So recently I read a great article on "False Metal", or as the author Dave Burns very verbosely and eloquently took six pages to describe, "The Financial and Farcical Return of Heavy Metal". I've engaged in varying degrees and extremities of 'metal dudeness' for the greater part of my life, so naturally the subject is something that is not only near and dear, but one that I have my own fork-tipped opinions on. Friends can vouch, and probably complain that I will crucify or herald bands that seemingly sound exactly the same, citing minute and admittedly pointless technicalities as their admission to my personal banquet table of glory. I openly admit to being opinionated and picky about music, especially the loud heavy kind. It's hard not to be when you've seen as many bands as I have.
Here's the article: I hope you have 30 minutes. It was originally published in Lamentations of the Flame Priestess which has my vote for the best named metal publication. Ever. I will warn you that it is long, and at times seems very unfocused and meandering. You'll want to give up, to write off Burns as a jaded burnt-up husk of a writer who is just seeking some kind of vent for his personal frustrations at the current music scene. But damn if he doesn't wrap it all up nicely on the last page. He cites his sources and quotes, and basically calls out the elite underground press channels and labels on a huge money making venture bent on turning our beloved "heavy metal" into a flavor of the month cash cow. The last paragraph really grabs the whole thing by the jewels and holds it up for a collective gasp...
"Mascara-wearing bands whose goal is to snort coke off of platinum records, alt-rockers posing as metallers and a venal metal media bending with the trends-these were the causes of the collapse of heavy metal in the early '90s that had a profound effect on the vitality of the underground. As a wise man once observed, history does repeat itself from time to time, but the first time around it is a tragedy and the second time it is a farce. The farcical nature of the current trends reproducing the atmosphere of the early 1990s is that it is all being done in the name of classic, true and honest heavy metal by individuals aping the sounds of the golden age without the passion and intelligence of the influences they are bastardizing for their own disingenuous ends. Yet there will be no significant counterattack: "journalists" in the metal media will either remain silent about these issues or willingly prostitute themselves by supporting bullshit music, the mainstream media will pick and choose whatever is being promoted as "the next thing" in metal and market it as such, bands with the influence and prominence to shape the terrain will take out less well-known versions of Avenged Sevenfold out on tour and champion them as real metal in order to remain "relevant," and many of the people listening to metal will unthinkingly embrace whatever is served up as metal to them. Still, the authentic, honest and true qualities of heavy metal is alive and well in some out-of-the-way corners and vibrant enough of a tradition that bands like The Sword and Avenged Sevenfold have glommed onto metal's folkways in an effort to become the next big thing. The impulses are not dead-they have just been twisted and contorted into shapes that serve trends fashioned to make metal into something meaningless for a marketplace devoid of any allegiances beyond the almighty dollar. However, despite the convergence of factors which precipitated heavy metal's implosion in the past, a collapse is not "inevitable"-these are events shaped by human hands and orchestrated by the metal and mainstream media. Maybe it is a fool's errand to walk in front of the metal and mainstream industry train carrying loads of cash and consumers to market in an attempt stop it, but now is the time for people who care about heavy metal and have any integrity or decency left in their veins to rip up the tracks and make the "underground" act like an underground and demand an independent metal media free from conniving industry machinations. In other words, it is high-time for people to make a stand for a metal that is honest, authentic and true-since others are already doing so in a false fashion with no other goals in sight beyond padding their pockets and increasing their self-important status."
~Dave Burns, June 2006
I want to hug the guy. But there's a "but", a big "but"... Some of these bands he is calling out I genuinely like. A lot. And they're bands that I will gladly take up arms for and wage a fierce and throbbing battle on the field of authenticity. The Sword is one of his flagship bands that he continually refers to as he builds his case against the aspiring commercial rock conglomerate. Knowing the band personally (+15 scene points) I will state that from my perspective they're 4 dudes who played their cards wisely and found a label, booking agent, and publicity agent that have enabled them to comfortably do what they really want: Get high everyday and play some seriously groovin' stoner jams. While it seems they may have dollar signs in their eyes, those dollar signs are actually thousands of little pot leafs that just happened to settle into a shape that kind of resembles a dollar sign, but also resembles a Laney full stack if viewed from the right angle.
However, Mr. Burns (heh) does indeed have a good point, and it's one I can't ignore. The ferocity of which The Sword and bands of their ilk have stormed into the underground is alarming, and clearly has the same kind of marketing blitz behind it that one sees from major labels. Remember when punk got huge? I mean HUGE? It's not as bad now as it was 7 or 8 years ago, but as a fan I remember feeling very offended that my little scene was turning into a huge, gross, candy coated fake version of itself. It's like the kennel scene in The Thing when beard dude watches his beloved dogs morph into a giant space monster that shoots green slime from severed veins. It's your little pet that you discovered and hold dear, and suddenly it becomes this crazy ugly version of your pet that is giant and kind of stumbling around with no clear focus other than engulfing your colleagues. The results of the 90's punk explosion are still bobbing on the bloody brine, washed up carcasses chewed by sea life and rotting on the beach, left overs we can still smell. No Doubt, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Gold Finger, Blink 182, Rancid, Green Day, bands that in their youth had varying shreds of authenticity (Okay, not Gold Finger) but at some point were assimilated by the radio friendly corporate rock cyborgs (yeah, I imagine them like the Borgs in Star Trek the Next Generation) and began churning out forgettable radio rock that was occasionally heard on your Mom's favorite station.
It throws me back to when I was 17, and being a 17 year old male was flipping through my sister's Delia's catalogue looking at the model babes dressed in the latest fashions being pushed onto young girls with expendable (parental) income. I turned the page and to my absolute revolt saw a studded "punk" bracelet in their accessories section, right next to the plastic pink earrings and ankle-wear. I nearly tore the Misfits shirt from my back. I can't look at those catalogues now because it's creepy, and while I'm still at the nubile age of 25, 17 year olds are more "babies" than they are "babes".
Dave Burns and I see the same thing starting to happen to metal. Again. The most flagrant violators are the "guy-liner" bands. Avenged Seven Fold, Atreyu, Himsa, etc... I know make up has it's place in metal, who can forget the first time they saw Dee Snyder with his enormous, lipsticked-to-all-hell mouth agape, between two rosy circles painted on his alabaster face? A true horror to even the most unshakeable warriors. But the difference between the afore mentioned bands and Motley Crue in a hot tub filled with champagne is staggering. It's like the new bands are trying to play it off that somehow they're cool for wearing eye liner and black nail polish, that they're tapped into some elite fashion vein and are leaking their secrets out into the pages of AP and Revolver. I don't know where this started, but there needs to be a huge collective slap in the face. YOU LOOK STUPID. STOP IT NOW. I AM BLUSHING FOR YOU. YOU WILL NOT BE PROUD OF THIS IN 10 YEARS.
Looks are one thing though. If the bands were actually good it wouldn't matter whether they went with Chanel or Loreal. The new wave of heavy bands is largely an uninspired throw back to good music that was played with soul and fire, and is now fizzling. The sounds you hear aped the most are Neurosis, At the Gates, Melvins, and of course the Sabbath/Kyuss/Sleep style blues riff rock. It's getting about as entertaining as a 1-2 drum beat in 1997. And if the tradition holds, it's right about when it starts to get really old in the underground that it explodes into the mainstream and the original fans are forced to shield their eyes from the nuclear blast that was their once beloved independent scene. Remember metal core in the late 90's? Did you ever see Botch live? That shit was it's own little grenade that we got to throw every other weekend, and now look at the bulk of the programming on MTV2. It's all cyclical, and it snowballs from basements and 75 capacity clubs into shopping malls and Ozz-Fest.
I do want to make it clear that this is not an attack on the bands, and more a rage against the hype machine that pushes and markets the bands. For the most part I am a fan of heavy rock and will champion bands like Lords, Big Business, Torche, Saviours, Mastodon, High on Fire and so on. These people are artists and should be treated as such. There's nothing wrong with being a successful musician, it's absolutely what I want, what any musician wants. These bands all deserve success, and in my opinion can make it to whatever plateau they're aiming for strictly on the merit of their ability to kick out the jams. It doesn't need to be inflated with hot air. In the end, I agree and disagree with Dave Burns. You can't completely reject a hyped up heavy band. Half the reason they're getting the hype in the first place is because they're good. But, he is completely and utterly on point with spotting the trend in the aggressive marketing of this music that I love, and a lot of the bands buying into it are utterly false. My anger and skepticism of "new heavy" is fueled by fear, a fear that something I hold very close will be torn from my arms, given a boob job, and then dropped into some jock's car stereo. When that happens, when you see computer programmers walking out of baseball games in Isis shirts, all of a sudden it isn't very special anymore. I can only hope that the bands maintain their integrity and use their success as a tool to keep making good music, and that we aren't left with a "Date Stephen O' Malley" reality TV show.
Anyways, read Dave's article. It's much more illuminating than you'd think, and while it's depressing to see that kind of mainstream marketing in the "independent" scene I feel equipped to deal with it knowing it's there.