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What a Trump Victory Would Mean for Heavy Metal

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a lifelong liberal. Not just a little bit liberal – very liberal. Like, tree-hugging socialist progressive grass-roots liberal. And I’m not making an argument for or against any presidential candidate. At this point, they all fucking suck.

The one and only point of this post is to illustrate trends in American heavy metal, and their relation to the US political climate. I will also illustrate that the same pattern holds true in Great Britain. Between the two countries, there’s been (for lack of a better word) a stranglehold on major movements in heavy metal history. And any other major movements or players in the global metal scene are subject to the same (or a very similar) pattern.

An important note here – I’m not implying causation. I’m implying correlation. Major trends in American extreme/underground metal have ALWAYS happened during conservative republican presidential terms. Likewise (with the exception of hair metal) all major “mainstream” trends in American heavy metal have happened during liberal (to moderate) democratic presidential terms.

I’m actually not the first person to notice this. I had been thinking about how there had been nothing but regurgitated crap (as far as new metal bands are concerned) coming out of the United States lately. Then it hit me, and I immediately did a google search to make sure nobody had already written an article on the subject. Lo and behold, some anonymous writer for a conservative website had noticed the same trend.

Established bands are another thing altogether, they’re not going to create a second wave of Thrash or Death metal with the same impact as the original. We’re in the middle of a “metal-bubble” right now (the market is absolutely saturated with good metal from established acts), and within the next few years it’s going to burst no matter what – but that’s another story for another day.

American Metal

In the United States, there really wasn’t much to speak of as far as original, ground breaking heavy metal besides a couple of bandwagon bands until the rise of thrash. From about 1970-1981 Americans might have consumed a good deal of metal, but most of the major artists were Brits. Sabbath, Motorhead, Deep Purple – Brits. Judas Priest? English. Iron Maiden? You get the idea.

Then something happened. Ronald Reagan won the Presidency of the United States, and ushered in a conservative era that lasted over a decade. Reagan was sworn into office in January of 1981. In that same year Anthrax, Dark Angel (not to be confused with Death Angel), Metallica, Pantera, and Slayer were formed. The following years saw Death Angel, Death, Megadeth, Testament, Atheist, GWAR, Morbid Angel, Nuclear Assault, Obituary, etc. Literally within a 3-4 year period you’ve got the seeds for two major movements/splits in heavy metal, not to mention about 2/3 of the base of what we now refer to as extreme metal. And it wasn’t just metal – VICE magazine just released an article discussing why Reagan was the best thing to happen to punk music.

I’m not sure if I can stress how big of a deal this is.The seeds for America’s permanent stamp on heavy metal history were planted and germinated during a very conservative time in the American political climate. During Reagan’s first term, the bands known as “the big four” all formed, and by the end of the second term Thrash had taken the world by storm. Metallica became the most successful metal band in the world, and Death metal was blossoming.

By the beginning of George Bush’s (senior) term in 1989, Death Metal had already overtaken Thrash. Obituary, Cannibal Corpse, Death, Deicide, Morbid Angel – Death metal was on the rise until it peaked out and stagnated around 1992-1993. Bill Clinton (Democrat) took office in January of 1993.

From 1993-2000, there were also major movements in metal that contributed to the culture as a whole metal pretty much sucked. And the overall political atmosphere of the United States was predominantly liberal/democrat. Remember Grunge? Clinton era. Nu Metal? Clinton. Slayer’s attempt at nu-metal? Clinton era. Metallica cuts their hair, goes “alt-rock”, and takes photos tongue kissing each other? Clinton era. Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park? Thanks a lot, Democrats.

clintonmetallica1

Enter 2000, a democrat wins but is rick-rolled out of office by a republican. Suddenly, there’s a resurgence in metal. A lot of players in what is commonly referred to as the “New Wave of American Metal” start picking up and getting more attention and rotation. Killswitch Engage, Lamb of God, Shadows Fall, and Chimaira all released albums – essentially a mutated Thrash renaissance. Also of note, Devourment started getting big. Slam was born, and real brutal death metal started taking off. Tech Death flourished. Ozzfest, admittedly around since the Clinton era, took off and saw it’s highest attendance ever.

2008, Obama wins. Ozzfest stops touring the US. Metalcore devolved into a bad caricature of itself, and Deathcore (a death metal influenced offshoot of metalcore) came to prominence. Blackgaze took off. You get the idea.

I’m not here to debate whether metalcore/deathcore/blackgaze are good or bad, I’m talking about global musical impact. There are Thrash bands, Death Metal bands, and Black metal bands all over the planet. Beyond the United States and Great Britain, there aren’t very many deathcore or metalcore bands. Deathcore has gotten to the point where quintessential founding bands of the genre like The Acacia Strain refuse to be associated with the term any more. And it seems like, while the rest of the world might not mind listening to these bands – by and large they don’t replicate these styles.

make-america-metal-again

Global Confirmation of the Trend

Black Sabbath released their debut album under a conservative Prime Minister (in fact, he was from a political party literally called “the conservative party”). The NWOBHM occurred during the reign of the Conservative Party in Britain (in fact, the party held sway for 57% of the 20th century in Britain). Grindcore as a genre germinated almost exclusively under conservative control.

In the early 90’s, Black Metal came to the attention of the entire world through a scene that formed, in large part, as a cultural response to the incredible grip conservatives had on the country.

Sepultura? Rose on the tail end of an authoritarian conservative regime in Brazil. Behemoth? Yeah, Poland is still wicked conservative.

And this isn’t to say that there isn’t good metal made by bands during liberal regimes. It’s saying I haven’t seen a legitimate artistic movement within American heavy metal that’s permanently changed the face of metal during a liberal regime. There are probably always going to be dark-horse bands like Pantera that carry the flag for decent metal – I’m just saying as of right now they seem to be the exception, not the rule.

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(Clinton fans, don’t get your panties in a bunch. Hillary Clinton is still more conservative than any honest democrat should be comfortable with. I’m sure there will be plenty of angry music made if she’s elected. I’m just saying it’ll be shitty mainstream stuff that’s overtly politically correct)

Conclusion

If Trump wins, America’s going to start pumping out the fucking jams. The “Metal Bubble” we’re currently experiencing will probably pop immediately following his presidential term (4-8 years, depending on how generous you are. Remember, we as a country elected George W. Bush after he stole the election the first time, so don’t give American voters too much credit). We might even finally get another “real” movement in extreme metal.

If Hillary Clinton wins, subsequent movements in heavy metal will all be mainstream in nature, and the trend of whiny millennial hipsters taking over the American metal scene will continue. Metal concerts will continue to be referred to as people’s “safe spaces”, and former leaders in the metal scene like Phil Anselmo will continue to be demonized. Metal will continue down the track it’s on, and become a bad parody of itself.

  • If you’re voting for Trump (and listen to metal), this is probably another vindication of your choice to vote for him. Good for you.
  • If you’re voting for Clinton (and listen to metal), consider it a silver lining for if she loses. As of right now, it’s not looking great.

Whoever wins, we’re all fucked. We’re literally watching the crumbling decay of an empire. It’s unavoidable at this point. I just want there to be a decent soundtrack.

 

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Musical Fission and Fusion: A Response

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

Rock v.s. Metal

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

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

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

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

Regarding the Current State of Rock Music

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

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

Metal Culture’s Silent Support of Rock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving Forward – the Future of Rock and Metal

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Heavy Metal and Christianity

All human social groups share certain characteristics – on a micro level (individual interactions) and on a macro level (large-scale group dynamics). For the purposes of this article, I could choose any large social group in the world – religious or otherwise. I chose to use Christianity for two reasons.

First, the rather tenuous relationship between Metal Culture and Christianity since February 13th, 1970, when Black Sabbath released their first album.

Second – heavy metal collectively has the largest and most loyal global fanbase of any style of music (at least according to statistics released by music streaming service Spotify). Considering Christianity has the largest following of any religion on earth, they’re probably the best point of comparison (i.e. the largest faith based and entertainment based communities in the world). And you might be shocked at the number of similarities between the two.

Please keep in mind this is an observational piece, and is by no means all-encompassing. On to the discussion.

Similarities:

Both are large-scale global “bricolage” cultures

Metal and Christianity are global phenomenons, with legions of dedicated fans/followers on every populated continent. Christianity and Heavy Metal transcend language and culture, as well as economic barriers.

Christianity broke off/fractured from it’s parent culture (Judaism) when the population base reached a critical mass. It later fractured into distinct branches (Orthodox, Catholic, then Protestant with Martin Luther), which have continued to splinter into smaller sub-groups. The sheer number of different denominations is staggering, but all of them fall under the larger umbrella term of Christianity.

Metal broke off/fractured from it’s parent culture (Rock and Roll) when the fan base reached a similar critical mass. It later fractured into two distinct branches (Mainstream and Underground/Extreme), which have continued to splinter into smaller sub-genres. The sheer number of different sub-genres is staggering, but all of them fall under the larger umbrella term of Heavy Metal.

Both Share Similar Spectrums of Adherence

In both Christian and Metal cultural groups there are spectrums of adherence that range from exclusive to inclusive (and everything inbetween). This is a natural occurrence – because as the population of a group increases, so does the number of different opinions within that group.

A good example would be the “real” or “true” member debates. Within Christianity, there is an ongoing discussion in terms of what constitutes a “real” or “true” Christian. A parallel can be seen in the whole “real” or “true” metalheads v.s. posers discussion. in other words, both cultures have their fair share of “infighting” over multiple definitions of adherence.

Have you ever heard someone say, “Why do we need all these subgenres? Why can’t we just call it all metal like we used to?” or something similar? Spend enough time on metal forums, Facebook groups, or with metalheads in general and you might notice it’s a rather common topic of discussion.

Interestingly enough, when discussing the relative diversity of Christianity with Christians I’ve heard similar sentiments (We don’t need all these different denominations/I don’t know why we can’t just call it all Christianity).

There is some merit to these arguments, because all sub-genres and scenes fall under the greater spectrum of Heavy Metal just like all protestant and catholic denominations fall under the greater spectrum of Christianity. So, they’re accurate – just not very specific.

Both are Historically Male-Dominated Cultures

Considering both Christian and Heavy Metal culture are derivatives of Western Culture (which is mostly male dominated) this shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.

There is a major difference here though – Christianity was systematically set up to exclude women from positions of power pretty much since it’s inception. A good example of that would be the taboo against female priests/pastors. Metal, however, is masculinist (as opposed to patriarchal).

So, while both social systems formed with predominantly male influence – in this instance the difference is a huge one. Within the church’s social structure – rules have to be changed to allow women to serve the culture in major roles such as a priest or pastor.

Heavy metal has no such restrictions. A women entering the metal scene simply has to navigate social norms that are traditionally considered to be masculine (I’m talking about the scene here, not the industry. All Western industry is patriarchal). The proof is in the pudding here, while the two systems may seem comparable, the end result(s) of the respective social structures for different genders can clearly be seen and differentiated.

Both Christianity and Heavy Metal Have Radical “Fringe Groups”

Both Christianity and Metal Culture have a few skeletons in the closet. Heavy Metal has such gems as National Socialist Black Metal and Hatecore (technically punk, like all of the “-core” derivations, but included here because of hardcore’s association with metal), while Christianity boasts the Ku Klux Klan, the Aryan Nations and other Christian Identity groups.

“Fringe” hate groups in Metal

“Fringe” hate groups in Christianity

These fringe groups aren’t just about racism, anti-abortion violence in the United States and abroad generally has Christian undertones. And Heavy Metal has it’s own share of isolated, hate-filled violence. From the infamous church burnings and murders to instances of torture, it’s safe to say there are a few very seriously disturbed individuals on the fringes of the scene.

In both instances, the major block of the respective cultures renounce the violence of the fringe groups – but these events are so violent and atrocious it’s hard to separate them completely.

Both Have a “Ritual” Component

Sociologically speaking, a metal concert could be considered a ritual experience. Rituals aren’t limited to religious expression – for instance, shaking a person’s hand as a greeting is a common social ritual.

The metal concert is a ritual of heavy metal culture worldwide. Individual customs may vary based on location, for instance in the United States it’s generally considered taboo to wear the shirt of the band you’re going to see at a show (unless it’s a tour shirt purchased at the concert). However, in other areas of the globe this isn’t necessarily the case. Also, someone not familiar with the incredible variance of metal culture might not recognize that a Black Sabbath show and a Cannibal Corpse show are both considered to fall in the general realm of metal shows.

Likewise, a church sermon is a ritual of Christian culture worldwide. Traditions in American churches might seem foreign to those in Europe or elsewhere. Snake-handling is a tradition of some churches in the southern United States, while the custom wouldn’t be recognized anywhere else in the world. Someone not familiar with the relative diversity of Christianity might not recognize that a Russian Orthodox service and a Southern Baptist service both fall in the general realm of Christian ritual.

And in both cases, the end result of a successful “ritual” is the same – they solidify social bonds between participants.

Both Utilize an Atmosphere of Persecution to Solidify Their Respective Bases

This one’s kind of interesting – as both Heavy Metal and Christianity have a history of persecution. In fact, considering the universal symbol of Christianity is an instrument of torture used against the founder (the cross), one could argue that Christianity is based on a mindset of persecution. Likewise, the founder of heavy metal (Ozzy, through Black Sabbath) was publicly persecuted (granted, he wasn’t tortured and killed – once of the nice things about 2,000 years of cultural advancements, as an accusation of blasphemy has certainly led to public execution historically), most notably in his Suicide Solution trial in the 80’s.

Funny thing about a culture of persecution – it tends to solidify social bonds of the persecuted group and lend a universal sense of purpose through opposition of the invisible “other”. Metal bands and Priests/Pastors alike take advantage of this social mechanism rather liberally. I’m not saying it isn’t for good reason, in certain parts of the world Christians and Metalheads certainly are persecuted – and generally for the same reason. Because they both represent the spread of Western Culture in an area. Bearing this in mind, the tension between metal and christian cultures can be viewed in a different light.

Now, by definition these two groups aren’t mutually exclusive. You can be a christian (or a member of any other faith) and still be a metalhead. So, why is it that so many christian groups are against heavy metal? And why are so many metal artists and fans so vehemently against the christian church?

Short answer – on a macro level they’re after the same thing… membership. They might phrase it differently – Christianity generally says it’s around to “save people’s eternal souls”, while metal is generally there to “free people’s minds” and “promote individual thought”. But at the end of the day, the results are the same. A church saving a person’s soul generally implies participation in christian culture, and by inference the spread of that culture. Likewise, heavy metal grabbing a person’s attention and getting them to think for themselves usually includes participation and perpetuation of metal culture.

They Both Utilize Horror Themes

At first glance, this might seem ridiculous. But if you really break down the components of “Hellfire Preaching” and compare them to death metal lyrics, you’re likely to find a common denominator in horror themes.

In both instances, this is a manifestation of a culture catering to the morbid interests of their bases. Because at the end of the day, there isn’t that much difference between talking about people being tortured eternally in hell and singing about torture in any other medium. In this light heavy metal and hellfire sermons can both be viewed as extensions of horror themed entertainment. Because let’s face it, people like to be scared.

Also, there’s this.

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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.

 

Digital Journalistic Poser Holocaust

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

Introduction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

posertypeaVisual representation of “Poser Type A”

Conclusion
(Poser Type A)

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

Case Study – Try-Hards
(Poser Type B)

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

Example 1) Try-hard bands

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

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

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


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

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

Example 2) Try-hard fans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion
(Poser Type B)

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

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

Case Study
(Poser Type C)

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

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

What the actual fuck.

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

Case Study Discussion
(Poser Type C)

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

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

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

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

Conclusion
(Poser Type C)

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

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

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

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