Once the initial downslope of metal, following the black explosion of the early 90s, spawned genericism by the ton in the form of symphonic pseudo-black metal, wimpy brutal death metal for high school jocks and related abominations, foreboding the birth of metalcore, the devoted bangers of the old guard, along with a new crop of underground warriors high on old acts from the 80s in the heavy, speed and thrash subgenres of metal reacted by attempting to bring the old school sound back. This new movement, brought with the best of intentions, would eventually become a trend of it own. You know what they say about Hell and good intentions leading to it. I can’t think of any better example on our favorite music genre than this one.
The new movement, sometimes pejoratively, sometimes appealingly and even at times flatteringly (for some bands) dubbed as “retro”, attempted to reverse the previous stage in the devolution of metal by trying to rescue the essence of what made the classic sound superior, mimicking the style, production values and imagery of the bands caught in the “classic era” (mid 80s initially, early 90s afterwards and 70s/early 80s following) to the absurd point of even recycling riffs of well-known acts in such an obvious manner that it was ridiculous even to point out the ripping off taking place (only it wasn’t that, it was a “tribute” to the band members’ musical preferences).
The retro trend, while making sense as a form of transition from a state of complete flop to something that sucked far less, failed in its attempt because it tried to catch a sound, not an essence or a state of mind. It knew the meal that tastes good, but not the proper way to obtain the materials and cook them. It’s the musical equivalent of a Tv dinner. It failed (and continues to do so) because of the lack of realization that spirit, motivation, mentality and drive make the sound, and you can’t obtain the former from the latter, no matter how much you try.
It would be tempting to say that this created the obsession with form over substance that currently curses metal, but it didn’t . It did contribute, though, to create the present fixation with style, “trueness” and the mix of the two that currently gives the underground scene the character of a carriage stuck in the mud, unable to keep going.
And we’re really stuck here, and the only choice for us is to find an alternative. But there are really many out there and what one needs is to think outside of the box. Photocopying the past to exhaustion didn’t really improve things, but adding random aesthetical novelty won’t give metal new life either, as it was proved many times already. What needs to be done is to go back to the drawing board and think more as songwriters and musicians rather than as fans. Because fanboy-ism, like the kind pervading retro bands, won’t give metal back its glory.