For months, I was working in small bits and pieces on a feature that was going to be called "Funk Metal of the '80s and '90s: Won't You Take Me to Funkytown?" It was to journey from Fishbone to Mordred and beyond. But, it was taking forever... and, let's face it: most people simply hate funk metal. So, I shelved it. (Possibly forever.)
Amidst my research, however, I discovered that there have been far more funk metal bands than I ever would have anticipated—some of whom I had never even heard of; and, additionally, some of whom were actually quite good. Originally this list was going to be a companion piece to the aforementioned feature, but I always enjoy trying to bring attention to obscure bands that don't seem to get enough love, so… here it is.
Now, sit back and enjoy the slap bass!
While researching the more obscure realms of funk metal, Total Eclipse was a last-minute discovery, and as soon as I heard 'em I completely flipped out and immediately bought the CD for a few bucks on Amazon. There was no question, Total Eclipse absolutely had to top this list. The Los Angeles-based outfit cranked out a hard rockin' brand of funk metal à la Living Coloür meets 24-7 Spyz, but despite their lone self-titled album (Tabu Records, 1992) being packed with phenomenal songwriting and musicianship, it seems almost no one has heard of 'em.
The band's lineup consisted of two ex-members of Sound Barrier (vocalist Bernie K. and drummer Dave Brown) and two ex-members of the Bus Boys (guitarist Victor Johnson and bassist Andre Berry)—the former a heavy metal act that released a couple of albums in the early- to mid-'80s (the last of which was on Metal Blade); the latter a bluesy, funk-tinged rock 'n' roll group that had tracks featured in 48 Hours and Ghostbusters, and even opened up for Eddie Murphy on the Delirious tour (he also appeared in their video for "Never Giving Up").
Such experience might explain why Total Eclipse is super slick and professional across the board—right down to the badass cover of The Commodores' "Slippery When Wet"—and only increases perplexity as to why Total Eclipse never managed to get within spitting distance of Living Coloür's success. They certainly deserved to!
[Edit: Apparently some equally impressive unreleased Total Eclipse material exists, too. Just a couple of weeks ago, their vocalist, Bernie K., uploaded to YouTube the first of what is said to be "many" unreleased cuts… and it's a keeper!]
I can't find shit on Heads Up!, which is sort of weird since these New Yorkers are the only troop included herein whose material has been reissued. They released one full-length and a handful of singles/EPs in the late-'80s/early-'90s, two of which—Soul Brother Crisis Intervention (LP, 1990) and Duke (EP, 1991)—were on Emergo Records, which had ties to Roadrunner, and were (shockingly) reissued by Metal Mind Productions on one CD in 2009.
Heads Up! indeed flirted with some wackiness, but never got too "out there." Despite a few silly song titles and some dance moves that could be perceived as goofy, their lyrical messages tended to be serious, and I quite enjoy their solid, funked up grooves and memorable songwriting.
The lack of significant details floating around about the quartet certainly speaks to their underrated status…
The only band on this list boasting a Wikipedia page, this UK group formed in 1989 and released one full-length (Get in Line) and a few EPs. London Records dropped the band with an unreleased sophomore album called Hard Sell Paranoia in tow—produced by Simon Efemey (Paradise Lost, Cancer, Amorphis, Napalm Death, etc.), no less—and they called it quits in 1993.
While somewhat "typical" funk metal in terms of their overtly colorful artwork and frantic energy, Atom Seed did look more like a "real" metal band—forgoing the garish fashion sense often associated with such funky acts—and never got too nutty with their delivery. In fact, they had already started heading in a "grungier" direction by the time of their final EP, Dead Happy, in 1992.
Their first EP and LP are available digitally on iTunes, and you can check out additional tracks on a very '90s-looking website run by former Atom Seed bassist, Chris Dale—including a number of mp3's from the unreleased Hard Sell Paranoia.
Also hailing from the UK, the unflatteringly named Scat Opera fell on the zanier side of the funk metal spectrum. Much weirder and more off-the-wall with the quirky variety of their approach—not to mention more outlandish and over-the-top with their fashion aesthetic—their atypically structured compositions were peppered with everything from occasionally jazzy flare to electronic flourishes.
Scat Opera released two full-lengths (About Time and Four Gone Confusion) on Music for Nations in the early-'90s, both produced by Colin Richardson (sandwiched amidst classics from Carcass, Bolt Thrower, and Fear Factory, to name but a few), and didn't rein it in on their second album either. Both records are just as peculiarly funky, and they're probably the most diverse and experimental band herein.
I haven't been able to dig up a great deal of information on Scat Opera, but they are the only band covered whose material has proved a little harder to find for rock-bottom prices, if that means anything.
Fun fact: apparently they scored a slot opening for Faith No More in 1989, which seems about right.
A worse band name than Scat Opera? You be the judge. In any case, the Style Monkeez were from Minneapolis, MN and issued their lone album, Schmelt Fry in Antigo, in 1992 on Entercor Records.
As with several other inclusions on this list, Schmelt Fry's brightly colored album cover is fairly indicative of the genre; but its grungy, midpaced grooves actually get surprisingly heavy at times, and the vocals even have a bit of a Sean Killian (Vio-lence) thing goin' on. All that, and they still manage to sneak in a cover of Madonna's "Justify My Love"!?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there seems to be a lack of information about the Style Monkeez floating around out there. What does tend to surface is that, unfortunately, their bassist, Brent Alwin, passed away in 2012. R.I.P.
And the Funk Don't Stop…
Considered but ultimately falling just short of the list were Atlanta, GA's Follow for Now—whose bluesier, soulful approach on their self-titled album (Chrysalis Records, 1991) could be deemed "not metal" by some. Not to mention Ignorance—yet another funky UK outfit that dropped two full-lengths on Metal Blade in the early-'90s (and had taken things a little "too far" on the latter, 1992's Positively Shocking). And, finally, Lock Up—quintessential major label funk "metal" from Los Angeles, featuring a pre-Rage Against the Machine Tom Morello. Their lone album, 1989's Something Bitchin' This Way Comes, certainly boasts one of the finest album titles in the genre's history.
As mentioned, I'm well aware that funk metal is generally looked upon unfavorably, but—as always—if you happen to feel there are other such bands worth noting, please do post a comment below!