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In Defense of the Metal Elitist

By
Posted on May 22, 2012 AT 04:42pm

As a metal fan, one hears a lot of statements about the genre they’ve come to love for all these years. Usually they are about its anti-religious or satanic connotations. Often times it’s about the loudness and the screaming that usually comes with modern metal music. Out of all the commentary that usually comes from it, an increasing opinion of metal tends to be in regard to its fans. Devout fans are usually referred to as ‘snobby’ or ‘elitist’ to the point of turning some people completely off metal. While music snobbery and elitism in any facet of existence is nothing new, this seems to be particularly interesting if not for the fact that Metal fans tend to be the most vocal in terms of music.  Comedian and self-proclaimed ‘Metal Dork’ Brian Posehn has said “You never see, like, a guy with his shirt off goin’ “‘f****n’ R&B”! – EASY LISTENING!!’” To someone completely enamored with metal culture to the point of having it influence their way of life, this totally makes sense. For those that have loose ties or have never really been into it much, metalheads just seem like jerk elitists focused on being “trve and kvlt”.

In actuality, it’s only half true (and kvlt). There will always be jerks with a misplaced sense of identity using their behavior and metal culture as a means to boost their egos. There ARE, however, genuine fans of metal music that have a point to their ‘elitism’.  To these genuine fans, what is seen as elitism is moreso a form of cultural preservation. They are not completely averse to any sort of sonic evolution but would also like to keep tradition and maintain history for future listeners.  It is not unlike any other culture with deep rooted tradition; willing to maintain and pass down culture to the next ones to carry it further. There is a sense of pride in doing these things and maintaining a sense of belonging that keeps spreading towards those that are drawn to it.

Going through the first two parts of this article, you’ll see that it’s spent talking about elitism, but to plenty of readers, the words elitist and snob are kind of a blur. It seems even moreso a blur considering how freely the words are thrown about in conversation.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines elitism as:  The belief that certain persons or members of certain classes or groups deserve favored treatment by virtue of their perceived superiority, as in intellect, social status, or financial resources. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines a snob as: 2: one who blatantly imitates, fawningly admires, or vulgarly seeks association with those regarded as social superiors 3. a : one who tends to rebuff, avoid, or ignore those regarded as inferior b : one who has an offensive air of superiority in matters of knowledge or taste. It’s been stated previously that these things exist in metal culture, but many people tend to mistake purists for these two words.  That’s not to say that there aren’t ANY elitist or snobbish purists, but for the most part, not all purists are snobs and elitists and vice versa. A purist, defined by Wikipedia, is one who desires that an item remain true to its essence and free from adulterating or diluting influences. This definition can go in hand with that of traditionalism, the systematic emphasis on the value of tradition.

Why am I throwing 100 dollar words at you? The reasoning behind this is that the person you think is kind of a jerk for rejecting bands like Emmure or local chicago band, Oceano, in favor of Suffocation or Necrophagist isn’t really so much of a ‘hater’ as much as they’re really just rejecting something perceived as a dilution of a pure example of an artform.

A friend of mine and fellow metalhead by the handle ‘Gulivar’ gave me this bit of wisdom:

“The idea that metal is a pure art form, relative to certain others, would explain the need for elitism.”

He explains this in three points:

  1. You want to keep metal pure from certain outside influences that you feel dilute the genre and run antithetical to the ‘spirit of metal’.
  2. You want to purge existing tendencies within metal that are derailing what it once stood for.
  3. You want to prevent assimilation of metal by larger, more popular music forms and ideologies that run contrary to what metal stands for.

He then asks:

“With “3″, you ask yourself: Well, what does metal stand for? Why is it worth defending?”

Upon him asking me this, I came to the conclusion that one could compare it to family tradition, and compare that family tradition to the sense of siblinghood that can be found in metal culture. To which he stated:

The idea that metal is like an extended family: one that transcends culture, location, ethnicity etc. It binds peoples who may live disparate lives—together in commonality. The commonality is metal. Because it is a binding medium, it must stand for something. Because it stands for something, it has an ideology. The ideology is expounded via imagery, lyrics, sound.

This extended family shares an empathetical bond similar to points made by Jeremy Rifkin in “The Empathic Civilisation” to where he brought up the fact that we as human beings have connected with one another based on things such as blood relation, religious ties and even nationalism.

Metal music and culture as a mythos, creates an empathetical bond between fans of metal. Returning to the mention of siblinghood, this can be compared to the news and information that spread when the late Ronnie James Dio was diagnosed with stomach cancer or more recently when Adam ‘Nergal’ Darski of Behemoth was diagnosed with leukemia. When the news got out, there was a huge outpouring of hope for their survival.  Many wanted to reach out to people they saw as leaders, heroes or brothers in the culture and art form that all of them were able to bond within.  People that stood for certain values and aesthetics that many within metal culture share and embodied the ‘spirit of metal’ in some form or fashion.

With this in mind, the sort of brotherhood in Metal cannot easily be found in many other cultures. The one culture that may have come close would be the 80s punk/hardcore scene.
During a discussion with Gulivar he went on to say:

Listen to the stuff from the early ’80s: DRI, Discharge, Solger, Cryptic Slaughter, and it all begins to make sense, when the context in which the music was made is taken into account. Cold War anxiety, Reaganomics, etc.

When the threat was gone, the bonds fell apart. The scene was overrun by middle-class average Joes out to emulate the old schoolers, but couldn’t understand what fuelled them to produce what they did. All you got were vapid carbon copies.

The anxious uncertainties of the Cold War, the destructive policies brought on by Reaganomics, nuclear threats, terrorism, war: all fundamental to what punk (and some metal) music stood for against, then.

To a culture that has tried to maintain tradition, this could very well be perceived as a threat to the purity of the art form that makes up metal music, thus sparking the need for elitism. There are many bands trying to recreate the ‘old school style’ but ultimately fall flat because they do not come from the realm that created the classics they’ve enjoyed.

Cheap imitations aren’t the only reason either… Bands that tried to thrive on formula and accessibility that was contrary to what metal stood for also sparked the need for elitism.
Hair Metal, Nu-Metal, Metalcore (AFTER the “Metallic Hardcore” in the vein of Starkweather , early Cave In and Converge), Deathcore and Modern Hardcore. Hair Metal traded its strength and ideals for the sake of debauchery, riches and excess. Nu-Metal attempted to tap into the angst of the children of the average Joe suburbanite – perhaps the same one that tried to emulate the 80s metal and punk scene- as well as make it cool for the jock types and pseudo-intellectual political enthusiasts.

Metalcore (and its other variants) sort of did what Nu-Metal was doing, but also sort of tried to learn from whatever made nu-metal fail. In terms of musical construction, a lot of the music was based on Swedish Melodic Death Metal, often making use of the pedal point riff. They took out the rapped vocals and added more clean vocals for the sake of appealing to an audience that didn’t care much for growled or screamed vocals.

There was also a general simplification of structures, an attribute mostly found in punk music. This is driven by a desire to hurry up and get to the “good part” of a song or create more of what is considered to be “the good part”.  Ultimately ending up in a near constant string of breakdowns and populist, stadium-chant choruses to wrap things up for the sake of making the songs more memorable. Critical opinions of it are met with dubious justifications that it is new, popular, accessible and that members of the opposite sex, if you are a male, flock to their shows. A common theme for one particular blogger on Metalsucks.net.

It is enough to create an attitude in purists that would be considered snobby or elitist. Their reaction to this is not without merit, as these things go against what many metalheads stand for. This is not to say that Metalheads do not like things from a new perspective, but that if this new perspective adds nothing of value to the already existing mythos, then it is generally bound for rejection.

I am a photographer for Depth Mental Photography and a metal vocalist for Redgrave Syndicate. I'm on twitter (@ReaperX_) where I can be found hashtagging ridiculous things. For DigitalNoob, I write music columns and some things that pertain to gaming. I like rubber ducks, Heavy Metal, sriracha rooster sauce, youtube vlogs, pizza and sometimes I tumblr. How are you guys?


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