Things just got real for many of us in the metal/hardcore music community. To be more accurate, things have actually become dramatically surreal due to the recent arrest of As I Lay Dying founder and frontman, Tim Lambesis, who has been accused of hiring someone to murder his wife.
I’m sure it is no surprise to many who know me, that Tim is a friend of mine. I have countless acquaintances from my years in the music business, but I only have maybe a dozen very close friends that I stay in touch with regularly, make sure to visit when they are in town, confide in, perhaps seek council. Tim is one of those people. I saw him less than two months ago and interviewed him for a forthcoming podcast. I went out of my way to interview him first for the podcast because of the interesting philosophical conversations we have had. I also recorded a guitar solo for the new Austrian Death Machine album, and discussed having him do guest vocals for a possible solo album I may do.
There seems to be a firestorm in the metal world regarding the state of the industry, Spotify, illegal downloading, and the philosophical struggle between capitalism and artistic integrity. Lines have been drawn in the sand and it’s getting fucking personal. I have remained rather silent on the sidelines but all of this action has inspired me to enter the fray.
But I’d like to approach this discussion from a different angle than the one that has been taken thus far – one which deals with some issues that are beyond music. Perhaps you could call it a political discussion, or a cultural discussion, or even a philosophical discussion. I want to talk about the idea of ownership, and what exactly that means in our modern, western paradigm, which is one rooted in competition-based capitalism.
I was inspired to put some thoughts down after reading Sergeant D.’s post about what a terrible decision it is to commit yourself to the band life at a young age, because eventually the wheels will fall off and you’ll end up just like some morose version of the Anvil story: Sad, old, broke, and disillusioned by shattered dreams of rock stardom. I know his blog was supposed to be funny and sarcastic, and was even sprinkled with a hint of sour grapes: Not getting to be that “cool band guy,” but justice being served down the line by seeing how those guys ended up. But I have to say that post hit home for me, because in many ways it was about me. I mean generally, not specifically. I’m pretty sure Sergeant D. didn’t follow me around and base his post on me autobiographically.
I graduated high school mentally unprepared for the real world; I never really grasped the idea that I would have to get up everyday and work a job I didn’t feel connected to for the rest of my life. Being a “grown up” was something I didn’t want any part of and couldn’t relate to. Music was the only thing I really loved, and I seemed to be good at it, or, at least, it seemed to come easier to me than most of my peers in the local scene I was involved in. I didn’t picture myself being a musician for a living, either. My heroes, like Pantera and Megadeth, were mythical to me. The idea that you could actually do that with your life just didn’t seem real at the time, so I just went with the flow and didn’t really set any long term life goals or follow any solid decrees. I only lasted one semester in college, and left to work to focus on God Forbid because it felt like we were on to something. Within a year of leaving school, the band was signed to Century Media, and within two years, we all quit our jobs and transitioned to being a full-time touring band. That was ten years ago.
For my opening salvo, I suppose I should mention that it has been a long break between blogs. I’ve been meaning to get back to it, but this summer has been a very busy one filled with the musical composition of the new God Forbid album as well as a new project I’ve been working on, in addition to the daily pursuit of living life and getting by. I hope to contribute more frequently in the near future.
If you’ve followed my articles in the past, you may notice that I often address music history, and pertaining to this site, heavy music specifically. I have a great respect for artistic pioneers and the roots of where the most admirable and brilliant music stems from. I was the type of kid who would read liner notes and interviews by my favorite bands to find out who influenced them. I would always want to climb that musical family tree to see where it lead.
In the last few years, something seemed to happen and I barely noticed. Suddenly, I’m no longer the young kid at the show. I’m one of the guys hiding out by the bar. I’m not crowd surfing, not covered in sweat with my shirt off, and I’m certainly not moshing. I’m also not randomly yelling “Slayer!”, but that seems to span all demographics. I became… (gulp)… an adult. I don’t know what the range is in the ages of the followers of MetalSucks, but I’ll assume that it’s a mix of younger and older metal fans. I am 29 years old, but I still feel relatively young and energetic considering my opening salvo. I’m the youngest member of my band, and younger than a good majority of my friends in bands and the industry.
With that said, I think there comes a time for all metal heads, and probably all adults for that matter, when you look at what is popular amongst the true youth culture (16-24), and you feel as if not only do you not relate to it, but it feels alien, as if it’s creation was not meant for your consumption (which it wasn’t) – and it also seems inferior to music that you grew up with. I’m only 29, and I’m already having “back in my day” moments. It kind of scared me, and I began to wonder if I was being obtuse and a little too set in my ways, or if my analysis was accurate.
I am going to assume that a decent portion of the followers of this site are themselves musicians with bands of their own. That is generally how it goes with metal. There are seamless lines blurred between the “fans” and the “bands” because, like myself, many metal patrons represent both categories. Without this large sector of musician fans, technically proficient bands that cater directly to this base (like Dream Theater, Meshuggah, and Necrophagiast) would be much less successful. So to those musicians, I would like to use this blog to shine a light on one of the harsh truths in all music and entertainment that many musicians choose to ignore –
Image matters a lot in this industry. In fact, it’s probably just as important as the music.
When it comes to music (and other things really), I tend to play devil’s advocate. If everyone is shitting on a certain band, for some reason, I become more attracted to that band and seek them out. I don’t know what it is about my personality, but I think it stems from the same perspective that inspired me to write the antagonistic blog about rethrash. It may be a character flaw, but I’m sure it has something to do with a need to be an individual. From what I gather, this website is inhabited mainly by “true” metal heads. What I define as “true” are people whom are purists in the realm of metal and usually scoff at any band or trend that reeks of premeditated commercialism or an overt play for popularity, and who usually demand a certain level of musicianship and underground credibility. These fans usually hate every Metallica record after …And Justice For All, and for that matter always prefer any particular band’s older releases, which usually have a more raw and unrefined recording quality, as well as more abstract, less traditional song writing. For example, they will prefer Carcass’s Necrotiscim to Heartwork, or Morbid Angel’s Blessed Are The Sick toDomination. Oh yeah, and these guys gave up on In Flames and Soilwork years ago.
I have a good deal of that purism in my bones, but it always seemed short sighted and close minded. You have no idea how many arguments the Adler brothers from Lamb of God and I have gotten into over the merits of a particluar Metallica or Megadeth record. If you even bring up Disturbed or Limp Bizkit on MetalSucks, it is mocked and disregarded 100% of the time. I think metal heads often have a sheep mentality because of the fear of being viewed by their peers as less credible for liking bands that aren’t considered “true” or “real” enough. We all have guilty pleasures, but the real question is “Why should we feel guilty about something we enjoy?”
We’ve all been there. Tensions are high in some packed, sweaty venue, sparked by feverish excitement and the potential for violence. These people paid good money to enjoy some type of cathartic release. The frontman for whatever hard-nu-death-crab-metal-core outfit is brazen and demanding. Can you believe this shit? You PAID to be entertained, and this guy is telling YOU what to do! The speech goes something like this: “I want everybody in this room moving! Front to back, side to side, NO ONE STANDS STILL! When this part kicks in, I want total [Insert destructive word here like “chaos,” “mayhem,” or “bedlam” if you’re witty]. If the person next to you isn’t moving, MAKE THEM MOVE!” Than, if the action is not adequate, this screamer/pep rally organizer calls YOU some variation of “pussy” or “faggot” or really anything to make you feel like a soft, womanly bitch of a man in order to get in that pit and kick another grown man in the face, all in the spirit of making this band look like they are awesome. But then something happens, as if the air is sucked out of the room at the moment of impact – when those glorious staccato chugs kick in, the crowd is almost always powerless to its charms regardless of the obvious lack of substance. Like junk food and reality TV, we have a love affair with breakdowns.
A couple weeks ago, I did an interview with Metal Injection for a retrospective on the highlights, trends, and cultural significance of the heavy music scene from an insider’s perspective concerning the last ten years. Near the end of the interview, I was asked if there were any sub-genres or trends that I didn’t like, or that seemed to get on my nerves. I thought about it for a minute, and generally annoying things like nu-metal or screamo or stale metalcore just seemed obvious and an easy target, when something dawned on me. I was generally annoyed by the whole ReThrash scene.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Municipal Waste, and have enjoyed the likes of Warbringer and Toxic Holocaust on occasion. I consider myself a diehard original thrash fan, counting Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Testament as some of my all-time favorite bands that really imprinted themselves on my musical DNA, displaying exactly what great heavy metal should embody. After this interview, I kept thinking about this, and realized that what perturbed me wasn’t the music at all. I liked plenty of these bands. What I really didn’t like was when any type of retro trend gets way too much credit without bringing anything significantly new to the equation. So I guess my real beef is with metal critics, blogs, websites, industry aficionados, and publications, all of which tend to have an over reaching obsession with nostalgia. Not to play favorites, but I am also equally bothered by the metal media’s constant stroking of the stoner rock scene, AKA 10,000 bands that all sound like Black Sabbath.
Last week, during one of my daily perusals of this very blog, I came across a rather scathing recounting of Killswitch Engage’s self-titled album, which came out earlier this year. This caught me a bit off guard, as I considered it to be one of my favorite albums of the year and a step in the right direction from Daylights Dies, which was at first very disappointing but grew on me after some time. I was even more surprised when I saw that most user comments tended to agree with the blog entry.
Most of the criticism seemed to center around Killswitch’s supposed inability to stray from their winning formula. People seemed to think that their sound had become stagnant, and that there wasn’t enough variety between albums and songs. Now I don’t disagree that KSE has a pretty standard formula for their songs and a definitive sound that really hasn’t changed a whole lot over the years, but I am disagreeing that this is necessarily a bad thing. I want to ask you guys if you think it’s better for a band to stick to a relatively confined style through their career like Hatebreed, Cannibal Corpse, or Motorhead, or is it better to expand and experiment like Mastodon, The Haunted, or Cave In.