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Fixation on the Darkness

Chris over at Culture Bully has a great discussion/review of Mastodon's Blood Mountain. Reminding me of the my recent post about hipster metal, Chris nails something on the head that I didn't even touch on:

Metal is and will always be somewhat inaccessible to the vast majority of listeners, and there within lies the difference between it and any number of albums that have given foundation for bandwagon-jumpers through the ages.

How true, but why are a number of critics now warming to modern metal? The music has definitely not softened or become something totally different, so what gives?

Maybe this is along the lines of when I heard all sorts of praise for Refused's The Shape of Punk to Come. Hearing only a few tracks, I wondered what was so great about something that came across as a retread of Nine Inch Nails and hardcore. Upon hearing the record the whole way through, I "got" it and have continued to love it ever since. Echoing Chris's statement, I've come to the realization that harsh, discordant sounds with no trace of warm melody will never be completely welcome to a mainstream audience. Parts of me are OK with that and other parts find that really annoying.

Metal, like hardcore punk, is too often disregarded as the soundtrack to juvenile angst. Sure, that stuff is awesome when you're an at-odds-with-the-world teenager, but what about when you're a relatively stable grown-up? Based on my own experience, I've come to the notion that I don't have to be in a pissed-off mood to enjoy this music. I definitely get a big charge out of the music if I'm really angry, but I can enjoy it when I'm happy too. Besides, I've always liked metal, but there have been plenty of good reasons in the past fifteen years to not like metal.

Because of a desire to one-up each other, metal morphed into this tail-chasing genre in the Eighties. Band after band wanted to play faster and heavier than the last one and that attitude continues to this day. For the bands not trying to do this and just be themselves, a number of them have come out in the last eight years that are doing something right. I'm talking about Converge, Mastodon, Killswitch Engage, All That Remains, Shadows Fall and so on. Yes, these guys play chugging, detuned riffs with screaming and busy drumming, but that's not a reason to dismiss them.

We still live in an age where some people think that metal music has direct ties to backwards-thinking, deviant behavior or worse, Satanism. No matter what, the use of the tri-tone gives people the thought this music leads to the ways of the Anti-Christ. As someone who has listened to metal over the years and has read about a number of metal bands, I've never bought into that idea. So much of that posturing is an attempt to stick out by way of putting on a smoke-and-mirrors act. Looking past the presentation, I've always thought that heavy music is great music with no handicap.

Instead of taking the attitude of "either you get it or you don't and if you don't, we don't need you," I think about the music that I don't get. I can't get into pop music that sounds like robots, not humans, are performing it. I can't get into dance music that is all about the beat and little about the melody. I can't get into hip-hop that only focuses on moronic melodies and big beats. I can't get into pop country that sounds more like pop rock than country. That's just me as I realize there are people that treasure what I trash.

Rounding back to the point at hand, there is an understandable criticism as far as what's so different about this modern form of metal compared to the metal we've heard in the past. I understand someone like Jason for not understanding what's so great about a band like Killswitch Engage. I think about the modern stuff that he's into, like Man Man, Beirut and Voxtrot. He likes the fact that there is something new and unique about these bands, but he doesn't like it just because it's new and unique. I get the feeling that my views on Killswitch Engage and Converge are very similar. The draw is the vibe and that vibe differs with every person.

Where we all run into a trap is thinking that more people should listen to the stuff that we like. That in turn causes a bunch of hype that always leads to a backlash. I talk up the aforementioned metal bands because I like them. I never mean to imply that these bands should be something you should play for your mother who begins and ends with Celine Dion or your friend who only enjoys obscure blues and jazz sides. This music, along with post-hardcore, pop-punk, older Top 40 music and eclectic rock, does a lot for me, but I have to understand that music is not as important in other people's lives.

Narrowing the field down some more, I realize that people aren't going to find any merit in metal, but that's not a reason to be combative. It's just a way of understanding why some of my friends are a little befuddled when I listen to The End of Heartache. If metal were to gain a better understanding with the hipster crowd via a record like Blood Mountain, I'm all for it. On the other hand, I don't mind that other people don't get. Deep down, I won't lie -- it would be nice for me to listen to this kind of music and not have to feel like I have to constantly defend it.

Comments

Per your last sentence, recall my comments on Sublime.

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