Doc Coyle’s State of the Metal Union
It’s been quite some time since my last post on MetalSucks. I have been reticent to throw my hat in the ring on metal related subjects because I wasn’t sure if I truly belonged in the debate. I left my old metal band, God Forbid, and my taste has been straying from the extreme for some time. The last couple of years, I would peruse the multitude of MetalSucks contributor year end Top Ten Lists, and have only a pedestrian knowledge of the supposed cream of the crop of what metal had to offer. In a recent segment I did on the MetalSucks podcast, Godless pinpointed that in his opinion, 2013 was a high mark year for heavy music output. I couldn’t disagree more. It seems… that I am out of touch.
I would think this is the same question that a schizophrenic would ask: am I crazy or is the whole world crazy? Sometimes, your surrounding environment does lose its collective mind, like in World War II era Nazi Germany, or in the ’70s when you couldn’t find a pair of non-bellbottomed pants. Clearly, this is a common effect of aging and generational division. The elder generation is going to somehow be perplexed by the younger generation, exclaiming that their music is overly derivative and brings nothing new to the equation, or that it is toneless drivel, lacking a “real” musical quality. I don’t fall squarely in either of these camps. My position is much more complex.
Like anyone, my tastes are a victim of the time and place in which I was cultivated. I simmered in a pool of early ’90s Guns N Roses, Metallica, and alternative music, but also against the backdrop of being an MTV kid and absorbing that era’s pop, R&B, rap, etc. Until puberty hit, my favorite musician was Michael Jackson (actually, it still is). As the teenage years rolled on, metal — and specifically extreme, technical, guitar-driven metal — overshadowed everything. My current tastes are an amalgamation of all of these influences.
God Forbid and the New Wave of American Heavy Metal bands with whom we ascended were meant to represent a reprisal of the Thrash Metal titans that seeded our childhood inspiration to become musicians. Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Testament, Pantera, and Megadeth were the antithesis to the bullshit of glam. Thrash was the real ’80s to us. They were visceral and unrelenting, and yet they were tent pole bands that became extremely successful and firmly held the flag for metal as a whole. They weren’t pop, but they were popular.
That was the aim of the NWOAHM. To cast a wide net, but still be legitimate and retain a connection to the underground in terms of aggression and musicianship. Some of us strayed, some of us failed, some flourished, some are still going for it, against the grain. This spirit is what appears to be missing for me from the current landscape.
Even as an artist trying to make the last God Forbid album, there were many points where I asked myself if the creative well had run dry. Had every apple been picked from the tree of the genre? Could you go anywhere else interesting without changing so much that it alienated whatever fans you had? Every subgenre hits that point where bands die, evolve, or stick to their guns and ride out whatever wave that’s attempting to drown them.
So what happened? What changed? I think the heavy music world splintered and most new bands prefer to emerge in a niche market where they can dominate their little corner. Many of the bands that I identify with still exist, put out good records, and thrive, but I am mainly talking about newer bands gaining notoriety in the last 5-8 years.
I’ve compiled a list of subgenres that currently dominate the heavy music world as we know it, with some of my thoughts on each genre. I hope it doesn’t piss people off too much, as I’m not trying to disrespect anyone, and I know how bands hate to be put in categories. Mentioning bands in this does not mean that I don’t like them. I’m just trying to make sense of this whole thing for myself.
Scene Metal, Warped Tour Metal
Bands of note: Bring Me the Horizon, Falling in Reverse, Asking Alexandria, Escape the Fate, Of Mice and Men, Issues
As far as I’m concerned, “Scene Metal” is currently the afterbirth of what was the metalcore scene. What began with Poison the Well and 18 Visions in the late ’90s before being sharpened by As I Lay Dying, Atreyu, and Avenged Sevenfold in the early and mid aughts, has become an absolute commercial juggernaut. These bands are effing huge. They are selling records, selling out huge venues, and selling merchandise by the boatload. There seems to be an endless supply of 16 year olds to fuel this machine. These bands are calculating and 100% aware that their image is driving success. They shouldn’t take offense to being called “Boy Bands” because it was their choice to outfit their band with skinny, cute guys who have copious amounts of tattoos. Ain’t nothing wrong with being called out for being good looking. Some of these bands lack artistic heft, but I’m not really mad at the genre because I know it’s not geared towards my demographic. Although, BMTH’s last record, Sempiternal, is an absolute beast.
Progressive Metal, Djent, Laptop Metal
Bands of Note: Periphery, Animals As Leaders, Tesseract, Between the Buried and Me, Textures
I’ll say flat out that this genre really took metal to some groundbreaking places, and the playing ability was really at a whole other level. All of these guys seem to have music degrees, and are expert producers. Then I hear them talk about their gear and I feel like I’m hearing Carl Sagan talk about the cosmos. They benefitted and capitalized on being raised in the era of high speed Internet, YouTube tutorials, and cheap, high quality digital recording. This is probably my favorite of the newer subgenres of metal. It’s the one that retains the best blend of melody, groove, heaviness and musicianship that fits my sensibility. With that said, I feel like the approach can get a bit too clinical and lose the human feel. There is also so much focus on making music for other musicians that I don’t hear a lot of great, simple songwriting with hooks I connect to.
Deathcore, Extreme Metal, Technical Death Metal
Bands of Note: Whitechapel, Thy Art is Murder, Carnifex, Fit For An Autopsy
From my vantage point, the rise of deathcore was a response to bands like mine, Shadows Fall, and Killswitch Engage becoming more melodic and “too rock” over time. The starting point was metalcore, but they wanted to be heavier, tune lower, and become more technical. As with any younger generation, you want to make the old heads sound like pussies. Which they pretty much did. I remember The Acacia Strain opened up for God Forbid in Springfield, MA in ‘05 or ’06, and just feeling like we weren’t very heavy after the place exploded for them. These bands are heavy as 1,000 garbage trucks filled with bricks, but my ears become worn out after listening to four or five tracks on a Black Dahlia Murder or Suicide Silence record — even though I really dig those bands. They never let up with the sonic punishment. I may be just getting old, but I need some breathing room between the devastation.
Bands of Note: Shinedown, Halestorm, Pop Evil, Nothing More
This is such an interesting enclave of modern music, because the homogeny of rock radio started with post-grunge bands like Creed and Nickelback. The combination of satellite radio, iPods, apps like Pandora, and radio monopolies like Clear Channel have caused the contraction of the entire radio rock world, and it has become affixed to middle America and secondary markets. Most rock stations are scared to stray from the very familiar for fear of losing listeners for even a moment. Many of these bands are quasi-metal bands due to a convergence of lighter post-grunge with nu-metal in the mid ’00s. A band like Five Finger Death Punch is more metal than they are rock, but still dominate this platform. Generally, the bands in this scene approach everything like a business; the songs, the look, the stage show. And business is good. I am a fan of rock, and I like a catchy song, but I wish this genre would take more chances and not adhere to perceived rules of the radio game.
Hipster Metal, Beardo Metal, Decibel Mag’s Top 100
Bands of Note: Red Fang, Pallbearer, Deafheaven, Kvelertak
Admittedly, I am not well versed in this genre. Mainly due to the fact that being into “hipster metal” is basically the art of being into obscure bands. I am not seeking them out, so I am not in the know. I understand just using the term “hipster metal” is kind of a diss outright. For that, I apologize, but I don’t really know what else to categorize it as. I would call it “Saint Vitus Metal,” but unless you hang out in Brooklyn, NY, you wouldn’t know what that means. I love Red Fang, and bands like Mastodon, Ghost, Baroness, and Neurosis are probably too popular now to be considered “hipster” even if some preceded the cultural phenomenon. I don’t dislike the music as much as I dislike the overt praise the genre gets from metal journalists and elitists. Pretention is pretention any way you look at it, and it’s always annoying from where I’m standing.
“Real” Metal, True Metal
Bands of Note: Every band at 70,000 Tons of Metal or headlining Wacken Festival
I don’t have to explain much here. Heavy Metal is stalwart and unmovable as cultural bedrock in a true global sense. I put this here to illustrate that although there are many trends and genres that come in and out of style, bands like Cannibal Corpse, Amon Amarth, Iced Earth, Slayer, Motorhead, Iron Maiden, and many more will always have that community behind them. I don’t know how many newer bands are breaching the ranks, but it usually takes some years of credible service to join the fraternity. But once you are in, they usually love you ’til you keel over. Look at the reverence for Dio. But as Sergeant D wrote here, metal heads fetishize the past too much. Close mindedness makes innovation difficult when the majority are unwilling to accept anything that breaks the metal “rules.”
I’m still not sure if I’m metal enough. If I miscategorized a band, sue me. I said from the jump that I’m out of touch. I wasn’t sure whether The Faceless or Born of Osiris were pog or deathcore. But who fucking cares? Cataloguing these subgenres was probably foolish anyway.
I do know this: heavy music seems to be as big as ever, even if I’m having trouble connecting. I’m waiting for the next game changer. I like the bands that are swinging for the fences. That’s why I like Ghost, Avenged Sevenfold, and Twelve Foot Ninja. Another sick breakdown, blastbeast or self-serving soulless shred is not moving the needle for me. Maybe Babymetal is the game changer. The truth is if I’m not part of the solution in moving that needle, I need to shut the fuck up and get out of the way.
There are definitely bands out there doing interesting things, so please tell me how stupid I am and let me know who you think is a real game changer.