British heavy metal and rock in 2013: The British Media Myopia

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Metal fans and indeed magazines were all agog on social media sites when The Times newspaper ran an article proclaiming that 2013 could be the year of heavy metal, citing acts such as Bring Me The Horizon, Bullet for My Valentine and While She Sleeps as the acts to bring metal back to the fore in this country. The full article can be read here, providing you’re a subscriber. Indeed, proper metal and rock have long been in the doldrums in this country while dubstep, r’n’b, rap, indie rock, the already heavily condensed emo scene and of course, David Guetta, have been in dominance while in other countries, metal and rock enjoys much stronger, more equal prominence. Now you’d think we’d be quite celebratory about this news. Not so us. We’ve more than enough reason to be sceptical

One excerpt from the article reads:

“Predictions by music industry experts suggest that the soundtrack for 2013 will be distorted guitars and hoarse vocals as heavy metal and rock music make their biggest resurgence since the wave of nu- metal bands in the late 1990s.”

Central to this piece are the fortunes of Raw Power, a company set up by Craig Jennings, whose tattoos show “he wears his heart on his sleeve”, when heavy rock had receded from the charts but he predicts that Raw Power’s turnover will reach £2 million by the end of the financial year The source of the company’s rising fortunes is a burgeoning appetite for live tours, including a sell-out gig by You Me At Six at the 12,500-seater Wembley Arena… Other rising bands include Bring Me the Horizon, which co-headlined a gig at the 10,400-seater Alexandra Palace in November, and Young Guns.

There’s also other bits in the article about how ‘British rock is ready to roar again’ (thanks Kerrang!), acts like BFMV and Twin Atlantic ‘scoring well’ with Radio 1 listeners, and this golden nugget from Tim Ingham, editor of Music Week magazine:

“It’s already more mainstream than lots of people thought would be possible. What it needs [to cross over] is a big TV moment. These guys look striking, their live performances are filled with anger and energy and all the stuff teenagers adore. As soon as a Raw Power act goes on telly at 8pm it will change everything.”

Now of course, any attempt by a national newspaper to really understand the web of heavy metal as a genre of music in 2013 is doomed to end in failure, as from the outside they can only merely scratch the surface. The problem, however, lies within a myopia that still paralyses these so called experts and indeed the general British public. What the music industry experts are trying to sell as heavy metal or ‘heavy rock’ is certainly defined by BFMV and BMTH and even You Me at Six, thanks to positive sales figures for their shows and records.

Deep down, it has nothing to do with substance over style at all. Fair enough, BFMV earned their chops supporting Metallica, Iron Maiden and so on. The rest would probably argue they’re not heavy metal and they’re right. These aren’t the same acts on which hard rock and heavy metal were founded, which created the titans that still rule above all the above named acts and everyone else too. Anything that achieves massive success today is down to marketing, lots of it, and with it comes an image. And nobody wants the days where drugs were cool, Satan is omnipresent and bands frequently sported long hair and wild beards. Nor are any of these upstarts shocking in any way. Squeaky, squeaky clean, every last one of them. Look at this band below. Of Mice and Men. These guys are tipped to be the next big thing.

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Deary me.

All it represents is a constant watering down of the genres of hard rock and heavy metal to the mainstream public eye. I’ve long held the belief that acts such as BMTH aren’t anything new and just second-rate versions of acts that preceded them. Yeah it might well be that we didn’t have a popular mathcore or whatevercore band this country could call its own before BMTH, but there were acts that did it better, such as Beecher or SikTh. No, they’re not the same as BMTH. They were very much their own breeds. But they didn’t look the part, no no no. What it took was for the MySpace generation to grab the bull by the horns, and BMTH have been very clever in their continual rise. But aside for fame/notoriety, would anyone care if Oli Sykes looked like, say Kirk Windstein or Seasick Steve? No, of course not. When you put as much time into your image as BMTH and scores of others do, it’d be a shame not to capitalise on it.

Likewise, hard rock has been getting watered down like lagerpiss for some time now. Who remembers when people moaned about pop-punk when Blink 182, The Offspring and Green Day when they were in their prime? At least they genuinely sounded like they had some of the punk ethos. Can You Me at Six or Kids in Glass Houses really be considered pop-punk, or even pop-rock, when they sound and look more like a pop band as time goes by?

I’m not suggesting the perfect scenario here is that, if this heavy metal ‘resurgence’ does happen, it should all be about the dungeons and dragons of old – though I’m all for Dragonforce leading the charge rather than what has been suggested. Metal and rock have progressed so much since the 70’s and 80’s, splintering into numerous factions. We’ve had thrash, grind, grunge, nu-metal, NWOAHM, screamo, emo and, well, dubstep. Dubstep is where the UK is right now, anyway. Let’s face it. To the casual listener, sludge is too nihilistic, doom is just depressing, thrash already had its second wave, nobody seriously wants nu-metal again, and grind is just incomprehensible noise. In general, metal is just shouty nonsense. They might as well say to anyone wanting even a modicum of success to ditch the beards, the overly long hair, the personal viewpoints on politics, religion, war, and anything that requires a bit of thinking. Just stand there and play your songs, we’ll sort the choreography for you! Oh, and occasionally leave your clothes at home.

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That’s the price harder rock has suffered in this country compared to it’s European counterparts, whose rock and metal markets are huge compared to the UK’s. It hasn’t stopped the few acts worth a penny from breaking through, but they’ve had to work for it a lot harder. The general decline of guitar music followed by a complete lack of support for UK bands from magazines like Kerrang, despite their protestations, in favour of repeated features on either a select numbers of sales-friendly international and tame UK bands. Did the majority of their market audience really buy this particular issue, from a few years back, for Evile, or Your Demise? Yes there’s a fair few Brit names there, but who’s the red-haired guy on the front? Why that’s Gerard Way, from My Chemical Romance. Again. And a feature on how to survive Valentine’s Day. The stuff that all us Black Sabbath and Napalm Death fans really want to know.

This dependence on maintaining sales figures and not emerging talent has seen the number of cracking rock and metal bands rising to even the perimeter of the mainstream fall badly. True, bands like Muse, Biffy Clyro and Enter Shikari have gone onto great things. But would we have lost bands like SikTh, or Hell is For Heroes, or Winnebago Deal, or G.U. Medicine, or One Minute Silence, and so on, had they been given the credit they deserved for, if nothing else, their sheer efforts, even when ? Seems like everyone forgot how to rock like Mötorhead and instead took their rock lessons from N*Sync.

I guess what I’m trying to say is ‘what do these “experts” know anyway?’ Metal and rock have been doing perfectly well enough to not just survive into the 21st century, but thrive as well. Social media allowed for bands to market themselves in ways nobody had done before. Blogs have had a role to play too – who remembers Wormrot being signed up by Earache supremo Digby Pearson on the back of a review by the blog Grind and Punishment? Look at the success of Bloodstock Festival, which has grown from a small indoor festival into a major, UK metal festival, in the space of eleven years, and still growing. Bands and labels alike are wising up to the truth that they don’t need to work by the record industry’s rules. Sites such as Bandcamp allow users to set minimum prices on their records or give them away for free if they wish, and allow them to offer specific packages in a much more direct manner. Likewise, artists are turning more and more to funding sites such as Kickstarter and Pledge Music, including acts such as earthtone9 and Ginger, as a way of inviting fans to invest in their product by contributing to production costs with a rewards on an upward scale, from digital download to getting your name in the thank you notes. It’s never been better to be independent, especially in a world full of sheep with no sense of individuality or stand out presence.

My final word to the industry is this: Whatever this resurgence is, don’t even bother calling it heavy metal unless you’re actually willing to invest time, money and an appreciative ear in the direction of the true UK rock and metal underground. For years we’ve been fine without your assistance, and there’s no good reason for us to want that to change. All this apparent drive for mainstream success represents the gulf that exists between the market friendly and the rest of the underground metal community. Until you actually present a fair representation of our demographic without piss poor charlatans being forced down our lugholes, keep your scoddy charts for yourselves. We’ve long coped without you, and we’re better off for it. And when this fad movement dies like all trends before it, the integral, individual, and the truly worthy will still be defining our aging and evolving music for years to come.

Peter Clegg

NB: For the record, I do take the time to listen to any and every band that I feature on this site fairly and impartially. Including the ones above. It hurts my ears. In more ways than one.

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Flying the flag for hypocrisy

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