Planning A Metal Pilgrimage
Posted by Mark/Angel
This article was inspired by a brief weekend trip that I took to Helsinki while living in Russia, and while there I paid a visit to PRKL, one of the many metal bars in the city. While in there, I got thinking about which other places in the world would be required visiting were someone to make a “Metal Pilgrimage” to the important sites that saw the creation of various subgenres over the decades. Here is the result of this pondering, embellished with a bit of investigative journalism. Places ordered however I felt like it.
1st. Birmingham, United Kingdom (origin of metal, grindcore)
This one is quite a no-brainer. The foundation of heavy metal was laid in the forges of one of Britain’s industrial capitals, as has been documented many times across the years. The rise of Black Sabbath, and later Judas Priest, was more than enough to cement the city as a great starting point for a journey. There was an exhibition called “The Home Of Metal” which was set up in honor of Sabbath, and I can imagine there is a plethora of sites that can show you the most important places to visit there. For those into more extreme genres, it should be common knowledge that grindcore fathers Napalm Death also hail from Brum, and I have personal interest with Anaal Nathrakh calling the place home as well. So, brush up on your Brummie accent and head on down to the Black Country. Do you see where metal got its influence from?
2nd. San Francisco, United States (thrash/speed metal)
After the 70s punk threatened to obliterate metal from the map before it started, with only a few bands coming to prominence in this time, the 80s saw the genre boom spectacularly, particularly with the rise of thrash metal. Faster, heavier and full of attitude, the main explosion from this genre can be attributed to the San Francisco Bay area, which saw the birth of Metallica, Megadeth, Exodus, Forbidden Evil and Heathen to name a few. That alone should give thrash and speed addicts a reason to visit the city, along with it being quite a beautiful place in itself. Soak in the atmosphere and imagine the 80s here (or relive them if you were there!).
3rd. Hamburg, Germany (power/speed metal)
Taking notes from the NWOBHM scene but ramping up the volume with the melody, power metal saw flourishing scenes on both sides of the Atlantic. However, one of the most prominent areas to produce high quality power metal bands was Hamburg in northern Germany. Names such as Gamma Ray, Helloween, Iron Savior, and Running Wild can be attributed to the place. Hamburg is something of a media city in general, also being home to the newspaper Spiegel and radio station Norddeutscher Rundfunk. In terms of tourism, there’s plenty going on in the opera houses, theaters and museums of the area, or just go for a wander around the harbor.
4th. Gothenburg, Sweden (melodic death metal)
Three names that almost every melodic death fan knows by heart: At The Gates, Dark Tranquillity, In Flames. But the city of Gothenburg doesn’t just have these three names to boast (regardless of what you think of the latter’s current output), it’s also a cool place to visit in itself. A student city, it also boasts its place as the birthplace of Swedish soccer, and on a more related note is the hometown of Metaltown festival. Also present is Nordstan, Scandinavia’s largest shopping center (if you’re into that kind of thing) and an archipelago with fortresses and so on for the historically-minded. Plenty of culture in a city also full of metalheads.
5th. Florida, United States (death metal)
Moving into even more extreme territories, Florida quickly became a hotbed for death metal in the late 80s and early 90s. Taking influence from the more extreme thrash bands such as Slayer and Kreator, as well as proto-death acts like Possessed, it wasn’t long before the “classic” US bands such as Death, Morbid Angel, Obituary and Deicide. I’m not entirely sure what it is about Florida that made death metal there so prominent (or high quality), but I’m certain it’s not to do with the swampy nature of the Everglades having an influence on the production. In any case, it’s worth exploring the area*, and definitely not an excuse to go to Walt Disney Land. Nope, of course not.
*Yes, I know Florida is not a city, but it’s a small area of the US, so good enough for me.
6th. Oslo, Norway (black metal)
Cold, harsh winters lashing the north resulted in the inception of one of the grimmest genres in metal, and Oslo stood right in its path. Black metal took a similar route to death metal, although re-intepreting the influences to very different ends. The late 80s and early 90s saw bands such as Immortal and Dimmu Borgir storm through with their own takes on the genre, with Darkthrone and Mayhem joining them from their respective areas later in the decade. Oslo has its own kind of stark beauty and a still-vibrant metal scene, along with its neighboring countries Sweden and Finland, and is very worthy of paying your respects as a black metal listener. And plus, you drop by Hell while you’re there.
I am aware that many people will be wondering why I haven’t mentioned Finland so far in this article, and I do have a reason for it. Although Finland is certainly one of the main contributors of top-quality metal over the years, I find it difficult to pin down one influential city in one style or direction other than the stereotypical “Finnish” sound full of melancholy and melody (see: Poisonblack, Swallow The Sun, For My Pain…, Charon, Insomnium etc.). However, Finland did not ‘create’ the gothic or doom styles, and there is no associated “sound” coming from any of Finland’s great cities. That said, only a fool would skip on going to one of the most ferrous countries in the world.
Got any other cities which should be added to the list? Comment below!