Metal: Sound or Image? Where is the Line Drawn?
Band Photo: Behemoth (?)
One of the most defining moments in my musical development was back in 2004 when Yahoo Launch saw that I liked listening to Unearth, Fear Factory, and Lamb of God and thought that I might enjoy My Chemical Romance's “I'm Not Okay.” That single moment of revulsion caused me to look for music on my own terms after seeing how some corny and cheesy pop-rock could somehow be marketed towards metalheads. Today, we see a number of bands that try to look and act like they're part of the metal scene through their image (and the bands they tour with), but have a sound rooted more in traditional rock and roll than anything spawned by Sabbath.
First off, I'm not here to debate the merits of bands like Ghost and Ancient VVisdom. The debate over artistic integrity isn't at all relevant here. Instead, this is about is marketing and claiming bands that in no way sound “metal” are still technically considered part of the metal scene. Personally, I do like some occult rock as I've long been a fan of Current 93 and I've done my fair share of listening to Coven. That said, I'd never call Current 93 a metal band nor would I want the group touring with Cannibal Corpse. Variety between acts belongs to big music festivals like Bonaroo and Lollapalooza, and not to small club shows.
To put things in perspective, I spent most of last year as far away as I possibly could from the heavy metal scene in no small part due to this development. We live in an age where Metal-Archives considers Ghost to be metal, but won’t list Periphery. Ghost shirts are now among the most worn at metal shows and I watched in horror as fans at The Decibel Magazine Tour preferred The Devil's Blood to Behemoth and In Solitude. (Nothing against The Devil's Blood though: SL is a great guitarist and songwriter, but he is in no way a metal musician.)
Now if David Tibet decided to take The Devil's Blood and Jess and The Ancient Ones out on tour, I'd probably buy a ticket (for the record, I consider Jess and the Ancient Ones debut album to be among the best of 2012. It's just not a metal album). But it's important to know that these bands aren't metal. While occultism is certainly an important theme to bands like Tool, Behemoth, and Burzum, insisting that their lyrics are what defines them as “metal” is like saying that Rage Against the Machine is a punk band or Tourniquet is a Gospel music act.
At some point a line must be drawn that defines a specific sound as metal before the term loses all meaning. I'm all for cross-pollination, since I've lost count of how many hardcore and speedcore artists are influenced by metal and how many metal bands are influenced by classical music, but what keeps genres and scenes alive are these distinctions and differences that allow new genres of music to materialize.
KoRn has already toured with Skrillex, so what more will it take to cause some sort of conservative backlash against these tour packages that dilute the metal scene instead of promoting it? At what point will we rise up and say what today is unthinkable - “Ghost isn't metal and aesthetics aren't anywhere near as important as sound.”
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