A Brutal, Vicious Cycle: Agreeing with David Hall's "Metal is the Fucking Worst"

David Hall's article, Metal is the Fucking Worst, and its arguments about transference, corporate commercialization, and the overwhelmingly consumerist culture that seems to be overtaking "metal" struck me as perhaps the most relevant piece about Metal that I've read in some time. Force of habit moves me to accept that whatever a viewer’s reaction, it mostly boils down to differing opinions and that that’s OK, but really, in this case, I think that’s bullshit: There are seeds of truth contained in David’s article that ought to be considered if one fancies themselves a proponent of the curious, open-minded, progressive qualities that are inherent in a lot of Extreme Music, Metal included. This, of course, is not a demand that one agree with what the article says but merely a call for careful consideration in forming a position, be it in agreement or in rebuke.

That being said, Andrew Bonazetti's quasi-rebuttal connects with the ball about as well as a 5-year old would at the World Series. The whiff is almost audible, succinctly driving home the point that not only does Andrew refuse to legitimately engage with the arguments that David brings up (instead choosing to blindly and reflexively defend his current habits and preferences) but also ends up reinforcing the original argument and does so from the title down through to the final period. The level of shortsightedness and irony on exhibit here borders on the meta, and is wholly indicative of exactly what *is* wrong with "metal" these days. And yeah, there is a difference between Metal and “metal.”

But before I continue, let's take a look at the first paragraph of "Metal Is The Fucking Worst", in whole:

"Is there any other genre of music that is so self-absorbed, so desperate for validation, so pathetically obsessed with itself, so childish and image-conscious, so accepting of conformity and mediocrity as metal? No. There isn’t. Because metal is the fucking worst, at least in North America, and it needs to get right or go away forever."

Okay. So, after we get past the first 345 words (out of 1090, making that 31% of the article) of Andrew’s rather apologetic intro/filler, we arrive at the thesis: the author disagrees with 2 of David’s points (which, by the way, take up an additional 138 words), and even then only kind of, and it’s not even really about Metal. It’s so much not about Metal, in fact, that outside of quotes or references to specific subgenres, the article uses the word "metal" a grand total of 1 time. While this and only this word isn’t the only indicator of the content of the entire article, it would definitely fuel the fire for an argument about whether the author’s level of awareness of the subject matter is up to the task of coherently writing about it. But I digress.

Up first is the assertion that Nirvana created a bunch of mall jocks, or “assholes.” Andrew seems to accept this, and then establishes himself as an authority on the subject by saying that he “...was one of those assholes at the mall.” From here, we get a defense of Nirvana being a gateway band, which they certainly were for many, and that’s cool. But I don’t think that David was attacking the music here, rather introducing us to the notion of “propaganda campaigns” aka mass marketing and its deleterious effects on sustainable cultural ecosystems. Had a fuller quote been published, we would have probably known that. In full:

“And people bought it. Thanks to a propaganda campaign led by Pitchfork, Sunbather became a cultural force in the "underground" world of metal. Except it wasn’t underground metal that was listening or buying. It was children, and those uninitiated and unaware. You know how Nirvana’s Nevermind “invented” grunge, even though those of us who were there can clearly remember an organic scene called "indie" or "alternative" that existed for years before Kurt and co., appropriated it and sold it out? People at Dinosaur Jr shows weren’t listening to or buying Nirvana. People at Pixies and Meat Puppets shows weren’t listening to or buying Nirvana. And yet suddenly Nirvana dropped Nevermind and every asshole at the mall was wearing a flannel shirt. Well, that is Deafheaven and Sunbather. Nobody I know was listening to that band or buying Sunbather. In fact, anyone in the know resented their blatant skip-the-line success. But suddenly everyone at the mall was wearing corpsepaint and praising Loveless by My Bloody Valentine. No, the music on Sunbather isn’t terrible. That’s a personal call. Musical enjoyment is subjective. Whatever goes in your ears is for your ears only.”

I will admit that in my interpretation, David misspeaks here: Nirvana didn’t appropriate anything, but they did open the floodgates for other parties to do so. But regardless of means, the result was a product produced by once-underground artists that was pushed upon and then accepted by groups that normally wouldn’t have had anything to do with it by meddling 3rd party business interests. This is, by the way, the definition of appropriation.

It’s not that Nirvana is a bad band - I’m a fairweather fan myself - but rather that their trajectory, their full story, is what is lamentable. And that story is told 100% by Big Business in music, an industry that I think we can all agree has a solid reputation for being pretty fucking exploitative.

Generally speaking, the current music industry is really good at coercing bands into signing on and selling out to get, what, better gear? Wider distribution? A chance to open for Slayer? That the greedy fingers of the music industry managed to get into the cookie jar of underground music ecosystems (coincidentally probably right around the time Nevermind happened) and fiddle with the modern predisposition towards the accumulation of goods, is the source of a great many woes in contemporary Extreme Music. Kurt probably wasn’t some Mustachioed Machiavellian, but I guarantee you the business execs guiding the narrative were.

Western literature doesn’t have many success stories in regard to selling your soul, but it seems that there’s an innate Faustian quality in human nature and so soul-selling happens from time to time, recently, it seems, with increasing frequency. Regardless of Nirvana’s (or Deafheaven’s) quality as a band, by opening themselves up to The Biz, by beginning that conversation with The Devil, they were appropriated for more nefarious purposes. Namely making money in the way that people and corporations generally make money these days, e.g. exploitation.

Now, that’s not to say money or success or whatever should be shunned. It doesn’t have to be. The issue we’re dealing with here is not that paying our musicians (or bookers, or soundpeople, or crew) is bad, but rather that the system which regulates those payments (or, more frequently, lack thereof) is characteristically stacked against them and, by extension, the audience or consumer. It doesn’t require much extrapolation from David’s verbatim statement quoted above to understand that this is the crux of his argument. If we merely brush it under the rug and pretend it isn’t there then you better believe it’ll linger, and likely get worse. Oh wait! It already has.

The second quote with which Andrew has taken umbrage absolutely reflects this unwillingness to engage with the issues eating away at the heart of Extreme Music:

“Like Sabbath’s Sabbath, Sunbather was a signal post. This post said, "We are blackgaze; we are marking this territory for our own; there will never be a better blackgaze album than Sunbather; we are taking a stand, planting our feet firmly and announcing that from this point forward, WE are the progenitors of a new scene."

And that umbrage sounds like “Yeah, but Deafheaven is innocent!”, with which I partially agree, though it's not like by 2013 there weren't countless examples of appropriation in metal. But yeah, I, too, seriously doubt they hatched an evil plan to infiltrate and destroy the Metal. But this is the Nirvana argument all over again, and it would seem that the author is so intent on defending the faith that he misses this yet again - regardless of intent, Deafheaven did open the floodgates that allowed for Sunbather to be appropriated via sensational, spectacle-driven marketing campaigns. So it’s not a matter of good or bad, but rather what David rightly called “signal posts,” indicators of a greater system at work behind the scenes of Black Metal and Country just the same. If those signal posts are spotted, one ought to take note because they function as an omen of what’s to come, namely an influx of “the uninitiated” focused on the allure of edginess. You cannot miss this rather Nietzschean point without tagging yourself a cog in the wheel.

But this sounds like I’m putting the ascent of Sabbath on the same level as Nirvana & Deafheaven, which I don’t intend to. Rather, I intend to highlight the history behind the business of musical and cultural appropriation: when Black Sabbath came out with Black Sabbath, Blue Cheer with Vincebus Eruptum, Lucifer’s Friend with Lucifer’s Friend, or any number of other classic 70’s Metal albums, there wasn’t much of a precedent for what became Metal, and Big Business didn’t know what to do with it - remember that, for a while, this new branch of musical exploration was shunned as evil and demonic, something dangerous that wasn’t supposed to be experienced (or purchased). It was, in a word, new and people generally don’t like the uncomfortability of new things.

But it persisted as many non-mainstream movements have, in the underground, long enough for its disparate elements to coalesce, for the people and the sound and the fashion and the beer and the rest of the parts that create a “scene” to come together, and then, like so many movements that have hit critical mass before Metal, Big Business learned how to take ahold of it.

Unsurprisingly, it took about 1 generation for the Nirvana argument to come around. And then, another generation later, Deafheaven… believe it, folks, the industry has caught on: “rebellion” is being heavily marketed to and then devoured by a very captive, very foolish audience.

This is where I will dive off the deep end -- it’s one thing to curmudgeonly lament the decline of Metal as a self-sufficient proper noun into the lowly and derivative adjectival “metal”, and another thing to counter it by saying “nuh-uh”, but this is cyclical logic, arguing that one part of a larger cycle is better than another when in fact this is merely the system’s natural ebb and flow. It’s something else entirely to begin the conversation on how, by understanding that cycle, to move forward into new, fertile territory for Extreme Music. Any movement in the history of movements has had it’s Golden Age, it’s Dark Age, and all that falls in between, and this is precisely what we are experiencing with the current iteration of Metal. Fortunately, David hints at this at the end of the first paragraph, which I imagine was largely overlooked by CLRVYNT’s audience (though I wonder if even he noticed it):

...metal is the fucking worst, at least in North America, and it needs to get right or go away forever.

If you’re currently in North America, particularly the US, take a look around you. This is a country that has wholly bought into being told stuff and then sold stuff, with little time or appreciation for actual consideration of any alternatives. If it’s not brutal-er, kvlt-er, evil-er, if we cannot ascribe this or that superlative, then we become indifferent. Read pretty much any music review published today and tell me I’m wrong. Marketing has become our puppet master and it has, as ever before, gotten us hooked on a narrowly-defined “next best thing”.

Given the extent to which this consumerist disease has crawled into our collective psyche, is it any wonder that it has also infected Metal and thereupon produced “metal”? Just go to any number of these monstrosities we call Metal Fests (which, let’s make no mistake, are a bunch of fun) that pop up constantly and look around. Go to Decibel Beer & Metal Fest. Go to Blackest of the Black. Go to Psycho Vegas in Las fucking Vegas. Or fuck it, go to Coachella or Burning Man or SXSW for all I care - this phenomenon isn’t just isolated to Extreme Music. I guarantee you’ll see the same thing wherever you go: over the top, grandiose, wasteful, expensive displays of decadence, even where it once wasn’t. You’ll see masses of people convincing themselves that they’re trve or kvlt or woke or spiritual via rampant consumerism veiled as brutality or political messaging.

If you ask me, it’s not North American “metal” that is on its way out, but North American conceptions of culture, and despite the presence of a fuck ton of excellent Metal acts across the nation. And that’s the rub: It’s not the music, it’s the environment that’s affecting North American Metal, and environments are supremely difficult to change from the ground up. The systems currently in place are ruthlessly efficient, though the anachronistic methods they employ ought not remain relevant except for their utter dominance of the status quo. They are masters of ye olde art of extraction, and the cost is what actually makes the musical experience so fulfilling.

Even more conspicuous than our collective consumerism are the demographics, and people talk about it. A lot. I’ve actually noticed people seem to quite like talking about stuff. Just anything really, so long as it has a message of some sort that they can claim as their own and then not do much with, but they really like talking about demographics. And, surprise, talking about the demographics doesn’t seem to have done much: the overwhelming majority of bands at fests or just on metalheads’ radar in general are still male and still from the US or Britain or Scandinavia, and you know what? Its old. I’m tired of seeing the same bands rotate through the same circuits; I’m tired of the limited edition 2x leather gatefold vinyl re-releases of Scream Bloody Gore and Dopesmoker; I’m tired of seeing metalsucks.com or metalinjection.com or metalwhofuckingcares.com go nuclear yet again over a story about Dave Mustaine being a jerk, or talking about Abbath's legal problems.

And the thing is, I like Megadeth. I like Death. I like Municipal Waste and Immortal and Manilla Road and Cough. The landscape of the countries people typically associate Metal with is, musically, pretty solid. There are exciting things happening daily, but it’s the same old story over and over and over told with the same gimmicks and packaging and music videos. That focus on spectacle and that focus on repetition becomes predictable and, at least for me, is indicative of a vicious cycle resulting in stagnation and further irrelevance. Indulging in nostalgic fantasy of better times is peddling snake oil; the only way forward is precisely that, forward into unexplored realms where the unknown is living and real. Artistic truth is not measured in mass appeal.

What the US is doing with all of this consumption amidst predictability is searching for a definition of itself, for a platform they can point to and say “look, that’s me.” But beating a dead horse using the tools of corporate capitalism is no way to do this. The combination of existential crisis and a rigged deck is a mean fucking concoction and it’ll keep wearing us down until we’re used up, tired, and irrevocably wasted. Which is why David’s subtle assertion that it’s North American “metal” that is the fucking worst is actually uplifting, and this is even echoed in the disclaimer at the top distancing itself from said article:

“...there is a world of metal that is out there dying to be discovered.”

Metal, and Extreme Music in general regardless of amps or blasts, should always be evolving, always be moving, but the current spotlit landscape is doing anything but that. Extreme Music’s core function should be to introduce us to novel concepts and experiences, though that isn’t to say that everything about it should be ever in flux (#CirclePits4Ever). We ought to embrace that fear, that anxiety, that element of the unknown that is part and parcel with legitimately extreme music and use it to raise ourselves collectively to ever greater heights of Artistic expression and Community organization. Without that… spirited mischievousness, let’s call it... I fear David may be more correct than he could imagine.

And just to be clear, this isn't giving a free pass to anti-social behavior: that we need to have the conversation about Nazis, about misogyny, racism, and various other types of discrimination is absurd in the face of what it is we're supposed to stand for as 21st Century sentient lifeforms. Music is a celebration. Moshpits are a rite. Afterparties are a sacred communion. For all people, of all walks of life, bar none. The frustrating thing I see a lot of now is the amount of energy spent fighting those anti-social groups vs. that spent on discovering new artistic and social landscapes that simply disallow that type of behavior from the start. There's a lot of shutting down hate, but only so much of opening minds. Call me crazy, but that doesn't sound like an equation for ending discrimination so much as it does for eternal struggle.

In my view, what will elevate the world-wide landscape of hardcore culture in Extreme Music to new levels of relevancy, positivity, inclusivity, and excellence in very uncertain times is to give up the ghost, stop relying so heavily on accepted imagery and messaging to form our opinions for us, and get out there, really out there, into uncomfortable territory with linguistic and cultural and culinary and geographic barriers, and find some real weird shit, and this can only be accomplished if we stop expecting the world to come to us and instead go out in search of the world. Don’t play guitar? Fuck it. Pick it up anyway, or pick up literally anything else that can bang out a tune of some kind. Don’t know anyone going to the show? Fuck it, someone’s gotta start a pit. Never left the country? Fuck it, there’s a world of metal that is out there dying to be discovered, and all you need to do is headbang your way into it.

And right now, I would say that it’s not in North America. It’s not in Finland. It’s not in Britain; It’s in Singapore. It’s in the Czech Republic. It’s in Angola. It’s in Mongolia. It’s in Bangladesh. And it’s definitely in our country of focus, Japan.

Make no mistake: Neither the sound nor the culture of Metal is dead, it’s merely that it’s most visible and popular iteration is also the one that has been appropriated, and as such is stuck with itself, hyper-defined and with nowhere to go. New environments may produce new types of Metal, but given Metal’s well-documented ability to reinvent itself this should be nothing but enticing. Indeed, what must change for Metal to flourish are the systems responsible for the “metal”-ocalypse we’re experiencing today, and those systems of spectacle are most heavily ingrained in the countries most associated with “metal”, that is, the West. The term underground implies a level of invisibility, what is necessarily non-contrarian but subversive, to the status quo, and on my return to the US it became very obvious very quickly that there is precisely nothing underground about “metal” here, at best we could call it popular counterculture, kind of like Hot Topic but much more insidious. Appropriation isn’t the end of the line, folks; what follows is assimilation, and “metal” has very much become part of the Western Borg.

So what needs to happen? There are any number of possible solutions to this question of culture, and this itself is a topic for serious discussion. But my gut says migrate, to locales unknown. Travel is expensive, but there are ways opening up both in new businesses (see Tribepool; WWOOF; WOW) and by leveraging technology to our own individual advantage (Kaala). In short, we need to be curious and intelligent, to seek out the means to change our current circumstances. In order to break out of this “metal” bubble and into a truly extreme underground musical culture, we ought to leave our “metal” homes behind and set out into the wide Metal wilderness.

We at Kaala have already started working on affecting this change of perspective, and have come far enough that we feel it’s time to put out a call to action. Let us not focus on strutting around like so many “metal” peacocks but on engaging with others on unknown shores through Extreme Music, where we may together explore new sounds as well as new ideas and thus create communities unlike any that have come before. Multinational communication has less to do with language than it does sound, something that David took care to point out that we all experience subjectively, and if there’s one thing that we’ve come to learn over the last 2 years of building Kaala, it’s that the sounds of Metal are everywhere.

It'll take work, probably years, but if we can come together to bring this Metal Exodus through to fruition, then the next phase of Extreme Music ought to be pretty fucking Metal.