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Global Metal Culture: The Rise of the Digital Metal Scene

The strangest thought hit me today – there are actually people alive and active in the metal scene that don’t know what it was like before the internet.

Stop and let that sink in for a minute.

(cliché reflective opening statement to blog post, check. god I’m getting good at this.)

Is the Internet the Last Major Metal Scene?

When speaking of a metal “scene”, generally people are speaking about a shared sub-cultural space where members are able to participate in the culture. For metalheads, this generally means bar and live shows. Or, at least, it used to.

With the advent of the internet, a person can completely immerse themselves in metal culture without ever physically meeting another metalhead. This isn’t without precedent – I have written previously about how metalheads had social networking before the internet. So really, the digital metal scene can be viewed as a natural evolution of the tape trading scene.

But this is a bit different. More all-encompassing. Scenes arise from the collective need for a sub-cultural space. The internet meets the needs of every metalhead, or at least allows for those needs to be met.

I’m not saying there won’t be local scenes in the future. Of course there will be, that’s the heart-blood of metal.

I AM saying there will never be another band (metal or otherwise) who gets big without the internet. Ever. So, what I AM saying is that the internet has become the largest possible metal scene – with pretty much every single metalhead on earth participating in some way, shape, or form.

The Internet Changed Everything

Metal’s Place in Society at Large

There’s a trade-off here. The best and worst thing about the digital metal scene is how easy it is to access and participate. Metal is no longer the pariah of the music world – it’s become (comparatively) safe in a cultural context.

There is always going to be metal that’s on the outside of what is considered “good taste” by the majority of Western Society – metalheads will make sure of that.

But Jesus Christ, when the President of the United States visits Finland and cracks a good-natured joke about the number of metal bands (per capita) – it’s safe to say the outsider status is gone.

So, lets take a brief look at how the digital age is affecting the unholy (hehe) trifecta of metal culture: Metal fans, metal bands, and the metal media.

How the Next Generation Experiences Metal (The Rise of Digital Metal Fans)

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There is a generation of metalheads who, feasibly

  • never listened to heavy metal in an analog format.
  • never knew what purchasing music was like before Napster and other file sharing sites. (or torrents)
  • never had to stay up on a Sunday night to hear the ONE metal program on a radio station.
  • never had to play “album roulette”, going to a music store and finding the minuscule (if existent) metal section – and buying an album purely because it looked cool as fuck. Chances are, they won’t understand that every genre of metal has its own logo style for exactly this reason.
  • will never know what it was like to depend on ‘zines (specifically the classified section) to know what’s happening in metal.
  • have no idea what it’s like to be stereotyped by the police simply because they favor a style of music (well, maybe not as much).
  • have no fucking clue what the significance of MTV was to music in general, or why Headbanger’s Ball was such a big fucking deal.
  • have never paid 30 bucks for a CD
  • don’t have to rely on the metalhead “uniform” to find other metalheads.

This is literally a group whose experience with metal, and the metal community is so vastly different from previous generations of bangers as to seem almost alien. I think it’s funny – people have been so focused on how the internet and computers changed metal in the past few decades, that they’ve completely neglected to examine how it changed the fans (or even ask if/how it would).

Might it be logical to assume that, as their experience of metal culture is so vastly different – maybe it will change the fan base?

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Metal Bands in the Digital Age (And the Digital Metal Bands)

Even the way new bands create and share music. Remember Job for a Cowboy? The first (and only, to my knowledge) metal band to successfully launch a major career in metal using Myspace? Fucking Myspace?!? I still remember getting messages and a friend request from the band when they were a bunch of unknown dudes from Texas.

Which brings me to deathcore. Sure, I shit on it all the time – 99% of deathcore bands are generic and boring. But if we’re being really, brutally honest here – 99% of thrash, death, and black metal bands are just as generic and boring. I write for an online magazine, and believe me – if the only good thing you can say about a band is that they have an old-school death metal/thrash/black metal sound or aesthetic – it’s a roundabout way of saying there isn’t much good you can say about the band.

Deathcore does have the distinction of being the first metal sub-genre to come to prominence through the internet. Metalcore stands kind of in between – half internet/half old-world. Djent gets a participation trophy.

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Nowadays, bands don’t need to physically amass a following to be heard – they just need access to a computer and pro-tools. Self-releases are more common than ever. In fact, record labels seem like they’re becoming almost vestigial. Bands can crowd-fund an album and write exactly what they want.

Speaking of music production – I guess the “American Metal Sound” is totally a thing now. Essentially it just means you have crystal clear production values and a “full” sound, but I’ve heard people from outside the US use this term to describe a lot of the Thrash albums that came out this year (i.e. Testament and Megadeth’s 2016 releases). Not that this is purely a deathcore related phenomenon – the New Wave of American Metal certainly influenced this as well – but I think it’s a nice change.

Sure, there’s a certain aesthetic associated with the production values of classic metal albums. But you can’t tell me you want every goddamn metal album for all eternity to sound like it was recorded inside a garbage can.

But I digress.

The Digital Metal Media

So yeah, this is the first generation who got their metal related news purely in a digital format. I mean, sure, for novelty’s sake a few people might go out and buy a physical magazine or two. But the medium is simply outdated. The only reason to get them is to act like a hipster or for genuine nostalgia.

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Dramatic Re-enactment of a “Dinosaur Metal” band

As such, a lot of the “dinosaur” metal publications were unable to get past their own bureaucracy (and mounds of paperwork) to get with the whole “information age” thing. Which isn’t really a bad thing, considering most of them got so far out of touch with the metal community. I’m really not sure how they kept going (Well, yes I am. They sold their souls and started catering to the tastes of 16-year-old girls. But that’s another topic altogether).

Interestingly enough, all the major metal news websites have conglomerated in exactly the same manner as the magazines did. Just like the old guard – they publish the exact same stories, they share writers, they cooperate on contests together. It’s a massive circle-jerk.

Lambgoat, Metalsucks, Metal Injection, Decible, theprp.com – they’re all in on it (example, they all use the blast beat network for their advertising). I guess life really does come full circle – reading these guys commentaries on metal culture is about as much fun as chewing on tinfoil (sorry, that’s an old person joke from way back in the day when they used mercury in fillings).

Capitalist bureaucracy at it’s finest, I tell you.

Metal’s Transition from Counterculture to Culture

Pretty much every metalhead who was alive and active in the scene before the internet remembers how things were. “How the internet changed metal” is a pretty popular topic to discuss in metal circles.

But I don’t think I’ve ever seen or read anything discussing the logical progression of the though/sentiment. If the internet changed metal bands, metal music, and metal media – isn’t it safe to say it significantly changed the fan base?

The biggest change I’ve noticed is that metal is no longer a counterculture.

Other sites have touched on the subject, but I don’t think anyone has really gone the extra few feet to discuss the logical implications (positive, negative, and neutral) for metalheads, and metal culture in general.

It isn’t hard to find other metalheads anymore. Besides going to concerts, hanging out at bars, randomly bumping into people in the metal section of your local music store, or (if you were lucky enough) having a metalhead crowd to hang out with when you were in high school – there was a point in time when it was actually a bit difficult to find other metalheads. We used to have to rely on “the uniform” (or people with a particular look) to find each other.

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A positive aspect of this is that heads can now use visual cues other than band shirts to find one another. Facebook metal groups abound, metalheads create their own digital sub-cultural space in popular forums. I think we can all collectively agree that talking shit about Metal Sucks in the comments section of every single one of their articles is one of the purest expressions of sheer collective joy metal culture has to offer it’s adherents.

A negative aspect of this is that although it’s not hard to find metalheads, metalhead interaction on the internet will never be as satisfying as interaction in person. This doesn’t just affect metalheads, in general people fall into the trap of substituting online social interactions for face to face interactions – and this can be very unhealthy. It makes confrontation and altercation infinitely easier, and therefore more inviting. In person, confrontations are a lot less likely, and the results of a confrontation are generally a lot more amicable to both parties. So yeah, there’s that.

OK, enough of this touchy feely shit. Back to the metal.

With online participation, metalheads are better able to come to a consensus as to what constitutes a sub-genre, and what bands fall where on the heavy metal family tree. And nobody, I mean nobody, has done a better job of this than Banger Films.

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Sam Dunn and the crew up in Canada are (in my opinion, and many others judging by their popularity) revolutionizing metal –  by bringing all the little mini-cultures that constitute metal culture into one shared sub-cultural space for the express purpose of documenting and furthering metal culture as a whole.

If you haven’t already, I highly recommend subscribing to their YouTube channel. Their revues are top-notch, the sub-genre episodes allow people to democratically discuss a particular section of metal in-depth and decide, democratically, on which bands fit within the categorization being discussed.

A Quick Recap

Let’s do a “Five W’s” test real quick.

What changed? Metal culture

Who changed? The three major aspects of metal culture – fans, bands, and metal media

Where did the change take place? The internet, of course.

Why did the change happen? The internet provided unprecedented access to metal culture, allowing for a universal allocation of sub-cultural space regardless of geographic location.

When did the change take place? It’s still happening, arguably it came to a head in 2000 with the Metallica/Napster dispute.

Conclusion(s)

I would argue that the internet is not just a logical progression of metal culture – it’s the logical conclusion of metal culture. 

When I say logical conclusion – I don’t mean that metal culture will be ending because of the internet. I mean that in terms of progress, it’s impossible for metal culture to move PAST the internet.

Tape Trading? You don’t have to peruse metal magazines and write letters, waiting on the postal service. New metal is literally at your fingertips 24/7.

Meeting new metal fans? Until there is a cultural space for social connections more efficient and all-encompassing than Facebook – there will never be a faster, easier way to meet and interact with other metalheads.

Metal news? Instead of waiting for magazines, we find out what’s happening in the metal universe almost in real-time. It’s just not possible to find things out any faster.

Metal bands don’t need to jockey for positions to be heard by major labels anymore – in fact, it’s (theoretically) possible for a band to gain mass popularity almost exclusively through social media (i.e. Job for a Cowboy, Vulvodynia, etc.).

Integration into greater culture? As much as is humanly possible – I don’t see people getting arrested for wearing metal shirts or being sent to camps for “de-metalizing” (a la the PMRC days of the 1980’s).

heavy metalistsMaybe the police will stop using pictures like this in training manuals? 

School shootings might still be blamed on metalheads now and then, but since the culture has become more visible (due to the internet) I think that’s a lot less likely. Occasional hate crimes against metalheads? Yeah, probably still a thing – anyone who looks “different” is going to be a target by small-minded clusters of mouth-breathers. With the “metal look” as big as it is right now in popular culture, I would even predict that sort of thing is on the decline.

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In other words, because of how convenient and efficient a tool the internet has turned out to be – I believe the final frontier of heavy metal (the music and it’s culture) has been reached.

It’s not a good thing, it’s not a bad thing.

It’s just a fucking thing.

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No, Metalheads Aren’t All Supposed to Get Along

Introduction:

The Heavy Metal sub-culture is a patchwork tapestry of inter-related scenes and subcultures known as a bricolage culture. Viewed as a whole, it can be generalized that it’s dualistic in nature.

I’ve written articles detailing the inherent divide in heavy metal, as well as the current incarnation of that divide. Building on this body of work, the purpose of this article is to discuss the nature of the relationship between the mainstream and underground factions of the culture with the express intent of shedding some clarity on the nature of Heavy Metal Culture as a whole. Specifically, the nature of discourse between members of the culture in relation to the music.

Metal Culture is Inherently Populist

Due to societal reactions to metal since it’s inception, heavy metal culture at it’s core is inherently populist in nature.

What I mean by this is that heavy metal is a musical style that caters to the needs and desires of the fanbase – the consumers tell the artists what they want. This is exactly opposite to the business model of musical culture in general – where major labels and musical oriented media (from now on I will refer to it as the Pop Machine) tell people what to like.

Now, the standard musical model of “taste-makers” telling consumers what is good/popular has it’s benefits – mainly that musical boundaries are clear and concise. There is little to no room for discourse, because musical definitions and standards are pre-defined for the consumer. The consumer is free to take it or leave it, and discussion is set within certain parameters. However, the entire setup is contrary to what a lot of people understand art to be – a manifestation of individualistic expression that exists for personal interpretation.

One of the things that the pop machine has been pretty consistent about is it’s rejection of metal music. Since rock critics first started writing about Black Sabbath in the early 70’s, metal has been institutionally ignored, discarded, set to the side, and left to it’s own devices. Normally, this would mean the death of a musical movement – as a lack of radio play and media coverage by the pop machine is meant to squash out artistic movements that do not conform to the pop machine standard.

The Reactionary/Oppositional Component

A lot of the modern day prejudices against metal bands and fans are a direct result of the pop machine. The very survival of the musical style required a following that, in time, would become a culture. Critics touting the music as a low-brow art form that caters to the lowest common denominator since the 70’s literally set the tone for a key aspect of metal culture – it’s inherently oppositional nature.

This nature served it well in the decades that followed. In the 80’s metal become the moral panic of the day – it was used to scapegoat aspects of the culture that then (then) conservative majority disliked. This peaked in the now infamous PMRC campaign that led to a (partially successful) congressional hearing in the United States relating to the censorship of ALL music.

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Conservatives opposed heavy metal culture due to it’s inherent opposition to authority, and Liberals opposed it due to the admitted hedonistic nature and low-brow appeal. The church opposed metal culture because, well, metal culture opposed the church in most cases. The music and it’s culture were under constant scrutiny and assault for the better part of a decade. This is not an environment that breeds “happy go lucky” or “inclusive” cultural traits. And the 90’s weren’t much better for metal. The police were trained to target metal fans as criminal lowlifes. The pop machine declared metal dead (wishful thinking?). When a few sick kids in Columbine got together and planned a horrible school shooting, heavy metal was the scapegoat. And so on, and so forth.

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A Quick Recap

So, we can see that for (at least) the better part of 30 years heavy metal culture continued to exist specifically because of it’s oppositional nature. And the nature of that culture is reflected in it’s membership. Metalheads, by and large, have a confrontational and aggressive component to their personalities. It’s not up for debate, it’s just a fact. This may seem contrary to scientific studies that state exactly the opposite (that metal fans are creative, easy going, introverts with high self esteem – closer to the profile of a classical music fan) – but it all makes sense in context, so please bear with me as I stumble through an explanation.

I think metalheads, in large part, are attracted to metal because it offers a healthy outlet for negative emotion (i.e. the aforementioned aggressive/confrontational proclivities). Without all those pent up, negative emotions an individual is better able to function – so the personality traits displayed in scientific studies are expressed.

So, while metalheads may be more well adjusted than your average person – they still retain an inherent combative/oppositional nature. The culture reinforces this, and the attitudes then reinforce the cultural position – it’s cyclical.

Back to the Present Day

Applying this to the present state of heavy metal gives a little context and clarity to the situation. As noted by Sam Dunn in one of his Banger segments (I believe it was the one discussing metal in popular fashion) – heavy metal has lost a lot of it’s “outsider” status. It’s not as culturally threatening as it was even a decade ago. As such, major opposition to heavy metal has virtually disappeared – but that confrontational nature still exists. The most common expression of this is through infighting.

Some people might scratch their heads at this, but it makes perfect sense. I’ve heard metal culture referred to as a “big family”, “friends you’ve never met”, and a bunch of similar pseudo-hippy garbage terms. A more accurate description would be that metalheads constitute a “neo-tribal culture” based around a common appreciation for an art form.

So, tribe/clan/family unit are all pretty much synonymous – but there’s an inherent flaw in the way that most people view these terms. The problem is that they’re using a romantically charged view of a family unit or tribe. We’re conditioned as individuals to view families as some lovey-dovey unit that never disagrees. The reality of the situation, whether you like to admit it or not, is muuuuuch different.

Reality v.s Expectation

So, however you want to frame it, the reality of the situation is that the “metalheads are a family” comparison is very accurate. Anyone who feigns surprise that metalheads are going to argue is only kidding themselves (and clinging to a romanticized false notion of a family). It’s as natural as tribal warfare, sibling rivalry, or family feuds (those colloquialisms weren’t just plucked out of thin air).

The thing is, there’s another side to this. Besides all the bickering and feuding – there’s an unwritten rule that applies to both family members and metalheads. I’ll give an example – I’m the only person allowed to talk shit about my family. If anyone else does it, they get the business end of my entire fucking family.

It’s very similar with metal – and this isn’t just theory. Remember the PMRC hearings? Death metal and Thrash weren’t the direct target of that scandal – it was (predominantly) hair metal. Was Dee Snider left to fend for himself? Fuck no he wasn’t – because the only people who can bash hair metal are metalheads.

The same principle stands true today – if there was a large entity attacking heavy metal (using a metalcore or deathcore band as a scapegoat), they would meet with a much larger resistance than originally anticipated – because that’s how the metal machine operates (note – blackgaze isn’t metal so, assuming they managed to offend anyone, I personally would totally throw them to the wolves).

Conclusion

The infighting within metal culture is a good thing, and it’s totally natural. Granted, some of the bigger sites (that started as independent but have since become part of the pop machine) might egg it on for money and website traffic – but they’re not pulling conflict out of nowhere. It’s a natural expression of metal culture, and an acceptable form of participation that (among other things) creates an environment where competition is encouraged.

Competition in the metal scene creates better music.

Last I checked, that’s called winning.

I guess the message here is that newcomers to the metal community need take a step back so they can see the forest for the trees. Because Metal Culture fucking rules, infighting and all.

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.

 

Why Metalheads honor the memory of Sophie Lancaster

Introduction

9 years ago this month (August 24th, 2007), a terrible tragedy in England resonated throughout the sub-cultural (and mainstream) communities around the world.

Sophie Lancaster and her boyfriend (Robert Maltby) were targeted by a group of thugs and brutally attacked. There was no provocation – they were chosen because of the way they dressed (as I understand it they were part of the English Goth community).

Although Goths and Metalheads are separate and distinct cultures, there is a good deal of crossover between them (as there is with a lot of sub-cultures). Enough crossover, in fact, that both the young men committing the criminal act and the witness who called the paramedics referred to them (among other things) as “moshers” (a pejorative term to refer to goths, metalheads, and other similar looking subscribers to sub-cultures in England, as I understand it).

And this wasn’t an isolated incident. I’m not saying anything sensationalist here – heavy metal and other subcultures aren’t under constant attack. But when you participate in any subculture/counter culture, it’s good to remember that there’s going to be a broad spectrum of reaction from the mainstream cultures (and other subcultures, for that matter) that’s going to include (but isn’t limited to) physical retaliation and violence.

Given the Dionysian, Hedonistic, Anti-Social (not Asocial, as most people tend to define it) cultural tendencies metalheads, goths, punks, emo kids, scene kids, etc tend to share – it’s not surprising that there is often a negative reaction from a predominantly Apollonian mainstream culture.

So, while I have absolutely no idea whether or not Sophie Lancaster and her boyfriend actually listened to heavy metal or were part of the subculture – it’s a moot point. To someone who comes from a place outside of these cultures – they’re all one and the same. Ben Moores (a teenage metalhead) was attacked in a similar manner to Sophie 5 years later.

An American Perspective to Illustrate a Greater Point

And I have to admit, as an American Metalhead my knowledge is inherently biased towards my own experience and those of my peers. For example – I’m much more familiar with the cultural persecution of metalheads in America from the Satanic Panic of the 1980’s and early 1990’s and the subsequent cultural fallout.

Judas Preist and Ozzy Osbourne were both put on trial after young men who were fans of their music committed suicide. Christian youth behavioral modification camps capitalized on the satanic panic to “de-metalize” or “de-punk” rebellious youth. American police were trained to recognize and discriminate against metalheads. Censorship as a part of a multi-faceted attack on heavy metal that includes religious moral and political concerns from the dominant culture is nothing new. (Sound of the Beast, by Ian Christe, chapter 17)

When the Columbine tragedy occurred, mainstream culture and the media were quick to associate the young men’s association to heavy metal as the culprit.

Three teenage boys (dubbed the West Memphis Three) were scapegoated in a brutal murder case of three young boys on circumstantial evidence and held for 18 years. Even after they were freed (they were obviously innocent – this was the subject of several documentaries) – they had to agree to a plea deal where the state admitted no wrongdoing.

After the brutal rape and murder of Elyse Pahler, her parents (unsuccessfully) sued Slayer twice as the cause of the horrid attack.

In Arizona, when Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot – the media was quick to point out Jared Loughner’s association with heavy metal music through his love of a single Drowning Pool song.

And, although marginalized, the demonization of heavy metal and it’s followers by the church continues in the United States to this day.

What Does this all Mean?

When a mainstream/dominant culture demonizes or vilifies a smaller sub-group on a large-scale/macro level, there tend to be individual manifestations of this within the interactions between members of those cultures on a micro/individual level.

If the church and the government in the United States had not brought mainstream culture to a state of panic concerning heavy metal in the United States (elected representatives publicly speaking against the music, media demonizing fans and musicians alike, congressional hearings spurred by the PMRC resulting in the censorship and subsequent economic sanctions that occurred as a result, etc), there most likely wouldn’t have been such a tendency towards blaming heavy metal for societal ills on an individual/micro level.

Applying this to the situation in England, I’m guessing that greater cultural norms had a significant impact on the social landscape of the country. Considering that the pejorative term “mosher” even exists to describe anyone who is a member of the subcultures being discussed in this article – I’d say that’s a pretty safe bet. The negative mainstream cultural connotations attributed to metalheads and goths (and others) can be seen as both an indirect and a direct cause of these brutal hate crimes. This sort of hatred didn’t come out of thin air – it’s a logical conclusion that a similar societal pattern existed in England to the one in the United States that led to where we are today.

So, the legacy of Sophie Lancaster is best exemplified through the Sophie Lancaster Foundation – which is focused on creating respect for and understanding of subcultures within communities.

Moving Forward

I would argue that there is a responsibility on behalf of the global community of such subcultures (metalheads included) to not only remember such horrible events, but to recognize societal patterns that have proven historically to lead to this sort of violence and intolerance.

Because it’s not limited to England and the United States (or Christianity) – I recently wrote a piece dealing with a situation in Romania where the church has caused a stir in the local community.

darkfuneralconvo

After receiving the blessing (sic) of Lord Ahriman of Dark Funeral to use some of what he was saying/reporting on in the area, I wrote a piece detailing how the a Russian Orthodox Priest had petitioned the local government in protest of Dark Funeral’s recent concert in the area. the government, in turn, issued a vocal statement that they would allow the priest to decide who did or did not play at public venues in the area.

The problem with this is that in similar instances across the globe where a particularly fundamentalist religious population enlists and is granted government aide to strip a group of citizens of their rights leads to a societal marginalization that can (and has) led to individual incidents of violence against people of that particular group. And metal culture has been proven to be particularly susceptible to this around the world.

Whether it’s in Africa, South America, Latin America, the US, Europe, Russia, China, Malaysia, India, or anywhere else on the globe – it’s good for people to be aware that this sort of thing can and does happen.

Metalhead response to what happened to Sophie Lancaster has been a global phenomenon – it got a dialogue going where it was urgently needed, there have been metal festivals dedicated to her, Bloodstock Open Air has a stage dedicated to her, charity shows for the Sophie Lancaster foundation, a charity album, and most importantly – social change via legislation that classifies subculture abuse as a hate crime. And it’s something that, almost a decade later, still resonates with people on a very human level.

I think it’s safe to say this is, globally, something worth supporting.

 

Metalheads Had Social Networking Before the Internet

In 2016, the internet has become such an integral part of global culture that it’s hard to imagine what life would be like without it. Social media, in particular, takes advantage of this massive global connection by helping people to communicate across the globe in real-time.But, strange as it seems, there was a time before the internet. People still communicated, albeit a lot more slowly.

So, how does this relate to metal culture? To understand how, first we should take a look at why metalheads would need to create a social network. In the 80’s and 90’s, heavy metal and it’s fans had a HUGE stigma attached to them (in some parts of the world, this stigma still exists). There was a large scale moral panic surrounding the music and it’s culture.

In the United States, for example, there was a growing wave of misinformation, political correctness, and organized opposition that threatened the very existence of metal. Police were trained to target metalheads based on the stereotypes propagated by the PC groups like the PMRC. Here are a few examples from a police training pamphlet called “Youth Subcultures”

heavy metalistsblack metalistspunksstoners

 

By themselves, these images are humorous at best. But the descriptions accompanying the photos labeled all metal fans (and punks, the picture with the mohawk was sadly missing the label) as lowlifes with no motivation to do anything constructive, who’s only source of income was from theft and drug sales (also mentioning that most metalheads were avid drug users themselves).

Combined with metal being completely ignored by the music industry,  disrespected by the media, metal shirts being banned from schools, young fans of the music being sent to counselors and camps for “de-metalizing”, and metal bands being put on public trial as scapegoats for youth tragedy – you’ve got a culture who’s very existence requires it to go “underground”.

And if you can’t find music you want in the normal media channels, where do you go? Simply put, you go to other fans of the music. But metal fans were few and far between – and spread all over the globe. There was no internet, no media, nothing – how did people find new metal that wasn’t a polished, formulaic mainstream parody of real music?

The answer, of course, was tape trading. Metal magazines were essentially the lifeblood of the culture. And the classified ads in these magazines allowed someone to advertise that they had new music for distribution, or to advertise their tastes. All you had to do was put in an ad with an example of a band you liked (and your mailing address), stating you were looking for more bands like them, and wait. People would send you music, mostly free of charge, that was in the same vein. Essentially it was a pen-pals with benefits sort of thing, and it completely cut the record industry out of the picture.

This is where the sub-genrefication of metal started, it was necessary to get people the music they wanted. This was also the time where the unwritten rules of metal started to solidify. These things are all manifestation of “sub-cultural space”, it’s how metalheads communicate aspects of metal culture to one another. It’s also when the metal “uniform” really came together and became a thing. The most important part of the uniform (wearing shirts of the bands you listen to) was a way to show solidarity with the culture, support for the bands (because they still get more from t-shirt sales than they ever did from albums), and personal musical taste to other people in the culture.

Fun fact – with the industry out of the picture metal was free to evolve without corporate influence. If it wasn’t for widespread persecution of metalheads (forcing them to go underground as a culture), you wouldn’t have Thrash, Death Metal, Grindcore, Hardcore Punk, Black Metal, or any of the extreme branches of the metal family tree that exist today.

In other words – this is when heavy metal completely broke off from rock and roll and became a distinct musical style with it’s own unique culture. Just like rock and roll broke off from the blues, metal severed it’s ties to rock music.

So, when you see an article bitching about how downloading music is killing the record industry – take it with a grain of salt. It’s killing the pop-machine entertainment industry for sure, but if you’re paying attention and capable of rational thought you can see even that claim is 100% bullshit. But as far as metal bands are concerned – sure, they’re seeing a drop in record sales. But record labels were pretty famous for signing metal bands to horrible long term contracts that gave away a lot of legal rights and fucked them over creatively for years. So they’re probably going to have to adopt a business model from heavy metal musicians, largely based on touring and merch sales. Soooo… the bands treated like dogshit by the major labels are now going to be their saving grace. Ironic much?

But I digress.

The outsider/taboo status assigned to metal by (and in) mainstream culture is what turned it into the cultural behemoth (pun intended) that it is today. File-sharing and social networking in the metal community is something that was happening for a full decade before the internet even existed. The transition to social networking and file-sharing websites was a natural one, metalheads simply digitized aspects of the culture that were already there.

That’s why metalheads still shit on Metallica on a regular basis. A shitty album or two can be overlooked – nobody bats 1000. But when you go after an evolutionary step of the very cultural mechanism that made you into what you are today (tape trading->file sharing, if you’re not following), you’re selling out completely. They sided with the same corporate entities that wouldn’t have given them the time of day a decade earlier.

Anyways – the only thing metalheads like more than metal is reading about how great metalheads are. So, there’s that. Enjoy.

Oh, if you liked this please feel free to join my facebook group metal stuff.

 

Cellphone Use at Metal Shows is an Abuse of Privilege – Quit Ruining the Show for Everyone Else

First off, I’m not saying cellphones should be banned from metal shows. That would be ridiculous. There’s always going to be a situation where someone might need to leave their phone on (emergencies, etc).

Secondly, I’m not saying people shouldn’t be allowed to snap a few pictures or record a song or two. That’s an awesome keepsake – and every time you watch it, it’ll bring you back to the experience.

But I am saying that cellphone use during concerts is a privilege – not a right. I get it, you paid for your ticket. You know who else did? Everyone else at the show. Meaning you’re on the same playing field as everyone else.

For anyone whining that people on cellphones at a concert are probably in the middle of an emergency – both you and I know that’s a load of shit. If it’s enough of an emergency that you need to use your cellphone, it’s enough of an emergency to give up your spot in the front row at a concert. 99% of people on cellphones at shows are texting or doing shit on Facebook.

And using the possibility of an emergency to justify texting a buddy during the middle of a song while you’re in the front row is an abuse of privilege. You can’t use cellphones at pretty much any other public entertainment venue (well, maybe a circus) – you’ll get banned.

This sort of abuse of privilege is why companies like apple are developing technology to stop cellphone use at events altogether.  And frankly, the only people who are to blame for this are the entitled shitheads who feel it is their god-given right to do whatever they want at a show because they paid good money.

If you drink too much at a show, you’ll get kicked out. If you start a fight at a show, you’ll get kicked out. If you get caught doing illegal drugs at a show, you’ll get kicked out. In general, if you’re disruptive and cause others to lose out on the concert experience you’ll get kicked out. So no, you don’t get to do whatever you want at a metal show.

As a matter of fact, that’s the attitude that’s literally going to ruin it for everyone who uses their phones courteously. If you care so much about the right to use a phone during an emergency, don’t act like a twat and make it so that people can’t use their phones at all.

And don’t ruin it for the people standing behind you – nobody who paid the same amount for concert tickets as you should be forced to watch the show through your fucking cellphone. How about the artists? Since people started downloading music, live shows are a big part of the reason they can stay in the music business. If you’re broadcasting the show, people have even less reason to go to the concert themselves. They paid for all the lighting and special effects, not to mention the wages of the roads crew and whatever other expenses go into making a show. Show a little fucking respect.

Corey Taylor (Slipknot) and David Draiman (Disturbed) were exactly right to call people out on using cellphones during their shows. I’ll take this one further – they are exactly the right people in the metal community to be doing this. Bands like Slipknot, Disturbed, 5 finger Death Punch, and the like are what I like to refer to as “starter metal bands.”

Nobody starts off listening to Second Wave Black Metal or Technical Brutal Slamming Death Metal – they start off listening to metal that’s easily accessible. Mainstream metal, if you will. Eventually, that isn’t heavy enough for them anymore, so they move on to the heavier “underground” stuff. This makes the “start metal bands” the perfect people to instruct people on how to act – like when Ivan Moody from 5 Finger Death Punch stopped his entire show in Albany to call out someone who was being a deuchbag in the pit. That way, when people start going to more underground style shows, they already know how to act.

And there are always exceptions to the rules – if you’re filming a set for a local band, this obviously doesn’t apply to you.

Does Metal have unwritten rules?

Short answer – yes.

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

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

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

Rules for everyone; 

Shows-

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

Ladies-

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

In the pit –

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

In General –

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

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

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