Heavy metal came from horror movie soundtracks, loud rock, and progressive music mixed into a single package. This style differentiated itself by singing about epic, historical views of humanity and the dark subjects such thinking brings up, in opposition to the self-centered ramblings of rock musicians. It also brought in a new style of playing, where lead rhythm phrases were made of moveable chords into “riffs” which allowed greater complexity in songs, even if it reduced harmonic depth. With such a momentous birth, it took metal a couple generations to catch up with itself.
After its birth, it almost got assimilated by heavy rock and glam bands, but then bounced back by mixing aggressive punk hardcore into the mix. This new style evolved through thrash, which was crossover music for skateboarders, and speed metal, which was more traditional heavy metal, before exploding into form with death metal and black metal.
These styles fulfilled what Black Sabbath had started: creation of an entirely alien, post-human, horror-infused lifeform. Death metal introduced structuralism, or a way of linking together riffs that made the structure of the song the guiding force in lieu of harmony, and black metal pioneered using melody and atmosphere within the death metal framework to make a complete new style.
This new style most clearly resembled early Baroque or ancient Greek music in its atonal framing in which modal patterns are used to build melody, and inherited the tradition of bands from classical to Tangerine Dream of making spacious, lengthy compositions that eschew the verse-chorus tradition of pop music. Metal had transcended rock music.
Once that new wave of music, emboldened by the new easy (mid-1980s vintage) of printing and selling CDs, exploded from its indie roots to popularity, it lost direction. Too much of its impetus had been based on being tiny and alienated; now it was big. Now the crowd wanted to come to it, but they also wanted to change it to be more like the rock music and punk with which they were familiar.
Around 1994, the old guard started to pull back in confusion and pursue other things. In rushed the newcomers. They created two new styles which were basically the same thing: rock done in metal technique. The first, metalcore, mixed punk songs with metal riffs, but never “got” the death metal way of linking successive riffs in context. The second, nu-metal, added hip-hop bounce and alternative choruses to metal, but was basically metal riffs on top of rock songs.
Most death metal from the period 1994-2009 began to resemble metalcore. The riffs were no longer linked, but were variations on riff/chorus structures, and the swing and offbeat emphasis of rock music, and the desire of punk music to provide randomness, replaced the moody explorations of death metal. Black metal in turn got assimilated by underground punk, a cross between crustcore and shoegaze, which eschewed the ragged melodies for more predictable minor key pop songs.
For a long time, it seemed like the newcomers triumphed. Metal was bigger than ever before, in the numbers of fans and CDs sold. But a problem kept cropping up: it had produced no great works, only lots of “good” CDs. People bought “good” CDs and forgot them a few months later because they were not particularly distinctive in content, even if they were distinctive in form. Nothing quite made it to the epic stage of being timeless.
Starting in 2006, and slowly accelerating, this trend — which is as old as the hills, since the first thing that happens to every new genre is that they hybridize it with rock music — began to fade as labels found they couldn’t pump out the new music fast enough because within weeks its novelty wore off and it was forgotten. Profits turned to losses, and then in 2008, a recession hit, driving many labels and zines out of business.
This lucky break helped traditional metal come back into the spotlight. Over the last two years, band reunions and the formation of new bands by old school personnel have become commonplace. Many of the results at first were bad as old school metallers tried to compete with the new sound; however, over the last six months, the balance has shifted and now old school bands are making old school music.
As the Maryland Death Fest illustrates, the crowds are turning out for the old bands and old style bands, even the youngest audience members. They’re looking for a substantial musical experience and are tired of buying an underground version of the same thing they get on the radio.
The linked article illustrates the revolution that is happening in metal: younger people, newer fans and older fans alike are wanting the genre to uphold the styles and tradition of quality it once had. They’re tired of disposable garbage and endless hype that just leads back into the same blender of all quality that is commercial rock music. Bring back the metal, they say, and people are listening.
ANUS predicted this trend in the middle 1990s, and made comparisons to hardcore and past generations of metal, and now we’re being proven right. We knew that there would be a surge of newcomers, and then their lack of ideas would catch up with them, and people would abandon their contentless music for something more substantive. It just took a dozen years to manifest itself.