See also: Five Finger Death Punch, Killswitch Engage, and More @ Comerica Theatre See also: Five Finger Death Punch's Jason Hook on Giving the Fans What They Want See also: The full Trespass America slideshow
This weekend I attended two intense yet intriguingly different metal shows. I spent Saturday night at Dimefest at Joe's Grotto, where several local heavy bands, including Howitzer, Cowboys in Hell and Betrayal of Allies, paid tribute to the late Dimebag Darrell of Pantera. Ah, you gotta' love a venue regularly reeking of B.O. and vomit. Sunday night was a different kind of show: The Trespass America Festival at Comerica Theatre, with a bill including God Forbid, Trivium, Killswitch Engage, and Five Finger Death Punch.
But while both shows rocked, there was a clear distinction between the fans that turned up for the shows, and it was all illustrated by their metal fashion choices.
Dimefest attracted an older, underground, hardcore crowd, the kind of folks who've been around the heavy metal block a couple of times. Grungy, dirty, ripped jeans-- they weren't too worried about living up to a certain image. A couple people stood out, like a chick who had on leather industrial/goth boots to boost up her tall, Master Shredder-esque helmet of black mohawked hair even more.
At the Five Finger Death Punch show, a band whose music is influenced by Pantera and hardcore culture in general, it was like a rocker-jock fashion show. Five Finger Death Punch is an extremely talented band, particularly guitarists Jason Hook and Zoltan Bathory. They support a range of important causes (suicide prevention and our troops), and I have no problem with their music, but for a heavy metal festival, there was certainly a lot of strutting around. Several chicks flounced around in high heels and hot pants. Dudes wrapped bright bandannas around their heads, which barely were able to tie around the bulging meatheadness. They donned the same sleeveless jersey that singer Ivan Moody rocks on stage, or glittery Affliction tees, snug around steroid-accented arms.
I don't want to sound too uptight, or judgmental and/or bitter, but band's like Five Finger Death Punch have definitely played a part in making metal mainstream, accessible to the very people us metalheads have always aimed to alienate. The football players that were prom king in high school; the Barbie chick who doesn't understand why one "guitar" on stage has only four strings while the other has "lots and makes really pretty noises."
Image is a double-edged sword when it comes to music, particularly in metal. For a genre that insists on being set apart from mainstream commercialism, rooted in rebellion, and revels in coming off as a public relations' nightmare, image can be a blessing and a curse.
Take for example the L.A. glam scene of the '80s--while the music contributed great things to metal, did the teased hair, lipstick and eyeliner, and spandex really help us out? Maybe it did for the bands that exhibited talent, i.e. Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, Guns 'N Roses, but for all the bands that adopted that look thinking it would get them somewhere, their second-rate talent received more attention than it should have.
The importance of image in all genres of music cannot be denied. Think about it: leather, long hair, skulls, modern military clothing, corpse paint, scantily clad females, jean vests and patches, Germanic imagery, the color black. Metal has always been visual. In recent years body modification and hardcore trappings have become part of the look, helping illustrate the tough, badass and having an attitude of "I don't give a fuck." Digging even deeper, the concept of the warrior ethos is strong in the scene as well, representing the independence, masculinity and honor that one finds in such cultures as Celtic and the times of the Dark Ages.
While these elements of style in heavy metal will never falter, it's inevitable that certain branches are going to evolve. Hence, Five Finger Death Punch's merging with undercover tinges of glam rock and besieging peacocking. I swear at the concert, it was as if some of the dudes in the crowd raided Lady Gaga's ex-boyfriend's closet, then covered themselves in Axe body spray.
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But maybe that's not such a band thing. I also can't help but wonder: Is this type of mainstream exposure something that may help keep heavy metal afloat in the long run? Between the economy, music industry failures and ever-surging success of pop and country music, maybe it's like in the '90s when grunge took over and metal needed some serious saving, which was accomplished in large part by nu-metal, now criticized and scoffed at.
Only time will tell. But for now, I spy a pair of killer black leather, corseted boots that are calling my name.