Metal has always had a dual nature. Part of it wants to be epic soundtracks that transport us away; part of it wants to be rockin’ party tunes.
Metal is both Ennio Morricone and Spinal Tap. At the same time.
While much of the rock-n-roll influence can be blamed on moron magnets like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, or even the doofus metal writers who insist that metal began with The Who and Cream, a lot of the blame needs to fall on Black Sabbath as well, although they almost escaped. When their songs fail, it’s usually because they gave up on creating some kind of mood and went for more warmed-over rock music vapidity.
You can see this thread of rock-n-roll — jaunty, bouncy, offbeat, ironic, pentatonic, simplistic — running all the way through metal. It’s like a congenital trait marring a family line. Among other things, it’s easy to tell because rock-n-roll is exclusively on the surface. It tells you what it’s thinking and what you should think; it may be cryptic, but there’s never another level of interpretation. It’s made for mass consumption.
Metal at its best is more something you absorb, then intuit meaning from. It tends to be chaotic, using chromatic scales as its base for ultimately melodic and rhythmic freedom, but then trades away that freedom when it makes the ongoing narrative of song structure trump all else. It is both anarchistic and the anti-anarchistic in that it insists on reality. It’s not about personal drama, love affairs and how you feel after some trivial event. It’s about the breadth of existence, the big picture, and how interesting life is if we just quit that personal drama.
But the thread of dumb bouncy music remains. What do these have in common?
- Pantera – Far Beyond Driven
- At the Gates – Slaughter of the Soul
- Lamb of God – Ashes of the Wake
- Meshuggah – Chaosphere
- Arch Enemy – Wages of Sin
- Opeth – My Arms, Your Hearse
- Alestorm – Back Through Time
- Gojira – From Marths to Therius
- Mastodon – Leviathan
- The Haunted – Revolver
- Baroness – The Blue Album
All of the above are basially rock albums using metal technique. These don’t expand your mind; they put it into the rock mode of personal drama, bouncy drums, familiar and yet not really exciting pentatonic noodling. Since the music is unexceptional, the aesthetic must be powerful: they trick out their music by playing it at different speeds, adding weird instrumentation, adding weird imagery, and the like. But it’s not really musically different. Baroness is closer to Hootie and the Blowfish and the Dave Matthews band than metal; Gojira is closer to Fugazi and Mudhoney than metal; The Haunted and Pantera are closer to Biohazard and Sick of It All than metal.
Do we ever get bored of this? The audience for it obviously does not, but they pass by so quickly.
The lifetimer metal fan is a better bet if you’re a band. Make seven quality albums and metalheads will buy them for the rest of your life.
It’s better than taking a one-time lump sum by recording your five sold-out metal-flavored rock albums, and being forgotten by your witless fans within two years.