Words by Jonny Helwinter
I feel I should start this piece with a couple of disclaimers: firstly, I speak only for myself and no-one else in the band, these are my opinions and mine alone. Secondly, I have always been a terrible metalhead, I only really like a couple of Sabbath songs (yes Paranoid and Warpigs), I really don’t dig Judas Priest, when it comes to Maiden it’s just Piece of Mind and even then it’s more for nostalgia than real love of the music. I was massive into Metallica in high school, though now it’s just Master of Puppets, and even after I tried Megadeth, I didn’t get the fuss about it. I got into metal the same way of lot of kids in our generation did, through Nu-metal. I went from Linkin Park to Slipknot and from there it was Korn, Disturbed, Drowning Pool, etc. Finally, Dimmu introduced me to black metal and my tastes took a turn for the darkness. For a few years I was still a rabid Lamb of God fan and I was keeping up with Trivium and Killswitch, but in the last couple of years a change has occurred and it has culminated in the gradual distancing of myself from the wider metal genre and scene. I can lay the blame squarely at the feet of one Adam “Nergal” Darski, The Satanist being one of the most important releases for me since Opeth’s Ghost Reveries or Ghost’s Opus Eponymous.
The Satanist changed the way I felt about metal, especially the way in which an album is delivered and marketed. Every aspect of that release was cloaked in the shroud of magic and mystery and came complete with esoteric and occult references and a heavily stylised aesthetic that ensured that no bit of promotional material released for it was banal or generic. It was special, it was art, it was pure wankery and I loved every second of it. I’ve always had a penchant for the theatrical (except actual theatre or musicals which I strangely hate with a passion), and I realize now that the albums that are closest to me have always been the ones which went beyond a mere collection of songs with designated hits and ballads and blah blah blah. When I think of Slipnot’s Iowa, it wasn’t just an album, it was hate on record, it was visceral and dangerous and all of the imagery that accompanied it was also dangerous. Watain’s Lawless Darkness still resonates with me on a fundamental level, the pure songwriting on that album and the masterful blend of black metal aggression, groove, and melody combined with the truly incredible album art and the DVD that came out not long after, place it among my personal firmament of astronomical albums that I consider true art. And Behemoth raised the bar, their stage show fully encapsulating everything that was magical about the album and inspiring me on so many levels that even now I am filled with awe as I recall their set at Wacken 2014. But Behemoth were only the beginning of the death of metal in my heart, that torch is now carried by many and I feel I owe you an explanation.
I still love playing and listening to metal, it is still the genre that I listen to the most, I still worship bands that are distinctly metal. I just don’t identify as a metal head anymore. I see posts on Facebook or what have you about “how good is heavy metal?” and how this band has “riffs for days” and I indulge my curiosity and every time I am disappointed. I have heard it before, recycled pap with a slightly new twist of lemon, or a band that is quite ordinary and doing paint by numbers –insert subgenre-metal, but metal heads are so gee’d up on the idea that anything you can bang your head to is worthy of your time that they’ll make a fuss over a band that wouldn’t make a splash in a kiddie pool. I understand that this seems disrespectful or arrogant, and it is, you are right, I am a snob and a wanker self-confessed, but you didn’t start reading this without expecting that did you? I guess something I take issue with is this whole concept of the “brotherhood” or “family” of heavy metal. Time and again we read or hear this vapid platitude that metal is just a place for everyone to get along and head-bang, and we’re better than all the pop music idiots, and we’re all a big family of misfits and even if the world hates us, we have metal and blah fuckin blah. Well you know what? I dare not to agree. I see the same mindless adherence to formulaic crap in metal as I do in commercial pop, I see punters putting mediocrity on a pedestal because the beer is cheap and the band played riffs. I see album covers that would make the 80’s blush. I see promotional art and video clips that are straight out of high school multimedia class. This isn’t just local bands, this is international level bands who have a chance to reach millions of people with a new era of artistry and innovation and instead they churn out another album that is either the same drivel that made them famous (but never as good, coz you know, context and timing an all that), or they do go in a new direction, except it’s the same new direction as everyone else, the same scales, the same drum beats (doubling the snare or putting off the beat ain’t that new fellas), the same lyrical themes. Yes, well done, you have strayed from the beaten path of your own back catalogue, and onto the wide road of “we used to be relevant and now must compete with a new generation of bands who are more technically able than we ever were and have access to facilities and technology that make the old ways we cling to obsolete”. Whew, that got me sweaty. I’m tired now, but stay tuned for next week when I explain how in my humble opinion, Nergal and Myrkur killed metal.