"some music was meant to stay underground..."

OpEd

Metal Must Evolve – A Manifesto

Photo of Korn

Band Photo: Korn (?)

My biggest issue with metal in the 2010s is that in contrast to the past three decades, there's just a lack of creativity. Newer metalcore is being increasingly influenced by nu-metal and post-hardcore as the new musicians who are in their 20s and 30s are now playing music that's entirely an amalgam of what they grew up with as teens rather than creating anything new.

Blackgaze was novel for the first few years but now feels like the light beer version of black metal at this point that doesn't have the same edge that metal is supposed to have. I'm not sure if I want black metal to have a kinder, gentler, dare I say, “cuddlier” face when compared to the antisocial behavior that defined the second wave. When I hear a band like Alcest or Deafheaven, I don't feel like these are maniacs with serious mental issues precisely because it sounds way too calculated and professional for my aging ears.

Djent is nice but often feels too monotonous to really do justice to how technical it is. For, “progressive metal” the songwriting lacks the same level of unexpected changes in direction that make progressive rock acts like Rush and Yes so appealing. Yeah, Djent is heavy but it's also often predicable when unconventional songwriting is half of what separates metal and makes it so special and unique. Blackened sludge on the othe rhand is only going to appeal to people who want extremely raw production... who will never be great enough in number to establish a trend rather than a fad.

The 80s gave us glam, thrash, power metal and grindcore, while black metal and death metal were beginning to take form. The 90s had black, death and progressive metal explode in popularity while nu, industrial and groove metal dominated MTV and radio (albeit not to the extent that alternative rock did). The 2000s brought the world metalcore, deathcore, folk metal and symphonic metal. But nothing in this decade has impressed me to the extent that it needs to. And it needs to!

Older acts can't gain new fans without newer bands. Fact. Without new fans, fanbases just plateau. Maybe some kid will like something metal because their parents like it but I don't see a twelve-year-old in 2016 hearing about how great Napalm Death is from peers.

We live in a world where today's kids who are tired of R&B crooning and bubbly pop songs are far more likely to gravitate to electronic music since there is nothing that metal can provide that dubstep and techno can't. In an age where the current trends are either critically reviled, too highbrow or just too raw to really make today's teens and college kids want to care, what we need is a gateway band that still feels like a punch in the balls.

Back in the 90s – which was the last time that things got this dire – you at least had bands like Marilyn Manson and Emperor who were able to invite a whole new level of media controversy to their music. But more importantly, you had Pantera and KoRn mixing the macho posturing of gangster rap, radio friendly song lengths and enough of a brick-to-face brutality to keep the genre going even as Celtic Frost had broken up and three of the big four had turned to alt-rock. From there you had experimental artists like Rage Against the Machine, Deftones, Faith No More, Tool and Dream Theater allowing to expand the definition of metal (and actually make money doing it) precisely because Pantera and KoRn brought mainstream attention back to metal. But with radio no longer relevant, it's hard to get people to want to take that first listen since FM radio is something forced on listeners. Internet radio offers nearly limitless options for audiences to check out and that means listeners are free to stay within their comfort zone.

In the 2000s, you had Killswitch Engage, Disturbed and Nightwish piquing people's interest but they're all vets now. They're considered to be, “old people music” by kids today. So where's the gateway bands? Specifically, where are the gateway bands that the grizzled metal warriors of old can tolerate? Beartooth, Butcher Babies, Black Veil Brides and Motionless In White are all unlistenable junk who make Limp Bizkit look like credible artists.

These aren't gateway bands who will open listeners to new experiences. These are jokes who lack the ability to pack stadiums, much less get anyone over the age of 25 to listen. We need a new gateway band who are melodic enough to be accessible while also being brutal enough to please the old guard without picking up the most annoying habits that bands from past decade got stuck to their hides. If Beartooth are the Winger of the 2010s, that just makes our Pantera that much more needed. The closest thing right now is Five Finger Death Punch who are just as abhorrent as the above-mentioned garbage metal bands but somehow are able to pack stadiums.

But more importantly, we need a new trend. Might I suggest that just as nu metal drew from hip-hop, young musicians in their 20s and 30s look towards the electronic music that's considered to be the “hip” genre that still has enough bite to be embraced by the metal community. More bands claiming influence from The Berzerker and KoRn's “The Path of Totality” album would be welcome. It's not like it's without precedent since metal artists have been influenced by electronic music ever since the late 1980s. Just as Ministry, KMFDM, Godflesh, Fear Factory and Nine Inch Nails in the early 90s took their love of Skinny Puppy and Throbbing Gristle and created industrial metal, it's time for some artists today to look at what dubstep, noise and hardcore techno artists are doing and bring some of those sounds into metal. Something that's loud, abrasive, brutal and still feels modern and relevant in 2016. For instance, Belphegor have been collaborating with Hecate for years and Samael have always been doing what I just described but they're not in any way a trend. They're just two bands and the former only applies when working on rare collaborations. I want to hear the type of band who'll say in interviews that the end of “Elastic” on Meshuggah's “Chaosphere” changed the way that they look at music or that they got into metal because of some of the samples that Bong-Ra and Komprex use.

The question that the entire metal scene should be asking themselves is why has no band since The Berzerker made this their shtick. This isn't the change that the scene desires but the change that it needs. Case in point, here's some hardcore techno for you. Add some downtuned guitars and blastbeats and be inspired by it.

Dasher10's avatar

Matt is a freelance writer living in Chicago, Illinois and a metalhead since 1999.

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14 Comments on "Metal Must Evolve"

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Anonymous Reader
1. Dead Register writes:

This was a nice read, Matt. Cheers.

# Apr 27, 2016 @ 7:44 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
2. Dakinardi writes:

Check out russian dance metal - Xe-NONE and for a gateway band I think that BABYMETAL would do.

# Apr 28, 2016 @ 4:09 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
3. someone98 writes:

Well the thing is that metalheads dont really get to newer stuff simply because they think that every new band is sh** and only the old bands are true and real metal etc its not only the bands that are (as you say) becoming stale but the crowd is getting more and more introverted on what bands to listen to. Besides the above I agree with this. It is like Electronic Dance Music: something new pops up, for example: Dubstep or Future House or whatever, and everybody jumps on the wagon in order to get attention and become famous etc. In other words: Insecurity is making not only our music, but ALL music stale and repetitive. Be it Deathcore , Djent , Thrash or Trance , House , Dubstep. (It seems to get a bit out of topic but you can be the judge of that...)

# Apr 28, 2016 @ 5:02 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
4. Wanderer in the Outer Darkness writes:

I'm at a point where I just don't listen to any newer metal bands because I've heard it all before. I mostly come to this site to keep tabs on older bands and I do think that is a shame. In Solitude and Tribulation were the last metal bands to truly excite me and I don't think that is going to change for some time. Three years ago, I felt that "Sister" and "The Formulas of Death" provided the kind of evolution that metal needed in this decade. There was a sinister sense of melancholy and spiritual/musical transcendence present in those albums that I did not get with most metal. Despite the fact people labelled those two bands as "retro", I always felt the contrary. They had reconnected with metal's roots but were pushing forward in a new way that hadn't been done before. They weren't anybody's clones. Sadly, In Solitude are no longer with us but Tribulation are still going strong. I will say that I also hold bands like Saturnalia Temple, Degial and Vorum with a certain regard, but I can't say they are reinventing the wheel. Nonetheless, they are certainly worthy bands in their own right. They stick out whereas most modern metal bores me. Honestly, I'm more than happy just exploring other forms of music now.

For metal to be powerful nowadays, it has to be raised to an art form. It must be a reflection of something far bigger than just riffs and brutality for the sake of it.

# Apr 28, 2016 @ 2:10 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
5. Fat Bastard writes:

Wow, you sound like a grandpa. The main problem is, whenever somebody creates something different, trvu metalhead are the first ones to bash it, mostly because "dats not metal!!!1!". Sure, Five Finger Death Punch, Blackveil Brides etc. may seem like a crap for you and me, but now Korn and Disturbed also sound crappy to me, and yet they were my gateway bands, and I really liked them a lot long time ago. So if BVB or MIW are gonna be gateway bands to some new kids, what's wrong with that? You say that metal must evolve, but you want it to evolve it only in a specific ways that fits you. Sorry bro, but that's very close minded.

# Apr 28, 2016 @ 2:37 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Blindgreed1's avatar

Member

6. Blindgreed1 writes:

I always try to stay open minded when it comes to new stuff, but I think Dasher hit the nail on the head with a recent step back in creativity. Artists need to challenge themselves more and take more chances for the love of the craft and not the payout. Of course, paying the bills is nice, and society equates album sales with success but for some, admiration among your peers could be seen as success. Some of it is luck and some is in the timing. There will always be the elitist Cvlt Metal heads who will shoot down anything that has a high production value or isn't completely within their narrow scope of acceptability but a true artist doesn't create with those guys in mind. They do it because it's in their blood and they want as many people as possible to hear their interpretation of the art.

# Apr 28, 2016 @ 3:04 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
7. Ry Smith writes:

Wtf?? DJ Zardonic is pretty much leading the new trend you guys are talking about and you didn't even mention him in the article. What a joke.

# Apr 28, 2016 @ 10:27 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
8. anon writes:

Evolve?

Everything that could be said, has been said. All that matters now is how things are presented to you and if it clicks with you.

That ain't "evolving," that's just superficial eye candy.

# Apr 29, 2016 @ 8:11 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Drum_Junkie's avatar

Member

9. Drum_Junkie writes:

I found this op/ed to be a bit unclear with the argument not laid out very clearly. My comment will probably be similarly longwinded and confusing.
Here’s a couple responses directly to the article… Isn’t all music a product of the artists’ influences? Maybe the evolution is more a function of technology available. Shoegaze is subdued by nature. How can it be subdued and have an edge? Older acts can gain new fans, it’s just much easier when a gateway band hearkens back to the older influential band. Maybe those gateway bands that would treat your scrotum like a speedbag are already out there, but since you’ve already passed through the gate as it were, you can’t re-enter to fully appreciate what feels new, raw or powerful to the next generation. The 90’s weren’t dire, they just went underground. Opeth, Meshuggah, Death, Entombed, Fear Factory were just a few of the bands that released some stellar albums in the 1990’s. Some of those you mentioned while also claiming that 90’s were dire…

# Apr 29, 2016 @ 9:20 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Drum_Junkie's avatar

Member

10. Drum_Junkie writes:

It sounds like you want to direct how metal evolves. Evolution doesn’t work that way. No one person or even a group of people control evolution. Evolution is a constantly changing process were each new tool or adaptation (i.e. new music) is created and released into the environment where it fights for survival. If it is a successful alteration, then it survives, if not, it dies. Evolution both shapes and is shaped by the environment. The proliferations of new subgenres is ample proof that Metal is evolving – likely more so than any other style of music (other than possibly the dance/techno/dubstep genres which are newer). The reason for that, I believe, is the advancement of technology. Metal’s advancements and progression was shaped by the timing of technology and societal influences. Guitar’s, amps, effects pedals, electronic drums (ie Cynic), drum triggers, bass drum pedals are just a few of the tools that allowed new Metal genre’s to grow and take root. Imagine if Obituary tried to make their debut album with the guitar tone of The Stooges - that would have failed miserably.
It also sounds like you want to define what Metal is/ or isn’t. That horse has been beaten to death. While some of the bands you mentioned derogatorily are common scapegoats for ridicule, to write them off as not viable gateway bands is closed minded and exclusionary. Also, including the name calling really doesn’t bolster your argument at all. It is really a sign that you have no argument at all. For an example of a gateway progression that will assuredly date me, here’s mine. Poison ->; Warrant ->; Skid Row ->; Metallica ->; Overkill…. and then I got a Columbia House music subscription (remember those?) and it branched out from there. My tastes in Metal have evolved where I never thought they would. Clean singing in metal is not something that I would have gravitated to 10, 15, or 25 years ago. I couldn’t get into Iron Maiden as a youth for that reason. Lately however, I am really getting into the Female fronted bands and have a great appreciation for Bruce d***inson. How did I get there? My own evolutionary path which traced through Opeth ->; Epica ->; Mayan ->; Revamp ->; Nightwish and nearly full circle back to Iron Maiden. My own metal journey has evolved in ways I never thought it would go. My point being, Saying that Metal isn’t evolving is a statement from ignorance of what evolution is and out of frustrations trying to dictate the next trend in Metal is a fool’s errand that also fails to understand how evolution works.

PS. The Irony of your avatar being a caveman while writing about evolution has not been lost on me.

# Apr 29, 2016 @ 9:21 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
11. There are bands out there doing this writes:

Check out Tooms, an electronic metal band signed to Industrial Strength Records who are now a part of another band called Fail2Comply which has hardcore DJ Unexist and Hardcore Techno DJ Malke making the music. It's exactly what you described.

Problem is; no one wants to hear this sort of thing. Tooms got knocked back from an Industrial festival for being too metal and knocked back from a metal festival for being too industrial.

Maybe it's the promoters have a hand in this. If you look back the same handful of bands have headlined festivals for years. Long gone are the days when Daphne and Celeste would play before Rage against the machine and Slipknot.

# Apr 29, 2016 @ 2:26 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Dasher10's avatar

Writer/Reviewer

12. Dasher10 writes:

I did check out Tooms after you mentioned it. This is exactly what I was hoping to hear. Thanks for name-dropping this.

Also, my av isn't a caveman, it's a troll since I express unpopular opinions.

# Apr 30, 2016 @ 2:07 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
psythe's avatar

Writer, Reviewer

13. psythe writes:

Good read.

Beauty is in the ear of the beholder though.

# May 1, 2016 @ 2:45 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Blindgreed1's avatar

Member

14. Blindgreed1 writes:

Psythe? Holy sh!t. *looks at the sky to see if the moon is blue*

# May 4, 2016 @ 1:57 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address

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