The Polishing of Metal
Part 6 - The Present &
By Derek McDonald
The Sleeping Giant: The Changing Of The
Metal diversified during the '80's and '90's and along the
way made new friends and enemies. Punk and Metal, one time rivals of each other
are now on speaking terms. Metal has experimented and attempted to assimilate
Rap, Reggae, Pop, Classic '60's style Rock, Punk, Country and Classical Music
as well as a multitude of other genres both successfully and not so
successfully. Even Pat Boone, better known for his '50's pop hits and now
making his money from the Adult Contemporary genre, will try Metal with his
upcoming album "Pat Boone: In a Metal Mood", a cover album of Megadeth, Alice
Cooper, Van Halen, Guns 'N' Roses and other groups.
We had 25 years of solid rock!
Somewhere in the abyss between 1991 and 1992, however,
Metal, once again, began to slip into the underground. It almost disappeared
from the radio and it was no longer the pride and joy of MTV. Warner Bros. and
Columbia both phased out their Heavy Metal departments with other companies
considering to follow suit. Radio stations preferred the politically correct
term "Aggressive Rock" and avoided "Metal" like an infectious disease. Even
though the word "Metal" really no longer described the full extent of the
music, it is the name that stuck and a few executives saw fit to try to change
it, but the fans refused to bite that bone!
By 1995 it got worse. Even big rockers and constant sellers
like Iron Maiden, Motorhead or Saigon Kick were given the boot from the US
distributors. In a recent Spin magazine article a record company representative
admitted that they have an agenda to phase out Metal. Metal was only one
victim; other genres and whole recording formats were ready for the chop or, as
the industry executives code name it, "house cleaning." This trend is, for the
most part, contained only in the US but has been seen elsewhere.
After a decade of pumping out assembly line music (Re: Glam)
the music industry had the nerve to wonder why Metal was changing before their
eyes. Perhaps their ties were too tight!
It seems that the music industry, at least in the USA, was
destroying any credibility it had gained during the '80's. And what were these
great masterminds of music replacing it with? "Alternative?" Partly, but
Alternative doesn't seem to have the steam to be long term enough to pay the
rent at the CD factory, according to most industry associates. No, the long
term answer is: nothing except admitting they are wrong and trying to
re-release Metal bands but not under the Metal banner name.
Unfortunately for the US major distributors the indies,
however, are selling Metal by the truck load without resorting to renaming it.
And if the US record labels won't sell it then their international competitors
will. CMC, Combat, EMI, RoadRunner, RoadRacer, HM Records just to name one hand
full. Record companies, T-shirt vendors, magazine publishers, book authors,
clothes manufacturers, jewelry makers, etc. also seem to stand by their Metal
masters. Heavy Metal fans are a group who want their music regardless of the
latest trends and, as history has shown, they get it and if the local record
shop can't supply it then they go to the competitor, even if it's out of the
country. It is the one industry that has true and fair free enterprise. It
seems that the land of mamma and apple pie have forgotten about the one thing
they perfected to an art, free enterprise. Record companies forgot that the
most important part of any corporation is the customer! But elsewhere it
Take Europe, for example. Metal has never fallen out of
fashion there. A recent Donnington Monsters of Rock festival, for example,
exceeded 70,000 whereas the Reading Festival (by 1995, an "Alternative"
festival) booked only 45,000.
Or Canada, where major cities like Toronto, Vancouver or
Montreal still pump out bands by the car load; many don't make it big but those
who do (Rush, Anvil, Razor, Headstones, Annihilator, Voivod, etc.) sell
millions. Canada's Much Music, a cable and satellite music TV video network not
unlike America's MTV, at least once a week has a top notch show dedicated to
Even in the land of doubt and controversy, the USA, Metal
even though eagerly declared dead by the press (like in the UK in 1980) sells
out at concerts still and a thriving Heavy Metal press and merchandising
It is a slip, not necessarily bad, but nonetheless still
occurring even after the arrival of Metallica and Guns N Roses who helped
keep it in the spotlight during the closing of the 1980s. Once again it is
being returned to the fans, but unlike in the 1970's it is now stronger and has
become an accepted musical genre, in most of the world, waiting for the
opportunity to throw the might of its stud, spike and leather clad body onto
the masses again. A sleeping giant. Well, sleeping maybe but it snores very
loudly and each snore throws out a multitude of hit songs! As we speak it is
stirring. It will be a short hibernation as long as the fans continue to
support it and proudly say the words "Heavy Metal" at every possible
opportunity; and they will.
Heavy Metal, it seems, is waiting for another Led Zeppelin,
Iron Maiden or Guns N Roses to awaken it again.
If bands like Obituary, Gwar and Guns N Roses
represent the outer reaches of music then what, in the musical universe, has
yet to be explored?
Metal will continue to exist in the future as long as there
is people who will listen. By its very nature it absorbs all that comes into
its path. Utilizing the best of music, technology, fashion and people. Thus it
keeps evolving to draw people to see and hear its show. Metal likes an
Experts agree that all generations, like those before this
generation, will continue to demand their music until they die. The devotion is
so strong that the first thing they will ask St. Peter as they pass through the
pearly gates is, "Show me to your stereo, I want Metal."
No, Metal is not dead. It is simply changing with the trends
of the time. Although all will agree that it is quickly passing out of its
youthful golden years, it will continue to survive as an accepted musical art
form. Heavy Metal has grown up out of its infant and adolescent stages into a
young adult that wants to be seen and heard.
In 1998 Metal will celebrate its 30th anniversary, what will
it sound like? What any middle aged person sounds like. Well, one year doesn't
make much of a difference so lets ask what will it sound like 10 years from
now? Who knows, but rest assured it will exist.
On January 1st, 2000 at 12am the first child of the new
millennium will be born. He will not be of the 'X'-Generation, the group of
people who were in the direct path of Metals influence. Will the spiked
collar and the holiest of metal symbols, the electric guitar, be passed down to
him when he comes of age? It may be some form of offspring, but it will be
It would be a loss to the world indeed, not just to music
but to the personal liberties that we, in the western industrialized nations,
take for granted if the special interest zealots are allowed to get their way.
It would be a great loss as well if nay sayers, record executives and critics
destroy something that flows and evolves naturally and freely as time passes
and try to make it something commercial and artificial.
Yes, Metal will continue to shock harder and get louder.
There is no limits. It is said that the universe extends forever. If this is
true then surely the musical universe is equally as big and if so, in an effort
to explore it all, Metal will exist forever.