HRC's Top 10 Standout Musicians of 2009 That Aren't Household Names (Yet)

I was able to see some amazing musicians this year: the fabulous front people: Trent Reznor, Maynard James Keenan, Chris Cornell, Scott Weiland, Perry Farrell, Satyr, Nergal, Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie, Anton Newcombe, Karen O, and Alison Mosshart; the great guitar gods: Tom Morello, John 5, Jerry Cantrell, Kirk Hammett, Dave Navarro, Robin Finck, Brent Hinds, Bill Kelliher, and Kerry King; the brilliant bassists: Troy Sanders, Mike Inez, Orion, JMJ, Piggy D, and Jeordie White (though he was playing guitar…); and the dynamic drummers: Frost, Thomas Haake, Inferno, Tommy Lee, Joey Jordison, and Tommy Clufetos. It’s mindboggling to think about the year in terms of musicians instead of shows- that’s a lot of talent!

I love leaving a show completely mesmerized by a musician. It’s usually the following formula that gets me:

(skill + energy + crowd connection + uniqueness + aesthetic) * X factor = Standout Musician

Here are the 10 performers that stood out to me this year that don’t get as much recognition as they deserve. Some I’ve been fans of for a couple years, others I’ve only recently discovered.

They’re all great- hence the alphabetical order. I’ve linked my show review(s) and interviews in some cases. Then I spent a LOT of time combing YouTube for the perfect live video to demonstrate their talent…some have more good footage out there than others….so enjoy!


Oliver Ackermann: vocalist/guitarist for A Place to Bury Strangers
show review

Oliver’s voice tends to get lost in the sound during their live sets, but its so made up for in watching his guitar tricks. I’ve said it before: it’s like he’s wrestling with it and dancing with it all at the same time. The front row was entirely guys- and music geeks at that I’d presume- and everyone’s posture was turned towards Oliver, looking at his pedals and his work as if studying a demonstration in how to be a guitar god.


Faris Badwan:
vocalist for The Horrors
show review 1 2 3 4

Faris plays the role of the reluctant frontman; there’s something about his performance that gives you the vibe that he doesn’t want to be there, yet his performance is so genuine and charismatic that you’re left trying to figure him out.


Cain Cressall: vocalist for The Amenta
show review

But it was the singer, a tall, cat-like growler that hooked me. Black-lipped and pale-eyed, he moved as if in slow-mo, growling and squealing with a kind of graceful fury that stole my heart. His demented eyes would seek out targets in the room, hypnotizing them with his stare. He actually reminded me of young Marilyn Manson. I took another step forward.


Kristofer Dommin: vocalist/guitarist for Dommin
show review 1 2 3 4 | my interview

“I walked into DNA shortly after Dommin’s set had started. Girls are screeching. Roses are being strewn around the room. And this guy is up there, tendrils of hair in his face, singing really dark romantic stuff. It’s apparent he’s the industrial Elvis. The sound is Depeche Mode meets Type O Negative- but definitely in a realm of its own… How did I not already know of this band? I think Dommin and I will become good friends.”


Jeff Friedl
: drummer for Puscifer
Show review | My interview

I first became aware of Jeff Friedl when I went to see Puscifer early last month, and was particularly moved by his performance. It was after the show, when I was researching for my write up, that I realized he looked vaguely familiar because he’s also the drummer for ASHES dIVIDE. And then I discovered that he’s also done some work with Devo, who I saw a couple days after that Puscifer show… Turns out, not only is he a very talented drummer, but he’s also extremely hardworking, loyal, and diverse.

*very little video exists of Puscifer live…and those that do focus on MJK….

…so I’m supplementing with an Ashes vid:


Michael Keene: guitarist for The Faceless
Show review

I was standing nearest to Michael ‘Machine’ Keene….good freakin’ gawd….can this guy play a guitar. I used to play the violin and was thus around orchestras a lot when I was younger, and watching him play reminded me of watching someone in a symphony. But yet it’s a metal band…kind of mindboggling. His hand would contort as it glided up and down the guitar. He pulled out every advanced style of playing I could think of- and I’ve seen some decent guitar work in my days. And on top of that he would even remember to throw a headbang in every once in a while.


Joe Letz: drummer for Combichrist, Imperative Reaction
Show review 1 2 3

Most of my time was spent ogling the drummer- Joe Letz… He loses sticks more than any drummer I’ve seen- but new ones just magically appear in his hands. He’s very intense. But the best part was when my ears perked up when I heard him play the drum intro to NIN’s ‘You Know What You Are’….one of my absolute favorite NIN songs live that I hadn’t heard on the final tour….I died a little with excitement. Then I was like…did I just hear that?

He also keeps a really awesome blog for Combichrist


Grace Perry: vocalist for Landmine Marathon
show review

…I have to admit, when I saw the front woman get up on stage, I was very skeptical. It’s not that she looks innocent- she just…doesn’t look like what she performs like. 30 seconds in, I almost cried. I know, that sounds weird. But, when I saw the look of rage craze on her face, I felt something deep within- a visceral memory of what I felt like doing when my first serious boyfriend cheated on me. The way she gets in her guitarist’s face, smears her hands across her face and tousles her hair, and shakes her head from side to side like an epileptic……it brought back memories. Strong, angry, hateful memories.

Yes, Grace has gotten some recognition as the Hottest Chick in Metal….but she’s more than that!


Carl Restivo: guitarist for Street Sweeper Social Club
show review 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 | my interview

Carl Restivo might think I’m stalking him. First, I saw him play in Satellite Party. Then, The Justice Tour. And then, I went to one or two or six NIN/JA(SSSC) shows. And then there’s Outside Lands this weekend….


Ilan Rubin: drummer for Nine Inch Nails
Show Review 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 | My interview

HRC: What would you say you are bringing to NIN as the new drummer?

IR: Perhaps I’ll bring a new excitement and slightly different playing style to the songs live. There’s a great combination of the robotic album qualities with an energetic live feel to accomplish.

HRC: Are you ready for the NIN fans? I’ve heard they are crazy…

IR: I’m ready. If they’re supportive, awesome. If not, I’ll continue to do what I do regardless.

1 Comment

    Ilan is great. The NINJA show at Pearl Las Vegas was awesome!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *