One-Man Metal Bands that Rip Without Guitars

The claustrophobic atmospheres and misanthropic messages of extreme metal are sometimes best accomplished when there’s only one guy in the band.

Apr 9 2013, 7:57pm

The claustrophobic atmospheres and misanthropic messages of extreme metal are sometimes best accomplished when there’s only one guy in the band. Let’s face it, most crazed musicians don’t make Godsmack bucks, so the less overhead the better. Also, the groupies are scarce and when there’s no competition you’re not gonna get cock-blocked by your lead guitarist. Some of the most interesting one-man black metal acts, Xasthur, Striborg and Leviathan have been profiled by Vice, so I’m not gonna get redundant, except to say that you should check out their shit, along with other lonely black metal deviants, including Nattefrost, Nortt, Graveland, Crebain, Abandon and Basilisk. But beyond the realm of angry, anti-Christian musicians with a roomful of inverted crosses, church burning apparatus and traditional instruments lies a domain inhabited by a few even stranger, if not as genuinely dangerous individuals. These dudes believe in the power of ugliness, yet approach their craft from a different direction, manipulating conventionally non-metal instruments to suit their nasty needs.


The hammer dulcimer, basically a harp with strings that are struck by mallets to create pleasant resonating tones, has been used since the Middle Ages by a wide variety of musicians, including classical composers Pierre Boulez and Igor Stravinsky. Their efforts and accomplishments with the instrument have little to do with the music of avant-garde extreme metal of Botanist, whose only member Otrebor bangs the shit out of his dulcimer and layers it over a soundbed of black metal blast beats, syncopated drumming and sepulchral vocals to create a barren, textural landscape of unconventional and unsettling noise. Clearly, the guy’s music is out there, but compared to his whack job lyrics, Otrebor’s music seems as mainstream as Usher. There’s some seriously weird split personality shit going on here. When Otrebor conducts interviews he does so as himself and, as best he can, explains the motives and approaches of Botanist, but when he hits “Record,” Botanist takes over and Otrebor becomes merely a conduit for Botanist’s ideas and expressions. See, Botanist is kinda like an evil Lorax, he speaks for the trees and the various plants in his “Verdant Realm” who seek to reclaim the earth after mankind has wiped itself from the planet. Thus far, Botanist has released two albums about sinister plants with their own complex mythology: 2011’s I:The Suicide Tree/ II: A Rose From the Dead and 2013’s IV: Mandragora. The latter is a concept album about a scientist that wages a war against mankind with an army of cultivated mandrakes. As strange and alluring as his music is, clearly Otrebor needs to get out into the sun a little more.


Whaddya get when you take a lab geek with a gift for creating bizarre gizmos and expose him to hateful, aggressive music? Chances are you’ve got a recipe for disaster—a serial killer with customized weapons or a freak who dumps toxic chemicals into the ventilation unit of a university fraternity. Fortunately, Tristan Shone, a mechanical engineer who lives in San Diego, works at the National Center for Microscopy and Image Research and takes his hostility out on machines, not people. Instead of using any standard musical instruments, Shone—going under his alter-ego Author & Punisher—creates bleak, industrial cacophony with gizmos he constructed out of robotic components, open source circuitry and other computerized wizardry. Unlike many one-man acts, Author & Punisher is truly a self-contained unit, and sitting in a chair pulling various levers, shouting into multiple distorted microphones and pulling back and forth on a what looks like a cybernetic trombone arm, Shone is able to vary the tempo and tone of his machines to make songs that vary from creepy, ambient, electronic grids to clamorous, metallic torrents that emulate the buzz and grind of overdriven guitars and the lunge of plodding doom beats. For those who accuse Shone of being a gimmick—well, the guy’s kinda sensitive, so he’ll either cry or plot some form of fiendish revenge—so listen to his music first. His latest album, Urus Americanus, ranked #30 in Decibel magazine’s top 40 albums of the 2012 and Shone has two other albums to add to his cred, 2005’s self-released The Painted Army, and 2010’s Drone Machines.


Full disclosure: I’m kind of cheating here because, well, there aren’t that many good, weird one-man metal bands that don’t play guitars, but also because New York’s Resolution15 are really fucking cool, sounding like a cross between Pantera, Slipknot and Chthonic without using a single guitar. Their weapons of choice are violins—but not syrupy, weepy fiddles or Itzhak Perlman-style neo-classical speed freakery—this is the raw, singular sound of thrash metal and hardcore and it kicks more ass than Game on a bad day. Main man, Earl Maneein, who plays crunchy, distorted 7-string and 5-string rhythm and lead violin is a little bald guy with a big sound (think an Asian Scott Ian with a smaller beard and, of course, no axe, but a definite axe to grind). See, Resolution15 aren’t don’t just deal in heavy sounds, they deal in weighty politics. The band was named after a North Vietnamese law passed in 1959 that changed the country’s agenda from political to military. And regardless of how brutal Maneein and vocalist Nick Serr sound, they’re pacifists at heart and strive to, in their words, “Disseminate the egalitarian message of global change” (maybe I’m as immature as a seventh grader, but I just can’t read the word disseminate without smiling). Anyway, Resolution15 are totally worth checking out. If you can find their 2007 self-titled full-length or 2010 EP Satyagraha, great, but the band’s 2013 compilation, Svaha, pretty much sums up their musical and lyrical aesthetic. And they kick ass live, maybe because you don’t have to stare at one guy for all your entertainment needs.

Jon Wiederhorn's Louder Than Hell - The Definitive Oral History of Metal comes out May 14th. He's on Twitter - @LouderThanHell