Has heavy metal sold out?


The Carcass guys, who started out as grindcore but mutated into heavy metal disguised as death metal, gave an interview in which the topic of motivations came up. Frontman Jeff Walker argued that perhaps heavy metal has sold out:

I think if you’re going to play music, your reason for doing that should be solely that you want to be creative and enjoy it. You should be realistic…Too many people are creating bands as a career choice. ‘Should I be a football player? Should I be an actor?’ Everyone wants to be famous but I think your motives have to be pure…Once in a while, you’re going to hear some killer new stuff but it’s getting rarer and rarer. I think people’s motivations for wanting to do this are not purely artistic.

He is referring to the process by which bands change their sound for money or musicians target a certain sound expecting it will make money, which is the reverse of the natural artistic method of having a message to communicate and picking the style that best expresses that message.

Metal bands can both “sell out” and “sell in” by preaching to the converted, such as the flood of war metal bands making essentially soundalike material because they know people will buy it in order to appear “diehard” underground. These people are known by the name of tryhard and they cluster around certain three-letter internet forums.

On the other hand, metal bands can “sell out” by appealing to the pretense in people as well, such as Opeth which has always marketed itself as both “open-minded” and musically difficult, both of which are tempting labels for a low self-confidence fan to slap on himself. The rest of us are closed-minded and simplistic, but with the help of his Opeth-product, he is open-minded and deep.

In the same way, many bands turn toward “social consciousness” lyrics because people recognize these as a signal that the band is deep, even though every band goes into a social consciousness lyrics phase when it runs out of other things to write about. This also is a sell-out because the band knows in advance that the audience will reward more of the same, even if that form of same re-brands itself as “different,” despite almost every band doing it.

Walker may have a point. Over the past twenty years, metal has gone from an outsider to society which speaks unutterable truths in metaphor, to an insider accepted by every level of media. Now the concern is how to use heavy metal as a brand for being “edgy,” and how to use that brand to sell products whose owners hope the audience will buy them in order to be “edgy,” from alcohol to motorcycles to clothing and beyond.

Will heavy metal exist in twenty years, or will it be only a “flavor” applied when in a commercial the edgy product is on screen, like triumphant horns for bargains and girls singing Beatles songs for self-care products? Metal may make itself into a product after all, and selling out while making its musicians superstars will destroy the underlying community by corrupting its ideas.

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22 thoughts on “Has heavy metal sold out?”

  1. Feran says:

    That Babymetal clip is hilarious. It`s funny, and I say that as an ignorant outsider to Japanese society, how they put even the nastiest shit through an cutsie rainbow anime filter (read waterheads, fetal alcohol syndrome) in order to commercialize the fuck out of it. They seem to be such a herd of obidient, trendwhoring sheep, so they lick up any trend up(western blacko metalo so kawaii) and make it hilarious like a Japanese Rockabilly or 80s Exploited-type Punk (google it, it`s funny, trust me on this).

    By the way, I think they were and will always be bands who want a career and adapt to get it. Could be said about a lot of NWOBHM bands,too. It`s not necessarily a bad thing, if the content is alright. And then there are those with Gucci bags and Flip Flops who are just sellouts.

    1. Meek Metalhead says:

      Speaking of Japan and 80s punk, they had some great hardcore bands back then.

      1. Richard Head says:

        Fuck yeah, SOB.

        Also not hardcore or 80s but Intestine Baalism bears mentioning. Some guys over there are serious about making killer music. Like everywhere else, they are few and far between (and even fewer in Japan).

        1. Ara says:

          I just finally heard the most recent Intestine Baalism record after assuming they were broken up for years, and it rules as expected.

          1. Ara says:

            I also liked the first Defiled record. Wonder if they’re still around.

          2. Richard Head says:

            Ultimate Instinct? I haven’t heard it yet, but that’s good to know. I’ll have to pick up a copy finally.

            1. Ara says:

              Yeah. It’s more in line with Anatomy of the Beast than Banquet in the Darkness, which is good since I vastly preferred the former.

              1. Richard Head says:

                Myself as well, BitD had some great melody but lacked most of the antagonistic feeling of the first album. I definitely have to pick up a copy now.

  2. discodjango says:


    A major label is interested in buying Century Media. This could be the next step in the direction which is pointed out at the end of the article: “Metal may make itself into a product after all”.

  3. hypocrite says:

    I just watched all 4 of those videos. I need a shower.

  4. Disremember says:

    What’s fascinating maybe is that Japanese may be just mocking this western trend by commercialising it , but you won’t see them aping femism, multiculturalism or other liberal things in their society…

  5. Parasite says:

    This disturbs me. I try my hardest to tell people that like 90% of the shit they hear/watch/buy is just flavour of the week/trendy souless bullshit dressed up as something that seems like art but is just an accessory to their personality. Ultimately im called self-righteous/ignorant/negative/debbie-downer etc… And thats not even concerning metal! It relates though because if all the crap everyone is consuming is just a product, an empty cardboard box, a recyclable piece of trash, then this will apply to metal as well.

    If someone literally consumes all they see on TV and conforms to the norm as dictated by it, then how do you really tell them how to choose the quality things in life and what this world provides?

  6. Ara says:

    The unfortunate thing is everything eventually gets assimilated. Rock and roll was branded devil music and then became the face of American entertainment. Johnny Cash went his own way when pressured to play country gospel shit and now he’s a postmortem God. Beavis and Butthead and Enter the Pit put death metal on tv in your living room sometimes on prime time, introducing the vapid mtv crowd to some of the edgiest music at the time. Even anti-music sentiments like noise have found not just a comfortable niche but are widely understood by common people as a form of expression. It sucks when what is yours eventually becomes no longer yours, but if the “dangerous” aspects and extreme metal are its selling point for you, it may be time to jump ship. Otherwise enjoy quality music when it comes your way, because I think the coddled nature of most people nowadays isn’t going to allow the revolution we’re all hoping for.

    1. The unfortunate thing is everything eventually gets assimilated.

      That’s just fatalism. That which resists assimilation does not get assimilated.

      I think the coddled nature of most people nowadays isn’t going to allow the revolution we’re all hoping for.

      They are disappointing, people in general, I mean, aren’t they?

      1. Ara says:

        Sure it’s fatalism, but historically, what musical artistic movement hasn’t been assimilated? Hell, what artistic movement in general?

    2. Concerned Citizen says:

      Napalm Death, Morbid Angel, Carcass, Death…

      Those videos on Beavis and Butthead got me into some good shit, even though at that point all those bands turned to shit (except Morbid Angel).

  7. Manhunter says:

    Whenever something hits the mainstream/commercials and the unwashed masses in general, it`s a sign that the root where it came from moved on to other things long before that. It`s like the last chapter of a evolution before it dies, because it got too old, stale and uncool. The next thing is boiling in the garages and bedrooms right now and it`s not a product designed to sell letherjackets and self-care product.
    I wonder what hipsters listen to, maybe it`s wallnoise and musique concrete.

    1. Concerned Citizen says:

      “I wonder what hipsters listen to, maybe it`s wallnoise and musique concrete.”

      You are right, unfortunately:

      Hipsters also like bands like Swans because it’s one riff goth rock with “deep concepts”. 25 minutes is too long for a guy to play one riff while yelling about prostitution, but good enough for ironic enjoyment.

  8. steve says:

    well -written article.

  9. Sleaze-SMF says:

    Metal has become everything it has hated. Metal IS THE MAN, as opposed to being AGAINST the Man. Metal is so fucking politically correct and has even chosen political sides. Give Ozzy a knighthood. Cry about who wins a Grammy. Fuck. These are things that WE HAVE ALWAYS BEEN AGAINST! We used to be a very very sexy music. Now steel panther comedy sex is considered…sexy. Fucking sad. AND. JJ French is right. It’s an ageing genre because we won’t accept any new form of metal because it’s not “true” metal. Eat a dick true metal heads. You are the tryhards! Doomed to become the next Jazz. Seniors in small bars playing music in the afternoon telling everyone that “no one us as technical as us” sad fuckers,.

  10. fenrir says:

    there is always a sell out, it is inevitable.
    Fortunately, there are still those in metal who carry the torch. Just keep looking forward.

  11. Nox Fjorgyn (@NoxFjorgyn) says:

    There are several really good metal bands out there who do great music, like Avatar, Sabaton, Cannibal corpse. Hellyeah’s latest album is pretty good too.
    I hate the -core bullshit though, like metalcore. Bands like I See Stars and Caliban are just..eww.

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