What’s the Next Big Trend in Metal?
Hair metal. Nu-metal. Metalcore. Deathcore. Djent.
All had their moments in the sun as the de-facto “in” metal sub-genre.
And then a funny thing happened… nothing at all.
The life cycle of a metal trend goes as follows: it bubbles up from the underground, gets huge, a record label signing rush ensues, stars are born and lots of money is made. As all trends do, they each fade out over time. Though all of the above are certainly still going strong — new bands are still finding success, and older ones are bigger than ever — their moments as the next or current big thing has passed. They are no longer innovating.
Oh, sure, plenty of metal sub-genres have seen moderate success over the past few years.
For a moment it seemed like Vest Metal might be the next big thing, with occult-worshipping, denim-clad, retro-themed, Sabbath-inspired doom/stoner bands experiencing a groundswell in popularity. The scene proliferated, gained national attention, the labels rushed in to sign bands, the whole thing. And here we are, several years later, with only one of those bands having achieved success beyond the small club circuit: Ghost. One might give Pallbearer a nod here, although they certainly haven’t achieved Ghost levels of fame.
There was re-thrash, which produced a glut of quality acts but very few that set themselves apart from the pack, and the scene quickly settled back into what it should’ve been from the start: another retro-inspired niche. And there was the great pagan/folk metal explosion of 2008, which all the labels who swooped in to sign “quirky” bands with hurdy-gurdy players quickly realized was more like a bubble than a boom; its appeal is very limited. Entombedcore bands like Nails and Trap Them certainly had their moment in the sun, and continue to do so, but none have progressed much beyond Saint Vitus-sized rooms.
The black metal scene is thriving. So is the death metal scene. Both have split off into myriad distinguishable sub-sub-genres, and the artists within them continue to push the boundaries of what was previously thought possible with six strings (or seven, or eight), blast beats and growled vocals. But those scenes, and the bands within them, don’t seem to be reaching the masses or growing beyond the 200-300 capacity venues they’re playing now, nor should we want or expect them to; they’re happy where they are, and so are we, as fans. That music is too extreme to catch on with a wider audience anyway. One possible exception might be the atmospheric death metal scene, which has seen the likes of Fallujah, Rivers of Nihil and Black Crown Initiate turn some heads. But, again, this only seems a logical extension of what bands like Between the Buried and Me and The Faceless were doing before them (with new influences added in), none of those bands is THAT popular (though Fallujah are getting there), and three bands certainly does not a scene make.
So: what’s the next big trend in metal? Could it simply be that there are no more sub-genres left to explore, that we have exhausted all that can be done with distorted guitars while still expecting it to appeal to a wider audience?
Let’s look at a few of the newer bands not associated with any of the aforementioned scenes who ARE experiencing wider popularity right now. There’s the aforementioned Ghost, whose blend of nostalgia, theatricality and A-plus songwriting strikes a nerve with all types of music fans. Deafheaven have flipped the black metal script on its head by proving that regular-looking dudes can do it, too — the anti-Ghost, in a way — and suddenly they’re headlining 1,500-cap venues. Babymetal have similarly defied what’s thought of as being “metal” by putting three Japanese teenage girls with choreographed dance routines in front of a standard (and talented, yes) metal band. Pallbearer have done for doom what Deafheaven have for black metal, bringing an every-dude approach to the genre and mixing it, like Ghost, with stellar songcraft. Tribulation have made black metal sexy by glamming it the fuck up. We could even give Steel Panther some love here, as they’ve done a remarkable job lampooning — and besting — ’80s hair metal to critical acclaim. Let’s even grant Gojira a mulligan by claiming that they’ve risen to wider success only recently despite touring the world for over a decade and existing for nearly two.
What have all the bands I just mentioned got in common with one another? 1) None are reinventing the wheel, 2) Even if you take exception with #1 (Gojira, for example), none are a part of any existing scene, they’re just completely singular entities. They’re all quite talented — and I’d count myself as a fan of every one of them — but they’ve all essentially just taken existing metal tropes, one or more, and repackaged them into a new format and/or they’re completely one of a kind, a band on an island.
So: what the fuck? Is true originality no longer cool? Is it maybe that metal’s profile has faded, or been spread too thin between sub-genres for any one of them to catch on?
Have we entered the era of post-everything, where metal’s historical elements can be reshuffled into endless numbers of permutations and called “new” again? A bricolage of metal, as it were? Or are we simply out of fucking ideas?
Sound off below if you think you’ve got a clue of what comes next. Then kindly pass Go, collect $200, and get one of the metal majors to hire you for bank.