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Rock Radio Stations Across the US Mourn Passing of Chris Cornell in Spontaneous Display of Mediocrity

This is the one time I won’t write an article about metal on this site. Cherish it.

In a mass display of (what I like to refer to as) “the Amy Winehouse Effect”, the internet is collectively pretending they were huge fans of the life and career of Soundgarden/Audioslave front-man Chris Cornell.

And with such deep, thought-provoking songs as “Spoonman”, which I assume is about a man who uses spoons as a musical instrument, how could you not like them?

I’m guessing the number of people who called their favorite radio station and requested their favorite song featuring the late front-man yesterday (while he was still alive) numbers in the high 10’s. Nay, the low 20’s.

Not that this stopped every goddamn clear-channel radio station from playing the same fucking 4 songs featuring this guy 20-some-odd times per day.

And that was while he was alive.

In fact, the only people not pretending their mourning the loss of this singer are the DJ’s for the aforementioned rock stations (who tout their “modern rock” format while never seemingly to play anything written after 2005). That guy is indirectly responsible for approximately 20% of their fucking paychecks over the past 20 years (assuming they get paid to play his songs, which they did/do), so I can see them genuinely being a bit sad.

To these DJ’s I say, “Don’t worry guys, you’re already overplaying his music. You don’t have to change a fucking thing.”

Seriously though, if everyone was as big of a Chris Cornell fan as they’re pretending to be today – his solo album wouldn’t have fucking flopped.

trent-reznor-chris-cornell-twitter-fued-scream-album-2009

On the bright side, people who were bashing Cornell in 2008 are free to pretend they liked him and are going to miss him.

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Perhaps I have an over-inflated sense of dislike for this man’s career.

Partially because Chris Cornell + Rage Against the Machine = Sadness. Partially because, like all grunge, he is partially responsible for the rise of Nickelback. Partially because he was a large part of the movement that made mediocre apathy “cool”. In large part because I think he was completely overrated.

He wasn’t that talented – he surrounded himself with talented people and made a career out of that and his charisma.

And if you were a real fan of his, you shouldn’t be that surprised he committed suicide. For fucks sake, he’s been singing about depression for like 30 years.

I take no joy in his passing – anytime a human being takes their own life, it’s a sad event. Cornell’s death is no different.

Equally as sad, however, is the strange cult-like movement of people who then immortalize said person, because in so doing they turn that person into something they weren’t before.

Cornell was a flawed human being, born with a slightly better than average set of pipes. The stars aligned for him and he happened to write song lyrics about being depressed at exactly the right time in history.

This combined with the aforementioned tendency to surround himself with talent turned him into a shooting star in the musical landscape.

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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).

Deafheaven are basically the Nickelback of Black Metal

The more you think about it – the more it makes sense. Deafheaven is the Nickelback of Black Metal.

Both bands capitalize on “post-music” style movements; Nickelback is considered “post-grunge” while Deafheaven is making waves with the moniker “post-black metal”. Both bands play bland, watered down versions of the genres they emulate – making a “safe” version of transgressive music completely devoid of substance.

N-I-C-K-E-L-B-A-C-K is a 10 letter conjunction of two words from the English language that do not go together.

D-E-A-F-H-E-A-V-E-N is also a 10 letter conjunction of two words from the English language that do not go together.

Nickelback got their name from their lead singer’s first (botched) attempt to buy marijuana (they’ve since recanted this and go by some lame story about working in a coffee shop), and the guys in Deafheaven are the type of people you would charge $50 a gram. Nickelback released this information because they want to seem slightly transgressive while still approachable – which a botched drug deal does quite nicely. Deafheaven’s lead singer tries to give the impression that he’s stoned in every fucking interview for the same reason, a safe version of transgressive behavior.

Both of them have shitty publicists who insist on having them take “edgy” pictures (presumably to endear them to the hard rock/metal fanbases they’re supposed to appeal to)

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“Make sure one of you is wearing denim”

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Both bands have legions of haters (myself included). I think this is the part where I mention that nobody fucking cares what you listen to, as long as you call a spade a spade. Both of these bands are watered down, palatable versions of what was edgy 10 years before them.

 

Also, apparently one brave man before me made this connection – and this song is the result.

(these photos were the result of a google search – all credit goes to their original owners)

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