Trevor’s Corner 1: On Metal and Its Reception

You know, why does it seem like as Indie grows to be one of the most prominent genres in rock music today, Metal gets pushed further and further away from the spotlight? As Indie grows more and more accessible, with bands like Deerhunter and Animal Collective releasing their “pop” albums (Granted, they were their best albums yet, but I digress), Metal bands continue to become harder and harder to like with untrained ears? You listen to bands such as Mastodon and you hear Heavy Metal, but with their success, it becomes more and more apparent just how hard it is for some bands to break that line between the underground and the mainstream. Two metal bands have done it, and both took very different paths to do it:

Case one is Metallica, who instead of continuing to evolve in their created genre, decided to clean it up and look to famous metal bands of yore who found success on smaller venues until they forced themselves into radio airwaves, i.e. Judas Priest and Motorhead. However, most Metallica fans up to that point had come to expect more from the gruesome foursome, and with the release of the Black Album, it seems Hetfield and company got a taste of the spotlight and refused to ever go back to their glory days. Black Album led to further stagnation, and now, we see them as this big joke of a band, much like a Weezer of Metal; trying to re-spark that initial flame, but not having the chops to do it. This is what you call selling out; by cleaning up their act and making it more digestible for the mainstream audience, they stagnated their own genre with shitty album after shitty album until the Metallica that lies before you was created. A bunch of 40 to 50 something’s trying to act like their 20 again.

Case two however is the one of Mastodon, who are currently in the middle of their “Hero’s Journey of Metal”, who Metallica traveled very similarly: first was their Heaviest and most purely genre-anchored album, then came their epic sweep, then their best, then the experiment album. Next in this trajectory should be their sell-out album, but like most of the music world, we don’t really expect Mastodon to do such a thing. Why? Well, just call it a hunch, or perhaps it’s just that I trust a band more focused upon paying homage to their influences (Neurosis and Thin Lizzy leap immediately to mind) than a bunch of jerks trying to make it big as Metal Gods. Well, they got their wish…kind of…

However, what I really want to focus on is the fact that it seems impossible for any Metal band to be taken seriously by the mainstream media that aren’t these two. If we look back upon 2009, we see that it was a great year for metal; Obscura released an opus, Krallice released the best Black Metal album in recent memory, Black Math Horseman debuted as strongly as any band could, Isis continued to shift the paradigm, Kylesa made their best effort yet, Converge became the new Black Flag; it goes on and on. However, how many “Best of 2009” lists do you see these admirable bands make? None, discounting metal publications. Why is it so hard for a bunch of music snobs to accept the fact that people screaming and yelling about demons and shit is usually pretty awesome?

Seriously though, would singing work for any of the bands above? Hell no. God forbid we have the hackneyed “Scream the verse, sing the chorus” paradigm that so many crap metal bands subscribe to. Lyrics are not a secondary thing in any good metal band, as any Mastodon or Intronaut will show you; hell, if Protest the Hero can make the best concept album of 2006, why can’t they be taken seriously? Is it that it’s all too technically-based? Is it the machine gun arms that the drummers stock? Is it the tremolo picking? Is it the long haired guy yelling about fantasy shit or death? Is it a combination of all the above?

Probably, but since when is sounding inaccessible a bad thing? Hell, Animal Collective until Strawberry Jam were nigh untouchable by any non-indie person, but they were and continue to be one of the best bands around. Since when was yelling your head off a recipe for disaster? Issac Brock has been doing it and continues to be the most impressive songwriter in the modern Indie world. Guitar technicality? This Town Needs Guns. Hardcore drumming? Smashing Pumpkins. When will I see one of my favorite genres get an album of the year?

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