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The Whole Thing With the Summer Slaughter Tour

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

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

The new Code Orange fucking rules.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

warped tour AS promo

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

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

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

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

So, ah, yeah. There’s that.

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

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

summer slaughter 2017

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

Or maybe that’s just me.

Musical Fission and Fusion: A Response

First and foremost, I feel the need to thank a peer and comrade at arms in the ongoing quest for intellectual discourse and discussion in the arena of metal and heavy music. Hornsofaradia wrote an excellent article detailing arguments for the inclusion of rock music in the metal family tree. Thank you very much for the kind words – I hope to continue to live up to them.

Rock v.s. Metal

So, this is a rather large topic to tackle – and I guess the best place to start is the beginning. I don’t believe there is a way to accurately include all of rock and roll into the metal family tree because of the incredible amount of diversity between the two genres.

They’re unique and distinct, with some areas that overlap. For example – it’s a genre that includes bands like Ghost, Rob Zombie, Godsmack, and Disturbed. Every single one of these bands has been referred to as a “metal” band at some point in their career – in fact the latter three self identified as metal until what is commonly referred to as the “New Wave of American Heavy Metal”. At this point there was a mass shift in the collective mainstream musical consciousness, and these bands were “relabeled” as hard rock. It was a slow process – and if you weren’t really paying attention it was easy to miss. An argument can be made, at the very least, that they all (to some degree or another) play what could be referred to as “metallic hard rock” or “hard rock with metal influences” – this is an area where the relative fluidity of genre labels can be a bit frustrating. Whatever you want to call them, there is at least a little bit of metal in the DNA of these bands.

On the flip-side you’ve got bands like Coldplay, Radio Head, Nickelback, The White Stripes, and other bands that have exactly zero overlap with metal – culturally or sonically. These are bands and cultures that are completely dependent on the music industry, and are more akin to pop (and other artificial art forms) than they are to metal.

Then there’s Metallica’s “Black Album”. If we were to include rock into the heavy metal family – it would negate the premise that Metallica sold out when they made that album. The big problem people had with that album is that Metallica was playing hard rock (and had abandoned metal). This, by itself, to me illustrates the relative difficulty of accepting rock into the metal fold. Actually, this scenario would perfectly illustrate the analogy of fission v.s. fusion. With fission – a large amount of energy is released – but it’s nothing compared to the destructive force of fission. The amount of negative energy released just in the realm of Metallica discussions would probably break the internet.

Regarding the Current State of Rock Music

You know, it’s funny. Hornsofaradia actually broached a few topics I’ve been mulling over in my head for a while now (with the intent of blogging my thoughts on them in the indefinite future). The current lack of a market in the rock category (specifically hard rock) and the reasons for it is a major one, as well as related topics (i.e. what caused it, what will happen to rock culture moving forward, etc).

Essentially, I think what made rock so huge ended up being it’s downfall. The relative simplicity coupled with incredible marketability made it a staple of the music industry. The inherent bureaucracy of the industry essentially slit the throat of rock and roll and slowly bled it out for all it was worth. This combined with the current trend of the “indie” rock bands playing feeble, weak, boring music and labeling it as rock are – in my opinion – why you don’t see a lot of “up and comers” playing straightforward, hard hitting rock music.

Metal Culture’s Silent Support of Rock

There are a number of reason I think that there shouldn’t be too much concern about the current state of rock.

First and foremost – as I outlined in my post about the two faces of metal, there is a certain vein of the metal community that already considers “mainstream” metal nothing more than hard rock. There is a lot of validity to this argument – especially when you look at it in terms of generations of music listeners.

Today’s “mainstream” metal is tomorrow’s rock and roll. Hair Metal, Grunge and Alternative, and a lot of Nu-Metal bands (including but not limited to Disturbed, Godsmack, The Deftones, and Linkin Park) were considered heavy metal while the scenes were active. However, in retrospect these are the bands currently on rotation on mainstream hard rock radio stations. I contend that these patterns will hold true in the future – and bands like Avenged Sevenfold, Deafheaven, Liturgy, and the like will be relegated to the “rock” category as time passes.

In regards to the cultural impact of rock music – I do agree that the position of societal rebellion formerly held by rock music has been usurped by metal. This, I think, is the greatest connection metal has to rock music. When compared to most metal, rock music seems rather tame – in large part because it has been tamed by embracing the music industry. Not entirely – but metal continues to push the envelope (musically, lyrically, etc) while rock and roll stands still and stagnates.

So, in regards to a lack of a viable pool of bands to be inducted into “rock royalty” – the model has changed since the 90’s. Most rock bands aren’t initially considered rock bands anymore. They’re referred to under the umbrella term of “hard rock and metal” put forth by the record industry.

Why is this? I don’t think there’s a simple answer. Partly because people from previous generations won’t accept newer “rock music” being categorized in the same group as Zepplin and Hendrix. Partly because mass perception of rock music (especially in the USA) is predominantly neutral to negative. People would rather identify as listening to metal than rock in most cases. I fucking hate it, personally.

Guns and Roses aren’t metal, Nirvana isn’t metal, Motley Crue barely makes the cut, Avenged Sevenfold aren’t metal, Disturbed and Godsmack aren’t metal, Rob Zombie kind of strides that line between rock and metal (but most of his stuff is just hard rock), KISS isn’t metal. These are all hard rock bands that were considered “metal” by the mainstream at the peak of their careers and their respective music scenes. Of course, my definition of metal is the music that, even 30 years later, won’t make it to mainstream radio. You’re never going to hear “Raining Blood” on KROCK, or any Slayer for that matter. So I’m not saying it to be mean, or an “elitist” in the derogatory sense that most people use it – I’m saying this because once a mainstream’s “metal” phase has panned out they get relegated to hard rock. This, as a rule, has held true since the fragmentation of metal culture in the 80’s (and in scattered instances beforehand – it’s hard to categorize metal bands before the thrash/glam split because they’re still very closely associated to hard rock).

So, in this sense, metal has been silently keeping rock and roll on life support for over 30 years. Every generation or so the “gateway bands” (mainstream metal) are used as an organ transplant to keep the hard rock machine alive and ticking (along with legions of new fans who never progress to the harder stuff) – while metal reaps the benefits of an ever expanding base.

Moving Forward – the Future of Rock and Metal

Also, kind of an interesting aside is metal artists who have hard rock side projects. This seems to be more of a European phenomenon (I notice they make much less distinction between rock and metal, or at very least embrace a ridiculous amount of diversity on a tour/festival ticket). Bands like the Gentleman Pistols (with Bill Steer from Carcass) or Spiritual Beggars (Michael Amott, ex-Carcass/currently in Arch Enemy) demonstrate metal artists love of rock. Labels like Nuclear Blast have a strong rock catalog, and continue to sign new rock artists from around the globe.

So, while I understand (and agree with) your concern regarding the apparent death of rock and roll – I think it might be helpful to take a step back and look at musical patterns throughout history. The industry has raped and pillaged hard rock for decades – so there is a necessary “incubation period” where rock and roll needs to go back underground and reform as an organic culture. It happened with metal – after the “thrash revolution” extreme metal went almost fully underground (with a few bands like Pantera carrying the flag through the 90’s) for nearly a decade. It re-emerged, slowly at first, with the “New Wave of American Metal” – which in turn sparked a metal revival. We’re still feeling the effects of this revival – with a lot of the classical forms (death, doom, black, classic, etc) experiencing revivals across the world. I hope rock will experience a similar pattern of revival – but even if it doesn’t, they get to draft a new swath of yesteryear’s mainstream “metal” bands into the fold with regularity.

Considering the often symbiotic relationship between hard rock and metal, I don’t think metal culture will ever allow rock to die out completely. Something a lot of people don’t talk about is the fact that becoming a metalhead is a multi-faceted process, not just a black and white event. You don’t just pick up a CD and suddenly become a metalhead – (almost) nobody starts off listening to Cannibal Corpse and Behemoth. You start off with rock, and eventually that doesn’t “do it” for you any more. Then you step up to hard rock, and get a taste of mainstream metal bands. I call this the “coffee drinker” model – you start off with a lot of sweetener and (generally) lower levels of caffeine, and then over time you adjust and start drinking stronger coffee – until eventually you’re drinking double-stuff black coffee with a shot of espresso.

In this sense, rock and metal will always be linked – because you have to start somewhere.

Conclusion

In keeping with the elderly relative analogy – I completely understand the comparison to with rock and metal. And I agree wholeheartedly with the components of the analogy. Rock, for all intents and purposes, is the elderly parent of metal – and is in trouble right now. But I disagree with the concept of needing to adopt the parent on a few levels.

First, I think that the baggage that comes along with rock music (fanbase, relationship to mainstream media, etc) is more than metal will allow – in fact, it’s a big part of the reason they split off in the first place.

Secondly, I think it’s a disservice to the inherent dignity of rock music. Like a proud, accomplished parent – the inherent independence of rock music is one of the qualities that keep it going. And for metal to adopt it into the fold would be to remove this sense of independence and dignity, and in the process would accomplish the exact opposite of the original goal. It would make rock music completely dependent on metal culture.

Like relatives that don’t get along (mostly because they’re so similar) – I think metal and rock are akin to family members who occasionally badmouth each other in public, but maintain a subtle relationship. Rock keeps sending new fans to the metal scene, while metal silently supports rock in subtle ways that allow rock to save face and retain a semblance of independence. If rock needed an organ transplant, metal would be the mysterious “anonymous donor” – they’ll save rock and roll, but won’t take the credit for it. Thus, the relationship can be viewed as a form of mutualism – a symbiotic relationship that benefits both parties (as opposed to parasitism, which I feel would be likely to happen with the induction of rock into the metal family tree).

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.

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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