Angry Metal Guy Speaks: On Genres as Pejoratives

Angry Metal LisaA really curious thing happens from time to time that I think it’s time to comment on. Because we all (that is, those of us who read and/or write love heavy metal, we all essentially draw boundaries for it. It all depends on your perspective, but largely we say that one thing is metal and another thing is not. We make fun of the things we find to be not metal and we praise (and often deify unnecessarily) that which we find to be super metal. This is not a surprise. In fact, I’d guess that it’s a natural part of the human brain: we group things and put them in their place so as to better order our world. We also use cognitive short cuts in order to reach conclusions about the vast seas of information that exist outside of our existence.

Being a metal guy (and an Angry one at that), I certainly have done this. In fact, I made a comment about Amaranthe (wow, they come up a lot around here) in my review where I said that it wasn’t metal. To be totally frank, that’s not true. Amaranthe is metal in the strictest sense of the word. But in my mind, heavy metal has some requirements – one of them being that it should be grungy and dangerous – and Amaranthe fails remarkably at that, in my opinion. A while back, on our Facebook page, one (probably former) reader made the comment that Slipknot is not metal. But, of course, that’s not really true either. I’d say by most anyone’s definition Slipknot, no matter how much you hate them, is a metal band. They have screams, they have heavy distorted guitars, they have heavy drums and so on. They’re a metal band.

But herein lies what I think is fascinating: we (snobs) also use genres to signal that a band is bad or that a group of bands aren’t quite up to snuff. A really good example of this is the genre called “nü metal” by the majority of the public. 99% of the time, this is used to talk about bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit and their ilk. Nü Metal is probably the most maligned heavy metal genre of all time. And so every time I talk about bands like Helmet or Life of Agony or Tool or Rage Against the Machine and I call them Nü Metal people freak out. But why? Well, because Tool, Life of Agony, Biohazard, Rage Against the Machine, System of a Down and Helmet are all bands that people like and that have been accepted into the metal pantheon (they call them “alternative metal”). Korn though? Oh no, no, no, nononono. They’re a nü metal band! But what’s the difference? All of those bands came out or got big after the collapse of hair metal and the rise of grunge. They all eschewed guitar solos and experimented with the types of music that were not part of metal orthodoxy – using rap, hardcore screams, emotional or political lyrics, stripped down production and so forth. So, same time period, roughly similar styles and largely the same fanbase. So, why were these bands not grouped with Deftones and Korn? And how different does Life of Agony sound from Godsmack really (aside from that the former had one good record and the latter had none)?

Another genre that gets kicked around is “metalcore.” Now there are a lot of metalcore bands that really sucks. It’s a shitty genre in general and it needs to have died – but hasn’t. But that genre is essentially where bands that look a certain way get lumped even when they don’t have anything in common with other bands in the scene. A great example of this is The Black Dahlia Murder. I will personally whip the next person who calls TBDM a metalcore band. There is nothing metalcore about them – aside from the fact that the guys in the band have tattoos, short hair and plugs. The band essentially sounds like At The Gates with more blast beats (though they have really developed with time), and I cannot think of a single song by the band that has a breakdown. What is metalcore about this band? In fact, I’d say that Ritual from 2011 is one of the best melodic death metal records that’s been released in the last 5 years. Listen to that album and show me the “metalcore.” It’s not there.

But I think it’s super hilarious how metalheads carve up genre differentiations and then divide bands they like into one good genre and ones they don’t like into other genres. Fallujah? Well, they’re fucking technical death metal. The Faceless? Deathcore. Tool? Alternative metal. All the fucking Tool wannabe bands? Nü metal. And don’t even get me started on Metal Archives keeping all the “dark ambient” bands, but dropping deathcore bands. Such blatant hypocrisy.

Ultimately I see this as a weakness of the scene. Just because something in your scene sucks doesn’t invalidate your opinion. How many shitty power metal bands exist? OMG SO FUCKING MANY. Does this mean that all power metal is bad? Nope. God, when was the last time you heard a black metal ripping of Darkthrone that you enjoyed? Puke. Does this make black metal a bad genre? Not at all! Did the post-metal period of the 90s that gave rise to nü metal suck? Hell yes it did. Did nü metal produce tons of shitty bands? Yes, yes it did. Does that mean that everything it produced blows? No way! In the same way that I love Unearth’s early stuff and God Forbid and think the first Job for a Cowboy record is solid and think that The Human Abstract is great – no matter what genre they’re in. Just ’cause a scene is devoid of ideas doesn’t make the whole scene invalid. And we need to stop using genres pejoratively.

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