A while ago I wrote this article about the increased presence of gimmicks in the heavy metal world. Not trying to diss any band or be negative about it, I discussed the prominence of bands like Ghost, Babymetal and Steel Panther.
The original article can be found here and I found out it even got to reddit for some discussion. Reading those responses, knowing that they might not be all friendly, I did realise I might have not fully made my point there and unfortunately may have come across as a genre purist. I am in a way for the sake of argument used to genre terms, but in the end its all about the music. Gimmick and purism are two extremes on a very wide scale and in some ways don’t even have to conflict.
If we look at a band like Ghost, specially after their epic record ‘Meliora’ have shown that while maintaining the gimmick or show element, they are able to produce fabulous music. Interestingly, this coincides with a tuned down version of their stage presentation. There’s a bit more performance, but a little less ‘stuff’.
But what was that concern about ‘Gimmicks’ then? The concern I tried to voice is that some bands are gaining popularity only by the fact that they do something weird. Now, this is nothing new in the metal world. The whole black metal genre seems to revolve around that gimmick. Bands like the Misfits or Slipknot and even Black Sabbath added a mystique to their music by adding that element of showmanship to the band. There are band who push a bit further on that and the gimmick becomes their selling point.
When is something a gimmick? Probably when it is the first thing you have to say about your band, you probably are overdoing exactly that part. If your description starts with something that is not the music, the focus is on the wrong end of the stick. From a music purist point of view. Does that mean gimmicks are evil? Ofcourse not, it’s just whatever purpose you have with your music. For example, Hevisaurus is aiming their music at children.
A gimmick doesn’t mean it dininishes the band, a band like Ghost or Slipknot can hold its own with or without the gimmick. It’s sadly not just good music that comes out of the woodwork.
Luckily, things have a tendency to work themselves out. Glamrock and grunge prompted their own back to basic movement in the shape of the hard rock’n’roll movement that started out in the mid nineties and had a good run till halfway the noughties with bands like Audioslave and Velvet Revolver. A bit later followed Scandinavian bands like Gluecifer and The Hellacopters and now Danko Jones keeps the flame alive. It’s a movement back to something pure, where the stage outfit and decoration is not that wild.
Maybe grunge and stoner offered that to metal, but somehow the whole flamboyance seems to fly high and in a clickbait-culture of juicy headlines there seems to be little room for bands that offer something simple and pure. Although… that is the music press. There’s an amazing amount of bands that have been getting back to something pure. Ironically, the band I started my original article with was Deafheaven. In a way, apart from that slick album cover of ‘Sunbather’, that is a purist band. Even stripping the characteristics of the genre from the music. You see similar things happen. So the whole focus on aesthetic will even out.
The future of heavy metal
So the real concern isn’t really the gimmick itself, but the way its lifted up to be the focus point for any journalism. If we talk about a band, the look and gimmick can’t be the point of focus. If that is the thing we talk about, two things may be wrong.
- The band is musically uninteresting.
- The journalist doesn’t have a clue.
Now, point one is really not so bad, because we recognise a boring band anyways as listeners and it just becomes ‘that commercial crap’. The point with metal journalism might be worrying, specially if the main sources for our music-info are just spitting out uninformed, politically correct garbage news, that puts people of the bands that should get some attention. I’m not telling you to love Deafheaven or whatever the new kid on the block is, but the press is surely not helping with some weird conservative hatred to anything new or blankly ignoring it. If Metal Hammer, Kerrang and the like writes page full about the weird mystique of a band, but forgets their music, then that’s the problem. Not to blame any specific media though, a site like Noisey really offers great stuff… and sometimes garbage. Same goes for most, but I think that’s more the writers.
But the problem is also the first, the lack of exploration of the fans. The overflow of information and the unfortunate side-effects of social media make it hard to find anything new or appreciate music solely on our own experience. We probably see some judgement pop up in our timeline and then just drop it.
So let’s keep exploring and listen to good music. Everything should be ok. I mean, Kiss was also kick-ass regardless of the make-up, right?
Short note on some of the accusations. Yes, I love my genre classifications. No, I don’t resort records in the shops from some priviligy point of view, just that I can’t handle disorder.
Cover image: Powerwolf, source press photo/Facebook band Though Cheesy as hell, probably not the worst out there.