Opinion: A Dirge for Metal Music. Or is it still alive?

A felt every two days or so I hear that Rock and – surely – Metal met their demise. Finally pronounced clinically dead, gone and ashes thrown into the ocean. All of that jazz sacrificed on the altar of those modern pseudo Latino pop and rap sounds that people seem to be so fond of these days.

Those records made for the faceless consumer, comprised of notes devoid of personality, depth or bite. Those that tender to the addicts of notes who do not really care what or who made the tune. Only that the music should suit the listener’s mood at best. Or the tune will just serve as a bland commodity to feed idle brain cells with trivia at worst. Genre, musician, meaning, passion or – to a lesser extent – emotion fall by the wayside.

And this opens all doors to that infamous AI that lurks out there. Just on the verge of a maturity that we never had before. Boy, the big powers even already experiment with automated weapons systems. Those with no human interaction, but a license to kill.

The death of an era?

That musicians of big rock and metal bands die is nothing else than normal. 2015 – for instance – saw the demise of Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead. Malcolm Young of AC/DC left this world in 2017. And these days of early 2019, we hear that Ozzy Osbourne is unwell and may soon meet the grim reaper. But – hey – we heard that one before, right? Besides, this February of 2021 he is still with us. That small fact notwithstanding, Black Sabbath is now seriously off the grid, after Tony Iommi could not go on no more.

And there’s more, so much more.

Brian Johnson – also of AC/DC – had to give up in a hurry in 2016 for fear of losing his hearing completely. Yet, he and the band roared back to life in 2020 with one stellar new record. So, we got some undead amongst us.

Boy, good ‘ol RMR reviewed a Krokus live concert some time back.1) Huge sound, sold-out venue, a pretty controversial show full of action. But with the sound that did not change much over 40 years or so. And these guys don’t necessarily drink from the fountain of youth anymore neither.

Or you have our good friends from Iron Maiden – for instance – on their search for the famed elixir of life. So that they can continue to fill stadiums with folks of all ages, after all these years of ceaseless action. Amazing, ain’t it? Even if Bruce Dickinson starts to develop a certain Eddie-ness as time goes on. Only so much piloting big airplanes can explain, methinks. Even the boys from Metallica look so fresh no more. Kirk Hammet with grey hair and Hetfield calling himself dad.

And on it goes.

The era of these metal-blooded oldsters surely, but slowly comes to an end. They will either retire or simply die out. Which raises another question.

New blood, where art thou?

You guessed it. We seem to have advanced geriatrics thriving on the same-old sound that saw the light of day felt eons ago. And it still talks to fans to this day. Metal with a real bite that nonetheless seems pretty wildly past its due date. Yet, it still has its undeniable adepts.

Just sayin’.

Let’s face it. These folks fill music halls. Stadiums, huge venues – you name it. If there’s no pandemic around, of course. They’re headliners that draw huge crowds. With stuff invented a long time ago. And they ain’t producing anything new. Not that we can blame them, right? Who would not ride this same ol’ horse until it is truly dead? A magic formula, if there ever was one in this world of ever-growing insanities.

Now compare that to the puny, sweaty backyard cellars that the metal kvlt groupies occupy. Those for whom black is the new white and a dusty club the new 70K ton cruise ship. Those that secretly dream of fame, but stoutly refuse to make a buck because it ain’t genteel, in their view of the world. It feels so much better to be stuck to the smelly underbelly of the metal beast. That feeling of being special, not part of the mean crowd.

But then again, they loudly lament exactly that fact because being poor as church mice and unknown as fuck is not exactly fun if you want to be famous. See the double standard?

But we have NEW metal, not a death knell!

That’s the battle cry I always hear. And you know what? The screamers are right. A vibrant community produces brilliant metal out there, a deluge of records of all types and sounds. So much so that this reviewer sometimes does not know anymore where to put them all. And this leaves RMR’s other two pillars – Rock and Folk – in serious neglect. Which – come to think of it – is part and parcel of this blog, too. Take that, Steven Wilson, you non-believer!

Just check out the latest Top 10 that we just issued. The RMR deck crew had so much material, it did not know what to do with it. A difficult choice, but – hey – a good problem to have after all.

So, where’s the lack of traction?

Many state that metal music is an acquired taste. And I tend to agree to that. Growls, screams, downturned guitars, blast beats and – Loki forbid – extremely loud solo shredders are the proverbial black horror in the corner for any pop fan.

All these complications, plus a guttural or screamed sound to pronounce your stellar lyrics won’t often win you many brownie points. Most music fans simply call metal music noise with no reason and rhyme.

Our crew detected a few issues that truly are at the root of the problems the metal genre faces.

Issue 1: Complexity – Structures of Sound

Metal music is no easy fare. If your taste tends towards nice and soft melodies, which are easy on the ear, then this truly is not your style. The metal genres gorge with highly technical material. Frequent changes of tempi, rhythms, polyrhythms, syncopation, elastic dissonance galore, drum patterns to make your head spin, mad shredding, tremolos, and so on.

Then add the vocals. Growls, shrieks, rasps, clear voice, all that mixed with sometimes demonic monologues. Which badly compares vis-à-vis the simple chanting that we suffer through in today’s charts.

In short, metal is in general much more complex and demanding than any other genre that I can imagine. And that does not sit well with most people, who fancy easily digestible genres, built on simplistic song structures and even dumber lyrics.

Issue 2: Complexity – The Genre Madness

RockmusicRaider - Metalhead versus Normal People
Metal genre madness!

Let me just illustrate this with a meme. Not so long ago, metal music was easy. You pretty much had Heavy Metal and you had Rock and Hard Rock. This is – of course – over-simplifying things a bit, but you get the gist.

Then, somewhere around the early ’80s, people had an identity crisis. After all, everyone needs to be part of some distinct group of people, right? Adepts that will differ in sound, clothing, even things to eat and ways to behave.

So, the metal genre spawned siblings. A fucking gluttony of them. And all that because, hey, everyone is special. Every difference in sound must thus absolutely find its own category.

All of that is driven by purists who would forever subdivide the sometimes excellent metal they were creating. And then stick to their guns, lest they would upset their coveted fan base. Even if their reach will be a few thousand adepts at best. Out of a few billion that actually listen to some form of music – every day.

This is the famed divide and conquer done backward, styles split down to stark oblivion. Which is not a good strategy if you look for fame. In other words, many bands find themselves stuck in a tiny slice of the metal multiverse. With metal being underground by definition, dividing yourself into ever smaller pieces will surely not give anyone the possibility to grow their audience.

Issue 3: Complexity – Lyrics and themes

Metal records often base themselves on themes. Nothing new, and nothing else than in other genres. But often, the topics float about mythology, magic, demonic powers, obscure stories, or history. So, oftentimes something that will require a certain educational background to follow. Or at least the drive to learn about a topic to understand the theme a bit better.

And that is too much complexity right there.

True, rap and hip-hop – to cite one current genre – cover issues, too. But often they rap about vindictiveness, drugs, and bitches. About fat, mean cars, wads of cash, tequila shots, and how they’re gonna gun down their adversaries. Which – by the way – they quite frequently do. Gives them that gangsta flair, those that do ‘a little bidness’.

And that’s cool, young, flashy, virile – and downright exciting for the youths of today. Whereas sitting in smelly clubs, filled with shrieking guitars and unkempt hairy individuals, deciphering complex growled storylines with a stale beer does not necessarily sound all that tasty.

Feel my drift?

Issue 4: To be commercial, or not.

Many a metal band steadfastly refuses to sacrifice to the vile gods of commerce. Because underground rocks and money stinks. Right?

So, instead of keeping the ear to the ground to scout the erratic wishes of the fans, many metal bands just doggedly refuse to latch on to the money train. Metal could indeed be catchy and a generator of wealth. The proceeds of which can, in turn, be reinvested into these bands, making even better records. That will grow your fan base to unknown levels.

But – alas – very often you see those artists just making music for themselves. Which is fine, if you don’t wanna be a rockstar.

So, has the Death Knell tolled for metal yet?

Frankly? I don’t know for sure. Metal somehow ceased to be cool some time ago, if it ever was. But is the genre dead? Not quite, but probably not far away from intensive care.

Also, since rock and metal saw the light of day, we have not seen a helluva lot of new styles. Nothing that moved the masses in a way Elvis Presley did, for instance, with his unbeatable rock’n’roll style.

Instead, all those metalheads got themselves into an almost academic conundrum. Reinventing the wheel all over again and adding a little detail proper to yourself became the norm. This led to an astounding fragmentation of something that should simply be called metal music.

Besides, all these folks chose to attach lifestyle questions to the screaming, and moved to virulently defend every little corner of their often tiny realm. To the point that any band covering a few genres at once is somewhat breathlessly called ‘fusion’, progressive, or alternative.

And what should we do about it?

Metal will probably never be ‘the mainstream’. And – I guess – nobody really wants to go there neither. Yet, to survive in any meaningful form, the genre needs to reform itself.

Creativity is the name and courage is the game. Fusion – as mentioned before – should not even be a term anymore, but the norm to forge new metallic tunes in ways not seen before.

In short, new ideas, fueled by the signs of the current times, need to find the fans’ turntables. Something exciting and commercially sound. After all, no fan wants to pay for something they actually don’t fancy. And I can’t blame them.

Success is truly possible, if there’s a will.

Think Rammstein, Nightwish, Black Sabbath, Within Temptation, the aforementioned Rotting Christ – the list is pretty big. But even so, compared to the faceless masses of metal bands out there, only a tiny slice of metal outfits really possesses those steely hooks. Those used to catch fans. A fucking gazillion of them.

So no, metal is not dead, nor have we heard any knell so far. And we truly have no requirement for a dirge at this point. But we may very well get there if things deteriorate further. Because – by my ice-cold metallic heart – I cannot see how this bunch of entrenched musicians will be able to liberate themselves, embrace change, and float to the top of any top ten.

We need more dirt, original, catchy compositions and get away from that atrocious complexity that plagues this genre. Give the fans what they want. Metal music for the masses. If this is possible at all.

There, you have it.



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