Invention versus novelty in metal


There is an experience like deja vu which feels more like parallax motion. This sensation is that of seeing parallels between two things which, visually at least, seem to have nothing in common. And yet it also feels like racing over open ground in a landscape of discovery. Consider this observation from a pipe collecting writer:

Some innovations are not innovative at all. They are ideas that have been explored–and even made–long before. That the current experimenter is ignorant of previous attempts does not make the effort novel. It also does not make revising an idea or revisiting a solution unworthy. But don’t make untrue claims. Socrates’ observation that “There is nothing new under the sun” is almost always true.

Other “innovations” are transparent attempts at attention-getting. Putting products out there that exclaim “Look at me! I’m SO leading edge! I’m an artist!” might work for Miley Cyrus, but the average pipemaker’s target audience is somewhat less naïve nor impressionable, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at some of the work being touted on Facebook pipe groups these days.

What amazes me even more is that the work on the ridiculous end of the sublime-to-ridiculous continuum attracts its champions, and they seem eager to whoop and hurrah without engaging in any critical discourse at all. It’s hype, hype, hype. In my view, hyping isn’t helpful because it inhibits thoughtful conversations that might contribute to improving or at least refining the innovations being touted.

He draws a distinction between what we might call invention, or application of new ideas to a realistic use, as distinct from novelty, which is the creation of “new” ideas for newness’ sake. In metal terms, it takes some brains and guts to create a sublime form of a metal genre, but any idiot can add ska, jazz and rockabilly to Pantera and come up with something “new.”

Metalcore in particular is consumed by this view of novelty as a target. Since its songs are built in the post-hardcore random collage style, just about anything fits into a metalcore band, which is why it has aesthetically-diverse but musically-similar acts like Animals as Leaders, Obscura, Behemoth, The Haunted and The Red Chord under the same genre banner. Each riff is like a different act in a variety show. This is why it has the “carnival music” approach: its compositional structure is verse chorus with an extended musical appositive in which the random is prized more than the coherent, or that which flows from one point to another in a sensible narrative.

Some would say this is its artistic appeal, that metalcore expresses the randomness and purposeless directionless consumption of our time. That may be true, but the best art does not merely protest, but forms beauty out of sense and makes it compelling in a new way. Others might defend metalcore as “open-minded,” as was popular with bad gimmick death metal bands in the early 1990s, and even early mathcore experiments. Yet randomness is not open-mindedness; it is refusal to make up one’s mind, and by burying the audience under different elements, essentially hiding what one thinks and hedging one’s bests. How do you criticize a band that has a riff from every imaginable style in each song, except to note that greater randomness produces greater proximity to background noise? Andy Warhol might sell metalcore as an avant garde representation of the background noise of the city.

And yet, we had two-riffs plus breakdowns bands back in the day. Metalcore itself is an extension of post-hardcore, which was a late 1980s thing. None of this “innovation” is in fact new; it is merely recycling the same old sad elements, like the clichés in movies where every rebellious character has to ride a Harley, drink Jack Daniels, smoke Reds and listen to heavy metal. Generally the pattern for metalcore bands is that they find something that people want but do not understand, then make a simplified — in this case, random — version of it, and then pimp it out. Opeth for example made their career off the idea of being too deep for most people, but were basically a re-hash of what Cemetary and Tiamat did five years before. Meshuggah took what Exhorder and Vio-lence did with speed metal riffs but made it more obvious, simplified and put it to a jazz-style complex offbeat structure, but added nothing new musically, and in fact took away most of the musicality. Cradle of Filth figured out that if someone made a heavy metal band that sounded like black metal, it would outsell the original. And so on.

Here is a useful definition regarding metalcore:

A blend of hardcore and metal music that evolved in the mid-to-late 90’s with bands like Unbroken, Earth Crisis, Harvest, Endeavor, Poison The Well and Unearth. There is a liberal use of breakdowns in the music and the lyrical themes range from the political to the personal.

Compare to a similar definition for deathcore:

Deathcore is a style of extreme music often confused by its fans with death metal. Deathcore draws heavily from the “malcore” style of metalcore in the sense that elements of its sound, both in composition and production, are rejected by the more conservative metal culture (ex. death/black/thrash/sludge metal). Deathcore differs from metalcore in the sense that it is generally faster, more heavy, and tending toward darker themes such as are present in death metal. Deathcore is also notorious for the excessive use of breakdowns, an element also present (but less frequent) in death metal and other ‘true’ metal genres. Hardcore dancing, a dance style in which fans swing their arms and legs violently in rhythm, has become hugely popular among deathcore fans, and is a trademark of live deathcore shows.

Despite many fans’ beliefs, deathcore is vastly different from traditional death metal. Musically, the deathcore song structure is generally much more formulaic than that of death metal; songs tend to have one or two guitar riffs, several breakdowns, and possibly a chorus. Deathcore composition is also much less complex, many songs featuring doubled guitar parts or simple guitar harmonies, with the bass guitar being almost entirely indistinguishable.

Our normal impulse is to say “Well, you listen to what you like, and I will listen to what I like.” That is the socially correct answer at least which is one reason why it is wrong: social preference selects for the unreal because people prefer illusion. The problem is that when idiot music shows up, idiots show up, and they outnumber anyone competent. If they can appropriate the style of your genre and make a dumbed-down sugar, salt and fat added version of it, they will replace you. You will not keep listening to what you like because no new versions of it will come out because no musician will touch a genre infested by idiots unless he or she wants to profit from idiots. Your genre will be assimilated and replaced. That is exactly what happened to metal since 1994.

Some people moan any time a person wants to connect metal with social trends, history or other traditional forms of analysis. that is because those people want to keep metal as a hobby, a product and something special removed from everything else that is just there to be enjoyed. But on the other hand, many artists have given up more comfortable lives cranking out alt-country, indie rock or rap to spend their time trying to make quality metal, and it seems pointless to disrespect and ignore that. If we look at metal through the historical development of an artistic movement, it becomes clear that it offers not just another version of the same rock ‘n’ roll idea, but an entirely different idea. Rock is, like all post-Enlightenment thought, about the primacy of the individual. Metal rebels against that with hard realism.

Perhaps the hard realism is right. After all, this society is miserable — another one of those things that metal reminds us of daily — and besotted with lies, committing ecocide against nature, forcing people into miserable jobs, and specializes in tearing down beautiful things to replace them with strip malls and endless rules. I would go so far as to say this is the worst age of humanity, except for the mindlessly selfish, who sure love that 500-channel cable and easy jobs and fast credit that make them feel like kings in the tiny little fraction of the universe that they notice. Over time I have come to observe that the smarter someone is, the more aware they are not just of particular ideas or facts but of space, area, time and their own smallness. An idiot thinks he is the sole occupant of the planet; a medium-intelligence person is aware of his community; a genius is aware of the cosmos, the past and future of humanity as a whole, and the people even far from him. Metal rebels against our society both on the basis that it is formed of affectionate-sounding lies, and that it is ugly, pointless, boring and crass.

But that is “alternative history” to the majority of people. They believe — because they want to believe — that our time is the apex of humanity. And technologically, surely it is, although most of this stuff seems like fumbly-fidgety rehashes of 1970s inventions like UNIX and networking. They ignore the vast misery not just among the impoverished, but among the successful, and the utter boredom of the purposeless nature of modern life. Every generation, social order decays further and people become more like witches, of dishonest, selfish, petty, and oblivious character. Each generation can say to the one after, “Stuff’s worse than when I was a kid, so have an iPod and we’ll call it even, OK?” As long as we stick with official history there is nothing we can do with that. As others have noted, perhaps the root of invention as opposed to novelty is a willingness to leap off the platform of official history and look into other reasons, not new but realistic and truthful instead of merely socially popular ones.

Speaking of alternative history, I encountered this passage today. You might call it Libertarians for Monarchy. It takes an economist’s view of the change in history, and shows how alternative history might have been right, after all, and how we might all just be living in denial and cruising on the wealth of the past (Hans-Hermann Hoppe via Outside In:

A king owned the territory and could hand it on to his son, and thus tried to preserve its value. A democratic ruler was and is a temporary caretaker and thus tries to maximize current government income of all sorts at the expense of capital values, and thus wastes. […] Here are some of the consequences: during the monarchical age before World War I, government expenditure as a percent of GNP was rarely higher than 5%. Since then it has typically risen to around 50%. Prior to World War I, government employment was typically less than 3% of total employment. Since then it has increased to between 15 and 20%. The monarchical age was characterized by a commodity money (gold) and the purchasing power of money gradually increased. In contrast, the democratic age is the age of paper money whose purchasing power has permanently decreased. […] Kings went deeper and deeper into debt, but at least during peacetime they typically reduced their debt load. During the democratic era government debt has increased in war and in peace to incredible heights. Real interest rates during the monarchical age had gradually fallen to somewhere around 2½%. Since then, real interest rates (nominal rates adjusted for inflation) have risen to somewhere around 5% — equal to 15th-century rates. Legislation virtually did not exist until the end of the 19th century. Today, in a single year, tens of thousands of laws and regulations are passed. Savings rates are declining instead of increasing with increasing incomes, and indicators of family disintegration and crime are moving constantly upward.

In a time when popularity determines success, appearance is more important than reality. This is what gives rise to novelty, or essentially — as our pipe smoker above reminded us — re-visiting of old ideas in bizarre new forms that entice the herd because they are different and unique, which is how all of those bonobos view themselves and want to assert as their reason for having importance. We call most of them hipsters, but the phenomenon is broader than that; we live in a time that is appearance-over-substance, and as long as metal panders to that demographic, its fortunes will not improve.

Heavy metal linked to systemic thinking


Researchers have found that heavy metal fans tend to be systemic thinkers, leading to the supposition that systemic thinkers like heavy metal because its structure, themes or musicality rewards those who think on a systemic level. As one summary read:

Participants were then subjected to 50 short pieces of music spanning 26 different styles, and asked to give each a rating between one and 10.

People who scored highly on empathy were more likely to be drawn to R&B, soft rock and folk.

In contrast those who score more highly on systemising tended to like music by heavy metal bands and more complex, avant-garde jazz.

In other words, people who think at an empathic level reward music which is emotional on its surface, but those who think structurally and broadly like metal fans tend to only feel rewarded when the emotion emerges from the conflicts within the music itself, more like “set/setting” than adding some minor notes to a melody or dramatic vocals.

As research finds many ways further into metal, the conclusion becomes clear that people like metal for different reasons than other mainstream music. While metal academia itself has not raised this point directly, this research and other recent revelations about the mentality of metal suggest that direction is a rewarding area of study.

Can we admit that metalcore is the glam metal of our time?


In the early 1990s, a new music burst forth. The dark sounds of Black Sabbath and the guitar-oriented heavy rock of Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin merged and, through the wizardry of Hollywood-style image, became a new genre that hyper-extended the characteristics of the most rebellious music in the previous generation of rock. This was called glam metal, and you may recognize it by names like Motley Crue, Poison, Twisted Sister, Quiet Riot, Cinderella, Van Halen, Ratt and Winger.

Glam metal stood out from other rock at the time. It was more technical, featuring early shred guitar wizardry, and more visual, incorporating gender-bending into its image as well as tattoos, long hair and leather. For the radio music of the era, it was one of the more advanced and outside the mainstream sounds one could purchase at the local record shack. Kids liked it because it drove parents mad; politicians responded by trying to criminalize it with Tipper Gore and the PMRC targeting glam metal bands for their overly-sexual lyrics about outré topics such as drugs, suicide and promiscuity.

What makes glam metal stand out is to look at the backdrop of music at the time. Most bands were taking advantage of newly-available electronic instruments and more options in the studio, and were focused more toward being synthpop or album-oriented rock. The nascent indie rock movement, to explode with bands like REM and U2, dwelt still in the basements. Punk had died and punk hardcore was unlistenable by most, as were bands like Motorhead and the NWOBHM who were still just a bit too loud, and too controversial. Glam allowed people to be rebels without really rebelling against anything, because glam rock was just what David Bowie and Sid Vicious were doing with the actual danger removed and all the imagery turned up to eleven.

Compare this to the present time. Radio is much louder, and rap-based music has replaced synthpop. Indie rock became huge and expanded into emo and post-Joy Division quasi guitar ambient bands. The old dad rock like Springsteen and Mellencamp faded like an autumn sunset, and while millions of niches exist, most people hit up the big favorites. Metal is the radio now, too, and thanks to nu-metal — the second generation of rap/rock — people are accustomed to heavy distortion, detuned guitars and raucous drums. People wearing bizarre costumes and masks while acting out self-destructive tropes are common. What remains to shock the parents of today?

Much like glam metal, metalcore attempts to pick everything that stood out in the past generation and amplify it. The introspective despair of indie rock joins the progressive stylings of 90s bands and the whine of alternative rock; the proto-djent of Pantera and Helmet shows up as well, alongside the deliberately random songwriting of emo and post-hardcore bands. Add them all together and you have a template for making infinite music: an aesthetic of randomness, with high technicality, and metal power but not its threatening antisociality, melded together into a product that is more like a jam session than a planned event. This resembles what happened after progressive rock fiddled the first time, and jam bands showed up that merged jazz, progressive and rock into expanded-format songs that wandered. Metalcore can take any form, whether melodic death metal or math-influenced grindcore, because it is at heart a philosophy much like glam was. It takes what shocked the last generation, adds it all together, and ramps up the imagery to deliver a “new” (old) product.

If we are honest, we will admit that metalcore is the glam metal of today. Designed to shock, it pretends at being “underground” only to keep its indie cred, and relies on the disturbing self-absorption of indie and emo to make parents quake. Formed of too many elements to support together in one coherent genre, it focuses on incoherence, and ties it together with imagery. It emphasizes technicality, which thanks to endless instructional videos and better access to guitar equipment (thanks Guitar Center!) has cranked up a notch, but uses it as a means to the end of its appearance. While band members no longer dress up in clothing of the opposite gender and tease their hair, they perform the equivalent through their embrace of passivity, feminism and self-pity as fundamental values. This shocks parents as much as glam metal did, and has correspondingly bad effects on metal as a whole.

Economics of metal


Metal is fun and this is one of its greatest strengths. But great strengths are also great weaknesses, and the fun in metal leads to people to assume the usual forces do not act within it. One such force is economics, both in the sale of music and the sale of attention.

We can visualize the metal world as a giant economy based on who is listening to and talking about which release. Money is replaced by stereo-hours (or earbud-hours) with those being of unequal value. For example, a record company exec or top-ranked writer listening to an album may have more import than the average fan because such a role in the metal economy means that the exec or writer lures more people to specific releases. Both writers and execs make their money by betting on a type of stock market where the releases they choose as important either rise or fall, with corresponding consequences for the career in question.

With this in mind, we can look at the flow of new releases as a type of market. The more releases there are, the less each one is valuable; the more accurate information there is about new music, the more likely consumer choice is to be informed choice and reflect some measure of quality. When there are too many releases, all are disproportionately worth more, with the big mainstream bands — analogous to blue chip stocks — seeming like better options to the consumer than taking a chance in a sea of bands that seem to be about equal in potential. When all record reviews praise every new album, consumers have no information, and turn toward buying from established bands, even if the quality is sub-par.

Similarly, the effect of digital downloading can be modeled. Leaving aside purchases of digital music for a moment, we can look at the effects of downloading the latest releases from or torrents. When the cost is free, the consumer may value that album less, but more importantly, the consumer is suddenly swimming in utter tons of music. If you have 500gb of death metal on your hard drive, it is unlikely that you will have the time or energy to listen to even a tenth of that. The more music that is downloaded, the less any particular release is likely to get stereo-hours.

Looking even further, we can see the impact of the metal community. When the metal community is supportive of every release that comes out, it means that none stand out and as a result, all get fewer listens. Where a healthy economy has some clear winners, a blind endorsement for all releases means that consumers know nothing about differences between them in quality — leaving aside aesthetic/genre for the moment — and so end up purchasing blindly or not at all. When digital downloads are available for free, or streaming online is free, the consumer sees less of a reason to visit a band for more than a few listens.

And extending this a bit further, the more similar bands are to one another, both aesthetically and in quality, the less likely consumers are to choose any one. This type of “heat death” of the metal markets occurs when consumers lack information about bands or cannot find substantial differences between them. At that point, the smart strategy for a metal listener is to download something new on a regular basis and listen to it for a few weeks because, heck, it is about like every other release in quality and sound. They know it will last for only a few weeks, so there is no point in buying it. I suggest that it is this phenomenon — a glut of similar-sounding and similar-quality metal bands — and not digital piracy itself that is terrorizing the music industry.

Industries tend to respond to a narrowing of the market by increasing frequency of product release. This in turn creates a glut, and tends to drive quality down, because in order to release regularly they need people who will bash out something obvious instead of spend time ruminating on it. Further, industry does not want expensive single units, as occur when musicians try to make a career of it, but — much like information technology hiring — prefer the young and clueless who they can use to make a release or two for low cost. All of these contribute to an oversupply of releases, a situation which is made worse by the tendency of journalists to champion almost all of these releases, which makes consumers less likely to purchase any single one.

Let us then consider the role of the Elitist. If we use the non-hipster definition of elitist, the term comes to mean those who prefer quality over quantity. That means that instead of 500gb of similar-sounding and similar-quality bands, this person wants 50gb of high-quality bands that may or may not be similar-sounding. Elitists create a different type of pressure on the metal market, which is concentration: they create winners who rise above the herd, because the non-hipster elitist also tends to be a type of “power user” of metal who spreads information to friends and influential people. When an elitist likes something, unlike when an average person does, the consumer is offered a strong signal of quality or interest. This creates a tendency to rely on elitists more, much like experienced music consumers read the cynical reviewers because they do not have the time or energy to sort through many indistinguishable releases.

Elitists may be the answer to the music industry’s woes. With labels releasing as fast as they can, and journalists praising almost everything, the result is a “heat death” of the market. When elitists step in and separate the good from the merely adequate, this creates contours to the market and allows some bands to win, which creates a pressure on bands to not simply produce, but produce well, encouraging an expenditure of more time, thought and effort on the releases in question. These elitists are distinct from hipster elitists, who do not value quality over quantity but value novelty over both, and specialize in bands that — whether good or bad, as the hipster elitist is agnostic to quality — are weird, quirky, odd or ironic. This creates a market pressure that rewards the trivial and manufactures niches which can then be further developed by non-hipster elitists who sort the best above the rest.

Similarly, since online downloading does not appear to be going away, the non-hipster elitist serves a role in making downloading work for the music industry: by selecting some bands as good, they signal that these are worth buying while the others are merely worth downloading. We have no data on how many people who download actually listen to the music they capture, but one thought is that like many collectors of free things, they simply hoard it — especially since they lack the time to actually listen to all of it. The average person may be able to hear twelve hours of music a day, but they can probably only listen to five or six before they lose track of the differences. Listening requires concentration and not very many people have even four hours a day to actually pay attention to music.

As an explorer of metal music, I have downloaded at least 500gb in my lifetime. 99% of it goes right back to where it came: ashes to ashes, bits to zeroes. The remaining one percent gets purchased and, from informal conversations with other metalheads, I am far from alone in this. For this reason, I have for years encouraged “natural selection” downloading, because it means that instead of buying blind, consumers devote their attention to music that they like. Streaming sites like Spotify, Bandcamp, Soundcloud and ReverbNation have arisen to address this need, and informally many users report scanning those tracks before deciding to make an illegal download. Whether or not the user eventually purchases the music, it is succeeding in the market for attention, and this leads to its propagation among metalheads and greater likelihood of being purchased.

Few will say so publicly, but in private many journalists, fans and workers in the industry will admit that metal has lost quality massively since 1994. Not coincidentally, its popularity has been steadily rising since that time, as has its availability. While many blame the internet and digital downloads for collapse of metal, the model above suggests that it is not the means of consumption, but the glut of the market that is causing the woes of the music industry and fans alike. While unpopular, non-hipster elitists may represent a solution to this problem.

Triguna to release The Embryonic DVD


Metal act Triguna release their first official music video for their debut record Embryonic Forms. Over the course of the next year they will release one a month. When all songs in the record have been released in individual takes, the band will collect them in a video compilation. Along with it, live footage as well as pre and post show footage will be released in The Embryonic DVD.

The video for the first song, “Rage”, has already been published on youtube.

Why heavy metal fans are well-adjusted


Where previous studies have shown that heavy metal fans are smarter than some thought, newer research suggests they are more well-adjusted too. According to the original study, heavy metal fans have happier times of youth and end up as “better adjusted” adults as well.

The authors of the study give several reasons for this, notably that heavy metal fans have a stronger support group than most other types of teenager and that having an identity protected them against getting lost in the ego-death of adolescent anonymity, but the study might look at another factor: heavy metal is dedicated to reality and against authority for its own sake. This keeps teenagers away from the manipulations of others and simultaneously point them toward the only thing that ultimately makes any person well-adjusted, which is a strong outer realism and thriving “inner self” or core of personality adapted to that realism.

The study did hit a dark note regarding survivorship bias however:

The research comes with a caveat: The study featured “relatively high functioning individuals who volunteered to participate and report on their lives.” If some people really were so drawn into a dark lifestyle that they became drug addicts or suicide victims, they’d obviously not be around decades later to take an hour-long survey.

In other words, because metalheads pursue life to its extremes, the only metalheads left today to report these positive results are the ones who did not self-destruct during their youth. One might be able to get the same results from a group of octogenarian heroin addicts. However, study results also showed that fans from other genres faced similar struggles but did not have as positive of results.

With the above in mind, as well as the inherent musicality and artistry of the music, it is no wonder that heavy metal attracts the most loyal audience. This recent research helps obliterate past shoddy research seemingly designed to malign heavy metal and defame its fans.

The “metal bubble” bursts


Humanity follows this pattern: someone breaks away from doing the same stuff everyone else is doing, does something different and it resonates with smart people, so everyone else starts doing it but they use it as a new flavor for doing the same stuff everyone else is doing. They think this will let them be both new and familiar at the same time, and it attracts an audience who thinks like them, and then the different thing is destroyed.

Heavy metal goes through these bubbles every decade. Black Sabbath set the scene with proto-metal in 1970, but by 1976 most bands had hybridized that with heavy rock like Cream, Led Zeppelin, the Kinks, Deep Purple and and The Who. The result was “heavy metal” the sub-genre of the larger metal genre, and it quickly got so bad that the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM) rebelled against it with do-it-yourself (DIY) albums that hit hard but never quite got to the long phrasal riffs that Black Sabbath had innovated, in part in emulation of horror movie soundtracks. In the early 1980s, speed metal, thrash and proto-underground metal emerged to counter the calcified edifice of heavy metal which was currently dominated by glam metal, a Californian crossover between European heavy metal, surf rock and American album-oriented-rock (AOR). By the late 1980s, that bubble too had burst as speed metal bands very publicly sold out, and death metal and later black metal formalized themselves in response. But by 1994, both had spent their momentum and languished in inertia. What came in their place was a rapid succession of bad imitators, war metal, indie-metal, metalcore and finally a breath of fresh air with revitalized speed metal and classic heavy metal merged into power metal.

That was 21 years ago.

Currently, the metal scene languishes. The nu-underground fascinates itself with FMP/NWN bands that resemble three-chord punk translated to metal aesthetics, while the mainstream extreme metal scene uses late hardcore songs with metal riffs in random order. No “greats” have emerged, but there are plenty of favorites, and if you read most review sites, you will see praise heaped on the release of the week without any concern for its actual staying power. However, the audience who surged in to take advantage of the new metal-rock hybrids remains large, and therefore there are profits to be made, creating a “metal bubble”: a zombie genre kept afloat by inertia, lacking any real substance, and worst of all, one that blocks any actual innovation by the sheer popularity of imitation.

Current bands are distinguished by being hipster bands. A hipster is someone who has nothing to believe in, so uses things that might be worth believing in as a way of accessorizing and making himself look interesting. Hipsters love bands that no one else listens to, ironic use of instruments or lyrics, and most of all, anything that sounds like nostalgic indie rock but with new exciting combinations of flavors. Hipsters love pirate metal, jazz-metal, post-metal and other variants of the late punk songs with metal riffs in random order that is metalcore. Witness the hipster:

Ever since the Allies bombed the Axis into submission, Western civilization has had a succession of counter-culture movements that have energetically challenged the status quo. Each successive decade of the post-war era has seen it smash social standards, riot and fight to revolutionize every aspect of music, art, government and civil society.

But after punk was plasticized and hip hop lost its impetus for social change, all of the formerly dominant streams of “counter-culture” have merged together. Now, one mutating, trans-Atlantic melting pot of styles, tastes and behavior has come to define the generally indefinable idea of the “Hipster.”

An artificial appropriation of different styles from different eras, the hipster represents the end of Western civilization – a culture lost in the superficiality of its past and unable to create any new meaning. Not only is it unsustainable, it is suicidal. While previous youth movements have challenged the dysfunction and decadence of their elders, today we have the “hipster” – a youth subculture that mirrors the doomed shallowness of mainstream society.

Hipsters also have their own ideology, called “social justice,” which is their way of one-upping you by being better than you on a level that joins morality and politics. It is like the neighbors who, on hearing you went on vacation, inform you that instead of going on vacation they went to some impoverished country to help the poor. It is the people in the office who make a show of giving lavish gifts to charity. It is politicians kissing babies and making speeches on the site of tragedies. In short, hipster is everything wrong with humanity, and its ideology is not even an ideology; like all things hipster, it is a pose designed to convey that the person making it is morally superior, politically more well-informed, socially more empathetic and compassionate, and most of all just more interesting than you. That is hipsterism in a nutshell.

The point is not that their ideology would be wrong, if it were adopted out of belief, because that is beyond the topic of this article. Their ideology is fake like their bad metal bands which created and maintain the metal bubble. You may be a hipster if you only listen to metal bands with theremin because they are different, or if you collect rare kvlt underground tapes that only 42 other people have because they are obscure, or only listen to bands with “socially conscious” (a more antiquated cliché is hard to find) lyrics because they are more righteous. Most people in metal now are either hipsters or the mainstay of metal’s transient audience, which is suburban kids desperate for some way to rebel against their parents that will not get them in actual trouble, like a school shooting or hacking the local newspaper, among other alienated white kid pastimes.

In the meantime, the metal bubble is popping because of a dearth of bands of actual musical importance, which makes metal just like everything else on television an oversold nostalgia item from previous generations foisted on today’s youth because aging once-hip people in media are desperate for a tangible symbol of rebellion that is simultaneously innocuous enough to sell products for their advertisers. Metal itself has become clich&ecaute;. Think of the big name movies: when a character is introduced as rebellious, they trot out the hackneyed symbols of conformity safe rebellion like heavy metal, motorcycles, tattoos and cigarettes. These things no longer threaten any social order and are generally accepted, so they can be used to sell an image. At the same time, the audience recognizes these tropes to signal rebellion, so they are useful when you want your brand of artisanal organic free-trade rooibos tea to stand out from the rest as being “edgy” and “different.” Cliché is a language that advertisers and consumers speak to one another.

Yet the signs appear on the wall. Guns ‘n’ Roses guitarist Slash spoke out on the pop trend in heavy metal:

I think the music business itself sucks. It’s turned into a very corporate, materialistic… I mean, even artists are trying to conform to the record industry now. It used to be the artist was for the artist and there was a conflict of interest between the creative artist and the record company wanting to make a lot of money, and eventually they’d sort of work it out. Because then, they used to develop artists, and now it’s just like Top 40 — everybody’s trying to be Top 40. Even heavy metal bands are trying to be Top 40. So it’s not a big turn-on, like it was for me in the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s where it was exciting and there was a sense of rebellion and whatever…And even if you have a good band — you’re talented musicians and songwriters and whatnot — it’s, like, if you don’t have a Top 40 success on your first single, there you’re done. And in order to get a Top 40 success on your first single, you have to make compromises for your material for the record business itself.

This followed commentary toward the same effect by Kerry King of Slayer and Rob Halford of Judas Priest. Halford made the damning statement that the metal community is essentially spamming itself and blocking the rise of quality bands:

And so this thing about the Internet, it’s great to get your music across quickly, it’s very simple to get your music to the world, but it’s very difficult to break through the clutter, break through all of the noise.

While he blames the internet, much as later underground metal musicians would, the question we must ask ourselves is whether the problem is breaking through the clutter or the clutter itself. When a genre is littered with many bands that sound different but offer nothing musically or artistically — a fancy word for the content of their music, what it expresses emotionally and as commentary on life — then quality will not be recognized because people are accustomed to mediocrity. They will buy what they recognize and literally pass over good bands in favor of more of the same old stuff because it is safer and their friends recognize it. Kerry King chimed in with another damning statement:

We were at a festival in South America a few years ago and we were watching a video feed of the band that was playing onstage. I was watching the screen and I just did not get why this band was popular at all. I pulled [EXODUS/SLAYER guitarist] Gary Holt aside. I pointed at the screen, and asked him, ‘Hey, Gary, would you aspire to be these guys?’ He said, ‘Not at all.’ It was because they were the most boring and lethargic guitar players I had ever seen. I would never want to be these guys. I’m looking at a lot of these bands and it looks like it’s the road crew soundchecking to me. There’s no vibe. There’s nothing that gives you aspirations to be awesome.

This sounds like the doldrums for metal. You cannot be a rebel if you are doing what is safe and what affirms the illusions by which most people live. Heavy metal has always been about smashing a single boundary, which is the line of denial that most people have about reality and from which they flee toward “socially accepted” pleasant illusions in fear of the difficult questions of reality itself, and when it fails to do that it fails to live. Its guitar heroes leave, its innovators go to other genres, and worst of all, its best up-and-coming musicians, writers, artists, producers, editors and photographers stay home or get into jazz. With that in mind, here is the latest installment the podcast from anti-censorship/anti-repression movement Metalgate, which hopes to renovate metal by smashing the denial line and popping every bubble it can:

Tau Cross – Tau Cross (2015)


A supergroup comprised of members of Amebix and Voivod among other bands, Tau Cross emerged just a few years after Amebix returned with a radio heavy metal album named Sonic Mass in 2011 that used the Iron Maiden styled epic take on heavy metal to deliver a traditional Amebix point of view. That album also revisited the second album from the band back in 1987, Monolith, which showed a Motorhead influence repurposing the raw energy of the crust punk from earlier albums. Together, those two albums from after the “pure” crust era of Amebix demonstrate a direction toward heavy metal that combines the best of the early 1980s with the energy and concrete focus of punk. Tau Cross picks up from that point with a more varied approach, spanning from quality indie rock (non-emo) through modern metal like Filter with a host of minor influences as varied as Killing Joke, Metallica, Celtic folk music and Oi punk. This intensely varied album manages the best form of emotion, which is subtly built and keyed by a shift in the entire song, and not just vocals, creating an avalanche effect once it hits its trigger point and all of the previous material starts making sense in that context. Much of this will appeal to fans of Queenrÿche and other bands who specialize in taking mainstream styles, recombining them, and then dominating them with an ethos that originates in underground punk or metal but thrives in a more listenable form. Vocals are often reminiscent of Nirvana crossed with Minor Threat applied by Motorhead at a later Discharge pace, while guitars alternate between high-speed punk in the style of Cro-Mags but with more on-beat energy, but songwriting comes from the same intensely visual style that appeared on Sonic Mass, as if designed for an epic video that leaves the listener wondering for the next few days if they correctly interpreted the song. Song structures are formed of roughly verse-chorus patterning that is interrupted and redirected at key points, with interludes and pauses. Paranoid and cynical, lyrics seem to reflect a sense of total frustration with the modern condition converted into a bittersweet discovery of meaning in opposing it and going another way. First listen to this album let it be written off as hard rock, much like Monolith at first, but Tau Cross shows the benefit of years of experience in songwriting and working with melody, in addition to more flexible tempo changes and supporting instrumentals, and so takes that style in a more powerful direction. In many ways, this album picks up where the modern mainstream metal like Filter should have gone, which is to take the emotionality of alternative rock, the energy of hardcore and the epic structures of early 80s metal and blend them together into something terrifying and beautiful.

Iron Kingdom – Ride for Glory (2015)


Sounding like an Iron Maiden with the annoying voice from Queensryche’s vocalist from back in the day, Iron Kingdom make melodic heavy metal with the flexibility and propriety of conscious progressive rock. A very clear image of the character, lyrical theme and direction of the music arises through discrete but carefully-considered decisions to express the next clause with a literal musical change to match its change in words.

While the music could be described as progressive upon first impression, the result is closer to an extended and twisted pop-song format in which the pieces and functions are maintained but considerable variety is introduced. While some would object to this description, this is precisely what a progressive music arising from verse-chorus-bridge music should sound like: music that evolves to underpin the lyrical events taking place in the story being told. The vocals are kept within the framework of the music in a unified way through a composition of the melody line that strictly adheres to the moving harmony under it, rather than flying around in opera-like expression that takes a slow-moving support harmony as licence and liberty to stand out on its own. In here, the voice is a melodic instrument working in between the guitars and riding them (see Ozzy Obourne), not jumping on them as if they were trampolines (see Bruce Dickinson, Ronny James Dio).

Succeeding over the grandpa metal with progressive pretensions of post-2000 Iron Maiden by injecting a dose of proper progressive music with the influence of Queensryche, Iron Kingdom give us songs that actually progress and not just long, over-drawn affairs with over-extended bridge sections. While Ride for Glory is undeniably a song collection, the amount of content, its purpose within each song and their consistency track after track in all aspects while giving a distinctive-enough identity to each song give the album a chapters-in-a-story-like feeling of succession that while not altogether literal, can be felt from the music. Obviously an experienced band, Iron Kingdom know exactly what they are doing and more importantly the music is full with purpose, giving Ride for Glory a strong feeling of meaningfulness.

Interview with Joshua Wood, managing editor at


Among internet metal sites, has a unique niche as being both popular with newer fans and proud of classic metal. During the last few melees over censorship, I encountered the Managing Editor there, a relaxed fellow by the name of Joshua Wood. Since we are both metal nerds, it seemed an interview was in order, and to his credit, it ended up being more interesting and more metal than people might suspect. Give a big hand in welcoming Joshua Wood, and read on…

What first attracted you to heavy metal?

Easy! Kiss Destroyer, 1976. The excitement, the fire, the blood, the power and the electric energy of it all. The top mainstream bands of the time were all soft rock and disco and along came…Kiss! They just totally blew everyone away.

What first attracted you to writing?

It’s funny, I don’t really consider myself a ‘writer.’ I’m just a guy with lots of strong opinions about metal! My main goal always was, and I suspect always will be, to support the underground and ‘real’ Metal bands, as per our site’s tagline, ‘Supporting Real Metal’ since 1995.” I’m not a critic; I want to support a band I enjoy and feel could use the support and or exposure. I don’t waste my time criticizing bands I don’t like, why bother? Live and let die, they can find their own audience. I’d rather write a positive review of a band and help them instead of slagging one of many, many crappy bands. As a result I write very, very few negative type reviews, whereas some mean-spirited critics seem to revel in finding new and amusing ways to insult bands. Those reviews are funny to read though!

How did you get involved with Today, as I understand it, you are the Managing Editor. How did you get into this job?

I started as a ‘Guest Writer’ (like all of our staff) back in 2001. Overtime I contributed and showed I was reliable, could meet simple deadlines, brought some creativity to the table and generally showed a passion to support the site. Back then there were very few website dedicated to metal, especially the metal I loved, not the nu-metal that was infecting the scene at the time and it was the perfect forum to show that there were still killer new bands out there besides the crappy/trendy sub-genres. Over time, I became the Managing Editor. It is strictly volunteer.

Sometimes when some crappy rap-rock and mallcore band sends me stuff or is asking for help I feel like saying, “Dude! Do you even LOOK at our site? We are so against the kind of music you make, why did you waste your time contacting us?”

What does the job entail? What are the fun parts, and the harder parts?

I tend to oversee our writers/photographers, give people encouragement, support and direction. I contact labels, agents, bands promoters on behalf of the site, give out assignments and of course add and edit the content to the site. It’s always fun talking to fellow like-minded metal heads about metal and I suppose doing the book and DVD reviews is my favourite part. I’ve written over 1000 reviews for the site over the years! We have a private Metal-Rules Staff Facebook page where we discuss the months assignments, who is covering or reviewing what so we keep it all straight.

The least fun part is having to reject bands or labels that just don’t fit our mandate or interest, but I always try to be supportive and suggest they try other avenues. Sometimes when some crappy rap-rock and mallcore band sends me stuff or is asking for help I feel like saying, “Dude! Do you even LOOK at our site? We are so against the kind of music you make, why did you waste your time contacting us?” lol. Sometimes fixing the countless little mistakes of submissions can get laborious, but I just put on an album and type away!

What sort of metal do you like? Do you distinguish by genre, quality of bands or some other traits that they have?

I’m a fan of many forms/styles/sub-genres of hard rock and metal. It’s almost easier to say what I don’t like which are:

  • Grunge
  • Rap-Metal
  • Nu-Metal
  • Mallcore
  • Metalcore
  • Screamo
  • Industrial
  • Alternative
  • Crossover
  • Punk
  • Shoegaze
  • Ambient
  • Post Rock
  • Post Black

I’ve been actively buying and collecting metal since the late 70s so I have a substantial personal collection of just over 10,000 items, albums, books, DVDs, cassettes, magazines, etc, including a decent stock of rarities, and I love it all! If you include authorized digital promo copies my collection swells to 15,000 items. Thrash, Death, Black, Doom, Power, etc have lots of every style to suit my mood. I do distinguish between genres but I try to keep it to a dozen or so broader genres, but I also enjoy micro-analyzing the subtle differences in bands styles, scenes and sounds.

I’m also the co-chair of the Heavy Metal committee for CARAS (Canadian Academy of Recording Arts And Sciences) the group who host/present Canada’s national music award program, the Juno awards…the equivalent to the Grammys. I tend to use those analytical skills in that role to see what really qualifies as ‘metal’ when it comes time to screen submissions for the awards program. You would be surprised the amount of crap that people consider ‘metal’ and submit to us!

What do you think distinguishes heavy metal from rock music?

That is a tough question! I think Metal has a bit more aggression, speed, power attitude, rebelliousness, negativity, skill, dynamics, sincerity, than the ‘average’ rock band.

Can you name the metal bands that have influenced you most, as well as the writers and other non-musical influences who shape what you do?

The bands that influence me the most are some old favourites, W.A.S.P., Manowar, Thor, Anvil, Raven, and Yngwie Malmsteen. These guys get it. The never bow to trends, they never break, they are all underdogs, survivors, productive and reliable! Many younger fans make fun of those bands but they could learn a lesson or two on how it done to persevere and survive to create real metal art. I doubt many of the new, trendy bands will ever have a 15-20 album, 30-40 year career like the above list.

Martin Popoff is a big influence, we have become personal friends over the years which is cool. Non-musical influences would be the normal day to day stuff, playing sports (soccer) my career, family, hobbies and volunteer work. It all keeps me busy, I wish I had more time to dedicate to the site as you can tell by how long it took me to respond to your kind request for an interview!

I recently wrote that modern metal — nu-metal, post-metal, metalcore and indie-metal — have one thing in common, which is that they are composed like rock bands but use metal riffs sometimes. What do you think distinguishes older heavy metal, underground metal and modern metal from each other?

I think I would agree! I feel much of the younger modern Metal bands confuse ‘heaviness’ with volume and screaming. I understand that there is a natural extension of Metal to want to go after, louder, more extreme etc but often they loose site of some of the key elements that attracted me to Metal…the riffs, technicality, proficiency, speed, power all that stuff. Some bands are so busy trying too hard to look or sound what they think Metal is, that they miss the point.

I’ve seen groups like the PMRC or MTV come and go and after waging deliberate anti-metal campaigns (and losing) so I lumped the SJW into that category.

How important is technicality to you in assessing bands? What about production?

To me technicality is extremely important. I love bands like Dragonforce, Immortal Guardian, Joe Stump, Pathfinder, Dream Theater. I love guitar heroes; I have dozens of guitar/instrumental shred albums so that ranks very highly for my enjoyment. As for production, I don’t feel like I have a very refined ear. It amuses me that some people can say, “The production ruined the album or made it unlistenable”, but that is pretty subjective. I’ve never heard a truly horrible production job that radically diminishes my enjoyment of an album. I listen to two-track Death Metal demos from 30 years ago and I listen to full-on, 120 digital track albums from Prog Metal bands with orchestras and infinite layers of sound (like Devin Townsend for example) and I enjoy each for what they are.

Of all the things that you have written, what are your favourites?

I have a few editorials (and or rants) I have done that are more for my own amusement to point out trends or odd facts. One recent one I did was a piece that stated Slayer has copied W.A.S.P. their entire career. Of course, most people in their right mind would disagree but it was fun to find 10 or so interesting little facts and coincidences about the two bands and do a creative piece. Again, the book reviews are really fun to write. I’ve written close to 300 now. Film/DVD reviews are great as well, they can be more in-depth than just another CD review that ten other websites have already reviewed that month as well. Our site we believe has the largest collection of metal DVD and book reviews on the web, with the exception of the big (not-metal) sales portals like Amazon.

A few years back I was contacted by Dr. Niall Scott of the University of Central Lancashire in England. He is the Chair for the International Society for Metal Music Studies (ISMMS) and he said he uses my book review section for a reference which I thought was very nice, so the book reviews is probably my #1 fave for now. It’s nice, as the only site that really does many metal themed book reviews people constantly send me books to review which is an awesome perk.

What do you think of #MetalGate? Does metal have its own response to these issues, and not need an outsider view, or should it take influence from other rock genres and consider the SJW agenda?

I have to admit I was not knee deep in that battle. For one, I’m not heavily involved in social media, I don’t do Twitter or any of that stuff so it sort of went under my radar. Secondly, I really don’t care about or put stock into people who criticize Metal. People, the music industry, the church, the government, academics, parents, the media, watchdog groups and even (so-called) fans have been attacking metal from the beginning so I tend to ignore those ignorant fools. I was like, ‘Yup, another bunch of clueless morons with nothing better to do taking aim at Metal’. It was almost a non-issue for me. I’ve seen groups like the PMRC or MTV come and go and after waging deliberate anti-metal campaigns (and losing) so I lumped the SJW into that category. There are but a vocal minority seeking attention by using music (or art, or literature etc) to promote a specific social agenda…it’s like buzzing housefly or yapping little dog, you just ignore it even though you have the power to crush it. I would not want to dignify the SJW clan with a response because the wolf does not concern himself with the opinion of the sheep. Like Jack Black and Tenacious D said, “You cannot kill the metal!” However…. I do admire and support the warriors who picked up the sword and went into battle in the name of metal!

To directly answer your question: No, metal should never compromise and consider the agenda of others; that would be the polar opposite of Metal is. Metal is not about compromise, friendship, or trying to be some happy, all-inclusive, friendly, hippy, group-hug, drum-circle (despite what Sepultura did on Roots!) It never has been and never will be. Embracing that agenda would be one of the worst possible outcomes and it would dilute the purity and beauty of the genre. I think Alice Cooper said it best. He said, (roughly paraphrased) “Metal is not about politics. It is about sex, money and violence. Leave the politics to the punks.”

Can you tell us more about “Metal Mental Meltdown”? Is it true that you’re planning a digital version?

That is a whole other story. The brief version is that I created a heavy metal board game back in 1999. I sold it around the world and it was my full-time job for a short while. Overtime the game ran its course and I returned to the real world of work. I had written some genre-based extension packs but time, energy and money were the enemy. I have often flirted with ideas of some sort of digital version, an app, an on-line game but have yet to put it in motion. The hard copies are still for sale.

What is your radio show, Megawatt Mayhem, like? How do you pick bands to be on the show?

Megawatt Mayhem is one of the world’s longest running metal radio shows. We have been on air for over 29 years every Saturday night on CJSW 90.9FM in the city of Calgary, here in Western Canada. We are a two-hour magazine style show with news, views, reviews, interviews, concert listings and local bands. We have an open door policy for local bands, if a Calgary or area band wants to visit, as long as they have some recorded product of a minimal level of quality we invite them on. The host of the show champions local acts, I am more selective, but it is part of our mandate as a local station to support local artists. We have interviewed tons of bands from the brand new local band in the garage to Metallica.

I also host a more melodic Metal show called Attention Surplus Overdrive which features the more melodic side of the genres; guitar heroes, Prog Metal, symphonic Metal, Melodic Metal etc… it runs for three hours late at night so I can play entire albums by Nightwish or Steve Vai or whoever. I’ve been doing it for almost two years now. It is on the same station, right after Megawatt Mayhem, so I do a really fun five-hour stint every Saturday night/Sunday morning!

If people are interested in what you do, where do they go to find more information and keep up with the latest from you?

Anyone can drop me a line via one of my five (!) Facebook pages! lol. I’d be glad to discuss my involvement in the Metal industry over the last 20 years, from being a promoter, an Assistant Producer of a huge Metal festival, a hosting a Metal nights, and countless small metal-themed projects with anyone who wants to chat!

  1. Joshua Wood (Personal page)
  2. Megawatt Mayhem (heavier radio show)
  3. Attention Surplus Overdrive (Mellower radio show)
  4. Metal Rules (Webzine)
  5. Metal Mental Meltdown (Board Game)