The strangest thought hit me today – there are actually people alive and active in the metal scene that don’t know what it was like before the internet.
Stop and let that sink in for a minute.
(cliché reflective opening statement to blog post, check. god I’m getting good at this.)
Is the Internet the Last Major Metal Scene?
When speaking of a metal “scene”, generally people are speaking about a shared sub-cultural space where members are able to participate in the culture. For metalheads, this generally means bar and live shows. Or, at least, it used to.
With the advent of the internet, a person can completely immerse themselves in metal culture without ever physically meeting another metalhead. This isn’t without precedent – I have written previously about how metalheads had social networking before the internet. So really, the digital metal scene can be viewed as a natural evolution of the tape trading scene.
But this is a bit different. More all-encompassing. Scenes arise from the collective need for a sub-cultural space. The internet meets the needs of every metalhead, or at least allows for those needs to be met.
I’m not saying there won’t be local scenes in the future. Of course there will be, that’s the heart-blood of metal.
I AM saying there will never be another band (metal or otherwise) who gets big without the internet. Ever. So, what I AM saying is that the internet has become the largest possible metal scene – with pretty much every single metalhead on earth participating in some way, shape, or form.
The Internet Changed Everything
Metal’s Place in Society at Large
There’s a trade-off here. The best and worst thing about the digital metal scene is how easy it is to access and participate. Metal is no longer the pariah of the music world – it’s become (comparatively) safe in a cultural context.
There is always going to be metal that’s on the outside of what is considered “good taste” by the majority of Western Society – metalheads will make sure of that.
But Jesus Christ, when the President of the United States visits Finland and cracks a good-natured joke about the number of metal bands (per capita) – it’s safe to say the outsider status is gone.
So, lets take a brief look at how the digital age is affecting the unholy (hehe) trifecta of metal culture: Metal fans, metal bands, and the metal media.
How the Next Generation Experiences Metal (The Rise of Digital Metal Fans)
There is a generation of metalheads who, feasibly
- never listened to heavy metal in an analog format.
- never knew what purchasing music was like before Napster and other file sharing sites. (or torrents)
- never had to stay up on a Sunday night to hear the ONE metal program on a radio station.
- never had to play “album roulette”, going to a music store and finding the minuscule (if existent) metal section – and buying an album purely because it looked cool as fuck. Chances are, they won’t understand that every genre of metal has its own logo style for exactly this reason.
- will never know what it was like to depend on ‘zines (specifically the classified section) to know what’s happening in metal.
- have no idea what it’s like to be stereotyped by the police simply because they favor a style of music (well, maybe not as much).
- have no fucking clue what the significance of MTV was to music in general, or why Headbanger’s Ball was such a big fucking deal.
- have never paid 30 bucks for a CD
- don’t have to rely on the metalhead “uniform” to find other metalheads.
This is literally a group whose experience with metal, and the metal community is so vastly different from previous generations of bangers as to seem almost alien. I think it’s funny – people have been so focused on how the internet and computers changed metal in the past few decades, that they’ve completely neglected to examine how it changed the fans (or even ask if/how it would).
Might it be logical to assume that, as their experience of metal culture is so vastly different – maybe it will change the fan base?
Metal Bands in the Digital Age (And the Digital Metal Bands)
Even the way new bands create and share music. Remember Job for a Cowboy? The first (and only, to my knowledge) metal band to successfully launch a major career in metal using Myspace? Fucking Myspace?!? I still remember getting messages and a friend request from the band when they were a bunch of unknown dudes from Texas.
Which brings me to deathcore. Sure, I shit on it all the time – 99% of deathcore bands are generic and boring. But if we’re being really, brutally honest here – 99% of thrash, death, and black metal bands are just as generic and boring. I write for an online magazine, and believe me – if the only good thing you can say about a band is that they have an old-school death metal/thrash/black metal sound or aesthetic – it’s a roundabout way of saying there isn’t much good you can say about the band.
Deathcore does have the distinction of being the first metal sub-genre to come to prominence through the internet. Metalcore stands kind of in between – half internet/half old-world. Djent gets a participation trophy.
Nowadays, bands don’t need to physically amass a following to be heard – they just need access to a computer and pro-tools. Self-releases are more common than ever. In fact, record labels seem like they’re becoming almost vestigial. Bands can crowd-fund an album and write exactly what they want.
Speaking of music production – I guess the “American Metal Sound” is totally a thing now. Essentially it just means you have crystal clear production values and a “full” sound, but I’ve heard people from outside the US use this term to describe a lot of the Thrash albums that came out this year (i.e. Testament and Megadeth’s 2016 releases). Not that this is purely a deathcore related phenomenon – the New Wave of American Metal certainly influenced this as well – but I think it’s a nice change.
Sure, there’s a certain aesthetic associated with the production values of classic metal albums. But you can’t tell me you want every goddamn metal album for all eternity to sound like it was recorded inside a garbage can.
But I digress.
The Digital Metal Media
So yeah, this is the first generation who got their metal related news purely in a digital format. I mean, sure, for novelty’s sake a few people might go out and buy a physical magazine or two. But the medium is simply outdated. The only reason to get them is to act like a hipster or for genuine nostalgia.
Dramatic Re-enactment of a “Dinosaur Metal” band
As such, a lot of the “dinosaur” metal publications were unable to get past their own bureaucracy (and mounds of paperwork) to get with the whole “information age” thing. Which isn’t really a bad thing, considering most of them got so far out of touch with the metal community. I’m really not sure how they kept going (Well, yes I am. They sold their souls and started catering to the tastes of 16-year-old girls. But that’s another topic altogether).
Interestingly enough, all the major metal news websites have conglomerated in exactly the same manner as the magazines did. Just like the old guard – they publish the exact same stories, they share writers, they cooperate on contests together. It’s a massive circle-jerk.
Lambgoat, Metalsucks, Metal Injection, Decible, theprp.com – they’re all in on it (example, they all use the blast beat network for their advertising). I guess life really does come full circle – reading these guys commentaries on metal culture is about as much fun as chewing on tinfoil (sorry, that’s an old person joke from way back in the day when they used mercury in fillings).
Capitalist bureaucracy at it’s finest, I tell you.
Metal’s Transition from Counterculture to Culture
Pretty much every metalhead who was alive and active in the scene before the internet remembers how things were. “How the internet changed metal” is a pretty popular topic to discuss in metal circles.
But I don’t think I’ve ever seen or read anything discussing the logical progression of the though/sentiment. If the internet changed metal bands, metal music, and metal media – isn’t it safe to say it significantly changed the fan base?
The biggest change I’ve noticed is that metal is no longer a counterculture.
Other sites have touched on the subject, but I don’t think anyone has really gone the extra few feet to discuss the logical implications (positive, negative, and neutral) for metalheads, and metal culture in general.
It isn’t hard to find other metalheads anymore. Besides going to concerts, hanging out at bars, randomly bumping into people in the metal section of your local music store, or (if you were lucky enough) having a metalhead crowd to hang out with when you were in high school – there was a point in time when it was actually a bit difficult to find other metalheads. We used to have to rely on “the uniform” (or people with a particular look) to find each other.
A positive aspect of this is that heads can now use visual cues other than band shirts to find one another. Facebook metal groups abound, metalheads create their own digital sub-cultural space in popular forums. I think we can all collectively agree that talking shit about Metal Sucks in the comments section of every single one of their articles is one of the purest expressions of sheer collective joy metal culture has to offer it’s adherents.
A negative aspect of this is that although it’s not hard to find metalheads, metalhead interaction on the internet will never be as satisfying as interaction in person. This doesn’t just affect metalheads, in general people fall into the trap of substituting online social interactions for face to face interactions – and this can be very unhealthy. It makes confrontation and altercation infinitely easier, and therefore more inviting. In person, confrontations are a lot less likely, and the results of a confrontation are generally a lot more amicable to both parties. So yeah, there’s that.
OK, enough of this touchy feely shit. Back to the metal.
With online participation, metalheads are better able to come to a consensus as to what constitutes a sub-genre, and what bands fall where on the heavy metal family tree. And nobody, I mean nobody, has done a better job of this than Banger Films.
Sam Dunn and the crew up in Canada are (in my opinion, and many others judging by their popularity) revolutionizing metal – by bringing all the little mini-cultures that constitute metal culture into one shared sub-cultural space for the express purpose of documenting and furthering metal culture as a whole.
If you haven’t already, I highly recommend subscribing to their YouTube channel. Their revues are top-notch, the sub-genre episodes allow people to democratically discuss a particular section of metal in-depth and decide, democratically, on which bands fit within the categorization being discussed.
A Quick Recap
Let’s do a “Five W’s” test real quick.
What changed? Metal culture
Who changed? The three major aspects of metal culture – fans, bands, and metal media
Where did the change take place? The internet, of course.
Why did the change happen? The internet provided unprecedented access to metal culture, allowing for a universal allocation of sub-cultural space regardless of geographic location.
When did the change take place? It’s still happening, arguably it came to a head in 2000 with the Metallica/Napster dispute.
I would argue that the internet is not just a logical progression of metal culture – it’s the logical conclusion of metal culture.
When I say logical conclusion – I don’t mean that metal culture will be ending because of the internet. I mean that in terms of progress, it’s impossible for metal culture to move PAST the internet.
Tape Trading? You don’t have to peruse metal magazines and write letters, waiting on the postal service. New metal is literally at your fingertips 24/7.
Meeting new metal fans? Until there is a cultural space for social connections more efficient and all-encompassing than Facebook – there will never be a faster, easier way to meet and interact with other metalheads.
Metal news? Instead of waiting for magazines, we find out what’s happening in the metal universe almost in real-time. It’s just not possible to find things out any faster.
Metal bands don’t need to jockey for positions to be heard by major labels anymore – in fact, it’s (theoretically) possible for a band to gain mass popularity almost exclusively through social media (i.e. Job for a Cowboy, Vulvodynia, etc.).
Integration into greater culture? As much as is humanly possible – I don’t see people getting arrested for wearing metal shirts or being sent to camps for “de-metalizing” (a la the PMRC days of the 1980’s).
Maybe the police will stop using pictures like this in training manuals?
School shootings might still be blamed on metalheads now and then, but since the culture has become more visible (due to the internet) I think that’s a lot less likely. Occasional hate crimes against metalheads? Yeah, probably still a thing – anyone who looks “different” is going to be a target by small-minded clusters of mouth-breathers. With the “metal look” as big as it is right now in popular culture, I would even predict that sort of thing is on the decline.
In other words, because of how convenient and efficient a tool the internet has turned out to be – I believe the final frontier of heavy metal (the music and it’s culture) has been reached.
It’s not a good thing, it’s not a bad thing.
It’s just a fucking thing.