Genre Is A Millstone And Tom Araya Is Pushing 50

arayaThe original article was indeed filled with some inadequacies concerning genre specificity, as more than a few commentors pointed out. It was interesting, if a bit overwrought, but I think most folks can sympathize with the general concept of catharsis via sound.

The follow up was basically shameless fan service, but some interesting patterns emerged.

You not only have genre snobs, some of whom were performing fact-checking (Slayer being thrash, not death metal) and some of whom were being jerks for the sake of being jerks. On top of that, you had the anti-snob folks who were also being helpful or jerky. That’s fascinating. Genre is such a powerful social divider that you have preemptive snobbery!

Also, please note that when cropped correctly, Tom Araya looks a bit like Abraham Lincoln.

Anyway, a more interesting point is that “death metal” means “loud, obnoxious, fast rock music” in popular culture, much like how kleenex is a tissue and a jeep is a four wheel drive vehicle. For some, this is a source of consternation. But how important is the difference between metal genres? It’s not like anyone misunderstood the original author’s point – not even those folks who showed up to go “Oh, I just don’t *get* metal and it’s so talentless and terrible anyway.”

Those folk understand catharsis better than anyone, what with the whole routine of dressing up in their mom’s old clothing and masturbating to their reflection while their favorite The Magnetic Fields songs play in the background.

Some of the comments also highlight my glib-but-true observation that metal passed from the domain of burnouts to the domain of nerds, as you can see in the “I’m not a stereotypical metalhead…” posts. You’re someone who listens to music but doesn’t dress like Alice Cooper? And you like reading? Wow!

Of course, some of this is a reaction formation to the whole “oh it’s so terrible and gruesome” thing, which is dang silly. But when that reaction is replaced with “but they sing about, like, philosophy and stuff!” – yeeeeeeesh. Both statements are about taste tribes – be it a music’s stupidity or “difficulty” or even its political acceptability – and not music. It ascribes far too much importance to the wide canopy of “metal”, either pro or con, and misses the larger point, which is that people are trying to describe their own relationship to music and episodes of their lives which encapsulated this reaction for good or ill.

In this light it’s completely ok that “death metal” is a synonym for “loud, obnoxious, fast rock music”.

When I was a young lad I’d listen to Seasons in the Abyss before every football game. The live double album Decade of Aggression was the first cd I ever bought. I probably called it death metal when trying to get my friends to listen to the still-amazing version of “Angel of Death”. And yet I never really got into metal proper, not really moving beyond Slayer and Metallica up to …And Justice For All.

A lot of this failure to follow through was having absolutely no roadmap or peers to help guide me or expose me to new sounds. The only other folks at school who listened to Slayer were burnouts who hated me due to a personality conflict with one of their clique leaders. The radio didn’t play other metal much beyond some Megadeth, whom I detested, and a bit of Danzig, which never really struck my fancy.* Other than that, ears were innundated with the NWOBHM stuff that was fast moving into “classic rock” territory. I did like later Led Zepplin and Black Sabbath‘s first album, but I really knew nothing of what was going on.

My friends listened to soft rock – think Eagles or ABBA, no shit – or the cream of the new old school hip hop. Which is great because I know all the words to “2000” by Grand Puba.

I really wish someone had given me a few of Death‘s early albums, though.

Hell, that song still holds up now. It’s good! The vocals aren’t too silly, something which still murders my ability to enjoy bands whose instrumentation I otherwise approve of, and the drumming is sick as hell.

A few tips would have been helpful. A lot of the blame lies with my young, snotty atheism, and regarding the whole “evil satanic blah blah” aesthetic as being too religious and too silly – i.e. beneath me. Which it mostly was, but still. I missed out on some good things in there. More ha-ha funny is that I then mostly jumped into industrial rock for a while, which is just as silly in its own way.

So what does my story have to do with genre? Not a hell of a lot, beyond some cautionary words about dressing like King Diamond. (The cautionary word is “Don’t dress like King Diamond.”)

Thank god for the Internet, though.

* Glenn Danzig came to one of my football practices, having grown up nearby and being friends with one of the assistant coaches. He was nice, very built, and surprisingly short.

** Genrefication can also lead to discontent: http://www.anus.com/metal/about/metal/metalocalypse/

But I agree about “Show No Mercy”.

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “Genre Is A Millstone And Tom Araya Is Pushing 50

  1. ancient_warrior

    Nerds have taken over metal, it’s true. Listen to any of these young guys who likes their shredding or read the lyrics to anything Bal Sagoth has done (or any extremely stereotypical “power metal”). It’s overtaken Rush and Pink Floyd as the nerd’s music of choice.

    You should get those nerds to build you a time machine so you can go back and listen to (Jon Mikl) Thor. Or use the internet, that’s kind of like a time machine.

  2. man that bal sagoth thing isn’t so bad if you don’t read the lyrics. they kinda look like fratboys on a larp trip. (which i suppose is british music in general) they do seem to love awful synth strings.

    what did you think of the original nytimes piece? beyond the truly odd revelation of “angry music doesn’t make you kill people” thing (it’s almost as if he’d never heard of hip hop) i thought it was rather heartfelt.

    • ancient_warrior

      Or Norway. Black metal is hip hop for bookish white teenagers.

      Reading the article I liken it to how I felt first hearing Metallica and how my education started to decline because of Metallica, which is the reverse of his fortunes.

  3. after thinking about all this for a while, i have gone back and listened to all the early death albums on repeat. chuck was something else.

  4. BakedPenguin

    I missed my chance to see Death, which is a shame. I’ve lived in the Orlando area for 25 years or so, and I knew people who knew Chuck. It’s possible I met him once or twice in a drinken haze, I certainly had plenty of friends in the metal scene here, and I was in a few bands. At the time, I was a dweeby metal/pot head teentard into all the NWOBHM bands.

    Funny you should have posted this, because due to a late night drunken e-visit a few months ago (yes I know e-* is veddy 1990’s, but the topic is retro, too) to Amazon, I picked up Venom’s Welcome to Hell, along with a Michael Schenker CD. I found out that I like both of them better when I’m drunk, which means I don’t listen to them nearly as often as I did when I was 17.

    Getting to the point, I wanted to read up on Venom, and got Wiki-linked to the “extreme metal” page, where they went through all the genre distinctions bewteen black metal (“usually a high-pitched singing voice, ala King Diamond…”) death metal (“usually a low pitched sing voice…”). I’m thinking to myself, “you have got to be fucking kidding me”. These people need to go to Library School, so they can classify their bands by subject headings and put Library of Congress labels on their CDs. “Dimmu Borgir Death Cult Armageddon? That’s PN6084.R62 Dea.666 2004; LCSH – Rock–Metal, Black–Norwegian”.

  5. BakedPenguin

    Oh, and I wonder how in hell (no pun intended) I never heard Bathory at the time. Not that they hearing them now was a great revelation or anything, but I’m sure I would have liked them.

    • bathory are just…special. you can almost kinda see where they’re going, and then the singing starts. you’re going for this ultra-dramatic, bombastic thing but pair it with vocals like that? (the lyric sheets require a dice roll to read, but that’s a serious problem with a lot of bands in a lot of different genres.)

      speaking of genre wackiness:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viking_metal

      • ancient_warrior

        If there are any girls in viking metal bands I feel sorry for them.

        It’s like that time someone brought their girlfriend to a D&D game and she spent the whole night looking bored, texting on her phone because she’s missed Dawson’s Creek and we’re all embarrassed because there’s that one guy who disputes every single dice roll and that other guy who feels the need to describe every single action he takes verbosely so we can’t even get past the first room in the dungeon and we’ve run out of nachos halfway through and have no money for pizza because it was supposed to be wrapped up an hour and a half ago.

  6. venom is still touring. you should go see them (while drunk) and write something up for us.

    and yeah, the divisions are really murky in a lot of areas. it makes a lot of sense for the most nerdly – the most librarian like in focus, though not necessarily in classification skills, as you point out – and becomes less useful as you go outward.

    i did send an email to the original author telling him to check out today is the day. on that note, i’m not sure what makes titd “experimental metal” outside of a) odd vocal techniques/layering and b) wacky song structures. i suppose compared to something like metallica they’re very experimental, but such are the weaknesses of classification.

    • BakedPenguin

      Oh, and if Venom hit Orlando, I might go check them out. The problem with the city is that the lack of public transportation makes inebriated concert viewing problematic.

  7. i would hope women have enough sense not to get involved in viking metal in the first place, but maybe not:

    http://www.shirtcrazy.com/BIZyCart.ASP

  8. BakedPenguin

    It is easier for everyone if we all have some agreed upon shorthand to get a general idea. But the hair-splitting among the metal “genres” has obviously gotten ludicrous. It’s like the libertarians, how the Rothbardian anarchists will fight with the minarchists, who argue with the slightly larger tent folks. Meanwhile, it all sounds the same to 96.3% of the population, and they don’t give a shit in any event.

    Today is the Day don’t really seem “experimental” to me. They strike me as a grindcore band that occasionally pauses for reflection (admittedly, I am not familiar with their oeuvre). They also kind of remind me of former Orlando locals Indorphine a bit.

    On the other hand, folk metal deserves its unique status. I think even people who would confuse early Metallica with Napalm Death would be able to parse Finntroll from that mix, because polka metal just has a vibe of its own.

    If females should stay away from viking metal (and I don’t disagree with that), they sure aren’t staying away from gothic metal, and those bands seem to get some rather attractive female leads (Unsun, Lacuna Coil, Within Tempation, Evanescence prior to Amy Lee’s Kirstie Alley diet plan). Since this is the genre closest to the project I’m currently working on, I have no problem with this.

    • “Meanwhile, it all sounds the same to 96.3% of the population, and they don’t give a shit in any event.”

      there is indeed this. the line between libertarianism and market anarchism/an caps means very little, probably even to the teabaggers and other minarchy-come-lately types. it is a big deal, but only if you care about political philosophy, or you’re part of the whole seasteading or free state project thing and need some theory to go with your application.

      but back to music: even finntroll – whose work i am not an expert on by any stretch – is largely metal-ish. maybe something like corvus corax:

      that’s a bit harder to qualify. (i call it “a shitty ren faire version of crash worship” but that’s me. i am not down with theater by and large.)

      there are probably even better folk metal-y examples that i know nothing of.

      i must confess some degree of bias against women in metal, as part of my larger bias against men in metal; if arch enemy didn’t have a “hawt” female vocalist, they’d be just another generic post-death whatever metal band. i’m sure it could be done well by someone, but i’ve not heard them yet. it mostly sounds like collide and others who did the whole industrial rock band + girl singer = something something.

      regarding today is the day, that’ll be my next actual post, but they’re all over the place and kinda weird, which equals “experimental” for the sake of shorthand and our lord and master, captain genre.

      but even weirder than all of this combined: wikipedia just informed me that there’s a genre called “post-grunge”.

  9. have any of you guys read “choosing death: the improbable history of death metal and grindcore”? john peel was involved, so i think i’ll pick it up.

    • ancient_warrior

      I’ve been meaning to but every bookstore I’ve been to in the last year hasn’t stocked it and I’d rather stay away from using the internet to buy books. I’m still one of those people who prefers to buy things from a shop. I had to get “Lords Of Destruction” instead.

  10. Pingback: Today Is The Day: What’s So Experimental About Metal, Anyway? « here there be rodents

  11. smacky

    I saw Death in concert twice. Both times amazing.

  12. Pingback: 2009 Was The Sort of Year That Passed In One Month Increments « here there be rodents

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