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

 

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

 

Background

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

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

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

The Present Situation

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

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

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

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

What Metal Culture Can Learn From Country

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

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

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

 

What Country Fans Can Learn From Metal Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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Digital Journalistic Poser Holocaust

No, I’m not one of those guys who just calls everyone a poser. Yes, I think posers exist and can be a bit of a problem. Depends on the nature of the offense. More importantly, I think proper use of the term poser is an important mechanism within the subcultural space of heavy metal. Here’s why.

Introduction

So what/who is a poser? A version of the term exists in most big subcultures (at least the American ones) – and it’s generally used to refer to a person (or group) that adopts the look, language, and attitudes of a subculture without actually internalizing the values of the culture. In other words, it’s a person trying to be something they’re not to gain some sort of social status.

The practice of calling out posers is what’s known as a “defense against entryism” – it’s a way for the metal culture to police it’s own borders to prevent outside groups (like hipsters) from entering the culture and exercising undue influence to change social mechanisms and structure, and in so doing gain a large degree of socio-political power within that group. It has some negative consequences – but like “metal elitists” that everyone seems to be railing against, I think it has more to do with a misunderstanding of certain aspects and social mechanisms within metal culture.

As far as I know, the first real instance where people have infiltrated metal culture and are actively trying to change it from the inside is the present. I’ve discussed various aspects of this phenomenon before, from Social Justice Warriors (SJW’s) in metal culture to the co-opting of Underground Metal Festivals by mainstream metal/culture.

With the current generation, (unlike prior generations) there is a movement of “scene tourists” who infiltrate and participate in various subcultures long enough to change them into something socially palatable to the general public – a good example of this would be the whole #gamergate/#metalgate fiasco. The two incidents happened right on top of each other, and the consequences of #gamergate are still being realized.

Case Study – Social Justice Warrior/Hipsters affecting Cultural Change
(Poser Type A)

To see what I’m talking about, let’s take a look at the “God of War” franchise. When it was released, it was quickly recognized as one of the greatest games of all time. It had violence, gore, the works. However, the most recent “God of War” installment shows the series protagonist, Kratos, is now living with his son. And instead of being the violent bloodbath that we all know and love, Kratos is now a father. The basic moral of the storyline is Kratos has to learn to deal with his aggression in a healthy way, and in so doing be a healthy role model for his son and make amends for past transgressions.

Seriously? Fucking seriously? SJW’s neutered one of the (arguably) greatest video game franchises of all time.

Nobody thought it could happen, but it did. One of these SJW’s who had been prominent during the whole #gamergate debacle was actually installed at a gaming convention and featured as a commentator/speaker. She didn’t even play video games, literally the only connection she had with video games was complaining about finding them offensive.

So what happened? A culture designed around an entertainment medium considered a transgressive art form (video games) had a large influx of people from a certain demographic group – Hipsters(from here on this will be referred to as the “hipster influx”). Now, not all hipsters are bad. And not all hipsters were trying to make video games politically correct. But everyone who was successfully part of the internal movement to self-censor video games was a hipster/SJW. The internal movement was the second part of the hipster influx.

Because in this instance, like every other instance of entryism, a social group that joins a larger group does so to gain social control of and power within the larger group. Gamers didn’t have a defense against entryism, and this was the result.

Case Study Discussion
(Poser Type A as They Relate to Metal Culture)

Like video game culture, Metal Culture is centered around transgressive art. Extreme Metal, in particular, crosses the line from “shocking” people (rock and roll territory) to “disturbing” people. Ironically, one of the (metal) bands most famous for starting the trend of visually and lyrically pushing the boundaries into truly disturbing territory was Carcass. This is ironic because the members of Carcass are all vegans/vegetarians, who were using metal as a springboard for their version of social justice ideals.

So, when SJW’s are railing against the disturbing aspects of extreme metal music – what they’re really doing is railing against the avenue paved by their predecessors to present a social justice issue through an acceptable avenue within metal culture. They understood the mechanics of the culture, and used them as an avenue of artistic expression with a valid socio-political message that was important to them. And they’re not alone, if I’m not mistaken Cattle Decapitation follows a similar vein.

What I’m trying to illustrate here is that there is a difference between participating in a culture (and using the various mechanics of it for personal expression) and infiltrating a culture (and trying to change the things you don’t like/understand about it).

Various entities have tried throughout history (unsuccessfully) to change video game culture from the outside in exactly the same way they tried to change metal culture. And the result was the same – both video games and albums with content deemed “offensive” to mainstream culture received warning labels. The intended purpose of these labels was to try and shame retailers from carrying said products – but the result was exactly the opposite. Those warning labels told consumers exactly what to buy – humans have an obsession with anything forbidden.

Now, we’ve seen a group practicing “entryism” and then using the social influence of membership within a group/culture to change the cultural landscape with video games – and the same cultural demographic that infiltrated gamer culture has a strong hold in metal culture. I’ve spoken about this previously, in an attempt to call out a writer for Metal Injection (Shayne Mathis) for his hipster shit. This is a direct example of entryism in metal culture – and the concept of a poser exists in metal cultural space specifically to prevent whiny shits like him from gaining prominence and turning metal into another bland, formulaic, mainstream medium.

posertypeaVisual representation of “Poser Type A”

Conclusion
(Poser Type A)

Shayne Mathis and his ilk are what I refer to as “Type A posers”. They’re pretending to be something they’re not and trying to use accumulated sub-cultural capital for the purpose of affecting social change where it isn’t needed or wanted. They are undesirables within metal culture because of the nature of their desire to impose a cultural overlay of self-imposed censorship within the metal community, and labeling them as what they are (posers) serves the function of marginalizing them to where they belong – the fringe/outside  of the culture.

Case Study – Try-Hards
(Poser Type B)

This is a category I’m not entirely in agreement with, but in the interest of holism I’ll include it.

Example 1) Try-hard bands

Bands that adopt a position and posture themselves as something they’re not fall into the “try-hard” category with me. An example would be someone like Papa Roach.

Papa Roach present themselves as genuine, creative musicians within the mainstream genre known as Nu-Metal. Now, I understand the fact that it becomes increasingly difficult to write an original riff as time goes on – chances are someone else has written something close to it (if not that exact riff).

But when the riff of every single one of your hit singles is a direct ripoff of Iron Maiden, your authenticity comes into question.


(one example can be chalked up to coincidence, two of them is questionable but still possible, three strikes and you’re out)

And when every single one of your songs also follows a pop machine/record industry formula (A,B,A,B,C,B), you get another strike against you. Then, when you start apeing fashion trends like wearing makeup to appeal to the emo crowd it pushes me over the edge. Nevermind the fact that they decided to jump on the djent bandwagon. They’re just a bunch of trend-wore, try-hard posers.

Example 2) Try-hard fans

Yeek, this is one that gets overused a lot. In fact, I think the overuse of this mecanism is pretty much single-handedly responsible for the whole “posers v.s. elitists” thing that’s apparently a thing in metal nowadays.

Most commonly misused on people who a) have opposing taste in metal from the accuser or b) display a certain ignorance when it comes to the nuances of sub-genres – the typical response is to call the offender an elitist. In this case both parties are wrong, if you’re interested in reading why I suggest checking out my articles dealing with the difference between elitists and assholes  and why sub-genres are a good thing (but assholes ruin them for people).

It’s interesting to note here that a person using the term poser to knock another person’s taste in metal is, in fact, the poser in the equation 99.99% of the time. They’re taking a position to try and look like something they’re not, and that is the fucking definition.

The exception to this rule is best displayed by example; You’re speaking with someone who is making blatant misstatements such as “death metal is my life” or “I only listen to hardcore/brutal/death metal”. When asked to list examples, scene/emo bands (asking alexandria, blackveil brides, blood on the dance floor, etc) are generally listed off. In this case, correcting the record might hurt this person’s feelings – you’re blowing up their spot and calling them on bullshit, so of course they’re going to be a little put off by it. But, they were presenting themselves as something they weren’t.

This isn’t a case of elitism, calling out someone for being a poser when they’re genuinely being a poser is calling a spade a spade. I can’t believe I have to actually say this, it always just seemed like something that would be common knowledge. I’ve seen a lot of blogs/etc stating that posers don’t even exist.

A guy who I enjoy and even agree with quite a bit (coverkillnation) recently made a video that more or less stated (at about 5:00 into the video) that posers don’t even exist. I’ll admit, he makes some good points, and I understand why he’s saying it – because of the blatant overuse and misuse of the term. I happen to agree with the spirit of everything he’s saying, but disagree with how he presented some of his points. Posers certainly do exist, but 99.99% of the time it’s used incorrectly.

There’s no shame in having musical taste (diverse or otherwise), but lying about your musical taste in the hopes that people will like you more is frowned upon in pretty much every genre of music – it’s just an exaggerated frown in metal culture. And it earns you the label of poser.

The only other example of a try-hard poser I can think of is summed up much better by Infidel Amsterdam here:

Case Study Discussion
(Poser Type B/Try-Hards)

Like I mentioned earlier, this is an instance where the term/cultural mechanism of poser gets overused and abused. And the coverkillnation video I referenced earlier touches on a lot of those misuses of the term as well as I could, I highly recommend checking out his channel.

I feel like I gave two solid examples where the “try-hard” category of poser is not only applicable, it’s correct (and serves it’s intended function as a cultural mechanism). Labeling a band like Papa Roach (that probably should have been sued for copyright infringement and obviously changes social trends more quickly than they do clothing) as a poser band isn’t something I would apologize for – in fact I would love to hear an argument to the contrary. Mostly because I can’t think of one.

And calling people who pretend they listen to bands or genres (to try and gain positive social attention and credibility within a culture) posers might hurt their delicate feelings, but it isn’t wrong. Likewise, in the case of Infidel Amsterdam’s video, a person who adopts the look and language of a metalhead but drops the whole thing later on and writes it off as a phase is totally a poser – and has earned that label.

Conclusion
(Poser Type B)

The situations/people that fall under this category of poser are ones that I would use with relative caution. Like I mentioned before, the tendency towards misuse or abuse of the term is very high. And a lot of assholes like to use it as an excuse to make another person feel inferior because that person doesn’t share exact musical preferences. At the same time, this term does serve a specific (if misunderstood/misused) purpose to the greater culture.

However, the name “try-hard” is a bit misleading. Because there’s nothing wrong with trying to learn more and participate in any culture or activity you’re interested in. Quite the opposite, I think most people would agree that’s a pretty good quality to have. And the ones who disagree are just assholes.

Case Study
(Poser Type C)

The last type of poser is probably the most recognizable, accurate, and most difficult to defend.

A few months ago I was at a store in the local mall and I saw a guy wearing a Megadeth shirt. I complimented him on it, and asked if he had listened to Dystopia yet. He looked confused, so I told him it was the most recent Megadeth album. He informed me that he didn’t listen to Megadeth, he just liked the way the shirt looked.

What the actual fuck.

I tried not to be rude, I just said “Oh, sorry” and walked away.

Case Study Discussion
(Poser Type C)

Seriously though, did I miss something? I mean, there are always going to be people in every subculture that try to be something that they’re not to fit in. I feel more sorry for them than anything – but I think it’s still safe to call a spade a spade in this instance. It’s false advertisement, and I really can’t think of a place in society where that’s considered a good thing.

However, I do have a big problem with people who just want to look like a metalhead because it makes them look edgy or cool. I can’t believe that’s even a thing. That’s why I went to the trouble of going back and finding every instance of it I could and documenting the phenomenon. I’m not saying my knowledge of the topic is 100% perfect, and I might have missed a few things – but it does display a pattern in popular society where people are picking up pieces of the metal “uniform” and adopting them as an edgy fashion trend.

This is probably the most important purpose of the term “poser”. Nobody wants the label – and in learning that you don’t wear a shirt of a band you don’t listen to, you learn an important rule that applies to every genre of music. You only wear a shirt from a band you listen to.

When you’re wearing a band shirt, you’re non-verbally advertising your musical tastes. The purpose of wearing a band shirt (beyond showing support for a band) is so that any fan of the band who sees you wearing it has the opportunity to compliment it or strike up a conversation. If you’re a metalhead, you might have noticed you don’t get a lot of chances to talk with people about music in everyday life. Talking about metal on the internet is one thing, but hearing someone yell SLAYER randomly in public when they see your shirt is a horse of an entirely different color.

Conclusion
(Poser Type C)

I really can’t think of an argument within metal culture or outside of it where you would call someone who does this anything besides a poser.

So what does all of this mean? If you’re not a metalhead, nothing. Within the metal cultural sphere, I think it means that it’s important to recognize and be able to differentiate between assholes and people who are performing a role in the community that’s served it pretty well for at least 30 years.

The term poser and the social implication of it serves a role critical to the maintenance and function of the culture in at least three different areas – it maintains a continuity of culture (with type a posers), it serves as a reality check for members and a ready way to recognize cultural outsiders who are more concerned with exploiting social trends for financial gain (type b), and most importantly it conveys the values and norms/practices of the culture (type c).

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