Saturday, February 5, 2011

Intercontinental Jealousy

Heavy Metal is born in the UK, the first time as a passing notion in the '70s and the second time, for real, with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Great music comes from the UK is the cliché. The US looks with reverence to the old country and also jealousy. "I can do that as well" they say, "and I can do it better!". There you have your Jag Panzer, with their three Judas Priest album's worth of riffs in their one song. Succeeding with excess.

The United States are a country constantly searching for history. One needs watch only a couple of the newer Scorsese films like "Gangs of New York" or "The Aviator" to see the great pains their psyche goes through to evangelize and invent upon some would say paltry two hundred years of recent activity. A country of immigrants trying to do the world one better: let's invent the perfect nation.

This is a weakness and a strength. Shoulders unburdened with the weight of an Aristotle or a Nietzsche, when the US get in on some cultural action, they do it with such earnestness and desire to augment ("put on steroids" is the ugly cliché I'm trying to avoid) that the mutant results are equally grotesque and fascinating. Yet, for all their enthusiasm, they usually move on to the next thing in increasingly brief allotments of time. Five years in the maximum.

Such was their involvement with metal music, between 1984 and 1990 or so. They took the basic formula of Heavy Metal and made it faster (speed metal), made it punkier (thrash metal) made it more shocking and weird (death metal) and they even tried to make it modernist (progressive metal). And then they were bored and done with it, they moved on to reinventing and augmenting different musics. Only very recently have they returned to savage the corpse of past inspirations again, I guess we must be running out of 'new' things to make 'newer'.

Here's where it becomes complicated, however. Europe isn't just the United Kingdom. Other countries around these parts that were in the sphere of cultural influence of America, due to the language barrier and other reasons did not notice the incongruity between NWOBHM and US metal, they took everything prima facie, a real history and an invented one both together, the grand Heavy Metal tree with all its various co-habitual branches. This was a misunderstanding, for as far as the US type of cultural thinking goes, once you augment the music you started with, once you take Heavy Metal and you create out of it 'Power Metal', then Power Metal has killed Heavy Metal. This is the anxiety of a country with little history: how to carve out a niche for oneself, how to ascertain one's continued existence. Roots must be invented, exploited, discarded, start again. "Thrash metal" wasn't meant to live side to side with old world metal, it was meant to replace it.

Europeans, due to naivety and perhaps lack-of-naivety as well, do not think in this way. They were impressed and inspired by the US boom of metal sub-genres and they took them and expanded on them infinitely, they found a place for invented history in real history, and that's how the story goes. Where the US is jealous of the artistry that comes with the management of the weight of history, the old world vampires are jealous of the spontinaety and vitality of the US.


  1. I suppose it's my patriotism coming into play right now, but in the same way that Europe is separate from the UK you cannot combine Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, the smaller Latin American nations and Canada with the United States. As a Canadian I can say that Quebecois culture is significantly different from American culture, and even English Canada doesn't feel like the United States. I remain convinced that many of Canada's most celebrated bands could not have arisen south of the border. Canada seems to possess the American spirit of inventiveness without the willingness to throw away the past. I will eventually have to examine the uniqueness of Canadian music in full.

    I'm not really sure about the cultures of the other countries I named, but I know enough to know that they are even more different than America's. My impression of Brazil in particular is that it has a certain European naivety, but that's cursory (based mostly on the enthusiasm manifested whenever Maiden play). We once had a post on my blog about Brazilian metal bands other than Sepultura, and the comments section degenerated into dozens of Brazilian guys telling us to check out their cousin's band. I'm sure many of the bands are good, but it ended up just being an info dump and thus not very useful.
    (Here's the context:

    Still, I recognize that this post is purposefully a gross oversimplification, and I am inclined to agree with its basic premise. At the same time, 5 1/2 continents participate fully in the creation of heavy metal and I expect the number to grow to 6 in the next few years. Maybe it would thus be useful to map out the traits possessed by the various regions of the world. They are certainly all significant.

    (PS: It's Scorsese, not Scorcheze)

  2. I do not think the music Brazil makes is similar to US metal, and Canada has certainly had its own style of metal as well. I am talking of the North American styles of metal the most, but your corrections are apt and welcome.

  3. Then again even some european countries like my homeland Finland have relatively short history as a nation. The basis of our written language was created as late as in 16th century, our national epic was written in 19th century and we gain our independence in 20th century. There is some unambiguously "finnish" cultural heritage but most of what there used to be here is forgotten, more like a distant memory of a dream. Maybe something similar the north-americans feel when they trace back their family tree to the old country..

  4. And speaking of Brazil, Sarcófago is The Brazilian Metal band for me. Even more so than Sepultura. When I first time heard INRI I was shocked and I still cannot listen to it without feeling some kind of terror. It's like all the grapes of wrath that the catholic church and the colonialists planted there hundreds of years ago exploding in one fierce outrage against all reason, religion and life. There's not much of Black Metal which comes close to the level of sheer anger and bitter hate this album possess.

  5. I don't know, I always felt Sarcofago - although great - were kind of a shock rock outfit. I realize what you're saying might be the case, but my hunch has always been that their anger is theater. Which falls in line with what I expect from HM generally, I mean, there usually is something real at the core of the impulse for making HM music, some disappointment or anger, but also usually ennui, and all that's blown up to serve a separate goal, the summoning of something extraordinary.

  6. I didn't mean that as to what fuels their music. I was merely trying to paint a picture of how their music makes me feel. I've come to notice that many (including some devoted Sarcofago fans) look at the band and see yet another chaotic latin american black metal group - a bunch of guys in warpaint and black leather playing savage metal about satan. To me there was always more to INRI than that. I see a terrible and inhuman hellbeast crawling out from the dark jungle spreading bitter hate and monstrous menace everywhere it goes by. For a shock rock outfit they did very well. I am at shock still after all these years..

  7. I thought you spelled Scorcese "Scorcheze" as in SCOR-CHESSE-EE, as in fucking jokes: how do they work?

  8. No I just spelled it wrong. Puns aren't my strong suit.

    Nekromantis: I read you.