It’s been this way for a long time. Hell, it’s been this way for as long as I can remember. Heavy metal music gets no love from terrestrial radio, television, the big awards shows, or really anything that is considered “mainstream” media. I get it, heavy metal can certainly be an acquired taste. It isn’t always the most accessible music out there. However, it is still a form of art. It is still music. Yet, metal gets so much disrespect and disdain.
I’ve thought about this a lot over the last few years. How can we make metal relevant again? How can we bring people back around to respecting the genre? In all honesty, I feel like it starts with the metal fans. We can be a tough crowd. We can be extremely elitist at times. Most of all, we are divisive even amongst ourselves.
We’ve overdone it with the labeling of different metal sounds. There’s black metal, thrash, metalcore, hardcore, mathcore, prog metal, death metal, djent, djentcore, etc. I could go on and on and on. Fans of some sects don’t like music from other sects. All of these labels create divisiveness. Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine to like what you like. After all, music is subject to personal taste just like most art. However, I think we’ve taken things a bit too far. Why can’t we all just consider ourselves metal fans instead of slapping these various labels on ourselves?
I’m fond of a saying that Jamey Jasta (Hatebreed vocalist) uses: “high tide raises all ships.” You want to make metal relevant? You want metal to get some respect? You want metal to grow and flourish the way it used to? Then it’s time for us to cast aside the labels. The reality is if there is a band on stage playing loud distorted guitars, they are technically speaking, a metal act. No matter what the lyrics are about. No matter what timing signatures they use. Let’s stop with the bullshit. It’s metal. Period. You may not like the particular stylings or sounds but it is metal.
I think if the metal fans can come together and prove that they can go out and support metal, no matter the “brand”, the labels will hear us again. The mainstream media might start paying attention again. Maybe metal might finally get some of the respect that it deserves. However, I’m not going to pin all of the need for change on the fans. Some of this change has to come from the bands, the record labels, and the promoters.
The promoters need to stop trying to book these shows where only a certain sect of fans are going to show up. I say let’s bring everyone together. Lets see Lamb of God take out Rivers of Nihil, Periphery, and/or Code Orange on tour. How about Iron Maiden takes out Hatebreed, 36 Crazyfists, and/or Protest the Hero? Or maybe Sevendust takes out Glassjaw, Animals as Leaders, and TesseracT? Yes, some of these are really odd pairings based on the different sounds of the bands. It’s important to remember, however, that all of these bands are metal.
Taking a deeper look at one of my examples above: would Iron Maiden fans be turned off by a band like Hatebreed? Some of them definitely would be. Some may not show up until Maiden takes the stage. I guarantee though that some fans are going to watch the opening act. Some of these fans that have never heard Hatebreed are going to be turned on to them for the first time and they are going to love it. Thus, Hatebreed has earned some new listeners. Maybe those fans, in turn, share the love for Hatebreed to other fans that may not have listened to them before. You could also look at this in the vice versa. Hatebreed is going to draw in it’s crowd to that show too. Some of them, maybe most of them, are going to stick around for Maiden since they’re the headliner. Some of these fans may have heard Maiden before but never really paid close enough attention. All of the sudden their minds and ears are opened to a whole new world. Now, you’ve got new listeners for Iron Maiden.
As much as I hate terrestrial radio these days (and I think most metal fans do), it still seems like the only way to get mainstream attention is to have some radio exposure. Satellite radio has done a fantastic job of keeping metal alive with Sirius-XM’S Liquid Metal and Octane channels but there’s little to no terrestrial radio love. Terrestrial radio has got to stop playing things so safe. Put some channels on air that showcase a mix of old and new metal. Don’t be afraid to try new things. This is where record labels could really help. Don’t just push the bands that sound like everything else. Push the bands that have their own unique sounds too. Invest as much in the new bands as you do the established, heavy hitters.
Now, of course, there are going to be people that disagree with the message I’m preaching here. They don’t want “their metal” to cross over. They like that metal is that underground, dangerous genre. In no way am I advocating for metal to lose its edge. Nor am I asking that metal bands start changing up their sound to draw in the mainstream crowds. What I am saying is that there is a way to still be dangerous and edgy and still get mainstream respect.
I don’t want to fucking hear the whole “sell out” argument either. If that is your primary argument, then perhaps you need to reassess things. The bottom line is that NO ONE performs music just for the art of it. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of bands out there that want and do maintain artistic integrity (see Tool and Periphery for some examples). They want to do what they want to hear and what makes them happy. However, they also want to make a living. Nobody in their right mind wants to spend thousands of dollars on cutting a record and then spend months touring only to come back home and have to bus tables to make ends meet. If you believe that your favorite act wouldn’t like to sell millions of records and concert tickets, you are not only wrong but you’re delusional. As Maynard James Keenan sings in Tool’s “Hooker With A Penis”, “I sold out long before you ever heard my name.” We’ve got to move past this notion that obtaining mainstream success is “selling out.” It’s total fallacy. If we want metal to gain respect, this is one of the most important things we have to keep in mind.
Change doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen just because you wish it to be so. Change happens when appropriate action is taken. It’s going to take the efforts of the fans, the bands, the labels, and the promoters to get metal back the respect it deserves. It will take time and a lot of hard work to change the perspectives of those that don’t listen to metal. Hell, it’s going to take time for the fans, the bands, the labels, and the promoters to change their perspectives. However, I think when the dust settles and things really start rolling in a positive direction, people will come to accept it.
We don’t have to be divided as a community. We all love, as Jamey Jasta likes to put it, “loud amps in the face.” If you don’t like a particular metal band’s sound, that’s fine. Just don’t be fucking judgmental about it. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it’s not fucking metal. It doesn’t mean that someone else can’t like it. There’s room for all of us. Metal can be brought back.
Maybe I’m a dreamer.