I am often bemused by the snobbery and nit-picking of fans of heavy metal (to the extent that I’m not sure how many are already aggrieved that I refer to the music as such rather than just ‘metal’) Even when I hear a band whose music I rather enjoy and think might perhaps rescue the genre from total derision, such as Led Zeppelin or Nirvana, I’m usually informed that they aren’t really ‘metal’ at all but something else like hard rock or grunge. So, it’s a scene that re-defines itself in an ever-decreasing cycle of significance.
What I don’t like about heavy metal is less the music (which might well include some artists of quality among the general sludge of ponderous guitar, metronomic drums and derivative tunes), but its self-mythologising and its annoying adolescent pantomime. Of all the many forms of music that I’ve come across only the most vacuous pop and the most empty dance music (as exemplified by the worst excesses of EDM and trance) annoy me more. And yet despite that, two of my short stories, Teen Spirit and Excess, are actually relatively affectionate portrayals of the music and its fans.
And of the purveyors of popular music that I especially dislike there is a Japanese rock/pop band known as Babymetal which combine all the worst elements and thereby demonstrate how artificial and soulless these forms of music are. They are a manufactured band founded and managed by the Amuse talent agency that also manages other female idol groups of the type that dominate the East Asian J-Pop and K-Pop scenes, The three girl singers are selected for their looks, their youth, their ability to dance in step and their squeaky voices, and nothing at all to do with their love of metal or, indeed, of any music whatsoever. The backing band resembles all those costumed metal acts such as Slipknot that make the covers of magazines like Kerrang! seem like some kind of all-year long Halloween Day commemoration. And thrown into the mix is an electronic melange of deep bass and twiddliness and perhaps shrieking sampled vocals that typifies Skrillex and the worst excesses of American EDM.
What is also odd is that this manufactured group in all its ridiculousness and its appeal to prepubescent fantasies (and perhaps less innocent more adult ones) has actually gained credibility in a scene of metalheads who hark on about authenticity even while their favourite genre becomes ever more fractured into various shades of much the same thing. Death Metal, Thrash Metal, Black Metal. Glam Metal. Just think of a word and append it with ‘Metal’. And now we have Babymetal. What next? Toddler Metal? Sugar Candy Metal? Tween Metal? I can’t even be sure that such things don’t already exist.
Heavy Metal is a scene that has encompassed Rockbitch, Kiss and W.A.S.P. It has taken to heart the myths about excessive drug-intake, sexual activity and general yobbishness, In many cases, the bands hold unpleasant neo-conservative libertarian views (as propounded by Ayn Rand and Alan Greenspan) which unsurprisingly justify their pursuit of wealth and give them the pretence of some kind of desert for their innate superiority. It pretends to belong to a rock tradition (and perhaps even a jazz, folk and blues tradition) of hard-living, sexual misbehaviour, drug-taking and, ultimately, tragic deaths in tragic circumstances. The ideal death would be to commit suicide for reasons of artistic commitment like Kurt Cobain. To choke on your vomit like Jimi Hendrix. Or perhaps explode in a mess of shit in the toilet like Elvis Presley. God forbid that you should die of cancer in a hospital bed after a long life of critical acclaim like Lou Reed (who mostly outdid anything in the world of metal, despite topping all such nonsense with his Metal Machine Music album).
So, what next for metal now that it has embraced vacuous, manufactured pop and by-the-committee bass drops?
Perhaps in years to come, metal will become something that will be decided by executives in Oriental boardrooms accompanied by PowerPoint slides and graphs of complex derivatives. Perhaps the music will become ever more immature, predictable and fundamentally uninteresting.Perhaps it will become the easy-listening music of the future destined to become as irrelevant as trad jazz, bubblegum pop and the hurdy-gurdy.One can only hope so.