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The Monkey at the Metal Show

Disclaimer: I’m not pretending to be an expert in primate behavior (no matter how many times I watched the Harambe video), but it doesn’t take a fucking scientist to make these connections. 

“We admit that we are like apes, but we seldom realize that we are apes.”
-Richard Dawkins

Intro:

Whether they’re fans of heavy metal or not, people writing about the music and it’s adherents like to mention that the music taps into something primal.

I think that’s an accurate description, but I don’t think it goes far enough. My question is this – what are these primal things that metal taps into?

Primal like how our ancestors developed a love for fire (based on it’s importance in our survival) – and this translates into our love of a good light show/pyrotechnic display at a live show?

Or maybe primal like our admiration of musicianship, which boils down to admiration of mastery over tools?

These are certainly interesting subjects, and by pretty much any definition of the word they’re primal in nature.

In a sense, we (sort of) selectively bred these sorts of qualities into the human race – a love of fire and an appreciation for the mastery of tools are things that have allowed our species to advance to the pinnacle of the food chain. But they’re things that we don’t necessarily share with other primates.

What I want to talk about are things that we inherited before that (not that it’s a contest, but the things that are arguably more primal). Which poses the question, “Can the goings-on at a metal show, including the love of metal itself, be explained by comparing human behaviors with those of our primate cousins?”

Personally, I think that using primate behavior as a critical lens puts a lot of behaviors and staples of metal culture in a very interesting light. I’m going to break this down into two main sections – primate behavior among metalheads on an individual level, and on a group level.

(While reading this, you might notice that a lot of these things are not exclusive to metal. You’d be right, however this particular combination of things is pretty unique in my experience.)

Section 1 – Primate Behaviors Among Metalheads on an Individual Level

1a) Displays of Dominance and Aggression

One of the defining characteristics (arguably THE defining characteristic) of any alpha creature in nature is dominance. It can be expressed in different ways, but is inherently recognizable.

The Alpha Male

(it can be argued the desire to get on stage and beat your chest has primal origins)

In any group that’s been populated by male primates (almost to the point of exclusively) since it’s formation, you’re going to encounter a lot of very male-oriented behaviors and norms. Chimpanzees are a good example.

Being a large group of predominantly male primates (as I’ve mentioned in other articles) – heavy metal has developed what’s referred to as a Masculinist Culture. In a nutshell, what that means is that metalheads (by and large) tend to not only practice but celebrate codes of behavior that are (predominantly) attributed to males.

For example – in any given social situation, a group of animals will establish a pecking order. The animal at the top of that pecking order is the alpha. If it’s a group of males, the most dominant in the group will be what we like to refer to as the “alpha male”.

Among primates, there is a very distinctive set of behaviors that typify dominance ( and therefore are associated with the label alpha male). Humans, as primates, fall into this group. As such, an alpha male human (like any other primate) will display many of the characteristics associated with dominant primates – especially in the presence of other males.

Size Matters – Alpha Posturing and Stress

Being visual creatures – the first indication of alpha status among primates is size. Alpha males are big. Big males generally dominate. Among gorillas, for example, it’s rather easy to pick out the alpha male of the group due to their being significantly larger than the rest of the group.

Now, among our closest relatives in the primate world (chimpanzees), the alpha male is NOT always the largest. However, they compensate for this in a number of ways. One, that is common among all primates, is something referred to as the “alpha stance”.

It’s so common among humans that you might not give it much thought, but every time you see someone standing with their feet planted and spread, with their arms raised so the upper portion of their body resembles the letter “V” (sometimes called the victory pose or v-pose) – what you’re seeing is a simian dominance posture.

One of the main purposes of the alpha stance is that it makes you look visibly larger – but it also raises testosterone levels by 20% while lowering cortisol levels by up to 25% in all primates, male and female.

Cortisol is the stress hormone, and testosterone is the male sex hormone (high levels of testosterone are associated with a higher levels of confidence). So, primates instinctively know that in certain situations there’s a hormonal “oh shit” button that calms you down and makes you more confident.

You’ll see this sort of posturing anywhere you go, but I would argue it’s more exaggerated and pronounced at a metal show (largely due to the gender demographics). I’d argue the stress relief (on both a chemical and a mental level) combined with the effects of the music has an almost addictive quality to it.

If you’ve read my other blogs, you’ll know I make a distinction between metal fans and metal heads. I guess this is as good of an explanation of the difference between the two as any; real metalheads are absolutely addicted to the catharsis provided by the metal experience.

It’s certainly not a unique phenomenon in and of itself, I’m sure lifelong Grateful Dead fans can attribute to that. But the experiences are a tad different – and I think metal has a much more universal appeal.

And I’m not just pulling that out of my ass, metal is literally the beast that refuses to die. And somehow, magically, there are more metalheads now than there were last year.

Gratuitous discussion of how metal is superior to all other genres? Check.

Volume and Pitch

A dominant primate is, quite often, a loud primate (This can be exaggerated in certain primates, where loudness is often a form of evolutionary compensation). And I think you’d be hard pressed to find a style of music that is consistently louder than metal. The bands are loud, the fans are loud.

And not just loud, but loud with low tones. A deep voice is automatically perceived as more authoritative among humans, and there’s a good evolutionary explanation for that. Low voices are associated with large males who produce a lot of testosterone. It’s been argued that the lowed timbre voices of male primates (including humans) equate to a display of dominance. And it makes sense, big dudes usually have deep voices – and a deep voice can be intimidating.

If you want an example of how innate our association of deep voices and sounds with large, intimidating males is – think of the first time you saw the boxer Mike Tyson.

tyson

Now, think of the first time you heard his voice. The reason his appearance and his voice seem so incongruous is our evolutionary association of deep sounds with big, threatening creatures.

So, it’s not really that much of a surprise that Heavy Metal is loosely defined as a musical style that emphasizes instrumentation with deep, low frequency sounds (i.e. bass guitar, drums, rhythm guitar) played very loud.

Appearance as an Aggressive Display

It would be rather remiss of me not to mention stereotypical metalhead appearance as an act of aggressive display.

It’s also worth noting that to someone within metal culture, this style of dress and posturing is not threatening at all, quite the opposite – it’s appealing.

But to someone outside of the metal sphere, generally the consensus is that metalheads look intimidating. And I don’t think that’s by accident, but I don’t think it’s entirely a conscious act. Like, I don’t think a group of guys got together and said, “hey, let’s look as threatening as possible.”

All aggressive displays look threatening (that’s what makes them aggressive). It’s interesting to note that, contrary to common sense, the point of looking threatening in nature is to avoid conflict.

In other words, I think the “metalhead uniform” a manifestation of visually threatening/intimidating displays that can be directly traced to primate behavior.  Camouflage, denim and leather, spikes and studs, boots and blue collar t-shirts all have one thing in common – they’re all worn by predominantly male social groups, that all look (in some way or another) masculine, and can appear threatening.

Chances are, all that clothing was introduced to metal culture by the crossover in membership – and if enough heads thought it looked cool they picked it up as a new norm.

Note: Not all displays within metal are aggressive. Perfect example, watch any metalhead youtube channel and you’ll notice they have their entire music collection situated behind them. This isn’t an accident, this is an intentional display of subcultural capital in the form of a music collection meant to impart a sense of expertise to the viewers.

Controlling Space and Attention

When a gorilla moves to an elevated area and beats his chest, he’s not just doing it to make himself feel good. He wants everyone in the vicinity to watch him. This isn’t a random occurrence – one of the resources that an alpha primate controls is the attention of his peers. In a pack setting, this is a big deal. It’s a form of social control.

Humans aren’t that different – why do you think public speakers will stand on a stage or an elevated platform? Or artists prefer to perform on a stage? We’re hard wired to pay more attention to other primates who control the high ground for a reason.

And it’s not just the high ground that’s important – another resource prized by primates is space. My favorite manifestation of this concept is the lead singer who, once the band is on stage, uses the all of the space available to him for the entire show. The more space he uses and controls, the bigger the display of dominance. Likewise, the easier it is to maintain the attention of a large crowd.

Even the act of throwing objects into the crowd (water bottles, picks, band shirts, etc) is a display of expanding territory – and fans who pick these items up are openly submitting to the display of dominance..

1b) Music Soothes the Savage Beast

“Interestingly, bonobo percussionists prefer a tempo of 280 beats per minute, the syllabic rate at which most humans speak.”
― Dr Susan Block

I would like to  point out an article (originally published in The Daily Telegraph, a British Newspaper internationally renown for it’s quality) I found regarding a little science project.

Long story short, they were testing to see what kind of music (if any) a specific species of monkey preferred over any other. The results showed that the Cottontop Tamarins only responded positively to two things…

  1. Recordings of other Cottontop Tamarins
  2. The Metallica song “Of Wolf and Man”

Awesome. Fucking awesome.

Anyways, I feel like it was worth mentioning that on both an individual and a group level certain types of music have a calming effect that can be traced back to the same types of calls that later evolved into speech.

Strange that metal music could have roughly the same psychological effect as a lullaby, but humans are pretty strange creatures.

Section 2 – Primate Behaviors Among Metalheads on a Group Level

I’d like to start by saying a lot of this stuff will be a tad more obvious to the casual reader than the items in the previous section. Some, however, might surprise you.

2a) Dominance and Aggression

I know, I know, this was covered in the last section. But dominance, while it may be expressed individually, is inherently a group phenomenon. One of the most obvious displays of dominance can be seen in the crowd at pretty much any metal show.

Nowadays most mosh pits are a sad parody of what they used to be. But the idea of a display of aggressive dominance is still there, no matter how pathetic it gets.

“Wow, that hardcore dancing is super-fucking cool.”

-No one, ever

2b) Group-Think and Belonging

Almost all primates are pack animals, and being a pack animal is a package deal. Part of that package is group-think, or the ability to function with other members of the same species as a cohesive unit.

The intrinsic motivation behind group behavior is a need for a sense of belongingness  (apparently that’s an actual word). Human beings, by nature, have an internal need to feel like a part of something bigger then themselves. It might manifest itself in different ways (family unit, church group, football team, metalhead), but at the end of the day it all boils down to this inner drive to belong to a group.

This is the same motivation behind all pack behavior. Gorillas have it, chimps have it, dogs have it, cows have it. You get the idea.

One of the ways group think manifests itself (in humans) is the establishment of social norms (I’ll expand on this in the next section). When confronted with an unfamiliar situation, humans look to and follow unspoken social ques of their peers to continue to feel like they fit in.

An obvious example of this would be “the metalhead uniform” – besides being a passive display of aggression to those outside the group, it functions as a badge of solidarity within the group.

And it works – being surrounded by other metalheads, all in black band shirts (at a concert or otherwise) feels good. You’re surrounded by other members of the group, and you’re all visibly displaying membership. It’s no longer a matter of, “I’m doing this and you’re doing this” – it’s become a matter of, “we’re doing this.”

This is why, when a person is attending their first metal concert and asks you what they should wear – you should never tell them, “Whatever you want, metal has no rules.”

That friend isn’t asking you what they’re required to wear. Obviously, they can wear whatever the fuck they want. They’re asking if there are any social norms they can/should follow to feel like part of the group (and not stand out). You know, so they can experience that sense of belonging and – in turn – have a better overall experience.

2c) Transmission of Culture

When most people hear the word culture, they think of fancy learned human behaviors transmitted socially, both generationally and through multiple generations. But that’s the thing – all culture really boils down to is learned behaviors passed on to others. There’s actually a saying that covers this phenomenon – monkey see, monkey do. And while it’s always used to describe primate behavior, it’s rarely used to describe apes in the wild.

human see human do

Since the 1950’s the concept of culture in the animal kingdom has been a topic of research, and it’s been found that culture is not limited to humans. Quite the opposite – patterns of learned behavior transmitted between individuals within social groups is actually common in the animal kingdom, especially among primates.

“Being abroad makes you conscious of the whole imitative side of human behavior. The ape in man.”
-Mary McCarthy

So, what sorts of cultural behaviors do metalheads transmit?

Headbanging

One of the most universally recognized behaviors associated with metalheads is headbanging.dimebag

From an evolutionary perspective, it makes zero sense. Zero. There is literally nothing beneficial that can happen to you if you headbang.

Quite the opposite, neck and back pain and injury are common (there’s even a colloquial term for the neck pain that follows a day of headbanging – a “bangover”). Over the long term – spinal degeneration is almost a certainty. I know plenty of old dogs who have neck and back problems due to this – some that required surgery. And in extreme cases, brain damage can occur. But for some reason, the practice continues.

Not that I’m complaining – I’m just pointing out that this particular behavior seems to defy nature AND common sense.

Conformity through Non-Conformity

Oooh, the 500 pound gorilla in the room. This one goes out to all the people who say that metal has no rules (it does). When you’ve got a large group of people who practice and encourage non-conformity, guess what happens.

You, by definition, have conformed to non-conformity.

People who say metal has no rules seem to be missing the point – one of the rules of metal is that you don’t have to pay attention to all the rules. That’s why you can do whatever you want and still feel like part of the group. So even if you only follow that one stipulation – you’re still following the rules.

Just because metal celebrates a lack of conformity with mainstream ideals/etc doesn’t mean there are no rules. That’s fucking retarded – all social animals have rules.

Metalheads are humans, humans are social animals, therefore metalheads have rules. That’s what makes them social – when you’re in a group it restricts the number of acceptable individual behaviors.

mind blown

Metalhead Uniform as Social Norm

personal rant: I can’t tell you exactly who will say metal has no rules, but I can tell you what they look like.

Specifically, they’re a Caucasian male between the ages of 16 and 50, wearing a black band t-shirt (of a band they listen to, obviously). They’re wearing khaki shorts/ camouflage pants/jeans and probably boots.

metalheads for real

There’s a really good chance they’ve got multiple tattoos and/or piercings, and I’d be willing to wager they have either long hair or a beard (if not both). There’s also about a 25% chance they’re wearing (or own) a patch covered vest.

metalheads for real a

Bonus points if they’re rocking a mjolnir necklace, razor blade pendant, chains, dog tags, satanic jewelry, or some less than subtle combination of these things.

You know how I know this? Because the people who scream “metal has no rules” the loudest are the people who follow the social conventions of the culture the most strictly.

I don’t think they do it to be purposefully misleading, they honestly believe what they’re saying. The cognitive dissonance is real (bowing to social pressure and following group norms is something that’s been observed in chimpanzees, and humans are certainly not above it). Simply put, humans are wired to make and follow rules of behavior. What rules you choose to follow, however, is certainly up to you.

Exclusive Handshakes and Gestures

Believe it or not, individual groups of chimpanzees have their own versions of secret handshakes. Not all of them have it, but the ones that do have a very interesting shared characteristic – it differs between different groups (therefore a learned behavior) and seems to hold significance in the group.

What kind of significance, you ask?

Good fucking question. These secret handshakes actually signify and affirm membership in the corresponding group.

And while it’s not exactly a handshake, a learned hand gesture that signifies membership/participation in a group is nothing new to metalheads.

Throwing the horns is a logical progression of the original behavior – directly observable in primates in the wild.

Crazy, right? There’s a little conjecture there, but I really don’t think it’s a big leap.

“Hating on” the Younger Generation

I read somewhere that chimpanzees withdraw and stop making social connections with the younger generation after a certain point. This includes not learning new “social norms”, etc.

Yeah, male apes turn into grumpy old men. Kind of like how older metalheads (myself included) complain about modern metal and metalheads.

It’s perfectly natural social behavior when you put it into context. In fact, I’d be more worried if old metalheads didn’t complain.

Conclusion

We’re all just fucking apes. I’m an ape, you’re an ape, your mom’s a fucking ape. So technically all human behavior is primate behavior – and that includes the entire metal scene.

Afterward

I thought it’d be cool to look at some of our behaviors that have been around since before shit like fire, microwaves, and pizza delivery existed.

There’s no way on earth I covered everything, but I like to think I offered up a good chunk of thinking material for you guys.

I haven’t posted anything in a while, so I figured an article with a little more substance to it was in order.

Thanks for reading, keep it brutal.

-Grulog

 

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We all Know Oppobrium Didn’t Issue a Cease and Desist order to Metallica

I think it’s safe to say people figured out pretty quickly.

This wasn’t just a grab for attention from an obscure Thrash band. I believe the best proof of this fact comes from the band (Opprobrium (formerly Incubus, no not that Incubus) themselves.

metalsucks lied

 

This was obviously a publicity stunt. A publicity stunt claiming that songs off “Hardwired” sound like obscure 80’s thrash metal.

I can count the number of people who want people to think that the new Metallica album bears any resemblance to obscure 80’s thrash on one hand.

Four of those fingers would be members of Metallica, one would be the guy who filed the suit on behalf of Metallica.

I’ve written about PR stunts before, but I have to say even in the world of metal publicity stunts this one stands out a bit. Not because of the actions themselves, but because of the desired results (and the target audience).

 

Who They Were Targeting

Think about it for a second – when Sharon Ozzbourne went on the view holding a glass of lemonade to promote Ozzfest meets Knotfest, she was targeting people who were fans of Beyonce (or at least mass popular culture). When Five Finger Death Punch are publicizing one of Ivan Moody’s very well scripted “meltdowns”, they’re garnering attention so their fans are more likely to see the new snippets of their forthcoming album (or upcoming tour-dates, or whatever the fuck it is that they’re doing at the time).

Mindless rock fans and people who follow Beyonce don’t give a fuck about obscure 80’s thrash. In fact, almost nobody does. It’s a very niche thing to follow or care about. Metallica was targeting a very specific, very narrow section of the population.

Their original fanbase. The group of people that made them who they are. Real metalheads. The most loyal, dedicated, fanatical fanbase in existence. The group they originally belonged to (Lars and James were NWOBHM metal elitists – surprise!). The one group of people who have been consistently shitting on Metallica for years for “selling out”, who coincidentally are huge fans of obscure 80’s thrash. Like this dude.

oppobrium

Who the fuck else is going to care that Metallica was ripping off some obscure thrash band? Thrash bands rip each other off all the time.

In fact like 90% of every fucking metal genre consists recycling another bands riffs (arguably, all of metal is just recycled Sabbath riffs).

 

What Was the Intended Effect?

I would argue that Metallica wanted a few things to happen with this publicity stunt (OK, disclaimer here – I’m entering the realm of (educated) speculation).

First – they wanted to knock themselves off the imaginary pedestal everyone places them on. Following a cease and desist order on a Metallica tribute band filed by their lawyers, the band did their best to reconcile and show that this was not something they intended to happen. This establishes the pattern of behavior that I am arguing went one step further – Metallica is trying to show that they, too, are a band that can be sued for trivial shit by a bunch of guys in suits. In other words, they want to be “one of the guys” again – not the untouchable monolithic juggernaut they’ve been made out to be. Can’t say I blame them.

Second – they wanted to utilize the metal media, and make it worth their (the media’s) while to do so. This wasn’t a record label paying them to promote the album – a lot of metal websites had spoken about the record so much that, at the end of the day, they were probably sick and tired of writing about it.

I guess that’s a downside of doing this for money.

This is a chance for the metal media (websites, blogs, magazines, etc.) to write about a “genuine” controversy surrounding Metallica – one that relates to, and aids in, knocking Metallica off the aforementioned pedestal. As a bonus – the writers get to genuinely critique the singles named in the lawsuit, and to call bullshit. It gives them credibility, and allows them to do what they (probably) got into the business for in the first place.

Third – They wanted to prove James Hetfield isn’t a table.

table

Mission accomplished, you can’t order a cease and desist order to a table.

Well played, Metallica. Well played.

Fourth – I touched on this in the “who” section, but I think it’s worth elaborating. Arguably the most important aspect of the whole “debacle”, Metallica wanted 80’s thrash-heads to listen to both of the singles listed in the lawsuit.

I think it’s safe to say there’s a segment of the metal community who can only be tricked into listening to new Metallica out of nothing spite. And if there’s a chance to rip on the band for plagiarism, they (the guys who would normally boycott the album on principle alone) are going to listen to those songs note for fucking note.

 

Why they did it, and why it’s different.

Once again, educated speculation time.

Let’s get this out of the way – Metallica wants to keep momentum going for their new album. Part of that includes bringing people who haven’t listened to the album into the fold. Considering the massive PR campaign they did before the album was even released, the number of people who haven’t listened to it yet is relatively small.

It’s not like this is the only thing they’ve done for publicity – playing with Lady Gaga (and on various talk shows) was a way to bring mainstream attention to what they were doing. But this is the first publicity stunt they’ve done specifically targeting that very narrow demographic.

They’ve been chasing the old-school metalheads for years now – if you watch the documentary “Some Kind of Monster”, or listen to any of their post-alternative crap, you can see they’ve been trying to outsmart themselves figuring out how to get back into the good graces of the majority of metalheads.

But then, one day, they finally figured it out. Lars admitted he should have practiced the drums more for those shitty 90’s albums. They pretty much left Kirk out of the creative process. The band put their entire back catalog on Napster (for those too young to remember, there was a small amount of controversy surrounding the band and Napster at one point).

In fact, they basically admitted they were wrong about everything they’ve fucking done in the past two and a half decades.

This stunt was the icing on the cake. I’m not a huge fan of publicity stunts – but honestly, the band has pretty much exhausted every other option. They’ve extended pretty much every olive branch they could – and no, they’ll never write a pure thrash album again. A lot of that has to do with the fact that they can’t.

Not that they’re incapable of writing that sort of material, quite the opposite. They can’t because they play fucking amphitheaters and arenas exclusively. They don’t have a lot of choice in the matter – they’re too fucking popular. And the thing about big venues – sound travels differently. I don’t care how much money you have, you can’t alter how sound travels through space, or how it bounces around a large venue. There is no sound guy alive who could make it sound good. Large venues are the stomping grounds of simple music for a reason.

So the fact that they made anything even remotely close to the material they wrote pre-black album ALONE is a huge fucking compromise.

This stunt showed that Metallica knows their fans (and ex-fans) a lot better than most people think.

Where am I going with all of this?

Eh, I dunno. I don’t care who likes Metallica or who doesn’t.

The way I see it, you’ve got two options in regards to them. You can either bitch about them selling out till you’re blue in the face and play the betrayed victim, or you can accept the reality that they went from the top of the underground to the top of the mainstream in metal.

It means they won’t write any more heavy, cutting edge thrash. And they’ve been saying that for years. But it also means that, as a “gateway band”, they’re introducing a crowd that’s much more kosher with metalheads.

One of the best things about listening to metal (besides, well, listening to metal) is talking about it. If you were to run into someone who’s just getting into metal, their knowledge and taste is going to have a high proportion of the more mainstream “starter” metal bands. These bands are more accessible, and generally help to train a person’s ear to appreciate the heavier stuff. So, generally the conversation will be rooted with these bands. I, personally, am able to have a much better conversation with someone who got into metal through post-justice Metallica.

Because at some point, no matter how I feel about the band, I can say, “Yeah, if you think this is good you should listen to Master of Puppets.”

Think about that, and then consider the alternative (other gateway bands, who they’re bringing into the collective cultural sphere of metal, and how much different the conversation about bands with them is going to be).

I like to use Asking Alexandria as an example.

Untitled

I could give a fuck less what he listens to, or what anyone listens to. Whatever you think of the band, the have written nothing on par with Master of Puppets. And, chances are, they never will.

I’d put money on it.

A lot of money.

Gateway bands are inextricably linked with metal – without them, the culture would have a major recruitment problem. And compared to glam bands (puke), grunge bands (at least Kurt Cobain is dead and that other guy OD’d on heroin, amirite?), nu-metal (most people don’t get into metal for the nookie), hot-topic style metalcore (even the bands themselves hate fucking hot-topic mall-core fans), and even deathcore (the best thing about the genre is that Mitch Lurker or whatever the fuck his name is died) – Metallica reigns fucking supreme.

Because it’s not just the quantity of people a band turns over to the dark side, it’s the fucking quality.

Don’t get me wrong, I will rip on Metallica for their shitty albums for the rest of my natural life.

sandman

But at the end of the day, if there has to be a gateway band – nobody is going to do it better than the group that was, for longer than anyone else, the undisputed heaviest band in the world.

yeah

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)

thumbnail_8390172479143014877

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?

digital-metal

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.

metalcore

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.

dinosaur-metal
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.

internet-metalhead2

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.

sam-dunn

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.

poser

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.

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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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.

 

Opeth Have a Supernatural, Quasi-Mystical Power Over Vaginas

I thought that with the upcoming release of Opeth’s album “Sorceress” it’d be a good time to reflect on the band. Past releases, current musical direction etc.

Also, the fact that Opeth are vagina magnets. I’m pretty sure it’s 100% scientific fact that every girl that likes metal likes Opeth (to be fair, pretty much everyone likes Opeth. I’d have an easier time listing off the metalheads I know who don’t like them). Seriously though, gaze upon this montage of women who like the band enough to get the logo tattooed on their bodies.

Never-mind the legions of female fans who aren’t as inclined to permanently etch it onto their skin.Now, there are any number of reasons why women might be so spellbound by this band.

Maybe it’s the fact that they’re a group with solid musicianship who can tastefully transition from full on guttural death metal to prog to “artsy-fartsy” avante garde material in a single song.

Maybe it’s the fact that they can do all of that, while still somehow remaining consistent in their work while still broadening their musical repertoire.

Or maybe, just maybe, the lead singer (Michael Akerfeldt) sold his soul to the devil. And instead of asking for fame and fortune (as is tradition in blues and rock music, or so the legend goes) – he asked for absolute power over female metalheads, without having to sell out in the process.

devil crossroadsArtistic rendition of the crossroads transaction between the Devil and Michael Akerfeldt

It’s literally the only explanation that makes sense. Because traditionally,  women tend to shy away from guttural vocals and full on brutal death metal (there are exceptions, of course). But women flock to this band like chicks in college do to that deuchebag who sits under a tree, plays four chords, and sings “really deep” love songs. And they don’t dress up like prissy, mainstream boy-bands pretending to play metal – these guys are the real McCoy.

In fact, with the exception of the last album (Pale Communion) Opeth has a solid lineup of albums that do not disappoint. And their recent signing to Nuclear Blast also signals they’re going to be moving in a much heavier direction – which I enjoy. If you’re new to Opeth or would like to check them out, the folks at reddit made a handy flowchart:

Opeth

or just check out the latest single for the new album

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.

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

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

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

bok sub-genres

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

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

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

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

movies

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

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

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

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

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

behemoth         belphegor

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

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

And if you hate stereotypes, then stop stereotyping elitists.

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