Its now official, the proverbial goose that laid the golden eggs for heavy metal’s glory years is now dead. Murdered by the narrow minded bigotry of those who claim to love the genre the most. The pursuit of “metal purity” that began in earnest in the wake of grunge’s successful overthrow of the “Hollywood Hair Metal Club,” is now complete. As with all puritanical cleansings that came along, heavy metal’s pious arbiters of purity have killed the genre in the name of “true metal.”
I have been staking this opinion for quite some time, but several recent revelations have confirmed the demise of this once vibrant and powerful genre of music. Recently I was reading an interview with Iron Maiden in Classic Rock or Metal Hammer magazine (sometimes they seem almost interchangeable), where Maiden doesn’t see themselves as a metal band. At first this might seem strange that the defining band of “The New Wave of British Heavy Metal” would be shying away from calling themselves a metal band, but in the current climate of heavy metal it makes perfect sense. Many of the artists whose careers have been associated with the words “Heavy Metal” are not wanting to be associated with the genre anymore. This is not because of what heavy metal was….but because of what heavy metal has become. This genre that once represented empowerment, freedom and, dare I say…..fun, has largely become a community of self-serving sycophants who are addicted to the culture of metal…not the music. Therein lies the problem. By seeing metal as more of a cultural movement rather than a strictly musical one, they have choked the genre with all sorts of definitions and restrictions as to what constitutes “true metal.” The majority of the metal media, in order to stay on good terms with this highly vocal crowd, have largely acquiesced to the demands of this “Ku Klux Klan” of heavy metal puritans. This has enabled a relatively small group of people (I will be demonstrating just how small later in this essay) to decide not only who is metal but also, and perhaps more importantly, they take it upon themselves to anoint the bands that will carry the genre’s flag as the true front line of Heavy Metal. The currently anointed ones being Mastodon and Lamb Of God.
Don’t ever let anyone tell you that heavy metal is a genre populated with individual thinkers, for the “Ku Klux Klan” of heavy metal has run all of those off, even as they are likewise running off the very artists who have contributed to heavy metal’s great past….all in the name of “true metal.” The extreme metal crowd has pushed their narrow vision of metal, transforming it into a drum dominant, gutteral vocal embarrassment. We are all the worse for it.
If you peruse any of the metal media (internet or print) you could be led to believe that heavy metal was born in the 80’s. It seems a common belief that Metallica created it out of thin air with their first record, and perfected by the time they released “Master Of Puppets.” A veritable heavy metal “creationist” theory because, as you know, there are no “evolutionists” in this Ku Klux Klan. There is a complete denial that heavy metal existed in the seventies in spite of the fact that the fossil record shows that prehistoric dinosaurs called Black Sabbath, KISS, Judas Priest and Deep Purple all existed and even thrived, in that decade. The words “Heavy Metal” were actually coined just to describe the music of these bands. Mark Gromen of BW&BK, in reviewing the new Dimmu Borgir record, took the opportunity to belittle KISS by saying of them:
“the mainstream media and music fans outside the genre typically regard (them) as ‘a metal band.’”
We can’t have that now can we! This is of course a ridiculous rewriting of history but it appears to be the attitude of too many of the most vocal of fans, and they are enabled by the metal media. Metal creationism is a natural byproduct of metal bigotry.
The biggest fallacy of this crowd, however, is an overwhelming belief that Slayer’s “Reign In Blood” is the greatest metal record ever. There is an entire “metal religion” devoted to this idea and without a doubt this is the single most influential record in destroying the genre. Before “Reign In Blood” heavy metal is unquestionably a guitar dominated form of music. After “Reign In Blood” it has been transformed into a drum dominant one. The cult that has sprung up in its aftermath has given us the concept of “extreme metal.” Everything faster than everything else. Speed is the single most important defining characteristic to the Ku Klux Klan of metal. It is also this crowd that has unleashed the indistinguishable, and usually incoherent, croak and growl vocal style. This has had the effect of rendering all the vocals, and therefore all the lyrics, inconsequential and irrelevant. Thanks a lot.
All this has been perpetrated in the name of “brutality.” Pick up any metal magazine or go to any website and try to count how many times the word “brutal” is used. It’s like sand on a beach. They can’t help themselves. Savvy music fans know that the word “brutal” is synonymous with “clueless metal musicians full of themselves” and never buy these records. Also, wrapped up in this festival of “brutality” is the underlying belief that all this speed is indicative of a technical prowess and complexity that marks them as superior musicians. They view music as a “craft” rather than an “art,” so displaying their perceived skills is more important than actually having a purpose. The music exists for the craft, and like professional wrestlers, who delude themselves into believing they are “competitors” and “athletes,” this new breed of metal musician is more than willing to tell us how good they are. This would and should be a minor amusement but since the commercial death of hair metal in the early nineties, this cult has successfully waged a campaign to define heavy metal according to their rules. They have pruned all the other branches off the heavy metal tree. This has not only led to a funny looking tree, and rest assured metal is quite funny looking these days, it has also killed the tree. Only the lemmings of heavy metal’s “religious right” (those for whom metal is their religion) persist in their delusions and barely keep this sonic embarrassment afloat.
Sakis Tolis, of the band Rotting Christ, recently made this statement to Decibel magazine:
“This is a well organized trick in order to control society, so when I see someone thats very much Christian, I feel sorry for him because he is not free.”
Strange, because if you replace the words “society” and “Christian” with the word “metal” you have accurately described the current state of the world of heavy metal. It has become a religion and a culture for too many people, and like the real Ku Klux Klan, they view their culture through a very narrow lens.
Which now brings me to the consequences of this foolish line of thinking. What has this Ku Klux Klan of brutal heavy metallers done to this once proud and powerful genre? It would appear that they have finally succeeded in rendering it totally irrelevant. As a case in point, take my favorite example….MASTODON. As you may remember I wrote an editorial at the time of Blood Mountain’s release bemoaning all the “affectionate” reviews that were heaped on the CD. This is the band chosen by the “powers that be” of heavy metal to be the next big thing. The next Iron Maiden. According to all the fawning metal media this is top of the line modern metal performing at its peak. Universal praise always looks suspicious and “anointing” a band as the next big thing has a habit of backfiring…and so it has. According to their manager Nick John, in speaking with Decibel Magazine, Blood Mountain has sold…….are you ready for this?……a grand total of……75,000 copies in the United States. No I did not leave off any zeros. 75,000 copies! With all the power, money, and influence of a major label, and all the good reviews that money could, and did, buy, that is all it sold. In the independent metal world this might be seen as a small setback and satisfactory sales but in the world of the major labels this was a failure more disastrous than the Union assaults on the Confederate lines at the battle of Fredericksburg (ok, get a history book).
Also of interest, in the same article, was the sales figure for Lamb Of God’s most recent CD “Sacrament,” likewise on a major label. It has sold only 200,000 copies. A better showing than Mastodon, but bands that deliver gold records (500,000 units sold) are dropped regularly as being unprofitable for major labels. Both Mastodon and Lamb Of God had their records firmly notched at the top of most of the metal media’s year end polls for best record. Yet they have been resoundingly rejected by the record buying public. This is what heavy metal has come to…failure. the major labels, in a sense, shouldn’t be blamed for not knowing any better than to sign these bands. After all, these are the bands that the metal underground and its media satellites have anointed as the best in true metal. But they can’t sell it and for a good reason. The albums are nothing but infomercials for the musicians playing on them. Utterly void of content or purpose. I will concede that these records prove that the musicians involved can play their instruments extremely well. But why? The musicianship is the LEAST important reason to buy a record!
Here is something that must be said. Those people of heavy metal’s religious right have been trying to convince themselves for quite some time that metal music is some sort of panacea of musicianship. Those of the heavy metal religious right will tell you that not selling a lot of records is a good thing. It keeps metal pure. They actually believe that this form of music is the modern day equivalent of classical music. “If Beethoven were alive today he would play metal.” Anyone who believes that is an imbecile! The creationists of the metal Ku Klux Klan, who deny metal’s origins and history, don’t want to admit what the record buying public has never forgotten. HEAVY METAL IS ROCK AND ROLL MUSIC! It is NOT classical music. No amount of self perceived importance will ever change that. More importantly, that which kills Rock and Roll…kills metal! This music is meant to be a populist form of entertainment and it cannot survive as an elitist, musician’s disease infected genre.
In the April edition of Decibel Magazine, the editor Albert Mudrian, claims he has been getting calls from National Public Radio inquiring of him about the current state of metal. His implication is that this bastion of Jazz and classical music, and international news has started to look upon metal as more musically favorable. Not just “music for dummies” anymore. See, it didn’t take them but one issue to go from reporting the Mastodon disaster to seeking yet another anointing, this time from the “important” people of NPR. I guess if NPR approves of musician’s disease metal, then their belief is that we will be compelled to acknowledge the greatness of the bands they tell us to like. I repeat, that which kills Rock and Roll kills metal. Snobbery is so not metal. Please make this stop. Why can’t we insist that these bands work for their audience and not for themselves and their position in the “metal culture.” Maybe then the shows of these bands will be attended by people other than fellow musicians. Audience Deficiency Syndrome is fatal 100% of the time.
Rock music, and its heavy metal descendant, was never meant to be exclusionary. It is not a fraternity, religion or a culture. It is music. Music is supposed to communicate with people, not impress them. Especially since the sales figures of Mastodon and Lamb of God indicate that not that many people were impressed anyway. As the English would say….”They’ve lost the plot.” The low record sales of Mastodon and Lamb of God are not reflective of “successful elitism” or a “puritanical” adherence to the metal faith. It just means nobody likes it. That is the sad state of metal, and will continue to be, so long as metal’s Ku Klux Klan are able to hold an influence over the way this music is perceived.
The solution is simple. A return to the roots, and the great and glorious history of the genre. This was once a dominant force in the music industry, it can be again. Lose the intolerance and maybe bands like Iron Maiden and Motorhead won’t bristle at the thought of being labeled a metal band. Welcome back AC/DC and KISS. They have had more positive influence over this genre than Mastodon ever will. Do as the magazine Metal Hammer does and embrace all the various genres of metal. They put My Chemical Romance on their cover in spite of the complaints they get from the metal KKK. They sell more magazines and somebody finds out about Dimmu Borgir, who never would have otherwise, and buys their CD’s. A rising tide lifts all boats. Or do you not believe that some people in the past might have used Motley Crue as a stepping stone to Megadeth and Anthrax. A low tide grounds all the boats. We are seeing that in metal now.
Gee, I just realized that all this talk about inclusiveness and tolerance makes me sound like a musical li……lib…….liberal. I feel dirty just saying the word. I think I’ll take a bath, put on some good American metal like Ted Nugent or Manowar, and read a copy of the Weekly Standard. I gotta get my “neocon” back on.
Death to False Metal!