The Modern Metalhead Dilemma

Metal has come quite a ways in the past 45 years of its controversial existence. From Black Sabbath’s Paranoid to Children of Bodom’s Halo of Blood, there have been no shortage of uproars from concerned parents, condemnations from mainstream critics and ridicule from ignorant outsiders. Starting with Black Sabbath, the heavy metal scene has always come under scrutiny, targeted by religious organizations and labeled as evil, demon worshiping cultists. The negative hype was especially high during the ’90s, Norwegian church burnings, perpetuated by members of black metal bands.

Though not under the scrutiny previously experienced during the ’90s, there is still a clear divide between the mainstream and the underground metal scene. People are more accepting of the genre, and as the years go by the following continues to grow. It’s no secret that the internet has had a significant impact on the sub-genre, and many bands can lay their claims to fame on their bandcamp profile.

A commercial sound

There’s a problem with this, one that many older metal heads may understand. The heavy metal scene thrives on its own exclusivity. For better or for worse, the internet has dissolved the fences that kept bands underground. A black metal band that would have struggled to get its name beyond a small community in the 80’s would be able to show the world its demo EP to thousands over Bandcamp, YouTube and other music uploading services in minutes today. The exclusivity that kept metal a small members only club no longer exists in 2015.

To some extent, this breaking down of the barrier was a good thing. Essentially it created a wider following in the sub-genre as a whole, which allowed bands to be influenced by others that may be unknown without a cassette tape. In other ways it was a detriment. Selling out is a problem in the heavy metal scene. If a band gets popular, that makes it commercialized and that is just something not metal (I’m just kidding, but maybe not). Commercialization is by and all an unwelcome presence in metal.

Here’s an example of commercialization at its best. In Flames was a progenitor of the melodic death metal genre. Slowly throughout the 2000’s they adapted their sound to fit the ‘mallcore’ niche. I’m not trying to bash people who like the music, I’m bashing the people who call it metal.

When a band exchanges their artistic creativity for money, they have lost.

The technology of the internet has broadened and narrowed the horizons of metal on two planes, the broadened fan base plane and the selling out plane. It’s impossible to empirically quantify either of these, but the effects can be clearly seen with every In Flames album release. Metal heads are picky and attentive. Most fans are able to hear if a band is evolving toward mainstream pandering. The modern heavy metal fan’s dilemma winds down to this: will today’s metal overcome the dangers of commercialization and regain its former glory? Or will it succumb to the ultra smooth production and soulless sold out tone that it has been moving towards  for the past decade?