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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.

Clean Vocals: Partially Selling Out or Completely Selling Out?

Contrary to the title, I actually really like clean vocals in metal. As long as they’re not whiny and angst filled.  This does seem to be a major point of contention in the metal community.

Some people absolutely love it, and some people can’t stand it. Especially in sub-genres like Melodic Death Metal (and it’s American cousin Metalcore), clean vocals have become so commonplace it’s almost camp. Bands like In Flames, Soilwork, Scar Symmetry, Solution .45, Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall, All that Remains, and the like have been using clean vocals for years – with great success. The list goes on.

And more recently bands like Lamb of God, Whitechapel, Hatebreed, and Amon Amarth have had clean vocals on at least one track of their albums.

The way I see it, there are two things you need to look at when evaluating a band using clean vocals.

  1. Why are they doing it? This should be pretty obvious. If a bands been playing pretty much the same thing for over a decade, sometimes they just want to switch things up. Which is cool, you have to respect artistic integrity and the willingness to branch out and try something new. If the band hasn’t gotten a lot of radio play, and suddenly they have a song with a clean chorus on your local rock station – then you know exactly why they did it. Not cool. I understand wanting to get popular, but if you’re even remotely familiar with heavy metal you should know that you aren’t getting into it for radio play.
  2. Do you like it? I’m actually talking about listening to the song objectively. Maybe this will be the song that makes things “clique” in your head and makes you enjoy a clean chorus now and then. Maybe you just absolutely hate them all, and this will only confirm it for you. If you don’t give it a chance and actually listen to it first before passing judgement – you’re just a fucktard.

Personally, I think there are certain vocalists who should never do clean vocals. I don’t see Karl Sanders from Nile or Corpsegrinder from Cannibal Corpse branching out and doing clean vocals just yet. And that’s cool – if they did I’d be more worried about the world ending.

But clean vocals are a pretty integral part of metal. Besides the obvious Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, guys like Phil Anselmo from Pantera and Warrel Dane from Nevermore have been incorporating clean vocals for years.

And if you have anything negative to say about Nevermore, you’re wrong and I hate you. Those guys fucking rule, and Jeff Loomis is a god.

In fact, even bands like Arch Enemy have been toying with the idea of incorporating clean singing. Alyssa White-Gluz did a lot of them in her prior band The Agonist (they’ve actually gotten a lot better since she left the band, Victoria is a much better fit with their sound).

Also, Manowar has clean vocals. And Manowar kills posers with steel. Your argument is invalid.

In summation, if you don’t like clean vocals pull up your big kid pants and don’t fucking listen to it.

Quit Your Bitching: Metal Elitists are the Reason Your Precious Genre Has Any Integrity

First and foremost, let me get a few things out of the way. We might not have the same definition of metal elitism. And that’s fine. One of the beautiful things about metal culture is that it’s not beholden to corporate control – meaning each fan has the opportunity (and responsibility) to define heavy metal for themselves. And this definition will more than likely change and expand the longer you’re a fan.

Before we go any further – let’s set some definitions so we’re all on the same page, and know what I’m speaking about when I use a term.

  • Heavy Metal – (noun) A type of highly amplified, harsh sounding rock-based music with a strong beat and a heavy emphasis on bass. Characteristically uses violent or fantastic imagery.
  • Metal Fan – (noun) A person who enjoys listening to Heavy Metal
  • Metalhead – (noun) A metal fan who completely immerses themselves in the heavy metal culture and lifestyle. Also referred to as a “lifer”.
  • Metal Purist/Elitist – (noun) A metalhead who will heavily criticize bands (and social aspects of) metal culture that do not meet their personal definitions of what is acceptable. Opinions are often based on popular opinions within the greater metal culture.
  • Asshole – (noun) An irritating or contemptible person.
  • Poser – (noun) A person who pretends to be something they’re not, for the express purpose of impressing other people.
  • Corporate Music Industry – (noun) A group of assholes who happen to have money, and are in the business of selling music and related memorabilia. See Poser and Asshole.

So, what’s the real difference between a metal fan and a metalhead?

OK so, you’re welcome to disagree with me on this. You’d be incorrect, but it’s a free country so go for it. As a metalhead who’s immersed himself in the music and the culture for 20+ years, I’ve come to use the term “metalhead” to refer to a very specific group of people.

Now there’s nothing wrong with simply being a fan – the majority of heavy metal listeners and cultural participants are. Quite the opposite, being a metal fan is a very good thing, as I’m sure any metal fan will tell you.

But for a small percentage of people within heavy metal culture, being a fan is simply not enough. You cross a line and immerse yourself in the music, and in turn the culture. Metal finds it’s way into nearly every aspect of your life. It can be a blurry line to cross, and generally speaking the only person who can really say whether you’re a metal fan or a metalhead is yourself.

What sets heavy metal culture apart from other sub-cultures? First and foremost the music. Without heavy metal, there are no metal fans and there are no metalheads. Secondly, the insular nature of the culture. Because of it’s purposeful lack of marketable mass appeal – heavy metal is a music that is sustained by the participants in the culture. The more a person immerses themselves in the culture, the more they do to support it and keep it going.

So, by definition, a metalhead would be more integral to the metal community and culture simply because they do more and participate more in the culture. There’s actually a sociological term for this phenomenon, it’s called mundane sub-cultural capital. Mundane sub-cultural capital is accumulated by participation in the subculture itself. It’s intangible and difficult to earn – but with it comes credibility. There’s one other type of sub-cultural capital, but as it does not apply to this particular topic we will not be discussing it.

A little history lesson for your bitch ass.

Context breeds clarity, And the main purpose of this writing is to clarify a few things. So, on to the history books. For those readers too young to remember, there was a genre of metal that was 100% music industry created and maintained. We call it “Hair Metal.” And for a period of time, it helped make metal the most popular form of music on the planet. But because it was so strictly defined and never deviated from the industry formula, it defined it’s own mortality and died off. The killing stroke was with the rise of the new industry clone – Grunge. With the advent of grunge, metal was declared dead. And hair metal (and therefore “popular metal”) really was dead.

So who kept metal going when mainstream culture announced it was dead? Oh wait, the metalheads. The elitists. The Purists. The people who knew that the industry couldn’t destroy what it didn’t create, and are directly responsible for you being able to listen to real metal that has artistic integrity and is unbeholden to corporate bureaucracy.

So, what does all of this mean?

By defining what a metal elitist/purist is, we’re better able to see just who someone is really attacking when they make an all-encompassing claim like, “Metal Elitism is out of control” or, “Fuck Metal Elitists.” By making claims like this, all you’re really doing is insulting the people who have, through participation, helped make it possible for you to listen to, play, and enjoy the music you love without corporate music industry intervention. In other words, they’re keeping out the real assholes.

A common mistake people make is confusing the term “metal elitist” with the more accurate “asshole metal fan”. An asshole metal fan, for the purpose of this article, is an asshole who happens to like heavy metal. Seems simple enough. We’ve all met one or read one of their comments on the internet. In fact, I believe these people are the intended targets of public criticism of “metal elitists.” I hate to be the one to break the news, but there are assholes in every walk of life. Including metal culture. That’s just an inevitable fact of life.

Now, can a metal elitist be an asshole? Sure. And when presented with an unsubstantiated or uneducated statement about heavy metal, there’s a very good chance the metal elitist in question might come across like an asshole. But you know what? If you tell an expert on classical music that a particular song comes from the Baroque period, and it doesn’t, they will most likely correct you and come across as an asshole. So you might not like it, but chances are they’re right. This leaves you, really, with two options. You can either a) suck it up and learn your shit or b) whine about it on the internet and get people to throw you a pity party because someone disagreed with you.

Which brings me to another point – not everyone who challenges your metal knowledge or integrity is an asshole. This has been a part of metal culture for a long time. Everyone who’s been around the block knows that when someone in the metal community challenges you, the proper thing to do is make an educated response defending your interests and musical taste. At face value this might seem like a cruel thing to do, but there’s a purpose to it. If you’re wearing a band shirt, or have a patch from a band on your jacket, or you’re talking about a band like you’re knowledgeable about them – you better know what you’re fucking talking about. Band t-shirts and other memorabilia are the universal means of communicating participation in the metal culture. If you’re wearing a band shirt, and you can’t even defend what you like about them to a person, you might want to ask yourself if you really like them. If you are able to make a solid argument for what you like about the band and why, the person will always back down. It’s literally an ongoing rite of passage within the metal community. And it’s a fool-proof way to weed out anyone not dedicated to the music. As such, once you’ve made your argument defending your personal taste you’ve gained a fair amount of sub-cultural capital, and in turn credibility. That’s just how it works.

And when you lay it out like that, anyone who’s been active in the metal scene for any significant amount of time will certainly agree that it’s a good thing. Or at very least, a necessary evil. Does it get annoying? Sure. You know what’s more annoying? Posers and try-hards who are only there because they think it makes them “cool” or see it as a way to piss off their parents, but in reality barely like the music.

OK, I think that’s enough on this particular topic. In closing, if you have a problem with assholes who happen to like metal – join the fucking club. We all hate them. It doesn’t make you special, and you’re not making some groundbreaking observation that’s going to revolutionize the genre. You’re just a self entitled little shit who wants attention and got their feelings hurt. And if you hate true metal elitism, you can fuck right off and suck a chode.

Tune in next time to find out why metal sub-genres are one of the most important things in modern metal, and why not liking them makes you a fucking loser who’s completely wrong.

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