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The Whole Thing With the Summer Slaughter Tour

A year has passed since last year’s Summer Slaughter tour. A pretty good year.

There’s been quite a few good albums releases, with more to come.

The new Code Orange fucking rules.

And don’t get me started on Unleash the Archer’s new masterpiece “Apex”.

That fucking dumpster fire of an album Suicide Silence released this year continues to make me giggle (tee hee). Not because I hate the band, because I hate what they did leading up to the album, and how they colluded with metalsucks and it totally blew back in all of their faces. What can I say, I love seeing people eat crow.

Which brings me to the topic at hand: this year’s Summer Slaughter lineup, and the events surrounding it.

To be fair, they’ve done some pretty cool things this year. They’ve got Dying Fetus and The Black Dhalia Murder headlining, and Origin is pretty ok. Slaughter to Prevail even has their moments. They’ve got a poll up to decide another one of the opening bands for the tour – and it’s nice to see Jungle Rot getting another shot after the whole Mayhem festival debacle.

There are bands from Relapse and Metal Blade in the running too. Unique Leader and Victory records bands aren’t really my thing, but they add variety. Not so sure about the unsigned bands, not familiar with them.

But jesus christ, look how they’re promoting it.

Having people vote for openers? Awesome! Making them vote by visiting the website of a shitty movie starring members of Asking Alexandria and the Blackveil Brides? Gross!

 

 

Now, I did learn a neat little factoid over the past year – I guess the head of Sumerian Records is the organizer of the festival. Doesn’t really change anything I said about last year’s festival – but it does add a some pretty interesting context.

The fact that they’re using the festival’s popularity to reach out to an audience (fans of the Summer Slaughter tour) who probably wouldn’t want anything to do with the movie seems like a really good business move on paper.

warped tour AS promo

Reaching out even further by promoting the movie in conjunction with the Warped Tour would follow suit – you’re (potentially) drawing fans of hard rock and (what passes for) punk. As an advertising strategy in a capitalist market, it makes total sense.

However, I do (still) have an issue with the whole shebang. The demographic audiences for the movie/the stars of the movie (and for the bands/tour).

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the majority of people attending the Summer Slaughter don’t like Andy Biersack, or his band the Black Veil Brides (assuming the attendees even know who the band is).

I don’t have to go out a limb to tell you what Andy Ballsack thinks of metalheads. I’ll let him speak for himself, here he is getting boo’d with his band as they walked onstage at the golden gods awards.

So, ah, yeah. There’s that.

Basically, my problem is the “diversification” of metal festivals in the US. In this instance, “Diversification” means appeal to fans who are in a different social class than your traditional metal fans (i.e. they have more money, because they’re not lower/working class).

It might not seem like a big deal, but there are some cultural differences that make this a much bigger change that it sounds like. I’m not saying there aren’t “well-to-do” metalheads – but by and large since it’s inception metal has been made by blue collars for blue collars. And when you change that demographic, you change the art.

summer slaughter 2017

Using the credibility and dedication of established metal fans as a platform to provide a watered down, pale imitation of extreme metal so that “joe evreybody” can enjoy it (and pretend they’re edgy and non-conformist) is exactly the opposite of what transgressive art is supposed to be about.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Why are Hard Rock and Metal Artists Suddenly Drawn to Country Music?

 

At first glance, this might seem like an odd phenomenon. In their current states, country and metal are polar opposites. And research into the personality type/musical preference connection clearly shows that fans of heavy metal have far more in common with fans of classical music than fans of country. But, the more you look at it, the more it makes sense that there would be a mini “exodus” from metal music to country. And, arguably, it’s a good thing for both genres and their fans.

 

Background

First and foremost, it needs to be mentioned that country and metal music share a common ancestor in the blues. Early rock and roll acts and early country acts were almost interchangeable – for example, Johnny Cash and Elvis toured together. Elvis is commonly referred to as the godfather of rock and roll (of which heavy metal is a derivative) and Johnny Cash is widely recognized as a progenitor of Country music. In fact, country music at it’s inception was simply a rural version of rock music.

Now, the two genres have had decades to evolve into two separate entities with distinctive fanbases and cultures that (generally) don’t overlap. But there’s always been a common thread connecting the two – the Rolling Stones “Honky Tonk Woman” is a good example. “Southern Rock” bands have kept a fusion between the two genres (rock and country) alive through the decades, but it wasn’t really until the 90’s that country music and heavy metal met and mixed.

No article dealing with the cross-cultural zone between country and metal would be complete without mentioning two bands – Pantera and Hank Williams III. These two groups bridge the gap between the two genres quite nicely. To further the connection – Pantera’s last real album (even though the lead singer, Phil Anselmo, wasn’t part of it) was a collaboration between the band and David Allen Coe entitled “Rebel Meets Rebel“. Artists like Kid Rock and Aaron Lewis from Staind have kept the connection going.

The Present Situation

Within the past year or so, there’s been more of an “exodus” of metal and hard rock artists in some form or another to the country music medium. Now, it’s not always a full blown transition, and it’s actually been going on for a while (technically since the dawn of both rock and country). I think it’s more accurate to describe the country/hard rock/metal phenomenon in terms of a spectrum: Dabbling (One-Off Country Albums, Collaborations)->Fusion Styles->Full Transition Between Genres (Including solo albums/projects).

In the dabbling category we have  Devin Townsend’s side project (Casualties), Nergal from Behemoth’s country/folk album, Jimmy Bower’s (Down/Eyehategod) Country album, Jonathan Davis’ (Korn) collaboration with country artists Big and Rich, Bon Jovi’s Country album, Chuck Billy (Testament) doing his country tribute to Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades”, and considering I don’t know where Aerosmith stands at this moment I’m going to include Stephen Tyler’s country project as well. And Bret Michaels (Poison) country album.

As far as fusion styles – obviously guys like Pantera and Hank III go without saying. The mutual blues ancestor of metal and country music make them more compatible than you’d think at first listen. In fact, due to the Pantera connection we wouldn’t have groove metal without country.

And for full transitions you’ve got Kid Rock (This guy’s such a redneck, it wasn’t that much of a transition. I think he plays the CMT awards semi-regularly), Aaron Lewis (Staind),  David Vincent (fucking Morbid Angel), and Danny Worsnop (Asking Alexandria). So we’ve got Metalcore, Death Metal, Blackened Death, Doom, Nu-Metal, Hair Metal, Hard Rock, Groove, and Prog represented in country music just from the bands mentioned in this article. I’d say that’s enough of a spectrum state that this isn’t a genre specific phenomenon – the appeal seems to be pretty universal among metal artists.

What Metal Culture Can Learn From Country

In terms of the metal community, a look at the current state of country is a sobering reminder that the music industry (all bureaucracy, in fact) can be a very toxic thing . So, as much as people like to go around bashing elitists – that particular core demographic of the metal community is a big part of the reason metal isn’t a shell of it’s former self. The pop machine has literally eviscerated the entire genre of country music, and left nothing but a hollowed out meat-puppet of a shell that they make perform for fans in a mocking, pandering sort of way. Don’t believe me? Check out this video.

This is what the pop machine does – it analyzes a core fan base to find things they like. It then arranges them into a palatable, pre-digested formula with literally zero integrity. Anybody who’s been alive through the 90’s should remember that country music was a pretty big thing back in the day. And in a matter of a few decades, it’s been reduced to a cultural and artistic void. Boots, cold beer, lemonade, lying in pick-up trucks, some sort of romantic rendezvous, and the month of July – hey, throw that in a 4-chord song format with a steel guitar playing in the background and you’ve got a #1 Country hit! Pandering at it’s best, there’s next to zero substance left in the genre. Probably part of the reason metal artists are occasionally dabbling – they’re filling the creative void.

Also, poser bashing is designed to prevent this sort of thing from happening in/to the metal community. Granted sometimes people take it a little too far, but sometimes you have to take the good with the bad. And in this case, a defense against entryism is much better than the alternative.

 

What Country Fans Can Learn From Metal Culture

Country music, as a culture, has zero defense against entryism. In layman’s terms, this means that there is no cultural “check” or way to stop an outside group from entering into Country music culture and changing it from within.

At first glance, this might not seem like a problem. It didn’t when Country-pop experienced a revival in the 90’s. But, here’s the problem. If any group can gain entry into an artistic culture – that includes a group put together by a record company. And their focus is on dollar signs, not art.

Unfortunately, because record companies already have a lot of money, they can afford to hire people to do studies into what the fanbase likes and doesn’t like (and then plug the results into the pop-machine formula). At this point, it’s not a matter of if or when it happens (because it already has), it’s a matter of what to do about it. I think that country music as a whole can benefit from a little “heavy metal sensibility”.

First and foremost, the artists getting into country are considered staples of their respective metal genres. These are top-notch artists with creative energy to spare. So, you’ve got a bunch of artists entering the scene and playing real music in the creative void left by the pop industry .

Second, I would hope they bring a little of that “elitist” attitude that has helped heavy metal stay out of the clutches of the pop industry for almost 6 decades. Combined with the DIY ethos of metal and punk, it just might be the breath of fresh air that country music needs.

Third, I hope a few metal artists reintroduce a bit more of that rebel attitude country music deserves.

Conclusion

I think it’s good for metal artists to branch out a little bit. Considering how saturated the market is with metal bands right now, it’s certainly not hurting heavy metal at all. And it could make country music tolerable again. Overall, I’d call it a win/win situation.

Say Hello to the Face of This Years Summer Slaughter Tour

If you don’t care who funds a festival (as long as the lineup is good) you should have no problem with this article. After all, you don’t care.

But if you’re like me, you know these people…

AA-asking-alexandria-23957158-500-344black_veil_brides_by_bleedingstarclothing

…have absolutely no place representing an extreme metal festival.

Don’t get me wrong, the lineup for Summer Slaughter this year is light years ahead of what it was last year. It’s fucking fantastic… but it’s brought to you by a movie entitled, “American Satan.”

At first glance, that seems pretty cool. The names kinda lame, but at least it seems to be a rock/metal oriented movie. But then, looking at the cast, I noticed it’s starring the lead singer of the Blackveil Brides, as well as a member of Asking Alexandria.

What the actual fuck?!?

When the Summer Slaughter tour started out, it was a force to be reckoned with. They’re continually billed as “the most extreme tour of the year” and have been pretty famously advertised as catering to fans of “extreme metal”. And for the first year of their existence, this was true.

Then came the slow descent – the lineup steadily got worse every year. I would argue that a big portion of this is due to the participation of Sumerian Records. Initially the label brought diversity to the bill, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s what you’re supposed to have at a festival. But I started noticing a pattern – a few big names in death metal were being used to add star-power to a tour that progressively started catering to an indie label (like independent startup label, not to be confused with shitty millennial/hipster Indie rock).

I’m trying to think of another tour that changed their business model to cater to an indie label with a shitty roster.

Oh wait, now I remember. The Mayhem festival.

I’ll take you one further – Mayhem started to go downhill the same year that Sumerian Records got their own stage (2013). The lineup that year was actually pretty awesome (on par with how awesome this years Summer Slaughter lineup is, considering the formats of the festivals). Post 2013, these changes cause the decline I’ve been referring to. Mayhem went so far downhill, in fact, that it literally dampened the concert draw of headliners like Slayer.

Slayer had played the same venues as Mayhem the previous year, selling out concerts. Strangely, Mayhem didn’t. But why?

Kerry King said it best:

“Do I know this tour wasn’t booked correctly? Absolutely I know this tour wasn’t booked correctly. Gary Holt made the comment that usually there’s the Main Stage, a second stage, a third stage, and then that piece of shit record stage…now what they’re calling a second stage is at best a fourth stage and they’re wondering why people aren’t showing up.

In case you’re not familiar with the whole Mayhem festival debacle, I’ll save you the trouble of a google search. It completely imploded and dissolved.

So let’s recap for a second.

Mayhem festival started out with huge names, as a rather diverse metal festival. They had some heavy hitters, and then filled the roster with up-and-comers from independent record labels that catered to scenes that weren’t even fully accepted in the metal community (This is a good thing, it’s how we keep the music going – but there’s a point, I promise. Bear with me). Slowly they allowed said the independent record label to change the business model of the tour – taking creative control. The label (Sumerian) started using this opportunity as a springboard for shameless self promotion. They even changed the business model of the tour, adding a stage exclusive to the label. After these changes, the tour had one more fantastic lineup. The tour continued with the failed business model and completely dissolved within a period of two years. And it wasn’t pretty. Even Slayer couldn’t save it. Fucking Slayer. This is just as much the fault of that complete garbage label Victory Records, but they never would have been included on the tour in the first place if Sumerian hadn’t paved the way.

Summer Slaughter started out with huge names. They were a specialized festival, but still very diverse. They started making changes and incorporating bands outside the format from a certain scene-catering record label.  Enter 2016. The Summer Slaughter tour lineup is incredible (exactly what happened when Sumerian got their own stage at Mayhem ), but the promoters have allowed Sumerian to use it as a springboard to promote their shitty movie starring members of Blackveil Brides and Asking Alexandria.

The point is…change is not, by itself, a bad thing. In fact, innovation is one thing that keeps metal going. However, when a festival makes changes that have proven to be fatal for their peers, it’s a very bad thing.

Now, I’m not knocking fans of BvB or AA. I personally, despise that style of music, but different strokes for different folks. I don’t have a problem with them, or their fans.

I do, however have a problem with them being the public faces of a tour that promotes itself like Summer Slaughter does (this isn’t the fucking Warped Tour). Especially when you connect the dots and see that this is exactly the sort of business move that shut down Mayhem. I, for one, will not let the majority of my ticket sale go to putting people from Blackveil Brides and Asking Alexandria on the big screen.

A common argument I hear in favor of this sort of sellout move is that the big tours need the money to keep going. Valid argument. Hmmm, is there something they can do to keep the festival in the running without selling out? Maybe they can do what Maryland Death Fest did. They decreased the number of stages to a manageable level, kept all the bands on the bill. A few people might be butt-hurt about it, but they made a sound business move while keeping the integrity of the festival intact. And those guys have been going for at least 5-6 years longer than Summer Slaughter. So, it is not only possible to keep the integrity of the festival intact by not bowing to corporate sponsorship – it might just add to the longevity of the event.Sponsors don’t just give you money and expect nothing in return. The guys at Maryland Death Fest know this.

I think it’s safe to say, if promoters think it’s ok for members of Asking Alexandria and Blackveil Brides to be the public faces of Summer Slaughter they deserve to go down as swiftly, painfully, and publicly as Mayhem. Long live Maryland Death Fest!

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