To Snob or Not to Snob: An Exploration of the Metalhead’s Relationship With Gateway Bands
No one shows up to their first day of Preschool wearing a Gorguts t-shirt.
It’s no secret that a love for this beautiful beast called Heavy Metal has to be cultivated and nurtured over time. Metal’s many subgenres can be abrasive, eccentric, puzzling, and esoteric at times. And to put it bluntly, metal music just DOESN’T SOUND like anything else your ears have been previously subjected to. So when we’re confronted with a blast beat, a tremolo-picked guitar riff, a death growl, or (hopefully not) a pig squeal, our brains are literally programmed to not like it. It’s basic psychology.
But we were morbidly curious. Fascinated, even. Except at first, our ears just couldn’t handle the stuff the guys in the camo shorts and illegible concert t-shirts were telling us was the shit. I have a theory shared by absolutely no one that there’s a specific DNA strand that predisposes someone to be a metalhead. In order to gradually acquaint our ears with Satan’s soundtrack, most of us, whether we’ll admit it or not, scaled a similar ladder of progressively “heavier” bands, climbing from “a band with some loud guitars” to “a band with one or two screams in one song” to something that probably ends with “-core”, and on and on and on until years later you’re in a basement somewhere in Norway studying Anton LaVey and blasting the first Burzum album on a beat-up cassette just to make sure it’s lo-fi enough.
I’m sure the term “Gateway Band” is nothing new, but just in case, I’ll define it as follows:
A band whose sound falls under the metal umbrella but comes equipped with a certain mainstream accessibility; this often results in being one of the first “metal bands” an outsider enjoys. Modern examples include: Slipknot, Avenged Sevenfold, Five Finger Death Punch, and Disturbed. For more, check any main stage lineup of Mayhem Festival ever or the shelves at Hot Topic.
Given the whole metalhead cultivation process that I’ve repetitively established, we can all agree that gateway bands are important – without them, you wouldn’t be reading a blog called fucking Metal Injection. But what role do these bands continue to play in our fandom once we’ve blossomed into full-fledged members of the Faithful? What is our relationship with gateway bands going forward?
Well, as far as I can tell, metalheads can have three different relationships with their Gateway Bands. I have deemed them: Sprint to Snobbery, Gateway Purgatory, and Inclusivity. Allow me to break each one down.
1) Sprint to Snobbery
This guy never liked Metallica. He swears on his Satanic Bible. Question his authenticity at your own risk.
For people barreling down this path to purity, the very bands that lured them into the metal universe are the same bands they lampoon on the bottom half of the Internet a month later. Almost like a zealous gangsta rapper, this person is constantly in the market for the metal version of “street cred”. OK, maybe that metaphor fell apart. But I’ve known many a headbanger whom, once they’ve settled into their ultra brutal music of choice, will immediately turn around and dismiss any band with a mainstream tinge. Ask this person what “real metal” is, and it will likely trigger an impassioned response involving the phrases “core”, “clean singing”, and “overproduced”. A fan – or elitist, rather – rejecting gateway bands in this fashion is wholeheartedly committed to spreading the True Metal gospel, and will not let the watered-down tastes of his former fledgling self interfere with the mission at hand.
2) Gateway Purgatory
This guy is still throwing up double horns at a Breaking Benjamin concert, continually insisting that extreme metal is “just too out there” or – perhaps our favorite phrase to fucking hear -“ it all sounds the same.”
If you consider the obvious album sales statistics, this is the largest demographic.
For these folks, the gates to the kingdom have swung wide open, but there’s not enough wind at their back to nudge them through. Perhaps they never dedicated enough time to acquiring a taste for it – after all, black metal took me fucking YEARS. Or maybe melody is simply the key ingredient informing their musical tastes, and there’s no one around to point them in the direction of power metal or symphonic metal. They do love The Black Album, and Countdown to Extinction is pretty cool too. And they like the way Killswitch Engage and Trivium balance out their harsher vocals with SirusXM Octane-ready choruses. But immersing themselves in all hundred-plus metal subgenres is an endeavor that is futile, intimidating, uninteresting, or some combination of the three.
This guy thinks he’s the most open-minded person in the universe for liking Disturbed and Wormrot at the same time.
The third and final type of relationship finds the fan in question continuing to enjoy his Gateway Bands years later while slowly but surely gobbling up more obscure stuff. This one can be confusing, because it’s often hard to tell whether their elitism is just a slow burn, or if they’re on some sort of quest to relate to everyone and “like it all”. Regardless, this person claims that while they worship everything Earache Records has ever put out, Slipknot’s Vol. 3 is also a stone cold classic. But all you have to do is work a more “temporary” Gateway Band into the conversation (Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach, Staind, etc) to see that even these hippies aren’t above taking potshots at those they deem unworthy.
Of course, much like the doomed romantic relationships in our personal lives, our gateway band relationships are all subject to change. Over the years I’ve found myself to be more of the third type – listening to Emperor, Pig Destroyer, and Slipknot all in the same day and claiming they’re all equal to me- but who knows. Perhaps my anger at the world will soften and I’ll retreat to Purgatory, or perhaps my snobbery is just delayed and I’ll finally see the light at some point. But whether you love them, hate them, or find yourself indifferent, a big THANK YOU is in order to all of our Gateway Bands– without them, we’d be an endangered species.