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Drawing Lines – The Self-Defeating Division and Derision in the Metal Community

You may remember me writing a different article on prejudice and bias in the metal community a while back. Consider this a companion piece to that one, as I’m taking on the same basic issue from a slightly different angle. Enjoy!

Image courtesy of  Last.fm

Image courtesy of Last.fm

I had an interesting talk with a co-worker the other day.

This co-worker of mine is big into the punk scene. He’s very much like me in his approach to punk in that he believes all forms have bands with merit. He doesn’t discriminate between pop-punk bands like Gob, hardcore like Black Flag, proto-punk like The Stooges, etc. He feels that there is quality music to be found in every portion of that genre. He feels that for punks to put themselves in even smaller boxes is ultimately self-defeating.

I couldn’t agree with him more. As someone who likes glam metal, death metal, NWOBHM, tech-thrash, and a whole host of other styles, I feel that for a metal fan to deny ones self exposure to new music based purely on some kind of prejudice against a certain scene or time frame is the definition of narrow minded.

For example, I’ve met my share of progressive metal fans in my travels. These are guys who like the high-minded, technical side of traditional and power metal. They like their music to be intelligent and ever-changing. I too think that progressive bands are incredibly interesting and would call myself a fan of several. But many prog fans deride glam metal as some kind of lower form of entertainment for less evolved beings. I don’t think that those fans, in all honesty, are being fair to themselves. Sure, there are many bands in that genre that could be considered simple pop music with hard rock guitars thrown in. But for every Poison or Bon Jovi, there’s a Mötley Crüe or Ratt.

That may make a lot of you chuckle, because they aren’t a technically gifted outfit, but think about it the breadth of their material. Throughout the course of their career, Crüe has never made the same album twice. Their sound has always fluctuated and changed and they now have one of the most musically diverse catalogues of music in heavy metal. Just through their first four albums they have glam rock/glam punk (Too Fast for Love), traditional heavy metal (Shout at the Devil), Sleaze Metal/Hard Rock (Theatre of Pain) and straight-up rock ‘n roll (Girls, Girls, Girls). That’s four different styles of music, each presented within the band’s own identity. Has Dream Theater ever been as diverse from album to album?

If you’re a prog fan who’s in it for the technicality and musicianship more than the variety and evolution, you might appreciate Ratt, who’s simple radio-friendly structures hide supremely talented and technical players. Just listen to the chops on “You’re In Trouble” from their first album.

Courtesy of KonigNick

To go for another example, I’ve met many people who claim to be massive fans of Pantera. I ask them if they’ve ever heard any of the stuff off of Power Metal, Projects In the Jungle, Metal Magic or I Am The Night; the band’s early, glam metal albums. More often than not they just stare at me looking perplexed. This is largely because that band, as awesome and awe-inspiring as they would become, completely abandoned and ignored their older material. I understand the reasons behind that decision, but I still feel it’s a shame that they felt the need to do that. There’s a ton of great songs, like “Out For Blood“, “Right on the Edge“, and “Death Trap“, that many Pantera fans have simply missed because, at the time, the band felt their only way to survive was to completely shed not only their old image, but their old material as well. To this day, many fans don’t know of that fantastic old-school material with Dimebag (Then known as “Diamond”) Darrell’s always stellar guitar work. That is down to the total derision of an entire section of the metal community in the 90s.

So don’t just ignore whole sub-genres based on your own prejudices or preconceptions. Give every band a fair chance to win you over, even if you’re not particularly fond of their image. You may find interesting material in places that you wouldn’t have thought to look.


Sleeping in the Fire (of Pretension)

It’s always boggled my mind that, for a community who supposedly hates and derides the mainstream for its need to make everything pretty and marketable to the masses, there is an awful lot of emphasis placed on image. So many people I’ve met, even people I would consider to be close friends, seem to hate a certain band based solely on their looks. They look at a band and, without even hearing them, they’ve made a snap judgment about them. There are still others who hold certain “guilty pleasures” i.e. bands that they secretly enjoy but that they refuse to acknowledge because of the bands image.  This is also a travesty as this robs others from hearing that band’s music and possibly getting into it themselves.

As an example I present to you one of my favourite bands: Los Angeles, California’s Shock Rock madmen W.A.S.P.

W.A.S.P. Mk 1 Line-up (Clockwise from upper left: Blackie Lawless, Randy Piper, Tony Richards, Chris Holmes)

Founded by New Yorker Steve Duran (a.k.a. Blackie Lawless) who, after leaving Sunset Strip glam-rockers London, set out on a mission to shock people. Blackie had grown up watching acts like Arthur Brown, KISS, Alice Cooper, and The New York Dolls (for whom Blackie played guitar for a short time in 1975), and wanted to take that to the next level. He recruited a band of Hard Rocking misfits to create a Metal beast that would become highly influential throughout the ‘80s and beyond.

The problem was that this was a Hard Rock band in 1980s Los Angeles, and as such, they needed to look good no matter what they were doing. So they teased up their hair, wore platform shoes and occasionally high-heels, and applied some make-up.

Despite this, their show was still a raunchy, violent, gruesome example of Shock Rock, with the musical content of balls-out Heavy Metal. However, because of the need for them conform to some extent to the situation that was the L.A. rock scene, their musical chops and undeniable heaviness went largely ignored by most “true” metalheads.

Video courtesy of thehellion

Therein lies the point I’m trying to make. In a scene, a community, that seems so against the mainstream, should one allow themselves to fall prey to the same snap judgements that are the hallmarks of that portion of society? If a band’s image doesn’t fit or live up to an individual headbanger’s expectations of what Metal is, then they are all too quick to simply dismiss it without letting the music do the talking. Believe me, this is a damn shame. There are many bands out there that, while perhaps not looking the part, are musically more than worth any self-respecting Metalhead’s time: From Lizzy Borden to Love/Hate, Keel to Leatherwolf, Ratt to Dokken, and many others, there’s a lot of hard and heavy material to be had amongst all the glitz and sleaze. When it comes to image, these bands were merely products of their time and place. Trust me, they are miles ahead of Poison, Warrant, even G’NR in terms of sheer heaviness and musical chops.

So headbanging brothers and sisters of the world, it’s time to start looking past the first impression, especially if it’s visual. Like it or not, Glam is part of our history. In fact, many of the more extreme, more “true” bands of today probably wouldn’t even be around if it wasn’t their hair-farming ancestors from the Sunset Strip.

Video Courtesy of Peacemaker1992

This article is a slightly edited re-post of an article I originally wrote for Metal Heart; a blog I wrote as part of my college program’s web writing class. Check out all our content at Spine Online and espeically our collaborative webzine Bark. (Originally published 14/04/12)

Doom Troopin’ (Part 3)

(To read part 1, click here)

(To read part 2, click here)

As the 21st century dawned, Zakk Wylde found himself crafting a new band with which to flesh out some of his ideas that were not wholly suitable for his day job in Ozzy Osbourne’s band. Using some of the Southern Rock influences he showcased on previous solo project Pride & Glory, as well as a biker aesthetic, and a base of pure Heavy Metal and Hard rock, this creation would come to be Zakk’s signature even more than his work with Ozzy.

Originally released on May 4th, ’99 (in most of the world, with the Japanese release happening October 28th, ’98), Black Label’s debut album, Sonic Brew, shared many similarities with the Pride & Glory project, but was undoubedtly a much heavier album. Sounding like a mix of Sabbath and Motorhead, with the sonic attack of Pantera, and just a little Lynyrd Skynyrd/Allman Brothers influence, there was little doubt that BLS would be one of the traditional Metal bands to lead the Metal scene into the new millenium. Even though the album performed modestly from a commercial stand-point, the band was already conjuring a cult following of young men looking for a clear successor to Motorhead and the biker bands of old.

Follow-up album Stronger than Death saw Zakk and the band moving in an even heavier and more metallic direction than the debut had set them in. Still being relatively unnoticed commercially, it continued to build the bands cult following with songs like “All for You”, “Counterfeit God” and “Superterrorizer”. The album was faster than the debuts relatively slow, Sabbatherian tempos and was filled with songs built for the road, aswell as Zakk’s trademarked pinch harmonics and soloing. It also saw a slight shift toward the songs having even more groove.

With BLS slowly becoming entrenched into the mind of the Metal community (as well as being one of the very few new entrants in the Traditional Metal sub-genre for quite some time), Zakk was called back into the service of Ozzy Osbourne in 2001 to record Down to Earth. In terms of guitar work, the album could easily be seen as another link in the BLS chain, with Zakk continue the musical trends that had begun on Stronger than Death including an inclination towards groove and melody. Down to Earth also corrected the most prevalent problem that the previous Ozzy album had: only 2 ballads were recorded for the 11 track album versus a ridiculous 4 ballads out of Ozzmosis’ 10 tracks. This, coupled with Zakk’s continued development of his guitar style, made Down to Earth a much stronger record than the one that preceded it in the Ozzy catalog.

(For more info on Zakk Wylde, visit ZakkWylde.com)

(For more info on Ozzy Osbourne, visit Ozzy.com)

(For more info on BLS, visit BlackLabelSociety.com)