Second Coming The Resurgence of Heavy Metal in popular music Introduction The Resurgence of Heavy Metal in popular music
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Heavy Metal music has endured a long and turbulent history. From its introduction nearly four decades ago, to its popularity explosion in the 1980’s, heavy metal music has been met with constant criticism and scrutiny. Violent crimes, suicide, drug use, and deviant sexual behavior were all used as reasons by parents and the government to target and eliminate this genre of music. As the grunge movement exploded in the late 80’s and early 90’s heavy metal music saw a large decline in popularity. The sold-out stadium tours were all but memories to the majority of bands that once thrived in the genre. Since then, numerous bands have begun to rekindle the heavy metal flame. For the first time in over a decade, heavy metal has seen resurgence into popular music. Due to its increasingly complex social and political issues, metal speaks to a large and growing audience. The diversity of sub-genres in heavy metal music also allows many people to find their niche within the culture. Metal also has a close-knit social community of dedicated fans who keep the genre thriving. While it may not rise to meet its popularity of the 80’s; this resurgence proves the genre is alive and well, as metal bands continue to gain new fans and a new respect in the music industry.
Heavy Metal: (noun) 2- a type of highly amplified harsh-sounding rock music with a strong beat. -Oxford English Dictionary
Heavy metal artists and their lyrical content have been subject to a large amount of negative criticism. The 1980’s saw numerous lawsuits targeted at heavy metal artists lyrics. In 1896, the parents of 19 year-old John McCollum sued Ozzy Osbourne over his lyrics to the song, “Suicide Solution” claiming he was listening to the song when he committed suicide (NY Times 1986). Judas Priest front man Rob Halford faced a similar lawsuit in 1990 after two teenage fans committed suicide. While both lawsuits were eventually tossed out, the worldwide coverage cast a shadow over the heavy metal community. Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource Centers set out to stop heavy metal music and its content. The work of the PMRC led to the parental warning labels still used today on album covers. While some controversy still exists, the New Wave of American heavy metal has become more socially conscious. Numerous recent songs and even entire albums have been created as a form of social protest. Lamb of God’s last two albums have become increasingly political often criticizing foreign policy and President George W. Bush. Similar focuses shine through in Megadeth’s most recent release “United Abominations”. Machine Head’s “The Blackening” boasts lyrics such as, “The say that freedom isn’t free/It’s paid with the lives of sons and families/Cause the blood is their new currency/And oil pumps the heart of money.”
Politically Charged Lyrics
“Clenching the Fists of Dissent”
Lamb Of God
“Now You’ve Got Something to die for”
Other bands such as Cattle Decapitation, made up of strict vegetarians, create songs opposing the meat industry and animal cruelty. “More than three decades after Black Sabbath conjured images of the dark arts, heavy metal is growing up. The genre is increasingly incorporating social and political messages into its dense power chords” (msnbc.com 2006). With government approval ratings the lowest they have been in recent years, and with the war on terror, many things about metal music are easy to relate to for many people. Avid Metal fan and anthropologist Sam Dunn says heavy metal is, “Becoming global and it’s becoming a tool for social and political commentary” (AP 2006). When asked about metal’s increasing popularity, Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler says, “I totally understand what people are talking about, but it’s certainly not a change towards the mainstream, I think the mainstream has come to us! We are continuing to write very heavy music and I think the landscape of today’s culture is a little more open to it” (Imhotep.com 2007). The subjects brought up in metal music and the power of the music itself creates one of the strongest forms of musical protest there is. Metal not only pleases those listening more for the music, but can also gain appreciation from those who want to hear a message, or pay closer attention to lyrics in songs. These characteristics make heavy metal a genre that can be appreciated by numerous people with various points of view.
The mid-90’s ushered in a group of bands introducing an edgier, hard rock sound. Groups like Korn, Disturbed, Slipknot, and Limp Bizkit all had unique sounds that hit a chord with a large audience. This genre called “nu-metal” became a staple on rock radio stations and even garnered the attention of MTV, who had all but abandoned rock music for the more popular hip-hop genre. These bands created number-one albums, set off on sold out arena tours, and brought the hard rock sound back to a mainstream audience. While the nu-metal movement thrived, an underground heavy metal scene existed in many cities. While the hard rock sound spoke to many people, another group of people wanted something more. “Metal fans often reject the mainstream hard rock that is labeled metal because they do not feel it is as musically worth while” (Purcell 2003). Slayer’s Kerry King states, “Watch when people are tired of Disturbed and tired of Godsmack they start looking for the next level of intensity. They’re gonna come right down Slayer Boulevard, or bands like us. You evolve as a listener and your taste for intense music intensifies.” Bands such as Killswitch Engage and Shadows Fall blended classic metal riffs with the aggressive breakdowns of American hardcore music. While many shunned heavy metal music due to the screaming, indiscernible vocals, these bands offered both the aggressive style of vocals seen in previous metal bands such as Slayer, Anthrax, and Metallica, and blended them with a more melodic singing style. The introduction of clean vocals with the same intensity of heavy metal music gained the approval of many metal fans, as well as more main-stream oriented rock listeners.
Last Word describe why they play metal and what attracts people to the sound.
Black, Power, Thrash, Pop, Glam, Progressive, speed, stoner, Folk, Doom, Death, Metalcore, industrial, Christian, New Wave of American heavy metal, and many many more.
As these bands began to gain radio play, interest was once again created in the heavy metal genre. As people became aware of these leaders in the new wave of American heavy metal, they also were introduced to the dozens of subgenres metal has to offer. From thrash, doom, death, folk, speed, grind, classical, and glam metal, just to name a few, there are numerous sounds certain to please a wide range of people. Many metal bands are heavily influenced by classical music, incorporating classical song structures and other symphonic elements into their music. “Heavy metal guitarists like all other innovative musicians, create new sounds by drawing on the power of the old, fusing their semiotic resources into compelling new combinations” (Walser 1993). Other bands have crossed genres like Anthrax and Public Enemy’s song “Bring the Noise” or the Pantera side project “Rebel Meets Rebel” infusing the southern metal of Pantera with the country vocals of David Allen Coe. “Heavy metal now denotes a variety of musical discourses, social practices, and cultural meanings, all of which revolve around concepts, images, and experiences of power…all of these aspects of power provoke strong reactions from those outside heavy metal (Walser 1993). These kinds of reactions are still scene today. In late 2007, Walt Disney owned venues began cancelling metal concerts across the country. Bands such as Machine Head and Cradle of Filth were banned from playing at these venues due to their inflammatory lyrics and undesirable fans. While heavy metal is not for everyone, its diversity is only helping the genre grow larger.
Listen how Classical Music influences Modern Heavy Metal
Mozart And Children Of Bodom
Metal music’s popularity is also rising due to a highly devoted fan base. The 1980’s provided an explosion of heavy metal fans doing anything and everything they could to keep the genre alive and growing. Fan zines were created and traded on a global scale, as well as tape trading. “Fans often connected at shows and created their own community. Commercial hard rock groups develop a local network of fans through face-to-face interaction. Because the underground is so much smaller, a much more integrated national culture is possible. At these events, relationships begin through face to face meetings, and bands touring nationally are able to meet with audiences from across the country” (Berger 1999). The underground mentioned by Berger has now become the mainstream new wave of American heavy metal. Bands such as Killswitch Engage, Lamb of God, Shadows Fall, and All That Remains have now become leaders in the new wave while dozens of less known bands continue to tour constantly and self promote to meet new people and get their music out there. Jason Netherton, bass player for the band Misery Index says, “It becomes mainly a word of mouth effort channeled through underground communication networks. Respect comes afterward if you have something special about your sound” (Purcell 2003). This has become easier and easier for bands to do with networking sites such as MySpace and PureVolume.
Up-and-comers Job for a Cowboy gained a lot of attention without even releasing a CD. Singer Johnny Davy says, “MySpace has let bands gain popularity worldwide without even having to tour” (Senft 2007) Social networking sites like MySpace, provide bands with a free site to place music on, gain “friends” or fans of the band, comment on songs, photos, and interact with the band and other fans. Like any scene, it begins on the local level. Unsigned bands often play shows with other bands in the same area, building connections and gaining new fans along the way. These networking sites allow bands to keep in touch with each other as well as any friends and fans they meet in their community. With so many promotion tools available and with the hard work of both bands and fans within the genre, heavy metal is becoming one of the fastest growing genres in the music industry.
Listen to Last Word describe a local show
Click here to see how Myspace creates online social communities for both bands and fans to interact with one another
Band’s Myspace pages can be personalized and serve many purposes. These social networking sites allow fans to listen to artists songs, view pictures, videos, tour dates, and access merchandise sites.
Fans can view and interact with other fans of the band, and the musicians themselves, all for free.
While heavy metal music may not be poised to take on the role it once played in the 80’s, its resurgence into popular music and mainstream radio has listener’s attention. The current size of the metal scene seems to be making enough noise without selling out arenas. Although fans are passionate about this music, many think a growing fan base will dilute the message and create a less intense experience. But with a strong devoted fan base ready to tell people all about the music they love, and a variety of subgenres to please different tastes, heavy metal is strengthened even further by the connection it has with our cultures current world views. Heavy metal is back and gaining strength one new listener at a time.
Abraham, Malcom. Slayer Guitarist Kerry King: ‘At the End of the Day, Im still a metal fan.’ The Beacon Journal. 29, June. 2006. Posted on Blabbermouth.net. http://www.roadrunnerrecords.com/blabbermouth.net/news.aspx?mode=Article&newsitemID=54371 and http://www.ohio.com/error?url=http%3A//www.ohio.com/mld/beaconjournal/living/14927791.htm (Original)
The interview discusses the current metal scene with legendary metal guitarist Kerry King. He talks about ‘real’ metal and the belief that it is on a current upswing. His quote says exactly what occurs to many people (including myself) about how your need for music intensifies. This will be used as main support for my argument about its rise in popularity. (viewed on Dec14,2007)
Berger, Harris M. Metal, Rock, and Jazz. Perception and the Phenomenology of Musical Experience. UP of New England. Hanover, NH. 1999.
This book takes a close look at the social aspects of jazz, rock, and metal. It gives great first hand portrayals of local music scenes and the interactions and culture of each individual scene. The book gives great examples of ways the underground metal culture formed and how they interact with each other.
Borowski, Lizar. Lamb of God – The Lamb Lies Down in Hell. August 21, 2007. http://www.imhotep.fi/en/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=3277&Itemid=135&lang=en.
This is an interview on an online heavy metal site with Lamb of God drummer Chris Adler. Being the drummer in what many consider the leading band in the new wave of American heavy metal, he gives great aspects as to why he thinks the genre has grown and where it is going. (viewed Dec14 2007)
Court Throws Out Suit Against Ozzy Osbourne.
New York Times. 8 Aug. 1986. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A0DE7DB123EF93BA3575BC0A960948260
This was a brief news article explaining the end result of a court case filed against Ozzy Osbourne. This was used as an example of people attacking the metal scene as it was among one of the most public and popular cases against heavy metal. (viewed January 17,2008)
Heavy Metal Becoming Increasingly Political. As Genre nears 30, social commentary weaves its way among power chords. Associated Press. 10 Aug. 2006. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14288309/
This article explores current social and political trends in heavy metal music. It gives examples of how individual artists are becoming more socially conscious with their music and using it as a tool for change. This article will be used to strengthen the claim I have for metal music doing exactly this. (viewed Dec 14, 2007)
Purcell, Natalie J. Death Metal Music: The Passion and Politics of a Subculture. McFarland and Co. Publishers Inc. Jefferson, NC. 2003.
This book covers a broad range of topics in death metal music. Genres, history, history, relationship to American politics, and the underground subculture. This book gives great quotes about how the scene has grown by the artists themselves. It also explores different reasons why it has grown by exploring the different cultural aspects and relationships.
Senft, Micheal. August 4th Sounds of the underground tour featuring Job for A Cowboy. The Arizona Republic. Aug 1st 2007. http://www.azcentral.com/online/articles/0801gl-cowboy0804.html
This was an interview conducted with Johnny Davy, lead singer of Job For A Cowboy. The interview discusses the rise in popularity of the band and the underground following they have created. This band gained a lot of attention without a major label release. The quote will help strengthen the idea that social networking and communication are keys for heavy metals rising popularity. (Viewed January 16, 2008)
Walser, Robert. Running With The Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music. UP Of New England. Hanover, NH. 1993.
This book explores the culture and phenomenon of Heavy Metal in the 80’s. It explores metals fans, artists, and context as a cultural identity. The majority of information, and Walser’s knowledge of heavy metal music are strong and can still be applied to the current heavy metal scene.
Marriage Of Convenience