The last few weeks have been an interesting one in music. Over in the US one of the iconic bands of the 1980’s, the band that defined excess, announced that after their next tour they would be calling it quits. Hardly a shock, we’ve known about Mick Mars’ failing health for some time, but still quite a defining moment in heavy metal history. Dom Lawson turns his attention to the pretty boys of rock, arguing that the image created for a band is as important as the music (for working out which bands not to listen to). He has a point. So do Scott Rowley and Terry Bezer when arguing that metal bands are simply evolving and that the media are being too safe (respectively).
Firstly, as a music genre, metal has survived longer than any other recorded medium. That it has survived at all is a testament to it’s universal appeal. True that the father’s of metal do still exist in jazz and blues, both riding on a resurgence of popularity that has even seen Robbie Williams getting in on the act, but neither have existed as popular as ever through six decades. To go back to Scott Rowley metal is a continuously evolving beast, borrowing from every genre surrounding it. Look at some of the most popular songs in the last 60 years and you can find a metal god at it’s heart. One of the biggest selling country and western records of all time? Written by Alice Cooper. Don’t believe me? Look up the sales of “Only Women Bleed” to see the list of artists that have covered it. As a genre metal has borrowed from almost every style in existence. Aerosmith were doing nu metal while Linkin Park were still in school. Tarja Turunen was singing opera while performing with Nightwish and Courteny Love’s violinist, Emilie Autumn, plays classical violin when not acting out her role as a Victorian bad girl.
Alice Cooper dragged shock rock out of the 60’s, Black Sabbath dragged heavy metal out of the 70’s and Metallica dragged Thrash out of the 80’s. Today it’s the most vibrant and diverse genre on the planet. Even the sub genres have sub genres it’s evolved so much. For a true music fan there is something for everyone, be it the sanitised AOR of Nickelback, the heavy industrial power of Rammstein, or the soul crushing black metal of Darkthrone. From Gallic bagpipes, Scottish sea shanties, and sweeping orchestral fantasies. It has sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. The fact that bands such as Metallica and Iron Maiden can still headline festivals is proof that it’s still very much alive as a genre. In 10 years time i expect to be hearing the same arguments that metal is becoming stale when Avenged Sevenfold and Bring Me The Horizon are headlining every other year. I also still expect to be hearing Black Veil Brides complaining about not having a number 1 album yet and being on the second stage, sorry but no one likes a dick head (even if the album isn’t actually all that bad).
Dom makes a good point about a band’s style in his post. While Scott argues that we should ignore what a band looks like and just listen, the look of a band is closely tied to their music. It’s a style generated to appeal to a particular audience and if I want to be honest that audience is not me in most cases. But I can look at a band and quickly make assumptions based on their look. Low necked t-shirts with tattoos on the neck? It’s a fair assumption that the vocals will be screamed into the microphone at such a high volume that I won’t be able to understand a word being sung. Face covered in white paint, upside down crucifixes and an abundance of black? Songs about death, Satan or Norse gods with guttural vocals that again I won’t have a clue about what is being sung. It’s a generalisation, but one that works in almost every case. By looking at the band you know what your ears are being let in for. However this is NOT new. In what way is this different to the bondage trousers and spiked hair of the punk era? Of the studs and leather of the NWOBHM? As a genre we have always tried to classify ourselves through our clothes and style and again it’s one that has continued to evolve. From Scandinavian metal to steampunk we define what we listen to through what we wear. Did fans of Slayer in the 1980’s suddenly stop listening to Iron Maiden? No, they didn’t. So go out on a limb and listen to all the different bands and use their look as a guide. But remember every guide is just a guide and not gospel.
Finally there is the argument that the media is playing it too safe. That because the media only wants squeaky clean the record companies are only promoting squeaky clean. That bands are too enmeshed in maintaining their image to take risks when metal is meant to be about risk and being the bad boys of music. I hate to say this but by definition that makes Justin Bieber the biggest metal act on the planet right now. While it’s always nostalgic to look back on the antics of Ozzy Osbourne, Slash and Nikki Sixx it should also be remembered that these very acts are the reason so many great musicians are no longer with us. Marc Bolan, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse. Who knows what music would have been produced had some of the greatest names in rock not died prematurely due to excess. It’s only due to incredibly good fortune that Nikki Sixx is still alive to announce the retirement of Motley Crue, by rights Girls, Girls, Girls should have been their final album. As a genre we shouldn’t celebrate the extreme, but celebrate the music created. After all, it’s the fusion of guitar, drums, bass and vocals that gets us hooked on a band, not how much alcohol and drugs the band can consume before going out on stage. As for complaining about the industry focusing too much on bands like Nickelback, Sleeping With Sirens and You Me At Six? They’re businesses, they’ll always promote what will sell, no different today than when Sigue Sigue Sputnik was created in the 1980’s. And yet despite decades of the media ignoring metal as a genre (with the rare exception of the occasional Radio 1 DJ) it’s still going as strong as ever and still has its bad boys. Just ask any owner of a Scandinavian wooden church.