Death Metal Underground

How the internet changed heavy metal

by Brett Stevens
June 15, 2014 –

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Many of the old school metal fans observed how the rise of the Internet coincided with the death of the underground and its replacement with the “funderground.” They opine how one-click access to music removed much of the challenge of finding music and created a culture of casual acceptance, not aggressively finding and hoarding quality material. There’s truth in that, surely. But there are other effects as well.

For example, easy access to music limited the emphasis on quality. When you buy music with limited funds, you tend to care about the best and/or cutting-edge material only. When the cost of trying out a new band is nothing, the tendency is to listen once and then file it by aesthetic category. “Sounds about like regular death metal. I need something different, maybe with a flute or jazz licks.”

Two more subtle effects occurred as well. First, the Internet in its post-AOL incarnation become fundamentally a social place. Metal on the internet became regulated by this social influence because the people talking about music on the Internet did so from a social outlook. They wanted to meet other people, and the music was secondary to that. As a result people began searching more for the ironic and music with novelty, leading to a rise in hipster-metal and related forms.

Second, the Internet made basic information about technique and style easily available. Learning how to write death metal no longer required listening, learning and working with other bands, zines, radio, etc. The user could visit a forum or any number of blogs and get a quick overview, which encouraged people to migrate over from other genres and adopt metal technique to the composition used in those other genres. This was not so much a genre mashup as an extraneous genre disguised as heavy metal.

With those two factors, emphasis switched from the music itself to the music as a “flavoring” to be applied to something else. Whether social flavoring, or a way to dress up those post-punk slash lite jazz hymns that your band had been kicking around for a decade, metal became the outlet for those impulses. The tendency of our media and society to see metal as “rebellious” made it a natural target because just about everyone wants to be different these days, in other words, rebels against the normal way of doing things.

In theory — which sometimes corresponds to reality — this would precipitate a focus not on the outward aspects of metal but its inward attributes, like spirit, compositional style and content. That day may come, but now that’s a much harder sell. It’s easier to dress up the same crap, push it down the line and produce it from your desktop, then spend all of your focus on the social and surface appearance aspects of the music. That’s how success is made these days.

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17 comments

  • SERIOUS QUESTIONER

    > extraneous genre disguised as heavy metal
    How would you qualify and categorize a band like Dream Theater? Some people argue that progressive metal is an oxymoron, it’s either prog rock or metal at best and when hybridezed its neiter. I’ve heard Dream Theater’s best albums are their debut and their 5th album Metropolis.

  • Nito

    Not enough 0% reviews out there. Triptykon wouldn’t get a pass in the early 90s… Welcome to the world of “war metal” archetypes being featured in GQ magazine and black metal being synonymous with Starbucks.

  • MF

    On the other hand, the internet provides a risk-free way of quickly sifting through the garbage to find something worthy.

    1. veien

      Sifting through garbage is a waste of everyone’s time. If more effort was put into really understanding what makes a work of art a work of art, we wouldn’t have the dissolution of integrity that resulted in modern scenes (wherein a pass or fail is agreed upon with friends, not what you know sounds good deep within).

        1. Brett Stevens Post author

          That’s why we originally had review writers, who would sort through the incoming stuff and identify good or bad.

          Now people go looking for novelty, so good/bad takes a secondary role if one at all.

          “But this band uses a chorus of eunuchs!” Hipsters everywhere flock to the smell of it: the mediocre reinvented through appearance.

          1. MF

            Sure, but who wants to blindly trust a reviewer? Even the best reviewers won’t be right 100% of the time, and if it’s a reviewer new to the trade you’re just gambling if you buy based on his recommendations.

            I use reviews, and I also trawl download blogs, as a starting point. When I find something that catches my attention (for one of any number of reasons) I’ll spend some time listening to it on Bandcamp/Facebook/whatever, if it sounds worthwhile I’ll download it, and if after downloading it and giving it serious attention I’ll purchase it if I determine it merits adding to my collection.

            I realize of course that I’m in the minority, in that most either download stuff willy-nilly and consider music as a whole disposable, and then there are still others that buy blindly based on reviewer recommendations, band/label recognition, or novelty. I’m sure we’ve all purchased plenty that we’ve later sold to the used CD store; I like to think the internet gives me the tools to ensure that I’m not wasting money like that.

        2. veien

          And I respect them for that too.

          The problem lies moreseo with the exponential expansion of forms disconnected from actual quality (otherwise known as the spark, thunder, vir and so on), coupled with easy availability. Whereas at one stage a reviewer had maybe a handful of releases appropriate for reviewing, and a handful of demo bands giving it there absolute all, now there is just so much fodder they probably wouldn’t know where to start.

          Regarding the fodder: it exists because it’s easy to put out both in terms of the cost and methods of recording, an overall lower threshold of compositional prowess to base anything off of in the last [god only knows how long] and the fact that to be signed to a label doesn’t mean shit anymore becauses even they can’t be bothered scouting for quality when the majority of fans aren’t able see the difference to begin with.

  • EDS

    I have a little theory. One could almost say, “How the internet changed everything in life”. Modern humans are using the internet as a tool. While there is nothing inherently wrong with that, 99% of all humans are abusing said tool. Case in point being social media like Facebook or Instagram. Most all users across the world are posting extremely naïve and narcissistic pictures and posts to feed their ego. Very few use it for 100% purely responsible means such as to keep in contact with family while away or to post decent pictures of a mature social event (work or family gathering).

    Same can be said for metal and the internet/social media websites that publish news and reviews. Sites like the DLA/DMU and maybe a few others can be used as a vital tool for discovering real metal from history. However, 99% of all metal “fans” are abusing the internet and thus, as the author stated in the original post…

    “When the cost of trying out a new band is nothing, the tendency is to listen once and then file it by aesthetic category. “Sounds about like regular death metal. I need something different, maybe with a flute or jazz licks.””

    They are simply using the one-click access to sift through metal albums without caring about the bands history and when and where the album comes from. They are indiscriminate in their actions of downloading, and so when after a few listens an album does not measure up so they can achieve social acceptance, they can easily delete it with the same old one-click functionality (well two clicks, for one must eventually remove it from the recycle bin).

    To responsibly use the internet and social media to discover metal is to actually take the time to learn things about the album and the band who wrote it. Then discover where it fits in the history of metals pantheon. If it is not something you like after repeated listens, then delete it and do not buy it. If it sounds good to your ears, keep it and maybe buy it on a physical platform. To undertake these tasks you have to have at least some bit of intelligence, which is sadly scarce in our modern world.

    If one were to not abuse the internet and social media to discover metals history, then they would use this site and others to find new music, avoid the tainted modern day metal landscape, and aggressively hoard the quality material/classics of the genre. Now that’s responsible use!

    1. Brett Stevens Post author

      If fans started listening to the classics from all four generations of metal exclusively, they would find themselves unable to tolerate the ersatz contemporary variety.

    2. Nester

      Most people are not looking for something good, they’re looking for a sound. And so when they listen and it turns out it wasn’t what they’ve wanted it to be, they conclude that it’s bad. Perhaps if they’ve pushed themselves just a little bit more, they would have changed their mind. But that happens unintentionally more than intentionally.

      Of course if an album was truly exceptional, you wouldn’t instantly familiarize yourself with the thought process that went into making it. That’s a ridiculous thing to expect. And yet that’s people’s expectations. They want everything to come to them, they certainly
      won’t put in the effort required. They don’t think it’s important. In the end, they would have listened to much bands, but little that wouldn’t have appealed to them from the start, in most ways they’re still in square one. They might know much but they understand little.

  • BrennendesGehirn

    The internet allows one to investigate the full spectrum of what is available, from the big label sponsored, magazine promoted, to the bands featured on smaller ‘zines, to the names whispered about on forums. One advantage of this is that a person can, just maybe, make their own mind up about a piece of music, without someone explaining why it is good, or the baying voices of a group of people shouting loudly about why it is bad.

    Reviewers and reviews, sites, ‘zines and word of mouth; all ways to get to the music. From that point is you can’t make up your own mind, more fool you.

  • David Missildine

    As with any tool, it can very useful or abused. By using the Internet, I’ve found so many good bands i would not have found otherwise. There are so many useful sites that give a very thorough history of metal and give many examples of albums to try. At the same time, there is such an overload of information and bands, it can be daunting and tiresome. But all it takes is that one song that piques my interest and it makes it all worth it.