Since 1995, Shai Hulud has been one of the leading lights of metalcore. I’m not talking about metalcore as in: “Hey! Let’s rip off Slaughter of the Soul and throw in some breakdowns!” I’m talking metalcore as in the metallic hardcore that evolved out of crossover; a true fusion of the heartfelt aggression of hardcore and the compositional complexity of heavy metal (ok, I know that description sounds like it came straight from a PR e-mail blast, but it’s the fucking truth).
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.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past week or so, you know that Activision, the video game developer that gave the world such brilliant button-mashing fare as Fishing Derby and Popeye 2, has decided to put an end to what is arguably their fattest cash cow, the Guitar Hero series. I can’t believe how fucking inconsiderate the folks at Activision are for doing this. Did they ever stop for one second to think about the ill effects this will have on music listeners?!
Think about it. Millions of utterly shitty rock and metal bands have sprung up in the past 5 years, but if it wasn’t for Guitar Hero, the number of crappy bands coming out of the woodwork would probably be at least double, if not quadruple or worse.
You see, keeping kids pacified with fake plastic instruments keeps them from forming real bands. This is a good thing. Kids have shitty taste, so the ones that pick up real instruments are 99% likely to form shitty bands. How else do we explain metalcore, deathcore, crabcore, slam and djent? What else could possibly account for the popularity of bands like Waking the Cadaver, Oceano, As I Lay Dying, All That Remains, All That Remains of My Mother’s Uncle’s Brother’s Cousin’s Former Roomate Who Lays Dying, etc? By keeping today’s teenagers glued to the tube, Activision was helping to keep even worse sub genres and bands from happening. God only knows what other abominations against music might have sprung up over the past half decade, if not for Guitar Hero keeping youths safely away from Guitar Center.
The loss of Guitar Hero means more and more kids will start taking their misguided rock ‘n’ roll dreams and delusions of talent out of the living room and onto the stage. In turn, more embarrassing sub genres will be created. Record labels will sniff yet another flavor-of-the-week bandwagon to jump on, causing them to spring enormous dollar sign-shaped boners and start a signing frenzy, filling the shelves of the last few existing record stores with utter tripe to the point of bursting.
However, that record label wood will soon go flaccid, because no one actually buys music anymore. Those same kids responsible for this shitty music are also thieves who only listen to whatever they can get their grubby little paws on for free, effectively shooting themselves in the foot and crushing their own perverse fantasies of rock stardom. You can’t get rich and famous if all your peers are sharing your album on Soulseek or whatever the fuck it is these delinquents use to kill the music industry these days, instead of going out and buying it.
Critics and journalists like myself are going to have it rough. My inbox is already brimming with digital promos from bottom-of-the-barrel bands on a daily basis as it is. I can’t begin to imagine the shitfest it’s going to turn into now that Guitar Hero isn’t around to stop more turd records from being recorded and released. Isn’t it bad enough that I’m already getting a dozen press releases a day about Winds of Plague and some fucking band called The Browning?! The last time I checked, The Browning was something that happened in my pants when one of the local burger joints gave me food poisoning. It’s hard enough to find good bands to write about, but with Guitar Hero gone, the vast ocean of awful bands is about to become an entire universe of craptacularness.
At the end of the day, the people who really lose out are older rock and metal fans. As the bad music begins to propagate, there will be no escape. You’ll hear it in movies, on the radio, live at the local enormodome and on MTV at 4:00am when they actually play music (do they even do that anymore?!). Older fans will have no choice but to stay in their homes, rocking themselves in the corner and listening to their vinyl copies of Rust in Peace on repeat. Yes, the dude with the graying beard and the sleeveless Saxon shirt he’s been wearing since 1982 will be reduced to a pathetic shell of his former self, a shut-in traumatized by the musical crapocalypse that Guitar Hero‘s demise will ultimately bring about.
As you can see, the cancellation of the Guitar Hero series is not only a blow to the gaming industry, it is also the death knell for rock/metal as we know it. We can only hope that something else comes along that will distract children and teenagers from taking an interest in music. Maybe pogs are due for a comeback?
[NOTE: I shouldn't even have to reiterate this, but above piece is meant strictly as satire and is not meant to be taken seriously in any way, shape or form.]
For the most part, I try to keep things positive here at the THKD bunker. I only review albums that I would recommend to someone else, or at the very least albums that open themselves up to interesting thoughts and discussions (see the recently reviewed Raunchy album). I don’t single out bands or individuals I don’t like, tempting though it may be. I only let my grouchiness come through on rare occasions, such as my responses to Brandon Duncan’s questions in our dual interview, or in my piece on the sorry state of metal journalism.
But more often than not, I can’t help but get the feeling the majority of metal is turning into something I don’t want to be a part of. Thanks to social networking and the internet in general, metal has become infested with the kind of name-dropping, backslapping industry scumbags that the culture set out to destroy in the first place. I’m not naming names, but when I see so-called “journalists” and “publicists” bragging about what bands they’re partying with or what sweet promos they’re listening to while partying with said bands, I feel like I want to start vomiting and never stop. No one in the world cares about who you know and who you blow.
No, I’m not jealous. I’ve met my share of bands, interviewed “big names” and gotten my share of sweet promos in the mail. I don’t feel the need to go on and on (and on) about it on myspace/facebook/twitter/etc though. Yes, vanity has crept into metal like a particularly nasty case of syphilis. The ego stroking even happens in print, thanks to a slew of writers who think that just because they have a widely read opinion, this somehow makes them “cool” or “elite”. Reviews don’t matter when anyone can go on the internet, google an album and download it instantly for free (In fact, it is probably thanks to these “writers” that albums leak before their release dates).
What does matter in the internet age is conversation, dialogue and interaction. The lines of communication between bands, journalists and fans can and should be wide open thanks to the internet. No one is going to want to interact with you if you come off like an elitist asshole and a braggart, except for other elitist assholes and braggarts. Maybe I’m just getting old and bitter, but as someone who writes about metal because they love it, I find reading these self-serving reviews/articles/blogs/tweets/whatthefuckever extremely hard to take. I’ve been doing this for a few years now, and I’m still humbled by and grateful for the fact that bands are willing to talk to me about their art, labels are willing to send me albums to review and other fans and writers are interested enough in what I have to say to interact with me.
Journalists with superiority complexes aren’t the only ones getting under my skin. I love the many publicists I work with (Earsplit, Clawhammer, Fresno, Nathan Birk, etc) to keep the new content flowing for THKD. Without them, this site wouldn’t be half of what it is. But, there are some I refuse to work with, and it’s for a good reason. I understand it is the publicist’s job to entice me to write about whatever band/label/etc they happen to be pimping at the time. But a good publicist, like the ones mentioned above, understands the tastes and demeanors of the folks they’re working with, and bases their interactions on that knowledge. When someone sends me e-mail after e-mail acting like I owe them a favor, asking me to cover a band that anyone who reads one post on THKD could tell I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole, that’s a good way to forget about getting any coverage on my site. I will decide what bands are covered on THKD and I’m not going to compromise my own integrity or stroke your ego by writng about some shit band as a “favor” to someone I don’t even know. Get a fucking clue.
Unfortunately, many metal review sites don’t know the meaning of the word “integrity” and are more than happy to partake in the giant circle jerk that is the metal industry. Did some of these sites ever stop to think that if they stopped reviewing all the terrible and mediocre shit labels pumped out, maybe it would help re-instill some level of quality control? Some sites, like Invisible Oranges have wisely embraced the philosophy of only writing about releases that are “good” or will open up a dialogue. I wish more sites would follow this template, as ignoring an album altogether says a lot more about its quality than wasting valuable time and energy to write an unfavorable review. Maybe the labels would take notice if this happened, but I fear that most of them are so out of touch that it probably wouldn’t make a dent.
There are some extremely high quality labels, like Profound Lore, Hell’s Headbangers and Nuclear War Now! that are obvious labors of love and show genuine care for the music, the releases and the fans. Some of the larger labels on the other hand, pump out records like widgets coming out of a factory. The fact that 4th and 5th tier metalcore/deathcore bands have record deals is undeniable proof that bigger labels are more interested in flooding the market with crap in an effort to turn a quick buck than they are in investing in quality artists who make music that will stand the test of time. I’ve been told that labels have to release a certain amount of albums every year in order to get a distribution deal. Apparently, this is how distribution companies decide if it is a “good” label, encouraging quantity over quality.
The fact that there are approximately 51 billion shitty metal bands out there hoping one of these labels will snap them up certainly doesn’t help. If most of these terrible bands would do the world a favor and break up, we wouldn’t have some of this problem. 99.9% of metal bands need to just get it through their thick heads that they’re never going to be the next Iron Maiden, Cannibal Corpse, Napalm Death or whatever the fuck it is they aspire to and call it a day. Trust me, the world would be a better place for it. The more low quality bands there are, the better the chances of low quality bands getting signed to big labels and winding up in your local shops, iTunes and the radio. It’s hard enough to find anything good to listen to without having to wade through an ocean of toxic feces.
Oh and by the way metal fans/listeners, you’re not off the hook either. Not by a damn sight. Some might say illegal downloading is killing metal, but I think it is the passive attitude of metal fans towards what they’re being spoon-fed that is quickly becoming the genre’s death knell. By willingly putting up with this stuff, you’re giving labels, mags, zines, websites and musicians a free pass to fill your eyes and ears with steaming loads of crap. All of us need to band together and say “Hell no, we aren’t going to take it anymore!”. Don’t listen to it, don’t write about it, don’t download it, don’t buy it and don’t talk about it, even to say that it completely sucks. It is time we took metal back from these fat cats, pig-fuckers and assorted blowhards and broke this vicious circle of bullshit. It doesn’t belong to them, it never has and it never will. It belongs to us.