Perfect Sound Forever


the handsome gents of Sodom

by Cam Netland
(February 2017)

Metal's volatile history is as fascinating and non-linear as the music itself but will the innovation that characterized metal's past continue or stagnate? Though metal is limited as an offset of rock music, it nevertheless embodies dozens of different micro genres and continues to develop new styles with each passing year. After more than forty years of existence and development metal is a vast playing field of music with hundreds of talented bands trying to innovate and redefine the sound as their forefathers did.

Every decade of music is reminiscent of the culture encompassing it and metal is no exception. For example: in the 1980's (metal's full second decade of existence) distinct styles of extreme metal such as grindcore, black, and death were spawned. Even though bands such as Bathory, Death, Napalm Death, and Celtic Frost were considered extreme during their times, we review and praise their influence today with reverence and herald those bands as pioneers. This heavier side of metal simultaneously shared a rise in aggressiveness with other hardcore scenes during this period such as punk (Bad Brains) and hip hop (NWA, Public Enemy). This increase in the threshold for people's tolerance to aggressive and contradictory music reflected the tensions of the Cold War, modernization of art, and overall brutality of the decade. In other words, pay attention bands- no matter what you do with your music, you can't escape the time you're working in. You can sound ahead of it, sure, and that's always an incredible thing to hear people say about your music, but no matter how tight you sound, you'll always be operating in the now. The question then is, how to sound new in the here and now? Especially our now.

The problem for contemporary bands (and there are absolutely fantastic bands operating at the moment, don't get me wrong) is that after so many decades of development, genre crossovers, first waves, and second waves, we've come to a period where new metal just sounds like... another type of metal. Sure, there are bands pushing boundaries within their respective genres- think Deafheaven, even if the name triggers your purist principles, and also think Vektor and Alcest. But, as much as it pains me to admit, there has been relatively few new types of metal since the 2010's began, with the exception of Babymetal of course. Even if it make me feel weird for liking it.

Babymetal prepping for their demise

If the music reflects the decade that we live in then what does our current styles of metal say about the 2010's? Hindsight is 20-20 but during the 2000's we can at least pinpoint which albums changed the game early on and those albums are still absolute monsters today (Mastodon's Leviathan, Converge's Jane Doe, System of a Down's Toxicity, etc.). It feels much harder to do that now (off the top of my head, I can name Babymetal's self-titled album, Deafheaven's Sunbather, and now Vektor's Terminal Redux). Are these the albums that will be remembered by future music junkies who listen to seminal releases from our decade the same way we obsess over the early years of '90's Norwegian Black Metal or the golden years of thrash in the '80's? What will be remembered?

If music is derived from the decade, then the decade is also integral to the music. In order to understand the music, we have to first understand the decade. And to do that with the 2010's would be... difficult to say the least. For the new distinct (and by distinct, I mean popular) scenes that have evolved within the 2010's I would argue we really only have blackgaze (Deafheaven, Alcest, Wolves in the Throne Room), kawaii metal (Babymetal), and djent (Periphery, Tesseract, the Contortionist). Even though djent has been around for almost 20 years, I include it only because the scene has truly become popular only in recent years and is merely further evidence of how little innovation there has been in the 2010's (I'm also positive someone will find an example of something I neglected and call me out for it but to those naysayers I challenge them to present me new metal genres from the 2010's that are only one word in length). From what I've seen on online forums and popular releases, the aforementioned are the three new scenes that stand out the most to me-- the new progressive doomgaze, blackcore, shitgroove album you found on Bandcamp doesn't interest me. And don't even get me started on derivative trash from radio metal groups like Five Finger Death Punch, Disturbed, etc..

I also am openly refusing to acknowledge genres that come across as parody rather than genuine art (looking at you, pornogrind). My lack of tolerance for genres I deem ridiculous isn't surprising in our community. We're fickle, it's the nature of us metalheads and we're becoming even more divided from our loyalties to our favorite genres. My firm belief that our differences in life make us weaker rather than stronger comes directly from my experiences conversing with the metal community. Every online discussion is marred by constant bickering as to how we should label our music along with frequent infighting between styles (black vs. death being a notable rivalry). We also have this terrible tendency of being suspicious of anything new that becomes popular. Call us hipsters, but metal has always been a genre that enjoys being under the radar. Considering we're a micro genre of pop music ourselves. we do whatever we can to remind ourselves that we are not that. Essentially, metal has been slowly eroding internally by its own diversity, strive for uniqueness, and outward hostility towards bands that break into the mainstream.

So how do we fix this growing divide? A breath of fresh air? Something preferably lacking more cute Asian girls with high pitched voices please... OK, just kidding, that's fine. But seriously, what's to expect for the future of metal?

Here's my theory. Unlike the 2000's where serious political and cultural change was felt early on in the decade by society, the 2010's have been marred for the most part by stagnancy and formerly unspoken tensions that have recently manifested themselves in the victory of Donald J. Trump. As a result of this cultural shift, the metal community can expect the best offerings from the 2010's to come from its second half as the global society has changed. In terms of art it feels like the entire decade was working its way up towards its current configuration before it was ready to show us what it's got. Whether metal can truly continue to produce new and original sounds--memorable art is on its way and the metal community is in dire need.

Metal, and music in general, is like the color spectrum. There exist a template of colors available before they cease to be metal altogether and become other music. Within those colors exist further combination of colors. Although the combinations are theoretically infinite-- unfortunately (even for the highly tuned metalhead ear), there exists a point where the blending of these musical combinations become so blurred that we will be unable to pinpoint the differences between them. Until then let's hope our ears can evolve ahead of our eyes so we can hear metals new colors in the coming years with greater clarity and distinction.

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