Der Heavy Metal Fan antwortet auf seine Kritiker
Ich will die Diskussion über das von vielen von euch geliebte Thema Heavy Metal nicht ewig in die Länge ziehen, aber Raphael Tehan wollte noch einmal auf die Kommentare von euch eingehen, die er durchaus verfolgt hat. Ich muß zugeben, dass er hier zum Teil von Bands spricht, von denen ich noch nie gehört habe, aber es mag vielen mit uns sehr ähnlich gehen. Auch konkretisiert er noch einmal seinen Eindruck von der Wirkung von Spezialisierung auf eine Musikszene.
Ich persönlich finde das einen nicht uninteressanten Ausflug in ein Genre, dass schon Parallelen aufweist zu unserer Szene. Auch fand ich einige der von euch gelinkten Beispiele auf youtube doch ziemlich beeindruckend!
Viel Spaß mit dieser durchaus ernst zu nehmenden Antwort:
Moritz excerpted one part of a long, ongoing email discussion between
him and me, during which many thoughts about the music industry had been
developed and discussed. The dialogue had developed a kind of resultant
shorthand: read in isolation, therefore, it’s a bit truncated, and some
of my opinions here may not seem adequately described. I wanted to take
a moment to address one of the issues some of you have about my
reference to modern metal.
I didn’t say I *never* listen to modern metal — I said I „nearly never
listen to new metal bands“. This is an extremely important distinction,
because it means that I do in fact listen to contemporary bands, and
even more importantly, it means that I *give a try* to new modern bands.
As a point of fact, I follow and admire a number of contemporary bands
and regularly purchase new releases, and I never said anywhere in the
excerpted email that I think modern metal music has no good material.
Whether the contemporary music is good or not was quite simply not even
the point of my argument at all. I’ll reiterate that argument in a
minute, but first, let me explain what I mean by contemporary metal:
A contemporary metal band in my view is any band which was formed since
the mid-1990s, after the major shift in the metal scene and business,
when the climate and the requirements for new bands entering the
business had radically altered.
As far as I’m concerned, any band which was originally formed before the
early 90s is not a „contemporary metal“ band. They are instead a metal
band which has weathered the changes in the music business, and
continues to release contemporary records. Iron Maiden, Judas Priest,
Megadeth, the various versions of Black Sabbath, even Blind Guardian,
all fall under this category. Blind Guardian developed as a group
shortly before the metal industry splintered into so many fragments.
Nowadays, we generally hear all sorts of very specific stylistic labels
affixed to Blind Guardian, but the fact is that when they first
developed their reputation and name — even into the early 90s, when
they evolved their sound — the term „heavy metal“ was still routinely
being used to describe virtually any metal band, and Blind Guardian was
not subject to the kinds of creative restrictions that today’s
highly-specific style labels might subject them to. I need hardly say
that Iron Maiden compose music in whatever style they see fit, without
regard to musical labels whatsoever. They are the perfect example of the
„mega-band“, whose reputations were established decades ago and
transcend the pigeonholing of any genre. They are also a good example of
a heavy metal band on a major record label, and are not subject to the
complexities of boutique genre record companies.
Helstar, the great 80s heavy/thrash band, just released a new record on
AFM, a genre metal label, and I own a copy. It is certainly a
contemporary release, but that doesn’t make Helstar a contemporary band.
Both their identity and their reputation were formed before the change
in the metal scene. Even Gamma Ray, a band of which I’m very fond, is
not a contemporary metal band, though they also release contemporary
records (which I love).
Now let me give two examples of true contemporary bands, who sprang into
existence since this fundamental change in the metal world: Edguy, and
I admire Slough Feg very much. Their music is distinctive, technically
proficient, and interesting. And I await their new release very eagerly.
This is a contemporary band who write the music they see fit, and do not
allow themselves to be constrained by musical labels. Slough Feg is
released by a very small boutique metal label from Italy, and their
peculiar style of heavy metal will never find a large audience. I’ve
spoken at length with founding member Mike Scalzi on the phone about how
they fit into the modern metal world, and he told me he finds it a
little confusing and restricting. The press and the audience are
constantly trying to affix specific descriptive labels to Slough Feg’s
music, and fail. Why do they not simply use the loose term „heavy metal“
and be done with it? Why, because in the modern metal scene there is no
more basic heavy metal — it must be power metal, pagan metal, blackened
death metal, etc. Slough Feg do not fit comfortably into any of these
specific styles, and this has actually hurt the band.
Edguy, on the other hand, easily fit into the European Symphonic Power
Metal slot when they first appeared, and their second and third albums
really scored with that prebuilt Symphonic Power Metal fanbase. But they
have since evolved away from the symphonic power metal type of sound,
and while they continue to be successful, this has also alienated some
of their fanbase, and it remains an interesting challenge for their
record label to target audiences with their more contemporary,
humour-filled, Kiss-inspired type of hard rock. I’ve spoken to both
Tobias Sammet and Dirk Sauer on the phone, and I really like these guys.
Again, this is another example of a contemporary metal band that I
listen to and enjoy.
To infer, therefore, that I’m somehow prejudiced against contemporary
metal bands simply because they are contemporary, is incorrect.
Look, the point I was making to Moritz is that the music business has
become increasingly specialized. Record labels pigeonhole artists into
progressively more and more specific styles, catered to an inbuilt
audience that is progressively more and more narrow. Although having a
prebuilt fanbase for a particular style of music is nice, if a record
label enforces too many stylistic labels on a band, in the hopes of
attracting a core audience, it could smother the band’s ability to ever
transcend their confines and evolve into something new. Affix too many
style labels to a group, and they’ll collapse under the weight of them.
A band like Slough Feg, who don’t fit nicely into these many fine
distinctions, have the reverse problem — they can’t attract a core
audience because their label doesn’t know where to go to push them.
These millions of stylistic distinctions are a problem from both ends.
But if another band composes music consciously only to satisfy, say, the
preconceptions of Euro power metal fans, they will have little chance of
growing beyond the mould and finding new listeners. If they do try to
grow beyond the mould of Euro power metal, they risk enraging their core
fanbase. These many formalized stylistic labels, and the changes they
have wrought on the music business, only increase these risks.
Gamma Ray, whom I love dearly, are constantly under fire from the press,
who accuse them of being a „nostalgia band“, because their music „sounds
too 80s“, or insist on applying various narrow labels to their type of
music: power metal, etc. I once asked Kai Hansen if all this press
labeling and the criticisms and reactions they elicited got on his
nerves or made it difficult to creatively express himself: he simply
shrugged and told me that he just does whatever he feels like. Kai has a
particularly strong sense of musical identity — other less-seasoned
artists might be less able to withstand this onslaught of prejudicial
labeling, and lose the ability to freely express themselves.
There are exceptions to every rule, and I’m sure each of you could find
an example or two to illustrate a modern band that began life confined
to a highly-specific musical style, then managed to find the success to
transcend it and grow beyond it, but this happened *despite* the
conditions of the modern music industry, and not because of them.
I don’t believe that anyone is particularly to blame for this shift in
the musical climate. The rush to high-specialization happened by
accident, and bands, fans, and record companies alike all reacted to
each other to accelerate the process, instinctively. In the heavy metal
instance, when Seattle Rock killed off the fad in thrash music, extreme
metal rushed in to fill the gap, and the very extremeness of it created
a whole evolutionary process of sending bands rushing in one reactionary
direction or other. You could be a death metal band, or you could *hate*
death metal and be a power metal band. You could be a gothic metal band
because you’re interested in vampyres, or you could *hate* vampyres and
be a true metal band — „death to all poseurs!“. When the band itself
wasn’t reactionary to one specific style or not, the fans and the record
companies often were for them. There seems to be an increasingly
unavoidable desire to affix a specific label to a band in the modern
world. We’re not content to simply enjoy them for what they are — we
must define them somehow, to make sense of their place in this musical
climate we have.
I can certainly see why the rush to specialization occurred, I just
believe that it imposes many risks and difficulties, and the musical
world has become irrecoverably complicated.
Could we ever have another Queen or another Rush in this modern
industry? Or would they be instantly labeled „avant-garde progressive
alternative rock“ and „epic progressive alt-metal“, respectively,
released by a label that markets them only to the tiny preexisting
fanbase for these genres, and doomed to never be heard by a general
The gripes I have with this contemporary musical climate have nothing to
do with the relative merits of any contemporary band that must fight to
find their identity in the middle of it.