Apr 202023

Painting by Paolo Girardi (for Voracious Lunacy, a 2022 split release by Heresy and Exorcizphobia)

These days a lot of people are expelling a lot of hot and cold air and a tremendous volume of written words about Artificial Intelligence (AI).  There’s no consensus about whether AI will be a boon to human life or a dire peril, but everyone paying any attention to the phenomenon seems to agree that the technology will bring about stunning changes — and damned fast, so fast that our slow meat brains won’t be able to react quickly enough to tame the wild dangers it could unleash.

Those of us who’ve been life-long consumers of science fiction already have vivid visions of both the utopian and the dystopian futures that AI could produce, but what used to be only visions are rapidly becoming realities. The scale isn’t yet vast, but in small ways and large, we’re getting there, and for most of us there’s not much we can do about it, for better or worse. Anyone who thinks unregulated markets can be trusted to prevent AI-spawned damage haven’t thought hard enough, but anyone who thinks government regulators can find workable and timely answers is probably equally oblivious.

Small ways and large… In the grand scheme of things, what AI will do to entertainment, and more specifically to the creation of music, ranks on the smaller end of the scale. But in that niche the changes wrought by AI may occur as fast as anywhere else. As we shall see, the changes have already begun. Although those changes don’t yet seem to have made a noticeable impact in the micro-niches of extreme metal, the possibility provides food for thought. My own thought is that the risks to the kind of music we pay attention to at this site are likely to remain low (though I admit this might be wishful thinking).


What prompted me to ponder this subject was an article by Joe Coscarelli published yesterday in The New York Times. It’s worth reading in full (here), but I’ll just provide a short synopsis.

Coscarelli’s jumping-off point was the viral spread of a song called “Heart on My Sleeve” that was created in whole or in significant part by AI under the direction of an anonymous person who uses the pseudonym “ghostwriter“. It made headlines because ghostwriter claimed to use AI versions of the vocals and musical styles of two very big names — Drake and the Weeknd. Apparently, it was good enough to catch fire on streaming services, and that in turn prompted their label Universal Music to get it taken down.

The phenomenon of that song also spawned a lot of handwringing — in Coscarelli‘s words, it was “a harbinger of the headaches that can occur when a new technology crosses over into the mainstream consciousness of creators and consumers before the necessary rules are in place.” The headaches are primarily financial. To quote Coscarelli again:

“[T]he successful (if brief) arrival of “Heart on My Sleeve” on official streaming services, complete with shrewd online marketing from its anonymous creator, intensified alarms that were already ringing in the music business, where corporations have grown concerned about A.I. models learning from, and then diluting, their copyrighted material.”

The article also quotes part of a statement by Universal Music, which asked “which side of history all stakeholders in the music ecosystem want to be on: the side of artists, fans and human creative expression, or on the side of deep fakes, fraud and denying artists their due compensation.” The author then commented:

“But whether superstars could have their pockets picked, or become altogether obsolete in favor of machines that can imitate them, is only one side of the equation. Royalty-free music generators can be used now to compose a rap beat, a commercial jingle or a film score, cutting into an already fragile economy for working musicians.

“And as generative A.I. booms and rapidly improves across text, images, sound and video, experts say the technology could reshape creative industries at all levels, with fans, artists and the systems that govern them having to adjust to new norms on the fly.”


AI has already infiltrated the realm of heavy metal, including its more extreme sub-genres, through the use of AI-generated cover art (marketed by places like this). The debate about that has gotten fairly intense, fairly quickly. Metal visual artists, most of whom don’t earn handsome livings from what they do in the first place, complain that the use of AI-generated artwork is taking much-needed bread off their tables, and in some cases may be equivalent to outright theft when it incorporates elements of their own original artwork.

In defense of the practice, I’ve seen some people say that it’s really not taking bread off the tables because some bands or labels can’t afford original human-created artwork, and so they wouldn’t be paying artists anyway. I doubt that’s accurate or honest, but more likely a case of some people not wanting to pay for higher quality human art and not wanting to settle for what they could afford.

My sense is that fans of extreme metal are probably more sensitive to the complaints of visual artists in this niche than fans of more popular music. We all know that very few people who devote their talents to underground music — whether it’s musicians, visual artists, labels, or live-music promoters — make enough money from the music to survive on. More often than not, just covering costs is the best they can hope for. With fans being well aware of that, my guess is that the blowback against people who use AI will be more forceful.

For a similar reason, I think it’s likely that most fans of extreme metal music will give the back of their hand to AI-generated imitations of that music. That will be vital, because most creative talents and labels in this space don’t have the money to do what the likes of Universal Music can do to quash AI inroads, and they certainly don’t have the economic incentives.

Big labels devoted to popular music have enormous streams of revenue to protect, and you can be damned sure they’ll pull out the stops (i.e., gear up armies of lawyers and lobbyists) to fight back against people who use AI in ways that imperil those streams (pun intended). Extreme metal bands and labels, on the other hand, don’t have big bank accounts to protect, much less bank accounts big enough to finance resistance. They can only raise their voices to loyal fans, and hope that will be enough.


It might be enough. I have a hard time imagining that very many people will give the time of day to AI-generated music that sounds like Cannibal Corpse, At the Gates, or Mayhem (just to randomly pick a trio of bigger names). Hell, even human bands that aren’t much more than imitators of better-known groups get shit upon for being un-original. And I suspect the reaction will be even more hostile when people use AI to mimic the music of distinctive but less well-known groups.

Oh, there might be exceptions. People who enjoy the music of “sketchy” black metal bands but wouldn’t be caught dead paying for it, or might even be conflicted just streaming it, might welcome an AI version directed by people who aren’t white nationalists.

And in other respects, the moral components of these issues about AI could get even murkier. What about musicians who are capable of making the instrumentals for original extreme metal and want screams or growls in the mix but can’t do it themselves? How would we feel about such persons using AI to generate those harsh tones, even if they were based on mutated vocal samples of people like George Fisher, Tomas Lindberg, or Attila Csihar? Would it be that different from people using synths to sound like an orchestra or software programing that hits like drums?


Well, I’ve rambled on enough. It’s trite but true to say that only time will tell whether my speculations (or yours) are borne out. But make no mistake, we really will find out, because it’s inconceivable that AI will be fenced out of extreme metal music, any more effectively than anywhere else.

And speaking of your own speculations, I of course welcome your own thoughts about all this in the Comments.

~ islander


  1. Great post, Islander! I listen to tons of extreme metal, much of it recommended through NCS. So, yes, I have thoughts. 🙂

    Like most, I am one who will not tolerate being purposefully deceived and lied to. I am 58 so I’m old enough to remember the Milli Vanilli revelation in 1989 and how big of a deal it was at the time. Recently, there has been the ongoing conversation and accusations surrounding what level of pre-recorded backing tracks (vocal and instrumental) are acceptable during a live performance. My opinion on that is if I paid to see you perform live, I’d better get what I paid for. My expectation is that I should be able to easily tell what is pre-recorded and what it not. I hold similar expectations for the recorded music I buy. Now, we have phantom Dio and Tupac concerts, along with the ELP revival. While they certainly aren’t billed dishonestly as anything other than what they are, they still. Aren’t. LIVE!

    As for AI created extreme metal and artwork, I guess that ship has sailed. Like people that simply want pop single pabulum curated to them through Spotify, there will be those that simply will not care to look too deeply under the hood. I suppose that as long as AI generated music and artwork is clearly labeled it will still have its audience but I don’t intend to be a part of it. I’m sure it will eventually appear in my “you-might-also-likes” on Bandcamp, YouTube, etc., so I suspect I will no longer be able to fully trust those recommendations. Dave Grohl got in trouble a few years ago for disparaging music created with computer apps by non-musicians and AI apparently is the next evolutionary step beyond that. I agreed with Dave’s take then and I agree with yours now, Islander. Let’s do what we an to keep it real!

    • Thanks for this comment Joe. I also remember the Milli Vanilli debacle. 🙂 And I’m on the same page with everything else you say. It may be wishful thinking to believe that extreme metal fans won’t fall for AI-generated music and art. We’ll see.

  2. To be honest, for me this is a little theoretic and speculative. I first need to hear or see AI crafted metal music or art to evaluate its impact on my imagination. Because for me, metal is about imagination. And emotions. And community. Theoretically and speculatively, I can foresee AI producing generic metal music hard to recognize from similar music by less imaginative human artists, which I am trying to avoid anyway. And how could possibly AI replace this community aspect?

    • Oh it’s definitely speculative. And I suppose AI could be used in metal in genuinely creative ways that aren’t imitative or phony or ripping off other people. The NYT article I cited includes some comments along those lines.

  3. Philosphers, artists, and ploughmen! Always find their part! When faced with unforeseen challenges and new technologies! Have resisted, thrived, and created. Hey medium! Eat my message! Fuck the Tech Bros!
    I you Islanders all contain multitudes, cumpelling, subverting and making human the TRANSHUMAN.
    My empathy kills fascists and machines!

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