I think it’s safe to say people figured out pretty quickly.
This wasn’t just a grab for attention from an obscure Thrash band. I believe the best proof of this fact comes from the band (Opprobrium (formerly Incubus, no not that Incubus) themselves.
This was obviously a publicity stunt. A publicity stunt claiming that songs off “Hardwired” sound like obscure 80’s thrash metal.
I can count the number of people who want people to think that the new Metallica album bears any resemblance to obscure 80’s thrash on one hand.
Four of those fingers would be members of Metallica, one would be the guy who filed the suit on behalf of Metallica.
I’ve written about PR stunts before, but I have to say even in the world of metal publicity stunts this one stands out a bit. Not because of the actions themselves, but because of the desired results (and the target audience).
Who They Were Targeting
Think about it for a second – when Sharon Ozzbourne went on the view holding a glass of lemonade to promote Ozzfest meets Knotfest, she was targeting people who were fans of Beyonce (or at least mass popular culture). When Five Finger Death Punch are publicizing one of Ivan Moody’s very well scripted “meltdowns”, they’re garnering attention so their fans are more likely to see the new snippets of their forthcoming album (or upcoming tour-dates, or whatever the fuck it is that they’re doing at the time).
Mindless rock fans and people who follow Beyonce don’t give a fuck about obscure 80’s thrash. In fact, almost nobody does. It’s a very niche thing to follow or care about. Metallica was targeting a very specific, very narrow section of the population.
Their original fanbase. The group of people that made them who they are. Real metalheads. The most loyal, dedicated, fanatical fanbase in existence. The group they originally belonged to (Lars and James were NWOBHM metal elitists – surprise!). The one group of people who have been consistently shitting on Metallica for years for “selling out”, who coincidentally are huge fans of obscure 80’s thrash. Like this dude.
Who the fuck else is going to care that Metallica was ripping off some obscure thrash band? Thrash bands rip each other off all the time.
In fact like 90% of every fucking metal genre consists recycling another bands riffs (arguably, all of metal is just recycled Sabbath riffs).
What Was the Intended Effect?
I would argue that Metallica wanted a few things to happen with this publicity stunt (OK, disclaimer here – I’m entering the realm of (educated) speculation).
First – they wanted to knock themselves off the imaginary pedestal everyone places them on. Following a cease and desist order on a Metallica tribute band filed by their lawyers, the band did their best to reconcile and show that this was not something they intended to happen. This establishes the pattern of behavior that I am arguing went one step further – Metallica is trying to show that they, too, are a band that can be sued for trivial shit by a bunch of guys in suits. In other words, they want to be “one of the guys” again – not the untouchable monolithic juggernaut they’ve been made out to be. Can’t say I blame them.
Second – they wanted to utilize the metal media, and make it worth their (the media’s) while to do so. This wasn’t a record label paying them to promote the album – a lot of metal websites had spoken about the record so much that, at the end of the day, they were probably sick and tired of writing about it.
I guess that’s a downside of doing this for money.
This is a chance for the metal media (websites, blogs, magazines, etc.) to write about a “genuine” controversy surrounding Metallica – one that relates to, and aids in, knocking Metallica off the aforementioned pedestal. As a bonus – the writers get to genuinely critique the singles named in the lawsuit, and to call bullshit. It gives them credibility, and allows them to do what they (probably) got into the business for in the first place.
Third – They wanted to prove James Hetfield isn’t a table.
Mission accomplished, you can’t order a cease and desist order to a table.
Well played, Metallica. Well played.
Fourth – I touched on this in the “who” section, but I think it’s worth elaborating. Arguably the most important aspect of the whole “debacle”, Metallica wanted 80’s thrash-heads to listen to both of the singles listed in the lawsuit.
I think it’s safe to say there’s a segment of the metal community who can only be tricked into listening to new Metallica out of nothing spite. And if there’s a chance to rip on the band for plagiarism, they (the guys who would normally boycott the album on principle alone) are going to listen to those songs note for fucking note.
Why they did it, and why it’s different.
Once again, educated speculation time.
Let’s get this out of the way – Metallica wants to keep momentum going for their new album. Part of that includes bringing people who haven’t listened to the album into the fold. Considering the massive PR campaign they did before the album was even released, the number of people who haven’t listened to it yet is relatively small.
It’s not like this is the only thing they’ve done for publicity – playing with Lady Gaga (and on various talk shows) was a way to bring mainstream attention to what they were doing. But this is the first publicity stunt they’ve done specifically targeting that very narrow demographic.
They’ve been chasing the old-school metalheads for years now – if you watch the documentary “Some Kind of Monster”, or listen to any of their post-alternative crap, you can see they’ve been trying to outsmart themselves figuring out how to get back into the good graces of the majority of metalheads.
But then, one day, they finally figured it out. Lars admitted he should have practiced the drums more for those shitty 90’s albums. They pretty much left Kirk out of the creative process. The band put their entire back catalog on Napster (for those too young to remember, there was a small amount of controversy surrounding the band and Napster at one point).
In fact, they basically admitted they were wrong about everything they’ve fucking done in the past two and a half decades.
This stunt was the icing on the cake. I’m not a huge fan of publicity stunts – but honestly, the band has pretty much exhausted every other option. They’ve extended pretty much every olive branch they could – and no, they’ll never write a pure thrash album again. A lot of that has to do with the fact that they can’t.
Not that they’re incapable of writing that sort of material, quite the opposite. They can’t because they play fucking amphitheaters and arenas exclusively. They don’t have a lot of choice in the matter – they’re too fucking popular. And the thing about big venues – sound travels differently. I don’t care how much money you have, you can’t alter how sound travels through space, or how it bounces around a large venue. There is no sound guy alive who could make it sound good. Large venues are the stomping grounds of simple music for a reason.
So the fact that they made anything even remotely close to the material they wrote pre-black album ALONE is a huge fucking compromise.
This stunt showed that Metallica knows their fans (and ex-fans) a lot better than most people think.
Where am I going with all of this?
Eh, I dunno. I don’t care who likes Metallica or who doesn’t.
The way I see it, you’ve got two options in regards to them. You can either bitch about them selling out till you’re blue in the face and play the betrayed victim, or you can accept the reality that they went from the top of the underground to the top of the mainstream in metal.
It means they won’t write any more heavy, cutting edge thrash. And they’ve been saying that for years. But it also means that, as a “gateway band”, they’re introducing a crowd that’s much more kosher with metalheads.
One of the best things about listening to metal (besides, well, listening to metal) is talking about it. If you were to run into someone who’s just getting into metal, their knowledge and taste is going to have a high proportion of the more mainstream “starter” metal bands. These bands are more accessible, and generally help to train a person’s ear to appreciate the heavier stuff. So, generally the conversation will be rooted with these bands. I, personally, am able to have a much better conversation with someone who got into metal through post-justice Metallica.
Because at some point, no matter how I feel about the band, I can say, “Yeah, if you think this is good you should listen to Master of Puppets.”
Think about that, and then consider the alternative (other gateway bands, who they’re bringing into the collective cultural sphere of metal, and how much different the conversation about bands with them is going to be).
I like to use Asking Alexandria as an example.
I could give a fuck less what he listens to, or what anyone listens to. Whatever you think of the band, the have written nothing on par with Master of Puppets. And, chances are, they never will.
I’d put money on it.
A lot of money.
Gateway bands are inextricably linked with metal – without them, the culture would have a major recruitment problem. And compared to glam bands (puke), grunge bands (at least Kurt Cobain is dead and that other guy OD’d on heroin, amirite?), nu-metal (most people don’t get into metal for the nookie), hot-topic style metalcore (even the bands themselves hate fucking hot-topic mall-core fans), and even deathcore (the best thing about the genre is that Mitch Lurker or whatever the fuck his name is died) – Metallica reigns fucking supreme.
Because it’s not just the quantity of people a band turns over to the dark side, it’s the fucking quality.
Don’t get me wrong, I will rip on Metallica for their shitty albums for the rest of my natural life.
But at the end of the day, if there has to be a gateway band – nobody is going to do it better than the group that was, for longer than anyone else, the undisputed heaviest band in the world.
May 10, 2017 at 8:47 am
This is a very interesting article. I’m gonna say that I have a very different perspective on music than you do but your analysis is interesting and you have a nice way of say things so i’m gonna leave this comment of praise here for your month-old article.
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May 10, 2017 at 10:32 am
Thank you 🙂 Different perspectives on music are certainly a good thing, appreciate the positive feedback.
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