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Grulog’s Essential Appalachian Black Metal

The People of the Appalachians (A mountain range stretching from Southern New York to Alabama) have been subject to some pretty nasty stereotypes for hundreds of years. The terms “redneck”, “hillbilly”, and “hick” were all coined to cast the people living in the area in a negative light.

A good example of the acceptable prejudices levied against the people of the area would be the 1972 film “Deliverance” (set and filmed in Appalachian Georgia), which portrays Appalachians as backwards, uneducated, inbred, and dangerous.

While these things aren’t true, the movie does display the poverty of the region rather accurately. Many families in the area live on less than $5,000 per year before taxes (which sets their food budgets slightly lower than $1 per day). Another term from the area is “dirt poor” – a lot of people don’t realize the term literally means you’re not rich enough to own a floor. One of my neighbors growing up was raising children in an old trailer with no floor, no running water, and no electricity. The county of my birth, Delaware, is the poorest in the state of New York, and has an economy that (last I checked) was 10 years behind the rest of the country.

This sort of absolute poverty can certainly make for an interesting culture. One of the most distinctive variants of American folk music comes from the area. Combine a strong folk/music and culture with nature, isolation, and mountains – and you’ve got the perfect formula for black metal.

While the region is too large (and difficult to travel) for there to be a scene with a distinctive sound – the Appalachians are home to one of the best kept secrets in USBM. Possibly, due to bands like Panopticon gaining popularity, not quite as well kept as it used to be – but still rather obscure even to the seasoned metalhead.

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Panopticon

Label: Bindrune Recordings
Years Active: 2007 – Present
State of Origin: Kentucky (early), Minnesota (later)
Official Site: https://thetruepanopticon.bandcamp.com/

>———-<

2018’s “The Scars of Man on the Once Nameless Wilderness (I and II)” is a delight. Panopticon reminds me of an Eastern-American version of Saor, the incorperation of American folk music into the black metal style is seamless and tastefully done. Panopticon has managed to take Black Metal’s fixation on nature and give it a very Appalachian slant.

After an hour of fantastic blues-oriented atmospheric black metal, you’re treated with another hour of melancholy infused American folk music.

Certainly a contender for my album of the year.

>———–<

Recommended Listening:

En hvit ravns død

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Slaves BC

Label: The Fear and the Void Recordings
Years Active: 2010 – Present
State of Origin: Pennsylvania
Official Site: https://slavesbc.bandcamp.com/

>———-<

Another Appalchian BM band with a 2018 release – these guys weave elements of doom and death metal into a dischordant web of excellence.

“Lo, I am Burning” can be a difficult album to listen to all the way through at times, but it’s ultimately rewarding. I guess you could say it’s a grower more than it is a shower.

The album sounds like it was written as an emotional purge for band members who desperately needed it.

>———–<

Recommended Listening:

Lo

~~~~~~~~~~

Twilight Fauna

Label: Unsigned/Independent
Years Active: 2011 – Present
State of Origin: Tennessee
Official Site: https://twilightfauna.bandcamp.com/

>———-<

Another Appalachian Black Metal project that focuses on fusing American folk music with Atmospheric Black Metal, Kentucky’s Twilight Fauna is a bit more raw. There’s a distinct focus on the stories/history of the region I find refreshing.

Twilight Fauna is not easy listening. It’s thought provoking, challenging, and possesses the power to transport the listener to a different place and time.

>———–<

Recommended Listening

The Last Ember

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Falls of Rauros

Label: Bindrune Recordings
Years Active: 2005 – Present
State of Origin: Maine
Official Site: https://fallsofrauros.bandcamp.com/

>———-<

There’s a wonderful use of atmosphere and a good positive feeling to it – but it’s still unquestionably Black Metal. They juxtapose elements of darkness and light – it’s black metal, but it’s something else as well.

>———–<

Recommended Listening

Falls of Rauros – Silence (Lyric Video Fanmade)

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Nechochwen

Label: Nordvis Produktion
Years Active: 2005 – Present
State of Origin: West Virginia
Official Site: https://nechochwen.bandcamp.com/

>———-<

When you’re talking about Appalachian Folk Music, there’s a very heavy influence from the Native Americans who lived side by side with the original settlers of the area.

West Virginia’s Nechochwen include traditional Native American melodies and themes into an otherwise intense black metal assault. There’s an element of prog in there (real prog), and the unexpected transitions from melody to dissonance are expertly executed.

>———–<

Recommended Listening:

The Serpent Tradition

~~~~~~~~~~

Appalachian Winter

Label: Nine Gates Records
Years Active: 2008 – Present
State of Origin: Pennsylvania
Official Site: https://appalachianwinter.bandcamp.com/

>———-<

Besides the occasional dulcimer or banjo on albums – AW doesn’t really incorporate a lot of folk music into their style. Instead, it’s a synth heavy symphonic Black Metal onslaught with cultural/folk themes in the lyrics. A bit cheesy at times, it almost draws from power metal in terms of the “epic quality” of the symphonic end of things.

>———–<

Recommended Listening:

Appalachian Winter – Deep Within the Mountain Forest

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Order of Leviathan

Label: Unsigned/Independent
Years Active: 2012 – Present
State of Origin: Kentucky
Official Site: https://www.facebook.com/OrderOfLeviathan

>———-<

A very polished, very heavy sort of black metal – OoL sound like a fucking Scandinavian band to me. Very, very good Melodic Black Metal – it should sate the musical thirst of the trvest of the trve.

>———–<

Recommended Listening:

Order Of Leviathan – An Endless Dusk (2013)

~~~~~~~~~~

Merkaba (Kentucky)

Label: Unsigned/Independent
Years Active: 2010 – Present
State of Origin: Kentucky
Official Site: https://merkaba.bandcamp.com/

>———-<

An atmospheric/ambient black metal project from Kentucky – the best way I can describe these guys is this: Imagine if Bell Witch took shrooms, and then decided to play Black Metal instead of Funeral Doom. It’s very stripped down, pretty raw, and very good.

>———–<

Recommended Listening:

Merkaba – Eyes Lose Focus

~~~~~~~~~~

So, there’s a preview of the black metal musicians who are embracing their Appalachian heritage and dispelling some of the stereotypes about people from the area.

And kicking out some pretty killer American Black Metal. Fuck yeah.

– Grulog

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What a Trump Victory Would Mean for Heavy Metal

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a lifelong liberal. Not just a little bit liberal – very liberal. Like, tree-hugging socialist progressive grass-roots liberal. And I’m not making an argument for or against any presidential candidate. At this point, they all fucking suck.

The one and only point of this post is to illustrate trends in American heavy metal, and their relation to the US political climate. I will also illustrate that the same pattern holds true in Great Britain. Between the two countries, there’s been (for lack of a better word) a stranglehold on major movements in heavy metal history. And any other major movements or players in the global metal scene are subject to the same (or a very similar) pattern.

An important note here – I’m not implying causation. I’m implying correlation. Major trends in American extreme/underground metal have ALWAYS happened during conservative republican presidential terms. Likewise (with the exception of hair metal) all major “mainstream” trends in American heavy metal have happened during liberal (to moderate) democratic presidential terms.

I’m actually not the first person to notice this. I had been thinking about how there had been nothing but regurgitated crap (as far as new metal bands are concerned) coming out of the United States lately. Then it hit me, and I immediately did a google search to make sure nobody had already written an article on the subject. Lo and behold, some anonymous writer for a conservative website had noticed the same trend.

Established bands are another thing altogether, they’re not going to create a second wave of Thrash or Death metal with the same impact as the original. We’re in the middle of a “metal-bubble” right now (the market is absolutely saturated with good metal from established acts), and within the next few years it’s going to burst no matter what – but that’s another story for another day.

American Metal

In the United States, there really wasn’t much to speak of as far as original, ground breaking heavy metal besides a couple of bandwagon bands until the rise of thrash. From about 1970-1981 Americans might have consumed a good deal of metal, but most of the major artists were Brits. Sabbath, Motorhead, Deep Purple – Brits. Judas Priest? English. Iron Maiden? You get the idea.

Then something happened. Ronald Reagan won the Presidency of the United States, and ushered in a conservative era that lasted over a decade. Reagan was sworn into office in January of 1981. In that same year Anthrax, Dark Angel (not to be confused with Death Angel), Metallica, Pantera, and Slayer were formed. The following years saw Death Angel, Death, Megadeth, Testament, Atheist, GWAR, Morbid Angel, Nuclear Assault, Obituary, etc. Literally within a 3-4 year period you’ve got the seeds for two major movements/splits in heavy metal, not to mention about 2/3 of the base of what we now refer to as extreme metal. And it wasn’t just metal – VICE magazine just released an article discussing why Reagan was the best thing to happen to punk music.

I’m not sure if I can stress how big of a deal this is.The seeds for America’s permanent stamp on heavy metal history were planted and germinated during a very conservative time in the American political climate. During Reagan’s first term, the bands known as “the big four” all formed, and by the end of the second term Thrash had taken the world by storm. Metallica became the most successful metal band in the world, and Death metal was blossoming.

By the beginning of George Bush’s (senior) term in 1989, Death Metal had already overtaken Thrash. Obituary, Cannibal Corpse, Death, Deicide, Morbid Angel – Death metal was on the rise until it peaked out and stagnated around 1992-1993. Bill Clinton (Democrat) took office in January of 1993.

From 1993-2000, there were also major movements in metal that contributed to the culture as a whole metal pretty much sucked. And the overall political atmosphere of the United States was predominantly liberal/democrat. Remember Grunge? Clinton era. Nu Metal? Clinton. Slayer’s attempt at nu-metal? Clinton era. Metallica cuts their hair, goes “alt-rock”, and takes photos tongue kissing each other? Clinton era. Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park? Thanks a lot, Democrats.

clintonmetallica1

Enter 2000, a democrat wins but is rick-rolled out of office by a republican. Suddenly, there’s a resurgence in metal. A lot of players in what is commonly referred to as the “New Wave of American Metal” start picking up and getting more attention and rotation. Killswitch Engage, Lamb of God, Shadows Fall, and Chimaira all released albums – essentially a mutated Thrash renaissance. Also of note, Devourment started getting big. Slam was born, and real brutal death metal started taking off. Tech Death flourished. Ozzfest, admittedly around since the Clinton era, took off and saw it’s highest attendance ever.

2008, Obama wins. Ozzfest stops touring the US. Metalcore devolved into a bad caricature of itself, and Deathcore (a death metal influenced offshoot of metalcore) came to prominence. Blackgaze took off. You get the idea.

I’m not here to debate whether metalcore/deathcore/blackgaze are good or bad, I’m talking about global musical impact. There are Thrash bands, Death Metal bands, and Black metal bands all over the planet. Beyond the United States and Great Britain, there aren’t very many deathcore or metalcore bands. Deathcore has gotten to the point where quintessential founding bands of the genre like The Acacia Strain refuse to be associated with the term any more. And it seems like, while the rest of the world might not mind listening to these bands – by and large they don’t replicate these styles.

make-america-metal-again

Global Confirmation of the Trend

Black Sabbath released their debut album under a conservative Prime Minister (in fact, he was from a political party literally called “the conservative party”). The NWOBHM occurred during the reign of the Conservative Party in Britain (in fact, the party held sway for 57% of the 20th century in Britain). Grindcore as a genre germinated almost exclusively under conservative control.

In the early 90’s, Black Metal came to the attention of the entire world through a scene that formed, in large part, as a cultural response to the incredible grip conservatives had on the country.

Sepultura? Rose on the tail end of an authoritarian conservative regime in Brazil. Behemoth? Yeah, Poland is still wicked conservative.

And this isn’t to say that there isn’t good metal made by bands during liberal regimes. It’s saying I haven’t seen a legitimate artistic movement within American heavy metal that’s permanently changed the face of metal during a liberal regime. There are probably always going to be dark-horse bands like Pantera that carry the flag for decent metal – I’m just saying as of right now they seem to be the exception, not the rule.

hillary-clinton-throws-horns-900x515
(Clinton fans, don’t get your panties in a bunch. Hillary Clinton is still more conservative than any honest democrat should be comfortable with. I’m sure there will be plenty of angry music made if she’s elected. I’m just saying it’ll be shitty mainstream stuff that’s overtly politically correct)

Conclusion

If Trump wins, America’s going to start pumping out the fucking jams. The “Metal Bubble” we’re currently experiencing will probably pop immediately following his presidential term (4-8 years, depending on how generous you are. Remember, we as a country elected George W. Bush after he stole the election the first time, so don’t give American voters too much credit). We might even finally get another “real” movement in extreme metal.

If Hillary Clinton wins, subsequent movements in heavy metal will all be mainstream in nature, and the trend of whiny millennial hipsters taking over the American metal scene will continue. Metal concerts will continue to be referred to as people’s “safe spaces”, and former leaders in the metal scene like Phil Anselmo will continue to be demonized. Metal will continue down the track it’s on, and become a bad parody of itself.

  • If you’re voting for Trump (and listen to metal), this is probably another vindication of your choice to vote for him. Good for you.
  • If you’re voting for Clinton (and listen to metal), consider it a silver lining for if she loses. As of right now, it’s not looking great.

Whoever wins, we’re all fucked. We’re literally watching the crumbling decay of an empire. It’s unavoidable at this point. I just want there to be a decent soundtrack.

 

Behemoth’s Poznan Concert a Major Victory for Free Speech in Poland

Metal culture is a global phenomenon that generally transcends nationalistic borders, and as an American Metalhead I like to stay as informed as possible about global attitudes and trends regarding heavy metal.

For example, I’ve written on the illegal promise of a local government to allow the Roman Orthodox Church in Romania to “approve” what bands are allowed to play in the country. This promise was in direct violation of Romania’s constitution – and the government’s silence is the equivalent of supporting this sort of discrimination. Not OK. And small decisions like this have greater cultural implications – if you allow a non-governmental entity to determine governmental policy (including disbursement of public funds), you’re allowing that non-governmental group to make governmental decisions

This is where a recent political decision from Poland comes into play. Since roughly 2007, religion-based political groups have been petitioning the Polish government to ban a list of musical groups they deem satanic from playing in the country. This list included Polish natives Behemoth.

Around the same time, Behemoth front-man Nergal controversially destroyed a bible onstage during a show, and criminal charges were filed against him (I think it’s safe to say there’s no love lost between Polish religious groups and Behemoth). The ensuing court cases stretched over a number of years (until around 2012 I believe), and the last I checked he was acquitted. No surprise – after all, he’s kind of a big deal in Poland.

Then in 2014, a scheduled show in Poznan, Poland was cancelled due to vague “safety concerns”. Nergal rightfully called out the actions of those in power for what they were – political maneuvering to placate religious fundamentalists while avoiding controversy. Article 73 of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland guarantees freedom of artistic creation and scientific research, as well as free access to cultural goods. The real violation of civil rights was not perpetrated by Behemoth, but by the church against the band and their fans.

protestors

Enter 2016 -Bogdan Freytag, chairman of the religious protest group “Faithful Poland”, petitioned Poznan’s Mayor (Jack Jaśkowiak) in the hopes of preventing Behemoth from playing yet again. Considering the incredible amount of legal power these religious groups have wielded against the band, I feel it was a bold move in the right direction for the president of the country to allow the concert to happen. Behemoth seems to think so too.

freedom-in-art

At this point you might be asking yourself, “Why is this important?” Well, simply put, it sets an example for other countries in Eastern Europe in favor of free speech, even if that speech offends the church. Which (from what I gather) is a concept that hasn’t fully taken hold in the area.

Essentially, Poland has done exactly what Romania should have done. Because if you look closely, there’s a pattern here – religious groups exercising their constitutional rights in a country for the express purpose of denying those same rights to a large segment of the population. It happened in Poland in 2007, and it took almost a decade to undo the damage. That’s why it’s important to put a spotlight on small local governments making seemingly innocuous concessions to religious groups (or any protest groups) – because those decisions set a legal precedent with far reaching legal implications.

So, in the greater scheme of things – Behemoth’s ability to finally play in Poland is a victory for free speech (and metal).

Metalheads Had Social Networking Before the Internet

In 2016, the internet has become such an integral part of global culture that it’s hard to imagine what life would be like without it. Social media, in particular, takes advantage of this massive global connection by helping people to communicate across the globe in real-time.But, strange as it seems, there was a time before the internet. People still communicated, albeit a lot more slowly.

So, how does this relate to metal culture? To understand how, first we should take a look at why metalheads would need to create a social network. In the 80’s and 90’s, heavy metal and it’s fans had a HUGE stigma attached to them (in some parts of the world, this stigma still exists). There was a large scale moral panic surrounding the music and it’s culture.

In the United States, for example, there was a growing wave of misinformation, political correctness, and organized opposition that threatened the very existence of metal. Police were trained to target metalheads based on the stereotypes propagated by the PC groups like the PMRC. Here are a few examples from a police training pamphlet called “Youth Subcultures”

heavy metalistsblack metalistspunksstoners

 

By themselves, these images are humorous at best. But the descriptions accompanying the photos labeled all metal fans (and punks, the picture with the mohawk was sadly missing the label) as lowlifes with no motivation to do anything constructive, who’s only source of income was from theft and drug sales (also mentioning that most metalheads were avid drug users themselves).

Combined with metal being completely ignored by the music industry,  disrespected by the media, metal shirts being banned from schools, young fans of the music being sent to counselors and camps for “de-metalizing”, and metal bands being put on public trial as scapegoats for youth tragedy – you’ve got a culture who’s very existence requires it to go “underground”.

And if you can’t find music you want in the normal media channels, where do you go? Simply put, you go to other fans of the music. But metal fans were few and far between – and spread all over the globe. There was no internet, no media, nothing – how did people find new metal that wasn’t a polished, formulaic mainstream parody of real music?

The answer, of course, was tape trading. Metal magazines were essentially the lifeblood of the culture. And the classified ads in these magazines allowed someone to advertise that they had new music for distribution, or to advertise their tastes. All you had to do was put in an ad with an example of a band you liked (and your mailing address), stating you were looking for more bands like them, and wait. People would send you music, mostly free of charge, that was in the same vein. Essentially it was a pen-pals with benefits sort of thing, and it completely cut the record industry out of the picture.

This is where the sub-genrefication of metal started, it was necessary to get people the music they wanted. This was also the time where the unwritten rules of metal started to solidify. These things are all manifestation of “sub-cultural space”, it’s how metalheads communicate aspects of metal culture to one another. It’s also when the metal “uniform” really came together and became a thing. The most important part of the uniform (wearing shirts of the bands you listen to) was a way to show solidarity with the culture, support for the bands (because they still get more from t-shirt sales than they ever did from albums), and personal musical taste to other people in the culture.

Fun fact – with the industry out of the picture metal was free to evolve without corporate influence. If it wasn’t for widespread persecution of metalheads (forcing them to go underground as a culture), you wouldn’t have Thrash, Death Metal, Grindcore, Hardcore Punk, Black Metal, or any of the extreme branches of the metal family tree that exist today.

In other words – this is when heavy metal completely broke off from rock and roll and became a distinct musical style with it’s own unique culture. Just like rock and roll broke off from the blues, metal severed it’s ties to rock music.

So, when you see an article bitching about how downloading music is killing the record industry – take it with a grain of salt. It’s killing the pop-machine entertainment industry for sure, but if you’re paying attention and capable of rational thought you can see even that claim is 100% bullshit. But as far as metal bands are concerned – sure, they’re seeing a drop in record sales. But record labels were pretty famous for signing metal bands to horrible long term contracts that gave away a lot of legal rights and fucked them over creatively for years. So they’re probably going to have to adopt a business model from heavy metal musicians, largely based on touring and merch sales. Soooo… the bands treated like dogshit by the major labels are now going to be their saving grace. Ironic much?

But I digress.

The outsider/taboo status assigned to metal by (and in) mainstream culture is what turned it into the cultural behemoth (pun intended) that it is today. File-sharing and social networking in the metal community is something that was happening for a full decade before the internet even existed. The transition to social networking and file-sharing websites was a natural one, metalheads simply digitized aspects of the culture that were already there.

That’s why metalheads still shit on Metallica on a regular basis. A shitty album or two can be overlooked – nobody bats 1000. But when you go after an evolutionary step of the very cultural mechanism that made you into what you are today (tape trading->file sharing, if you’re not following), you’re selling out completely. They sided with the same corporate entities that wouldn’t have given them the time of day a decade earlier.

Anyways – the only thing metalheads like more than metal is reading about how great metalheads are. So, there’s that. Enjoy.

Oh, if you liked this please feel free to join my facebook group metal stuff.

 

The Two Faces of Metal

I was talking with my friend Raven from “The Vault of Metal” the other day about an interview with Chester Bennington from Linkin Park, in which he stated, “In my opinion, we actually kept metal alive.”

Now Raven (who isn’t alone in this opinion) contends that the “metal” as represented by bands like Linkin Park, Disturbed, Five Finger Death Punch, Slipknot, and the like isn’t even metal. There are elements of this statement that I sort of agree with, but I have to respectfully disagree with the overall statement.

The reason I disagree is because I think there’s a more accurate way to look at the situation. Metal has two faces, a public (or mainstream) face and a private (or underground) face. This isn’t some new or revolutionary observation – it’s an argument that’s been going on since the genre fractured. It’s been covered by every single major metal sociologist; Deena Weinsteen (Heavy Metal: The Music and Its Culture and Heavy Metal: A Cultural Sociology), Robert Walser (Running With the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music), Ian Christe (Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal), Malcolm Dome (The bible of Heavy Metal: Encyclopaedia Metallica, Thrash Metal), Keith Kahn-Harris (Extreme Metal: Music and Culture on the Edge), Sam Dunn (Metal: A Headbanger’s journey, Global Metal, Metal Evolution, Banger Films) in some form or another.

The reason that metal culture as a whole can have these opposing factions is because it isn’t a single, unified culture. It’s what’s commonly referred to as a bricolage culture – a hodgepodge collection of distinct groups and scenes with a unifying theme (metal) that form a complete culture.

For the purpose of this article, metal can be viewed like this;
twofaces

Both sides have their positive and negative aspects. An underground band has the ability to gain a significant amount of credibility within the scene, at the expense of a smaller fanbase. A mainstream band has the monetary advantage, as mainstream viability means you’re reaching a broader audience. However, the price of mainstream popularity comes at the expense of a band’s credibility within the broader metal scene. And in metal, credibility is everything.

Bands are not stuck in a single category, movement between these areas is fluid – but with a catch. They can only move in one direction. A mainstream band cannot under any circumstances move back to the underground. An underground band, however, has the ability at pretty much any point in time to move to the mainstream. There’s even a (often overused) term for when a band moves into mainstream territory – selling out.

To become popular, most underground bands tend to try and stay in the grey area between mainstream and underground – maximizing the size of their audience while sacrificing as little credibility as possible.

So, it’s not really a dichotomy. It’s more of a “collage spectrum” that’s defined by the polar extremes.

Cultural fracture point – when metal gained two identities

When metal actually fractured into these two distinct categories (mainstream and underground) is up for debate. The divide became recognizable when Thrash (underground) and Glam (mainstream) arose as two distinct entities in the 80’s. That’s when we got terms like “lite metal“, which were used by members of the underground community to refer to their mainstream counterparts.

Arguably, the divide between mainstream and underground metal goes back another generation. When Def Leppard refused to be associated with/included in the NWOBHM, band members stated it was because they wanted their band to be associated with the greater “hard rock” category (as opposed to the niche underground genre that NWOBHM was at the time). And if you look at the first wave of mainstream metal (Glam), you can clearly see it’s roots in the styles of both Def Leppard and Led Zeppelin.

I think it’s worth mentioning that bands that existed within the cultural sphere of heavy metal before the mainstream/underground fracture are immune to this classification. It was created to differentiate the new bands, and any attempt to use them as anything else would be inaccurate.

Metal in the Mainstream

mainstreamallica fan

 

It all started with Hair Metal/Glam in the 80’s, which combined metal with popular hard rock from the time period. And as with anything mainstream, hair metal was beholden to corporate influence. So when the music industry had completely exhausted the genre (through formulaic “clone” bands and over-promotion), they moved on to “the next big thing” and declared metal dead. So, in the eyes of mainstream culture – metal had died. And in it’s place was a new mainstream genre – Grunge.

Grunge was effectively the anti-thesis of hair metal. It’s combination of metal and alternative rock pushed apathy and mediocrity as a counterpoint to hair metal’s excitement and over the top excess.

In fact, the only thing I can think of that Glam and Grunge have in common is the incredible amount of heroin band members from both genres consumed. Which, in it’s own way, helped define their shelf lives. I guess every cloud has a silver lining.

Then in the mid 90’s a new mainstream contender entered the arena – Nu Metal. Combining rap with elements of alt-rock/grunge and heavy, down tuned riff oriented metal on (typically) seven string guitars. While musically much more aggressive and exciting than it’s predecessor, it remained a relatively simple and easily digestible form of metal that was fit for mass consumption and easily duplicated by the record industry.

The mid 2000’s saw the fall of Nu Metal and the rise of Metalcore. Taking the already established hardcore/metal fusion that had been mixing with the Gothenburg brand of Melodic Death Metal (and adding the signature whiney Emo vocals), metalcore took the mainstream by storm.

Nowadays, as metalcore is waning in popularity, bands like Periphery and Liturgy are crossing one of underground metal’s more extreme sub-genres (Black Metal) and mixing it with apathetic, “self absorbed posing as introspective” hipster Indie rock genres like Shoegaze  to create the musical abomination known as blackgaze. Combined with the large number of bands aping djent and mixing it with mainstream influences, it’s only a matter of time until we see the next big trend in popular metal.

I’m not sure where the fuck Five Finger Death Punch fits into all this, probably the fact that they mixed the groove metal of Pantera with mainstream hard rock. However you want to categorize them, calling them anything other than mainstream metal is a disservice to the intelligence of both the speaker and the listener.

Metal in the Underground

death-metal-bands
(This is where the magic happens)

Recently Thrash, Death, and Black metal have all been encompassed into an overarching umbrella term – Extreme metal. A fair description, as they all tend towards extremity. I like the term, and it puts all the bands in a proper context – all extreme metal is in some way shape or form a derivative of the thrash metal movement of the 80’s, although bands such as Celtic Frost, Bathory, and Venom (generally dubbed the “first wave” of black metal) also serve as the genre’s precursors. I’m pretty sure Keith Kahn-Harris does a better job explaining it all in his book. Also, Sam Dunn did an excellent crowdfunded “lost episode” of his series Metal: Evolution dealing with the subject.

Exceptions

While metal has been, since it’s inception, a predominantly underground phenomenon, when referring to “underground metal” people are generally talking about thrash and it’s derivatives. Like I mentioned earlier, this split happened after bands like Sabbath or Maiden hit the radar, so while they would fit the mold for underground metal – they also (by standing the test of time) fit into the mainstream metal category. They’re neither and they’re both.

It is interesting to note that in the vein of these classic bands, metal in the underground follows a generational musical progression that’s the only consistent pattern in heavy metal since it’s inception – the new stuff is always heavier. It’s harder, it’s faster, it’s more distorted, and it’s progressively more socially transgressive. Sam Dunn touched on this in his first movie, Headbanger’s Journey – new generations of bands continue to strive to sound heavier than the generation before them.

Conclusions

In context, Raven’s assertion that the “mainstream” metal bands aren’t metal at all is technically true. In every incarnation, the thing mainstream metal bands all have in common is that they dilute heavy metal by mixing it with a more “palatable” style of music. With hair metal, it was diluted with hard rock (including rock ballads, ugh). Grunge watered the heaviness down with popular college alternative rock. Nu Metal did it with rap and alt rock. Metalcore did it with emo. And modern day hipster bands do it with Indie rock (Indie meaning hipster/millennial co-opted melancholy, boring, crap rock – not indie as in independent… there’s a huge independent streak in underground metal).

Saying these mainstream bands “aren’t real metal” isn’t (generally) meant as an insult, it’s an attempt to keep accuracy in the conversation. Metal is generally viewed as genealogical, so an example of that ilk might bring some clarity.

If you breed a horse and a donkey together – the resulting creature is called a mule. It’s not a horse, and it’s not a donkey. The two animals are closely related and branch from the same evolutionary family, but distinct enough to warrant a different name for each distinct species. A mule, the resulting offspring from the union of the species, cannot accurately be called a horse or a donkey because it is equal parts horse and donkey. However if the mule proves fertile (most often they’re not) and is bred with another horse, the resulting offspring will be categorized as a horse.

Substitute “metal” for “horse”, and “rock” for “donkey”, and you essentially have the entire argument against “mainstream metal” being considered part of the metal family tree (instead being relegated back an evolutionary step to the “hard rock” category). If any of the mainstream/popular genres spawn/influence new music by being crossed back with metal genres – the result is considered to be part of the metal tree.

I always figured this sort of knowledge was just a given, but apparently it’s not. the massive amount of butthurt expressed online by hipsters and others outside the metal community when they’re improper use of terminology is corrected just seems to be part of the social landscape.

This duality within the genre is also the source of endless frustration expressed in memes like this gem…

girlswholistentometal

Now, as someone who was a pretty big fan of Nu Metal, I might be a tad biased in my opinion. I prefer a touch of holism with my definition of metal – while I’m predominantly a fan of the underground/extreme branch of the metal family tree, I refuse to discount the importance of mainstream metal bands to the culture.

First and foremost, they represent the social gateway into greater metal culture. Nobody starts off listening to Extreme Metal, taste progression in metal is generally a process – and “Gateway Metal” bands generally kick-start the process. They also represent the metal community to the mainstream in other respects.

When the PMRC kickstarted congressional hearings on heavy metal in the 80’s, they completely neglected to mention underground bands. It was Dee Snider of Twisted Sister who went and spoke for the genre, and completely exposed the entire debacle for what it was – a modern day witch hunt. Slipknot and Marilyn Manson (as well as Ozzy, Preist, and Maiden – but if you’ve been reading they’re excluded from this classification as they encompass both mainstream and underground characteristics) were publicly scapegoated as the reason behind public controversies. From grave robberies to school shootings, as soon as heavy metal is found in the mix it’s automatically considered the cause.

So, these aren’t just the people who recruit new member to the metal cause, they’re the ones who defend it in the public eye. They also transmit the norms of metal culture to new recruits. Considering these critical roles mainstream metal bands play in the overall culture, I don’t believe it is accurate to call them anything other than metal.

This doesn’t mean I won’t call a spade a spade, mainstream metal is gimmicky as hell and has a lot of elements of mainstream culture I generally try to avoid. But you can like, or at very least appreciate, a band and the role they play in overall culture without dismissing them because they A) fill a different cultural niche than underground bands and B) don’t conform to a minimalist definition of metal.

Shameless plug, if you like what you read feel free to join my metal facebook group Metal Stuff.

You don’t actually hate sub-genres – you hate assholes.

Why, in the metal community, is any argument against sub-genres treated as valid? If it’s all just metal – then you’re implying that Cannibal Corpse and Iron Maiden shouldn’t be differentiated. After all, they’re just metal right? Let’s all just band together and celebrate the imaginary brotherhood of steel. Five Finger Death Punch and Behemoth? Just metal. Black Sabbath and Meshuggah? They’re all the same, it’s just metal. It’s all just metal.

Technically, this is true – but only in the same way that the Harry Potter series and the Encyclopedia Britannica are just books. Or how “Love, Actually” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” are just movies. This is what people who “hate” sub-genres sound like to anybody who likes to talk about heavy metal with precision and clarity.

bok sub-genres

Now, I have a confession – I worked as a library clerk for a few years. Whether or not you like libraries (and reading) – you kind of have to admire the amount of organization that goes into a place like that. Essentially, books fall into two genres – fiction and non-fiction. From there, books are meticulously categorized into sub-genres. This isn’t because there are literary elitists (which there certainly are) – it’s because categorization is necessary to deal with the sheer amount of books available. There’s literally no other way to deal with it. It’s fast, it’s efficient, and it’s accurate.

And in all of my years of going to a library – I have never heard the argument, “we don’t need genres and sub-genres man, they’re all just books.” While it would be technically true, all an argument like that would do is to prove how ignorant the speaker is of the topic. Because fiction and non-fiction are all books, but they’re worlds apart. There are so many different types of books, you need to categorize and sub-categorize them. Nobody has a problem with this (that I know of).

Another aspect of culture/life where people have no problem with sub-genrefication is movies. Comedies, Thrillers, Documentaries, Horror movies. There are different types of comedies, different types of thrillers, different types of documentaries, and different types of horror films.

Yet in all of my years of watching movies,I have never been presented with the argument, “Why can’t we just call them all movies? I’m sick of the sub-genrefication of movies, it only gives elitist assholes a way to put down other people’s tastes.” While technically true, a person who says this shows an incredible ignorance of the span and scope of movies. And instead of learning more about the various types of movies, they’re publicly stating that they would prefer all movie fans to bring themselves down to that same level of ignorance.

movies

Now, there was a time when all heavy metal music was just called metal. At that point, there wasn’t enough variation in the genre to warrant the creation of sub-genres. In fact, most people would argue that metal was a sub-genre of rock and roll. And I’m sure that there were people who hated that categorization, and still do. A lot of people still consider metal part of the “hard-rock” category. Whoa, there’s sub-genres of rock music? Like, hard rock, psychedelic rock, soft rock, mainstream rock, pop rock, prog rock, southern rock, blues rock, punk rock, shock rock, etc? No way, it’s all just rock – we need to stop with the labeling and sub-genrefication of rock and roll music.

It’s almost like when the variation within a genre hits a critical mass, it’s human nature to categorize it. And it’s not some new thing – the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) introduced the concept of sub-genres to the metal community. It was new, it was fresh, it was different. But it was still metal. And when you use the term NWOBHM, you’re referring to a specific group of bands with specific sonic characteristics. It was harder, faster, and more technically proficient than other styles of metal. Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath sound very different, and to be able to discuss these differences you need to have a label that reflects these differences.

Now, the only argument against sub-genres that carries any weight with me comes from metal artists themselves. A good friend and co-worker of mine, who went to college for music theory (and who has been known to write some pretty crunchy grooves) usually presents the argument that being labeled as a musician is limiting. Incredibly good argument. I only have a couple real arguments to counter this. First, that if a label is limiting/constricting it is inaccurate or incomplete. Secondly, that there’s a difference between labeling and describing. Genre labels are, essentially, words that we use to describe different styles and influences.

Sub-genrefication is an example of a manifestation of what is referred to as”sub-cultural space.” This means it is a social area reserved specifically for that sub-culture. This includes terms that mean absolutely nothing to people outside of the culture. Have you ever had a friend who doesn’t listen to metal ask you the difference between certain genres, and then when you start to explain it their eyes gloss over and (at best) they pretend to listen in the interest of politeness? This is exactly what I’m talking about – they don’t participate in the sub-culture, so this particular sub-culture specific language means nothing to them.

If I were to say, “this band is very heavy” – very few people would have any idea what I’m really talking about. There are as many different definitions of “heavy” in metal as there are fans of metal. However, if I were to say that they’re a blackened death metal band – fans of death metal, black metal, or both would know that this is a band they should check out.

behemoth         belphegor

Use of sub-genres is infinitely more accurate – and with the sheer amount of heavy metal available, labels like this help people find what they like in the same way the Dewey decimal system helps library patrons find the books they’re looking for.

Are there people who will use this system to act like an asshole? Of course. But that’s not exclusive to heavy metal. There are plenty of literary snobs and movie critics, and they all have their own preferred genres and styles of writing and directing. In short, don’t let assholes invade your sub-cultural space. Or use them as an excuse for not participating.

And if you hate stereotypes, then stop stereotyping elitists.

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