Okay, I can't keep this in any more. I feel like I have to say something. It's been said before, and it will be said again, and again. Because apparently it needs to keep being said. Some people just do not seem to understand that A) This website is about Metal, and Metal Only, and B) some things are Metal, and some things are Not Metal. Some people cannot grasp these two simple facts, nor why some people care so very much about the distinction. How many times has someone suggested you listen to such-and-so a band, prefacing it with 'now, you need an open mind', and why does that always mean that some Grade A Crap is about to ensue? Don't get me wrong – I like music that isn't metal, and I won't say that Metal is the only genre worth hearing. But if we are talking about metal, I am going to insist we talk about METAL, and not some other crap that pretends to be metal.
This rant started out when I got a mailer from somebody or other, it contained 2 CDs and a 'zine – and the whole was so utterly worthless that it seemed a simple bad review on the Shit List was wholly inadequate to the task of pointing up not only why this crap is aesthetically deficient, but why and how it is not fucking metal. I don't even know what half of this shit is supposed to be, but it IS NOT METAL. So the seed of this berserk tirade was planted, and over time I have received so many promos by bands that want to be metal but are not, or used to be metal but are not now, or even claim to be metal but are not yet, that the whole issue kind of melted together in my mind, and now I am prepared to spew it forth like a volcano of vitriol, and may my death cloud spread far downwind, and send the wannabes and has-beens crawling back to their burrows to suck their thumbs and cry to their mothers about how 'no one has an open mind'.
When we are little, we make shitty crayon drawings on construction paper, and when nobody can tell what they are supposed to be, we cry and pitch a fit. Older artists who still can't draw anything recognizable have learned a more cunning strategy: when no one can tell what the Hell they are on about, they cry, pitch a fit, and claim that no one 'understands' them, thus making it our fault that we cannot decipher that their oblong maroon splotches are supposed to be about anger, or despair, or maybe both. Musicians learn this trick too, and the one thing you should beware is the band who claim that no one 'understands' their music. I once heard a teenaged writer, after a reading of a terrible story that no one understood, claim "I was trying to do something totally different", to which my response was "I used to say crap like that too, back when I didn't know how to write a real story." As you can imagine, this went over real well with mister crybaby.
What does any of this have to do with metal? Easy. The first thing all these wannabe poser bands haul out when you tell them they not only suck, but are not metal at all, is that you are 'closed-minded'. I am flushing them out of that patch of tall grass right off the bat, by making it very clear that I consider pleas for open-mindedness the easy refuge for the inept, the fraudulent, and the droolingly stupid. Today I am going to rant about some stuff that is not fucking metal, not to mention sucky, and I will not accept excuses of 'have an open mind', that is a cop-out, that is artistic relativism at its basest and most unworthy level, akin to claiming there are no objective grounds for saying that Shakespeare is any better than a Jerry Bruckheimer movie. Artistic grounds are not objective, they are subjective, and the subject today is: Metal – You Are Not It.
Exhibit A: This Incredibly Lame And Shitty 'Zine.
This thing is a xeroxed 'zine called "Rock Bottom 'Zine," and it certainly looks it. It is full-page size, like a regular magazine, but it is just copied and stapled together. Now ordinarily, that means nothing, just like bad production on a Black Metal CD, it doesn't mean that the content is no good. A 'zine could look waaay worse than this and still have something good to write about, but this is The Suck. What does it say at the tippy-top right under "Free To All"? It says the following, which I approximate as best I can here: "MUSIC, poetry, draw-ings, INDIGOS, GOD, animal cruelty, & much more….."
Whoah! Am I ever excited now! Or at least I would be if I knew what the fuck they were on about. Since we're talking about metal here, I will stick with the musical content, and what great artists do they feature on the cover? Here they are: Poptart Monkeys, King Diamond, Inter Nos, War Injun, Omen, Way Down East, Rick Brannon, Juglans Regia, No-Refill. Now of this list, I only see 2 that are well-known by any measure, but that's not the problem, as 'well-known' does not equal 'worth knowing about', what I want to call attention to is the fact that of those 9 names we have:
…. And these are the ones they selected for the cover, in order to some way interest people in their shitty 'zine and get them to pick it up – not buy, since it is free, as even these losers seem to be aware no one would pay for a 'zine with a band pictured on the cover called "Poptart Monkeys". Let's look at that name again:
Now, call me crazy, but I have a hard time thinking of any name less metal than that. That name not only sucks, it is embarrassing. If I was, gods forbid, a fan of a band called "Poptart Monkeys", I would hide their CDs so that no one ever saw them, I would disguise myself when I went to their shows, and I would be aware that I could never, ever mention their name out loud without a total abdication of human dignity.
'But wait!' people are saying, 'you don't know, they might be good!'
Let us now embark on a short excursus on metal band names, and the general ethos of metal overall as a genre, because in order to get to the meat of the 'You Are Not Metal' thesis, we have to get down to brass tacks about what metal consists of.
Metal is, from my admittedly biased viewpoint, music that does not suck, and in order for it to be music that does not suck, it has to be about something cool. You cannot be cool if you have a gay-ass name like "Poptart Monkeys" or "No-Refill". Metal demands a certain swagger and machismo, or a certain mystery and menace for band names. There are exceptions, but think of such fine and classic names like "Iron Maiden", "Black Sabbath", "Darkthrone", "Queensryche", "Fates Warning", "Mayhem", "Morbid Angel", "Possessed". The list goes on and on, so many band names, and they may mean many different things, but they all have one thing in common: they are cool. They make the band sound powerful, mysterious, arcane, or evil. They do not cause you to equate them with things that are: silly, mundane, feeble, or transitory. If you name a band after the serial killer of the moment, then that is not a metal band name. A good band name is simple and eternal. It should speak to something that does not depend on pop culture or the politics of the moment.
There are exceptions, and to be honest, the language barrier can be blamed for such iffy names as "Squealer" or "KOB". But no metal band that takes itself seriously can be named something banal like "Way Down East" or "Dirty Boots" – where's the grandeur? Where's the mystery? A poor name is not a dead sure measure of poser status, but it's a big strike. And as we look through this festering pile of a 'zine, we are assaulted by further evidence that this is a work devoted not to metal music, but to sucking the corn out of some shit whose existence had not yet been postulated. Where are these bands coming from? And who is this aimed at? We have features on bands such as "Pharaoh's Daughter" – which is a cool name, no question, but it is described as "pop music with Hasidic influences". What the fuck is this about? "Way Down East", who call themselves 'redneck monster rock' (only all in caps, lest we think they are wussy). "Inter Nos" – who are some kind of prog-rock horror. "Juglans Regia" – a terrible prog-wank band who I had the misfortune to review several years ago. Some acoustic bint named Hannah Bingman. Oh, and the aforementioned "King Diamond Feature", which is just an article about King Diamond, with no new or exclusive content at all, just fanboying by some idiot named Bill Jannusch.
And the reviews follow. I will not even dignify these with extensive savaging. Let us just say that the only album I even recognize here is the Deadmoon demo I got ahold of many moons ago and which is so terrible I only bothered to review it because it was a busy day. Just a few random prose samples from these reviews should be enough to send all real metalheads hunting for their axes:
Are you screaming with rage yet? This is not a 'Zine so much as an indictment of an entire way of life. Everything about this thing is terrible, and it screams 'sellout wannabe cockshit' from every single page. Topped off with the articles on tattoos, rants against animal cruelty, and some hideous new-age bullshit about "Indigo Children" who are "Very intelligent and creative, but also rebellious to authority", we have a 'zine that pretty much justifies euthanasia by its very existence.
Exhibit B: This Pile Of Shit Promos
I have right now on my desk a pile of promos that all suck, and are not metal at all, and yet have some thin veneer of metal added in some effort to make us think of them as such. They are:
Since it came with the 'zine, and is probably the worst of them, let's start with the 'Kompilation' shall we? This will be the hardest one to summarize, as obviously there are a lot of shitty bands on here pretending to be metal – 20 of them to be exact – and I'll be damned if I'm going to go one by one, I'd be here all week. So we'll just look at some highlights.
Un-Kind "Veil" – a horrible song to open with, as it is some kind of groove-punk monstrosity with tuneless shouted vocals and the same riff repeated over and over. Oh, and some hip-hop influence. I hope I do not need to go one about how any trace of rap makes you so not metal as to be actually liquid.
Fe-Dup "Last Day Of My Life" – Yes, that is their actual name. Nothing says 'metal' like a name that sounds like a ghetto boy hitting up a hooker for a salad tossing. And then the song comes in with plinkety pianos and sissy warbling vocals that eventually segue into bashing guitars that do not even play riffs while the warbling sissy does an impression of Guy Taking A Shit While He Sings. Ye Gods this is horrible.
Muculords "Brutulords/Cepli" – At least this name sounds amusingly stupid, as opposed to painfully. This track might be considered some kind of metal, unfortunately it is the Grindcore kind, which I will discourse on later, as Grind is not metal either.
Last Rites "Mind's Prison" – A name like this promises a possibility of not sucking, a promise which the band shits on by playing three-chord riffs and engaging in some truly terrible vocal vomiting. Metal? Maybe. Sucky? Oh yeah.
Crunch Mob "Son Of Sam" – A bad name, but not terrible. Plus they got hyped up in the aforementioned pile of shit 'zine, so maybe. . . nah, they suck. They suck through a straw. This is a punk band. A bad punk band.
Action Men "If You're Happy" – I do not have words to describe this pop-punk abortion.
Okay, that will be enough of that shit. Here we have a disc of obvious punk/hardcore/garbagecore junk that has somehow been sent to me, I guess in the theory that all that stuff is close enough to metal to be the same, right? Wrong. Get out. You are not even close to metal. Bye.
Next, this thing called Sliter, a CD released by the same Akom Productions assholes who sent me that steaming pile of a compilation CD. So, with a stupid name and the track record of this hideous label fresh in my mind like a new wasp sting, I did not have high hopes. My hopes, low as they were, proved too high for this laughable band. Now I am confused enough that this is being marketed as some stripe of metal, but the idea that this is being marketed at all is a complete baffler. Trying to sell this is like trying to market spam galoshes – it makes no sense on the face of it, and I begin to suspect that this band is being marketed as metal because they could not think of where else to market it, as it is not really anything. It has distorted guitars, but only in a Green Day kind of sense, and the vocals are this muppet-esque croaking imitation of punk vocals. So here we have another wannabe pop-punk band who's awful lyrics like "Breed a riot, open the door, Deny god is a positive fact" are only partially explained by their being Japanese. That's right, this label went all the way to fucking Japan to get awful pop-punk garbage.
Scorngrain's "Cyberwarmachine" begins with more promise, as they may have a suspiciously Nu-Metal sounding name, but the album title is cool. Opening riffs are good, with a good sound and some actual metal style to them. The vocals are not great, but I have heard worse. They have these keys wanking all over everything, which is annoying, but does not make them unmetal right off.
Then we get two minutes in, only two minutes in – and they start rapping. Now here I am going to have to go briefly into why rap and metal cannot coexist. Briefly, it is thus: Rap is about Black People, Metal is about White People. I'll get more into this in a minute when I get to Green Carnation, and how almightily they suck, but that's the basic split there. Yes, there are white rappers, and yes, there are black guys who play metal, but 99.99999% of the time, the racial/cultural divide holds true. So if you throw in even a little tiny bit of rap or fucking 'hip-hop', then you are not fucking metal, and you can get out of my pool. Scorngrain prove 2 minutes in that they are not metal, but some other kind of hybrid music. That's fine, let them be what they want, but don't call it metal, because it isn't.
Which brings us to Green Carnation, and all kinds of problems, because a lot of people will highly acclaim this band and their works, and will fight me tooth and nail here. So let's say this straight off: if you like Green Carnation, and this album here "The Quiet Offspring", fine. Go ahead. I think they suck ass, but I can't stop you. But if you are one of the people claiming this alt-rock shit is metal, then you are part of the motherfucking problem, and I have the solution right here in my gun.
Mostly I am not going to talk about Green Carnation's music, which is a badly done ripoff of Three Doors Down and does not really bear discussion. No, I am going to talk about theme, mood, and attitude, and how they define metal even more than sound. Because metal consists of two things: a musical direction, and a particular ethos. Without both of these things, you do not have metal, but something else entirely.
Ethos is a sticky term, so let's go to Webster: "Ethos" is defined as "The disposition, character, or fundamental values peculiar to a specific people, culture, or movement." I hardly think it could be said any more clearly. Any particular movement, style, genre, or whatever, has to have an ethos. And a lot of people are trying to skank their way into the Metal movement by pretending it doesn't have one, when they really have no idea what it is at all.
Let's be honest here. 99% of metal has something to do with white people, specifically European people. Metal originated in England, after all, and is still most popular in Europe. This is not a racial distinction, but a cultural one. Metal lyrics and themes reflect a European point of view, code of honor, and sense of history. Yes, there are a lot of bands right now into the Middle eastern stuff, like Nile, Melechesh, etc. But I will point out that these bands are into the mythology and folklore of those regions, which has been a focus of white European fascination for over a century. There are exceptions to my generalization, but overall it is pretty safe to say that metal is made by people with European heritage, for the same people. Look at metal bands – do you see a lot of black guys in bands? You have South Americans – who are also fascinated by Northern Europe and its heritage – but even the very few bands from Africa are made up of white guys. So let's just admit it – metal is white, and I don't mean that as a taboo, but as a statement of observable fact. Metal is rooted in our culture, that is why it appeals so strongly to us in the first place. So a band with a different perspective is going to have a hard time.
Second, and I think most importantly, metal is about the desire for a different or better world. Some bands do this by singing about fantasy worlds that have never existed, some by immersing themselves in a different time and place that calls out to them, even Doom bands do this, by despairing over the world they inhabit, and thus positing indirectly a better place that should exist and does not. Not every song fits this criteria, but it is a dominant theme in many bands' works, and a band that ignores these things entirely is edging out of metal country altogether. Even bands that usually sing about 'reality', will often toss in a song about gladiators, or vampires, or a Tolkien reference. It is a way of escaping, for the length of a song or an album, from this world which is so often unworthy. Even the socially conscious lyrics so prevalent with Thrash bands are not the helpless, dragging sobs common with Nu-Metal, but are rather angry and active. Again, a drive towards a better place, or at least a simpler one.
Third, in case it needs to be said, metal bands do not sing about boring shit. They do not write songs about childhood pain, or baseball, or their jobs, or mowing the grass, they do not whine about the pain of the 'real world'. Metal lyrics are active, they tell stories, and they dwell on the mysterious, the grandiose, or the tragic. War, death, disaster, ancient cities, gods, and peoples. Great empires and armies of monsters are the stuff Metal is made of. So band that sings about being molested, or about the sadness of losing someone you love, like, say Green Carnation, are walking close to the edge as it is, and when you add in music that is basically radio-friendly alt-rock, then you, my compadre, are not metal, even if you used to be in Emperor.
And lets put this last thing to bed on the topic of lyrics. There is a big back and forth about 'Realistic' vs. 'Fantasy' lyrics, and which is better. My problem is the people who inherently believe 'realism' is better. We should be clear from my above laying out of lyrical themes, that Literal Representationalism is not metal. If you want to sing about the lint in your ass, fine, but that is not a suitable topic for a metal song. Metal does not just depict, it challenges, it evokes, it thunders. Same with Grindcore, besides the fact that anything called '-core something' can be reliably judged to suck, grind is about nothing but blood and guts, a pubescent fascination with gore, and as it speaks of nothing besides splatter, it has nothing to do with metal at all.
Now we get to the last three shit promos, and we have to address the issue of sound. Now trying to categorize the sound of metal and why something is or is not is virtually impossible, not to mention hopefully needless: if you are a metalhead, then you know metal when you hear it. But there is a lot of shit out there thinking a distorted guitar tone will get them into the club. So let's have a look at Inactive Messiah, and their cleverly self-titled album. Hmmm. Let's see. Heavy guitars, shouting vocals – what's not metal? Oh yeah, NO SOLOS! Sorry, but guitar solos is a staple of metal, you just can't get away without them. This is because metal does not derive from pop music. It evolved out of Rock, but rapidly took a turn back to classical European forms. Compositionally, Metal is a classical form, with chords, key progressions, and musicianship derived from classical music. The recent advent of 'Folk Metal' is another turn back to traditional European modes and aesthetics, and as such a band that uses 'funky' melodies, like this one, can go right out on its ass.
And now we reach the bottom: a band called, appropriately, Das Scheit. This is industrial wannabe shit that sounds like later Metallica crossed with Marilyn Manson. In other words, it sounds like trend-whore poser crap put out by mascara-smeared goth-fags who should be beaten and thrown to hungry monitor lizards.
And why does all this matter? Why do I care so much about what is and is not Metal? Because I have to. Somebody has to, or we just let in all the jock-rap date-rapist Mallcore jackoffs with their shaved heads and their baggy shirts, the goth queers with their ennui and sneering, the metalcore/hardcore losers with their monotonous screaming. If we don't keep the ramparts clear, we are just admitting those guys are not only just as good as we are, but that we are the same. Back in the 80s we all had to put up with glam-fags being touted as 'Metal', and we had to fight to keep them out. Then in the 90s it was the grunge wave, and we were all so 'open-minded' we just let them come in and trample all over everything and shit on the porch, and everything just went to Hell. It matters because if we don't fight to keep that shit out, it will get out of hand and take over, and everyone will think that fairy cockshit is the music we love. It's the reason we swear allegiance to metal, why we toil in the underground so hard to get the word out. Metal is the fucking best, but there are a lot of squirming abominations claiming to be metal that just are not. They will challenge you to tell them why not, and I advocate making that argument with the ax, the torch, and the iron spike. Be closed-minded. When stuff sucks, say it sucks, and consider all claimants poser until proven otherwise. Metal Forever. Metal Only.
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