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Metal In The Mainstream

Metal's Internationalism Recognized by the Wall Street Journal

Posted by on February 22, 2016 at 11:36 am

As a musical style and fan collective, metal has long functioned and thrived on its own, and doesn't need the approval of the mainstream press in order to make fans feel good about themselves. However, it still is pretty cool when a larger journalistic outlet like The Wall Street Journal gives the genre some sort of recognition.

And it's even better when that outlet reports on metal in an insightful, informative way, heralding the style as the "unlikely soundtrack of globalization." In his article, "The Weird Global Appeal of Heavy Metal," Neil Shah writes how the style has grown and spread across the globe, even as the music industry as a whole faces shrinking prospects:

Driving metal’s growth are intensely loyal fans with unusual consumer habits. Many metal-heads still collect physical products, such as CDs. Younger fans connect not just to older bands like Black Sabbath and Death, but also established groups from all over the world like Brazil’s Sepultura, Germany’s Rammstein and Sweden’s Opeth, which has a Uruguayan bassist. [..]

Metal is a kind of secret society—a brotherhood of outsiders. While the music’s heaviness doesn’t appeal to everyone, it binds those who join the tribe like a religion. (Wear a Napalm Death shirt in Buenos Aires, Mumbai or Beijing and see what happens.)

He also talks about how many bands (particularly pagan metal ones) are trying to bring back pre-modern, mythical tales through their own style of extreme music. But what's more interesting perhaps is what he doesn't explore. He rightly points out metal's contradictory nature as being highly-abrasive music, but that it's very nature allows it to transcend national boundaries. But in highlighting it's place in globalization and modernity, he misses the fact that in some cases it's a reaction against both of these forces. This is of course another contradiction, as what these bands rail against makes their music possible (electricity is kind of important if we want to use distortion, people). However, this would require an entire piece unto itself, and it doesn't take away the fact that Shah does a good job of balancing details with information that non-metal readers can appreciate.

It's great that metal has widespread, international appeal. But we should also appreciate the style's separation from and apparent invisibility to the mainstream. Sure, it was great for metal to get so commercially huge in the late 80s and early 90s. But it also led to stale ways of playing and thinking that allowed it to fester and decline for awhile. I still talk to people today (mostly older, but not by much) who still say "oh, Metal's still around?" It most certainly is, and as we've said on this site, is in very good shape indeed. Metal gives audiences the best of both worlds, the freedom of obscurity, and the benefits of notoriety. When it does get noticed by the rest of the musical world, it tends to be very poorly understood. Hopefully more articles like Shah's will change that way of thinking.


J. Andrew tries in vain to change people's way of thinking at his political site, For the Sake of Argument

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