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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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Are We Asking the Right Questions about Chester Bennington?

Sacred Cows make the best hamburger
-Abbie Hoffman

First and foremost, I’m not saying I condone the terrible things people are saying about Chester Bennington recently. And I shouldn’t have to defend those things – the only people answerable to those things are the people who say them.

I’m not excusing what’s been said, but I would like to offer an explanation as to why I think people reacted the distasteful way they did (and continue to do).

I’m also not writing this to pay any sort of tribute to the late singer. If you want to do that, the band has set up a webpage for fans to do just that.

The following is my opinion (albeit an opinion backed by 20 plus years as a metalhead), so you can take it or leave it. But I think by asking certain questions we can provide some context (and clarity) to the situation as a whole.

What Was Linkin Park’s relationship with the metal community?

In 2014 Chester Bennington had no problem distancing himself from metal, but then two years later he claims the band kept metal alive.

I’m not particularly fond of double speak, especially when it’s as opportunistic as this. When it comes to metal, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You’re either a metal band or you’re not. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in any of these sentiments.

As far as Nu-Metal goes, whether you consider it “real” metal or not is purely subjective – but the vast majority of metalheads (at least begrudgingly) admit that it has a place in the metal family tree alongside grunge, hair metal, metalcore, and all the other “mainstream” genres.

I’m not going to go into that here, but if you’re really interested in learning about this dichotomy please read my previous article entitled The Two Faces of Metal (ironically, written partially in response to Bennington’s claim that his band kept metal alive).

Long story short, there is also a pretty large number of metal fans who do not consider any of the mainstream genres metal in any way, shape, or form. Which is fine, and technically accurate. People are entitled to their opinions.

When discussing Linkin Park though, it’s kind of important to note that they’ve been a whipping post for the metal community for almost 2 decades. Dislike bordering on hatred would be a mild understatement. Metal news sites were in on it. Fuck, even his friends/fellow tour-mates were in on it.

David Draiman of Disturbed even mentioned it in a remembrance post (below). Guess what – Chester was in on it too, because that’s what metalheads fucking do. They jokingly talk shit.

disturbed remembers

Then, when their new album dropped, Chester told his own fans to grow the fuck up and move on when they expressed dislike of the new album.

I’m sure they loved that.

He also claimed that they hadn’t done anything to streamline or go “mainstream”, or follow any industry formulas with their music. Specifically, I believe he said, “But if you’re gonna be the person who says like ‘they made a marketing decision to make this kind of record to make money’ you can fucking meet me outside and I will punch you in your fucking mouth because that is the wrong fucking answer.“.

He continued, rather eloquently, with this, “When you make it personal, like a personal attack against who we are as people, like dude shut up. That means that I can actually have feelings about it and most of the time my feelings are I want to kill you.”

Really? You’re telling me the Millennial Whoop at the beginning of the chorus was completely the band’s doing, and had zero influence from the pop-machine? And that, as a person who is potentially going to buy the music, I can’t decide for myself whether the band fell under the influence of the music industry?

Let’s look at what people were talking about when they said the things Chester was responding to…

Here’s a short video explaining the Millennial Whoop

For reference, the first chorus starts at 29 seconds into the video.

The musical interval itself certainly isn’t a product of the music industry, it’s been around for a long fucking time. In fact, I think Fur Elise has the same interval.

But the pattern in popular music to use the interval to give a sense of identity and familiarity to new music is certainly something that the music industry has taken note of and exploited.

And there is no fucking way in hell that Linkin Park just happened to throw that in there randomly. Especially when the song featured guest vocals from millennial artist Kiira – there’s no such thing as coincidence.

I’m not judging here, but I am saying that when you very publicly give a large “Fuck You” to your fanbase while making a very obvious attempt to broaden your fanbase by dipping directly into pop-music territory (using pop music formulas) – there might be a little backlash.

move the fuck on

There was, and I think Bennington took it all to heart. Just my opinion, but if I were in his position it’d be hard not to.

What Was the Media’s Role in all This?

The metal media is a two-fold operation in this article – I’m talking about the recording industry (including booking agents, producers, etc) and hard rock/metal oriented news outlets.

As far as the recording industry end of things – What the fuck were they thinking booking Linkin Park to play Hellfest?

I mean, I know Billy Idol has played it. But let’s take a look at the audience demographic here. You’ve got a huge French Festival that features bands from every goddamn genre of metal imaginable with ONE thing in common (well two if you count a love of metal) – disdain for the pop machine.

Most of the people there probably don’t like Linkin Park (see above), and the people who do but dislike the band’s new material have recently been slammed in the media by Bennington.

And that’s how you get things thrown at you, boo’s, and middle fingers through the entire song.

the jug is

(actually, it’s at 18 seconds in this version – I included it because I think during tragedy people tend to lose context. in this case the context of just how much the new album was disliked)

Linkin Park comments

Couldn’t have said it better myself. These people took time off from work, and spent good money to listen to metal music at a metal festival – and the guy decides to double down on their dumpster-fire PR strategy and play a pop song.

To put it in perspective – if I went to a burger joint, paid for a burger, was expecting a burger, and then I (along with everyone else in the place) was served a bowl of soup – I’d be fucking pissed. I’d probably throw things at the server. Because consumers have a right to get what they paid for.

And as much as metal is a community and a culture – it’s in large part consumer based. Service providers don’t have the luxury of telling you what you want to buy, it’s the other way around. That’s just how things work.

I’m not thrilled that it happened – but what the fuck did these guys expect? Just because American music festivals are going to shit with “diversification” doesn’t mean they are in Europe.

I’ve been bitching for a long time about the slow and steady streamlining process metal festivals have been going through in the name of capitalism and revenue (working on another piece at the moment, in fact). A large part of my problem is the fan demographics.

Perfect example – GWAR is taking shit for saying, “Suicide is no joke, but Linkin Park sure is!”. Now, if they were playing any fucking metal festival (or one off show, or tour) – nobody would have a problem with it. Par for course. If you’ve been to enough metal shows (especially GWAR shows) you’ll know that there’s no such thing as a sacred cow to them. It’s never too soon to joke about things, and that’s what people fucking love about them.

Throw them on the Warped Tour, and all of a sudden you’ve got thousands of butthurt indie rock fans who can’t handle a transgressive joke. Many of these same people, the day before, would have laughed at any joke at Linkin Park’s expense.

If metal was a club, club dues would constitute not being offended by anything. When I talk about the difference between metalheads and metal fans (or rock fans, or indie fans), this is what I’m talking about.

As far as the metal media is concerned – google “Linkin Park Suicide” and see for yourself – these guys have been prostituting Chester Bennington’s corpse for cash since before the body went cold. I know there’s a demand for it and all, I have nothing against that. I do have a problem with a single site posting 9 articles in 3 days about the subject.

I guess bad taste is subjective, and a lot of fans would rather see people in various positions in the music industry make money off of the singer’s death – but I personally consider it to be in much worse taste than the occasional off-color joke.

Fuck me though, right?

Does getting offended on the internet, blogging/posting/tweeting about suicide awareness, pretending to like a person or a band, etc. accomplish anything (other than making the person who did it feel good about themselves)?

Having worked in the mental health field for a time myself, I can conclusively say that mentally ill people need more from you than tweeting out the suicide hotline every time a famous person kills themselves.

Last I checked, actually helping someone get through a mental health issue requires a little more effort.

Talking someone down when they’re having suicidal ideations, telling them to run a sink-full of ice water and to plunge their hands and arms into it to alleviate the desire to cut themselves – that’s real help.

Being a keyboard warrior who gets offended on the behalf of others and posts mental health awareness links isn’t.

Fuck me though, right?

Who does his death really effect, and what did fans really lose?

(note – I actually stole this next part from the comments section of a metal news website, it pretty much sums up my opinions)

Let’s not be hypocrites: the death of this person may be a tremendous tragedy for those close to him . And it will certainly have negative consequences for those who were in a professional or other kind of ‘formal’ relationship with them.

But it does not affect the lives of the vast majority of people reading or writing on this blog. So instead of adopting a sanctimonious “holier than thou” attitude and urge each other to pretend, we might as well leave the mourning to those who are actually sad and have good reason to.

You still have Linkin Park’s entire discography. All those songs that helped people get through dark times and blah blah blah are still fucking there. Hybrid Theory, Meteora, etc – they’re not going anywhere.

Anyone who said the new Linkin Park was helping them get through difficult shit in life should have no problem picking up literally any song with a millennial whoop and getting the exact same effect out of it. And it’s not like the band was even remotely hinting that they were going back to the old sound – exactly the opposite. As outlined above, Chester himself was very vocal about the band’s new direction.

So really, the only thing fans have lost is the chance to see Chester Live. Real talk.

It it OK to be mad about this?

Of fucking course it is. Just don’t forget who took whatever it is Linkin Park means to you away.

On the bright side, Linkin Park album sales are up 2,100% (yes, two thousand and one hundred percent).

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.

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