The path of heavy metal is a solitary one. Most people do not like the idea of it, hate the sound of it, and look down on those who like it. It is not simplistic and mindlessly obsessive like rock, nor fancy and high-falutin’ like jazz. It seems deliberately antisocial, disruptive, violent and dark.
Metal was born of the fusion of heavy rock, horror music, progressive rock and the nascent proto-punk movement. The history of rock is the history of rebellion and rule-breaking: from Friedrich Liszt making his strings break live at key moments on purpose, to Jerry Lee Lewis lighting the piano on fire, to the Beatles with their hairstyles and jackets which were radical for the time, to the Doors being suggestive on the Ed Sullivan show, through Hendrix burning his guitar, to Kiss being super-sexual and painting their faces, to Black Sabbath who sang about Satan and magic, to Metallica who combined neoclassical with thrash and had a hard-partying image, to Slayer’s seemingly outright Satanism. Metal is about taking things one step further, breaking the rules and being unique. Not about following them.
Good music aims for a grade of “A” by experimenting and breaking the rules, but in doing so, takes the chance that it will get an “F.” Think of good music as Icarus: he flies toward the Heavens (or in the case of metal: towards hell) aware he is taking a big chance. He may well crash and burn to the ground in pursuit of his musical ideals. It’s a risk Icarus is willing to take.
Today we have way, way too many bands following all the rules of their genre, and not enough acts pressing ahead. When I look at my local scene it is clear that the bands who have stayed together a long while, while following the rules of their genre, are the bands who have been most successful. Most of these bands have decent music and are listenable. But its not stuff I want to listen to more than once, or see live more than once. This is the curse of local bands: competent, good at following trends, but not so good that they break out and become emblematic of those trends.
Article (obviously) by David Rosales
Five years have elapsed since 2010, a year that seemed to mark a slight renewal in creative forces, a kind of premonition of a metal renaissance that came after 15 years of horrid decadence following the decease of black metal as a movement. By 2013 this force was still incipient but already showed potential for future development as acts with more refined views about composition grounded themselves in tradition, promising to build monuments to a past glory for future times. Musicians from the metal underground’s classical era also formed the bulk of this rebirth, either through perfection or purification of their own take on the art.
The last two years have seen a manner of steady output that is weakened in quantity of quality releases, little manifest presence to speak of, with a few exceptions. The same can be said of the years between 2010 and 2013. This seems to be in accordance with a 3-year pendulum swing as the small cycle of metal. The long one probably signaling stronger points of birth and decay – probably decades: 1970-birth, 1980-underground, 1990-golden era, 2000-dark ages, 2010-renaissance.
It was a different time, and when Slayer, Metallica and Iron Maiden were doing their thing at the beginning of the 1980s, metal was also at a mainstream high with many poopoo acts dominating the scene. When mainstream metal drowns in its filth at the end of the decade and the 90s leave them with unmetal metal like Pantera or Soundgarden is when the underground rears its head in greater numbers.This coincides a little with what is happening now, as nu-funderground and mainstream whoring like female-fronted so-called metal flourishes in numbers just as the shock rock and glam metal (hard rock) plague in the time of Slayer.
To make matters more complicated, we have the internet, along with other means of communication and technology that allow for pockets of both good and bad music to survive with less regard to overall trends. Metal is not yet at another apocalyptic end of an era like the one that saw the explosion of death metal, we may have to wait another decade for that, but there is rise not dissimilar to the rise of underground NWOBHM and soon after speed metal. The next ebbing of the tide is at hand, but not yet its climax. What changes is not the fact that there is or there isn’t more mainstream crap, but how much excellent underground music there is. The year 1990 was a very special time marker that signaled the advent of a climax low for the mainstream and climax high for the underground.
Now, that we posit the existence of such critical years does not mean that no excellent albums occur outside of them, but that there is a sort of genre-wide, or community-wide, perhaps, pulse that pushes general tendencies. Now, according to this idea, the next “big year” in the small cycle would be 2016. Below we give an overview of these so-called big years and some band releases we are looking forward to this year.
What are your expectations in metal releases in 2016?
A quick reference to distinguished metal works in the ‘pulse’ years. Not especially comprehensive.
- Black Sabbath – Master of Reality
1974: (Not really metal, Black Sabbath is WAY ahead)
- Deep Purple – Stormbringer
- Rush – Rush
- King Crimson – Red (Editor’s note: Probably closer in spirit to future metal than others)
- Judas Priest – Sin After Sin
- Motörhead – Motörhead
- Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden
- Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell
- Angel Witch – Angel Witch
- Cirith Ungol – Cirith Ungol
- Metallica – Kill ‘Em All
- Slayer – Show No Mercy
- Iron Maiden – Piece of Mind
- Mercyful Fate – Melissa
- Manilla Road – Crystal Logic
- Manowar – Into Glory Ride
- Slayer – Reign in Blood
- Metallica – Master of Puppets
- Kreator – Pleasure to Kill
- Morbid Angel – Abominations of Desolation
- Sepultura – Morbid Visions
- Fates Warning – Awaken the Guardian
- Candlemass – Epicus Doomicus Metallicus
- Sepultura – Beneath the Remains
- Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness
- Bolt Thrower – Realm of Chaos
- Voivod – Nothingface
- Helstar – Nosferatu
- Powermad – Absolute Power
- Rigor Mortis – Freaks
- Pestilence – Consuming Impulse
- Burzum – Burzum
- At the Gates – The Red in the Sky is Ours
- Demigod – Slumber of Sullen Eyes
- Morpheus Descends – Ritual of Infinity
- Therion – Beyond Sanctorum
- Sinister – Cross the Styx
- Amorphis – The Karelian Isthmus
- Deicide – Legion
- Incantation – Onward to Golgotha
- Atrocity – Longing for Death
- Autopsy – Mental Funeral
- Cadaver – …In Pains
- Asphyx – Last One on Earth
- Cenotaph – The Gloomy Reflections of Our Hidden Sorrows
- Darkthrone – A Blaze in the Northern Sky
- Emperor – Wrath of the Tyrant
- Graveland – In the Glare of Burning Churches
- Immortal – Diabolical Full Moon Mysticism
- Sacramentum – Finis Malorum
- Skepticism – Stormcrowfleet
- Suffocation – Pierced from Within
- Vader – De Profundis
- Gorgoroth – The Antichrist
- Graveland – Thousand Swords
- Summoning – Minas Morgul
- Deicide – Once Upon the Cross
- Sacramentum – Far Away from the Sun
- Immortal – Battles in the North
- Abigor – Nachthymmen (From the Twilight Kingdom)
- Funeral – Tragedies
- Dissection – Storm of the Light’s Bane
- Iced Earth – Burnt Offerings
- Gorguts – Obscura
- Vader – Black to the Blind
Incantation – Diabolical Conquest
- Dawn – Slaughtersun
- Sorcier des Glaces – Snowland
- Angelcorpse – Exterminate
- Blind Guardian – Nightfall in Middle-Earth
- Symphony X – Twilight of the Gods
- Rhapsody – Symphony of Enchanted Lands
- Suffocation – Despise the Sun
- Absurd – Asgardsrei
- Soulburn – Feeding on Angels
- Arghoslent – Galloping Through the Battle Ruins
- Master – Faith is in Season
- Skepticism – Lead and Aether
- Gorguts – From Wisdom to Hate
- Absu – Tara
- Martyr – Extracting the Core
- Lost Horizon – Awakening the World
- Deeds of Flesh – Mark of the Legion
- Averse Sefira – Battle’s Clarion
- Graveland – Raise Your Sword!
- Krieg – The Black Plague
- Avzhia – The Key of Throne
- Quo Vadis – Defiant Imagination
- Blotted Science – The Machinations of Dementia
- Avzhia – In My Domains
- Krieg – The Isolationist
- Burzum – Belus
- Divine Eve – Vengeful and Obstinate
- Atlantean Kodex – The Golden Bough
- Graveland – Cold Winter Blades
- Profanatica – Disgusting Blasphemies Against God
- Autopsy – The Tomb Within
- Overkill – Iron Bound
- Decrepitaph – Beyond the Cursed Tombs
- Black Sabbath – 13
- Condor – Nadia
- Graveland – Thunderbolts of the Gods
- Satan – Life Sentence
- Argus – Beyond the Martyrs
- Autopsy – Headless Ritual
- Profanatica – Thy Kingdom Cum
- Imprecation – Satanae Tenebris Infinita
- Deströyer 666? (Editor’s note: I have my doubts about this one’s possible… transcendence)
A recent article on Gene Simmons observed the following:
Rock star Gene Simmons says that when it comes to making money he is like a great white shark.
And that despite being worth more than $300m (£200m), he will never stop wanting to make more.
…”I’ll never stop hunting more money, I’ll never have enough.”
On the other hand, many excellent metal bands are probably clearing $300/month in royalties or less. At that point, we tend to call the making of metal a hobby and talk about their day jobs. The advantage to that approach is that the metal can remain un-tainted by commerce and with consumerism, the need to appeal to an audience by jumping on trend bandwagons or otherwise showing them what they already know they like, sort of like how baby food is ground-up vegetables.
Looking at the other side, it must be nice to be worth $300m and to have the power to do great things with that. Maybe Mr. Simmons has done so. But one might think that at some point, the money becomes more important than the music, which turns metal away from its mission of brutal realism and makes it a friendly, happy, warm and fuzzy product like your average American beer or hamburger.
Perhaps a middle ground exists, where fewer metal bands make $300m but also fewer worthy metal bands subsist on $300. Most metal musicians would be very happy with $60-80,000 a year. They tend not to be materialistic, except for collecting vinyl and guitars, but in the grand scheme of things those aren’t very expensive.
It happened in the mid-1970s, then the early 1980s, then the early 1990s, and now it’s happening again: underground metal is splitting away from what the mainstream will tolerate. Except that now the window has moved so that mainstream metal includes many things once reserved to the underground.
The rise of “cute metal” exemplifies this condition. “Cute metal” is any metal that you cannot admit in public that you do not like, because to do so would violate an assumption of its innocence or moral defensibility. Cute metal does not make you like it because of the music. Cute metal makes you “like” it because of the social focus on it, and because not liking it would appear to others to be cruel on the level of kicking kittens.
History will record the progenitors of “cute metal” as saccharine concoction Babymetal (which you must like or you hate preteen girls). With the rise of Unlocking the Truth, cute metal goes into overdrive (and you must like it or you hate black preteens). The term “cute metal” and the picture come from the second article.
This situation occurs any time metal becomes popular enough that there is financial incentive to turn it into a product. Speed metal like Metallica originally shocked and offended plans, but once people saw their girlfriends toe-tapping along to “One,” a new market formed. Next stop: “Enter Sandman,” which is so mellow that you can play it at your high school and adults will say how cute it is and how it reminds them of their own youths in the turbulent 1960s. Old people music.
Cute metal takes the same position. Wouldn’t it be nice to have underground metal that you could play at your desk at work, or show around at the neighborhood watch meeting? Cute metal offends no one; in fact, it is offensive to dislike it. You must join the herd and buzz with the hive about how precious it is, how unique it is, and how different it is… in fact, you can buzz about anything except its musical qualities, which are forgettable.
Emerging from this will be a new notion of what it is to be underground. It will operate on the converse idea of cute metal: the underground distrusts whatever “most people” think is a good idea, because most people are always wrong. They indulge in fantasies and look at the surface instead of the underlying structure, and use those visions to socialize instead of experiencing a more intense vision of reality. But in the meantime, cute metal presents another twee abomination to dodge when it comes on the radio.
What was the “message” of black metal? Like most interesting things, it doesn’t boil down to x=y format. Instead, we have some images on the surface that we must dig through to find the original idea.
Black metal expressed a love of nature, a dark melancholy, a feral atavism, a seeming joy in death and winter, and an embrace of predation and natural selection as a kind of litmus test for humanity. It loved cruelty, dark and degraded sounds, ancient ruins and ancient cultures. It hated McDonald’s, organized religion, trends, “fun” and social inclusion.
The essence of black metal might be described as anti-social. It loathed every circumstance where social rules — who is popular, who is pitied — took the place of raw personal emotion and a reality-based, nature-informed, history-wide view of actions and their consequences.
For those who love black metal, the genre must be evil. It must embrace chaos and nature and a world outside the “safety” of laws, police, shrink-wrapped products, rights and a social attitude of love and trust. It wants a world in constant conflict with fire to the oblivious and the stronger and nobler rising above the ruins. It wants life to be an ongoing challenge, a battle where great victory and great defeat are both possible. It wants this instead of a mediocre world where everyone is “safe” but there is nothing really to live for, nothing to strive for, only acceptance of the herd.
Black metal rejected the herd. It rejected individualism because individualism — the desire to get ahead by doing what everyone else is doing — forms the basis of the conformity that powers the herd. It embraced instead a kind of individuality of the sensitive thinker in a world searching for meaning that can only be found through self-definition through action.
As more and more people join the great “safe” consumerist society, the wisdom of black metal becomes clearer. It could not save black metal from erosion. It was not destruction of an idea so much as it was subversion of an idea by those who wanted to take part, so contorted the music to fit within a social role where they could be important individualists too. But that has not blotted out the message. Instead it has strengthened it.
No mosh – No core – No fun – No Trends
A common sentiment expressed by “diehards” (or as cynics call them “tryhards”) is that the internet ruined metal. It was a paradise before, they say. You bought zines, traded tapes, bought from small labels, and everything was pure and innocent. The demon of convenience and commerce had not yet reared its ugly head.
With the internet, it is said, all of that ended because it became easy to acquire a band by just typing the name into a search engine. There was no commitment that way, the story goes. People became accustomed to everything being easy and no longer cared about quality. They stopped going to shows and “supporting the scene.” Underground metal became armchair metal.
While I don’t doubt there is some legitimacy to those complaints, I offer another view: what made the internet kill metal was that it turned the process of being a fan inside out. In the old days, you picked bands you liked. Now, you pick bands to make your online personality look good. When someone asks a question about a type of music, you want to have something unique to answer with.
The result is blog posts and threads on forums which are dedicated to “being different.” You get zero scene cred for stating the obvious top ten, and that list can be found anywhere, so people are now craving bands that are more obscure. But the problem is that wanting something for a trait unrelated to its content means you no longer care about quality. Thus quality has plummeted as people seek novelty.
For the aboveground metalheads, this novelty-seeking manifests itself in the same trends that black metal talked about. This week it’s shoegaze; next week it will be “industrial black metal” again, or maybe punkish black metal, or ironic ABBA covers by grindcore bands, who knows. For diehards, the novelty-seeking is obscurity bias: a desire to dig back in the vault and find something that no one else knows about, then make it your favorite band ever.
The point is that no one is a fan anymore. Fans decide what’s good and celebrate it. But hipsters and scenesters have a different approach. They look for ways to make a name for themselves. “That’s my man Bill, he’s an expert in Seattle drone metal.” This is why there are ludicrous genre names in the post-internet arena, and why the advice you get on metal from the internet is almost universally garbage. It’s hipsters being hip, not people talking about quality or relevance.
The internet has made us all into hipsters. To get people to pay attention to your online profile or blog, you need to invent something “important” whether it’s there or not. You to find novelty either in the past or the present. The last thing you’re going to do is offer up some honest opinion. It’ll never get you Google AdWords dollars. It’s not unique and different enough for the social environment the internet has to offer.
Diehards need to quit complaining about the internet. It has had no different effect than moving all of metal into a dense, high social and cosmopolitan city like New York City would. City culture has always rewarded the “different,” which is why cities have always had hipsters. Bands struggled against that culture, not succeeded because of it.
What’s ironic about this whole situation is that complaining about the internet is another way of being “different.” That in turn serves to conceal the fact that since 1994, metal has produced little worth writing home about. Why has that been, you wonder? The black metallers told us: when hipsters appear, trends arrive, and then quality leaves the hall.