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On the Fate of Metal
by Noctir (Oct. 2011)

At times, the future of metal looks quite bleak, and one has to wonder what will happen when those few bands that keep the flame burning are no more. As it is, too few are adhering to the traditions of real metal and far too many are putting forth great efforts to turn it into something hardly recognizable. Those that deviate from the true path are often hailed as being progressive and doing their part to help along the evolution of this music, when they are actually tearing it down. Meanwhile, those that try to uphold the tenets of metal are often labeled as "retro acts" and not taken seriously. This discredits the bands and, even worse, allows the type of music that they are playing to be considered old and outdated.

In essence, metal itself is becoming a relic of the past. Anything that does not possess the trappings of modernity is usually thought of as being retro or a tribute to those that came before. Even worse, very few bands seem to have a good grasp on what made the old albums special, so it is difficult to defend a lot of them. Things have become so diluted, over time, that the original inspirational forces behind the creation of the early classics of each sub-genre have been forgotten. Now, all bands are able to do is to try their best to mimic what their predecessors did, but without the true understanding it comes off as hollow and lacking the quality and sincerity of the old ones.

Looking at modern thrash metal, for example, one can see that most of these bands are doing all they can to rip off those that came before, without the talent to really match the creativity of the classic releases. More or less, they are going through the motions. In the 80s, there were countless bands that each had their own distinctive sound. Even within tight scenes, several bands would bear similarities while managing to carve out a place for themselves. Anyone with any familiarity with Teutonic thrash, for instance, can tell the difference between Kreator, Exumer, Destruction, Sodom, Assassin, etc. Similarly, it is just as simple to discern Metallica from Slayer or Megadeth from Testament. However, most of the retro bands are unable to create their own identity; the best they can do is to earn praise by being compared to some group from the past. While there are a few that have maintained the true spirit of thrash metal (often mixed with something else), these bands are frequently lumped in with the masses and ignored.

Then there’s death metal, where all of the original concepts were completely abandoned and what passes for death metal today has nothing at all to do with great records like Scream Bloody Gore, Slowly We Rot, Consuming Impulse, Altars of Madness or Left Hand Path. As time went on, many bands abandoned death metal entirely, simplifying their music in an effort to catch the ears of more casual listeners. Others took it to the opposite extreme, going out of their way to play as fast as possible, with an infinite number of riffs and timing changes, and deeper vocals that all focused on trying to be more "brutal" or technical. Of course, there were also those that added more outside elements to the music until reaching the point where they could no longer be considered real death metal, thus spawning such movements as the melodic death scene, which owes more to Iron Maiden than to Death or Autopsy. It has gotten to the point where the whole purpose of creating a dark atmosphere of death and horror has been totally lost. Whenever a band comes along that still has a degree of respect for the past and tries to resurrect the old sound, they are labeled as a retro act and brushed aside, for the most part.

In the case of black metal, there is more of a traditionalist sense that is part of the core philosophy. For every band like Emperor that became more symphonic than Black, and ended up reverting to death metal, there have been groups like Nifelheim that continued to play a primitive and old school style of music that never allowed the flame to weaken too much. The same can be said of Doom, which was also hi-jacked by goths and used for purposes other than what it was meant to be, but there were always bands that continued to take things in the right direction, maintaining the true essence of doom metal (often the death/doom or funeral doom bands).

The unfortunate thing is that purists are often considered to be backward or stubborn for trying to uphold tradition, as many of their peers dilute the music with foreign, experimental elements that do not belong. Strange that for a black metal band to play pure black metal, for example, is thought of as stagnant and instead praise goes to the idiot bands that steal some of the techniques of black metal (as well as the aesthetics) and go on to make something completely different in the name of progress. Naturally, this is not too surprising in a world where maintaining one's own culture is looked down upon, while the mixing of races and cultures is hyped. In the end, all that is achieved is destruction of all variety and unique types of music in favour of abominations that are mere amalgamations of different styles.

In time, the experimental side of things very well may overtake the traditionalist approach and true metal will die, only to be replaced by something else that goes by the same name while having nothing to do with what once was, at all. More bands should seek to connect to the inspirations that influenced the bands that started it all, rather than just watering things down by looking no further than the most recent generation. This is the only way to combat those that would see the various types of metal disappear. Even still, no one should worry too much. There are enough lost or forgotten albums from years past that will keep real metal fans satiated for a lifetime. Even after spending a few decades involved in the metal scene, there are always more forgotten gems to dig up and explore.

Copyright 2006-2021, Noctir