Due to the massive amount of music out there today, it can be difficult for a band to reach success and gather enough support to keep it alive. In Part I of this series of articles, I’m going to highlight 5 Metal bands which I consider to be strangely underrated – as in deserving more exposure and respect.

I’ll be using the bands’ Last.fm stats to support these 5 choices, so for those who are still unfamiliar with the Last.fm website, here’s an interesting article on that HERE. To be clear, these bands’ stats aren’t horribly low, but to understand why they are underrated, here’s two references that will serve as examples of contrast/comparison.

Reference 1: Groove Metal band DevilDriver has 13,648,040 plays with 376,799 listeners (this will serve as an example of contrast because neither one of the bands below are in any way related to Groove Metal).

Reference 2: Progressive Metal band Dream Theater has 56,345,181 plays with 755,804 listeners (this will serve as an example of comparison because all 5 bands mentioned below are related to Progressive Metal).

  • Leprous

Last.fm stats: 126,534 plays (3,692 listeners) (as of September 2011)

I discovered Norwegian band Leprous a few years ago and was immediately drawn to their Progressive Metal / Avant Garde music. Soon enough, Ihsahn gave the band more credibility as the backing band for his solo project’s live performances. It’s shocking that they have less than 4000 listeners, but their most recent 2011 album “Bilateral” was well received by Progressive Metal fans, and in one month only, the band managed to gather 28,775 plays from 1,112 listeners (average of 26 plays / listener) which means that they’re slowly but surely getting more recognition by the worldwide Metal community.

  • Shaolin Death Squad

Last.fm stats: 133,226 plays (5,771 listeners) (as of September 2011)

Another shockingly underrated band is Shaolin Death Squad, an American band which have developed a unique style that rivals the best in European progressive music. From the band name to the costumes and artwork, the band clearly drew inspiration from Chinese Culture, minus the Chinese folk music. Shaolin Death Squad’s 2nd and most recent full length entitled “Five Deadly Venoms” (66,940 plays / 3,291 listeners | average of 20 plays per listener) quickly landed on my Top Metal Releases of 2010 and is definitely one fresh Progressive Metal release which is getting more and more positive feedback.

  • 7for4

Last.fm stats: 108,374 plays (2,510 listeners)

For a band that features former Sieges Even guitarist Wolfgang Zenk, having less than 3000 listeners is quite a letdown. It’s true that German band 7for4 plays instrumental music, but the fusion of genres they manage to play is just astonishing, not forgetting their high-level musicianship. Jazz Fusion is no stranger to these experienced musicians, and they aren’t afraid to add it to the power of Metal, especially in their latest album entitled “Diffusion” which was released in 2008.

  • Panzerballett

Last.fm stats: 193,418 plays (8,974 listeners)

Close to 9k listeners, German band Panzerballett is perhaps the least underrated band compared to the rest of the bands here, but if you’re familiar with their music, having less than 10k listeners is illogical and plainly wrong. Quoting from the band’s website: “Why simple when difficult things can be done?” should give you an insight to the band’s complex fusion of Funk, Jazz and Metal, with their rhythmically complex riffs and improvisations. If you’re a fan of The Simpsons TV Show, give the following song from their 2009 album “Hart Genossen Von Abba Bis Zappa” 6 minutes of your time 🙂

  • Cronian

Last.fm stats: 78,906 plays (5,306 listeners) (as of September 2011)

Last but not least, we move to the strange case of Norwegian/Swedish band Cronian whose members are musicians Øystein Brun and Andreas Hedlund from Borknagar and Vintersorg (more on these musicians HERE). The band has just over 5000 listeners, whereas Vintersorg has 75,939 listeners (7% common listeners with Cronian) with over 2 million plays, and Borknagar has 106,242 listeners (5% common listeners with Cronian) with over 3 million plays. Cronian’s low stats are definitely unrelated to their actual music, otherwise the band would have at least reached 50% common listeners with its closely related bands, due to the shared lyrical topics and musical concepts. Their latest album “Enterprise” was widely regarded as one 2008’s best Metal releases by members of both the Prog and Avant-Garde Metal communities.

These bands are classified under the Thinking Man’s Metal category, so it might be hard to get into them from the first listen. Nevertheless, give them a try and you’ll be in for a surprise.

P.S: The extensive use of Last.fm references is one of many steps to encourage you (Lebanese readers in particular) to be more active on last.fm, one of the web’s largest music communities. Get started with last.fm HERE.