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Funk Metal is a sub-genre of metal that came to be in the mid-late 80's with bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faith No More, Living Colour, and Electric Boys. The genre reached its peak of popularity in the early 90's, after Faith No More’s hit single Epic from the album The Real Thing. Primus, Fishbone, 24-7 Spyz, Infectious Grooves, and Extreme were among the best well-known players of the genre, but funk metal included many short lived bands which remained underground.

Funk metal is a genre often characterised by slap bass and funky syncopation blended with various types of metal, as well as a sense of humour. One of the first bands to mix funk and metal, along with many other genres, was Washington DC hardcore/fusion band Bad Brains, although Red Hot Chili Peppers' self-titled debut was perhaps the biggest influence on the genre, with the track "Green Heaven" the earliest combination of funk and metal riffs.

Bands mixed funk with many different metal genres. Living Colour and Mindfunk focused primarily on combining funk with heavy metal, while Extreme and Electric Boys combined it with glam metal. The heavier end of the spectrum saw Mordred, Scatterbrain and Suicidal Tendencies side-project Infectious Grooves mix funk with thrash. Many more thrash metal bands incorporated funk metal elements in some of their 90's albums without becoming primarily funk metal. Death Angel included influences of funk metal on their 1990 album Act III and Suicidal Tendencies began incorporating the style on their Lights... Camera... Revolution! album of the same year.

A sense of humour can be seen throughout the entire genre, in various forms. Often the lyrics are comedic or surreal, Primus and Scatterbrain being two prominent examples, with song titles like “My Name is Mud” and “Don't Call Me Dude”. Faith No More sometimes included mini skits, such as in “Death March” from 1987's Introduce Yourself. Some bands like Extreme and Living Colour often had a more socio-political focus to their lyrics.

The genre had lost much of its popularity by the late 90's, as other trends in the metal scene, such as Nu Metal, were reaching their height. Some Nu-Metal bands made use of funk metal elements in their earlier material such as Powerman 5000, Sugar Ray and Sick Puppies. Incubus kept the funk metal genre alive during this time with their S.C.I.E.N.C.E. album (1997), although they switched to a more heavy alternative rock style by the end of the decade.

While few bands play funk metal anymore, bands like comedy metal band Psychostick incorporate elements of it, along with many other genres.

-Written by Unitron, 2017

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LIVING COLOUR Stain Album Cover Stain
4.47 | 12 ratings
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FAITH NO MORE The Real Thing Album Cover The Real Thing
4.10 | 77 ratings
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INCUBUS (CA) S.C.I.E.N.C.E. Album Cover S.C.I.E.N.C.E.
4.26 | 8 ratings
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EXTREME Extreme II: Pornograffitti Album Cover Extreme II: Pornograffitti
3.96 | 34 ratings
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PRIMUS Frizzle Fry Album Cover Frizzle Fry
3.94 | 31 ratings
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PRIMUS The Brown Album Album Cover The Brown Album
3.98 | 14 ratings
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INFECTIOUS GROOVES The Plague That Makes Your Booty Move... It's the Infectious Grooves Album Cover The Plague That Makes Your Booty Move... It's the Infectious Grooves
4.05 | 7 ratings
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PRIMUS Sailing the Seas of Cheese Album Cover Sailing the Seas of Cheese
3.90 | 32 ratings
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LIVING COLOUR Time's Up Album Cover Time's Up
3.91 | 13 ratings
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PRIMUS Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People Album Cover Animals Should Not Try to Act Like People
3.92 | 9 ratings
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LIVING COLOUR Vivid Album Cover Vivid
3.85 | 13 ratings
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PRIMUS Tales From the Punchbowl Album Cover Tales From the Punchbowl
3.82 | 22 ratings
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PRIMUS Sailing the Seas of Cheese

Album · 1991 · Funk Metal
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Here Come the Bastards!

Sailing the Seas of Cheese in ways epitomizes funk metal, yet also Primus has such a unique sound that nobody else has managed to emulate them (at least not to my knowledge).

It's wacky, heavy, funky, it's everything that most of the best funk metal is. The whole album may as well serve as a best of for the band, there's just bop after bop after bop. The classic Jerry Was a Race Car Driver has one of metal's best breakdowns, and other classic Tommy the Cat has some of the most instantly catchy and insane bass riffs.

Some of the best stuff the band's ever done however comes in the deep cuts, particularly Sgt. Baker, Eleven, and Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers. Les Claypool is well respected for his bass skills, but I'd say his ridiculous vocals are just as important. There's so much personality coming from his vocal performance, especially on the aforementioned Sgt. Baker and Tommy the Cat. Eleven shows how great the band can be when they get more melodic, and Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers is such a heavy stomp of a song.

All the 90's Primus albums are classics in my book, but this stands above the rest as the best of the bunch.

LAUNDRY Motivator

Album · 1999 · Funk Metal
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It took 5 years for Laundry to follow up their 1994 debut release, Black Tongue, with their second and final album, Motivator. The band's core of Tim "Herb" Alexander, Ian Varriale, and Tom Butler remained. The major difference was the departure of vocalist Toby Hawkins, whose duties were absorbed by "Herb", ultimately to his discontent. Varriale, while not necessarily changing his duties, slightly modified his string tapping stage presence by exchanging his Chapman Stick for a Warr Guitar.

Motivator is a slightly more refined production than Black Tongue. The overall recording has a similar tone but a cleaner mix. Musically, the album is decidedly more accessible than its predecessor. There is a far more pedestrian, groove oriented rhythmic consistency that was not apparent on Black Tongue. Compositionally, it has less complex passages and obscure instrumental interplay. While the overall dark hews of predominantly minor keys remain, there is less of an affinity for atonal passages, whole tones, or dissonance. The combination remains heavy with overdriven guitar sounds, but not crossing the heavy metal distortion barrier. Tim Alexander's vocals are in a higher register and use a significant amount of reverb compared to Toby Hawkins'. While competent and in tune, it is readily apparent that vocals are not his primary function. There is something intangible that makes the vocals less cohesive with the music. Perhaps it is only a listener preference issue. Despite the differences noted, it is readily apparent that this is the same band 5 years removed.

In general I find Motivator to be a good album, but the less enjoyable of the two. As stated earlier, its just a listener preference issue. And really, I can't identify any unappealing movements within the album, just nothing as outstanding as I found with Black Tongue. The album highlight for me is "So Mean", with its spacey bridge; probably the song with the most dynamic contrast. From a rating standpoint, I would call it a good but not essential 3 stars.

After the supporting tour for Motivator, Laundry would disband. "Herb" would go on to play in many more projects; including The Blue Man Group, A Perfect Circle, and eventually rejoining his old mates with Primus.

LAUNDRY Blacktongue

Album · 1994 · Funk Metal
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The 5-10 years around the turn of the millennium was a fantastic time for music fans everywhere. Especially for those that lived in areas that did not have an exceptionally deep music scene and less than optimal music stores. The internet would open the gates to hidden gems that people in those areas had never enjoyed access to up to that point. Not only was the communication flow opening up, but the burgeoning digital compression era had created more accessibility, but also a bit of a ideological war, and people were taking sides. My discovery of the band Laundry had a link to that war and the fact that the band appeared to have chosen a side not popular with the bulk of the music industry. One of my frequent way-too-late nights of internet music discovery in the early- 2000's found me following a thread from the band Primus to drummer Tim "Herb" Alexander's band, Laundry . Their website was complete with full mp3 downloads of both their albums. Thus, I set about the rather enjoyable experience of discovery as I dove into their debut album, Black Tongue.

One of the links that I followed to find Laundry was of course a biography of Herb. I can not recall the precise source so exact quotes are not possible, but I recall comments to the effect that Herb wished to expand beyond the cartoonish elements of Primus (the particular that was mentioned was "Winona's Big Brown Beaver"). It can be said that Black Tongue takes a decidedly darker tone than his previous band's themes from the outset. But as the easiest link to establish, it is almost essential to compare the two bands. Aside from the overall thematic tone of the compositions, differences in the instrumental makeup were also readily apparent. As talented as Les Claypool is, one of the best descriptions of his playing style is "precision mud" (not at all pejorative, I love that sound). The bass sounds used by Laundry's Chapman stick player, Ian Varriale, while not completely dissimilar, strayed from the muddiness with its tap style madness. As Varriale lays the string foundation to the opener, Windshield, another comparison invites itself; Tony Levin era King Crimson. But that comparison begins and ends with the Chapman stick. Guitarist Tom Butler's playing style, if one could imagine the exact middle, lays between the atonal minimalism of Larry Lalonde and the virtuosity of Robert Fripp. It fits the music perfectly, but is definitely in its own zone. Herb's drumming is similarly groove oriented, but with less funky, dare I say, danceability than his more familiar works.

Song highlights are the similarly swirling, spacey, psychosis inducing "Monarch Man" and "Canvas". Near the end is a piece called "19", that includes answering machine spoken word self deprecating diatribe with underlying stick work that is mildly reminiscent of King Crimson's "Indiscipline". Overall, there are really no bad songs on this album.

Of the two albums released by Laundry, the more interesting and deep is Black Tongue. As previously mentioned, the overall color of the music is dark, but never with a traditional metal heaviness. The songs alternate from driving beats to seemingly backwards slithering of delirium laced passages. While one might argue it is certainly not as tight as 1999's Motivator, it makes up for it in adventurousness. Black Tongue would definitely not be the choice for the passive listener and passes the prog litmus test more resolutely. And it easily accomplished Tim "Herb" Alexander's goal of distancing himself from comic overtones. Not a masterpiece, but a highly enjoyable, recommended listen.

SCAT OPERA Four Gone Confusion

Album · 1992 · Funk Metal
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"Hi, what you doin'?"

Scat Opera lasted a bit longer than many obscure funk metal bands, with two albums instead of one. Their debut About Time is a great funk metal album with the classic title track, but Four Gone Confusion takes funk metal to new levels not seen before.

It's like the band were listening to Voivod, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Donald Byrd at the same time. Dissonant stabbing thrash riffs meets some of the most energetic funky vocals and bass out there and some straight up jazz-funk metal. (I Dig That) Oral Mastication even has a short section with death growls when the guitars slow down the pace a bit. The Points of Madness and Men and Their Tiny Minds are the tracks where the jazzy horns come in making for a great meld of jazz-funk and metal.

Every song on here is fantastic, as throughout the whole album that band keeps the fun and playful vibe needed in funk metal with that added Voivod-esque thrash. If I had to pick a couple favorite tracks though it'd probably be Reminisce in Bitterness and Men and Their Tiny Minds. Maybe the most criminally underrated funk metal album, and one of the most underrated albums in general. If only the band continued on so there could be more of this fantastic sound and maybe even more expansion of jazz-funk metal.

ATOM SEED Get in Line

Album · 1990 · Funk Metal
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"Get in line, free your mind"

If you want to find maybe the largest amount of great bands lost in time, just look into the funk metal genre. It had a very brief amount of popularity in the late 80's and early 90's, but unfortunately once it went out of style, so did most of bands with it. A handful kept a legacy (Living Colour, Fishbone) or changed their sound (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faith No More), but most sadly remain forgotten.

Atom Seed is one of the many funk metal bands that only managed to put out one album, but also like many of these bands, this is an album that sounds like a passionate band unrestricted. There's the thrash-funk of the title track and Bitchin', moodier songs like Shot Down and Better Day, several straight up funk metal songs, and the monumental heavy metal of Castles in the Sky as the best song on the album. Hearing how fantastic this song is makes it that much more sad that Atom Seed only released an EP after this and disbanded shortly after that.

Maybe someday funk metal will finally get its due appreciation and even make a comeback, but until then, this is one of funk metal's many underrated classics. All we want are castles in the sky.

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