Aug 212013

(This is the third in a series of guest posts by NCS supporter Utmu in which he poses questions and seeks answers.  In the last installment, he sought reader input for a paper about metal that he has been preparing for a college Composition course, which we may be seeing here soon.  And in this post, he’s asking for reader opinions again. Please leave your thoughts in the Comment section after the post.)

I’d like to apologize for the untimely manner in which I’m going about my paper. My composition class ended on August 2 and I’ve been on break since then. The reason why I’ve been reluctant to submit it to Islander is because I want to make a few changes with the structuring. Also, I’d like to proofread it to make sure that it impresses upon people in the way that I want it to, and I’d also like to make sure all of my arguments are cogent. But to the matter at hand!

In the last installment of RitV, I surveyed you all about the general well-being of metal in order to gather information for the paper. Part of me thinks that the results weren’t what I was looking for, but the other part of me does. Regardless of whether or not my respondents understood what I was asking depended entirely on the way in which I asked it—that is to say, any faults in the survey were my doing, not the respondents’. I’ve diagnosed the possible faults of my survey as a symptom of not actually knowing how to conduct one. Specifically, I don’t know when I’m leading my respondents and when I’m informing them (my instructor intended for this to occur as a form of “on-the-job training”, I suppose). However, I still got the general idea from the respondents that metal is indeed alive and well.

Now I’d like to take a moment and ask you how you define living metal. What makes metal alive? Is it based on the extent of perceived innovation in the music? Or is it a function of the simple fact that new music continues to be made, whether innovative or not? Perhaps you would subscribe to a different explanation entirely.

For me, metal needs innovation to be alive (and also for it to be a form of popular music, I suppose, but this thought was just conceived, so I digress). I’d wager that my definition of innovation is different from yours, based on the previous survey, that is. My definition of innovation is essentially the one cited in my paper, but I’m afraid that you, dear readers, will have to wait until my paper is published here on NCS to hear more of my opinion on this topic.


            One postscript: I should have used the word “innovation” in the previous survey, rather than “new”. I apologize for my lack of clarity.


  1. as a 40-something metalhead who still regularly attends concerts, i’ve experienced something i never expected.
    i’ve never been big on nostalgia, and i thrive on being turned onto new music and new bands. that said i tend to shy away from the big tours by bands from my youth and instead gravitate towards festivals and club tours featuring younger acts.
    when i go to these shows i see musicians half my age performing for kids in their teens and early twenties. seeing these bands churn out bone crunching metal with complete sincerity and conviction in front of an adoring audience of euphoric young metalheads crashing into one another in a massive pit strikes me in a way i hadn’t anticipated, because what i’m seeing is concrete proof that metal is indeed alive. why? because there’s a huge difference between simply going through the motion of replaying decades old music through my earbuds as sit in my cubicle, and feeling the organic pulse of hundreds of young metalheads packed into a room and sharing an immediate and powerful live experience.
    i buy tickets to metal shows because i love the bands, but what i walk away with is always much, much more.

    • So you define metal as alive because people still listen to it and are passionate about it?

      • more specifically because young people, say ages 15-25, are listening to it and passionate about it

        • Do you measure the vitality of all genres in this way or do you use this as a bar for more youth-oriented genres?

          • i think this could be applied to most if not all genres. i believe that if kids aren’t excited about a genre of music they’re not going to aspire to create similar music, leaving that particular genre or style to appeal only to a certain generation or a very small audience of enthusiasts. rap and country have both undergone changes to maintain their relevancy with younger audiences, and metal is no different. jazz on the other hand has changed very little and many would argue that it’s a dying genre.

            • Interesting take. Thanks for the comment!

            • Too bad kids don’t listen to John Zorn. We’d might have more bands like Zu then.

              • Jazz is not a dead genre, it has evolved many times since the 1920s (ragtime, blues, swing, fusion) and there is actually a current trend of jazz influence in indie music! Listen to Hiatus Kayote. Also, hip hop basically kept jazz alive through the 90s.

              • While it’s true that most kids don’t listen to harsh Avante-garde music there definitely are some who do. One of my friends (when he was fifteen) introduced me to John Zorn and Mike Patton. I don’t mean to say that my anecdotal experience means that the genre is alive and well among all youngsters but there is some activity from that age group.

    • Very belatedly, just wanted to say I enjoyed this comment and feel much the same way you do.

  2. Please forgive any typos or mistakes; my break at work is ending so this will be very stream of stream of conscious. Another way one could see metal’s liveliness is through the musicianship displayed in metal. I can’t speak for all musicians but from my experience metal can be seen as an “endgame” of music, from both a compositional and a technical standpoint. Because (once again in my experience/beliefs) humanity tends to build on the past with the destination being the next extreme. What artist would be content with simply recreating pieces of work or “coloring in the lines” and never imagine/want to do more? Though, I’m sure they exist. In a sense, extreme metal to me is like the Olympics, where the “best” display their prowess in their craft or field. And that is something that I don’t think will ever go away because there’s something intrinsically human about constant progression towards the next extreme.

  3. Alive as opposed to dead like disco? The genre is constantly adding new material, be it derivative or entirely original. Bands still produce both traditional and non-traditional forms. It’s alive because people still make it and live it.

  4. I think all music is alive.
    What makes metal alive is when the musicians are passionate about the music and create a synergistic composition that moves us emotionally.
    I don’t think it has to be some new innovative experience. If the musician wakes up in the morning and does their thing they are living metal. They could be the songwriter that gets some emotional content on paper that are living metal. They could be the producer that puts the parts together on disk, or tape, that are living metal. I’m thinking Sound City here.
    Every genre has some ebb and flow. I think there are external factors that influence most genres innovation. Those factors could be other artists, current events, a good or bad mood. Pretty much anything. As long as music is released that moves someone emotionally, and ripples out to other musicians and listeners, then it is alive.

    • I agree that musical genres are influenced by current events, etc. In fact I think they are extremely important to how metal has changed over the years.

  5. One can’t think of much in reply to the previous comments. But, One does think of this statement “All the good riffs are taken.”; and One constantly finds metal that refutes this. [One also considers bass lines while listening though.]

  6. I think the recent success of some bands crowd funding efforts highlights how ‘alive’ (in the sense of support) metal is, sure, the crowd funding fad thing will fade (to black), but I suspect many more metal fans buy their albums rather then just get rips, as I imagine chumps into ‘pop’ music do.. For me, part of what made metal ‘alive’ is as djneibanger observes, metals ability to continually exist through generations.. In my family, the older generation were into heavy tunes (venom, candlemass etc), now my son is digging the big breakdowns, it makes me smile… As someone who has long lost their youth, I dig seeing young folk taking the musicianship in metal to the next level and beyond, it gives me a hard on.. few things do these days.. Where as musicianship in pop music has fundamentally died …. I suspect most pop stars would need to google the word musicianship, or at least, ask their producer to… But what really sets metal apart for me, is that the music has a proper feeling and emotion attached to its creation (like an awesome painting or photo) THAT keeps it ‘alive’ for me..

    • What do you define as a proper feeling or emotion?

      • In this context, the energy I get out of listening to metal because of the energy put into making it. For me, that feeling when you just want to smash stuff because a riff you hear for the first time is so god-damn-fucking-heavy that you have to bust out a move in respect… that is proper emotional reaction. And for me the reason for all this mindless haymaking, is because of the energy and skills that the metal musicians put into their music..

    • Maybe going off on a slight tangent from what you wrote, but I like to think that ripping off music by illegally downloading may be cool when you’re a kid (especially a kid with no money), but that after you get a little older and really get attached to the music, begin to realize what support means to a band, and maybe even start having to work a job and pay the bills yourself, it doesn’t seem so cool any more. Maybe it will always be with us, but maybe we’re moving toward a time when metal culture is a whole lot less accepting of taking someone’s music who hasn’t chosen to give it away.

  7. your blog is very nice i like it.

  8. I think metal might possibly be the most “alive” music genre there is right now, for all the reasons listed above. What frustrates me (and I’m deviating slightly from the topic) is my observation of fellow 40-somethings who consider themselves “metal fans” but think metal died sometime around 1988-1992. I can’t even count how many of them I’ve seen wax nostalgic about the music from our youth, and then finish by saying “boy, they don’t make music like that anymore.” What? The fuck they don’t! I used to put a bit of effort into finding and posting bands with that retro ’80’s sound on my FB page for the old farts, and not once did it pique any of their interests. But man, when that new Queensryche album came this year, the boners were a-raging. So my point I guess (besides being an old man yelling at clouds) is that the measure of “alive-ness” is definitely in the eye of the beholder, and in the eyes of some of my generation, metal is sadly and unfortunately viewed as dead (despite my best efforts).

  9. Perhaps music is alive when there are consumers investing in creators of a sound; when interest levels fall so low certain music becomes valueless, it is dead. How could something no one is interested in supporting able to thrive and innovate? Hardship dooms creativity, especially when attempting resuscitation. There is free music in this world, but is it doing anything other than being just that? It could be noticed that particular emphasises have shifted, from The Music to The Live Show; listen to the music now, pay for the show tomorrow. Yet consumers pay little attention to advertisements, especially when they may already be considered valueless, so The Live Show is made to deliver the consumer/listener lowest common denominator expectations. This accounts for crowdfunding ventures too, it may be the music is funded (at the listener’s convenience), but do they demand innovation, or regularity and normality i.e. what they know? Are those touting recent internet-bricolage genres innovators; or more of more of the same? In parallel, the media may reflect its audience in some ways, in every other way it is manipulated for that audience. We may think we want innovation in our music, but we don’t really, and its not delivered to us anyway, because we don’t care enough to risk investment, monetarily, and the reinvigorated currency ‘time’, in those who might be able to. Music might already be dead and we just don’t know it yet.

    • This comment just killed me a little.

      • Methinks this may be the most postmodern outlook in all the responses.! I answer yes to at least one of your questions, I could explain it better in terms of my paper, though. However, I disagree that money drives metal, at least in comparison to other forms of popular music. For example, Thou gives their music away for free on their site, and many other bands do the same or similar things. And when several people cite the passion and energy like those above us did, it raises a pretty good case that money does not drive metal to the point of keeping it alive.

        • Sorry, this was supposed to be a reply to Gaia!

        • People like free music, I think, because they think they’re getting good value, but that does not mean Thou won’t give what their audience wants and expects, only in a slightly different variation than the release before, otherwise it could rock the boat for their touring, which is where they earn their money and a part of their living. The music remains the same, some listeners may feel very strongly about it yes, yet when new ground isn’t being breached things are at a stand still, and when things stop moving they die. (A slow evolution is a forgotten concept, and one not many have patience for in our instantaneous and conveniance-driven culture, some things may grow so slowly it can be mistaken as dead, thus treated as dead, and in neglect falls dead.)

          Intelligent people used to be able to make a living off music, and make the challenging, innovative music, but they can’t anymore as there is no money in music, now they make their living off technology instead, while music is consigned to hobbyists operating in their spare time. Look at other dead mediums that have faced DIY revivals, magazines into zines, the user-contributed news (Huff Post), video was transformed by Youtube using user-content. Each has faded in influence and will keep on fading, something music may be feeling too; at one point music drove culture, now it’s the internet. Coding is on the horizon – that’s exciting.

    • I see grains of truth in what you say, at least as a generalization. But there are so many exceptions to those generalizations, among both musicians and fans. I also don’t think true innovation comes from a desire to please fans. I think it comes from creative impulses first, and maybe in some instances by the hope that it will find an audience, but that’s largely secondary. And I think it’s clear that at least within metal, there will always be fans who appreciate and seek out innovation — even if it’s a relatively small percentage of the total.

      • Music can be compared to alcohol. We’ve discovered a huge number of different types of drinks within the wines, beers, and spirits; a tremendous amount of experimentation and entrenched tradition lies within drinking culture. Classic records are like classic drinks, they just are what they are, nothing can be taken away from them. However, music is a little faster paced and experimental than drinking, and our tastes have grown fond of the more complex, saccharine concoctions, yet it comes down to the fact that only so many mixtures are tasty or worthwhile. And I’m sorry, any music that is released is created with an audience in mind, if it’s made for oneself then it should be kept private.

        Connoisseurs exist certainly, but wine bores exist with wine bores, elsewhere they’re irrelevant. Laymen will have the same pint over and over and over and over. People drink (and smoked) for life because that’s all they know, if the environment was to change and a different substance that offered something more experiential was introduced (cannabis/the internet), then attitudes and behaviour could well change towards alcohol.

        If one thing is certain, it’s that people will always get fucked up no matter how degenerative it is.

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