5. The Prodigy (Metal, EDM, Rave)
It wasn't all blissful euphoria during the 90's rave scene that swept over the UK. One group who shattered (and continue to) the genre paradigm were Essex, England trailblazers The Prodigy. Their sound is mostly one of pure, raw aggression – a stark contrast to the rest of their glow-stick happy brethren.
Now I'm not saying that The Prodigy are a metal group, but rather that they have some very clear metal elements in their music. Not only have the group headlined British heavy metal festival Download, but their spearhead Liam Howlett has attributed inspiration to bands such as Rage Against The Machine. They're one of the few acts where you can headbang just as much as you can dance.
Notable examples of their heavy hitting sound include the anti-establishment anthem "Their Law", the whip-crack cruncher "Breathe" and the riff-tastic rocker "Invaders Must Die". However, last year's The Day Is My Enemy really saw the group embrace their heavy metal influences to the fullest. The album was reminiscent of bands like electronic metal outfit Pitchshifter (a band that the group have worked with before), with its seething instrumental work. Howlett thrashes the synth like it were a fender on tracks like the midnight lurker "Nasty", the sensory overload "Ibiza" and the no-nonsense banger "Wall Of Death".
So is it about time we started acknowledging this pioneering three-piece's contributions to metal or am I committing the ultimate sacrilegious act by even featuring them on this list? I say it's the former.
4. Devin Townsend Project (Metal, Experimental, New-Age)
It's fair to say that none of the bands on this list create a racket in the same bonkers way as eccentric songwriter Devin Townsend. Since his split with his industrial metal brainchild Strapping Young Lad, the performer has shown an insatiable appetite for music of all shapes and sizes. Under the moniker of Devin Townsend Project, he and his band of merry men have concocted some of the weirdest musical combinations in recent memory.
There's almost nothing that Townsend won't approach head on. He's clearly someone with a huge appreciation for music in general. And while he can provide moments of mountain peak highs like on "Stars" or "Happy Birthday", he can still provide a good beat down in the form of bulldozers like "Universe In A Ball" and "Rejoice".
Arguably his best track to date is the anthemic spacer "Supercrush!" – a seamless mixture of symphonic metal and stadium rock that showcases just how effortless the unorthodox musician can be. I'd be telling fibs though if I said it was always effortless, however his success rate is quite startling for such ambitious visions. Who else could pull off vicious death metal, sugary pop and abstract electronica all in the same song?
Townsend is a true artist – one who doesn't compromise his own artistic license to please audiences. He throws everything in a stew and boils it until it's practically overflowing with creative juices. And we wouldn't have it any other way.
3. Shining (NOR) (Metal, Jazz, Electronica)
Very few records released in this century point to new unoccupied territory in music, but in 2010, one album had such a radical sound that its composers chose to label it themselves. They chose Blackjazz – a perfect way to sum up a record that blends metal, jazz, industrial and electronica into one cohesive whole.
That band were Norway's Shining, a group that have scoured the underbelly of music to deliver a toxic combination that needs to be heard to be believed. Even more impressive though – it's oddly effortless. Their improvisation is on another par, with all members bouncing off one another almost telepathically. Add to this the constant rotation of sections, the unenviable task of providing hooks amidst the chaos and utilizing everything from a saxophone to a keyboard to achieve the desired effect, and you have a four-piece that know no boundaries when it comes to musical expression.
It's a credit to their supreme songwriting chops, and even though it sounds just plain wrong on the first listen, it ingeniously gels together with repeated listens. This innate ability stems from their early days as jazz musicians, providing a free-form style that lends itself brilliantly to heavy metal.
They may have loosened the reigns somewhat with their recent and more accessible records, 2013's One One One and 2015's International Blackjazz Society, but they're at a stage now where they don't need to impress with their complex genre fusion. For technical metallers however, Blackjazz still stands as the ultimate mind melting experience.
2. Ghost (Metal, Psychedelia)
Heavy metal used to be about a band's image as much as it was about the music. One band who look to bring back the gloomy dramatics of the genre are the bizarre but brilliant Ghost. Their outlandish gothic presentation mixed with hellish carnival sounds sets them apart from any other act in metal right now.
It could all come across as super gimmicky but somehow the group manage to avoid these pitfalls, largely due to their effortless pop sensibilities. Their 2013 release Infestissumam marked a high point for the band, one which saw them merge metal and psychedelic styles to dazzling effect.
No need to fear though metallers, because their latest LP in 2015 focused more on their metal tendencies. It had the usual gothic/spaced out vibes of their previous work but not to the detriment of their killer riffage. Entitled Meliora, tracks like "Pinnacle To The Pit" and "Mummy Dust" practically jump from the speakers with belting guitar fury. Not to mention that any album that can omit the fantastic hook-laden gem "Square Hammer" can't be too bad can it.
One thing that's always certain about a Ghost record is that it will be endlessly intriguing, with the group constantly reinventing themselves with each album cycle. Some bands choose to rest on their laurels – Sweden's Ghost choose to throw caution to the wind time and time again.
1. Deafheaven (Metal, Post-Rock, Shoegaze)
If heaven is bliss and hell is torment, then Deafheaven wallow in purgatory, never able to truly find comfort. Their bewildering sonic permutations of black metal, post-rock and shoegaze simply boggles the mind, but mainly so because it sounds so utterly natural.
Since they emerged on the scene in 2011 with the brilliant Roads To Judah, Deafheaven have continued to push the boundaries of black metal to its absolute zenith. They carry on the groundwork laid down by bands such as Alcest and Liturgy, but also look to design their own unique metal and shoegaze sound sculptures.
They shoot for the stars with complete disregard on the monumental masterpiece Sunbather – an album that shakes the very foundations of sound itself with its otherworldly genre combinations. Following that up with an equally brilliant record would seem to most impossible, but they managed it with 2015's New Bermuda. The LP focuses less on their shoegaze elements, delivering pure unrestrained black metal in its darkest form throughout long stretches. Again, evidence that the group can seemingly master the dark and the light through their uncanny songwriting ability.
Beauty and the beast come together on the music of the transcendent Deafheaven, blowing the lid off of the traditional genre conventions, and delivering truly stunning soundscapes that conjure up joy and despair all in the same breath. Unmissable.
What bands do you think effortlessly combine metal with other genres? Let us know in the comments!