#5 Context is Everything

Across all of high school I pretty much listened to a grand total of five albums. Every single darn time, it was Vulgar Display of Power or Far Beyond Driven in the weight room. For in the car or when hanging out with friends, it was either Anthrax’s Attack of the Killer B’s, White Zombie’s La Sexorcisto, or last and maybe least, a tape of Metallica hits a friend made for me (and we mainly only listened to Anthrax for two songs– we loved “Startin’ Up a Posse” for its comedic value, and “Milk” because it has, like, Anthrax’s best riff ever).

I didn’t seriously get into music until ’96, after my third eye was opened during a dorm-room stoning.  It was the marriage of melody and intensity embodied by Alice In Chains that attracted me more than anything that summer.

I bless you with this personal information because I think it illustrates the rock / metal division well.  The Metallica album that summer was Load. To this day Load is my favorite Metallica album.

“Amazing! How is that possible?!”, I hear you gasping.  Simple.  From a rock & roll standpoint, Load is the best Metallica album.  The band themselves admitted to being inspired by AIC.  To me, METAL meant one thing:  the piledriver riffs of Pantera.


There was another factor.  When my metal friend got me listening to Pantera (circa ’93 or so), Metallica had already hit such a massive level of popularity that it was nearly impossible to perceive them as anything hardcore or rebellious.  In the long run it was my loss to not be able to get heavily into Metallica. On the other hand, my lack of expectations about the band allowed me to see Load for what it was, which was a brilliant piece of alternative hard rock.  (There was no backlash against Load in the town I grew up in, though of course any backlash against it might have caused me to embrace it even more.)

To summarize the point here, where your definition of metal lies on the “punk metal” spectrum is largely decided by the year you first dove head-first into music.  If “metal” to you is Pantera, then more classic-style metal like Metallica and Judas Priest is “rock”.

On the other hand, if “metal” to you is Metallica, then Pantera and Slipknot is more closely related to something like “hardcore”.

Even if you hate the way I just presented it, I think we can agree that there is at least one major dichotomy in metal, or stated another way, at least two large branches can be identified on the metal Yggdrasil— hardcore, riff-focused metal a la Pantera, versus the classic, melody-focused metal a la Metallica.  The downfall of the 00s metalcore movement should have been easy to predict– the two styles cannot be successfully combined. They cannot breed together, which is a concept important to my theory and which I want to discuss again later.

Metallica’s rise to stratospheric popularity with 1991’s self-titled album probably caused a lot of musicians to sell their guitars.  No, not because they were mad that Metallica “sold out”.  Because those bedroom superstars couldn’t top The Black Album in a thousand years.  Pantera itself may have been reacting to Metallica when it perfected its “groove” sound on 1992’s Vulgar Display of Power.

On the other hand, bands in Sweden clearly did not think melody was mined out. Melodic death metal arose in the 90s. One could argue that its lack of success in producing many great bands shows just how hard it is to craft original, appropriate, and agreeable melodies.



But a lot of the world finds error in my proposition that Gothenburg melogoth is for the birds.  Notable among those people are the types from Decibel magazine.  When you consider how that set worshiped At The Gates so hard it verges on stalking, and then started backing black metal in its most absurdly over-the-top form– laying on keyboards, choirs, “clean vocals”, clean guitar, and other melodic devices like they were going extinct (see Emperor circa Anthems, and the attendant orgiastic hysteria of the day in the metal press, ~1997-2001)– it becomes apparent why the Decibelites only grudgingly acknowledge Pantera.  Many Decibelites think concussive, riff-based metal is, well…    NOT METAL.

What is the problem?  What held many of the Decibelites back from riding out with Pantera to metal Valhalla?  I believe I know why, and I will discuss it in my next few posts.

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