Metal needs to be fresh again

Those of you who regularly check the blog posts written here have surely noticed that we at the Hessian Studies Center care a lot about the future of underground metal music. And right now, that future is uncertain: the scene produces hundred of releases and most of them are considered decent enough for consideration or even to shell out some bucks, but none inspiring and essential like the undisputed classics of the genre. When confronted with that truth (and many in the scene would readily admit that), they will say that metal was crafted and totally perfected in the “classic era” (late 70s to early 90s). The limit was reached and it was up to us and all subsequent generations to “keep the flame going” by releasing more material following the blueprint given by the old bands to the note.

Such an excuse must have sounded good at first. After all, how far can metal get? It seemed like it stretched out and reached a creative breaking point at the end of the black metal movements forged in Scandinavia, Greece and the US, and it was up to the “hardcore dudes” from the scene to keep the tradition forged by our forefathers and to shy the center of attention away from the “false ones” trying to soften metal by adding progressive self-indulgence or soft vocals on top of a pseudo-symphonic incoherent mess.

The illusion couldn’t last enough though. The guys on the scene did have a point, though: we probably have reached the end of the aesthetical evolution of metal with the culmination of death and black metal technical development. The mistake was believing that technique and style are all the requirements needed for creating quality metal music.

If we choose not to become conformists so we can keep producing album after album of safe, gutless material, we will try to be as creative and demanding on ourselves and release music of the best quality possible, completely unconcerned whether if the scene will dig it or not. It will be honest music, because it will appeal to the standards of the songwriter, and it will be music reaching out to its potential listener since it will encompass an idea common to the whole of humanity and even beyond it and not merely cincunscribed to the ideals of a local scene or group of friends with the naive and limited vision of life of a teenager.

But to accomplish that we need to understand what made the composers of the classic-era of metal so determined to pour their creativity to the maximum on their music. Comparing both eras of metal (the “classic” one and our current times) we can reach, after some pondering, to the one requirement needed to burn the old flame back: the fact that metal needs to be fresh again.

When each of the metal subgenres first arose, it offered a wide spectrum of exploration in concept and development for the craft and gave the musicians involved big creative possibilities. And those horizons were initially given by small additions to a finished subgenre. That way, NWOBHM mixed with hardcore punk spawned speed metal, speed metal with an extra dose of Discharge and the inclusion of morbid concepts and elements created death metal, and so on. Those additions certainly didn’t made the subgenre on its entirety, but gave the initial push required for relentless creativity to finish the job: they gave a feeling of freshness to a genre that was stagnated.

Fast forward to our current time, and we see the same thing happening now: metal is stagnated, and what we need right now is to have the balls to think outside of the box and put our creativity first and social intentions second, while having respect for the history of the genre as determined by its classics. In the process, we would not deny the importance of all the previous eras in metal and we would not try to drastically reinvent the genre, keeping the growth in accordance with the natural evolution of the genre. Darkthrone is easily associable with Bathory, which in turn is easily associable with Motörhead, and the future acts will keep that lineage intact. We are stepping on firm ground. It is only a matter of either sitting there, get lazy, and accumulate fat, or use its firmness to impel ourselves and jump to newer creative heights.

We asserted early on this post that the innovation required would probably not come in the form of technical advancements, but who knows? In any case, the most plausible step towards the future is expanding the conceptual, and therefore, compositional scope of the genre, making longer and more complex songs dealing with universally human topics (the dychotomy between life and death being just one of those topics), in the vein of what composers of the Romantic era did. Black metal did had its influence from electronica. Maybe the future will come with a more newer, fresher creative infusion from classical music.

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3 Responses to Metal needs to be fresh again

  1. Phlod says:

    While I’m all for originality, when you’re creating inside a genre, you can only do so much. Like chess, there are only so many games that *can* be played, otherwise you’re no longer playing chess.
    Metal as a genre has an amazing breadth of sounds and styles. Much more so than almost *any* other genre of music. We have melodic metal, opratic metal, grindcore, prog, funk metal, power metal, black metal, trash, speed, pop metal, and countless others. Very few metal fans like all of the subgenres that exist, if they’ve even *heard* songs from all of them. The ‘box’ that is metal music is *really* big! To go much farther outside of it would be to (for example), start playing straight classical music, orchestra and all, and just calling it metal. Which isn’t to say that’s a bad idea, but at that point, is it classical music, or metal? At what point have we bent the genre so far that it’s not metal anymore?
    I think many metalheads have an idea of Platonic Metal. That somewhere out there, in some combination of notes, there is a perfect metal sound, that we have not yet found. I disagree with this idea. There’s dozens, if not hundreds of metal sounds, and every one of them is liked by *someone*. Hell, even Creed has fans.
    All we can do as artists is to find new sounds, new instruments, and new ways of putting them all together harmoniously (at least to *someone’s* ears). And all we can do as fans, is keep listening, and giving every song a chance to be great — to you. Every day someone hears an old song, and realizes suddenly that they love it. Every day someone hears a beloved song become stale and unlistenable.

  2. Pingback: Hessian.org - Metal culture as philosophy

  3. The Deacon says:

    I have encountered most of what you say in this article on ANUS.com and it’s affiliates before, and once again I have to agree. What inspired me to write this post is the last paragraph, however. For some time now, I have been conceptually grasping at this next stage of metal which is described so well here:

    “The future is expanding the conceptual, and therefore, compositional scope of the genre, making longer and more complex songs dealing with universally human topics (the dychotomy between life and death being just one of those topics), in the vein of what composers of the Romantic era did.”

    I am constantly craving more albums that can be held to this standard (not heavy, PROFOUNDLY heavy), but even in the “golden age” of death metal there were few TRUE masterpieces. If we want this art form to reach it’s full potential, those of us with this vision and passion need to do it ourselves. As a drummer, I have been searching for guitarists who share this vision for some time. But now I am just trying buy recording equipment and improve my technical skills on guitar to the point where I can play the music I hear in my head. I’m not Varg Vikerness, but who was he before Burzum? There is so much apathy and wasted potential every where I look. Whether we achieve greatness or die reminiscing about what others did instead is basically up to how disciplined we are willing to be.

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