(Ed: As I sort out reviews for some Throaat, Autopsy, Ectovoid releases and the new 4 Doors to Death split, I’m posting a rant I’ve had in the works for a while. This could be an irregular segment depending on the reception, but here we go).
As the anxiety ridden introvert that I am, my musical listening and discussion primarily takes place on the internet, and there’s a frame of mind that I see quite often in the various places on the internet I frequent. This is that metal takes itself too seriously tied in with the massive popularity of bands such as Alestorm, Nekrogoblikon, Steel Panther, Babymetal and the like. It’s easy to see that these go hand in hand as a sort of not intentional reaction to metal’s more serious ends such as black metal in its entirety, quite a lot of death metal and a lot of doom metal and possibly could be extended to the non-ironic tinged trad throwback material that’s been coming about lately.
Naturally as someone who listens to a lot of extreme metal this sort of mentality becomes grating after seeing over and over again and the tipping point personally was seeing people refer to Babymetal as “a breath of fresh air in a stagnant genre” a few times and that “metal is so dark and brooding and angry and Babymetal is fun, damn elitists.” One person even referred to them, with no hint of irony or intentional exaggeration, as the “saviours of metal”. A literal pop idol trio of Japanese teens backed with vaguely metallic sounding instrumentation with novelty tracks about chocolate…are the saviours of metal? Even typing this elicits a sigh and eye rub of frustration from me.
It’s normally a cardinal sin of the internet to pay attention to internet comments however this is less about the comments and more so the pervasiveness of this particular anti-serious-metal mentality that’s led to a band like Babymetal getting the sort of praise it has.
To get this rant more grounded, I’m extremely frustrated with the view in the wider metal community that metal isn’t fun anymore and that it’s all just angry, brooding, edgy people trying to see who is more ‘br00tal’ or ‘trve’. It’s a mentality that’s arisen from the intense focus of scenes like the Norwegian black metal scene with its intense personalities and various controversies; church burnings, suicides and murders. However, much like almost everything else on the internet, people have beat this dead horse into a pulp and took any semblance of a good point away with any semblance of the horse. Yes, black metal does come across as try-hardy in the way it presents negative emotions at times and yes, corpse paint can look silly and misused in terms of aesthetics.
All that taking the piss and pointing and laughing at the more cheesy ends of the genre is all well and good; being able to laugh at yourself is a virtue in my opinion, but there is a difference between that and the dismissive, shit-flinging “oh people take metal too seriously” that smacks of this almost ashamed to be associated with those people, holier-than-thou-ness. It smacks of a lack of respect towards the artistic merits of a genre that places interest in the darker elements of humanity and other associated things.
To piggyback off of someone who explained this sort of thing much better than I (/u/oldshendig, taken from here): the wider music sphere and even the wider sphere of society is limitless in the portrayal and celebration of positive emotions. We do, however, live in a world where WWII happened, where the horrors of war have affected people for thousands of years, where serial killers, child molesters and other deeply shocking things exist. It shouldn’t be seen as edgy when a band plays angry, misanthropic, anti-humanist music because of this. It shouldn’t be seen as edgy when a band adopts a nihilistic sound and lyrical theme because death is a very real and currently very final event. That’s not even to break into the esoteric, metaphysical realms of lyrical content either.
Like I said before, it’s obvious where the preconceived notions about taking metal too seriously have arisen from and stuff like the Norwegian black metal scene in particular is a big offender. This is especially so in regards to promotional pics, imagery and media portrayal of bands. Ask anyone who has had minimal, mainstream exposure to black metal what comes to mind when they think of it. Common answers would include corpse paint, music videos like Immortal’s Call of the Wintermoon, Gaahl’s infamous “….Satan” moment on A Headbanger’s Journey, and those promo pictures. You’ll probably note that I’m focusing heavily on black metal throughout this rant, because that’s where a large part of the mentality takes seed from despite being a mentality slating other subgenres as well.
In regards to metal imagery, the excerpt below comes from a comment made by /u/BrutalN00dle on reddit in regards to metal imagery.
” Because the truth of it is, no matter how krieg a band looks in their photos, they aren’t like that in real life. If someone is walking around in corpsepaint for a reason that isn’t directly involved in “playing a show in the next hour” that’s taking it too seriously.”
What a lot of the imagery issues people have with metal results from people seeing a few black metal artists wear spikes/leather with weapons posing by forests and poking fun at those and then painting a broad stroke along entire genres because they’re outside observers looking in. However, if you take a look at the lyrical themes of the music, and consider the highly isolationist element of a lot of black metal, the way most black metal bands present themselves aligns closer to the music itself than any t-shirt, surf short wearing promo images that some other bands had elected to take around the same time as the Norwegian black metal scene was coming around.
If your band has a lyrical aesthetic laden heavily with nature romanticism or nihilistic/misanthropic themes, it would seem rather quite counter-intuitive to be selling your music with promotional pictures of you wearing booty shorts and smiling as opposed to isolated, forest-centric ones, menacing ones like Teitanblood’s ones or even hooded ones a la Mgła and Svartidauði.
Spaniard Black/Death duo Teitanblood
At the end of the day, all I see with this mentality is a slightly more informed version of the “all metal is screamo” and “how can you listen to that wrist-slitting music, if I listened to that I’d want to kill people” mentalities that an out of touch parent would cluck dismissively to their kid after hearing their music. And coming from people who claim to be metalheads of some sort, it really bothers me deep down because I respect the genre and can admit the flaws and poke fun at the cheesy elements of even the completely serious ends without need to hand-wring myself of the “serious crowd”.
Also, if anything with metal is taken too seriously, it’s Babymetal. Hide behind all the “oh it’s just fun music” all you want, the fact that a trio of teenaged Japanese girls whose most popular song is them singing about chocolate have fully grown adults having the same level of fervour towards them as teen girls do towards boy band members just rubs me the wrong way. Because let’s be real, no one gives anywhere near as much shit about the members playing the instruments as they do the cutesy Japanese teens.