The problem of commercialism in metal

by Cory Van der Pol
May 3, 2014 –

black_metal_saloon

Some will tell you that metal cannot sell out because metal is not a large financial enterprise. The question then is, “What is large?” because if a genre supports dozens of labels, has top-grossing tours, and tens of thousands of bands, it seems that someone is getting paid more than they would otherwise.

But don’t take it from us. Look at what commercialization has done to another genre:

I was so blown away by the first “Star Wars” film when I saw it in 1977, I went back two more times the same week to wallow in its space age fantasy. But here’s the thing: George Lucas’ creation, basically a blown-up Flash Gordon adventure with better special effects, has left all too many people thinking science fiction is some computer graphics-laden space opera/western filled with shootouts, territorial disputes, evil patriarchs and trusty mounts (like the Millennium Falcon).

“Star Wars” has corrupted people’s notion of a literary genre full of ideas, turning it into a Saturday afternoon serial. And that’s more than a shame — it’s an obscenity.

He has a point, and reveals a situation parallel to that of metal. Sci-fi was too hardcore and dry for most readers, but then if you add in princesses in skimpy costumes, wookies and light sabers, suddenly it’s… an action movie with soap opera aspects. The audience can tune into that, and so can all the basement greebos who will cosplay, imitate and nerd it to death.

Metal was also originally too hardcore and dense for most listeners, but then if you added in the drama of burning churches and murders, people could really get into that wacky far-out identity. Suddenly it’s hard rock with distorted vocals and Satan. The audience can tune into that, and so all the basement neckbeards emerge to record collect and/or emo it to death.

Two sides rapidly form in any debate: one side says we should have purity of essence of what is being done, and the other side thinks that this principle should be more malleable in order to support social popularity and commerce. I say stick with the purity of essence: metal was built on years of accumulated knowledge, and turning it into entertainment flushes that all down the drain.

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12 comments

  • trystero

    Metal always originally had an entertainment aspect but then so does all art to varying degrees, even religious art. What matters is that its function as communication remains paramount and that this communication is profound. The point of this article is great, but we should take care to avoid turning entertainment into a synonym for poor quality.

    1. Brett Stevens

      What matters is that its function as communication remains paramount and that this communication is profound.

      I would guess that “entertainment” means “solely entertainment” not “entertaining” in the same way that “humor music” does not include music that has humorous aspects, but does not exist solely as a joke band.

  • Lord Mosher of the Solitary Pit

    Star Wars had Han Solo and he’s important because he represents the iconic self-reliant, brave, cunning, individual man idealized by masculine societies that value personal responsability and freedom of action; these are the men that will always step up when duty and emergency calls. These characteristics are most likely abhorred by the cowardly nanny-state, life-long infant whinnies that currently run the country.
    .
    And if I may ask, what “purity of essence” is there to Metal?
    quote: “I say stick with the purity of essence: metal was built on years of accumulated knowledge”.
    .
    Herein lies a contradiction. The essence of things precede any intellectual process of awareness of said essence. There can’t be awareness of anything that wasn’t there in the first place. Metal does not “know” itself. Thus Metal cannot truly have its own essence. What it does have I think, are a complex yet fragmented system of beliefs based on intuition that have served as a well for inspiration by foundational acts and artists.
    .
    I do believe however in the need for an orthodoxy in Metal.
    History suggests that every rock related genre has roughly a 6 year life-span.
    *
    Two years of foundational bands that are able to synthesize that which is already in the air but nobody is able to pin point let alone organize it in a powerful design that will serve as template for future generations.
    .
    Two years of replication of said ideas, sometimes a band happily nails a different yet relevant angle of what was already expressed. And finally, two years of regression, most musical hybrids occur during this phase.
    .
    Orthodoxy in this context is simply preserving and promoting the first two periods because that’s where musicians can find the motivations and emotional/mental processes that lead the initial artists to reach the musical compositions they created.

    1. Brett Stevens

      The essence of things precede any intellectual process of awareness of said essence.

      Metal is in the process of defining itself and always has been. Its reactionary-rebellious nature makes it distrust anything established, and seek to supplant it with natural truths. Metal fundamentally distrusts humanity.

      However, in my experience, its concept and essence has been consistent throughout albeit improving. Those who understand metal tend to understand this essence and be able to reproduce it. Those who do not see only the surface.

      1. Lord Mosher

        Yes I absolutely agree.
        Here’s an interesting commentary by Varg Vikerness about Burzum and what he intended to achieve upon the listener with his first few albums. Most of this stuff we already know but it’s interesting nonetheless.
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_2l5nkhLj0
        .
        Here Johnny Hedlund of Unleashed unintentionally suggests that back in the early 90s, releasing albums was such a difficult ordeal that only the truly dedicated metalheads made it that far.
        Only the strongest survived and only the bands that had the whole package were the bands that did.
        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-3jNiqZIfU

  • Count Ringworm

    The point of the linked article seems to be that Star Wars dumbed down an entire genre and now virtually nothing of quality is produced by the Hollywood studio system.

    Ok, but how is this germane to Metal? Music doesn’t need major labels. Hell, it doesn’t even require a proper studio.

    Even shitty ‘budget’ B movies still require hundreds of thousands of dollars and considerable manpower to create. There isn’t a similar financial barrier to music. Anyone with a modicum of knowledge and a $500 laptop can release an album.

    Furthermore why should true sci-fi fans care what the masses lap up? The Phantom Menace does not diminish my love of Snow Crash any more than Cowboys From Hell taints Pierced From Within. If anything I appreciate the powerful stuff more.

      1. trystero

        It also conflates audiences. Both Pantera and Suffocation fans are metalheads. The world will recognize you as the same breed Count Ringworm and those that are more numerous and more palatable will end up controlling the image and narrative.

        1. Count Ringworm

          To clarify: I abhor both The Phantom Menace and Pantera. What I meant is why feel threatened by the garbage?

          Those who are smart enough to see it for what it is, will.

        2. Count Ringworm

          Upon re-reading I realize I may have misunderstood your response. Please disregard my hasty reply.