The thing about heavy metal is that for the longest time it struggled for legitimacy. Like punk, its practitioners faced accusations of making senseless racket and of not knowing how to play their instruments (or sing). In light of this, the inferiority complex built into its young personality was forgivable. The genre would strive harder and harder to prove its worth to the mainstream, in the process producing musicians of dazzling technical ability and songs that define the very essence of compositional complexity– and everyone cheered for the underdog.
As time went on, “Metal” got so good at what it did that eventually, it replaced “rock & roll” as the default linguistic placeholder for the outcast rock & roll set’s guitar-driven music of choice (tinkly indie rock arose to fill the void for those timid urbanites who eschew bong hits in basements in favor of sucking down microbrews in yuppie pubs). Alas, a lifetime of being picked on didn’t bequeath to metal an empathic soul. No, it seems to have made a bully, now the genre is all grown up. Looking at its own success, metal’s conservative quarter has given rise to a reactionary movement– a violent reaction to anything that appeals to the traditional rock & roll values of sex, drugs, and, well– rock & roll.
The Metal-herds, aka Snowflake Lords
You could say that metalheads always took themselves a little too seriously, but in the early era of MTV, you could see whether people were having fun in their music videos, and if they weren’t having fun, they looked like idiots. Popular thrash metal acts at least tried to bill themselves as part of a big hard-partying family. Subsequently, in the 90s, metal could only sulk as grunge stole its intensity and married it to existential awareness and a more robust sense of melody.
But oh, how times have changed. Maybe the change has as much to do with the wider society, with the zeitgeist, as the subculture. An empire in decline, its resources drained by foreign wars and its jobs outsourced, is not the soil in which old hippie ideals of peace, love, unity, and fun are like to thrive. A populace given short shrift by bankers and psychotic corporations, an inch from collapsing in a stiff lump after working all day to earn a meager wage, is not one quick to celebrate excess. Combine this catalytic economic climate with a ravaged music industry, and fuel it with a form of instantaneous communication that is as accessible to the most emotionally regressive member of society as well as the most refined, and the seeds have been planted for a totalitarian regime to arise in the world of music criticism. And arise it has. A faction of metal demagogues, entrenched equally in both British metal press and the internet, is not merely emboldened, but now made downright smug in light of metal’s vast technical superiority and dispassionate invulnerability. For reasons that I will venture to guess at in a moment, this dominant faction tries to tear down anything that arouses the emotions of euphoria, empathy, or sentimentality– or which might sound good when you are fucking in the woods under a full moon. Bands that embody the passion of the Goddess and true Dionysian ideals– Huntress, Blood Ceremony, and Ruby the Hatchet– are ignored in favor of pointless underground black crust bands that make metal hipsters feel special.
Meanwhile, bands that embody true Apollonian power, from Suicide Silence to Whitechapel, are marginalized in favor of tech wankery.
My wife is a rock & roll chick, but she was never that into drugs. She was into the scene. She likes some metal now and again, when it is in unrepentant cheese mode a la power metal (take recent Gloryhammer), or when it spins tales of prankster spirits bolstering the little guy in his battle against the bully (take recent Coheed & Cambria). But when things get too crazy, either along the Apollonian axis of drug-fueled, extreme metal alternate states of consciousness, or along the Dionysian axis of sexy drunken orgiastic debauchery, she bows out.
She’s not a member of the metal-herd, but those more uncontrolled areas of life are not her cup of tea. My next post is for those Lords of Chaos who drink deeply from the well of life.