Modern Rock Bands for People Who Think Rock is Dead

      Is rock dead? The answer to that question depends on what constitutes a musical genre being alive. Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: our generation likely isn’t going to have a globally famous rock band of the same caliber or popularity as Led Zeppelin or Nirvana. I’m alright with that. With the meteoric rise of streaming over the past decade, hip-hop has become the most popular genre of music, eclipsing rock in terms of numbers. Though rock may be dead financially simply because of the changing tastes of the music industry, it’s still very much alive as an art form, especially in the underground. To me, it’s just evolved past its stereotypes. It’s no longer dominated by white male four-piece bands with high-gain, power chord guitar parts and loud drums. It’s experienced a necessary transformation for the better. These bands break stereotypes, inspire me, and remind me just how much can be done with musical skill, a couple instruments, and confidence in your craft. 


I write these articles so you can expand your musical horizons and open your mind a little bit more. Why don’t you check out one of these bands?


(The selection is ordered from most palatable to most weird.)


Rainbow Kitten Surprise–North Carolina–Indie Rock/Southern Gothic 

     Rainbow Kitten Surprise is best experienced on a friend’s porch shortly before dawn, leaves rustling in the warm and quiet darkness as you think about your life and the uncertain future. The best kind of southern rock band, they use their six-string talents and poetic leanings to tell stories. And these stories are all too human and universal. You’ll feel like a naive, happy kid or a middle-aged man full of regret and alcohol or a teenager waiting to escape their small town towards something greater in life or a young adult first experiencing love. Regret, hope, love, joy, melancholia, futile dreams–you’ll find all of it here. Their unusual but cute name was suggested by a friend on a morphine drip. Very fittingly, their songs are addictive and have a charm that manages to numb any pain you may be experiencing. I adore this band and all the stories they tell.

Best Albums: Seven + Mary, RKS

Best Songs: “Devil Like Me,” “It’s Called: Freefall”


The HU–Mongolia–Folk/Heavy Metal

     Heavy metal is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Mongolia. However, you might think of world-class horsemen, nomads, or Genghis Khan and one of the most feared empires in history. The HU incorporate these cultural elements into their music and aesthetic, and it works so, so well. Most of their songs use metal-like riffs, often played on acoustic Mongolian instruments such as the morin khuur (horsehead fiddle) and the tovshuur (a type of lute). In this style of presentation, they stay heavy while being obviously harmonious, and I think even people who dislike metal guitar’s harsh distortion would recognize their melodic beauty. Their most unique feature, however, is Mongolian throat singing. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it utilized in another metal band before, and IT IS SO GOOD. I can’t imagine how much effort and training it takes to perfect that technique. How do you even sing multiple notes over each other at the same time? It’s insane. They’re unique enough to please experimental music fans and catchy enough to hook people who don’t normally like the genre. So please, check them out.

Best Albums: The Gereg

Best Songs:Wolf Totem,” “Yuve Yuve Yu”


Wolf Alice–Britain–Alternative Rock/Dream Pop

      I saw them a couple of months ago in Austin, and they blew me out of the water. It was the first live show I’ve ever been to. The entire band seemed like they were having the time of their lives, especially the bassist Theo Ellis and singer Ellie Rowsell It was Theo’s birthday, and he sprayed champagne all over the front row of the audience before screaming about how much he loved Austin and the people in it. Ellie sang piercing high notes and belted punk-rock screams, and suddenly all was quiet again as she gently crooned about lost love. One minute we were hearing heavy, defiant grunge rock, and then the next song was a ballad about relationships and heartbreak. They threw in a lot of dream pop as well, and it was utterly hypnotic. In short, these guys are great.

Best Albums: Blue Weekend, My Love is Cool

Best Songs:Silk,” “Lipstick on the Glass”


Porcupine Tree–Britain–Art Rock/Progressive Metal

     Putting Porcupine Tree on this list is kind of cheating, as they’ve been around for three decades. However, they just released a new album for the first time in thirteen years, and I couldn’t be happier about it. One thing that’s remained consistent about them is that they’re always musically forward-thinking, and no two of their albums are similar. They’ve had five main phases, starting out psychedelic and trippy, then quietly turning poppier. During their alternative rock, then got heavier and heavier, eventually exploding into epic progressive metal before their hiatus. A month ago, they released a daring, fun album that takes some influence from all these phases while still being distinct and virtuoisic as ever. Everyone in the band is a world-class musician, and I cannot wait to see where they go next. Most of their material is melancholy and a wonderful form of catharsis.

Best Albums: Deadwing (alternative rock), Fear of a Blank Planet (progressive metal)

Best Songs: “Trains,” “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here”


Gojira–France–Metal/Alternative Rock

     Metal gets an unfortunate stereotype of being music for the violent, the rebellious, the burnouts and the negative. While the stereotype is definitely not true (extreme metal fans are less aggressive, but I digress), Gojira actively stands defiantly against negativity and close-mindedness. Their message of environmentalism and our power as individuals to change the world hits as hard as their music, which started out as crushing death metal and is currently a blend of lovely alternative rock and groove metal. They work to protect animal rights, human rights, and nature. “Since the beginning of our band,” says vocalist Joe Duplantier (pictured right), “we have promoted compassion versus competition and love versus hate. The point of [our albums] is to inspire people to be the best version of themselves and to be strong no matter what.” Who else could release one of the heaviest, most iconic metal songs of the century and make it about majestic whales, flying like arrows in the sky? Currently the most important band in modern metal, they raise their defiant flag high and proud.

Best Albums: Fortitude, L’enfant sauvage

Best Songs:Silvera,” “Flying Whales”


Zeal and Ardor—Switzerland–Soul/Experimental Metal

     Zeal and Ardor exists because of a question from the frontman: what if American slaves had embraced Satan instead of Jesus? With such an intriguing premise, the music would have to be equally astounding to match the hype. And it is! Gagneux (right) belts out evil metal growls and screams over jagged guitar tracks and a soothing baritone croon to sing African-American spirituals. The dichotomy seems like it wouldn’t work on paper, but both dynamics fit together seamlessly. Strangely, Zeal and Ardor’s aggressive metal sections sound like logical extensions of Gagneux’s traditional slave spirituals and the melancholia underneath them. “He gon’ forgive my sin/Devil is kind, he promise many things/Devil is fine, I can’t do him no wrong/Devil is kind, I see him before long/Devil is fine.” It falls under the umbrella of metal, and so technically you wouldn’t be wrong to call this band “devil-worshipping music.” But in this context, Satan isn’t a negative force or influence. He’s the most beautiful angel, a source of hope and light during one of the darkest times in history.

Best Albums: Stranger Fruit, Devil is Fine

Best Songs:Devil is Fine,” “Death to the Holy’


Black Midi–Britain–Art Rock/Experimental

     It took about ten listens of Black Midi’s mental breakdown jams to realize that I really like the band. You’ll either think this band is genius or incredibly wacky and pretentious, and I would not judge you for coming to either conclusion. The guitars and bass often seem like they’re doing whatever they feel like, but every song of theirs has a coherent structure while still being quite unorthodox. Take the song “bmbmbm” as an example. The drummer settles into an almost mathematical, calculated groove while the bassist plucks one note and the song explodes into noisy guitar and sampled dialogue at seemingly random moments. The singer goes into a babbling stream-of-consciousness rant about how “she moves with a purrrpose–what a magnificent purrrpose! Such a purpose, it is such a purpose, it is such a purpose, she still moves with a purpose!” The bassline beats continuously on. It feels like the song is a behemoth moving with a purpose, walking towards you while the singer stands at its helm commanding it, speech becoming more insane with each breathy word. And somewhere in the dissonance it all comes together and makes sense, if only for a moment. 

Best Albums: Schlagenheim, Hellfire

Best Songs:bmbmbm,” “953”


Oranssi Pazuzu–Finland–Psychedelic Black Metal/Whatever They Feel Like

     These guys are weird, man. Hailing from Finland, they make some of the strangest music in the world. Their lyrics are all in Finnish, about mind control or the cosmos, and delivered from a raspy vocalist that sounds like an ancient demon emerging from a lightless pit. Musically, it still somewhat resembles rock and psychedelia. I was quite surprised to learn the band only has five members (two guitarists/vocalists, one percussionist/vocalist, one bassist/vocalist, and one drummer) because they create soundscapes that sound like they come from an entire orchestra. Oranssi Pazuzu’s compositions are extremely creative and colorful. Often, their production feels tremendous and sprawling, but you can still hear every little subtle detail in each instrument. 

     I suppose the two main genres they’re based on are psychedelia and black metal. However, they branch out into innumerable other genres (jazz, space rock, thrash, doom metal, death metal, stoner doom) and often experiment with instruments such as keyboards, mellotron, violin, organ, and synthesizer. “We are not metal musicians,” says guitarist Jun-Ho, “and that is not our background. But we wanted to create that raw atmosphere that is associated with the traditional black metal sound, but we wanted to do it on our own terms.” There is so much going on in their music and so many layers to unpack it’s easy to get overwhelmed, but they give the long compositions room to breathe. I have no idea if anyone will enjoy this band, they’re quite unorthodox, but they’re a hidden gem in an already quite obscure subgenre, and I doubt they sound like anything you’ve heard before. Like the rest of the bands in this article, why don’t you check them out?

Best Albums: Värähtelijä (English: “Oscillator”), Mestarin kynsi (English: “Master’s Claw.”)

Best Songs:Hypnotisoitu Viharukous” (English: “Hypnotized Hate-Prayer”), “Tyhjyyden Sakramentti” (English: “Sacrament of Emptiness”)