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Can We Stop Making Up New Metal Subgenres?

Metallica at the 2013 Golden Gods Awards.
Caleb Haley

Am I the only one who is sick to death of the ever-growing list of metal subgenres? It seems to evolve and pulsate and throw out even more obscure genres on a daily basis.

Honestly, if there's one thing metalheads should be able to have faith in when it comes to their music, it's that metal veers as far away from commercialization as possible. But this hasn't been the case for decades, and it's only getting worse as the market for mainstream metal expands. Actually, the industry calls this "mainstream metal" -- I call it watered-down rock.

One of the main ways that the industry has helped sell out metal is the categorization of genres, subgenres, and so forth. Why do we have to categorize bands in genres just for marketing purposes from the labels? Even as a music journalist, I detest having to write such titles as "Nu Metallers Korn Talk New Music" and "Thrash Titans Anthrax Release Covers EP."

And the reason I have to write titles like those? Readers feel the need to categorize everything, because that's what the industry tells them to do.

Death, black, symphonic, power, thrash, grindcore, ballad, extreme doom, folk, speed, punk, gothic, Gothenburg, progressive, glam, unblack, Christian, Pagan, doom, sludge, stoner, drone, alternative, post-metal, rap, industrial, nu, classic -- it's never ending.

In This Moment at the 2013 Golden Gods Awards.
Caleb Haley

Each of these subgenres may have a distinct sound, but they still all employ all the key components of heavy metal: distorted and chunky-sounding guitars, blistering guitar solos and riffs; pummeling double-bass percussion; melodic screamed or shouted vocals.

Separating bands into so many genres does more damage than good. Imagine all of metalheads who scoff at something because it's categorized as glam metal, nu metal or Christian metal. And all these different subgenres can be quite confusing for a newbie who is trying to learn and discover what they love in heavy music.

So, I make a plea to the music industry gods, who will never answer from thrones that barely accommodate their fat asses, where they count the cash in overstuffed envelopes from festivals, music sales, and merch that most bands never see. But it's a safe bet that at least other metalheads will join me in my quest for simplicity.

Can we just have three genres and be done with it?

 

This is one way to keep it simple: melodic metal, extreme metal, and alternative metal. Every single band will fit into one of these categories, and then within them, there is no need to further categorize. It should all come down to how the fan perceives the music. Imagine the diversification at shows now that people aren't worried about fitting into a category. Of course, that will still occur naturally, but not just for marketing purposes.

Two genres I find particularly confusing: symphonic metal and nu metal.

People can trace the start of symphonic metal way, way back; but the genre today was pioneered by Savatage with the album Gutter Ballet. It's known largely for being influenced by classical music -- but honestly, the majority of all heavy metal is influenced by classical music. Just because you can hear it a little more eloquently than in say, Iron Maiden, doesn't mean that it should be ostracized. Bands like Nightwish, Epica, and Trans-Siberian Orchestra all fall into this category, but one subgenre isn't helpful when it comes to conveying a full understanding of each band's style.

Then there's the much-loathed nu metal. I've always detested the basis of the genre . . . and maybe it's just the annoying sounding name. But some of my favorite bands reside within it in the industry's eyes: Korn, Deftones, Rage Against the Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Slipknot, Fear Factory, Limp Bizkit . . . even bands like Anthrax, Pantera, and Slayer have been described as nu metal. What?!

The only connecting factors between the more popular bands in nu metal are seven-string guitars and occasionally a turntable. But put Linkin Park next to Slipknot . . . or Limp Bizkit next to Deftones . . . or even Anthrax next to Fear Factory.

How is there any comparison here?

So take it for what it's worth. With the genres pared down there will still always be black-and-white disagreements and fans and bands hovering in the gray areas. But at least there'll only be three categories to have strong opinions about.


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