starting five essential post-metal albums, ordered by year of release:

1. Godflesh, Godflesh (1988): I saw the album art on hoodies for years before I knew what it was. 1989’s Streetcleaner was better received critically at the time for its industrial leanings, but Justin Broadrick‘s first outing after leaving Napalm Death has grown over time to be the more influential album. At just 30 minutes long in its original form (subsequent reissues would add bonus material), it’s a pivotal moment in understanding modern post-metal that predates most of the genre’s major contributions by over a decade.

2. Neurosis, A Sun That Never Sets (2001): Take a listen to A Sun That Never Sets closer “Stones from the Sky,” then go put on just about any post-metal record, and you’ll see many of them trying to capture the same feel and progression — if not just blatantly transposing that riff onto their own material. Say what you want about Neurosis‘ earlier material, I think if everyone was honest about it, it would be A Sun That Never Sets mentioned even more. An awful lot of the modern wave of post-metal bands formed in 2001 and 2002, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

3. Isis, Oceanic (2002): This was the record that really launched Isis. Where Celestial was brilliant but unbalanced, Oceanic felt complete in concept and execution and was a masterful work of ambient metal. The band is recently defunct, and though the subsequent Panopticon (2004) would see them delve even further into their atmospheric tendencies, they’d never get the ingredients in just the right measure again the way they did here.

4. Cult of Luna, Somewhere Along the Highway (2006): For those who’d heard Swedish outfit Cult of Luna‘s earlier work, Somewhere Along the Highway, with its seemingly endless breadth and guitars weighted as though by planets, was the payoff of all expectation. Their next full-length, 2008’s Eternal Kingdom, was just as complex, but Somewhere Along the Highway being a less directly conceptual album, it’s a better starting point.

5. Battle of Mice, A Day of Nights (2006): Centered around the tumultuous creative pairing of frontwoman Julie Christmas (Made Out of Babies) and guitarist Josh Graham (who would go on to form A Storm of Light the next year) and playing off a rigid tension between the two personally and artistically, A Day of Nights was probably the finest moment post-metal had after the term had been coined. I don’t know if it will prove as influential as some of the genre’s founding records, but within the style, it was a near-perfect example of how to get everything right.

As always, there are others. Records by Jesu, Intronaut, Nadja, Burst, Kayo Dot, Kylesa, Mouth of the Architect, Rosetta, etc., that expanded what post-metal could be and is today. Though the subgenre’s musical redundancies are well noted by now here and elsewhere, it’s worth checking out the above records if you never have, and even if you think one more Swans-style riff and your head’ll explode, maybe you’ll find something you never heard before on an album you thought you knew by heart.

If I forgot anything or you disagree or just want to complain about how played-out this sound is, there’s always the comments.

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8 Responses to “Where to Start: Post-Metal”

  1. caleb says:

    I’d add the Ocean’s Aeolian to that list. Even the Angelic Process’ Weighing Souls in terms of how it takes Nadja-esque sounds to their perfect conclusion.

  2. The Klepto says:

    I’ve never been a huge fan of post-metal, but I believe that to be because I’ve never really tried. I’ve listened to the random albums here and there (Isis, Pelican, Red Sparowes, etc) but only in passing. I think I need to spend some time dedicated to this genre to learn and enjoy what it has to offer. I will use this list as a basis to start from. Great job!

  3. Russell Carlsen says:

    I’m glad you gave A Sun that Never Sets props. You’re right, that album doesn’t get enough love.

  4. Derek says:

    Let’s not forget Belgium’s AmenRa.

  5. there’s a lot of bands in the bag, but there’s only a few that make stuff and make it great….. isis, the ocean, cult of luna, and other shits, just take the neurosis way and copy it…. neurosis gives the real sense to the “genre”

  6. UKGuy says:

    You need the following on this list, from the 90s. Ditch Battle Of Mice.

    The God Machine “Scenes From The Second Story” (1993)

    In my view, Cult of Luna have been out of Neurosis’s shadow since Salvation and never more so than with Eternal Kingdom; Isis eventually got out of Neurosis’s shadow for Panopticon but lost the plot thereafter.

    ‘Post-metal’ should now be dead, as a category. And we’d all be better for it.

  7. Stevhan The Invincible says:

    Nice list.

    Ought to re-check Godlflesh then, Jesu’s first ep (heartache) still contained lots of ‘Metalgaze’ moments as wel

    I find Cult Of Luna plain boring, definitely live, I left early on the two instances I saw them perform.

    Burst’s Origo is worth a honorable mention and the poorly underpromoted follow up ‘Lazarus Bird’ is actually a lost masterpiece of forwarthinking atmospheric heavy music.

    Underground Squat-punk metalgaze anyone? Go for Fall Of Efrafa, their ‘Warren of Snares’ trilogy is awesom from the crusty but melodic Owsla over to the crushingly heavy Elil and rouding up with the atmospheric and hypnotising ‘Inlé’. Actually I’m a gonna listen to it all again over the weekend I think. Too bad for JJ I don’t think many CD-copies are still available.

  8. UKGuy says:

    Stevhan – you’re right – “Lazerus Bird” is fab. I have found Isis pretty boring live; only seen Cult of Luna once and loved it.

    I am soooo bored of ‘post-metal’ as a label; to be honest, I was a bit disappointed to find a “where to start…” about it. Sorry dude. However, ironic that I’ve made two posts on it, eh? Will shut up now :)

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