April 30, 2014

5 Classic Bands And Their Modern Reincarnations

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In the distant future, humanity may eventually build some planet-sized computer capable of calculating the number of combinations of the 26 letters of our alphabet or the 12 notes of an octave. Until then, the order of the day is reinvention. Literary scholars like to maintain that Shakespeare invented each of a shockingly finite number of story archetypes, while a certain brand of music enthusiast will insist that the only type of musical innovation left to the human race will be birthed by Thom Yorke.

Music is, after all, a deeply subjective thing; it’s a language, certainly, but one with countless variations in which only a single individual is fluent. Even so, there are patterns. You can call it a collective consciousness, imitation or flattery. Even so, these patterns are there, waiting for us first to notice, and then to either celebrate or condemn them.

Below are five classic bands, each of which have come to thrive on these patterns and carved a place for themselves atop the backs of giants.

1. Rush – Dream Theater

Dream Theater’s John Petrucci has made a habit of enthusiastically drawing this comparison, and with good reason: Rush is the original “musician’s band” – a mantle that Dream Theater has proved only too willing to pick up and run with.

Right now Rush fans are readying angry letters to say something about the fact that Rush not only still exists, but are still touring and releasing new music. Theatrical lyrics and musical similarities aside, Dream Theater is more about keeping the spirit of Rush alive, and may manage to do so long after Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart call it quits, even with more than two decades of musical excellence already under their belts.

Both bands have, throughout the many long years of their storied careers, exhibited an almost inexhaustible love of music. Bi-annual album releases and legions of adoring fans are all the evidence we really need, although even those critical of these bands prove perfectly willing to draw parallels, such as pointing out both bands’ alleged tendency to put musicianship ahead of songwriting.

2. King Crimson – Tool

The members of Tool, one of progressive metal’s most enigmatic bands, have all professed a love of King Crimson at one point or another. The two bands finally took the last logical step in their relationship and briefly toured together in 2001.

Musically, devotees of both bands may struggle to find overt similarities. To find it, one might have to look at the musical zeitgeist as a whole. King Crimson, back in their heyday in the ‘70s, were – if you’ll pardon this crude phrase – something of a “gateway drug” to the then-burgeoning world of progressive music. King Crimson tapped into a core audience of music enthusiasts who had been raised on jazz and began to incorporate a startling variety of new sounds including folk, classical and electronic music, turning it into something entirely different.

Tool, likewise, is the progressive band for people who don’t like progressive music. They began with a bedrock of metal-tinged alternative rock and submerged it in moodiness, instrumental experimentation and some of the most emotive vocals you’ll hear in modern music. Their songwriting has grown ever more complex over the years, winning over even classically-trained musicians who come to find that Tool has tapped into something primal – perhaps the same something that animated Beethoven’s or Bach’s muses hundreds of years ago.

Like King Crimson before them, Tool have remained a wholly unique musical force in the world.

3. Black Sabbath – The Sword

Even today, Black Sabbath is a name to be reckoned with in the metal world. Their legacy is one that will forever live on in the passages of rock history. They played musical chairs with a revolving cast of vocalists in the long years between Ozzy’s departure and eventual return, but even with a chaotic history, it seems they’ll always be omnipresent.

The thing is, even with a decent comeback album and accompanying tour, present-day Sabbath still feels like a tribute to their former selves. Ozzy has never sounded more tired, nor has the band’s songwriting felt less inspired. One of the standard bearers for Sabbath’s patented smoky, blues-infused hard rock is The Sword, a Texas-based metal band.

Frontman John Cronise seems to channel classic Ozzy, and lead guitarist Kyle Shutt mimics classic Sabbath’s grungy guitar-driven sound. Even so, this isn’t a tribute act; The Sword crafted a sound all their own, even if it’s steeped in the hard rock mythos of the classic Sabbath lineup.

4. Pink Floyd – Porcupine Tree

This one doesn’t take a lot of imagination, to be perfectly honest. While Porcupine Tree frontman Steven Wilson may always balk at the comparison, and to the progressive rock label in general, it’s beyond question by now that Porcupine Tree drew heavily from their famous forebears.

Throughout the ‘70s, Pink Floyd introduced spacey, atmospheric rock to a whole generation of fans who’d heard nothing like it before: a legacy that continues today. While Floyd would continue to have a fairly focused musical aesthetic until their dissolution after 1994’s “The Division Bell,” the band proved again and again that they weren’t afraid to experiment and innovate: Their 1967 debut, “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn,” was a bluesy, psychedelic affair, 1975’s “Wish You Were Here” was a love letter to their jazz influences, and 1977’s “Animals” is an expansive, rather heavier album.

Porcupine Tree, likewise, have grown considerably from their Floyd-indebted roots. Steven Wilson and co. began their careers playing atmospheric rock with sparse vocals and grew into a cinematic progressive band with metal influences. An innovator through and through, Steven Wilson eventually put Porcupine Tree aside to focus on his critically acclaimed solo career, with even loftier ambitions for the future.

5. Alice in Chains – Alice in Chains

Maybe this is cheating, but it’s not at all unreasonable to think of different eras in a band’s career as distinct and discrete bands unto themselves. Consider: Sabbath was never the same after Ozzy’s departure (or, indeed, after his return); Dream Theater was a wholly different (and much more listenable) band after they dismissed their first vocalist, Charlie Dominici.

Alice in Chains never officially disbanded, but went through a period of upheaval following frontman Layne Staley’s tragic death in 2002. In the years since then, the band has reinvented itself, found a perfect replacement vocalist in William DuVall, and soldiered on to add two more excellent albums to an already legendary discography.

Lead guitarist and songwriter Jerry Cantrell could have shut the band down to focus on his solo career, or skated by with rehashes of Alice in Chains’ earlier work, but he didn’t; 2009’s “Black Gives Way to Blue” and last year’s “The Devil Put Dinosaurs Here” echo classic AiC in all of the important ways, but haven’t sacrificed musical integrity for nostalgia – not for the band’s sake, nor for the fans. TC mark

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