I’m Starting a New Trend: Killing Off Trends
Hi there, my name is Jimmy McNulty and I love heavy metal. Well I shouldn’t single that particular genre out, as I like all kinds of music except for modern country. And no matter what genre of music I could be jamming, I never get over my rage at the rise and fall of trends in art. Please join me, I’m starting a movement… to end all movements.
This is pretty long form, so have a great song to listen to while you read:
After I graduated college and moved back to my hometown to search for a job, I needed a good public house that would sell inexpensive booze and serve as a meeting place to hang with my other “adult” friends. The perfect pub presented itself in a small, dimly lit venue inside of a strip-mall, called “Our Place.” Every Thursday night I would meet up with two of my hometown friends at Our Place and complain about our jobs over pitchers of cheap draught beer. For months, this was paradise… until, of course, it started to catch on with other locals whom we knew from high school. Once our initial of party of three expanded into the double-digits, it was time to move on and find the next “Our Place”, where we could go back to the old days of sharing our tales of misery without having to shout over all the noise.
After reading the above description, you might be compelled to consider me an elitist; but here is where I differentiate myself from the pack: I have never sought out obscure art for the sake of being part of a minority of people, nor have I turned down popular art for the sake of leaving the majority of people. I like people in general, and enjoy being around them more often than not; so it’s not the crowd that scares me away. And should anyone think that status of any importance to me, just remember that I wrote reviews of Hilary Duff and Marilyn Manson records. I own a few Kelly Clarkson CDs. No dear friends, I just know that for every crowd of people there will be a few innovators, followed by several imitators, leading to a critical mass that can no longer sustain itself and implode into a black hole.
Knowing that history will repeat itself every time a crazy cool and unique thing crops up in music, why do these artists insist on following trends? It’s because they aren’t aware this thing is a thing yet, and it feels intrinsically good to metaphorically shout “me too!” when it comes to things that are cool. Deathcore became a thing in music and then a billion other bands shouted “I can do this too!”, and soon after they did deathcore started to suck. We cannot fault them for joining that one, or any, particular movement because it’s probably not a movement at the time (popular phrase “hindsight is always 20/20” might be appropriate in most of these situations). And then there are the bands who see what sells and adjusts their sound and/or image for the economical gains.
Singling out deathcore wasn’t fair to that sub-genre of metal; though I may not enjoy 95% of deathcore, it isn’t intrinsically bad. Death metal combined with hardcore can produce some stellar results, but it evolved into something that turns many metalheads off. “Blackened Death metal” became a buzzword when Hot Topic started stocking Behemoth’s The Apostasy on their shelves. The term “re-thrash” was tossed around so much it became a bad word around the time Warbringer and Evile were releasing their respective sophomore LP’s. Shall I discuss the history of nu-metal, or is the mere mention of it enough to paint a clear picture in your mind? Aside from a few dedicated nu-metal fans scattered throughout the globe, it leaves most with a particularly foul taste in their mouths.
Recently Matt Calvert of Toilet favorites Dark Descent Records used the following as a Facebook status:
I just love his attitude towards the “Old School Death Metal” movement. Death metal is in itself, old school. We shan’t provide that movement its own label, lest provide a breeding grounds for more bands to latch onto, eventually turning into a trend. Death metal is great, and always has been; let’s not ruin it by adding a new level of convenience for start-up bands that want to play the “me too!” game. Cannibal Corpse likes unleashing a new death metal album every two-ish years, Obituary is probably playing at a metal venue near you in a couple of weeks, and newer bands like Sewercide and Castle Freak are releasing material that sounds like it could have been released decades ago… it would seem silly to assign different genre labels to any of those four bands.
Remember Machine Head? I’ll bet you do: for they were present for several different shifts in the heavy metal landscape over the past two decades, starting with thrash and ending up with something that’s kind of thrash-esque (?) with progressive song structures (?) and “extra bits” like childrens’ choirs and a back-up orchestra. How many great albums has Machine Head given us? I’m willing to offer the answer of two: Burn My Eyes and The Blackening (at least going by what I’ve witnessed in the heavy metal community, those two seem to be the most popular). Burn My Eyes being their 1994 debut and The Blackening being their resurgence from a hiatus that could have lasted indefinitely. What do both albums have in common? A “no fucks given” attitude about them. There were certainly trends in metal at their respective times of release, but at each point in time Machine Head had nothing to prove (except for the ability to write some great riffs and solos).
What is going on here? I used to know, but I have since repressed those memories. Was the band TRYING for a Toilet ov Hell Video Breakdown?
Let me remind you of three fantastic albums: Carcass’ Surgical Steel (2013), Failure’s The Heart Is a Monster (2015), and Autopsy’s The Headless Ritual (2011). You’re either wondering what they have in common or you’ve already reached the conclusion: all three are instances of a band emerging from a lengthy hiatus and wowing listeners with something that fit perfectly within its discography from before said hiatus. Were they hopping some kind of trend? No way. The Heart Is a Monster is an album that could be magically transmitted back to 1995 and the listeners wouldn’t be any wiser. The point is this: if any of the aforementioned bands had incorporated elements of things that were trendy (upon the release of their respective comeback albums), we all would have let out a collective sigh and and wondered if they were just trying to cash in on what was selling at the time.
To the bands of the world, I beg of you: please don’t chase any trends! You might sell a few shirts at the local Hot Topic, but the music is going to suffer. Don’t make an album that will be remembered as “that time Celtic Frost experimented with hip-hop“. Don’t let your discography include a black sheep because nu-metal (or djent, black metal, whatever) was popular at a given time. Write music that feels natural to you, write the next Paracletus or the next The Moon Lit Our Path: something that one day will become a timeless classic. Experiment, innovate, combine genres, do whatever you have to do; for it shall go appreciated.