Monday, January 7, 2013

Do you want Heavy Metal to survive?

There are possibly as many motives for music listeners to become interested in this type of music instead of that as there are human beings, but I am going to present a simpler structure here because it will be an illuminating tool.

Let's suppose that there are only two prime motivations for someone who enters a musical subculture. One of them is for them to become proponents of a scene. To feed that scene, to interact with it, to grow, socially, to extend their network, to belong to a family, to help it recruit others and to feed itself as an end in itself.

The other enters a scene in order to best scrutinize the thing of Beauty itself, to understand their own fascination with it through the warped mirrors that are other listeners, to ultimately absorb the core of the genre.

Let's now consider the possibility that any member of any sub-cultural music scene is either one or the other. Let's examine their actions as if their motivations either arise from a need to further cultivate an externality, or to understand and conquer an internal drive.

This is a good time to think of your own self in these terms and see where you stand.

The reason I write this is because after all this time I've realized something about myself by using this simple tool: Most Heavy Metal listeners seem very preoccupied with the continued existence of Heavy Metal. With the influx of new listeners. With whether the new listeners are listening to the 'right shit'. With whether Heavy Metal is taking a down or up turn. With whether the mainstream is paying more or less attention to 'us'. With the quality of releases this year versus last year.

I do not wish for Heavy Metal to survive. I could care less about new bands - or to put it in a clearer way, I am interested in new bands that are great in the same way that I am interested in old bands that are great; In fact, I often wait for new bands to become old bands before I actively listen to them. If they're great, they'll be great forever.

I clearly remember that this hasn't been always so. As a young listener I would prefer to listen to a record that just came out than a record from the '70s, even if the '70s one was historically more important. I would voraciously devour metal mags for info. I know who Heathen are and I never liked a single note by that band. Truly useless information to me - now. The shift has been gradual, I suspect it's something most people go through, that is, if they allow themselves to grow up. Now, almost 29, I actively avoid listening to new bands unless they come very highly recommended, and enduringly so. If people tell me to listen to Vektor for a couple of years (as they did) then I do so. Though there is some schizophrenic swaying back and forth on this (which I think shows in the content of my writing, too) I can say that for the last five years at least, I have not actively been interested in New Heavy Metal. I keep current because I am interested in the subculture instead. But that feeds in my interest in the swirling chaos core of the genre itself. New warped mirrors to the same centre  New bands are a shaking kaledroscope, for me. They're not furthering Heavy Metal, they're not giving it 'new life'. Heavy Metal is 1970-1995 or so, the rest, so far, have been kaledroscopic recombinations, post-modern exercises and earnest if meagre-in-spirit civil war re-enactments. Heavy Metal might be done, and that's fine with me. I am just not done with Heavy Metal.

I posit that proponents of a scene want to keep themselves (or a youthful part of themselves) alive forever. A vital, bristling scene with new blood doing new things that sound quasi-metallic-but-aren't-really means they get to be young for a few more years. If something sounds closer to the real thing (neo-thrash, for example, for as real as thrash ever was in any case) all the better! If not, drone will do, sure. Grunge revival? At least it has heavy guitars! They love to be in the centre of mainstream attention, be it as devils or angels. Is there really a difference between posers loving you and posers hating you?. In that sense, the recent upswing of pop media interest in Heavy Metal is a veritable renaissance, for them. The blood is the life.

This is why I found the recent neo-thrash boom so frustrating. Because the music itself isn't good. Even if the sounds sound good, if the riffs are good, if the playing is superhuman, if the cover is Repka-perfect, thrash happened at a specific point in time, it came from NWOBHM and punk, it moved into techno-thrash, then progressive metal and death metal. The path is beautiful because it is a path from a million births to a million deaths. There is weight there. There is, if not truth, the best prime material from which someone moulds A truth with their imagination and willpower.

Now we must be excited because Vektor are almost re-inventing the wheel (playing more than basic thrash riffs in a row and having a Voivod logo) because, hey, he haven't heard that in a while.

Only we have - I have. I listen to Voivod all the time. Voivod's guitarist, Piggy, is dead now. He was alive when I finally wrapped my head around Nothingface. Weight.

Those that are like me recognise the beauty in Heavy Metal growing old and eventually dying. They want to be able to imagine 'rest', to imagine 'telos'. Living forever is a cruel imagination. They want to understand what Heavy Metal does to them and as the words are expressed (be it in prose or music or whatever other method) the color will leave their faces with them and they can finally become a stone. They must give up their own soul, to read their own minds.

If this sounds tragic (or worse, melodramatic) I urge you to not worry. That I 'wish to die' means little in  practical terms or even less in existential, we all have a death drive. To realize how it functions and to what imaginative ends it urges us is, instead, a delight. It is a brave move forward for me to realize that I don't really want for Heavy Metal to symbolize my eternal youth.

And in a very roundabout way, here's a silver lining for the folks that are resolutely in the 'METAL FOR EVER' camp, whom I alienate to no end. If there is 'old person Heavy Metal' to be created - and we haven't yet seen it be done successfully, we do not know what it would be - it would have to be created by people that are no longer chasing to recapture that youthful zest that got them into this subculture to begin with. Perhaps the only New Heavy Metal that would interest me (and as a by-product those that aren't like me) would be made by people whose love affair with this music has been coloured by the experience of shock, anger, grief, acceptance and rest that comes with the dying bride finally becoming a rotting bride.

And you? Do you want Heavy Metal to survive, readers?


  1. Blogger won't allow me to post my comment, because it exceeds the 4,096 character maximum length. So I put it on my blog instead (which felt slightly appropriate anyway):

    I hope you don't mind the plug.

  2. I am honoured. I didn't know - or perhaps I did but I forgot - that you also have a blog.

    To answer your question:

    I do write music that I classify as Heavy Metal. I've been in the same band for 12 years. It recently broke up because I feel it finally achieved what I wanted from it (=from a heightened version of myself). There's no point to continue under that structure any more lest I repeat myself.

    I do not advertise my band though I consider it to have made some of the best Heavy Metal I've ever heard. If this sounds like a natural conclusion, please consider the high price of failure to one's own self as audience. It took me twelve years to succeed.

    The reason I do not advertise is exactly because it wasn't music for the Other. At least, I didn't think it was capable of being that. I have been proven wrong many times but I am still sceptical as to what such ingressive music has to offer third parties.

    I did not publicly release the music and it's only post-posthumously that it even has an official Internet presence, a sort of memorial. You know how interested I am in history, the power of the Archive. I couldn't resist harnessing that power, as a tombstone to other powers wielded in the last dozen years. If you're interested, you can visit

    Obviously, that attempt at harnessing that power is incomplete unless some sort of 'Life and Archives' actual plastic cd folio is produced and sold to at least one person. I am debating this with the other members.

    I am composing for a new band, a new structure, still mostly theoretical. It's there that our motives align; I also want to suggest a mode of Heavy Metal that I do not believe exists right now. I am trying to make music also for the Other and still keep it honest to myself. It's very difficult and I do not think I will succeed. In that case, nothing will be made public.

    If I do succeed, I am quite prepared in that the end result will be startingly *not* a new mode of Heavy Metal, and just yet another take, a possibly boring one, of good old progressive metal.

    So in the end I might not prolong the life of Heavy Metal, just dabble in a dead language, so to speak, for my own ends. Which is fine.

  3. Yes, I became aware of Locust Leaves at some point in my AGS days, so I've been to the Locust Leaves site and bought the split with Spectral Lore several months ago. The best to my ears is the sequence of "Mistress" and "Prosper" from Therewithin and "Promise" from the Split, but I haven't listened to all of everything available on that site more than once. In any case, very interesting music. I like it.

    And yes, the difficulty I face myself is how to develop a new metal that isn't just progressive metal. Part of the trouble is that "progressive" as a term is itself problematic. Does it mean that the band uses irregular time signatures? Are keyboard solos an integral part of it? 1-5-9 power chord structures? If I use a French augmented sixth chord, is it progressive by virtue of having harmonic content beyond power chords? Many would say yes, I think, to every one of these questions. No one can really agree completely on what it entails, so pretty much anything that is not straightforward death/thrash/black/power/epic/whatever is simply dubbed progressive, never mind that there's nothing truly progressive about it any more (was it ever really progressive?).

  4. I consider progressive metal to be about power and thrash metal circa 1989 putting on its grown up suit for good or worse and trying to address actual issues of modernity directly. The parallels between complex, abstract music and complex, abstract subject matter is what makes it progressive (as in "progressive, humanist movement" not as in "avant-garde"). I believe this is a very common misconception about progressive metal and rock, in that people think it's supposed to constantly push some envelope. That's the burden of avant-garde art, instead.

    So when I say I'll end up making more progressive metal, I mean in that sense, not just strange riffs or rhythms. I want to talk to the Other and the lexicon I have to do that is modernist, therefore what I might end up with is modernist metal.

    Thanks for the kind words on Locust Leaves, and thanks for bying the split. I hope you enjoyed the Spectral Lore song too, I believe it to be some of his best work. I played second guitars on his song, he played second guitars on mine, btw. As far as splits go, it's a very thematically robust one.

  5. Helm,

    What do you think about older bands that are still releasing material? The new Riot record comes to mind as a rare example of a good release from a band that may have seen the genre exhaust itself. Are they simply re-stating an old premise with better recording technology? I suppose each listener has to answer these questions alone.

    I can't help collecting proof that metal is dead. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra seems like a perfect example of "metal" as an aesthetic and not a radical social premise. Art historians are now claiming that black metal should be considered as a genre of visual art. Fashion has always been part of Heavy Metal, but is Heavy Metal now a part of fashion?

  6. "Do you want Heavy Metal to survive, readers?"

    Yeah, I guess I do, but I think like Erenan that I lack the will to really, really fight for it. I'm certainly uninterested in participating in many of the group activities, especially the really negative ones like shitting on posers. I'm 21 and I'm too old for that shit. At the same time, I was 16 once (not very long ago, although it seems like a long time). I participated in all of that. I kept up with Metal News and tried to go to as many shows as possible. Maybe it was a substitute for a girlfriend. I have not really contributed to Heavy Metal either. I've made no concrete attempt to write any, and I wrote a few forgettable reviews about albums I had no chance of properly assimilating for long-dead amateur websites. I found that the less I contributed, the more sincere my enjoyment of Heavy Metal became.

    At the same time, goddamn if I don't feel for the kid making his or her way in the world. I know I came to metal first through Iron Maiden, then through popular current bands. So maybe the new bands serve that purpose. I know Heavy Metal helped me in ways mere music could not. I'm happy when other people are able to experience that, too. You know, just as long as they don't end up with skullets and pot-bellies.

    I think one question to ask is: how do we determine when Heavy Metal dies? I think Tyson touches upon an important point.

  7. Alex_P:

    RE: "how do we determine when Heavy Metal dies?"

    I think the question is whether heavy metal is something that happened once upon a time or if it is still happening now. Helm writes of the weight of history. The fact that thrash metal came from somewhere and developed in a certain way and then reached a historic end afforded it beauty. The fact that people are now looking back to that point and saying "whatever happened to the good old days?" and then trying to relive those days by replicating it verbatim is not such a beautiful thing.

    Think about black metal. It's often said that it arose in part out of an effort to rediscover the romantic essence of the original heavy metal. However, this doesn't mean that they started copying Black Sabbath or Iron Maiden and Judas Priest and all that. What came out of it was something with its own unique contribution to metal. Black metal cannot adequately be described as combining characteristics A, B, and C taken from metal sub-genres X, Y, and Z. What Helm is positing is that after 1995 or so, everything dubbed metal has been attempts to combine A, B, and C, X, Y, and Z in ways that made something that seemed new. But no one has introduced a new morphology. There has been no new genetic material added to the gene pool. After almost two decades, this may seem to be pretty compelling evidence that heavy metal has transitioned from being a current event to being a historical record.

  8. re: desire for living metal

    yes, this enlightening tool is working for me, too. i'll illustrate my points tomorrow.

  9. yes, i still intend to lighten this fire burden in my chest with a few words but i've destinated. i've given myself an end. today. less than 13 hours left. and not so consciously. i'm in a bliss bubble. like the sheath wrapped around the nose of a baby sawfish birthed from it's mother. today is not mothers'.

    i'm in my studio, not just my head space, my body space, where i rest from work for others. i'm making music, drawing, creating for myself. it will help me connect to others, even here.

    there was comment few months ago of Reich. not Ryche. a composer unfamilar to me. upon(d) fishing, i swam into the mouth of bigger fish. John Cage beguiled me. reading of his part inside his aunt's music school made me happy. more happy than the revolving core of Heavy Metal. the internal revolution sometimes delineated ....fuck, i'm thinking too much. i'm waking and i must sub into my destinate.

    live hot. edit cold. will dot connect b4 day's ...

  10. it's the 23rd hour of today. it's now. i like to think in this frame of mind.

    re: do i want Heavy Metal to survive?

    i measure my prevailing answer to be, no. there is great beauty in participating in the rotating four seasons.

    i'm too exhausted to go much further. i'll live through the end of this day. like most days, i haven't listened to music made by a Heavy Metal band. i hear the music of traffic outside my apartment. the road is wet. the cars travel slightly slower than usual. my refrigerator fan begins.

    telos caught me by surprise. i hadn't designated an end purposes for my listening of this examined music. i'm changing that. it's alive whenever i think of it.

  11. re: death driving

    Up go the golden mast
    Float out to sea at last
    Roamed a thousand miles
    Still lonesome child
    But my ship is comin' in

    Oh--Out in the cold--Isolation
    Out on my own--Isolation
    Out all alone

    It's my test No fight with myself I ain't wrong
    It's my quest A life with myself I am gone

    i enjoy this work of Armored Saint. it works well within me expressing the value of personal discovery.