Monday, July 9, 2012

Thoughts on sincerity in metal

Metal places more emphasis on sincerity - sometimes verging on high-minded seriousness -  than I'm used to the ironic world of indie rock (and writing about same).

You hear this sincerity - a reaching for the grand statement - in the length, ambition and technical precision of metal music. You see this sincerity - a curdled Romanticism - in the over-elaborate band names and record sleeves. You read this sincerity - a naive-in-the-best-sense questioning - in its addressing of political and philosophical themes lyrically.

Metal culture embodies a simultaneous reaching for and rejection of sophistication.

All of this is not to say that metal tropes can't be invoked with irony or knowing by its practitioners: for example Steel Panther [cough], but also in another way thrash bands inheriting punk's half-satirical alienation pose. But the scene does not generate its own sly constant auto-critique in the same way that indie or nostalgia rock does.

The mild hazing which passes for interviews in indie circles promotes a self-defensive and ironic relationship towards music and writing about music. 

If indie tends towards being driven by aesthetics and resisting values, does metal tend towards being driven by values and resisting aesthetics? Is indie essentially post-modern while metal remains rooted in the modern?

To illustrate this line of thought, it's worth comparing and contrasting Metal Hammer or Terroriser with The Stool Pigeon or the NME. In metal magazines the artist remains on their pedestal, is subject to reverence, in a way that only the dead or the legendary are in other scenes. It is taken for granted that the band will have something to say - and one of the problems with the writing is that the interviewer rarely drops out of a hagiographical mode.

Over this week, I'll be continuing my writing about metal by enthusing about a few of my favourite acts as well as looking how they relate to this model of sincerity.

All contributions to this chin-stroking free for all most welcome.


  1. As a long-time metalhead, I look forward to more on this topic.

    Personally, I've always seen the attraction to the genre as being due to the catharsis it provides - metal does tend to be more serious about the topics it covers, allowing people to connect and express themselves via it.

  2. Hi Tim,
    You're addressing a topic dear to my heart, but one my teenaged headbanging self didn't have the self-awareness to examine thoroughly.
    Personally I think that Metal as a meta-genre is more sincere than Indie, but there's a bit more going on. There's a sort of deliberate self-delusion to much of the music and culture, a suspension of self-doubt if you will. The musicians and fans secretly know that much of the culture is patently ridiculous, frequently immature and unsophisticated. We just choose to forget that for a time and enjoy the experience at face value.
    In a lot of ways that's artistically liberating, and might be why such diversity flourishes in the meta-genre, as well as why the concept album survives here so well.
    I'm loathe to write anything that could be construed as critical of the Indie scene, which I also love, but Indie bands frequently seem to be self-defensively ironic, and might even benefit from an infusion of cathartic seriousness about how rubbish it is to be a teenager or whatever.
    Punk is the crossing ground between the two for me, and the best punk moves from one mode to the other without batting an eyelid - you can be completely serious about something totally frivolous, and gloriously flippant about incredibly important things. Best of all, no-one quite knows which one you're doing right now.