Defining Indie “Metal”

As many movies from the 80s and 90s will tell you (e.g. SLC Punk and PCU), youth counter cultural movements of those decades were once various fragmented groups or “tribes” baring their own identity while all opposing the mainstream Whitney Houston and boy bands on the radio. You had your goths, new wavers, punk rockers, emos, ect. at war with the “jocks and cheerleaders” collective of popular kids and, in some cases, at war with each other. But in the years to follow, the deadly combination of multiculturalism and micro culture has effectively ended this conflict as there was no longer a singular popular culture and therefore no “them” in the classic “us vs. them” dynamic. Therefore, these varying counter cultural factions were unified into one ugly all encompassing monstrosity: the hipster.

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Indie Blog Laments as Maryland Deathfest is Mainstreamed

The hilarious leftist parody of metal will be celebrated in force this weekend as Maryland Deathfest completes its transformation into Coachilla-lite. While it’s been painfully obvious that all festival culture has gone fully mainstream as futureless millennials continue to spend money they don’t have on things they don’t need there are still many in the hipster sphere that can’t grasp the loss of counter culture to the mainstream. Maryland Deathfest continues this trend with praise from mainstream propaganda editorial Newsweek and lamentations from liberal snowflake blog Invisible Oranges occurring in the same week.

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Stoner Rock Is Not “Doom Metal”

Earlier this year, independent music distribution platform Bandcamp claimed that many stoner rock bands are in fact doom metal. This is a common logical fallacy based around associating the pace and instrumental tone of the music with actual musical content. The stoner “doom” trend of bands that started in the late 90s and early 2000s and has continued non-stop right up until the present almost twenty years later was one of the earliest hipster attempts to assimilate heavy metal before the waves of speed, death, and now black metal aesthetics rehashed into pop rock for the safe space generation.

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Black Metal Is Not Surf Rock

Hipster Youtuber Sam Sutherland suggested in a click bait video uploaded to his This Exists channel earlier this year that black metal is musically the same as the surf rock of the early 60s. This Exists goes on further to suggest that the best metal is heavily influenced by other non-metal musical genres citing such non-metal works as Mastodon‘s Leviathan being influenced by Moby Dick and Kanye West by Pablo Picasso. Sutherland, like many musically ignorant persons, confuses lyrical influence and playing technique with genre, intent, and goal.

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#Metalgate: Vice Backed Indie Bands Drop Out of Pentagram Tour as Publicity Stunt

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Two indie female-fronted bands (Wax Idols and King Woman) have dropped off pseudo-metal, psychedelic rock band Pentagram’s ongoing tour, breaking their separate agreements with promoters. The women in both bands were surprised when ex-junkie Pentagram frontman Bobby Liebling hit on them. The news of this passive-aggressive move being broken by Vice, both indie bands being backed by Vice, and subsequently embarking on a Vice-funded tour reeks of self-aggrandizing unprofessionalism.

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Hipster champions insincerity, reveals nature of indie-metal

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Self-preening egomaniac solipsist hipster Brent Hinds, who plays with indie-metal (heavy alternative rock) band Mastodon, accidentally revealed the nature of indie-metal as indie rockers who enjoy metal ironically making imitations of better bands. Speaking between bites of arugula and sprouted garlic sandwich on quinoa bread, Hinds opined:

“I never really liked heavy metal in the first place. I came from Alabama playing country music, surf rock, rockabilly, and stuff like that.

“I just went through a phase in my 20s where I thought it was rebellious to play heavy metal. And then I met Brann [Dailor, drummer] and Bill [Kelliher, guitarist], and they were really, really, really into heavy metal.

“And ever since then, I’ve been trying to get Mastodon to not be such a heavy metal band, because I f–king hate heavy metal, and I don’t want to be in a heavy metal band.”

Playing metal to be rebellious is a hipster gig because it is entirely surface with no deeper connection to the music than to use it, as hipsters use all things, to signal your emotions to a world that could not care less. Metal musicians play metal because they love it, but giggin’ hipsters play it ironically to be rebellious and shocking. Hinds finally admitted his own insincerity, but with him he brings down a genre.

Indie-metal arose from the “alternative metal” of the 1990s which took metal riffs and put them in rock songs using the aesthetics of grunge and alternative rock. Although the result was an artistic disaster, it was more palatable than the hip-hop/rock hybrids and other pop experiments of the era, and so caught on. Unfortunately these bands are not metal, only metal-influenced, and so they bring in all of the dysfunctional mid-therapeutic behavior for which indie bands are notorious. The result has been adulterated quasi-metal like Deafheaven, Mastodon, Isis, Pallbearer, Babymetal, Pelican and Vattnet Viskar which has attracted a new audience of underconfident, neurotic and conformist fans while driving away the audience metal built up from the 80s-90s.

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Is rock ‘n’ roll assimilating metal?

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Metal interviews are like connecting violent minds to an amplifier. The musician is given a chance to speak plainly, and rewarded for saying something outlandish enough to make a headline. It’s like pouring gasoline on a fire.

Much as “in vino veritas” describes how drunk people often accidentally blurt out the truth, interviews often get the essential thoughts out of musicians. Tired, often doing multiple interviews in a day, musicians are apt to cut to the chase. Further, since they’ve been working that part of the brain that makes language, they’re often at their clearest several interviews into the process.

Thus it’s not sensible to either discount interviews, or to wholly accept them without being critical. But recent comments by Nominon drummer Per Karlsson highlight why metal interviews will always be popular — the offhanded, casual and yet direct blurting of truth:

I’d say that black and death metal pretty much go hand in hand, but that’s just my opinion. I am a bit worried though, since more or less all death/black metal of today has turned into rock ’n’ roll or something, all the new bands seems to be more into retro-rock, either that or looking/sounding like Ghost. I am ashamed of what this has turned into, it makes me sick.

Score one for the surly musician. First it makes sense to discard is the “that’s just my opinion” which is a passive-aggressive way of saying that some opinions coincide with truth where others do not. Then to analyze his main point, which is basically that rock music is assimilating metal.

For a brief historical re-cap, metal is a breakaway genre from rock, itself a breakaway genre from blues, itself a breakaway genre from folk. Rock music represents a distillation of many traditions down to the simplest transmissible commercial product. It was always a simpler option to the popular music of the time, and then at some point in the 1960s it took over not just music but popular culture. Much of this has to do with how our commercial society worships whatever seems popular at the moment.

Metal never wanted to be rock. If it had, it would have stayed in the rock camp. It also didn’t fully want to be blues. The influences on Black Sabbath were not only previous rock and heavy blues, but progressive rock and horror movie soundtracks (these inherited heavily from modernist classical, notably Wagner). With metal, rock’s rather static textural riffing evolved into the power chord phrase, which is closer to the horror movie music than what rock was doing at the time.

This upset the existing order.

Rock music saw itself as the bad boy and rebel, the counterculture upsetting civilization. Now there was a counter-culture to the counter-culture. Where the rock boys were singing about flowers, love, peace and our bright future, metal brought in the harsh discordant notes of realism: idealism is poppycock, death is ever-present, and the obliviousness of the average person (see “War Pigs”) is what brings evil into the world. Where the rock guys thought you could fight evil with love, metal counter-posited that you can only fight evil with vigilance, and eyes-wide-open awareness of life, warts and all. That shocked the rock community.

Since that time, metal has been the go-to imagery for advertising firms, movies, books and other entertainment products to symbolize “rebellion.” They also try with punk. Metal and punk are the two drop-out genres that consciously elect to be outsiders, and to avoid just doing what other rock bands doing and, by following that trend, to choose “success.” Popular music is fairly simple: find a unique version of doing what everyone else is doing so your audience both recognizes what you’re doing, and has some unique “mental handle” that causes them to single you out. It’s basic memetics.

This means that entertainment products have both a core and a surface. The core is the actual musical content; the surface is the aesthetics, the quirk, the irony, the imagery, and so forth. Metal has rebellion both in its core and its surface. However, if that metal surface could be transferred to rock, the ideal product would result. The band that came closest was Guns n’ Roses who managed rock song format with later Black Sabbath-styled riffs and bluesy leads. If someone were able to make hard rock that felt like metal, the market would roll over and beg for them.

As a result, the primary threat to metal is bands that “look like” (surface) metal but are actually the same old stuff. A number of bands are indicted under this banner, including Opeth and all nu-metal (which under the skin is “rap/rock”). Recently this process has picked up more steam in the underground. “Post-metal” — which is basically late 1980s post-hardcore, emo or indie rock — has begun to be sold as black metal. Nu-metal with late hardcore stylings has been sold as death metal. The result is fans unable to tell the difference between metal and rock.

This advertiser’s dream will backfire. The more metal gets like rock, the more it loses its outsider status. The more metal shows up in “legitimate” publications and entertainment, the less it is consciously outside of the mainstream world. Like punk, it will end up a “flavor” of rock that is used to sell certain products like motorcycles, cologne, hot dogs and chain saws. This is what Karlsson is warning us against, and it’s a good thing we heed him.

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Big media behind Indie Metal takeover

Insightful commentary on those “Best of Metal 2011” lists:

I’ve begun to realize that most of the lists currently being published are also exercises in varying, and scalable degrees of exclusionism. I say this because in the past two years major non-metal/indie oriented media outlets have taken it upon themselves to declare to their reading audiences what is the Best Metal of the Year. I’m referring to websites such as NPR, Pitchfork Media, Spin, PopMatters, Stereogum, Noisecreep, Frontier Psychiatrist, etc…There are countless other minor non-metal oriented blogs and sites that have their own list up as well, and they all pretty much loosely mirror one of the examples posted above.

This is a curiously new phenomenon: ten, seven, even six or five years ago you wouldn’t find non-metal/indie media daring to touch the very idea of the “best metal” released in those years. The cynic in me wants to ask, “Did the hipsters get tired of all the garage-rock bands ironically limping around Brooklyn?” That is mean spirited I know, but part of me does wonder, how long will this new found interest last? First let me offer this: I am not attempting to argue that these sites have no business publishing best of metal year end lists, nor am I attempting to critically analyze their selections. Each of the writers of these lists have their own tastes, preferences, and the right to promote them…but after mulling these lists over for a few weeks and listening to most of the albums on them, one thing has become very clear to me: The most popular of these lists are created by a handful of very prolific writers/bloggers, and the rest stem from the templates laid out by said writers. In particular, the highly read and discussed lists from NPR’s Lars Gotrich and Pitchfork/Stereogum’s Brandon Stosuy are parroted throughout the blogosphere. In deserving respect to these two writers, they both offer their opinions with interesting takes and lucid arguments. I enjoy reading their stuff, and dislike having to single them out — however due to their popularity, I feel they are liable to be held to a higher standard.

Without delving too deeply into Gotrich and Stosuy’s lists, the most obviously striking things about them both is that they tend to lean heavily on the new crop of post-black metal bands. There are occasional death metal albums sprinkled throughout, the odd doom record, and a good bit of math-metal (I hate that label but its what everyone uses). Okay fine, I actually like a few of their selections as well, but here’s a question: Aren’t we missing something in terms of various other styles of metal? You’ll notice that traditional metal and power metal are noticeably absent from these lists. – The Metal Pigeon

That’s the point. These aren’t metal lists, they’re replacement metal. That is to say, indie metal is taking over with the support of Big Media.

Metal is undisciplined by commercial standards. It has a gauge of trueness of spirit. That makes it a hard product to sell. Rock music on the other hand is accepting, has no specific spirit other than ironic surliness and greed, and is universal and easy to make. The labels prefer to sell rock music.

As a result, they’ve invaded metal with the indie hipster crowd because indie-metal sells. It’s familiar like rock, but seen as “rebellious” like metal, so all the extremely ordinary people who work very hard to style themselves as extra-ordinary are in love with it.

It’s the perfect product.

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Why we call it “indie metal”

The DLA gets a lot of flack for referring to a broad range of genres — stoner doom, post-rock, post-metal, modern death metal, tech death, metalcore, deathcore, and shoegaze black metal — as “indie metal.”

What does “indie metal” mean? It means they’re indie rock that uses metal riffs. That’s it. Metal-flavored indie rock.

Metal is a unique style of composition, a unique outlook on the world, and a unique image/ideology. The composition is narrative, or stringing together phrasal riffs based on the power chord; the outlook on the world is an epic, historical, post-human view; the image/ideology is that of a yin-yang but with masculine creative overtones, meaning that we accept good as well as evil but use them as means to an end of ever-increasing intensity and consequent beauty to life.

(That paragraph will be too much for indie metal fans. They’ll start talking about how “badly written” it is because it’s not awash in adjectives and exciting oddball verbs like an NPR piece. This shows you the audience for indie metal: former farm workers’ kids and factory workers’ kids, moved to the city, now trying to show everyone how smart they are and how cultured they are, even if in their hearts they’re still just proles. They’re trying to be something they are not, instead of just being what they are, which is honest and acceptable. If you are the son of a factory worker, don’t pretend to be an intellectual. Be a better factory worker! If you want to know why our intellectuals these days are faux, it’s because they take prole-logic and prole-bias and then dress it up in academic terms they understand in a single context, but whose implications they cannot grasp. That’s why indie metal kids are always snotty: they’re trying to be better than you, so they can “feel like” they’re rising socially.)

What indie rock wants to do to metal is assimilate it, or convert it into metal-flavored indie rock, so that it is safe and predictable as rock music, but still keeps that authenticity of rebellion that metal has. People forget that rock music was designed as a perfect product: it repackaged the blues, itself a repackaging of Celtic folk country, into the simplest possible package and then started putting new flavors on it. But it’s basically the same song form that has existed for centuries: verse, chorus (x3) + bridge + verse, chorus. Indie rock was a punk-flavored DIY imitation of this that incorporated a lot of the best aspects of hippie rock; the archetype of indie rock is early REM, Yo La Tengo, Sonic Youth, etc. It’s closer to The Beatles than it is to Slayer.

Consider this piece:

Gojira – “Where Dragons Dwell”

The song starts with a relatively plodding introduction. This violates the standard rock form, we think at first, but then we realize it’s just an add-on that serves no further compositional purpose in the song. Then we launch into the meat of the song, which is a plodding verse/chorus which intensifies itself with half-sung/half-chanted vocals, but these are still over the same riff with a few aesthetic modifications. Then the song bridges, and ends. It has a verse/chorus riff pair with a few modifications and an introduction, but other than that, it’s straight off the wall indie rock. They even use the same chord voicings in the way old emo bands (Fugazi, and pop-punk-prog like Jawbreaker) used, fanning the dissonant chords. They even use guitar in the same way rock bands do, which is as a rhythm instrument emphasizing repetition of a single note/chord; where metal guitars move a chord shape through a melody or phrase, rock music tries to come to this stop point and repeat the chord on a fixed but offbeat rhythm, so it can emphasize the vocals and not confuse the very simple song format.

Verdict: this song is metal-flavored indie rock.

This is why we call it “indie metal”: it’s not really metal, it’s just indie rock with metal flavoring. Some have tried using similar ideas in metal without losing the metal-ness. Beherit’s Engram widens the metal song form without losing its structure that adapts to both riff and mood. Krieg’s The Isolationist wraps old style Krieg into the kind of song editing we saw on the live album, but uses technique (including aforementioned chord fanning) from post-rock/post-metal. They’re trying to keep their metalness without dropping into rockness, but increasingly we’re seeing how these techniques are incompatible because they’re heading in different directions. Metal wants epic landscapes of phrase; rock wants a convenient beat and a clear chord to build vocal harmony upon. These are directions as opposite as liberal and conservative, spend and save, object-oriented and procedural, vegan and carnivore.

DEATH TO INDIE METAL

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