Oct 042018


Two days ago Metal Hammer published an essay entitled “I witnessed the death of genres“, in which the author raved about the live performance he’d recently witnessed by a band named  Scarlxrd, praising the artist’s hybridizing of musical styles from different genres, including metal. The article ended with these words:

“Where else will you find a night of music so indebted to aggressive metal and hip-hop, but unafraid to introduce AC/DC and Oasis into the mix? This is the future of music. Just music. Nobody cares about your arcane genre tags or inexplicably niche sub-genres that only two bands fit into, it’s all just sound, we’re in a genre fluid world and you should embrace it. Music is beautiful and narrow-mindedness is ugly.

“Be part of something, be part of everything.”

This provoked a Facebook status by my NCS colleague Andy Synn. By the time I saw it, it had drawn a large number of comments and exchanges, and one of those dialogues was with our mutual friend and former NCS scribe Joseph Schafer (who now writes for such publications and sites as DECIBEL and Noisey, after a stint as Invisible Oranges‘ editor).

I found their duel discussion interesting and entertaining, and secured their permission for me to publish it here, with only minimal editing.  Of course, our readers should please feel free to continue this discussion in the Comments to this post.


Andy: Damn, that “Death of genres” article is absolute hogwash.

People of all different walks of life have been going to the same gigs, and enjoying the same music, ever since… well, ever.

Genres/styles exist for many reasons, one of which is that artists CHOOSE to work within them, to work WITH them (both as medium and as tool), and to use them as boundaries within which to explore (which sounds contradictory… but then, that’s partly the point), and define themselves. And this straw-man argument about “fans” only thinking they can listen to one style of music is only accurate in a minority of cases, and was played out a LONG time ago.

Ultimately, while I’m glad the writer found a new band he liked, extrapolating from that into “the future is going to be completely genre-less” is just nonsense.

Not only does this completely ignore the role of the artists themselves in CHOOSING what type of music they want to play (whether strictly defined, genre-mashing, or whatever), but it conveniently ignores the fact that just jamming genres together because you want to show everyone how eclectic you are mostly just results in a flavourless, directionless, mush that’s a jack of all trades, and master of none.

TLDR version – enthusiastic article makes wild claims with nothing but wishful thinking to back it up.


Joseph:  The article is poorly written, but it’s difficult to argue that the proliferation of subgenres has resulted in notable creative straightjacketing. 

Yes there’s an appetite on the side of artists and fans wanting further exploration within the confines of established styles (throw a rock and hit an OSDM band that’s less than five years old … ).

However, there is also a prolific appetite for innovation that is not being addressed. There’s definitely an appetite for the new and innovative in terms of sonic palate that’s easy to find in comments, groups, interviews, etc. I’m not saying mashing together genres is the way to get to that innovation – but I do think close conscription to well-sketched preexisting styles will likewise fail to achieve that innovation.


Andy:  But, again, straw-man argument. “Close conscription to existing styles” doesn’t sum up the entire music scene. Ever since… whenever… there have been bands pushing the boundaries, expanding genres, etc… and NONE of it has ever resulted in “the death of genres”. And I’d argue that the prolific appetite for innovation IS being addressed. I can throw a rock and hit lots of bands doing that. I just don’t see this straightjacketing you’re talking about at all.

I do think that maybe we’re coming at the same problem from two different perspectives here. In particular, you differentiate between innovation “within” styles, and innovation… in some other way. And I’d posit that one of the issues is that far too often (though certainly not always) the artists who do try and do it the other way, who try and do multiple genres in an attempt to be innovative, do so by being just “pretty good” at multiple things – jack of all trades, master of none, and all that. Whereas being innovative “within” a style often goes hand-in-hand with already being very good at that style, and then going further… so I’d argue they’re working from a better base.

Basically you can’t really innovate successfully unless you know who you are.


Joseph: I mean, to an extent you have a point, but at no point in time did I say that close conscription to current styles summed up the totality of the scene (obviously it doesn’t – e.g., Zeal and Ardor) OR that all the bands exploring a single style are failing at innovation (obviously some are – e.g., Tomb Mold, Blood Incantation, one could go on and on) OR that the way to innovate is to mash disparate styles together (too many failed prog metal acts to count). 

Frankly I think subgenres have a limited utility – they’re useful until they are not. 

I also need to push back at this idea that there is no straightjacketing on some people’s part. If you’re looking for examples of straightjacketing, you don’t need to look that hard. I’ve interviewed two pretty great bands this year (Horrendous and Skeletonwitch) who have expressed a feeling of being constrained into a single style by the expectations of their fans (Horrendous) or past band members (Skeletonwitch). I think those are two relatively innovative groups – but I doubt that either is going to “end” genres. 

I DO think those are both bands that know who they “are” – probably better than their fans do.


Andy:  I just felt you swung a bit wide with your opening statement about how it’s “difficult to argue”, when… it isn’t.

Also, Zeal and Ardor aren’t the best example imo in that they’re nowhere near as innovative as people say they are (the idea is, but the execution doesn’t show any of the same innovation). And that’s not meant to attack the bad, or their fans. It’s just that, from my perspective, the hype about them distracts from the lack of substance.

Totally agree on sub-genres having only a limited utility though. As always, it’s HOW they’re used which makes the difference. And a bad workman, one who can’t work WITH them, always blames his tools.

I like your expansion on the straightjacketing issue though – bands feeling straightjacketed by the expectations of their fans is a slightly different (though still totally valid) point. But I’d argue that it’s something ALL bands have to deal with in their own way, and something which CAN be dealt with if you’re smart about it.


Joseph:  I like the new Zeal and Ardor LP – but there’s a bit of an imbalance between the elevator pitch (great!) and the execution (a handful of great songs, and a lot of filler). What you see there, though, is how quickly people will jump onto something that’s a little unexpected! In a sufficiently innovative environment, I think Zeal and Ardor would not have jumped from Bandcamp release to international 1000 room headliner in ~2 years. 

You’re definitely right about bands dealing with fan expectations, though. 

The tougher nut to me is when you get, say, a group of dudes who only want to sound like Black Sabbath playing to people who only want to hear bands that sound like Black Sabbath, and the whole circuit’s closed. It’s not a problem — it’s just kind of boring! I think I’ve heard you say similar things about my beloved — what was it? — army of interchangeable grind acts? 


Andy:  Hey, if it wasn’t for that army… who would we watch at Soundstage???

And you know I actually agree with you on that last point.

As for Zeal and Ardor, I think we interpret this thing differently. I agree that their album is a handful of really good tracks, surrounded by quite a bit of filler, but I don’t necessarily see their success as a sign of people being hungry for innovation, but more a result of labels and/or the media being hungry for anything they can market as innovative, regardless of how good it is. Which, I think, is a subtle but important distinction.


Joseph:  You may have a point there. I think at the outset, before the release was picked up, it generated a whole lot of attention really quickly, but some of that can probably be attributed to the right people pushing it at the right outlets at the right time (Kim, Noisey, when there was nothing else notable sucking up the bandwidth). Other acts have had kind of the same thing — Death Grips wouldn’t be a big act were it not for Anthony Fantano (The Needledrop) giving their unsigned first album his first ten (I think? I haven’t checked but that’s my recollection) just when he was getting popular. So yeah, innovative act with a half-baked sound and a few good tunes can get big fast if there’s a good narrative, sure. 

That doesn’t help me with these fucking old school doom guys, though. What makes it worse is that a solid third of the time… I kinda like it? I just can’t ever remember which song I like by which band because everything’s so fucking homogenized that it’s all just ok, even if some of the songs in a vacuum are really good.


Andy:  I think it’s possible to do something that’s very familiar with a distinct “voice”… but not as common as it should be.


Joseph:  Yeah, totally agreed there. 

I’d like to add one point, but not really discuss it since we have other things to do, but I think it’s worth mentioning. The original article is centered around these underground hip-hop acts that have overt metal influences. I support that as an idea in a vacuum, and I think one good thing for bands to do in a world where acts outside of metal are expressing an interest in the genre would be to collaborate. Record splits with these artists. Perform shows with these artists. Tour with artists outside of the genre. Instead of a world without genre, why not aim for a world where the various genres intermingle in a cosmopolitan way? Mobb Deep did play Maryland Deathfest, after all…


  1. You can tell the original article is flawed when the author cites Oasis instead of the more appropriate description, “Beatles cover band.” Citing Oasis is like citing the bibliography of another book as a reference.

  2. Hmmmm, Pop Will Eat Itself started mixing Rock-Rap-Metal-Techno together back in 1989 and we still have plenty of genres. In the mid 90’s Atari Teenage Riot was blenderizing all sorts of genres into a beautiful wall of noise. I don’t particularly care for Korn, but didn’t they do an album with Diplo 5 years or so ago. I guess there’s stuff like Ministry, Skinny Puppy, Dir En Grey, Anthrax-Public Enemy, Run DMC-Aerosmith… So I guess what I’m trying to get at is, no, genres will not disappear. I suppose there’s always artists who don’t give a rat about genres and others that feel they need to stick to the constraints. That’s just like my opinion man.

    • I’ve never enjoyed genre mash up, particularly hip hop to metal like the notable ones you mention. The argument ended for me in 93′ with the Judgement Night soundtrack. A horrible joke on the music listening and movie going public designed to capitalize on a shitty fad with name recognition talent. The phrase “genre mash-up” has ever since acted as a “do not enter” sign for me. Genres exist for good and well documented reasons, but peoples personal taste will always lead them. Who hasn’t fallen victim to the hype and made a purchase that they came to hate and eventually resold or discarded. We return to what we love regardless of the “taste makers”. I love that Joseph points out how at the right time with the perfect writer, a band can gather more steam than they otherwise might have, for better or worse. I don’t see this metal hammer essay having anywhere near that effect.

      • Aside from Rage Against the Machine, I’ve struggled to find any band that’s actually managed to pull off the hip hop/rock/metal crossover that I actually want to listen to. I guess Faith No More might be another one, but they’re not so much a hip hop/metal crossover as a “throw in everything and the kitchen sink” band.

        But then again I’m not a fan of hip hop/rap in general (and not for lack of trying, I grew up in the 90s so I was exposed to what a lot of people still consider its golden era and none of the music I heard ever did anything for me. The less said about the music from the following decades the better). One thing I do miss from the 90s is the number of great alternative rock bands (and I’m not just talking grunge here). Even leaving aside the ones everyone knows, there were some really interesting, underrated bands from various regional scenes. I’m Canadian and we had a good thing going with acts like The Tea Party who mixed blues and hard rock with industrial and Middle Eastern/North African music.

  3. I agree with pretty much everything Andy has to say about this. Genres are basically an outward manifestation of the need for human beings to categorize things, perhaps as some innate need for order. They will always exist in some form, and I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that mashing up a bunch of different genres usually just creates another genre: Pretty much all of the music that exists today is the result of mixing together different sounds and yet we still classify music into specific genres and subgenres.

    From my viewpoint I’m glad they exist, if only to serve as a common language that help provide some idea of what to expect when listening to music. I also don’t expect a genre descriptor to sum up everything about the artist either: Bathory and Deathspell Omega might both be accurately described as being black metal bands but they’ve taken that tag and applied it in wildly different ways, all stemming from having different musical and conceptual influences and filtering them through their own idiosyncratic approaches to writing and recording music.

    Innovation is certainly not limited to combining a bunch of disparate genres, and in fact I tend to prefer bands that operate within the confines of a genre or subgenre but find ways to expand its borders from within. That’s not to say that genre mashups never work, there are a bunch of bands that do a great job of it. But it certainly won’t lead to the end of genres and subgenres.

    As far as bands being straightjacketed by expectations, that’s always been a thing and always will be a thing. Personally, I’m of the opinion that some bands or artists can genre hop from album to album and still put out quality music while others are better sticking to what got them to the dance and finding ways to expand on it. Not everyone can be a musical chameleon like David Bowie and that’s fine. My own view is that bands are entitled to make whatever kind of music they want to make, change their sound however they want to etc. Having said that, the consumers of their music are also entitled to feel however they want to about the end result and decide whether they want to continue supporting them or not.

    Sometimes stylistic changes work out (like Katatonia’s shift from black/death/doom to progressive/alternative metal) and other times not so much (like Morbid Angel rightly maligned ‘I’ album). It really depends on your own personal taste as a music listener. From the musician’s perspective, as with any creative endeavor you can’t please everyone and should just try to do the best job you can on whatever it is you want to release. From a business perspective, either enough people support you and you can continue on your new path (as Katatonia did) or most of your listeners dislike it and you don’t make enough new fans to continue on with that approach (as was the case with Morbid Angel).

    Is it fair? Perhaps not, but it is what it is. So long as musicians concern themselves with commercial relevance that struggle will always exist. There are of course some bands where them doing whatever the hell they want is part of their appeal (the likes of Faith No More, Sigh etc fall into this category) but it’s unrealistic to expect that for every band or every band’s fanbase.

  4. There have been genre blending bands as far back as I can remember in my 48 years, and their appeal is as limited as the sub-genres the author criticizes. In fact, they really are just another sub-genre. Just because the author has found a new favorite artist doesn’t mean the musical landscape has changed, or will change. Many fans are perfectly happy to follow various artists across multiple genres without any desire to see them combined into one all encompassing mash up. As Andy referenced, I’d rather see a band doing one thing fantastically, than an artist doing many things with mediocrity.

    • Yeah, this is where I stand as well. The whole reason why I listen to different genres of music like metal, punk, folk, prog etc. is because each one is its own unique entity and offers something different. While you can certainly find commonalities between them and there are musicians who crossover and blend different styles, there are only so many ways to do that sort of thing well and produce music that warrants repeated listens (Andy’s talked about this in previous posts as well). For me, music, like any art form, is defined just as much by what it leaves out as what it includes. In a lot of ways challenging yourself to create something new within a specific framework results in more interesting art than utilizing a vast array of palettes but not doing anything particular intriguing with them.

      For example, I like Immortal because they have different influences, approaches to songwriting etc. than Killing Joke or Fields of the Nephilim and vice versa: I don’t need them to merge into some amorphous mass of genre-less music. I think what these bands do really well is to take elements from different music they like and re-contextualize them through the lens of whatever genre they happen to be playing. A band like Tribulation might draw from 1970s hard rock and 1980s goth but what they do is take the stuff they love from those genres and filter them through the lens of extreme metal so that what you hear sounds like a fresh take on it, sounding recognizably metal while bearing the mark of those other genres. That’s the sort of innovation that’s been happening since the dawn of popular music and should continue as long as it lasts.

  5. I didn’t see the word “community” mentioned anywhere in this otherwise very thoughtful argument. A huge reason why musical genres exist is because people like to find something they can sort of agree on (BM or OSDM are obviously great examples, but really works for any sub-genre of metal) and then attach all sorts of symbols, descriptive language, behaviors, fashion and make-up choices to the music which the community of fans comes to share. Staying loosely within the musical boundaries of a genre is just one element in this multilayered system of communication and of forming and sharing communal bonds. For that reason alone I don’t see genres going away. Because it’s fun to be part of a group of people (or even multiple groups of people, depending on what you are listening to) with whom you have something in common, however superficial this may be. It’s fun to be in the know and differentiate yourself from the herd.

  6. #ImwithAndy

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