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Metal Stuff’s 2016 Review: The Year in Metal

2015-2016 has been an unprecidentedly good time for metal. We’re in the middle of a “metal bubble”, the market is saturated with excellent material. Not sure how long it’ll last, but (seeing as there isn’t anything really incredible slated to release in December) I thought it would be a good time to sum up Metal Stuff’s best releases and biggest dissapointments in metal: 2016 Edition.

Metal Stuff’s “Top  15” Best Releases of 2016

15) Vivaldi Metal Project – The Four Seasons

vivaldi

This one hit me out of nowhere. I saw something about the release of the album on facebook, checked it out, and BAM. Blown away. Probably one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve experienced this year.

It’s an all-star lineup of metal musicians in a modern (and metallic) interpretation of Antonio Vivaldi’s masterpiece “The Four Seasons”. And by All-Star I mean they have members of Symphony X, Testament, Unleash the Archers, The Scorpions, Helloween, Within Temptation, Stratovarious, Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Soilwork, and a whole fuckload more.

I really can’t say enough good things about these guys, this is a piece I would reccomend to metalheads, fans of classical music, and just about evreyone inbetween.

14) Scorched – Echoes of Dismemberment

scorched

I first heard this album through my side gig doing reviews for Hard Attack Magazine.  No bells, no whistles, no frills. Just excellent (old school style) death metal with horror b-movie samples. If you’re into old school death metal – be sure to pick up a copy.

13) Rob Zombie – The Electric Warlock Acid Witch Satanic Orgy Celebration Dispenser

zombie-electric-warlock

Have to admit, I was pretty eagerly anticipating this album. I participated in the crowdfunding effot they put forth to make the album happen, I went and saw them live twice in the year leading up to it’s release. And I wasn’t dissapointed one bit.

This is easily his best work since “Hellbilly Delux”, and while he hasn’t completly strayed from the hard rock sound, the band certainly went in a more metallic direction. This is the first album the band’s put out in years that I can listen to from start to finish without skipping a single track. If you’re a Zombie fan, you won’t be dissapointed.

12) Blasphemer – Ritual Theophagy

blasphemer

Kick ass album, read my full review here. Brutal Italian tech death that doesn’t sacrifice on the low end (or become riff-salad). Very highly recommended, this album melts faces.

 

11) Insomnium – Winter’s Gate

insomnium_wintersgate

Sooooooo fucking good. Adding layers of atmosphere to melodic death metal seems like a pretty big risk, but these guys took it and the result was (in this author’s humble opinion) a huge fucking success. I would go so far as to say this is the Melo-Death version of the album Opeth should have released. I’ve always liked the band, but they were never really at the forefront of my musical collection. This album changed that a bit, I’ll be keeping an eye on these guys now for sure.

Proggy and ambient, while still managing to retain the soul of melodic death metal – I highly recommend this album to anyone who will listen. And a few people who won’t.

10) The Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence

devin_townsend_project_-_transcendence

I’ve been a fan of Devin Townsend’s work for over a decade now, but I had never given this side-project of his a listen before this year. And I’m glad I finally did, the man’s a fucking genius. His mix of electronic/ambient music and metal is flawless. Transcendence is a fucking masterpiece from start to finish.

9) Anciients – Voice of the Void

anciients-voice

This album was another pleasant surprise for me in 2016. They ran an (apparently) successful Facebook advertising campaign for months before the album released – so when it dropped that whole “name brand recognition” thing they talk about in advertising took effect. I checked them out just to see, and boy am I glad I did.

Excellent prog metal that ranges from melancholy to borderline brutal, with cleans and screams for days. I’ll be adding this album to my vinyl collection shortly after the holiday season ends (when I actually have money again).

These guys fucking rule.

8) Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason

meshuggah-the-violent-sleep-of-reason

This one was no surprise, I’ve been listening to these guys for about 2 decades now (since Destroy, Erase, Improve was released in 1995).

I have to admit, I was nervous about this one. I’m not a huge fan of Koloss or Catch 33, and I thought there was a good chance they’d continue in the “artsy” direction of concept albums and slow songs. Boy was I wrong, this is a return to Chaosphere-level heaviness.

I think some of their marketing strategies were a little campy (a delux edition of the album that includes a vinyl mask?), but as far as I’m concerned this album was pure fucking gold.

7) Saor – Guardians

saor-guardians

Admittedly, I have some very strong (and sometimes conflicting) opinions when it comes to the style of black metal known as “post black metal”. I’m hesitant to embrace “post” anything, and (at least in the US) the post-black metal scene is nothing but a bunch of whiny hipsters aping black metal music to seem edgy, when in reality all they’re doing is playing shitty alt-rock with a few black metal elements thrown in.

Saor, to me, embodies the exact opposite of this. It’s a solo project hailing from Scotland, and let me tell you this guy is a fucking artist. He’s the real deal, and a wicked cool guy to boot. He nails the black metal aesthetic and combines it with traditional celtic instruments to create soundscapes that are melancholy and ambient, without sacrificing some of the pure fucking rage at the heart of real black metal.

This guy is pretty much single-handedly responsible for making me redefine what I consider “heavy music”. Nothing but good things to say about this band, and this album simply cements him as a consistently solid and groundbreaking artist.

6) Wormed – Krighsu

wormed-krighsu

This album will rip you a new asshole. Then it will rip your new asshole a new asshole. I think you can see where I’m going with this. By the end of the album you’ll be shitting yourself out of your asshole’s asshole’s asshole.

This album doesn’t let up for a goddamn second. Full on brutal tech-death. Who the fuck knew Spain could produce (basically) the perfect death metal band? Holy fuckshit. I want to buy two copies of this album – one to listen to and the other to leave unopened for posterity. I’ll be telling my fucking grandchildren about how brutal these guys are.

So fucking good.

5) Infant Annihilator – The Elysian Grandeval Galèriarch

ia-cover

Yo dawg, I heard you like blastbeats. So we put blastbeats on your blastbeats.

In all seriousness, no human on earth has any business playing as fast as the drummer does. This British teen duo actually makes deathcore tolerable. Scratch that, enjoyable. Not quite as good as their first album, but still one of the best albums this year.

4) Fallujah – Dreamless

fallujah-dreamless

Not going to front like I’m some O.G. who’s been listening to them since “Harvest Wombs” – I came across this band by chance right after their previous album, “The Flesh Prevails”, was released. I was just surfing YouTube and liked the album artwork (Totally a valid way of finding new music, it’s scary how good YouTube has become in recommending things you might like). I didn’t listen to anything else for a week, and turned a few of my coworkers on to the band.

When I heard they were releasing a new album I was super fucking stoked, and I wasn’t dissapointed. Every track is pure fire, and I still listen to this album at least once a week. I love the fact that they retained the ambient/brutal sound while making sure that each album has it’s own unique sound, atmosphere, and identity. Easily one of my favorite bands period.

3) Sabaton – The Last Stand

sabaton_the_last_stand

I’ve been a fan of this band since I was street teaming for Nuclear Blast pre-2006, and I have to admit I find it pleasantly odd/surprising that a band I’ve listened to for years is becoming as popular as they are. Sabaton is easily the fastest rising band in metal, and they deserve it. These guys are relentless road dogs, with a solid live show. The fact that you learn more about history from a Sabaton show than you do in an entire year of public school in America is just the icing on the cake.

Plus, they wrote a song about the Scottish battle of Bannockburn (that pays tribute to William Wallace and Robert the Bruce) – what’s not to love?

2) Dark Funeral – Where Shadows Forever Reign

dark-funeral-album

These guys are hands down my favorite black metal band. Every album they release is consistent while remaining stylistically fresh and distinct. “Where Shadows Forever Reign” is, in my opinion, their best material to date – and they’re gaining a lot of well deserved international attention because of it. This includes their fair share of controversy – earlier this year they garnered a lot of attention due to members of a local Romanian government announcing they would allow a church-based political group to vet which bands would be allowed to play in the area (in direct violation of the Romanian constitution). This was a direct response to Dark Funeral’s show at Bucovina Rock Castle.

I don’t think a lot of people realize that bands like Dark Funeral and Behemoth are bastions of free speech in that part of Europe, as many Eastern European countries are firmly in the grip of a very conservative church (the Russian Orthodox Church, especially, seems to be radically motivated against heavy metal music).

Even without all the controversy – this is a solid fucking album that I listen to with some regularity. Lord Ahriman is a fucking musical genius.

1) Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake

testament-brotherhood-of-the-snake

Easily the best album release this year. Probably the one I anticipated the most, my full review of the album can be found here. Heavy metal isn’t a contest, but if it was Testament would be winning. I’ll just sum my thoughts on this album up from the first paragraph of my review;

“The “Thrash Revival” has been in full effect since 2015 – it seems like every major player from the Bay Area Thrash scene is back in the studio pumping out the jams. Testament stands out among these giants – delivering, hands down, the best Thrash release of 2016. In fact, I think ‘Brotherhood of the Snake’ deserves a nomination for the best metal album of 2016, period. Considering how good ‘Dark Roots of the Earth’ was, I had high hopes for Testament’s new album. Brotherhood of the Snake not only met my expectations – it exceeded them (and then some)!”

 

Honorable Mentions

  • Abbath – Abbath (huge fan of the guy, not as good as his work in Immortal)
  • Megadeth – Dystopia (This album made me a fan of Megadeth)
  • Fleshgod Apocalypse – King (Criminally underrated band, excellent release)
  • Rotting Christ – Rituals (Not their best work, but really quite good)
  • Killswitch Engage – Incarnate (Second album with Jesse Leach back on vocals, fantastic album!)
  • Otep – Generation Doom (has a few good songs, but has some stiff competition this year for best album)
  • Aborted – Retrogore (these guys never put out a bad album)
  • Hatebreed – Concrete Confessional (If you’ve heard one Hatebreed album you’ve heard all of them – good but not great)
  • Dead by Wednesday – The Darkest of Angels (Love these guys – from the same scene as Shadows Fall)
  • Death Angel – The Evil Divide (excellent and diverse Thrash album)
  • Nails – You Will Never Be One Of Us (Quite the pleasant surprise this year)
  • Be’lakor – Vessels (Good melodeath, if a little bit stereotypical of the genre)
  • Brain Drill – Boundless Obscenity (Jesus Christ, so good)
  • Despised Icon – Beast (Triumphant return of a deathcore band that doesn’t suck)
  • Running Wild – Rapid Foray (These guys are legend)
  • Sodom – Decision Day (German Thrash, awesome album)
  • Vader – The Empire (Pure gold)
  • Starkill – Shadow Sleep (I helped crowdfund the album, was not disappointed one bit)
  • In Flames – Battles (Had a few good songs, better than their last album)
  • Metallica – Hardwired to Self Destruct (They set the bar so low for the past 30 years that even a sub-par thrash album is praise worthy)
  • Avantasia – Ghostlights (just good fun!)
  • Anthrax – For all Kings (hooray for thrash revival!)
  • Entombed A.D. – Dead Dawn (death’n’roll done right)
  • Lacuna Coil – Delirium (Surprisingly good)
  • Gojira – Magma (Good, but not my favorite)
  • Amon Amarth – Jomsviking (Awesome album, but not quite good enough to make my top 15)

 

Metal Stuff’s Biggest Disappointments in Metal, 2016 edition

Devildriver – Trust No One

devildriver-trust-no-one

Considering the lineup changes DevilDriver went through in 2015, I tried to give this album a little wiggle room when criticizing it. 2 guitarists, no bassist, half the band is green. They didn’t really have time to get together and synchronize as a band – this album sound to me like a record company rushed them to meet a deadline. It’s not bad, but to call it anything other than a disappointment would be disingenuous. I hold DevilDriver to a pretty high standard – Dez is a goddamn genius as far as metal is concerned. I hope their next album will be a little better.

Robb Flynn

robbflynn

This fucking guy. Don’t get me wrong, I love Machine Head – and their album from last year (Bloodstone and Diamonds) was fucking excellent. I just can’t take Robb Flynn seriously. He’s a fucking attention whore who tries to stay socially relevant and apes Corey Taylor to do so. He’s an mildly successful social chameleon at best, and an overreacting turncoat bitch at the worst. His treatment of Phil Anselmo in the media was fucking horrid.

Avatar – Feathers and Flesh

avatar_feathersflesh_cover

Maybe I was hoping for “Hail the Apocalypse Part II”, but this album fell flat for me. Which sucks, because they’re a very cool band who’s been underrated for the majority of their career. This album just didn’t clique for me, there wasn’t one song I can honestly say I enjoyed – just a massive disappointment.

Solution .45 – Nightmares in the Waking State II

solution-45-nightmares-2

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but this album just didn’t feel right to me. Like, maybe it was a bit too rushed or under-produced. Which sucks, because Christian Älvestam is my favorite metal vocalist – the guy’s easily the hardest working man in metal and super talented. From Scar Symmetry to Svavelvinter, Torchbearer, Miseration, Quest of Aidence, and all the fucking songs he’s lent vocals to – this guy is the fucking man. He shits excellence, except this album. I feel like he should have spent a little longer perfecting the songs, and not rushing to release a double album.

Whitechapel – Mark of the Blade

whitechapel

It’s sad to see a halfway decent band on the downswing of their career. They tried to stay relevant by releasing a song bashing “metal elitists”, and ironically that’s what seems to have tanked their career. Maybe the elitist ones were correct.

Chelsea Grin – Self Inflicted

chelseagrin

Bands like this are the reason I despise Deathcore. They have one tolerable album, and if I’m completely honest it’s only 50% tolerable (the first half).

Steel Panther

I’d rather let this speak for itself.

Sumerian Records

From every single band on their roster, to the act of completely selling out the image of the Summer Slaughter tour to sell a movie starring the lead singer of the Blackveil Brides, the continued existence of Sumerian Records bothers me. Apparently, in the metal scene money = credibility in some circles. Puke.

Hipsters and Social Justice Warriors

I don’t make it a secret that I fucking hate hipsters. They seem to have the innate ability to ruin anything. I can’t wait till hipster metal is no longer a thing.

Opeth – Sorceress

opeth_sorceress_promocover_revised

I respect when an artist or band wants to branch out, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. Opeth has earned the right to do whatever the fuck they want, but that won’t stop me from getting my hopes up (and consequently having them dashed on a rock to the point of near death) every single time they get ready to release a new album. The band even signed to Nuclear Blast and were allegedly down-tuning for the record. I was so hyped. I heard the first single, “Sorceress” – SO EXCITED! Then the album dropped, and what transpired afterwards can only be referred to as one of my biggest disappointments of 2016. Fucking artsy prog from a band that had (at it’s peak) some of the best fucking death metal vocals ever.

The Dio Hologram

dio-hologram

Christ, stop capitalizing on the metal god. For fucks sake, he’s dead. Let him rest. It sounds cool, but I really dislike the idea.

As opposed to the Lemmy hologram at the Rainbow that randomly offers you cocaine and compliments your appearance when you walk by. That’s probably the most fitting tribute ever.

So, that’s about it for 2016 in metal.

Women, Violence, Sexism, and Metal

 

Introduction

I’d like to start this by saying  that I do not believe that there is an inherent bias towards or against female listeners or performers in metal culture. I think that there is a gender gap/dynamic, but this is only a problem in as much as the gender demographics relate to music in general.

I’ve never heard anyone complain about the fact that pop artists discriminate against males by catering to a predominantly female audience.When’s the last time you read about misandry in a music scene? Or are songs about killing men and hiding their bodies, or committing felonious acts against personal property of men? Because country music has both of those – “Goodbye Earl” and “Before He Cheats”, respectively. Or how about just google searching “songs that bash men“?

I’m not saying “oh, poor men. we’re so oppressed” or anything of the sort. I’m saying that the people who cry misogyny  are just looking for an excuse to bash metal in the never-ending quest for political correctness. Or, at best, they’re looking at a small fraction of metal and spinning it to paint it in a negative context without taking time to understand the half century of culture surrounding the music (which, like with anything, provides the necessary context to bring clarity to the subject). Either way, it’s a ridiculous double standard – coming from people who say they’re trying to end double standards, I consider it hypocrisy at it’s best/worst.

Violence/Disturbing Material in Metal Lyrics

First and foremost – of fucking course there’s violence in metal lyrics. It’s aggressive music. If they were singing about love/flowers/hippie shit it wouldn’t work. Nobody ever accused Johnny Cash of inciting people to violence when he wrote “Folsom Prison Blues” – and he sings about shooting a man just to watch him die.

The Beatles wrote “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” about a fictional character who kills people with a fucking hammer – granted they were a tad less graphic than, say, Cannibal Corpse’s song “Hammer Smashed Face”. But at the end of the day, they were singing about the same thing – fictional characters murdering people with fucking hammers. Oddly enough, you don’t really hear anyone saying “oh, shame on the Beatles”.

The Rolling Stones can sing a song about having sex with a dead man and people flock to see them – but when Slayer writes a song called “Necrophiliac” people get all up in arms about it.

These examples are being used to illustrate a greater point – in metal music, there are going to be songs about violence against women (and disturbing subject matter in general). Taken at face value, this seems like something to rally against. But it’s not advocating violence against specific women (or women in general), and (I would argue) there are more metal songs with lyrical content dealing with violence against men. As a matter of fact, there’s probably a metal song about violence against everything on earth it’s possible to commit an act of violence against. So, women aren’t being exclusively singled out here – metal is an equal opportunity genre when it comes to violent lyrics.

So, I can certainly see why a girl might feel a bit odd singing along with a Cannibal Corpse song like “Fucked with a Knife” – I totally fucking get it. But, like anyone who’s familiar with the music, I think it’s safe to say she should know these songs aren’t about her. I’ll take it one further – there has never been a Cannibal Corpse fan (in the history of ever) who has committed acts of violence against women as laid out in a Cannibal Corpse song. Quite the opposite, the reason the lyrics work in context of the music is because the audience members (male and female) find them disturbing.

Are there people who are fucked in the head and claim inspiration from music to commit atrocities? Sure. The best example I can think of is the Helter Skelter murders. And Helter Skelter is a song about a fucking slide in England. However, almost 50 years after the Tate/LaBianca murders, I don’t think a single person in their right mind would say that the Beatles should have been silenced (or the White Album banned).

Discrimination Against Women in Metal Culture

Now, this is a topic I think warrants a bit more discussion. People who participate in the metal subculture don’t exist in a vacuum – the very name “subculture” means it’s a piece of a larger culture. As such, it’s good to keep this in mind when you’re discussing a topic like the treatment of women. I’m not making excuses for the prevalence of misogynist material in metal (extreme metal in particular), I’m saying that if you cherry-pick an argument it doesn’t deserve serious consideration.

Now, in metal academia it was first observed/stated by Deena Weinstein ( a female sociologist from outside the metal scene)in her book, “Heavy Metal: The Music and it’s Culture” that heavy metal culture formed around groups of men shortly after the fracturing of “hippie” culture. The fanbase already existed, and it was predominantly working class white males in Western industrial countries (the US and UK). And as it was a culture that formed and “normed” around this particular group, it’s natural that certain subjects, behaviors, etc that appeal exclusively to this group would be incorporated into the culture.

This includes (but isn’t limited to) styles of clothing and behavior within the cultural setting. Considering the fact that metal culture started increasing at the same time as the feminist movement was gaining social momentum in the United States (also observed by Weinstein in her book) – it can be viewed as a reactionary movement in the sense that it is a space where masculine qualities are socially acceptable.

In the words of Corey Taylor (Slipknot/Stone Sour)

“heavy metal is the last bastion of real rebellion, real masculinity, real men basically getting together and beating their chests”

 

Now, I don’t think that anyone would argue that Heavy Metal is anything but masculinist (at least in terms of gender dynamics). But is Masculinist the same thing as misogynistic? Quite simply, the answer is no. Celebrating and encouraging patterns of behavior and social norms that have been denoted as masculine does not in any way, shape, or form promote a dislike of the feminine. Quite the opposite, I would argue that an appreciation of the feminine is an inherent part of traditional masculinity. And any attempt to correlate or confuse the two terms is quite simply yellow journalism – sensationalism for the sake of sensationalism.

On Discrimination Against Female Metal Artists and Fans

At face value, this seems like one of the stronger arguments that there is a good deal of discrimination in metal culture. There is certainly a notable gender gap when it comes to the proportion of male v.s. female metal artists. Just like the fanbase, the pool of metal artists is predominantly male. And as you traverse the spectrum of music from mainstream into extreme metal – the gap gets considerably larger.

There are a lot of factors that contribute to this – I would argue that the main factor is that metal music appeals to men as a demographic significantly more than it does to women. This isn’t groundbreaking or cause for alarm – as I mentioned before, there are plenty of musical markets and cultures that appeal almost exclusively to a female demographic. I have yet to see an article accusing Adele of hating men because her fanbase is predominantly female. In fact, it makes perfect sense that a woman who makes music that deals with feminine attitudes and issues and presents a very effeminate sonic format would appeal to women. Almost as much sense as music that deals with predominantly male attitudes, made by predominantly male artists, in a masculine sonic format will appeal to a predominantly male audience. Hmmmm….

And the biggest (or most visible) critics of masculine metal culture have no fucking clue about the music. For example, this article in the Houston Press was written by a girl who obviously isn’t very familiar with metal culture beyond dipping her toes in the mainstream. Articles like this couldn’t be further from the truth, and are reflective of a general trend among hipster “Social Justice Warriors” to see a problem where there isn’t one. For every woman who fails to gain popularity in the metal scene – there are probably 50-100 guys who fail as well. And it’s not because of what’s between their legs – it’s because their music probably sucks.

If she really wants to get mad about a legitimate problem – how about talking about living in a culture that denotes a possession/love of power with masculinity. Because that, more than anything, is the argument behind why there is so little female participation in metal. Heavy Metal is a music and culture that celebrate power in various forms.

Now – I’ve heard the argument that female metal artists have to (essentially) dress like sluts/groupies to get any attention in the metal community. I can think of a few women who break that mold…

As a matter of fact – the girls in Arch Enemy, Eluveitie, Unleash the Archers, Huntress, Kittie, Otep, The Agonist, Kittie (the list could go on all day) prove exactly the opposite is true. In fact, I would argue that women in metal have a LOT more credibility if they dress like fucking metalheads.

Now, let’s take a look at a few bands who perpetuate the “sex kitten” stereotype in metal.

Bands like “The Butcher Babies” and “In This Moment” certainly make it look like women have to use sex to make it big in the metal world. But, I would argue that they lack a certain degree of respect specifically because they do this. Sex obviously sells across genders, it’s kind of a mainstream “I win” button when it comes to selling albums. It’s what pop stars (and stars from every other mainstream genre) do, and quite frankly I consider the practice utter filth. So, this isn’t a problem with JUST metal – this is a problem in the record industry in general that translates to metal (as it relates to the music industry). So don’t blame fucking metal and it’s fanbase for a broader cultural problem.

I can’t think of a single metalhead male I’ve ever met who thinks that these acts (Butcher Babies, In This Moment, etc) are anything even close to credible – and they most likely wouldn’t buy their music. Not because they’re women in metal, because they’re women who are degrading themselves in metal to make a few bucks. If they had the musical talent necessary to make it in metal, skimpy clothing wouldn’t even be on the table. There’s a reason Doro is a fucking legend in metal – because she didn’t compromise herself.

So, we can kind of see a pattern here – the only female metalheads who use sex appeal over talent are the more mainstream bands. And I have a big problem with this. Not because I dislike the thought of women using any tools at their disposal to make it big – that’s fucking awesome. Not because I don’t like scantily clad women – because I fucking love that shit. I have a problem with it because mainstream metal is the gateway for people to get into some of the harder, underground stuff. And if the first thing girls see is a bunch of scantily clad female metal artists, they’re going think this is the way they need to dress when they go to a metal show.

Why it’s Good to Pay Attention to What You’re Wearing at a Metal Show

Now, there’s nothing wrong with women wearing scant clothing at a show. But, it’s good to keep in mind that there’s already a culture of women who go to shows in sexy clothing. They’re called groupies. And within groupie culture, dressing in a certain way signals that these girls are there specifically to try and have sex with the band. Not in a “they’re being taken advantage of” or a “this is the only way women can participate in the culture” sort of way. In an empowering, these girls are exactly where they want to be doing exactly what they want to do sort of way.

However, this does present a cultural problem. Girls that emulate a mainstream metal female (and decide to dress in a promiscuous fashion) are probably going to be mistaken as a groupie. Not because all men are pigs, but because their fellow females have participated in creating a groupie culture within metal and hard rock. A culture that’s so ingrained that there are typically three types of backstage passes – one for people who have paid, one for women who have performed sexual favors for the road crew, and one for women who have been selected to come backstage and have a chance at performing sexual favors for the band(s).

This isn’t based on any science – just simple observation. A very liberal estimate puts the ratio of guys to girls at a metal show at roughly 9/1. Meaning at least 90% of the crowd in at any given metal show is male. And out of the 10% that’s female, you’ve got enough groupies and tag-along girlfriends who don’t even really listen to metal where a certain amount of stereotyping is just going to happen.

Now, these numbers are changing (thank god, a few women certainly bring a breath of fresh air into the sausage party that is a metal show) – but the only real way to get rid of these negative stereotypes is for girls to go to metal shows. Not just as a tag-along girlfriend (there’s nothing wrong with this, but there’s a reason that stereotype exists), and not just to dress promiscuously with the hopes of hooking up with either the band or someone in the audience. The more genuine female metalheads there are at shows, the more that stereotype will disappear.

im-with-the-band-pamela-des-barrescover of “I’m With the Band: Confessions of a Groupie”

And when I say “genuine female metalheads”, I mean girls who are fans of the music, participate in the culture, and are not there for the express purpose of finding a sexual partner. And unless you’re willing to dis-empower groupies, this is probably going to always be the case. Can groupies be genuine metal fans? Sure. Will they ever be viewed as anything other than a sex object by the majority of metal fans? Probably not – seeing as sex is part of the base on Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, you’re never going to be able to compete with several millions years of instinct. So, for the same reason the guys in Magic Mike will never be viewed for their acting talent – groupies and those who dress like groupies will always be initially viewed as sex objects. I’m not trying to say men are blameless victims of evolution or something – but that’s pretty much the way humans (male and female) are wired.

groupies

Visual cues aren’t limited to groupie dress codes – when I talk about something like “unwritten rules of metal“, I’m referring to cultural norms, many of which are based on visual cues. Metal Culture relies heavily on visual cues 1) because humans are predominantly visual creatures and 2) because in many areas of the world metal is shunned. The easiest and fastest way to communicate your love of a particular band, or participation in metal culture generally, is through (what is commonly referred to as) ‘the uniform’.

types

Side note – this is why I make a big deal out of mainstream culture co-opting the metal uniform over the past few years. It’s sending false signals – there’s nothing quite as annoying as walking up to someone in a metal shirt and finding out they don’t listen to the band/album displayed on the shirt.

Dealing with Metal “Gatekeepers”

Women have a legitimate gripe in this area, and I’m 100% against someone coming up to another person at a show and quizzing them as a way of forcing them to display their “metal credibility”. And girls do get this a lot more than guys. But it’s not exclusively a female problem – in fact it’s such a widespread phenomenon that Brien Posehn made a music video/song about it…

So, even if we get to a point where this doesn’t happen to women more frequently than men, it’s still going to happen. Because assholes are everywhere.

Also, don’t call them elitists. Metal elitists are cool as fuck. People who do stuff like this are just plain assholes.

 

Deafheaven are basically the Nickelback of Black Metal

The more you think about it – the more it makes sense. Deafheaven is the Nickelback of Black Metal.

Both bands capitalize on “post-music” style movements; Nickelback is considered “post-grunge” while Deafheaven is making waves with the moniker “post-black metal”. Both bands play bland, watered down versions of the genres they emulate – making a “safe” version of transgressive music completely devoid of substance.

N-I-C-K-E-L-B-A-C-K is a 10 letter conjunction of two words from the English language that do not go together.

D-E-A-F-H-E-A-V-E-N is also a 10 letter conjunction of two words from the English language that do not go together.

Nickelback got their name from their lead singer’s first (botched) attempt to buy marijuana (they’ve since recanted this and go by some lame story about working in a coffee shop), and the guys in Deafheaven are the type of people you would charge $50 a gram. Nickelback released this information because they want to seem slightly transgressive while still approachable – which a botched drug deal does quite nicely. Deafheaven’s lead singer tries to give the impression that he’s stoned in every fucking interview for the same reason, a safe version of transgressive behavior.

Both of them have shitty publicists who insist on having them take “edgy” pictures (presumably to endear them to the hard rock/metal fanbases they’re supposed to appeal to)

deafhaven-1500x1000

“Make sure one of you is wearing denim”

nickelback1

 

Both bands have legions of haters (myself included). I think this is the part where I mention that nobody fucking cares what you listen to, as long as you call a spade a spade. Both of these bands are watered down, palatable versions of what was edgy 10 years before them.

 

Also, apparently one brave man before me made this connection – and this song is the result.

(these photos were the result of a google search – all credit goes to their original owners)

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).

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.

Say Hello to the Face of This Years Summer Slaughter Tour

If you don’t care who funds a festival (as long as the lineup is good) you should have no problem with this article. After all, you don’t care.

But if you’re like me, you know these people…

AA-asking-alexandria-23957158-500-344black_veil_brides_by_bleedingstarclothing

…have absolutely no place representing an extreme metal festival.

Don’t get me wrong, the lineup for Summer Slaughter this year is light years ahead of what it was last year. It’s fucking fantastic… but it’s brought to you by a movie entitled, “American Satan.”

At first glance, that seems pretty cool. The names kinda lame, but at least it seems to be a rock/metal oriented movie. But then, looking at the cast, I noticed it’s starring the lead singer of the Blackveil Brides, as well as a member of Asking Alexandria.

What the actual fuck?!?

When the Summer Slaughter tour started out, it was a force to be reckoned with. They’re continually billed as “the most extreme tour of the year” and have been pretty famously advertised as catering to fans of “extreme metal”. And for the first year of their existence, this was true.

Then came the slow descent – the lineup steadily got worse every year. I would argue that a big portion of this is due to the participation of Sumerian Records. Initially the label brought diversity to the bill, which isn’t a bad thing. It’s what you’re supposed to have at a festival. But I started noticing a pattern – a few big names in death metal were being used to add star-power to a tour that progressively started catering to an indie label (like independent startup label, not to be confused with shitty millennial/hipster Indie rock).

I’m trying to think of another tour that changed their business model to cater to an indie label with a shitty roster.

Oh wait, now I remember. The Mayhem festival.

I’ll take you one further – Mayhem started to go downhill the same year that Sumerian Records got their own stage (2013). The lineup that year was actually pretty awesome (on par with how awesome this years Summer Slaughter lineup is, considering the formats of the festivals). Post 2013, these changes cause the decline I’ve been referring to. Mayhem went so far downhill, in fact, that it literally dampened the concert draw of headliners like Slayer.

Slayer had played the same venues as Mayhem the previous year, selling out concerts. Strangely, Mayhem didn’t. But why?

Kerry King said it best:

“Do I know this tour wasn’t booked correctly? Absolutely I know this tour wasn’t booked correctly. Gary Holt made the comment that usually there’s the Main Stage, a second stage, a third stage, and then that piece of shit record stage…now what they’re calling a second stage is at best a fourth stage and they’re wondering why people aren’t showing up.

In case you’re not familiar with the whole Mayhem festival debacle, I’ll save you the trouble of a google search. It completely imploded and dissolved.

So let’s recap for a second.

Mayhem festival started out with huge names, as a rather diverse metal festival. They had some heavy hitters, and then filled the roster with up-and-comers from independent record labels that catered to scenes that weren’t even fully accepted in the metal community (This is a good thing, it’s how we keep the music going – but there’s a point, I promise. Bear with me). Slowly they allowed said the independent record label to change the business model of the tour – taking creative control. The label (Sumerian) started using this opportunity as a springboard for shameless self promotion. They even changed the business model of the tour, adding a stage exclusive to the label. After these changes, the tour had one more fantastic lineup. The tour continued with the failed business model and completely dissolved within a period of two years. And it wasn’t pretty. Even Slayer couldn’t save it. Fucking Slayer. This is just as much the fault of that complete garbage label Victory Records, but they never would have been included on the tour in the first place if Sumerian hadn’t paved the way.

Summer Slaughter started out with huge names. They were a specialized festival, but still very diverse. They started making changes and incorporating bands outside the format from a certain scene-catering record label.  Enter 2016. The Summer Slaughter tour lineup is incredible (exactly what happened when Sumerian got their own stage at Mayhem ), but the promoters have allowed Sumerian to use it as a springboard to promote their shitty movie starring members of Blackveil Brides and Asking Alexandria.

The point is…change is not, by itself, a bad thing. In fact, innovation is one thing that keeps metal going. However, when a festival makes changes that have proven to be fatal for their peers, it’s a very bad thing.

Now, I’m not knocking fans of BvB or AA. I personally, despise that style of music, but different strokes for different folks. I don’t have a problem with them, or their fans.

I do, however have a problem with them being the public faces of a tour that promotes itself like Summer Slaughter does (this isn’t the fucking Warped Tour). Especially when you connect the dots and see that this is exactly the sort of business move that shut down Mayhem. I, for one, will not let the majority of my ticket sale go to putting people from Blackveil Brides and Asking Alexandria on the big screen.

A common argument I hear in favor of this sort of sellout move is that the big tours need the money to keep going. Valid argument. Hmmm, is there something they can do to keep the festival in the running without selling out? Maybe they can do what Maryland Death Fest did. They decreased the number of stages to a manageable level, kept all the bands on the bill. A few people might be butt-hurt about it, but they made a sound business move while keeping the integrity of the festival intact. And those guys have been going for at least 5-6 years longer than Summer Slaughter. So, it is not only possible to keep the integrity of the festival intact by not bowing to corporate sponsorship – it might just add to the longevity of the event.Sponsors don’t just give you money and expect nothing in return. The guys at Maryland Death Fest know this.

I think it’s safe to say, if promoters think it’s ok for members of Asking Alexandria and Blackveil Brides to be the public faces of Summer Slaughter they deserve to go down as swiftly, painfully, and publicly as Mayhem. Long live Maryland Death Fest!

Metal Injection Goes Full Hipster; Metalsucks is less wrong

I am writing in response the the article written by Shayne Mathis on behalf of Metal Injection, in which he makes some statements/assertions that I have some fundamental disagreements with.

Now, in the course of civil discussion and argument, context is an invaluable tool. It is the critical lens through which we frame said discussion. Without it, discussion devolves into self-aggrandizing statements of bias.

So, framing the discussion beforehand is essential to the integrity of both the discussion and it’s participants. Shayne Mathis wrote an opinion piece denying that metal has a problem with an insurgency of “scene tourists” and “social justice warriors” on the premise that SJW’s don’t exist. This seems, then, like a good place to start the framing/discussion.

Before defining what a SJW is, it might be helpful to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. When did SJW’s come into the common collective consciousness of humanity, and from what greater demographic did they spring?

The first real incarnation of the term in it’s current incarnation arose from the gamergate controversy. In a nutshell, #gamergate occurred when some cultural tourists took a passing interest in participation in an established sub-culture (gamers). When they found parts of the culture offensive, they brought these aspects into the public sphere in an attempt to curb them. This is, arguably, the first step in appropriating a subculture into the mainstream (by imposing mainstream values onto it).

Shortly afterwards, there was a short lived spin-off phenomenon referred to as #metalgate. Interestingly, it pretty much all started from a single article and became a thing on the internet for a few days. Well played Mr. Mathis. Using the exact same tactics and social stances as the participants in #gamergate, you applied SJW values to a metal context.

Now, what sets SJW’s apart from other cultural attacks on metal? In a nutshell, the demographic population they inhabit. SJW’s, as a cultural sub group, would not exist without hipsters. Before the hipster phenomenon, SJW’s did not exist. The two terms, while not interchangeable, are not mutually exclusive. Not all hipsters are SJW’s, but all SJW’s are hipsters. Hipsters, in turn, are a product of popular millennial culture. Not all millennials are hipsters, but all hipsters are millennials.

Therefore, for the purpose of this argument, SJW refers to a sub-segment of the millennial populations popular cultural manifestation – hipsters.

This is where things get interesting. Metal culture and Hipster culture exist completely independent of one another. Metal culture formed and existed for decades without hipsters, and hipster culture formed and exists without metalheads. So it’s safe to say we’re talking about two separate cultural spheres. Now, these separate cultural spheres invariably share a demographic population. Because of this, there will be an inevitable meeting of these cultures in what is referred to as a cultural contact zone. In this instance, it looks like this;

Contact Zone

The area of overlap that you inhabit (judging by your opinions, and the title of your podcast) is within this cultural contact zone. Which is awesome, diversity in metal fucking rules. But you have a tendency to frame your arguments like you’re speaking on behalf of a culture that does not share all of your opinions or values. Mostly because the topics you bring up, and the values you espouse in doing so, are generally considered to be in the hipster sphere (not the metalhead sphere).

In the interest of fairness, I would like to take a chance to point out there there are both positive and negative consequences to the intermingling of culture within said contact zone. On the positive side, the amount of intellectual discussion and discourse within the metal community has raised considerably. This is a huge plus for the participants and the culture in general, as it helps solidify and re-enforce the culture, it’s norms, and parameters. On the negative side we have posturing, self-aggrandizing preachy articles from “within” the metal community. This is a relatively new phenomenon, and anybody who has participated in the culture for long enough can recognize this. And it’s not confusing correlation with causation – I’ve already outlined how easy it is to find ties between hipster culture and the SJW-style argument both inside and outside of metal.

Any question that this is anything other than a hipster phenomenon can be quickly reconciled by examining historical socio-cultural interactions between metal and mainstream culture. First, I’d like to put the hipster insurgency into the greater context of cultural insurgencies in metal.

contactzone2

Here, for the purpose of discussion, are a few pre-hipster examples. To do any of these examples true justice would warrant writing another article, so we’re going to do the cliff-notes version.

Every single one of these groups represents a cultural contact zone within metal culture. This is because all of these outside groups share at least part of a core demographic of the population of metal culture (just like hipsters). Now, when there was a Christian insurgency into the metal demographic, it was never viewed as anything other than that. The NSBM contact zone is certainly an area that warrants discussion, but is a relatively low area of concern because of the insular nature of the belief system of that culture combined with their relatively unpopular belief system. Vegans and animal rights groups, and individuals subscribing to those cultures, have successfully used metal as a springboard/outlet for their political views. A good example of this would be the band Cattle Decapitation. At the same time, you have a demographic that agrees with Dave Mustaine, and that guy is obviously fucking nuts (but I would guess you already know that). I, personally, take him less seriously than the whole skinhead/nazi/national socialist populations while finding him equally repugnant.

In this context, you can see that some groups were more successful than others in integrating some of their beliefs/practices/customs into broader metal culture. Without the punk contact zone, for example, we would not have crossover or thrash. In turn, we wouldn’t have extreme metal, or this conversation.

Now in terms of metal culture’s responses to criticism, and other outside forces – I would turn your attention to the PMRC and the satanic panic, which used heavy metal as their chief bogey-man. You also had the trial of Judas Priest. In all of these cases, members of heavy metal culture pretty much banded together and affirmed that nothing they were accused of was even remotely close to true. This is still a common core of the culture nowadays – if you read Randy Blythe’s book he talks about how the occasional metalhead would pop up throughout his ordeal and make it a little more bearable.

One thing we don’t see, however, is criticism of the values and practices of metalheads from within the culture. This reinforces the assertion that SJW style criticism is a phenomenon unique to the millennial generation, specifically the hipster sub-derivative phenomenon named for their actions and style of discourse.

History has shown that people who participate in but are averse to the values of metal culture generally wane or drop off entirely from participation in, or identification with, it (in anything other than the past tense). These people are generally referred to as “tourists”, as well as more colorful and commonly used terms.

And one of the reasons metalhead culture generally stresses learning it’s history in context is to prevent self-aggrandizing statements of ignorance of historical context and the bigger picture.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way – I would like to go point by point on your discussion with the college professor in regards to his article and subsequent responses.

  • Social Justice Warriors do, in fact, exist. Not as some nameless, faceless “other”, but as a manifestation of current mainstream popular youth culture. As such, they do not exist as a singular, organized, and readily identifiable group because they are a sub-sub-cultural manifestation that draws identifiable traits from the pool of the parent sub-culture. It’s a small cultural movement, not an organized (and by definition) bureaucratic group with clear boundaries. Any attempt to label them as anything other than this is self-delusional at best.
  • Boycotts/Protests/Etc are certainly protected by the constitution. But there are limits, as there are with every single right guaranteed to American citizens. The actions of that protest at the Taake show were the political equivalent of yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. Neither the protest nor the example of yelling fire are constitutionally protected as they infringe on the rights of fellow citizens. Your rights end where your nose begins.
  • The crux of the guy’s argument was that people like you are invading the metal scene. You knew it, he knew it, and we all know you were picking a fight and asking leading questions. The fact that you would do that to a fellow journalist and metalhead who’s obviously been around the block more than you have really bothers me. Not that I believe in the myth of a brotherhood of metal, but it’s safe to say that a guy who’s been fucking teargassed at a GWAR show might know more about SJW’s (and the politically correct insurgency in heavy metal) than a person who types a lot. How you made it to both Metal Injection and Invisible Oranges I’ll never know, but they should be ashamed of themselves for not proof-reading your articles at very least – and at the most allowing you to represent their respective establishments. Your lack of historical context is staggering, and to boot you’re a bigger turncoat than Robb Flynn.
  • I’m sorry you’ve received death threats – but maybe this is one of the consequences of free speech you’re talking about? I’m not saying it’s ok (quite the opposite), but it is a logical consequence of your words and actions. Metalheads aren’t a fun group to pick a fight with. And you have to own up to and accept the responsibility of your own actions and words before you tell other people to do so.

At this point, Shayne, I’m done speaking with you because you weren’t honest with your intentions, and from your last email, its quite clear you are seeking “gotcha questions.” I have no problems speaking with the media about issues I raise but you have to come with a bit more honesty.

Don’t contact me again.

Sincerely,
Jeff

This is nothing more than an old dog of the metal scene not rising to the ruse of a young pup who wanted to pick a fight and prove he’s smarter than a college professor. How you could even pretend to be satisfied that anything you did or said in this exchange (other than honoring his request to terminate it) is beyond me. It’s littered with logical fallacies (like the straw-man SJW argument) and self important pretense masked as genuine concern for a scene you more than likely will not be a part of within the next 10 years.

Also, Metalsucks did a better job with the subject than you did, but I still disagree with the premise.

I am more than open to a continuing discussion and having an open dialogue with you on the subject, and will be waiting to hear your response.

Sincerely,
Corey McElligott

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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