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 411mania » Music » Columns

The 411 Music Top Five 04.29.13: The Top 5 Current Rock Bands
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 04.30.2013


Criteria: This one, I feel, is pretty self-explanatory. We are listing our favorite artists who are currently active within the rock genre. This includes subcategories like alt-rock, metal, industrial and so on.

5. The Arctic Monkeys

Very rarely do you listen to the debut album from an up and coming band that has been hyped to high-heaven by the music press, and think "hey, you know what, all the excitement for this was entirely justified." That, however, is how pretty much everyone reacted upon listening to Whatever I Say I Am That's What I'm Not, the outstanding debut from the Arctic Monkeys. Since then the Sheffield based indie rockers have released another trio of superb, range-expanding records, firmly establishing them as one of the greatest rock bands of modern times. Their lyrics don't always pack an emotional punch, but they remain a terrific band.

4. Frightened Rabbit

Frightened Rabbit are a very impressive band. Their music is frequently stirring and adrenaline fuelled, their lyrical content grim and maudlin. To balance those two extremes without sounding pretentious and overblown is a very difficult beat, and one which other Scottish indie rock bands haven't really accomplished (*frowns in Glasvegas' direction.*) Frightened Rabbit never come off as feeling sorry for themselves or as if they're trying too hard or even as if, despite the constant self doubt within the lyrics that is even reflected in the band's name, that they at any moment aren't completely secure in who they are as a band. As well as this, they also have a lot of very very good songs. Listen to the one I've linked to, it's rousing as anything.

3. Elbow

I don't really like outright happy songs about how wonderfully amazing life is. They all just seem forced and shallow and samey to me. 'If You're Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands' is probably my second favorite happy song. My clear favorite, though, is 'One Day Like This,' by Mancunian indie-rockers Elbow. Unlike other entries in the genre it feels like a genuinely spontaneous outburst of joy, and despite its lengthy running time and the fact that half the song consists of "draw the curtains wide, one day like this a year would see me right!" being bellowed by a chorus of voices, it absolutely flies by. There are other reasons why Elbow are so high on my list though; terrific albums such as Cast of Thousands, The Seldom Seen Kid and Build a Rocket Boys, the distinctive vocals and endearing personality of lead singer Guy Garvey, and some of the most interesting lyrics any band has produced in the last decade. The only bad things about Elbow are their dreary first album and their awful name. Everything else is great.

2. The Gaslight Anthem

Here is a list of things I like/am interested in: punk rock, Bruce Springsteen, wounded romantics, America, songs about heartbreak, and handsome men. The Gaslight Anthem perform Bruce Springsteen influenced, distinctly American punk rock songs about heartbreak, and their lead singer is Brian Fallon, who is a handsome wounded romantic man. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that I adore the Gaslight Anthem; they're one of my personal favorite bands of all time, and have produced three albums that are a key component of my CD collection, including one, The '59 Sound, which I probably listen to more than any other I own. On purely critical merits they probably wouldn't make the top five, but Gaslight know their fanbase and crank out albums that will safely appeal to them, while also dabbling in elements of country, reggae and swing to keep things fresh. In all honesty this is a moral victory for the Gaslight Anthem; they fall to 2nd place because my number one are just so fantastic in every single way, yet if I was stuck on a desert island I'd happily trade some limbs to take Anthem albums with me.

*NOTE ABOUT SONG*- It doesn't have a video. I am so so sorry. I just love this song so much.

1. The National

Maybe it's just excitement about their upcoming new album, but the National were the first band I thought of when the topic was outlined. Or maybe it's because they're so fucking perfect. Have they ever released a bad album? The Virginia EP was a little underwhelming I guess, but outright bad? Can't think of any. And is there another band in the world today that sounds as distinctly rich and textured and powerful as the National? And is there an active rock band that produces such fascinating lyrics in every single song? And has anyone in the world ever listened to Bloodbuzz Ohio and not felt a little shiver? The answers to these questions are: no, no, and probably but hey I just really really love that song. Even their album titles are superb; Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers, High Violet, Alligator... The National are just indescribably good. So good, in fact, that they pip possibly my personal favorite band in years to the number one spot.

P.S. I just listened to Bloodbuzz Ohio again while linking to it and seriously there are no words that aptly sum up how brilliant that song is. It's too early to be calling it one of the all time great rock songs because I might listen back in five years and think 'huh, I was so obsessed with a baritone forty year old droning about love for nearly five minutes?' but seriously just imagine being in an even vaguely emotional state and then hearing that for the first time. Wonderful.

Honorable Mention:
Candlemass: If only I had done this list last year, I could put Candlemass on there, but they're retiring now. One of my favorite bands of all time and one of the crown jewels on the doom metal crown, but sadly, barely current.

Rush: If I had listened to more of their recent stuff, they'd definitely be higher on this list, but I usually just listen to their classics. Though their new album was awesome and they are still touring strong, so they deserve to be on here, I just can't personally put them on mine.

Anthrax: I'm so happy to have these guys back after their 8 year absence. They almost made the list, but due to output and quality of, they didn't make it. But they tour like mad, have released one of my favorite albums of the past 5 years in 'Worship Music', and they have a new cover EP out. so they're going strong, but I couldn't quite put them over my #5.

5. Testament

This was a real struggle, deciding where to put Testament here, do I put them on the list, or not? If this list were done last year, they'd have only made the honorable mentions. Because I had not heard as much of their old stuff as I have now, and they released one of my favorite albums of last year in, 'Dark Roots of the Earth'. This is a band that, like Anthrax, kind of fell off the metal radar. Their singer Chuck Billy got cancer, and everyone was doing their own little thing. Well, 2008 rolls around, with Alex Skolnick back in the guitar playing saddle, and Paul Bostaph on drums, and they release what I found to be a very good album (some people disagree), 'The Formation of Damnation'. This album had a lot of classic thrash sound to it, as well as still employing some of the more death metal tinged vocals that Chuck Billy adopted after, 'Low'. It also helps that I've come to the realization that just like one of my later picks on this list, Testament have never had a truly bad album. That's not to say that there is no such thing as a bad Testament song, but I will say that when it comes to metal in general, they are one of the more consistent bands in terms of quality and quantity.

So the reason why they were chosen over Anthrax is because they have a 1 good album and 1 great compared to Anthrax's lone album in the 5 year span. Plus, they both tour about the same amount of time. So when you consider my equation of current albums, past albums, and personal preference, I'd say that Testament deserve this spot right here.

4. Opeth

This one is kind of odd, because when you rank my favorite bands, Opeth would come in front of my next 2 bands, but it terms of recent work, I can't help but put them a little farther back than I usually would. I know I talked about Opeth not too long ago when I did the Top 5 Prog bands list, but it doesn't hurt for me to talk about them more! In the past 5 years, Opeth have released two albums, but very different in nature. Their album in 2008, 'Watershed' had pretty much been built upon a foundation that many other Opeth albums were built around. Very long, sprawling songs, with progressive bits here and there, and a switching between Mikael Akerfeldt's screams and singing whenever either is needed. Though it had less death metal to it than the previous releases, it was still a very good album, and I like it quite a bit. The album that followed would probably fit pretty well in the "divisive" category. The album, 'Heritage', was a different direction that what they had done before (except, 'Damnation', which had zero screams or growls in it, and was much more acoustic), they went full on prog rock with this release. I like some of it, but I feel like there is a lot that could have been used to do more with, kind of like before, Opeth had used long songs, but done a lot with that time. 'Heritage', didn't quite do that every time they could, maybe it's just me, but I don't like that quite as much. I also missed the death metal influences that they had, it really added an extra element to a band that already has so many elements to it, and it was kind of sad to see that go. As for touring, since I guess I can mention that for every band on here, they do quite a bit of touring, though they've started phasing out a lot of their older, more death oriented songs, by what I hear, and I don't like that. But I still think Mikael Akerfeldt has one of the best voices in metal, whether it be growls or clean singing. Hopefully a new album will be on the way soon, and I'll like it as much as their old music, which I love dearly!

3. Orphaned Land

I can't remember if I've ever talked about this band here on the Top 5. I'm sure I have, because I'm a huge fan of the music and the message that they stand for. They seem to be a group of guys from Israel who just want everyone to love and get along, which I can definitely get behind. As for their music, they are one of my favorite bands because they manage to do just as Opeth do, they put so many different and interesting elements in their music, it makes it endlessly listenable. I shit you not, their album from 201o, 'The Never Ending Way of ORwarriOR' didn't leave my car CD player for over a month, I'd just listen to the album over and over and over again. They manage to seamlessly blend their own brand of progressive death metal with middle eastern folk music, and I've never seen a band do it as well as Orphaned Land. They have a new album coming out this year, it's titled, 'All is One', which apparently will be about the opposite, and I've heard from Orphaned Land that they may have no death metal vocals in this new album, but I hope they do; as for touring, they do some, but it rarely hits the States, sadly. But if you are feeling adventurous and wish to hear some great middle eastern death metal, give them a shot, you'll love them, I know I do!

2. Amon Amarth

You remember how the last two picks on my list were endlessly listenable due to their songs all having something a little different? This is not one of those bands. Amon Amarth pretty much growl about Vikings, and Odin, and battle, and then beat your chest with melody while you do it. Some people rag on them for doing too much of one thing, kind of like people do with Nile or Cannibal Corpse, but my response to them is, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I have never gotten bored during an Amon Amarth album, and I certainly have never found their act to be stale. They're style is for manly men, and every time I throw on something like the song from their new album, 'Deceiver or the Gods', my beard grows a little. This will be their third album in 5 years coming up soon, with 'Twilight of the Thunder God' being a favorite of mine, and 'Surtur Rising' is a great album, for sure. They touring constantly and still putting out great music, and if you don't know who they are, go track down their music now, DO IT, NOW!

1. Megadeth

Can this be any surprise to anyone who knows me? I am a Droogie, and I damn well know it. Out of all the bands in this list, this is the band that when I saw the topic for the week, I knew exactly what place to put them. Megadeth have been one of my favorite bands since my junior year of high school (with originally Killswitch Engage, and now Death taking the main spot), and I've been in love with everything they've done ever since. That's right, I love every Megadeth album, I even love 'Risk', though it's kind of the cross-eyed stepchild of the group because it does deserve some of the hate that it gets. But regardless of their bad albums, I still think that when on his game, Dave and Co. are hard to beat.

My first Megadeth album that I bought right after it came out with was one that fits quite nicely in our timeframe here, 2009's 'Endgame' was the album that got me even more in to thrash metal than I already was. Sure I loved Metallica, but after hearing Endgame, I had to go find everything I could, I got even more into bands like Anthrax, Slayer, and Kreator. We can blame that on Megadeth's 'Endgame'. Which I think is one of their best albums, with much thanks of it going to their new guitarist at the time, Chris Broderick. All of the songs were good, with some songs even getting into awesome territory. My personal favorite is the intro that leads into, "This Day We Fight!", which is full of guitar goodness, and is one of the reasons why this album is a classic. I also love the last song on the album, "The Right to Go Insane," especially that speed up towards the end of the song. Honorable mention goes to Mark Radulich's favorite video that he's never seen in, "Headcrusher."

Come around 2011, Megadeth came out with the album, 'Th1rt3en. When I first listened to it, I thought it was the greatest thing ever, but subsequent listens has brought it to a middle of the road metal album. It probably helps that I saw them live, and it make my life! They do tour a lot, since I do mention touring in this, because I guess it proves how active they are. Their new album drops soon, hopefully it won't suck. They are one of the best bands around, and there aren't many signs of stopping for MegaDave and Co. (though if he were to do more songwriting and less interviewing, I'd appreciate that).

Honorable Mention: Paramore, Alabama Shakes, AWOLNATION, Imagine Dragons

5. Mumford & Sons

Folk rock has been making a huge comeback particularly over the last year, and Mumford & Sons is at the forefront of that. The band's second LP Babel was one of the top-selling LPs of 2012 and helped bring attention to a very significant shift in musical taste in 2012. The band is an incredibly talented group in terms of both songwriting and performance skills, with powerhouse singles like "I Will Wait" and "Whispers in the Dark" or album tracks such as "Not With Haste" and so on. The band shows how the term "earnest" isn't a crime against nature; with them in the studio it's a creed. Folk purists have been falling all over themselves decrying the success of the band, which as Bob Dylan can tell you is usually a good indicator that you're doing something right.

4. Halestorm

Okay, this probably isn't a surprise to many people as I've long been Halestorm's champion here at 411. The group is often discounted as little more than another one of those girl-fronted rock groups, but Lzzy Hale is far more than just a chick with a guitar. I've said it before and I will say it again: Hale is one of the most versatile hard rock vocalists working today. With only two LPs released so far they're already a Grammy Award-winning band who tour with a dedication similar to seasoned professionals and the improvement from the already-good first self-titled LP to their second, The Strange Case Of..., is palpable. More to the point, Halestorm brings a sense of fun back to hard rock, a genre which can sometimes take itself too seriously. The band is already damn good and by all indications, they're only going up from here.

3. Atoms for Peace

I would probably have included Radiohead but they're on hiatus while Thom Yorke tours with this group, so that defies the "active" criteria. Atoms for Peace is a supergroup (though don't tell Yorke that!) consisting of the Radiohead frontman, producer Nigel Godrich, RHCP bassist Flea, Beck's drummer Joey Waronker and Mauro Refosco percussionist Mauro Refosco. The band's first album Amok was released this year and instantly became one of my favorite albums of the year so far, effectively blending rock and electronica in a seamless and challenging, yet instantly appealing, mix. I would venture to say that, at this point at least, I like Atoms for Peace even more than Radiohead. That's a bold statement to be sure, but one I stand by.

2. Foo Fighters

Another group I've never been shy about professing my appreciation for are the Foo Fighters. While there were suggestions that the group was taking a long break, it was recently revealed that the group is back at it and writing for their eighth studio album. The group has become one of the most successful, enduring and frankly impressive rock bands of the post-Nirvana era and have survived the rise and fall of the genre while other styles have had their reigns at the top. Dave Grohl's group are the flagbearers for pure rock and every album they release is one I fervently look forward to.

1. Rush

With their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, Rush finally got their due. The Canadian prog rock group is more or less unmatched among rock bands in terms of the quality they produce; even their relatively lesser albums have been great efforts and 2012's Clockwork Angels was one of my favorite LPs of 2012. So much has been said about the band's talent than it sometimes seems difficult to say anything new to praise them; it is just best to simply say they are quite probably the greatest rock band working today.

The Final Word

As always, the last thoughts come from you, the reader. We're merely unpaid monkeys with typewriters and Wikipedia. Here's what you need to do: List your Top Five for this week's topic on the comment section using the following format:

5. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
4. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
3. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
2. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it
1. Artist - "Song": Why you chose it


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