2009: The Most Metal Year on Record
With another long year of boozing, bonging out and headbanging gone, it’s time for metal heads world-wide to peel their faces off the bathroom floor and take stock of everything that’s gone down in 2009.
If one thing is for sure, it’s that metal grew exponentially as a cultural brand in 2009. Corporate sponsored tours (Nachtmystium/Wolves in the Throne Room brought to us by Scion?), a popular cartoon series (Metalocalypse), refreshingly accurate references in major motion pictures (Mike Judge’s grindcore forklift operator in Extract), a heavy-hyped documentary (Until the Light Takes Us) a New York Times academic expose on black metal… we blew up like Biggie. By now, it seems like everyone can name a few genres or at least has a friend who can. It’s not just for the weirdos anymore.
But as convenient as it is to talk about metal as a whole in big fancy self-aggrandizing statements, we here at The Faster Times like to go into a little more detail. Metal today is made up of many different genres and sub-genres and cross-pollinated subterranean sub-sub-genres, all of which are growing or shrinking in popularity at any given moment. To track them all we would require a cataloging system similar in computing power to the Matrix itself. But, since the Machines are still a few years away from their meteoric rise to power, I’ll just break down the year’s winners and losers as best I can.
The year’s undisputed champion of the winner’s circle, black metal went from being an obscure nerd hobby/basement fantasy to the hip and exotic musical indulgence of young narcissistic intellectuals in the space of just a few years. Black metal debuted on the global stage in the early 90s with a string of murders and church burnings. Not the most flattering presentation. But over the course of the decade the genre’s more ambient, sometime melodic droning riffage, not a far cry from the shimmering post-rock/metal craze, caught on with the hip modern music lovers (Xathur, Nachtmystium, among other culprits) and now fitted Burzum T’s can be spotted on hip kids with enormous glasses nation-wide. Even former Sugar Ray front man Mark McGrath wants to boogie down with his dark side.
Blast beats, power chords and pure rage, this little sub-genre had a big year thanks to a phenomenal album (Time Waits for No Slave) from it’s near-undisputed creators, Britain’s Napalm Death. A special grindcore issue of Decibel Magazine didn’t hurt either, nor did their championing of some wicked classic bands like Repulsion and Brutal Truth for a new generation of soon-to-be-deaf-and-brain-damaged metal heads.
There’s no denying that this little genre earned a spot in this years winner’s circle, but hoooooo-boy do I have some beef with how it got there. Thrash grew up in the late 80s, with Slayer, Testament and Metallica (believe it or not, they were, at one point, cool) leading the charge. Across the Atlantic, their German familiars, Kreator, Sodom and Destruction, raised similarly rabid hordes. Then Pantera showed up and it was all over for the beer n’ denim speedsters. Groove and grunge ruled the day.
Then a few years ago, young whippersnappers nation-wide dug their methed-out uncles’ high tops and denim jackets out of the attic and started shredding again like it was 1986. You couldn’t throw a crushed up empty can of Thunderbird in 2009 without hitting a gang of retro thrashers who were still being potty trained when Master of Puppets came out.
Appreciation for this new craze will hinge on your preference for either execution or originality. Thrash’s forefathers blended genres and pushed boundaries. With the exception of Revocation‘s groovy, technical thrash, I don’t see much in the way of forward thinking in these young muffins.
Realistically, I should split this category into about five different sub-sections, but for the sake of your attention span, I will spare you the torture. Anywho, death metal, long the flag bearer for the American underground, sadly stalled this year as it divided into two camps.
In the blue corner with the camo shorts, we have the classic death metal revival, endearingly intent on regurgitating everything circa 1990; buzz-saw guitar tone, bullet belts, neglectful hygiene and all. The achilles heel to this bruiser is similar to that of the aforementioned thrash revival. Why resurrect the sound while the classics are still fresh and more available than ever?
In the red corner, straight off the California coast, in the graphic tee and New Era hat, we have deathcore, death metal’s groovier, breakdown-infused, blunt-rollin’, 40-swiggin’ spawn. While not all that musically dissimilar from traditional death metal, deathcore’s aesthetic preference for more colorful, even hip-hop inspired apparel and general bro-core-isms have traditional death metallers crying foul.
Maybe it was a decade of slickly produced pop sounds that did it, but distortion came back in a big way this year as many young bands dropped the tempo and cranked up the buzz. Baroness and Mastodon, though they no longer resemble the sound in its original format, have drawn hordes of rockers off the fence and into more metallic pastures. Expect to hear a lot more of this sound as marijuana nears legal status.
Originally a Scandinavian invention (though some might argue Britain’s Skyclad coined the term and would murder me for putting them as the first reference in this article), the blending of traditional metal with folk instrumentation has become a global phenomenon. The past few years have seen more and more North American bands add a fiddle or a polka synth line to their repertoire and a fantasy/viking bend to their lyrics and imagery. Though markedly more sterile in sound than the dark, raw paganism of their forebears, this new wave of folk metal has attracted a whole new audience of D&D geeks across the nation with cleaner production and bouncier, more upbeat melodies. What they lose in mystique and musical depth, they more than make up for in the sale of bobble head vikings and novelty drinking horns.
So there you have it. Metal in 2009. May the coming year bring total global domination. Fear us.
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