Sometime in the mid 1990s, somebody, somewhere, decided that Heavy Metal was dead. Perhaps it had something to do with Grunge rock’s musical predominance, or the advent of a new age of Bubblegum Pop that began around the same time, when acts like the Spice Girls, the Backstreet Boys, N’Sync, Britney Spears and other Disney Channel-friendly groups began candy-coating everything in the musical pop culture landscape. It seemed that the latter half of the last decade was spent sanitizing music for our protection; even the supposedly “heavy” music of groups like POD, Papa Roach or Limp Bizkit were more about messages and moralizing than making music.
There was no really heavy music on the radio, there was nothing on the music video channels, and only a few of the great acts were able to play at, let alone sell out, stadium shows. Thanks in large part to the Glam Metal hair-bands of the mid and late 1980s and the nu-Metal acts of the 1990s, Heavy Metal was declared dead. And in being so disavowed, Heavy Metal music did what all rebels do in the face of mass denial: it went underground.
When it went underground, losing its commercial appeal, something happened to Heavy Metal. Without the MTV, image and mystique-driven corporate interest, the music and the acts involved became much more focused on creating art and on making music with integrity.
“I didn’t really get into metal until I started playing guitar,” Bobby Thompson of Job for a Cowboy told us, “I loved the guitar work and the ferocity of the genre. It was so pissed off, and being a young kid I was really attracted to the attitude of it.”
Tim Lambesis of As I Lay Dying concurs: “I’ve always been drawn towards aggressive forms of music… I think I was just challenged more by Metal, and it had that aggression to it, and it’s just a little more technical-and fun-from the musician’s standpoint.”
It seems almost inevitable therefore, that when the quality of the music became more important to the genre than who had the hardest image, the most tattoos or the most ‘fucked-up’ video, the real talents began to appear. And so it was, that in the early years of the New Millennium, Metal began to re-emerge from the chrysalis that had been mistaken for its casket.
My colleagues and I at CONFRONT Magazine have had the distinct honor in the last several weeks of talking about Metal with the bands who survived the genre’s supposed mass extinction, as well as the new acts who have reinvigorated a genre that was derided, disregarded and declared dead.
“I think being an underground band, it definitely gives you more [artistic freedom];” Johnny Davy, of Job For A Cowboy explains, “I mean, all the mainstream bands have guidelines of what the people want to listen to, and they stick with that. Being on more of the underground side, we can do just whatever we want, whatever we feel like; it’s cool!”