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Metal Stuff’s 2017 Review: The Year in Metal

The Good

It was a good year for metal releases.

I think the metal community got spoiled after last year’s “metal bubble” and the Thrash revival. Compared to the incredible amount of good music that got dumped on us anything is going to seem lackluster, but 2017 was a good fucking year for heavy music (once you accept that 2016 was a happy fluke).

Metal Stuff Top 15 albums of 2017

15) Suffer in Paradise – Ephemere

Suffer in Paradise - Ephemere

Quality Funeral Doom from Russia, this album was my “October surprise” for 2017. The synth is a little weird at first, but the contrast lends to the overall atmosphere of the album.

 

14) Loss – Horizonless

Loss - Horizonless

I actually didn’t like this album the first time I listened to it. Glad I gave it another chance – guess it’s more of a grower than a shower. Not necessarily a bad thing, albums like that tend to stand the test of time.

 

13) Nortt – Endeligt

Nortt - Endeligt

Holy fuck. This solo Funeral Doom project from Denmark never disappoints. His last album (Galgenfrist) was released 10 years ago, and the decade long wait for the new album was more than worth it. Dark, gloomy, cold, and most importantly heavy as fuck.

 

12) Belphegor – Totenritual

Belphegor = Totenritual

I’ve been stoked for this album since Belphegor released the video for “Totenkult – Exegesis of Deterioration” 2 years ago. Another album that was well worth the wait.

 

 

11) Akercocke – Renaissance in Extremis

Akercocke - Renaissance in Extremis

A lot of people didn’t like the clean vocals on the album. I’ll admit, Jason isn’t getting any younger – and time has taken a bit of a toll on his vocal chords. But as a whole, that doesn’t really take away from the album for me. The band is as sharp as they’ve ever been, and while the cleans in some sections seem a bit strained, I almost wonder if that’s intentional – because if you listen to other tracks (like the one below), the cleans are pretty fucking good. I dunno, judge for yourself.

 

10) Tie (Cannibal Corpse – Red Before Black and Morbid Angel – Kingdoms Disdained)

I couldn’t choose, both bands released some quality material this year (in both cases, also significantly better than the previous release). Straightforward, in your face death metal with no bells or whistles.

 

9) Kreator – Gods of Violence

Kreator_-_Gods_of_Violence

Right on the tail end of the Thrash resurgence, Kreator dropped an excellentalbum that (like most albums released in the first half of the year) seems to have been left out of people’s top albums of the year. Why/How is beyond me, this album is quintessential thrash.

8) Bell Witch – Mirror Reaper

Bell Witch - Mirror Reaper

Probably the Funeral Doom release that received the most hype this year (for good fucking reason), the album has lived up to and surpassed any expectations I had. Mirror Reaper seemed to dance on that “invisible line” in the doom metal spectrum between Funeral Doom and Drone (not a bad thing)

 

7) Eluveitie – Evocation II

Eluveitie-Evocation-II-Pantheon

I know, I know. It’s a fucking acoustic album on a top metal albums of the year list. Since recruiting like 20 new members, it’s cool to see these guys bouncing back stronger than ever.

The band already has a full-on folk metal album in the works, and I’m as excited as a pig in shit. If the entire album holds up to the teaser single below, we’re in for a treat next year.

 

6) Mesmur – S

Mesmur-S

These guys need to cough up some merchandise so I can throw more money at them. This was another album that caught me completely off guard this year. Pure sonic embodiment of despair.

 

5) Funeris – Dismal Shapes

Funeris - Dismal Shapes

Argentinian Funeral Doom mastermind Alejandro Sabransky delivers another masterpiece. This guy just writes riffs that satisfy my addiction to heavy music. Punishingly heavy – this really is an album you need to lay down, turn off the lights, and let wash over you.

 

4) Frowning – Extinct

frowning - extinct

The sophomore release from German solo Funeral Doom act Frowning was one of the two albums I was most excited to hear this year. I’ll tell you something, Val doesn’t disappoint. This is pure Funeral Doom that doesn’t sacrifice the residual aggression and heaviness of Death Doom. I really can’t say enough good about this album, or this artist. This is what Funeral Doom is supposed to sound like.

 

3) Temple of Void – Lords of Death

Temple of Void - Lords of Death

This was the third album that caught me completely off guard and blew me out of the water this year. Dark, crushing riffs – if a “holy shit” level of heavy is what you’re looking for then look no further.

 

2) Dying Fetus – Wrong One to Fuck With

DF - Wrong one

This is another album that got a lot of beaming reviews, but failed to make most people’s end of year lists. Odd, considering the hype leading up to the album – and how well the band delivered.

1) Unleash the Archers – Apex

UTA - Apex

Favorite album of the year hands down. Hands fucking down. There’s literally nothing I can say about this album that hasn’t already been said. The musicianship is solid, and they’ve managed to capture that “American Metal” production delivering a crystal clear sonic assault directly to your ears. Brittney Slayes vocal chords are simply amazing, I’m a rather big fan of the layered harmonies on a lot of the songs. Even the concept of the album (yes, I’m a sucker for concept albums) is fucking awesome – a stone giant sleeping in a mountain is summoned by an evil sorceress to gather her sons from around the world so she can sacrifice them and gain immortality – told from the viewpoint of the stone giant. Catchy and fun while undeniably heavy and metallic, this is an album you shouldn’t miss.

Honorable Mentions:

Alestorm – No Grave but the Sea, Pallbearer – Heartless, Septicflesh – Codex Omega, Obituary – Self Titled, Myrkur – Mareridt, Electric Wizard – Wizard Bloody Wizard, Skyclad – Forward into the Past, Decapitated – Anticult, Suffocation – …of the Dark Light, Code Orange – Forever, Æther Realm – Tarot

The Year of OSDM

As predicted last year, metal moved forward from a year of thrash to a year of old-school death metal. It’s not some ground breaking revelation, that’s the order extreme metal evolved in organically.

Once you accept the fact that everything is cyclical, it makes perfect sense that the next phase of metal releases would include the original death metal pioneers.

I’d say releases by Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Obituary, Decapitated, Six Feet Under, Suffocation, and Autopsy certainly support my ongoing theory that extreme metal movements will mirror the original evolution of the sub-genres.

At this point I would like to predict a major swath of Black Metal releases next year. Dark Fortress, Isahn, Immortal, Shining, Watain, Dimmu Borgir, and Nachmystium all have material in the studio and are all expected to release albums next year – so we’ll see.

Other cool shit

There’s a new fucking Demons and Wizards album coming out next year. New Eluveitie as well.

Be excited.

Be very excited.

I don’t think there was a single bad Funeral Doom release this year. Obviously, the big story here was Bell Witch’s new album – I think there was better FD released this year, but I gotta hand it to these guys – Mirror Reaper was an excellent fucking album.

 

The Mediocre

There were bands that, by all rights, should have released some groundbreaking fucking material that just decided to coast this year.

Arch Enemy released “War Eternal Part II”, but decided to call it “Will to Power”. For fucks sake, they’ve got Jeff Loomis and this is the best thing they could come up with? Oh, and that thing when Amott said there’d never be clean vocals on an Arch Enemy album? Yeah, that’s gone. Goddamn it. I love every fucking member of this band, which is why I’m probably a little over critical, I just hate to see a super group of this magnitude cashing out so soon.

Empire of Sand by Mastodon was another one that really bugged me. “Show Yourself” was utter garbage.

Also disappointingly mediocre – TBDM, Dragonforce, GWAR, and Trivium.

 

The Bad, the Really Bad, and the Ugly

Shit went down when #rapegate hit heavy metal. Decapitated, Suicide Silence, Inanimate Existence, Twiggy (Marilyn Manson’s guitarist), Anthrax’s old guitarist Dan Spitz, Shining. I’m sure there was more. Oh yeah, Gene Simmons – that one caught me totally off guard.

Deaths:

  • 1/28 – Geoff Nicholls (Black Sabbath)
  • 2/13 – Trish Doan (Kittie)
  • 4/5 – Paul O’Neill (Trans-Siberian Orchestra)
  • 5/17 – Chris Cornell (Soundgarden)
  • 7/14 – David Zablidowsky (Trans-Siberian Orchestra)
  • 7/20 – Chester Bennington (Linkin Logs Park)
  • 9/22 – Eric Eycke (Corrosion of Conformity)
  • 10/21 – Martin Eric Ain (Celtic Frost)
  • 10/22 – Daisy Berkowitz (Marilyn Manson)
  • 11/1 – Scott Wily (Vital Remains)
  • 11/7 – Whitey Glan (Alice Cooper)
  • 11/9 – Chuck Mosley (Faith No More)
  • 12/13 – Warrel fucking Dane (Sanctuary, Nevermore)

 

Black Sabbath disbanded too.

So yeah, there’s all of that. I probably missed something.

Weird fucking year.

 

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Is all Heavy Metal Based on a Single Act of Plagiarism?

Stupid click-bait title?

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Check
(you won’t believe what happens next)

I can’t believe people still fall for that shit.

Intro:

Seriously though, for all the try-hards who fall back on the “I like metal because the artists are so original” defense, here’s a bit of a history lesson.

First, we need to establish a few things.

  1. Black Sabbath was the first metal band. This is a given (people who say Coven was the first metal band are like people who say Possessed is the first death metal band – they’re wrong and just trying to make themselves look credible because they can do a fucking google search. We get it, they had a song called Black Sabbath and a bassist named Greg “Oz” Osbourne – and released an album before Sabbath’s self-titled debut).
  2. The first heavy metal song was also called “Black Sabbath”. I have no idea what order they were written in, this was the first track on the album. It was also one of the first songs they performed live. They released a cover of “Evil Woman” as their first single, but that’s certainly not the first heavy metal song. For the purpose of defining the first metal song, my money is on Black Sabbath.
  3. Black Sabbath didn’t “write” the main riff for the first metal song. I’ll expand on this in a minute.
  4. I’m going to use bullshit American Millennial logic. You know, the kind of faux wax-philosophical logic in articles like this one, which asserts that you’re cheating on your girlfriend by checking your fucking facebook in the morning. To be fair, my argument is a bit more sound.

Having established the first metal band and the first metal song, we can safely say these two things in conjunction were the fucking genesis of heavy metal.

Like, in the beginning there was Black Sabbath – and I saw that it was good.

Sooooo, what was the creative process behind writing the infamous first song off the self titled debut? Legend has it Geezer Butler (their bassist) was playing a theme from “Mars, Bringer of War” from (The Planets by Gustav Holst) – specifically, the part with the tri-tone. No big surprise there, they were pretty musically diverse in their interests and influences. Iommi hears it, and then comes in the next day with the riff for “Black Sabbath”. They’re not identical, but they’re pretty fucking close.

Like, almost exact. Check it out.

(for the impatient, skip to 4:30 into the song to hear the theme I’m referencing)

(the song starts at about 27 seconds in, listen for it…)

Not quite as exact as Nile

But you get the idea.

So, if you’re going by the “college paper” rules of plagiarism, every fucking word on the planet is an act of plagiarism (including, but not limited to, Black Sabbath – and by association all of metal). Every fucking musical note in history is blatantly copying the first ape to bang two rocks together.

Plagiarism, Influence, and an Homage are NOT the same thing!

There is no such thing as an original thought. Every goddamn thing that has ever gone through your brain or come out of your mouth (the two are not always connected) has been done before. Everything.

That’s why we have a thing called influence – a concept to explain the natural progression of human expression based on the sum total of all the information they’ve processed in their miserable existence.

You do have to kind of draw a line in the sand here – there’s a clear distinction between a strong influence and completely robbing someone’s art and calling it your own.

Influence:

In the example of Sabbath and Holst, we’re looking at influence. The guys in Sabbath took the idea of a tri-tone, and worked their own into a song that (eventually) helped define the band’s signature sound. And by correlation, helped to define metal as a whole. That can easily be confused as plagiarism, but it’s different.

Homage:

In the example of Nile and Holst, Nile was paying an homage to Holst. It’s a public tribute – they adapted it to their own work, but instead of writing another into to a song about a god of war, they opted to use their own version of his into (paying tribute in the title of the song). This is a form of flattery.

Plagiarism:

If you want plagiarism, look to Papa Roach or some shitty tier 2-3 band that stopped being relevant the second they entered the music scene.

Example 1) The entire career of Papa Roach

Last Resort? Try Genghis Khan

Dead Cell? Try Sanctuary

Between Angels and Insects? Try Prowler.

How about that time the band ripped off Keane?

I seriously hate this fucking band. I think they have more accusations of plagiarism than they have singles.

Example 2) Annihilator’s “Snap” riff sounds suspiciously like Rammstein’s “Ich Tu Dir Weh”

And by “suspiciously like”, I mean note for fucking note.

How do you tell the difference?

How can a person say one band isn’t ripping another off, but another band is?

Influence is using a similar pattern to the person who influenced you. Homage is admitting you’re playing the same thing as another artist in a sort of tribute to them. Plagiarism is just stealing another artist’s work and calling it your own.

Papa Roach didn’t play something similar to Maiden – they played exactly the same riff as Maiden. At least 3 times. In 3 different fucking songs, 2 of them from the same album. And once you’ve hit 2 songs from the same Iron Maiden album, you’re already crossing from homage territory into copyright infringement. Especially when you give no mention or credit to maiden until you’re caught red handed in an interview, and try to pass it off as an homage.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand:

You could make a broad argument that Black Sabbath launched their career (and all of metal) through plagiarism – and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong.

Well, no, you’d be entirely wrong.

But seriously, metal is full of people borrowing other people’s riffs/lyrics. Just ask Iron maiden.

No, Metalheads Aren’t All Supposed to Get Along

Introduction:

The Heavy Metal sub-culture is a patchwork tapestry of inter-related scenes and subcultures known as a bricolage culture. Viewed as a whole, it can be generalized that it’s dualistic in nature.

I’ve written articles detailing the inherent divide in heavy metal, as well as the current incarnation of that divide. Building on this body of work, the purpose of this article is to discuss the nature of the relationship between the mainstream and underground factions of the culture with the express intent of shedding some clarity on the nature of Heavy Metal Culture as a whole. Specifically, the nature of discourse between members of the culture in relation to the music.

Metal Culture is Inherently Populist

Due to societal reactions to metal since it’s inception, heavy metal culture at it’s core is inherently populist in nature.

What I mean by this is that heavy metal is a musical style that caters to the needs and desires of the fanbase – the consumers tell the artists what they want. This is exactly opposite to the business model of musical culture in general – where major labels and musical oriented media (from now on I will refer to it as the Pop Machine) tell people what to like.

Now, the standard musical model of “taste-makers” telling consumers what is good/popular has it’s benefits – mainly that musical boundaries are clear and concise. There is little to no room for discourse, because musical definitions and standards are pre-defined for the consumer. The consumer is free to take it or leave it, and discussion is set within certain parameters. However, the entire setup is contrary to what a lot of people understand art to be – a manifestation of individualistic expression that exists for personal interpretation.

One of the things that the pop machine has been pretty consistent about is it’s rejection of metal music. Since rock critics first started writing about Black Sabbath in the early 70’s, metal has been institutionally ignored, discarded, set to the side, and left to it’s own devices. Normally, this would mean the death of a musical movement – as a lack of radio play and media coverage by the pop machine is meant to squash out artistic movements that do not conform to the pop machine standard.

The Reactionary/Oppositional Component

A lot of the modern day prejudices against metal bands and fans are a direct result of the pop machine. The very survival of the musical style required a following that, in time, would become a culture. Critics touting the music as a low-brow art form that caters to the lowest common denominator since the 70’s literally set the tone for a key aspect of metal culture – it’s inherently oppositional nature.

This nature served it well in the decades that followed. In the 80’s metal become the moral panic of the day – it was used to scapegoat aspects of the culture that then (then) conservative majority disliked. This peaked in the now infamous PMRC campaign that led to a (partially successful) congressional hearing in the United States relating to the censorship of ALL music.

preist

Conservatives opposed heavy metal culture due to it’s inherent opposition to authority, and Liberals opposed it due to the admitted hedonistic nature and low-brow appeal. The church opposed metal culture because, well, metal culture opposed the church in most cases. The music and it’s culture were under constant scrutiny and assault for the better part of a decade. This is not an environment that breeds “happy go lucky” or “inclusive” cultural traits. And the 90’s weren’t much better for metal. The police were trained to target metal fans as criminal lowlifes. The pop machine declared metal dead (wishful thinking?). When a few sick kids in Columbine got together and planned a horrible school shooting, heavy metal was the scapegoat. And so on, and so forth.

heavymetalarticle1

A Quick Recap

So, we can see that for (at least) the better part of 30 years heavy metal culture continued to exist specifically because of it’s oppositional nature. And the nature of that culture is reflected in it’s membership. Metalheads, by and large, have a confrontational and aggressive component to their personalities. It’s not up for debate, it’s just a fact. This may seem contrary to scientific studies that state exactly the opposite (that metal fans are creative, easy going, introverts with high self esteem – closer to the profile of a classical music fan) – but it all makes sense in context, so please bear with me as I stumble through an explanation.

I think metalheads, in large part, are attracted to metal because it offers a healthy outlet for negative emotion (i.e. the aforementioned aggressive/confrontational proclivities). Without all those pent up, negative emotions an individual is better able to function – so the personality traits displayed in scientific studies are expressed.

So, while metalheads may be more well adjusted than your average person – they still retain an inherent combative/oppositional nature. The culture reinforces this, and the attitudes then reinforce the cultural position – it’s cyclical.

Back to the Present Day

Applying this to the present state of heavy metal gives a little context and clarity to the situation. As noted by Sam Dunn in one of his Banger segments (I believe it was the one discussing metal in popular fashion) – heavy metal has lost a lot of it’s “outsider” status. It’s not as culturally threatening as it was even a decade ago. As such, major opposition to heavy metal has virtually disappeared – but that confrontational nature still exists. The most common expression of this is through infighting.

Some people might scratch their heads at this, but it makes perfect sense. I’ve heard metal culture referred to as a “big family”, “friends you’ve never met”, and a bunch of similar pseudo-hippy garbage terms. A more accurate description would be that metalheads constitute a “neo-tribal culture” based around a common appreciation for an art form.

So, tribe/clan/family unit are all pretty much synonymous – but there’s an inherent flaw in the way that most people view these terms. The problem is that they’re using a romantically charged view of a family unit or tribe. We’re conditioned as individuals to view families as some lovey-dovey unit that never disagrees. The reality of the situation, whether you like to admit it or not, is muuuuuch different.

Reality v.s Expectation

So, however you want to frame it, the reality of the situation is that the “metalheads are a family” comparison is very accurate. Anyone who feigns surprise that metalheads are going to argue is only kidding themselves (and clinging to a romanticized false notion of a family). It’s as natural as tribal warfare, sibling rivalry, or family feuds (those colloquialisms weren’t just plucked out of thin air).

The thing is, there’s another side to this. Besides all the bickering and feuding – there’s an unwritten rule that applies to both family members and metalheads. I’ll give an example – I’m the only person allowed to talk shit about my family. If anyone else does it, they get the business end of my entire fucking family.

It’s very similar with metal – and this isn’t just theory. Remember the PMRC hearings? Death metal and Thrash weren’t the direct target of that scandal – it was (predominantly) hair metal. Was Dee Snider left to fend for himself? Fuck no he wasn’t – because the only people who can bash hair metal are metalheads.

The same principle stands true today – if there was a large entity attacking heavy metal (using a metalcore or deathcore band as a scapegoat), they would meet with a much larger resistance than originally anticipated – because that’s how the metal machine operates (note – blackgaze isn’t metal so, assuming they managed to offend anyone, I personally would totally throw them to the wolves).

Conclusion

The infighting within metal culture is a good thing, and it’s totally natural. Granted, some of the bigger sites (that started as independent but have since become part of the pop machine) might egg it on for money and website traffic – but they’re not pulling conflict out of nowhere. It’s a natural expression of metal culture, and an acceptable form of participation that (among other things) creates an environment where competition is encouraged.

Competition in the metal scene creates better music.

Last I checked, that’s called winning.

I guess the message here is that newcomers to the metal community need take a step back so they can see the forest for the trees. Because Metal Culture fucking rules, infighting and all.

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.

 

Heavy Metal and Christianity

All human social groups share certain characteristics – on a micro level (individual interactions) and on a macro level (large-scale group dynamics). For the purposes of this article, I could choose any large social group in the world – religious or otherwise. I chose to use Christianity for two reasons.

First, the rather tenuous relationship between Metal Culture and Christianity since February 13th, 1970, when Black Sabbath released their first album.

Second – heavy metal collectively has the largest and most loyal global fanbase of any style of music (at least according to statistics released by music streaming service Spotify). Considering Christianity has the largest following of any religion on earth, they’re probably the best point of comparison (i.e. the largest faith based and entertainment based communities in the world). And you might be shocked at the number of similarities between the two.

Please keep in mind this is an observational piece, and is by no means all-encompassing. On to the discussion.

Similarities:

Both are large-scale global “bricolage” cultures

Metal and Christianity are global phenomenons, with legions of dedicated fans/followers on every populated continent. Christianity and Heavy Metal transcend language and culture, as well as economic barriers.

Christianity broke off/fractured from it’s parent culture (Judaism) when the population base reached a critical mass. It later fractured into distinct branches (Orthodox, Catholic, then Protestant with Martin Luther), which have continued to splinter into smaller sub-groups. The sheer number of different denominations is staggering, but all of them fall under the larger umbrella term of Christianity.

Metal broke off/fractured from it’s parent culture (Rock and Roll) when the fan base reached a similar critical mass. It later fractured into two distinct branches (Mainstream and Underground/Extreme), which have continued to splinter into smaller sub-genres. The sheer number of different sub-genres is staggering, but all of them fall under the larger umbrella term of Heavy Metal.

Both Share Similar Spectrums of Adherence

In both Christian and Metal cultural groups there are spectrums of adherence that range from exclusive to inclusive (and everything inbetween). This is a natural occurrence – because as the population of a group increases, so does the number of different opinions within that group.

A good example would be the “real” or “true” member debates. Within Christianity, there is an ongoing discussion in terms of what constitutes a “real” or “true” Christian. A parallel can be seen in the whole “real” or “true” metalheads v.s. posers discussion. in other words, both cultures have their fair share of “infighting” over multiple definitions of adherence.

Have you ever heard someone say, “Why do we need all these subgenres? Why can’t we just call it all metal like we used to?” or something similar? Spend enough time on metal forums, Facebook groups, or with metalheads in general and you might notice it’s a rather common topic of discussion.

Interestingly enough, when discussing the relative diversity of Christianity with Christians I’ve heard similar sentiments (We don’t need all these different denominations/I don’t know why we can’t just call it all Christianity).

There is some merit to these arguments, because all sub-genres and scenes fall under the greater spectrum of Heavy Metal just like all protestant and catholic denominations fall under the greater spectrum of Christianity. So, they’re accurate – just not very specific.

Both are Historically Male-Dominated Cultures

Considering both Christian and Heavy Metal culture are derivatives of Western Culture (which is mostly male dominated) this shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.

There is a major difference here though – Christianity was systematically set up to exclude women from positions of power pretty much since it’s inception. A good example of that would be the taboo against female priests/pastors. Metal, however, is masculinist (as opposed to patriarchal).

So, while both social systems formed with predominantly male influence – in this instance the difference is a huge one. Within the church’s social structure – rules have to be changed to allow women to serve the culture in major roles such as a priest or pastor.

Heavy metal has no such restrictions. A women entering the metal scene simply has to navigate social norms that are traditionally considered to be masculine (I’m talking about the scene here, not the industry. All Western industry is patriarchal). The proof is in the pudding here, while the two systems may seem comparable, the end result(s) of the respective social structures for different genders can clearly be seen and differentiated.

Both Christianity and Heavy Metal Have Radical “Fringe Groups”

Both Christianity and Metal Culture have a few skeletons in the closet. Heavy Metal has such gems as National Socialist Black Metal and Hatecore (technically punk, like all of the “-core” derivations, but included here because of hardcore’s association with metal), while Christianity boasts the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nations and other Christian Identity groups.

“Fringe” hate groups in Metal

“Fringe” hate groups in Christianity

These fringe groups aren’t just about racism, anti-abortion violence in the United States and abroad generally has Christian undertones. And Heavy Metal has it’s own share of isolated, hate-filled violence. From the infamous church burnings and murders to instances of torture, it’s safe to say there are a few very seriously disturbed individuals on the fringes of the scene.

In both instances, the major block of the respective cultures renounce the violence of the fringe groups – but these events are so violent and atrocious it’s hard to separate them completely.

Both Have a “Ritual” Component

Sociologically speaking, a metal concert could be considered a ritual experience. Rituals aren’t limited to religious expression – for instance, shaking a person’s hand as a greeting is a common social ritual.

The metal concert is a ritual of heavy metal culture worldwide. Individual customs may vary based on location, for instance in the United States it’s generally considered taboo to wear the shirt of the band you’re going to see at a show (unless it’s a tour shirt purchased at the concert). However, in other areas of the globe this isn’t necessarily the case. Also, someone not familiar with the incredible variance of metal culture might not recognize that a Black Sabbath show and a Cannibal Corpse show are both considered to fall in the general realm of metal shows.

Likewise, a church sermon is a ritual of Christian culture worldwide. Traditions in American churches might seem foreign to those in Europe or elsewhere. Snake-handling is a tradition of some churches in the southern United States, while the custom wouldn’t be recognized anywhere else in the world. Someone not familiar with the relative diversity of Christianity might not recognize that a Russian Orthodox service and a Southern Baptist service both fall in the general realm of Christian ritual.

And in both cases, the end result of a successful “ritual” is the same – they solidify social bonds between participants.

Both Utilize an Atmosphere of Persecution to Solidify Their Respective Bases

This one’s kind of interesting – as both Heavy Metal and Christianity have a history of persecution. In fact, considering the universal symbol of Christianity is an instrument of torture used against the founder (the cross), one could argue that Christianity is based on a mindset of persecution. Likewise, the founder of heavy metal (Ozzy, through Black Sabbath) was publicly persecuted (granted, he wasn’t tortured and killed – once of the nice things about 2,000 years of cultural advancements, as an accusation of blasphemy has certainly led to public execution historically), most notably in his Suicide Solution trial in the 80’s.

Funny thing about a culture of persecution – it tends to solidify social bonds of the persecuted group and lend a universal sense of purpose through opposition of the invisible “other”. Metal bands and Priests/Pastors alike take advantage of this social mechanism rather liberally. I’m not saying it isn’t for good reason, in certain parts of the world Christians and Metalheads certainly are persecuted – and generally for the same reason. Because they both represent the spread of Western Culture in an area. Bearing this in mind, the tension between metal and christian cultures can be viewed in a different light.

Now, by definition these two groups aren’t mutually exclusive. You can be a christian (or a member of any other faith) and still be a metalhead. So, why is it that so many christian groups are against heavy metal? And why are so many metal artists and fans so vehemently against the christian church?

Short answer – on a macro level they’re after the same thing… membership. They might phrase it differently – Christianity generally says it’s around to “save people’s eternal souls”, while metal is generally there to “free people’s minds” and “promote individual thought”. But at the end of the day, the results are the same. A church saving a person’s soul generally implies participation in christian culture, and by inference the spread of that culture. Likewise, heavy metal grabbing a person’s attention and getting them to think for themselves usually includes participation and perpetuation of metal culture.

They Both Utilize Horror Themes

At first glance, this might seem ridiculous. But if you really break down the components of “Hellfire Preaching” and compare them to death metal lyrics, you’re likely to find a common denominator in horror themes.

In both instances, this is a manifestation of a culture catering to the morbid interests of their bases. Because at the end of the day, there isn’t that much difference between talking about people being tortured eternally in hell and singing about torture in any other medium. In this light heavy metal and hellfire sermons can both be viewed as extensions of horror themed entertainment. Because let’s face it, people like to be scared.

Also, there’s this.

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Harper’s Bazaar announces “metal shirt and trousers” as the look of the summer; world ends.

So yeah, the co-opting of metal culture as a fashion statement has been going on for years. At least since late (November) 2012, when rapper Chris Brown was spotted wearing a DIY inspired leather studded jacket with metal patches and logos. Interestingly enough, he apparently borrowed it from Rihanna, who apparently wore it on the back of one of her albums to look “edgy”.

That in and of itself kind of sucked, because frankly I hate seeing anyone who doesn’t listen to a band wearing their merchandise. Call me old fashioned. I mean, I don’t know it for certain because I haven’t asked them – but call it a sneaking suspicion that Rihanna and Chris Brown don’t even know who the fuck COC or the Cro-mags are. It’s a wager I’d take.

Fortunately, the fashion industry and the world in general were pretty slow on the uptake when it came to co-opting and grossly exploiting a subculture. In May of 2013, Kanye West was wearing the equivalent of “metal inspired clip-art” on sweatpants (and Rihanna was spotted wearing an entire outfit from the line). Fucking sweatpants. Turns out it was a seasonal fashion line from some British designer. It also included football should pads, so I figured it was just a one off thing. After all, it was a British designer, and we all know British people are just fucking weird.

Then shit started getting real. Urban Outfitters, fucking URBAN OUTFITTERS (that hipster piece of shit clothing store) started selling a fake Megadeth, Dio, and WASP jacket – I’m still not sure how they got around copyright infringement on that one. The fucking thing sold for 375 bucks too – show me a single metalhead who can afford that and I’ll show you a fucking liar.

So, within the time-span of a single (November 2012 to September 2013) year we’ve gone from a couple of washed up hip-hop artists wearing faux metal spin offs to American clothing lines picking up the trend .

Enter 2014. Suddenly, you’ve got everyone from Justin Beiber to Amy Poehler to the Kardashians to Kanye West (again) sporting vintage metal shirts. Lady Gaga was purposefully left out of that list because she legit listens to Iron Maiden, but I digress. One store, H&M, actually got it right and was selling legit Slayer and Metallica shirts for cheaper than you can buy them artist direct.

At this point in time, while working in Upstate New York I was approached on break by a couple of temp workers from the city (for those of you who don’t live in New York, anything south of Poughkeepsie is considered “the city”) who complimented my kutte and asked where I had purchased it. The look of surprise on their faces was genuine when I told them I made it myself.

Up until this point I had been under the impression that the whole co-opting of metal and punk culture was a pastime reserved for rich, bored people in the entertainment industry who wanted to get some attention in a futile attempt to remain relevant. Boy was I fucking wrong. Apparently it’s really a “thing”. Oh, well – at least fashion is a fleeting thing right? There’s no fucking way anybody will actually seriously consider wearing shirts I was forced to turn inside-out at school as a fashion statement right? Right?

So, 2015 rolls around. In March, H&M actually started selling a clothing line of slightly altered but totally ripped off metal culture inspired clothing. This was about the time people in the metal community started noticing, and even started firing back a bit. Someone with an obvious knowledge of the metal community and a lot of time on their hands actually started a fake promo company that linked itself with the clothing line. They made up bands, albums, social media profiles, and music with a complete fake back story for each of the faux band patches represented on H&M’s clothing line. The best part? They were all neo-nazi/NSBM bands. Fucking brilliant. H&M started freaking out about it. A little while later, Finntroll guitarist Henri Sorvali confessed that he and a few of his buddies made the whole thing up, unbeknownst to H&M. This was masterfully done. When asked why he and his friends did this, Sorvali responded,

“metal culture is more than just “cool” looking logos on fashionable clothes, and has many more aesthetic and ideological aspects in different subgenres than what some corporations are trying to express. The metal scene is varied, controversial and a sort of a wolf you can’t chain into a leash and expect it to behave on your terms like a dog. Strong Scene as a collective has absolutely no political nor ideological intentions, and is only bringing the conversation to the level it should be discussed at.”

Thankfully, the clothing line (as far as I know) tanked.

Then, the clothing line “Diesel” decided to get in on the fun. I’m not sure what’s worse, the fact that they were charging $300 bucks a pop for a fucking cut-off denim vest with fake patches on it or the fact that they mixed thrash with crust punk by adding a matching pair of pants.

So, this whole fashion thing has to have peaked right? Wrong. Urban Outfitters doubled down and started selling a lot more metal shirts, but started charging like $54 a pop ($200 for a vintage Black Sabbath shirt, and they fucking sold out). Fuck, at least you can go back to artist direct merchandise and retain some sort of integrity.

The real crime in this whole thing though was the story of a dude who had his kutte stolen at a show in Oregon, and it mysteriously showed up in a display case at Macy’s in New York a few years later. As soon as he figured it out, there was a lot of outrage and an online campaign to return the vest to it’s rightful owner. Thankfully, it was successful. What the fuck Macy’s was thinking putting a genuine battle-vest on display in one of their stores, I’ll never figure out. But it does illustrate the greater point that there’s a trend in popular culture to rip-off and exploit members of sub-cultures in America with absolutely no respect given to the members whatsoever.

Fast forward to 2016. Now you’ve got Justin Beiber specifically designing his merchandise to with heavy metal themes, high end fashion companies co-opting death metal logos for their merchandise, Kanye West co-opting Metallica’s logo for his own clothing line, Black Sabbath collaborating with Supreme for a new clothing line (don’t get me started with Sabbath and fucking publicity stunts), AC/DC included in a Gucci clothing line, and fashion magazine declaring a cutoff vintage metal shirt and slacks “the look of the summer“, and that all American piece of shit Kim Kardashian wearing an $11,000 studded leather punk jacket complete with band patches. The designer received no permission from the artists who’s patches he blatantly included in his 11k fashion statement. When confronted by the bands on social media about this the designer responded,

“Ur such a pussy. Look how much I control your emotions that u made a whole post about my work. Little Bitch ass Punk Police. I will rape and exploit and pillage whatever i want and I will sell it for thousands while u sit here and just feed me more attention. Know your place u stupid fuck”

Fuck me running. That’s enough money for a lawsuit on a registered trademark. Here’s to hoping.

This topic seriously pissed me off for years, and I’m still not sure how metal suddenly because the “cool”, “in” thing. Well, it’s not – I mean 99.9% of the people sporting this shit would never listen to metal. I guess there’s a funny sort of irony in that – people wanting to look like a subculture with a 30-40 year reputation of giving them the middle finger. And wearing things with absolutely no idea what any of it means.

In conclusion, I blame hipsters.

 

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