But there are still a few real metal bands that employ real metal guys whose long manes drape over the keyboards. These outfits usually operate in the spectacularly amusing subgenre of black metal, which combines the most distinctive and/or mockworthy qualities of progressive rock, goth and regular metal. Fans get morbid poetry, metaphor-shrouded sexuality and obscure mythological, literary and geographic references, all while bulldozing beats collide with Mannheim Steamrolling keyboards.
After a bombastic instrumental intro accented by cymbal crashes, the first line on Dragonlord's Rapture is astrophysics tipped the scale, which warns anyone attempting to follow along with Eric Peterson's wounded-wraith shrieks that there are plenty of thesaurus-abetted phrases to follow. But it's hard to concentrate on Peterson's talk of galactic nebulas and Draconian texture synthesis when faced with the ludicrous contrast between jagged riffs and synthesized spook symphonies that seem to have escaped from a novelty Sounds of Halloween tape. "Wolfhunt," the only track to limit itself to sticks and strings, rips with a fury that could best be described with a word from the tune: "lycanthropic." Dragonlord shifts seamlessly from savage rhythm-section sprints to measured Godzilla-step breakdowns, and Peterson occasionally gives his scorched larynx a break by joining his bandmates for unexpected classic-rock harmonies. But all the while, fey keyboards swirl inappropriately in the background, like a dainty pink ribbon tied around a boxer's bulging bicep.
On the other hand, it's hard to imagine Cradle of Filth's Bitter Suites to Succubi functioning without constant keyboard accompaniment. Its songs are, at heart, ornate, anachronistic creations -- delicately literate concepts that were possessed by a demonic spirit on their way to a classical composer's piano. Singer (or "lycanthroat," as he's listed in the liner notes -- black-metal types sure love their wolves) Dani Filth screeches and roars, making the vocal tracks seem like the soundtrack to an epic battle between a feisty alley cat and a lion.
Marilyn Manson was the last deceptively intelligent metal frontman to haunt goth's chapel, and Cradle of Filth occasionally uses a few of the Antichrist Superstar's favorite devices, including creepy cheers that sound as if they were sampled from a Nazi rally and a rhythmic spoken delivery that no one ever would consider calling a rap. But while Manson treads on vaguely menacing middle ground, Cradle of Filth capably explores opposite ends of the spectrum, indulging in both super-fast angry outbursts (at which the keyboards recoil in terror) and geeky prog-rock interludes (during which they swell with pride). Either way, the group's songs are consistently interesting and stylistically distinctive -- they're lycantastic.