Precious Metal

Dream Theater, Megadeth, Mastodon, and Sum 41 look to join GRAMMY-winning hard rock/metal alumni such as Foo Fighters, Judas Priest, Metallica, and Motörhead

GRAMMY.com
Bryan Reesman

Nearly a quarter of a century ago, The Recording Academy introduced the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance category at the 31st Annual GRAMMY Awards in 1988.

In the ensuing 23 years, a variety of hard rock/metal artists have garnered GRAMMY recognition, including Judas Priest, Korn, Living Colour, Metallica, Motörhead, Slayer, and Slipknot, among others.

This year the competition is fiercer than ever. The nominees for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance include veteran progressive metal band Dream Theater, who received their first-ever nomination for "On The Backs Of Angels." Also landing their first nomination are Canadian pop/punk rockers Sum 41 for "Blood In My Eyes." Mastodon received their second career nod for "Curl Of The Burl," while Megadeth were recognized for "Public Enemy No. 1," a track from their 13th studio album, aptly titled Thirteen. Rounding out the list is "White Limo," from six-time GRAMMY winners Foo Fighters' Wasting Light.

For some, the marriage of hard rock/metal and the GRAMMYs might seem incongruous given that heavy bands have enjoyed being a thorn in the side of the mainstream. But many artists relish the peer recognition of being nominated for a GRAMMY, and the opportunity to strike gold.

"We're ecstatic," says James LaBrie, lead vocalist for Dream Theater. "Personally, I've already got the cleats on the bottom of my dress shoes so I can run up on the stage."

The influential progressive metal band has built a loyal following since their 1989 debut album, recently charting two Top 10 albums, including 2011's A Dramatic Turn Of Events. LaBrie views the nomination as another career stepping stone.

"This is [about] getting a nod, getting the recognition from the industry itself [and] giving us a little bit more of a platform as far as public awareness," says LaBrie.

Hailing from Atlanta, Mastodon were previously nominated in 2006 for Best Metal Performance, but this recent nomination was still a surprise.

"We were shocked when we heard about the nomination because we never imagined it would be in the realm of possibility that this might happen," says Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor. "We never saw our music as commercially viable in any way. We'd never expected The Recording Academy to notice that we'd even existed. The fact that we've been nominated is nice to begin with."

In recent years, thrash metal legends Slayer won consecutive GRAMMY Awards in 2006 and 2007 for Best Metal Performance for "Eye Of The Insane" and "Final Six," respectively. Bassist/vocalist Tom Araya attended the 50th Annual GRAMMY Awards, dressed sharply with family in tow, and accepted the latter award during the GRAMMY Pre-Telecast Ceremony. The band received their fifth career nomination last year.

"To have Slayer's music recognized by an organization as traditional as [The Recording Academy] — five times now — is like that gold star that someone puts up by your name," commented Araya in 2010.

In 1989 Metallica scored the first of three consecutive GRAMMYs with the epic "One" from 1988's …And Justice For All. The quartet has won eight GRAMMYs to date, their most recent coming in 2008 for Best Metal Performance for "My Apocalypse."

Other metal veterans have picked up their first GRAMMY Awards in the last two years, with Iron Maiden winning in 2010 for Best Metal Performance for "El Dorado," and Judas Priest winning in 2009 for "Dissident Aggressor," a track featured on A Touch Of Evil Live.

"Fifth time is a charm," said Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford during his acceptance speech, referring to the band's fifth nomination and first win. "Judas Priest have been making heavy metal for over 35 years … all the heavy metal fans, this is for you."

Megadeth, fronted by lead vocalist/guitarist Dave Mustaine, released their debut album, Killing Is My Business…And Business Is Good, in 1985. Five years later, Mustaine and Co. received their first GRAMMY nod for Best Metal Performance for Rust In Peace. Following nods in 2009 and 2010, their current nomination is their third consecutive and 10th overall.

"Kenny G came up to us a little while ago — he's got the same manager that I do — and he said, 'Don't feel bad, I've had [17] nominations and only won once,'" says Mustaine.

As one of the more influential figures of the genre, Mustaine is grateful to be recognized as an artist.  

"I still really appreciate the fact that my peers are voting me as a nominee," he says. "That's an accomplishment in itself. This year would be great to win it."

While being nominated for music's highest honor is certainly a significant career accomplishment, one question remains: Is it really metal to win a GRAMMY?

"I'm not concerned with being 'metal,'" says Dailor. "I'm a musician first and foremost, and if we did win it would be validation for all our hard work that we put into writing and recording music."

"I think when you're doing stuff that is notoriously 'black sheep kid in the family,' to have people pick you shows you're doing something right," says Mustaine.

"I think so," replies LaBrie. "If they're going to label it as such, then I'm taking it."

(Bryan Reesman is a New York-based freelance writer.)

Follow GRAMMY.com for our inside look at GRAMMY news, blogs, photos, videos, and of course nominees. Stay up to the minute with GRAMMY Live. Check out the GRAMMY legacy with GRAMMY Rewind. Keep track of this year's GRAMMY Week events, and explore this year's GRAMMY Fields. Or check out the collaborations at Re:Generation, presented by Hyundai Veloster. And join the conversation at Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.