Bent Out of Shape: Has Heavy Metal Become a Joke?

by Will Wallner
Posted Dec 14, 2012 at 7:07am

Heavy metal has lost all form of legitimacy as musical genre.

I believe it has evolved, or devolved, to the point where it has become something so different from what it once was, that it now is a different genre all together.

People could argue that music trends change constantly with new generations that influence what is popular. However, jazz is still jazz, blues is still blues, but metal is no longer metal. Traditional forms of music such as the ones I mentioned have changed over time, but not as quickly or as drastically as metal. In fact, the only other genre that seems to change so often and with such extremes is pop music.

There are many factors that have caused the change, and the biggest is the over-monopolization of record labels. But that's not what I want to talk about. Recently I decided I no longer want to be known as a metal guitar player. My reasons will hopefully be explained through this blog post. Here are my three biggest issues with heavy metal bands today.

The first is the loss of the blues influence in metal. If my memory serves me correctly, I believe the first time the phrase "heavy metal" was used was to describe Jimi Hendrix in a review in the '60s. Following this, it was used as a marketing phrase by record labels to describe bands in the late '70s. Finally, by the '80s heavy metal had become its own genre and formed numerous sub genres (far too many to list).

I don't want to get into the debate of what is or isn't metal, but the three bands that seem to come up consistently when talking about the origins of metal are Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. All three were blues-influenced hard rock bands, and that is where is metal came from. On a side note: All three bands don't like to refer to themselves as heavy metal.

If you analyze metal music released today, you'll notice the lack of blues influence. The loss of the blues in metal is something that happened gradually over the last 20 years. This is evident when listening to guitar solos from current metal guitarists, which leads to my next problem.

Why do all new metal guitarists sound the same and have a lack of individuality?

Have you noticed all virtuoso metal guitarists try to sound musically intellectual by stating that in addition to metal they are influenced by classical and jazz fusion? It's become such a cliche, but virtually all "'shredders" list these two genres as influences. I would bet that 99 percent of them are only interested in the technical nature of those genres and have absolutely no interest in the musical properties or the actual compositions.

The new generation of metal guitarists is so busy trying to show what they can do technically that they've forgotten that the point of a guitar solo is to make something that is interesting musically and that the listeners will enjoy. My advice to young guitar players is to focus on melody. You will actually stand out and be unique if your solos express emotion rather than just demonstrate your technical prowess.

Finally, the thing that annoys me the most about metal is how ridiculous the majority of the so-called "metal musicians" look and act.

Do you remember the film This Is Spinal Tap? Metal has gone so far beyond that film that I don't believe the majority of musicians can be taken seriously based on how they look and act.

I regularly research new bands online, and after seeing so many band photos and music videos where the musicians are trying to portray a "metal image," I can't help but feel as if it's being forced. If you look at the classic metal bands from the '70s, such as Zeppelin, Purple and Sabbath, they didn't feel the need to dress up or try to act tough. Look at any video of those bands performing live, and all you will see on stage is the musicians and their instruments. Those bands had no gimmicks; it was 100 percent about the music. Only inferior musicians need to make a spectacle out of themselves to sell their music.

My advice to metal bands today would be to focus on being good musicians and making amazing music.

As I mentioned in the beginning, due to the over-monopolization of record labels, it's impossible to get a deal with a big label unless you have a marketing gimmick and are fashionable. The whole industry has become so corporate that you need to fit a certain mold in order get interest. It's a real shame because that's not how metal used to be. Today metal has such strict boundaries on how you must look, act and sound that there's little room for creativity or musicianship.

I didn't even begin to talk about the production used on metal today where bands have sacrificed the feel and soul of their instruments in exchange for a punchy mix.

My goal with this blog post is to provoke discussion. I'm not an authority on the subject. I'm just a fan who loves classic metal bands like Rainbow, early Van Halen, Thin Lizzy, etc.

Cheers!

Will Wallner is a guitarist from England now living in Los Angeles. He is the lead guitarist for White Wizzard (Earache Records) and in 2012 toured Japan, America and Canada. He recently signed a solo deal with Polish record label Metal Mind Productions for the release of his debut album, which features some of the most influential musicians from hard rock/heavy metal. Follow Will on Facebook and Twitter.