“No one can destroy the metal” read the lyrics to Tenacious D’s corny tribute song, entitled, simply, “The Metal,” to every headbanger’s favorite music genre, but is that actually true?
Is heavy metal dying, or already dead? Hell no.
With guitar maker Gibson having filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this year, as reported by The Globe and Mail, and articles like “The Slow Death of Heavy Metal” being promoted in recent years by the Observer, it seemed at least possible that spike-studded moshers may have to find new digs and new gigs to bring their battle jackets to.
The facts do seem diametrically opposed to this negative speculation.
Metal is one of the few remaining genres of music still primarily composed and performed live and in-studio by the artists themselves. Though the genre has been commercialized to some degree since the first big boom in the 1980s, with glam metal and early thrash taking the stage, the liner notes of most metal albums great and small feature the band members first and foremost. There is a sense of camaraderie amongst most metal bands, often giving full credit to one another for having put out another killer album, with very few contracted songwriters and even fewer touring stand-ins – barring injury or unforeseen circumstances. And of course, a big thanks inscribed inside the jewel case or on the vinyl sleeve insert for steadfast fans.
Authenticity sells. In heavy metal circles, authenticity is almost as important, if not moreso, than the technical ability and melody of the music itself.
Metal fans are the most hardcore, and the most loyal to the artists contributing to their genre, at least according to Spotify Insights. An analysis of data from 2015 from the popular music streaming service shows that heavy metal fans stick to what they know, spin metal all day every day, and rarely stray away for long periods of time.
Vice’s imprint Noisey speculates that the reason for the longevity and long-lasting appeal for heavy metal fandom is the nature of the subculture: it’s inter-generational, referential, and demands knowledge of the icons and forbears of the killer music before being offered any real credibility within the scene. Beyond that, the plethora of subgenres stacked upon subgenres, from doom to death to black to power to djent to folk to pirate to viking to nu and back again allows almost fans to pick and choose their preference down to the smallest level of significant difference.
Harsh vocals vs. clean, sludgy distortion vs. fast and frantic tremolo, off-time blastbeats vs. thunderous double kicks, the debates between metalheads can be even more savage and divisive than the criticism of those who do not have the ear for the truly brutal.
With godfathers of metal such as Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Slayer still selling out arenas and outdoor festivals the world over, it looks like the show ain’t over until the fans say so. Embracing newer stars such as Ghost and Wolfheart, as well as extreme metal icons such as Childen of Bodom, Dimmu Borgir, and Arch Enemy, it appears that the fandom demands even heavier tunes from an increasingly large roster of metal superstars. From Wacken Open Air to Heavy MTL, festivals remain filled to the brim with thirsty metalheads looking to slake their desire for dark music with an impossibly primal energy.
Pop music and electronic hip-hop may dominate radio station airplay and other safe, family-friendly avenues of distribution, but in the underground, and online, metal is king. Listeners aren’t going away, and neither is their penchant for physical merchandise to display their loyalties to their favorite artists.
Heavy Metal will never die, so long as artists maintain their authenticity and commitment to the shredding arts, and so long as fans are willing to stand for hours on end, fists raised to the sky, horns up, souls stained black.
As Jack Black and Kyle Gass told us over a decade ago: punk, grunge, and new wave already tried to kill the metal, and were promptly hurled to the ground. It should be no surprise that the latest challengers in the musical marketplace might try their hand as well, with equally predictable results.