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What a Trump Victory Would Mean for Heavy Metal

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

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

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

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

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

American Metal

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

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

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

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

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

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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).

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