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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

Should Someone Tell Lady Gaga Her “Metallica” Tattoo is Really a Death Angel Tattoo?

In the interest of full disclosure – I like Lady Gaga.

Not her music, that’s shit.

But she seems like a cool person. I’ve mentioned in other articles how cool it is that she’s a legit metal fan (Maiden and Metallica, at very least). That’s why I’m hoping an appropriate amount of time has passed to let her know that her Metallica tattoo isn’t really a Metallica tattoo.

It’s a fucking Death Angel tattoo.

From the album they released the same fucking year as Metallica’s new album (The Evil Divide).

Probably an innocent mistake. After all, Lady Gaga was performing “Moth into the Flames” with Metallica – so she presumably wanted to get a tattoo to commemorate the occasion. A moth is a natural selection to make – and she made it more “metal” by adding a skull.

Solid “E” for effort.

What I can’t believe is that nobody – fucking NOBODY – saw this and was like, “Hey, Lady Gaga, that’s a really cool tattoo idea. But that’s the symbol on Death Angel’s new album.”

Que Gratuitous Fantasy Montage

I like to picture it going down something like this. The tattoo artist was a disgruntled thrash-head from back in the day. He had a strong preference for Death Angel’s new album over Metallica’s. And when Lady Gaga went in to describe the tattoo she wanted, he had an epiphone.

haha
“She’ll thank me in the long run, ‘The Evil Divide’ was much better than Hardwired”

“I’m going to troll the fuck out of Metallica at the Grammy’s” the anonymous tattoo artist thought to himself. At one point he even whispered, “I’ve got your fucking Black album right here, Sell-outtica”

Lady Gaga (hypothetically) responded with a, “What? I couldn’t quite hear you.”

He responds, “Nothing”, and diligently goes back to work. The hilarity of Lady Gaga showing off a Death Angel tattoo to honor Metallica  gets him through the 4-7 hours of tattooing – in fact, he debated not charging her.

After all, virtue is it’s own reward.

Later that day, I like to picture said tattoo artist meeting up with his buddy for a few brews. The topic of conversation – how horrible every Metallica album after “Justice” was (the same conversation they’ve been having for roughly 30 years).

After said tattoo artist relays his work of creative genius to his friend, the response was appreciative but inquisitive. “Do you really think anyone watching will get the reference? I mean, it’s pure fucking genius. But unless they’re thrash fans, they might not get it. You have to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Like, a lot more people would understand if they played a Metallica song while Megadeth walked up to accept an award. Lowbrow – lowest common denominator stuff”

Reflectively, the tattoo artist responded, “I guess you’re right. But honestly, I don’t even think people would get the Megadeth/Metallica reference. That’s still a bit obscure for this audience. You’d have to have something really low-brow, like the announcer forgetting to even fucking mention Metallica. And even that slight might be overlooked unless something more urgent followed – for fuck’s sake they’d have to leave Hetfield’s mic off for like 1/3 to 1/2 the song.”

His friend responded, “That’s fucking brilliant. I bet that’s all they’d report on Metal Sucks and Metal Injection, they’d milk that fucking cow for like 3 days.”

Unbeknownst to them, a few select members of the Grammy planning committee were (presumably) listening in at a nearby table. They realize that this is the perfect way to keep people talking about the event for days.

Quick Aside

I like to picture them drinking something with an umbrella in it.

umbrella-drink-199x300

But I digress

Back to the Fantasy Montage

So, the night of the Grammy’s, the plan comes to fruition. Everything goes according to plan.

Meanwhile, the real hero of the night is overlooked.

3231-lady-gaga-displays-lots-of-skin-at-grammys

Back to Reality

We here at Metal Stuff salute you, (hypothetical) brave soul who offered up the real middle finger to Metallica for playing the very awards show that snubbed them in favor of fucking Jethro Tull for the very first metal award ever.

A Side Note to Lady Gaga

This is why we don’t get spontaneous tattoos. On the bright side, if you’re trying to get credibility in metal culture – a Death Angel tattoo goes a lot further than a Metallica tattoo nowadays.

 

Suicide Silence are NOT Employing a Failed Marketing Strategy For Their New Album

This is Not an Introduction

Suicide Silence are obviously musical pioneers. As the lead singer so eloquently pointed out in an interview – some people just can’t see the inherent virtuosity of dumbing down your music.

virtuosity

They obviously understand metal fans, and what drives them. It’s not like there was a scientific study that proved metal fans (like classical music fans) are innately attracted to grandiosity and technical prowess in music.

And the majority of metal fans certainly aren’t weirdos. Observations to the contrary have never been the subjects of academic study (by people like Deena Weinstein), or noted by the artists themselves.

wierd-kid

Suicide Silence’s Methods are NOT Transparent and Gimmicky

They’re certainly not using the “Metallica Defense” to justify the musical direction they’re taking on the new album.

And Suicide Silence are totally above playing the elitist card. They’ve obviously gotten some very sound advise from their producer, who is a vital part of the network of metal news we metalheads rely on.

metal-news-cycle

It’s not like Whitechapel tried the exact same thing last year (Elitist bashing on Metal Sucks), or made a video called “The Elitist Ones”. And I’m pretty sure it didn’t backfire spectacularly, giving them their worst album debut since 2008. They certainly didn’t receive less than half the first week sales of their previous album..

How could Suicide Silence fail utilizing a winning recipe like that? Isn’t doing the same exact thing one of your professional peers did last year the definition of pioneering?

The SS crew couldn’t be admitting that deathcore is stagnating. Or that the next step (for deathcore) is it’s inevitable decline. And it’s certainly not 10 years too late for a genre with so much diversity to expand. If it was, it would have progressed to the phase referred to by sociologists as “crystallization”, where a metal genre becomes embedded and rigidly defined. And if that was the case, we’d see a bunch of fucking deathcore clone bands playing the exact same song (exactly like what happened to hair metal).

But that’s not the case, right guys? Like, other metal bands weren’t noticing the crystallization of Deathcore (and praying for it’s inevitable demise) 7 years ago? Right?

Suicide Silence Definitely Knows Who Listens to Their Music. 

Suicide Silence is obviously not commercially inflated faux metal from a genre that predominantly caters to 16 year old girls (that warrants comparisons to nu-metal). So, it’s safe to say the introduction of clean vocals couldn’t possibly have anything to do with pandering to young girls that want to seem edgy, right? It’s about branching out as artists, right?

Diagram displaying Suicide Silence’s Definition of “Death Metal Elitist/General Metal Elitist (Patch Wearing Weirdos)

 

Q: Where can you find Deathcore fans, Death Metal Elitists, and “General Metal Elitists” (Patch wearing wierdos)?

A: The Gathering of the Juggalos, of course.

ss-juggalo

I’ve been wondering where all the deathcore fans, death metal elitists, and patch wearing metal elitist weirdos hang out. Metal Elitists are well known for their love of the Insane Clown Posse. It just goes without saying.

Or maybe Suicide Silence is referring to the ‘elitist ones’ Whitechapel encountered at the Warped Tour. Because that’s another place to find metal elitists of all sorts.

warped-tour

Yeah, that must be it.

Suicide Silence have obviously got marketing to their fans down to an art – nay, a fucking science.

I just wonder what the head of Sumerian Records thinks of all of this? What would he do? What would he say? What did he have for breakfast? What does the inside of his anal pore taste like?

Could he impart some transcendental wisdom on par with these pearls of enlightenment from the mouth/keyboard of Ross Robinson?

ross-robinson

What is the relevance of mentioning the head of a record label known for it’s metalcore and deathcore associations in a Suicide Silence article detailing the inevitable downfall of deathcore? Are producers and record labels counting on controversy to keep their names on the mouths of the general public as a form of life support for a dying genre? What is the meaning of life?

Musical Pioneers

I’m sure Suicide Silence will find innovative new uses for the dotted crotchet on the new album – perhaps in multiple songs. They’ll probably revolutionize deathcore by employing some sort of “down-tuning” (drop A, or something equally as innovative and unique).

I’ve been hearing a buzz about a new musical convention referred to as a “breakdown”, perhaps they will blow our minds by indulging in one or two on the artistic masterpiece coming out later this month. Maybe they’ll really let loose and use gang vocals – how fucking cool would that be?

If your (original) lead singer’s death is the most interesting thing about your band, the sky is the fucking limit.


(Still better than Doris)

Be a Force for Positive Change in the Metal Community!

What, Exactly, is Groove Metal?

Introduction

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of the sub-genrification of metal. There’s just so much metal out there, they’re kind of necessary. A sub-genre is essentially a quick label used (mostly by fans) to describe bands with similar sonic characteristics.

For pretty much every major sub-genre, most fans will be able to list a couple big name bands that exemplify the sound. With Thrash, you’ve got the big four (bay area) and the big Teutonic four (Germany).

Death metal has bands like Death (obviously), Morbid Angel, Deicide, Nile, Obituary, and Suffocation bringing up the oldschool end of things – and (being the most popular sub-genre in the world) probably several thousand other bands branching off into even more subgenres.

With Black Metal you’ve got the first wave guys like Bathory, Celtic Frost, and Venom. And then there’s the second wave guys who pretty much defined the genre as most people know it today – guys like Darkthrone, Mayhem, Burzum, etc.

Power metal, Doom, Melodic Death Metal, Glam, Nu Metal, Grindcore – they all have very distinct, easily identifiable sounds. Within a couple of second of listening to any song within these genres, it’s easy to identify where it belongs in the metal family tree.

Except for one. Groove metal.

It’s weird – this is one of those genres that a lot of people know about. Everyone I’ve ever talked to about the topic can list off a few Groove Metal bands. Which is great – except there’s almost zero overlap. If you talk to three different metalheads about Groove Metal and ask for a list of Groove bands – you’re most likely going to get three very different lists. Even the definitions of Groove Metal vary from person to person. It seems like the only band that people can consistently agree falls in the Groove category is Pantera.

pantera

Now, there is a pretty big group of people who argue that Pantera (post glam, naturally) is a thrash band.

The argument has some merit, but I have some problems with it. Pantera, like most thrash bands, is a very aggressive riff oriented outfit. However, while thrash is typified by fast tempos, Pantera is generally a mid tempo band by comparison. Also, they generally tend to ride what’s known as “the money riff” for the majority of a song. While this isn’t unheard of in thrash, in my experience it’s not the norm.

Fleshing out a Genre from the Middle Ground between Genres

So seeing as Pantera is a generally agreed upon forefather of the Groove genre, their relationship with thrash metal makes defining Groove Metal much easier.Bearing this in mind, I would like to express a few opinions that will (probably) be a tad unpopular.

Because of the black album, I contend that Metallica were as influential as Pantera in the consolidation of Groove Metal as a genre. Think about it, the things people complained about on the album – catchy riffs, predominantly mid-tempo (as opposed to the breakneck pace of Thrash). They ride the money riff for the majority of songs. It’s mid-tempo Thrash. It meets all the criteria of Groove Metal.

Sepultura’s album “Roots” is widely credited as a Nu Metal album. Interesting thought, but there is nothing remotely rap/hip hop oriented about the album. I would argue that Groove metal and Nu metal developed side by side, and ended up having a lot of similar qualities in terms of sound. I don’t think anyone with half a brain cell can lump this album in the same category as the Linkin Park discography – I lump Roots squarely in the groove metal category.

Slayer’s misfit album, “Diabolus in Musica”, is described by the band themselves as an attempt to jump on the Nu Metal bandwagon. The only problem is, all they did was down-tune and ride some grooves. No DJ’s, no rapping – I also classify this album as Groove.

When it comes to fleshing out and discussing Groove metal nobody does it better than Banger. Check out their episode discussing Groove Metal below (then like and subscribe to their youtube channel, facebook page, etc). Seriously though, these guys know what’s up when it comes to metal. I would argue any list of the most important people in metal today that excludes Sam Dunn is a total crock of shit.

Groove’s Influence on Other Genres

We’ve already touched on the Nu Metal/Groove connection a bit, but now might be a good time to reiterate. Groove and Nu Metal share a timeline (and in many cases, an audience) – they formed a genres around the same time, and they influenced each other heavily. Example – it’s no secret that Sepultura were heavily influenced by Korn’s first album when they released Roots (another reason people try to lump the album in the Nu Metal category).

Nu Metal is very groove-heavy, and it’s safe to say there’s a significant amount of overlap between the genres.Example: Machine Head did a one off nu-metal album before returning to Groove Metal. This is a perfect example of the overlap between Nu Metal and Groove Metal:

Nu-Metal Machine Head

Groove Metal/NWOAHM Machine Head

Which leads me to the New Wave of American Heavy Metal (which was as much a movement in metal is it is a genre). Besides Machine head, bands like Lamb of God and Chimaira (flag-bearers of the NWOAHM) also fall squarely in the Groove Metal category.

In fact, I would contend that most of that wave of metal bands from the 2000-2010 era wouldn’t exist without Groove Metal (specifically Pantera, but all those Groove pioneers played a part in paving the way for the NWOAHM).

These bands have been known, on occasion, to even pay tribute to the late great Pantera…

Not that only NWOAHM bands cover the Groove legends, but there’s enough bands that have paid tribute through the years (even before Dime died) where you can make a pretty solid inference as to the influence of the band (and therefore the genre).

In Conclusion

Probably the strangest thing about Groove Metal is that it just kind of “happened”. It wasn’t like Thrash or Death or Black metal, where you had a scene with several bands that fleshed out the sound and defined it in a short amount of time. Instead it developed over the course of (at least) two decades, influencing at least two major metal movements as it went.

This is the only time an entire genre was (or ever will be) formed in the empty space between extremely fast (i.e Death Metal, Black Metal, Thrash, Speed, etc) and extremely slow (Doom and it’s derivatives) tempos.

The only genre with stranger origins (in my opinion) would be Djent – who the fuck names a genre with an onomatopoeia?

Metal Stuff’s 2016 Review: The Year in Metal

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

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

15) Vivaldi Metal Project – The Four Seasons

vivaldi

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

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

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

14) Scorched – Echoes of Dismemberment

scorched

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

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

zombie-electric-warlock

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

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

12) Blasphemer – Ritual Theophagy

blasphemer

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

 

11) Insomnium – Winter’s Gate

insomnium_wintersgate

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

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

10) The Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence

devin_townsend_project_-_transcendence

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

9) Anciients – Voice of the Void

anciients-voice

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

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

These guys fucking rule.

8) Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep of Reason

meshuggah-the-violent-sleep-of-reason

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

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

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

7) Saor – Guardians

saor-guardians

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

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

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

6) Wormed – Krighsu

wormed-krighsu

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

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

So fucking good.

5) Infant Annihilator – The Elysian Grandeval Galèriarch

ia-cover

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

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

4) Fallujah – Dreamless

fallujah-dreamless

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

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

3) Sabaton – The Last Stand

sabaton_the_last_stand

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

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

2) Dark Funeral – Where Shadows Forever Reign

dark-funeral-album

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

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

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

1) Testament – Brotherhood of the Snake

testament-brotherhood-of-the-snake

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

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

 

Honorable Mentions

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

 

Metal Stuff’s Biggest Disappointments in Metal, 2016 edition

Devildriver – Trust No One

devildriver-trust-no-one

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

Robb Flynn

robbflynn

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

Avatar – Feathers and Flesh

avatar_feathersflesh_cover

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

Solution .45 – Nightmares in the Waking State II

solution-45-nightmares-2

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

Whitechapel – Mark of the Blade

whitechapel

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

Chelsea Grin – Self Inflicted

chelseagrin

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

Steel Panther

I’d rather let this speak for itself.

Sumerian Records

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

Hipsters and Social Justice Warriors

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

Opeth – Sorceress

opeth_sorceress_promocover_revised

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

The Dio Hologram

dio-hologram

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

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

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

What a Trump Victory Would Mean for Heavy Metal

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

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

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

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

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

American Metal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Global Confirmation of the Trend

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

 

Musical Fission and Fusion: A Response

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

Rock v.s. Metal

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

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

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

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

Regarding the Current State of Rock Music

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

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

Metal Culture’s Silent Support of Rock

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving Forward – the Future of Rock and Metal

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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.

 

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