5 albums that sold out and damaged metal

by Cory Van der Pol
August 18, 2014 –

selling-out

When a band is accused of “selling out,” the first instinct most people have is to attack the definition of that phrase. In reality, “selling out” is easily delineated: changing your music/art/writing to reflect what the audience expects.

In metal, selling out usually consists of making the music happier, simpler, less tormented and more pretentious. This allows the people who are dedicated to not noticing anything real about their world to listen to it and have it confirm their existing bias that the best course in life will be to “keep on keeping on” by shopping, voting, bragging at the water cooler, watching television, eating fast food and otherwise being oblivious to everything.

Selling out can be compared to the difference between a home-grilled hamburger and a fast food burger. The home-grilled burger uses real meat, spiced and cooked with care, and does not look elegant but is a good balance of taste and nutrition. The fast food burger is made from ground-up bits of animals, filled out with soybeans and sugar, and most people prefer it because it tastes more like candy and nutrition, lol.

When a metal band sells out, it makes the conscious decision to alter its music to appeal to some audience. This can include an “outsider” audience that only likes ultra-lofi two-chord bands, or the usual meaning, where the music gets closer to big radio pop. When metal bands sell out, they damage metal by bringing in all the stuff metal tried to escape in the first place.

These five albums represent some of the worst sellouts in metal history.

at_the_gates-slaughter_of_the_soul

At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul

The first At the Gates album took our breath away. A weird mix of metal, folk, progressive and classical, it achieved an idiosyncratic voice of its own the way early death metal was prone to do. Then the band faltered, losing a key member and recording albums that did not feel with albums. Suddenly, this new album burst onto the scene and the old school death metal heads rushed forward to find… the exact opposite of what made this band great. Instead of inventive death metal, Slaughter of the Soul brought a warmed-over version of Metallica Ride the Lightning that had been given the Swedish melodic metal treatment. Songs swung easily with simple melodies that would have fit better in a television commercial or schoolyard song, and song structures fit an entirely predictable mold. Nothing challenged the listener; everything was sweetened, like biting into a hot glazed donut with extra icing. It made you feel icky inside, as if you had just been assimilated by the vast mass of people in modern culture who forcibly ignore any incoming ideas which do not fit into their own ego-worship and denial. However, the album was a stunning commercial success and inspired the metalcore movement, in which post-At the Gates band The Haunted applied this template to late hardcore and created a whole new audience.

metallica-metallica

Metallica – Metallica

When metalheads first heard “One” on the radio, the general sentiment was worry. We all knew of the temptation of radio metal where bands toured in luxury buses and got loads of cocaine, chicks and fast cars. But …And Justice For All had its musical moments despite the awful rock-style drumming and simplified catchy songs, so the hope was that Metallica had gotten it out of their system. Then came the self-titled monstrosity. The first hint was the choice of eponymous name late in the career of Metallica, which suggested a break with the past. Then, the new logo: silver foil-embossed, stylized and slick. Then we heard “Enter Sandman” on the radio and fears were realized. Gone were the complex song structures and innovative riffs, but the use of melodic composition on guitar persisted from …And Justice For All, albeit in a form that fit well into the MTV lineup. Songs backed away from topics that might unsettle people into fairy tales about fears and personal drama, including the rage drama that Pantera was making famous. Metallica fans hung their heads, neatly folded their tshirts and put them at the back of the drawer, and covered their tattoos with black bars. Metallica had finally sold out.

death-individual_thought_patterns

Death – Individual Thought Patterns

As the 1990s progressed, death metal emerged as the clear next big thing. This came after nearly a decade of the music industry denying its existence, mocking it, and doing their best to conceal it. A number of them made overtures: if you could just drop the scary alienation, anger and post-human view of the world, maybe The Industry would work for you like it did for the Crue, AC/DC, etc. At this point, Chuck Schuldiner of Death was putting a lot of effort into making himself the founding father of death metal, and he fired his previous band for a mostly new group who came up with a heavy metal/death metal hybrid. That alone would have been bad, but what was worse was that he changed the music artistically as well as stylistically. The rage at a numb, callous and selfish world was replaced with personal drama, overplayed public compassion, and the kind of hollow rage that people sitting in air-conditioned homes direct at a world that “just doesn’t understand me.” Even worse, the music itself became saccharine. The wild lion of death metal became a neutered animal dependent on daily feedings of peer group approval. Not surprisingly, people loved it then and hardly mention it now.

morbid_angel-domination

Morbid Angel – Domination

After the public hounding that Ilud Divinum Insanus received, most fans forgot the previous great Morbid Angel disappointment that essentially fragmented the band. Thousands of death metal bands languishing in obscurity perked up when they saw Far Beyond Driven flirt with Exhorder-styled extreme metal and still make hordes of money. In the timeless and impeccably insane logic of record labels, it was suggested that death metal bands take the same route even though it would mean abandoning their fans and yet not being able to fully dumb down enough for the brocore generation. Morbid Angel came out with this disaster of a fourth album in order to try to bridge the gap and ended up (predictably) failing both. Where previous Morbid Angel albums showed inventive songs, Domination featured one interesting riff per song slowed down and mated with another couple of sludgy, partially doomy, and unforgivably bouncy Pantera-styled riffs. To accommodate the injection of nonsense into death metal songs, Morbid Angel broke them down into simpler songs that resembled the happy go lucky “beer metal” songs of the past: verse-chorus, chanty foot-tapping title of song repeated, and an artistic outlook which more resembled wounded anger than any kind of delving toward a hidden truth. After this album, the band fell apart and reconstituted itself in new forms, trying to recapture some vein of composition that might appeal to lots of MTV-reprogrammed listeners and yet still be death metal. Much like Bigfoot and the perpetual motion machine, it might be out there somewhere, but as of yet Morbid Angel has not found it.

dimmu_borgir-enthrone_darkness_triumphant

Dimmu Borgir – Enthrone Darkness Triumphant

As soon as black metal hit the newsstands with stories of church arson and murder, record company stooges devoted many hours of thought to the simple question of how they could re-package it for the Hot Topic kids. Dimmu Borgir found the first workable solution with Enthrone Darkness Triumphant which mixed mall-goth, Cradle of Filth, and carnival music to come up with a style that reveled in its own randomness and made its listeners feel profound for having picked up an incoherent but inscrutable mess. The lush keyboards of mainstream Gothic dance music mixed with the darker rhythms of Nine Inch Nails and guitar influences from rock/metal/rap hybrids in order to interrupt the occasional black metal riff so it never came to fruition. The result became the artistic equivalent of a pop tart: thin bread crust around mystery ingredients mixed with sugar. Naturally, people loved it because it allowed them to “be black metal” (ist krieg!) without leaving behind the same digestible pap they had been swallowing for years under the rock banner. But the CDs seemed to fly out of stores, and black metal fans changed from lonely dissidents to bloated mall denizens looking for a new thrill to blot out the days of tedium as they tried to pretend they wanted to even be alive. Even more importantly, this album opened the door to “black metal” as a container for whatever you wanted to throw in it, which made the truly dark hearts of the record company execs jump with joy and visions of bank transfers.

Image: would you trust a cigarette company with marijuana? Most likely, they would do to it what they did to tobacco, which is remove variety in flavor and replace it with innocuous but consistent brand-perfect sensations.

49 comments

  • Nomen Nescio

    A great continuation of the “5 albums that ruined metal” article. It makes perfect sense now, in context. I thought that, even though Panterrible’s Cowboys from Hell shat all over metal, that the more significant blow was dealt by Metallica’s s/t. Of course, I also thought that Slaughter of the Soul should have been in that article, but it’s inclusion in this one makes far more sense.

    1. Brett Stevens

      There is a fine and hazy difference between a sell-out of a good band and a band that always aimed to be insincere, acquire currency and become “celebrities” rather than “artists.” It does not take a genius to be a best-selling novelist, but it takes a genius and some guts to be H.P. Lovecraft or Michel Houellebecq.

      1. Nomen Nescio

        My eyes are open. It was quick and foolish of me to skim through the article without looking at the big picture. A lot of good metal bands did in fact sell out, but it doesn’t change the quality and message of their earlier material.

        1. Brett Stevens

          True, and it’s the fact that these bands were good that made the sell-outs tragic. A bad band which sells out appears to finally have found its (mediocre) direction; a good band that sells out is a repudiation and denial of all that their music once meant, even though they’ll still dust it off for some concerts and re-releases.

  • EDS

    I have an oddball question. After the release of these albums, plus the many others that disapointed the underground between 93 and 2000, did the DMU staff go back and re-visit albums they dismissed back in the late 80’s and early 90’s as being close, but not quite good enough? Basically did you guys re-evaluate anything after realizing death and black metal was about to go under?

    1. Lord Mosher of the Solitary Pit

      I´d like to know if Prozak re-evaluated anything Speed Metal related besides the few well known historically important albums.
      I’d like to know what he thinks of Vio-lence, Heathen, Forbidden, Atrophy, Coroner, Annihilator, Hexenhaus, Razor and many other such bands.
      I know he has spoken favorably of Atrophy and I know he sort of dislikes bands like Dark Angel, Sadus and perhaps even Demolition Hammer. The speed-death hybrid gives him headaches.

      1. Brett Stevens

        Your last sentence is most accurate. Much of this music needs to be re-visited. I especially remember Heathen fondly and once listened to a whole lot of Sadus.

    2. Brett Stevens

      Yes, but informally. It was clear in the mid-1990s that the hype had risen past the point where the genres had enough informed voices to restrain the hype, and thus that assimilation and reversion to the mean was about to occur. It took years to articulate that however.

  • Chuck

    Dude, it’s this kind of elitist mentality that gives us metal heads a bad name. We are all entitled to our opinions, but to declare that Domination, Slaughter of the Soul, and Human are sell out albums is asinine. Specialty shows aside, you will never hear any song from these albums on mainstream rock radio in 2014, much less during the mid ’90’s. I had to laugh when I saw Domination on your list.

    1. Lord Mosher of the Solitary Pit

      Why should “us” metalheads care if we’re given a bad name?
      Conformity is not our goal!
      And no.
      We are not all entitled to an opinion.
      I’d like to explain to you why but Iwouldn’t want to rob you from the life-journey required for you to answer that question on your own.
      .
      I’ll give you a start cuz I’m in a good mood:
      People that despise elitism are either cowards or morons.
      Take your pick.
      .
      Come back when you’re older and wiser.
      Or not.
      You can always resort to conformity.

    2. Duke Fang

      Absolutely!!!
      I really thought this was a joke site when’s friend kept posting it on Facebook.
      Nothing worse than musical snobs, especially in Metal!!!

      1. Dimebag

        In this context ‘snob’ is a synonym for ‘discerning’. And there is something far worse than musical snobs: mindless consumption. Sadly I doubt that any number of exclamation marks would make you understand my point.

    3. JOSH

      I agree with you 100%. Domination was awesome. Morbid Angel tried something new to avoid becoming another carbon copy of Cannibal Corpse or Carcass. I think this album shows real evolution. Death Metal like every genre of music has to evolve to a new level or it will fade out just like Hair Metal did in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I don’t miss Glam Metal, but I would definitely miss Death Metal.

  • Mr Dilligence

    I agree for the most part. Death can’t sell out by definition IMO. But instead of that you should have included wolverine blues and heart work. Those LPs ruined my life.

  • InfectedSoldier

    I’m not even a big fan of Slaughter of the Soul or anything, but the fact that you herald At the Gates’ first album after initially stating that a common aspect between these albums was that they become “more pretentious” made me laugh. Red in the Sky is Ours had its head so far up its own ass it could see its own breakfast. A much better album in its place to demonstrate the same point would be Heartwork.

    1. mooz

      To my ears The Red… is full of youthful, passionate ambition, which I don’t see as pretentious. The song structures are byzantine but they genuinely move me and make me feel like they took me somewhere by the time the album’s over.

    2. fenrir

      So say those who cannot stomach the intricacy of the debut… it was a great example of ambition in the right direction for Death Metal.

  • (still unnamed)

    There should be another “metal bands to love to hate” article. Why stop at 5 bands/albums with these articles? Plenty of crap that must be mocked, scourged, and spit upon.

  • Tampa Death Metal Legend

    LMFAO @ Individual Thought Patterns….that in itself is a mockery, and quite frankly, a disgrace….ITP was Death’s most technical album, you my friend are a complete moron….While Human set the benchmark for Progressive Death Metal, ITP raised those standards in technicallity, eveidient by the opening track, Overactive Imagination…your ”metal” credibility should be revoked…Wolverine Blues, and Heartwork FAR exceed ”selling out” in Death Metal…as well as countless other albums…And for the Sadus comments…A Vision of Misery was again the bands most TECHNICAL outting musically…

    1. Tampa Death Metal Legend

      And Human was THE game changer as far as taking Death Metal to the next level of adding Progressive elements due to having the influence of the Cynic/Sadus members…as well as Atrocity’s Longing for Death, and Hallucinations…those and a few more albums of the era defined true technicallity in Death metal, period….

      1. Tampa Death Metal Legend

        And not to mention, Suffocation’s Effigy as far as being the best form of technically proficient brutality that the Death Metal world had EVER seen at that point…i could go on for days, but its pointless, especially when dealing with someone whos opinion is of an elitist fucktard who obviously either wasnt there to watch the Death Metal art become what it did between 88-93, which imo , are still the best 5 years of musical progression this world will ever see…carry on….

    2. fenrir

      Deaeth Metal had “progressive” elements from the very beginning… Just not the DT progressive elements that you are thinking of incorrectly as “progressive, which are only jazz worship.
      ITP did not raise any bar… it only made technique the point of the music… there are death metal albums before it that are just as demanding technically and whose expression and vision go well beyond it.

  • Tampa Death Metal Legend

    and not to mention, Gorguts The Erosion of Sanity, which imo is still the best Death Metal album to grace this shit world….the complexity and intricacy of that album defies logic, while blending the technically proficient brutal elements of Suffocation’s Effigy, Breeding & Pierced albums, and Death’s Human/ITP, progressions but done in a way that far exceeded the realms of technical death metal in a very different way than the aformentioned records…..and that is my final post…

    1. (still unnamed)

      I’d rather listen to “boring old” Gorefest and Disharmonic Orchestra from my old Nuclear Blast compilations back then. Death… was always BORING. Zzzzzzzzzz…

      Oh, and Atheist is better than anything on Human and achieved notoriety for being “technical and progressive” then too. Also, Morbid Angel was a big influence on the European bands. I agree with what you said about Atrocity and Gorguts though. Even the Nocturnus demo had so-called “melodic” riffs in songs with more “progression and complexity” than any Death album at that time as well as the later Human album.

      Can someone tell me what’s so progressive about Death’s A-B-C-solo-go back to A-B-C song structures that they had on every song? Not including the rare exception in Cosmic Sea.

      Has anyone read old Chuck Schuldiner interviews? Like, the one where he mocks Immolation and Incantation for being so-called “new breed” bands? The guy was kind of an asshole and the album above’s last 2 tracks make a mockery of death metal’s “brutality” and a former associate, respectively. Very mature “artist”.

      Death’s Human, changed NOTHING. Only years later when Schuldiner R.I.P. became a meme did we start hearing Forbidden riffs in death metal songs.

    2. fenrir

      Individual Thought Patterns came out in the same year as The Erosion of Sanity… so how can the latter be based on it? Check your facts before posting, please.

  • deathmetal

    This article is a clickbait sell-out, here’s why.

    “In metal, selling out usually consists of making the music happier, simpler, less tormented and more pretentious. This allows the people who are dedicated to not noticing anything real about their world to listen to it and have it confirm their existing bias that the best course in life will be to “keep on keeping on” by shopping, voting, bragging at the water cooler, watching television, eating fast food and otherwise being oblivious to everything.”

    I could say the same thing about this article. All you’ve done is rehashed the same old criticisms of these albums- anus.com reviewed the exact same records over 10 years ago, except they did theirs with a far better written aesthetic critique. You’ve just made a Buzzfeed style article that adds nothing except reconfirm metal’s conservatism. These albums all came out more or less 20 years ago, get over it. Metal has moved on so far since then.

    1. (still unnamed)

      Yep. Now it’s Coldplay with distorted guitars. By that I mean Opeth and Deafheaven.

      1. deathmetal

        If the only two metal releases you bothered to listened to in the past year were by Opeth and Deafheaven you don’t deserve to call yourself a metalhead

        1. (still unnamed)

          Oh, but I listened to so much other shit in the past year from so-called metal bands that have “moved on” since 20 years ago. Music sucks now, get over it.

  • Laozi

    Being as Death was my “gateway” band, I am hard pressed to agree with many negative statements made about Chuck and his multiple line-ups. It is quite realistic to accept that Death walked away from the “True” Death Metal sound that this site tends to promote. Ideologically, I think Chuck had better thoughts and opinions than most of his peers at the time. My empirical evidence for this is based off of interviews that have survived and YouTube videos. I don’t want to go off in that tangent defending him, but a few writers on this site have concurred that most bands didn’t even know what they were doing when they did it. Plato’s dialogue Ion comes to mind…

    Accepting that ITP is not “True” Death Metal… does that make it illegitimate? Further, are my credentials nullified as a Death Metal fan because this was what I worshipped before I found the more “underground” stuff? I get the purpose of the article, of causal consequences that arose from these five albums, but Individual Thought Patterns is still True Metal, even if it is more about Technical proficiency. I am only 26, but I listen to all old stuff as far as Death Metal. Bands like Decrepit Birth don’t do much for me, but I can hardly blame Chuck alone for the development of those bands.

    The reason I defend the album, trying to suspend my fandom, is that Chuck didn’t want to stay in the camp of Old School Death Metal. Living in the Philadelphia region, I come across many bands that are from the early 90s and went nowhere for a reason. Most of them suck. Bands can only attempt to emulate Dawn of Possession, Blessed Are the Sick, Human Waste, Consuming Impulse and others so much before they all sound the same. The lines are totally blurred now, except for the elite few that hold on to ideas over images and appearances. I think the ideas that came from OSDM are still legitimate but I like seeing/hearing growth in music, just like with some of my favorite Classical and Romantic composers.

    Purity can only last so long, and anyone attempting to access these death metal roots pre-90s usually come off as pretentious and cliched and have no clue about musical modes or real talent.

    1. witten

      Others see what you see as ‘growth’ as degeneration. Calling Death’s later albums ‘growth’ is like calling Wellington’s Victory a ‘growth’ after Eroica and Waldstein…

      1. Laozi

        All the above albums are totally in proper place, except for ITP. To say it damaged Metal is beyond extreme. Wellington’s Victory is not very exciting or anything, but as far as growth his Seventh is definitely better than his Third (Eroica).

        It’s not like he tuned up or anything, all of his albums save for Scream Bloody Gore had a ton of melody (versus dissonance of most Death Metal acts) and were tuned one step down (versus B and C tuning of most Death Metal acts). Point is, he progressed, whether most at the time saw it as a slap on the face.

        I just don’t think it deserves to be listed with Demon Burger’s sell-out or Metallica’s sell out (which was the worst of all fucking time). Then again, I can’t not sound like a fan.

  • David Missildine

    It’s funny. A whole new generation of metal fans did not grow up during its inception and early evolution. I was not there to compare these bands first albums with their “sell out” albums. As a matter of fact, most of these albums were introductory in my journey of metal music. I think the ‘black album’ was my very first album I bought. Probably heard it on the radio and my curiosity was sparked. Haven’t looked back since. 1500 bought albums later in my collection, and I’m still looking through back catalogs at the beginning years of metal. I don’t have negative feelings towards these albums though. If anything, I am grateful for them and what they introduced me to. Maybe its part nostalgia, but I am not critical of them. I still enjoy them time to time. They are what they are. Maybe I’d feel differently if I had been a fan since the early days. But now, I enjoy hearing the evolution of the genre. I do wonder about the idea of sell out though. Is it still a sell out if it was a natural progression – different interests – of the artists. Maybe they had nothing else to say in the way they had said it in the first couple of albums. I guess it would be hard to say who this would apply to. But I’ve heard numerous interviews with artists who’ve said they were tired of doing the same thing and needed to make a change. Of course, they could be saying this to cover their asses.

  • Wolfgang

    While this list is spot on, I hope this site is not going to adopt the metalsucks style for post titles (and content).

    This article is a follow-up on the older anus.com/metal/about/metal/sell-out/.

    I understand that a lot of people like lists because they are essentially predigested information, but please, it’s the second list in a few days, stop it here before we start seeing articles like “You’ve Been Listening To The Wrong Death Metal Albums The Whole Time” or “This One Album Will Blow Your Mind”.

    1. Richard Head

      Fucking BACKED. I’ve been saying this same thing (albeit inelegantly) for a while now. Christ on a cross. Guess I’ll reduce the meaningfulness of my comments to match that of the articles from here on. Faggot.

  • JOSH

    I totally agree with Chuck. The only way for Death Metal to evolve is for bands to branch out and try new material. Domination was Morbid Angel trying something new and was a great album. As a fan of this music, I would hate to see it die off the way that Glam Metal did in the late 80’s/early 90’s. I hated Hair Metal and I am glad to see them gone. But the same will happen to Death Metal if every band becomes a carbon copy of each other.

  • mlotek

    Not sure that you should include At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul, but the rest is 100% correct.
    Especially DEATH sucking (and HARD! SO GAY after Spiritual Healing!)
    NOW let’s see new features on killer bands that get it right – BEYOND (GER), DEATHRASH, HELLWITCH, INFEST (Serbia), INSANITY, KRYPTS, MEGIDDO, PAGANFIRE, RIOTOR, SOLOTHUS, SVARTSYN, THRONEUM, TRENCHROT ……..