From classic soul to hellishly heavy extreme metal: here are this week's essential guitar tracks

ZEAL & ARDOR, performing on June, 07, 2017, Zitadelle, Berlin, Germany
Zeal & Ardor's Manuel Gagneux (Image credit: Engelke/ullstein bild via Getty Images)

The dog days of August have truly arrived, folks, but just because people are kicking their feet up for the season doesn’t mean the guitar universe is too.

Between some hellishly heavy extreme metal from Cradle of Filth, a soothing slice of classic soul from Joanne Shaw Taylor, Grouper’s stirring return to the guitar, some industrial-funk from Ty Segall, and a whole lot more, we’ve truly been spoiled with great new guitar work in recent days.

So dig in to our latest playlist – there’s something for just about everybody here.

Jerry Cantrell - Atone

Anticipation for Jerry Cantrell’s new solo project reached fever pitch following sightings of the Alice in Chains icon filming a new video with Duff McKagan and Greg Puciato, and now we’ve had the first taste of his forthcoming effort, Brighten.

The news of a fresh Jerry Cantrell album – his first in almost two decades – inevitably prompted questions over how it will differ from AIC, and the answer lies in Atone – a bluesy, country-tinged offering offset by Cantrell’s ever-haunting vocal melodies.

With its foot-stomping open-tuned riff, acoustic-led middle eight and slide-laden full-band outro, Atone is something of a guitar epic, and further reinforces Cantrell’s status as perhaps the most emotive of ’90s Seattle’s lead players. He’s certainly more than deserving of that mysterious new Gibson signature acoustic featured in the video… (MAB)

Meet Me @ The Altar – Brighter Days (Are Before Us)

Because who doesn’t need a dose of pop-punk to liven up their week? Ahead of their forthcoming major label debut Model Citizen – which arrives August 13 via Fueled By Ramen – East Coast rockers Meet Me @ The Altar have dropped the feel-good Brighter Days (Are Before Us).

Proving that pop-punk can still be refreshing in 2021, the track sees guitarist Téa Campbell accompany Edith Johnson’s ultra-catchy vocals with a series of equally infectious powerchords and a hard-panned middle-eight riff that’s sure to stay in your head for the rest of the week. (SR)

Zeal & Ardor - Erase

First, a confession: staff absences meant there was no Essential Guitar Tracks last week, and thus we're a tiny bit late on this one. But there was absolutely no way we were letting this one go without shouting about it.

Manuel Gagneux and co have been sporadicly dropping singles, trailing the eagerly awaited follow-up to Stranger Fruit, for this writer’s money one of 2018’s very best albums. But while the new material has veered from eerie industrial chants to piano ballads, Erase is unquestionably one of the heaviest cuts to land from the Swiss metallers since their magnum opus.

A brief moment of fingerpicked calm is soon blown wide open by Gagneux and Tiziano Volante’s unrelenting down-tuned chugs, the track’s unease amplified by a Phrygian-flavored lead lick and tightly clustered intervallic stabs.

The fact that the pair are able to later weave the gentle waves of that introductory clean electric over the top of the track’s brutal breakdowns is testament to this band’s supreme ability to traverse genres with the greatest of ease.

With material like this, it’s easy to see why Meshuggah picked Z&A as openers on next year’s European tour. (MAB)

Ariel Posen & Cory Wong – Spare Tire 

In what surely takes the mantle of “Best Surprise of the Week”, Ariel Posen and Cory Wong dropped the totally out-of-the-blue track Spare Tire, which pits Posen’s virtuosic grasp on blues slide guitar with Wong’s masterful million-miles-an-hour funk-fueled right hand.

It’s swampy slide licks and tasty rhythm riffs galore, with the three-and-a-half minute offering serving up an exhibition of the pair’s deliciously diverse set of six-string skills. The super-concise hook, introduced by Wong, is executed with precision, and serves as the foundation upon which Posen is given free rein to conjure up with dazzling blues-based fretboard phrases and jazz-inspired chromatic runs.

If we’re being truly nit-picky, despite the plethora of tasty guitar parts the track is absolutely crammed with, there is one glaring critique we can give the masterminds behind Spare Tire – it’s only a one-off track, meaning we can’t expect any more Wong/Posen partnerships any time soon. 

Not to worry – we’ll just have this on repeat until we get a follow-up offering, no matter how long it takes. (MO)

The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die – Invading the World of the Guilty

The compositions of Connecticut emo ensemble The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die have always been as grand and sweeping as their name, and we’re happy to report that Invading the World of the Guilty, the first single from their new album, Illusory Walls, is no exception.

Though the band’s always-shifting lineup has slimmed down to five members (they’ve deployed as many as three guitarists onstage in the past), Invading the World of the Guilty is as cinematic, unpredictable and flat-out heavy as anything the band’s created to date.

Producer and lead guitarist Chris Teti and frontman David Bello create a veritable guitar orchestra – complete with spidery twin leads that touch on the band’s math-rock and metal influences, ironclad down-tuned riffing, and even some climactic tapping. 

It’s a tonal shift for this group, sure, but not an unwelcome one at all. We can’t wait to hear what the rest of Illusory Walls brings to the table. (JM)

Cradle of Filth – Crawling King Chaos

Dani Filth’s extreme metal juggernaut is back – and they’re as heavy as ever. Crawling King Chaos, which bears a similar name to John Lee Hooker’s blues classic Crawling King Snake (though couldn’t sound much further removed), is the first single from the band’s recently announced 13th studio album Existence is Futile, and plays host to plenty of drop-tuned six-string doom from guitarists Richard Shaw and Marek “Ashok” Šmerda. 

Hellish riffs abound over an array of blast beats and hauntingly gothic orchestral backdrops, proving once again why Cradle of Filth are such a tour de force in the guitar world.

“Conceptually, Dani Filth explains, the album is about “existentialism, existential dread and fear of the unknown”. “The concept wasn’t created by the pandemic,” he says. “We’d written it long before that began, but the pandemic is the tip of the cotton bud as far as the way the world is headed, you know?” (SR)

Ty Segall – Harmonizer

Veteran singer-songwriter and producer Ty Segall surprise-dropped his 12th studio album, Harmonizer, this week, and its title track sets phasers to yum (sorry) with the grittiest filter sweeps this side of St. Vincent.

With an old-school drum machine backing, Harmonizer is less riotous than some of Segall’s more garage-rock output, but the chunky, overdriven riff still possesses a most righteous groove. And perhaps most importantly, the song makes good on its title with an orchestra of fuzzy, harmonized guitars to bring proceedings to their wailing conclusion. (MAB)

Jared James Nichols – Bad Roots

Jared James Nichols has asserted himself as one of the world’s top modern bluesmen, and he illustrates exactly why on his latest single, Bad Roots. Verging on the boundaries of hard rock, =the track is fueled by crunchy palm-muted powerchords throughout, and features a dose of JJN’s gain-heavy lead wizardry at the 2:09 mark.

The attitude-heavy track is the second to be released from the guitarist’s forthcoming EP Shadow Dancer, with Nichols describing it as “an anthem to rise above and continue to reach for good instead of evil”. (SR)

Finneas – A Concert Six Months From Now 

Though Finneas – brother of breakout global pop superstar Billie Eilish – has already cemented his reputation as one of today’s most formidable and forward-thinking producers, his prominence as an equally talented singer-songwriter in his own right sometimes, unjustly, flies under the radar. 

His debut album, 2020’s Blood Harmony, has already been followed up with a slew of singles, though the 24-year-old’s latest offering – A Concert Six Months From Now – is perhaps cream of the crop. Though there’s never a lack of guitar in Finneas’s work, be it subtle acoustic strums or dreamy fingerpicking melodies, his latest track offers up perhaps his most guitar-driven soundscape to date.

Of course, this is Finneas we’re talking about, so the production work is sublime – hear his pick skate across the strings for those crystal-clear acoustics in one of the many carefully curated pockets of space, and marvel at the monstrously high-gain yet somehow-tame electric guitar lines of the chorus. 

Plaudits for his production work and celebratory comments for his masterful approach to arrangement are absolutely warranted, though don’t be fooled into slapping the one-dimensional label of ‘producer’ on Finneas without consulting his own discography first. As you'll quickly find out, he’s the entire package. (MO)

Grouper – Unclean Mind

Praise be, for Liz Harris has picked up the guitar again! Not that her last two albums under the Grouper moniker – 2018’s Grid of Points and 2014’s Ruins, both of which were piano-based – weren’t stunning full-lengths themselves, it’s just that Harris’s solo compositions for guitar are something we haven’t been treated to for the best part of a decade. 

For those uninitiated, Harris’s guitar-based albums are truly worlds unto themselves – melding the ethereal qualities of shoegaze, the piercing intimacy of folk and the tranquility of ambient music into hypnotically beautiful morasses of sound you could listen to hundreds of times and still not fully get to the bottom of.

Unclean Mind, the stirring first single from her upcoming album, Shade, harkens back to her late-2000s acoustic era, but cloaks Harris’s gorgeous voice in less cavernous reverb than albums past – much to the song’s great benefit.

Yes, Harris’s acoustic work here sounds simple on the surface, but listen to how her strumming subtly changes character in tandem with the ebb and flow of her lyrics, which oscillate between the straightforward documentation of tension in a relationship (“You leave me hanging all the time”) and more obscure imagery (“Send an empty bottle to sea/In a hollow and interior disguise.”) Like any great rhythm player, she knows how to quietly weave the guitar perfectly into the emotional fabric of a song.

Even 10 years since her last guitar-based solo work of new material, 2011’s monumental double-album, A I A, there’s still no one around using the guitar as a vehicle for music like this. (JM)

Joanne Shaw Taylor – Let Me Down Easy

It’s no secret that blues guitar star Joanne Shaw Taylor had recruited Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith to take up production duties for her upcoming album, though no further concrete details concerning the highly anticipated effort had been shared, bar her recently released cover of Little Milton’s If That Ain’t a Reason.

Thankfully, Taylor shed some light on the project earlier this week, and did so by unleashing her supremely soulful new single Let Me Down Easy. Found on the The Blues Album – an 11-song collection of classic blues track covers – Taylor’s latest single sees her emotively saturated vocals take center stage, while her shimmering guitar progressions unfold and swell underneath.

Nevertheless, Taylor soon switches on the drive and smashes up the gain for a scorching solo that explodes into life by way of some rapid-fire strums and blistering blues-note bends, conjured up on the fretboard of her 1966 Esquire Junior.

Blues numbers from iconic artists such as Albert King, Peter Green, Little Richard, Magic Sam, Aretha Franklin and more are all set to make their way on to The Blues Album, which drops September 17. (MO)

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Sam Roche

Sam was Staff Writer at from 2019 to 2023, and also created content for Total Guitar, Guitarist and Guitar Player. He has well over 15 years of guitar playing under his belt, as well as a degree in Music Technology (Mixing and Mastering). He's a metalhead through and through, but has a thorough appreciation for all genres of music. In his spare time, Sam creates point-of-view guitar lesson videos on YouTube under the name Sightline Guitar.