Counterpoint: Oh Hush, There’s Plenty Of Good Modern Metal
Any time I hear someone declare that there’s no good music these days, or that bands just don’t like good music anymore, or that metal is dead, I think, Ah, someone who has stopped looking!
There’s plenty of new and interesting music out there, you’ve just got to dig deep into the blogs and the Bandcamps and your own local scene to find it. Interestingly enough, the guys usually complaining about this are the dudes who also whine that, In my day, we didn’t have the Internet! We had to work to find the metal we liked! You still have to do that, just in different ways.
This is why I groaned when I read Max Frank’s MetalSucks editorial about why most modern metal bands suck. I don’t know Max and therefore can’t speak to his character, and I don’t know shit about shit about gear, but man, this reads like straight whining. Frank lists three main reasons why most modern metal bands suck, and all of them sounded flat and outdated to me. It struck me as weird, too, that he quoted our own Sergeant D, given that I consider the Sarge a real voice against what I think of as outdated opinions.
Anyway: Max, I disagree. Here’s why, in the form of a breakdown of your piece.
The argument: Nobody cares about taking risks anymore.
What that sounds like to me: Things aren’t how they used to be in the ’70s.
Response: There are more bands these days, so you gotta look harder for original stuff.
The posts’ first argument is that everyone’s worried about looking and sounding “right,” and as such no one improvises or works with new, interesting ideas anymore. Like they did back in the day. Then the piece goes on to list bands like the Dillinger Escape Plan, Mastodon, and anything Aaron Turner as some of the guys who are still doing it right.
The thing is, back in the day, there weren’t as many bands. Guys like Frank Zappa and Toni Iommi dominated the scene partially because they were the only guys out there doing what they were doing. Their brand of “risky” playing was the fad at the time cause everyone was doing a ton of acid. A lot of those bands sucked, too, they were just what was around to be covered by the press.
On that note, the guys you then credit as doing it right in the modern day are all the mainstream of metal, the bands and musicians who get major press coverage, and whose music falls into your lap because their promotional machine is insanely organized. Of course you think most modern metal sucks, because you’re only eating what’s offered on the cafeteria line. You gotta leave school and go to that weird Japanese deli, son.
Sure, some bands try too hard to be legitimate, entrenched performers right off the bat. It’s just that a lot of genres are established already, so if you want to be a black metal band, or a stoner band, you know how to do that. And yeah, Vice and Rolling Stone love stuff they can easily label. When has that not been the case? If you want the new and unusual metal, you gotta spend hours on your computer wading through all the underground shit that barely makes it out of the basement, the kind of stuff that’s not quickly categorized. Those are the bands that need your help anyway, the weird ones. Like hip-hop, metal is a genre where you can’t just accept the mainstream or the underground. You need to know both intimately to find the best material.
The argument: We live in a culture that fetishizes youth and virtuosity.
What that sounds like to me: And another thing, I don’t care for Babymetal.
Response: If anything, we need more youth and virtuosity in metal at large.
Wait, do you mean to tell me that pop culture likes beautiful teenagers and freaks of nature? Holy shit! My eyes are suddenly open, oh wise seer!
I agree that it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. I honestly couldn’t give a fuck about Yngwie Malmsteen. That said, when has this last deeply effected metal? I suppose everyone was surprised by how young Noisem are, but that’s because they were that young making music that good. Meanwhile, the love of virtuosity is what metal has always been about. Iron Maiden, Slayer, and Metallica will forever be hailed as musical wizards. People have talked about Dave Lombardo’s technical ability since day one.
If anything, metal has an old age problem. How long have we been talking about Arch Enemy? I see kids at shows who were born after Wages of Sin came out. Metal raises its originators and champions to godlike status, and what that creates is a hard canopy of aged working rockers who keep sunlight from reaching the next generation down in the underbrush. They want to get out there, and play, and shake things up, but they can’t, because, shit, why book them when you could have Gorguts open instead?
In metal, stubble and wrinkles and vintage shirts are seen as badges of honor. Today’s youth are just a bunch of hipsters who haven’t paid their dues, blah blah blah. This allows the older dudes to rest on their laurels and plagiarize themselves. I’d much rather have a young virtuoso doing something new than see another once-interesting thrash band dumb themselves down into a widely-acceptable aggro act.
Once again: you gotta find it. There are people out there, young and old alike, who are making great music that stands on its own. They’re pouring their souls into their music. But they’re in the underground, so no one’s telling you about how cute or young they are. You need to be the person who finds them and hails them to the world.
The argument: People think that musical chops only mean “technicality.”
What that sounds like to me: And those assholes have too many pedals.
Response: I’m just not sure this is really a problem.
First off, this argument is basically a rewording of the previous statement about virtuosity. Second, I don’t know any metal bands these days who have done very well with technicality alone and not songwriting chops on top of that. I’m not sure anyone out there values the former over the latter, other than hypothetical metal nerds in their basements and, well, jerk-offs.
I spend a lot of time talking to metalheads about metal over beer, and songwriting always comes up as the most important thing out there. There are plenty of technical death metal bands out there that suck, yeah. There are also plenty of bands like Origin, who have both technical chops and powerful songs. Sure, some of it is tough to get into due to its technicality, but hey, that’s metal. Just because some Hate Eternal songs are gratingly over-the-top doesn’t mean metal has a technicality problem.
Meanwhile, mainstream rock could use a lesson in technical chops. Big-name metal bands are too simplistic too often, even though they’ve seemingly studied the blues and pour their heart into their music. Metal’s core is about professors and weirdoes forsaking that kind of saccharine nonsense, holing up in their room, and playing for hours. Dimebag was a guitar nerd.
Finally, the crunchy closing statement of this original post is funny. “You can bury your relationship to your art in layers of irony, cool logos or the support of a blog or zine, but, like a high schooler with a bad excuse, you can’t hide when you haven’t done your homework. Marketing campaigns and brands come and go, but passion is what lasts.” Dude, the metal bands you’re espousing do this shit all the time, and there’s plenty of metal out there that does none of this. Just because your music is about the sounds of a Lovecraftian gods rather than those of a van in the ’70s doesn’t mean there was no passion, dedication, or true love put into its creation. Just because the way things are done has mutated doesn’t mean its devoid of its genetic origin. It just means that you might not understand it in its current form.
Or as Ian The Shark said in Airheads, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old.”