Various Artists

MTV2 Headbangers Ball

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MTV2 and Roadrunner teamed up to issue the competitively priced two-disc MTV2 Headbangers Ball set. But while it's designed to promote a Headbangers Ball-branded tour featuring Killswitch Engage, Lamb of God, and Shadows Fall, this isn't just a cross-promotional tchotchke. With the formidable strength of Roadrunner and its associated labels behind it, and drawing also from numerous other loud rock imprints, MTV2 Headbangers Ball is an effective sonic guidebook for the state of metal circa 2003. Disc one features mainstream acts as well as a few up-and-comers from the same vein. Disc two is more ambitious, delving into the heavy music underground for some killer material. Surrounded as it is by the tame breast-beating of Staind and Cold, Hatebreed's staccato "This Is Now" stands out immediately. It kicks off the first CD with a sickening thud and sets up the cerebral art-metal of Deftones' "Hexagram" and a live version of "Reign in Blood" taken from the Slayer DVD War at the Warfield. There isn't much to say about appearances by acts like Mudvayne and Static-X; if their more casual metal fan base discovers some of the more challenging material here, then their presence on Headbangers Ball is forgiven. That lesson begins in earnest with disc two, which is all over the map both stylistically and geographically. Its opening salvo -- featuring Lamb of God ("Ruin"), Arch Enemy ("We Will Rise"), and Sweden's In Flames ("Clouds Connected") -- showcases classicist, progressive, and death metal influences in different but equally visceral ways, while Italy's Lacuna Coil turns in "Heaven's a Lie," which should appeal to those enamored of Evanescence's mixture of goth, metal, and female vocals. Newcomers DevilDriver and the promising Demon Hunter bring some measured yet no less heavy pain to the proceedings, and things just get completely crazy with Mastodon's bewildering "March of the Fire Ants." "Ants" is the kind of unclassifiable, weird, and totally wonderful piece of music that will make nuns and mothers believe in the regenerative powers of heavy metal. It's essential listening for fans of disc one's more populist sounds. Headbangers Ball hurdles into the station with a final, furious section featuring the experimentation of Poison the Well, Unearth's hardcore and Euro-metal synthesis, and the aptly named "Relentless" from Strapping Young Lad. Appropriately, its final act of violence is from Meshuggah, whose throbbing, surgically precise music makes minced meat out of disc one's sanitized soul bearing. Over its 40 tracks, Headbangers Ball effectively travels both the main thoroughfares and twisting, shadowy trails of heavy metal. Besides its few weak moments, the album's only drawback is the content editing. Why separate clean and regular versions weren't released is unclear. At the same time, the edits -- while mildly irritating for veteran listeners -- will ensure the participation of protected ears, and expose those metal greenhorns to a wider, wilder, and weirder array of sounds. And isn't that what a show like Headbangers Ball is supposed to be about?

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