So it’s late, I’m sleepy, I’m at work and once again the place is pretty much dead. So what time is it? Time for me to start writing another rant, the topic of the day being metal fans themselves! You see, as I’ve spent more time exploring, discussing and debating the genre, the more I notice that there are three very distinctive phases that anyone with an interest in the genre seems to go through, the greater the interest, the quicker the ‘graduation’ through all the stages. Some may get there very quickly, a very large number will actually never actually get past phase one, but whenever you find yourself talking about the genre with others it won’t take long to discover which stage of fandom they belong to. So let me take you on a journey through all the different mindsets, and see if you can’t see where you belong.
This is simply the ‘I know what I like’ stage. Odds are genre classifications largely baffle you and so you rely on media information without really applying your own thoughts on the matter; how anyone manages to tell the difference between black metal and death metal is beyond you, let alone brutal and tech death, and then there’s those pretentious dicks going on about how it’s really triple technical third wave blackened epic progressive melodeath or something stupid. What’s wrong with simply calling it metal? I mean it’s all good right?
Glossy magazines like Metal Hammer and Terrorizor cover all the good stuff – score! – so you make sure to keep yourself updated with what they’re saying, scouring the album review sections for new artists you might have otherwise missed. You keep meaning to fill out that subscription form, have to get that done at some point. You love discussing the genre with others, telling them about your favourite metalcore artist who just released this awesome new video you saw on ‘Scuzz’ (or whatever your local mainstream metal TV channel is) and pretty much everyone you know agrees. You’re definitely gonna iTunes the shit out of that one next week. It’s only that one occasional guy who keeps telling you you’re wrong; who only listens to stuff where the vocalist sounds like he ate a cheese grater. Fuck him, who does he think he is telling me what I should and shouldn’t like? That band is awesome, how can he not like them and still call himself a metal fan? They’re probably just not ‘underground’ enough for him, but if they weren’t any good then why on earth are they so popular? Dumbass.
The good news is, if you’re reading this you’ve already demonstrated sufficient interest to have either already moved on to the next stage, or are at the least are well on your way. The bad news is, you’ll probably find yourself turning into that very same kind of pretentious dick you once despised.
So you’ve been around a few times, progressed well beyond the basics and can classify artists into the major sub-genres, perhaps even noting the difference in style for your favourites. You don’t just know what you like, you’re able to explain why you like it and how best to classify it. You’ve learnt the facts and figures and can raffle them off at a moments notice, and are more than willing to share with others everything you’ve learned.
You’ve also been around enough to see the same bands get mentioned tirelessly to the point you want to throttle them for even mentioning this ‘great new metal band’ which as it turns out was just Metallica’s ‘Lulu’ or something. Get with the programme, they’ve been awful for a very long time. Haven’t they learnt yet that all the mainstream media covers are watered down versions of the real deal? And iTunes? Really? Pah. It’s far better to have the physical item; to hold it and read the liner notes. It’s all part of the package and feels so much more tangible, so much better to know you’re supporting such an awesome artist that really ought to be better known. You only wish you had the money to buy it on vinyl.
You just can’t help yourself; ‘why are you listening to this when these guys are better’ becomes a common argument, and you aren’t quite sure why people are getting offended by it, you’re only trying to help after all. Their unwillingness to even listen feels kind of rude, and you can’t quite understand why anyone wouldn’t want to learn a little more about the genre. Yet of course, many actually don’t. The eternal ‘phase one’ candidates who remain content with what happens to be handed to them on a platter and aren’t really interested in diving into the depths of what the genre has to offer (which is fine, even if at this stage you find it difficult to accept).
The real tragedy of this stage, however, is not that you come across arrogant to others, or now that you’ve uncovered some of the underground often fail to give more popular genres and artists a fair chance, it’s that you’ve educated yourself about enough of the genre to genuinely have something of value to offer but convey it in such argumentative demeanour; in such an opinionated, unempathetic, definitive, factual manner with no room for grey area’s that it becomes hard to be receptive to, even by those who aren’t merely ‘passers by.’
I’ve been complimented on my knowledge of the metal genre a number of times in the past. There was a time where I’d have likely scoffed and gone ‘duh,’ or more likely never be calm enough on any given topic to allow for the other party to make the comment to begin with. The funny thing is, at this point you genuinely think it’s not true. Once you’ve devoured your favourite parts of the genre, you start discovering other even more obscure area’s, ever becoming more ridiculously specific; the Mexican post-2000 death metal scene; the Japanese Power Metal or underground Powerviolence scenes; Russian Folk Metal; Ukrainian NSBM; all topics on which I can’t claim to know a huge amount about. As you explore deeper into the genre, you don’t feel more knowledgeable, rather quite the opposite happens. Pandora’s box has been opened, and every new discovery yields two new areas to explore.
Faced with this insurmountable task the superiority complex you once held begins to fade. You become better versed with the subtleties – for example, did you know there are primarily four kinds of blast beats used in metal? Can you name them all?1 – and become more interested in where it all came from. You become analytical of music – a lot of people find it pedantic and over analytical – picking out ever more tiny details of the composition without thinking, and start to expand into other genres. In doing so, you so begin to respect them, and the attitude that metal is somehow superior dwindles; mixing with non-metal stops being an abomination, and rather than thinking in black and white there are far more shades of grey.
It’s a little odd to think that the final stage – at least to my knowledge – is when you realise that there is nothing inherently superior to metal; that you enjoy it is fact but you yield only a single viewpoint. More than that, it’s when you develop a greater appreciation for other music; for classical, jazz, blues, electronica, hip-hop, even pop music; when you realise artists from genres dismissed in previous stages actually have some merit, even if it doesn’t replace your usual metal listening. There is risk though, that you can regress with age; that your knowledge becomes old if you fail to keep up with new trends, which are now so different from what you learnt before that it seems an abomination. Not all stumble at this hurdle, but many as they approach their late 30s and 40s find themselves falling into this trap. Nonetheless, once you realise there is nothing particularly unique to your own tastes, you find yourself getting worked up less, arguing less, and better capable of saying ‘I respectfully disagree.’
None of these phases have a definitive endpoint or sudden revelation, it’s simply that one day you’ll realise that you’re getting into heated arguments on artists far less frequently than you once did. You’ll find discussing music with those still in the early stages of discovery all the more tolerable; you’ll find them more willing to listen to what you recommend, and even might end up getting a couple in return. It’s apparent your interest might far outweigh theirs, and they still love bands you long since thought were awful yet for some reason it doesn’t bother you quite so much; you’ve succeeded in ascending – hence the name of the phase – above petty arguments over subjective issues. Everyone has their own opinions, right? And if you can guide them to new discoveries then that’s great too isn’t it? And if not, well it’s no big deal, it’s not like you’ve lost anything.
Agree or disagree, these are the conclusions I have come to and I still see it occurring all the time; forums filled with people fawning over the latest craze at odds with the crusading elitists who write most of the meme’s and fill said forums with pages and pages of arguments explaining why they’re wrong, each time falling upon deaf ears. Each phase feeling most comfortable talking among their own, and sure there may be variations within each participant of each phase; I’ve met open-minded phase ones (who genuinely prefer the popular material), arrogant phase three’s (hell there’s arrogant phase one’s who are just hilarious) and so on and so forth, but I’ve yet to come across someone who defies this ruling entirely. What phase are you?
1. The four kinds are:
The traditional blast, which is a snare and hi-hat played with alternating kicks, usually employed by older thrash and early Death and Black Metal artists; the modern blast, which is much the same except faster and often using two kicks for each snare hit, often used by death metal and some higher tempo thrash; the gravity blast, where the snare hit utilises gravity to hit the side of the drum before being lifted to tap it again, yielding alternating loud/soft hits, and can be even played on the downbeat to break up passages; the bomb blast, which is again like the traditional blast except where instead of the hi-hat, a ride or crash is used to lend that ‘bomb’ element, and is a favourite of (Norwegian) black metal.
Still confused? Try Nolan Weber’s tutorial. No luck? Don’t worry, it’s lost on most people of all levels of obsession and I have to really think about which one is which.