I’m tired of metal nostalgia. I’m tired of new bands trying so hard (and often failing miserably) to sound and look like old bands. I’m especially tired of seeing two of my favorite bands, Mercyful Fate and Entombed, being shamelessly ripped off by new bands that seemingly come up out of the woodwork on a daily basis. I’ve most definitely had it up to here with metalheads going on and on about the fucking eighties and early nineties, especially the ones that were children or worse yet not even alive at the time. As I’ve previously documented, I’m too young to have been a part of the “glory days” of tape trading and fanzines or the dawn of death and black metal, so I have to take other people’s word for it that it was such a great time for metal. I was only ten years old when the eighties ended, which means I discovered this music in the mid-to-late nineties. I come from a time of cassette singles, CDs in cardboard longboxes, RIP Magazine, Riki Rachtman, and MTV playing Metallica and Megadeth videos during the day. I thought it was great at the time, and I still love many albums from that period (as well as the eighties), but I have no interest in fetishizing it. I also have no interest in this culture of regression that is currently so prominent in the metal underground, or in listening to a bunch of bands whose music serves no other purpose than to emulate a bygone era.
Of course it isn’t just new bands sounding and looking like old bands. Various labels have been digging up and reissuing albums from seemingly every forgotten, mediocre death metal, thrash and NWOBHM band in existence in order to capitalize on the retro fever that’s sweeping the scene. Some of these reissues, such as Uncanny’s excellent MCMXCI – MCMXCIV compilation (released by Dark Descent in 2010) and Hell’s Human Remains (technically re-recordings of old demo tracks, rather than a full-on reissue) shed light on the discographies of bands that were unjustly buried by time and dust. The majority of them however, make it pretty apparent as to why these groups never ascended to greater heights and were subsequently brushed aside. They also serve as a reminder that the legendary bands of their respective eras are legendary for a reason. For whatever reason, these retro-fetishist metalheads lap this shit up, no matter how crappy the band in question might be. In their eyes, “old = good”, end of discussion. At this point, you could probably put out a limited edition, triple splatter vinyl box set of boombox recordings of the bowel movements of some teenage Swedish death metal band from 1991 that never made it out of the garage (do they even have garages in Sweden?) and make a fucking fortune (of course this also ties into the “Antiques Roadshow/Comic Book Guy” mentality of metal, but that’s a whole other post).
The question we need to ask ourselves is, why is this happening? Part of it can surely be attributed to the good ol’ “music is cyclical” argument. metal is just now getting to the stage where it is old enough to experience this, and we first saw it with the re-thrash movement that started (and quickly petered out, save a few bands) a few years back. Now it’s death metal and traditional/NWOBHM metal’s turn. How long these two will last is anybody’s guess, but it seems like we are already reaching our saturation point of bands shamelessly aping the sounds of yesteryear, but largely lacking the songwriting panache to get the job done. Not only are bands like Entombed, Mercyful Fate, Killers-era Iron Maiden and early Judas Priest legendary, they are completely untouchable. Your band will never be as great as their band. Then again, I’m not even sure that retro copycat bands aspire to greatness. If they aspired to something greater, they’d be blazing their own trails the way the aforementioned elder bands did, instead of riding coattails.
The other likely reason for retro metal mania is that metalheads aren’t happy with the direction so-called “modern metal” is taking. They prefer the old classics, but the old classics are finite (you can only listen to Left Hand Path on repeat so many times), so they gravitate towards bands who sound like the old classics. I can hardly say I blame them, being that a good portion of modern metal is nauseatingly saccharine. Many labels have thrown their remaining weight behind bands plying a combination of subpar At The Gates-worship and boy band vocals that calls itself metalcore these days (remember when there was such a thing as good metalcore? I do). Death metal has become bloated, overly technical and overly produced. Shit like deathcore, crabcore, slam death and assorted other types of bro-mosh friendly bullshit is parading around as the future of metal, being perpetrated by kids that look like some bizarre combination of wigger, circus clown and Hot Topic employee of the month and behave like they have the mental capacity of toddlers. I still don’t know what the fuck “djent” is, and I hope I never find out (I didn’t read it, I just linked it). Even nu metal is still alive and well on your local hard rock radio stations. There’s a lot to be disgusted with, so it’s no wonder that fans of “real” metal are adopting a culture of regression, when everything that’s happening now is telling them that it “was better back then”.
Regardless of what “the kids” are doing, or how little we may think of metal’s latest bastard subgenres and their practitioners, regression is not the answer to the genre’s woes. We must push forward, we must carry on. Bands such as Blut Aus Nord, Deathspell Omega, Thorns, DHG, Godflesh, Death, Opeth, Voivod (to name just a few) and a slew of others have successfully proven throughout the years that compelling, worthwhile progression within metal is possible. The envelope is continually being pushed, and in some cases, ripped to shreds. Of course, not every band can be expected to blaze their own trail, but I would respect a band that at least tried to do something original a hell of a lot more than the self-consciously retro shenanigans that are currently flooding the market.
I’m interested to hear reader opinions on this stuff. Is metal hopelessly slipping into regression and as a result, self parody, or is this merely another flavor of the week trend that will die out in a year? Is the “music is cyclical” argument complete bullshit?Are the Blut Aus Nord’s and Deathspell Omega’s of the world enough to keep pushing metal forward, or is some kind of paradigm shift needed? Tell me.