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

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

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

bok sub-genres

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

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

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

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

movies

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

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

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

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

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

behemoth         belphegor

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

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

And if you hate stereotypes, then stop stereotyping elitists.

Does Metal have unwritten rules?

Short answer – yes.

Well, sort of. More like communally agreed to conventions of behavior that have developed over decades. These aren’t ironclad rules (well, mosh-pit etiquette certainly is), there’s no police force that’s going to enforce it. These are things that metalheads recognize as common cultural norms, and choose to practice as a way to show solidarity within and to the culture.

The unwritten rules are codes of conduct to observe during a show/festival. And a lot of them are just common sense, and apply to any live show you go to. But some of them are pretty specific to metal, and if you don’t know them you might get a few funny looks when you go to a show.

This list has been a little while in the making. A big shout out to the members of Metalheads United Interactive, Metalhead Alliance, my own group Metal Stuff. And a big thanks to my buddy Raven at The Vault of Metal for getting the conversation going over a year ago, and then inviting me onto his radio show to discuss it on-air.

Rules for everyone; 

Shows-

  1. Wear black. At least a black shirt. And if you have the option, wear a band shirt. They’re generally black, and the reason this rule exists.
  2. Don’t wear a shirt from the band you’re going to see, including the concert shirt you just purchased. This is huge – and a lot of people seem confused about it when they first hear it. It’s a logical thing to assume that wearing this shows support for the band – but stop and think about it for a second. You already paid for a ticket, and are in the presence of a group of people who are doing the same. You obviously support the band. All this does is make you look like a fan boy/girl, and nobody likes a fan boy/girl. Don’t be “that guy.” Wait till after the show to throw on your concert shirt, or put it on underneath what you’re wearing if you don’t feel like holding on to it. (exceptions: if it’s Iron Maiden, Metallica, Slayer, or one of those legendary bands you’re fine wearing a shirt with their logo on it. Festivals are also an exception, sometimes it’s almost impossible to avoid wearing a shirt from every band on the bill). EDIT: This seems to be an American behavioral convention – and apparently doesn’t translate as much in other countries.
  3. Don’t wear a band shirt from one of the headliner’s previous bands. This one is a little less strict than the first two rules, and it’s more of a courtesy thing. You’re there to support what the artists are currently doing, not their previous accomplishments. Examples would include no Pantera shirts at a Down show (or a Hellyeah show), No The Agonist or Nevermore shirts at an Arch Enemy show, No Cannibal Corpse shirts at a 6 Feet Under show, etc.
  4. Don’t wear a band patch/shirt if you’re not familiar with the band. This is just a given, but this is a list of the unwritten rules so it makes the cut.
  5. Don’t expect to be in the same spot for the duration of the show. A crowd is a fluid thing, and chances are (especially at a metal show) people are going to be moving around a lot. This also means nobody is going to “save your spot” if you have to go take a piss, grab a beer, smoke a cig, etc. The only way to really guarantee you’re going to have the same spot for the duration of the show is to get there early and get one of the spots at the very front near the stage.
  6. Proper footwear is a good idea. Leather/steel toe boots aren’t really a fashion statement in metal, they’re just practical. Like I said before, the crowd is constantly moving. Chances are your feet are going to get stepped on. A lot. Steel toe/leather boots make the entire concert a lot more enjoyable.
  7. Wear clothing that lets you move around. You might notice a lot of dudes in looser jeans or cargo shorts – there’s a reason for that. If you end up moving around a lot (you probably will) or in the pit mobility is a very good thing. Call me crazy, but skinny jeans or sweatpants seem like they’d restrict your mobility. And after a few hours I’d imagine they get rather uncomfortable.
  8. As much as some people don’t like them, a wallet chain comes in awfully handy at shows. The risk of it getting caught on something is there, but I’d rather get caught for a second or two than lose my wallet in the pit. Mine’s served me well for over 16 years – I highly recommend them.
  9. If you’re wearing a lot of spikes and studs, be conscious of your surroundings. Yeah, they’re fucking cool. No, getting hit in the face with them isn’t cool. A lot of venues ban then because they’re considered weapons (bullshit), so if you have the privilege of wearing them by all means don’t ruin it for everyone else.
  10. Don’t sing along unless the lead singer asks the audience to do so (I’m guilty of this one, and from the look on the singer’s face I have a terrible singing voice).
  11. Don’t buy anything from the merch booth till after the show. Seriously, holding all that shit gets uncomfortable, and takes away for your ability to enjoy the show. It’s fine to scope it all out beforehand – that way when you actually get up there to buy something you already know what you’re getting and can make your purchase and get out of the way as soon as possible. The people running the booth and the people behind you will be thankful. If I’m getting something like an exclusive tour vinyl, I’ll purchase it beforehand and ask them if they can hold onto it until after the show – that way everyone wins. Also, tip the vendors.
  12. Do NOT buy a cheap knockoff shirt from the dude in the parking lot after the show. the price might be right, but you’re fucking the band over and you’ll look like a tool every time you wear the shirt. Don’t be “that guy.”

Ladies-

  1. Avoid wearing a dress. It’s a disaster waiting to happen at a metal show, especially if you’re trying to get up close to the stage. It’s not for any sexist reasons, it’s not to try and make women conform to male stereotypes, it’s just common sense. Because you’re going to be awfully uncomfortable if someone accidentally bumps into you and you do a “graceful” spread eagled face-plant. I would wager, in fact, it would be more uncomfortable than wearing pants.
  2. If a guy keeps bumping into you or trying to get you into the pit and you’re not keen on participating, keep an elbow up or a hand out and let him know vocally.
  3. Sometimes, due to the fact that the crowd is moving around, people will bump into you. But it’s pretty safe to say you’ll be able to tell the difference between someone accidentally brushing against you and someone groping/getting inappropriate. If a dude does something scummy, be very vocal about it.
  4. If vocalizing your dislike of certain behaviors doesn’t stop them from happening, rest assured that the dude standing next to you (in fact, pretty much all of them within range) will put a swift end to it. I’ve heard girls who have been into metal for years complain about scumbags at metal shows – you might be pleasantly surprised to find out just how little tolerance there is for this sort of behavior in the metal community.
  5. EDIT: I’ve had enough girls comment on this that I felt inclined to add another rule – no high heels under any circumstances.

In the pit –

  1. If someone falls down, pick them up immediately. This is the most important rule, no exceptions
  2. No hitting – it’s not a fight. Things happen, limbs flail – if you accidentally hit someone do a friendly gesture and apologize (flashing the horns and mouthing “sorry” over the music works). Chances are, they’ll forgive you. If not, step out for a bit and let them cool down.
  3. When you’re on the outside of a particularly violent pit, and you see someone trying unsuccessfully to get out, if you think you can handle it go and get them. They’ll appreciate it.
  4. If someone is seriously hurt, form a protective circle around them until help can get there. If necessary, send someone to speak to the nearest security guard – their job is the safety of the crowd, and they’ll know what to do.

In General –

  1. Know your shit. If you’re going to make a statement or talk in general about a band make sure you know what you’re talking about. This is another one of those things that should go without saying – there’s no shame in saying you’re not familiar with a band or album.
  2. Respect your elders. At the risk of sounding old – this is one that seems to get lost by the wayside with a lot of the newer influx of people into the metal crowd nowadays. Metal isn’t classified as a “youth subculture” because of the fact that metal doesn’t reject it’s elders. If you see some older dudes at a show, say hey or offer to buy them a fucking beer or something. Every single one of them has been a part of the scene and the culture for a long time. These are the dudes (and chics) who kept metal going through lawsuits, the satanic panic, congressional hearings, etc.
  3. Don’t bitch about metal culture. If you’re going to sit and whine about how they’re not a friendly group if you’re not wearing a black band t-shirt and cargo shorts, you’re in the wrong place. Metalheads are a global culture that’s almost 50 years old, and there are good reasons for every cultural norm. You’re not going to shock the system and start a social revolution by complaining about the group of people who invented social networking before the internet (I’m looking at you Shayne Mathis).

Also, Hardcore dancing/Two stepping/Practicing karate is not my favorite. It really depends on the show, but most places I go to discourage it. It’s about as cool as the shirtless white trash guy that ends up in the pit at every major show (we get it, you’re sweaty and overheated. Taking your shirt off won’t change that). Most people I talk to are either ambiguous about it or harbor a strong dislike of the practice. If other people are doing it and it floats your boat, whatever. I just hope it disappears like Grunge or Hair metal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In conclusion, I blame hipsters.

 

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