Good luck ever going to any metal industry event ever and speaking to anyone at all without someone asking “So, who’s The Next Big Thing?”. There will never be another Metallica, but there could be a new Slipknot or a new Ghost, even, and everyone wants to be ahead of the curve.
But I tell ya what: speaking purely in selfish terms as a metal fan, I’m not craving a single-band Next Big Thing. I am, however, wondering what will be the Next Big Trend. ‘Cause we’re way overdue for one.
Think about it. What was the Last Big Trend? Deathcore? Job for a Cowboy’s infamous Doom EP and Suicide Silence’s breakthrough, The Cleansing, are each more than a decade old. Djent? Periphery’s eponymous debut came out eight years ago. To put that in perspective, the previous eight years saw the fall of nu-metal and the rise of metalcore, deathcore, and, on a somewhat smaller scale, re-thrash; the closest things to trends in the period of time since Periphery‘s release has been doom/occult metal, which spawned bands like Ghost and Pallbearer, and YouTube, which gave us Jared Dines and Rob Scallon and their ilk. But I’d argue that neither of these movements really became the same sort of overwhelming mammoths as those aforementioned trends.
Beyond that, there’s been there’s been… uh… uh… uhhhhh…
This sudden absence of new crazes begs a few questions:
1. Why have new trends stopped popping up?
Well, for one thing, largely owing to the Internet, aesthetic evolution in all mediums has slowed noticeably. For example, if you watched TV news reports or movies produced in 1978, 1988, and 1998 back-to-back, you’d notice vast differences in fashion styles, vehicle styles, and technology from film-to-film; if you watched TV news reports or movies produced in 1998, 2008, and 2018 back-to-back, you’d notice far fewer differences, save for the increase in use of cell phones maybe. So metal is really just one more thing that seems to have abruptly ceased to change in the face of new technology.
Furthermore, the Internet and technology in general have flooded the market with content, and fans can find exactly the style they’re looking for at any given time, without shortage. The result of that could be a more fractured scene where trends never quite snowball the way they used to, because there’s no need to broaden one’s tastes. The fact that all of recorded music history is at one’s fingertips, paradoxically, could also send a musician down a never-ending rabbit hole of music history wherein said musician is perpetually looking back, not forwards.
Still, despite changes brought about technology, movies, at least, have changed in content if not necessarily aesthetic; ten years ago, nobody gave a shit about shared universes, for example. But in music, form and function are inextricably tied together; there can be no separation of content and aesthetic. In other words, a character in a Marvel superhero movie and a character in a Blumhouse horror movie can wear the same clothes while being in completely different types of stories, but for one type of metal to differentiate itself from another, the music has to do something at least a little different. Black metal uses open chords; death metal vocals are lower and growlier than thrash metal vocals; djent depends heavily on a particular style of palm muting; and so on and so forth.
So the next most probable culprit of the scene slowdown is the fans themselves. As we’ve said before, metal fans can be hopelessly stuck in the past.
But I’d also point the finger at the media, and our ever-intensifying news cycle. Fear of risk (i.e., loss of traffic) prevents us from covering new bands who aren’t guaranteed to garner attention, but new bands can’t really get attention without coverage. This catch-22 has made it harder and harder for new bands to break, and the ones that do usually have a very dramatic gimmick (e.g., Ghost, Babymetal, etc.).
And, of course, the industry in general is culpable, too. See above re: the media.
But the scariest possibility is that we have simply reached a point in metal where everything has been done. After fifty years (!), has metal at last run its course? That may seem improbable, but consider jazz, the popularity of which has waned considerably in recent decades despite being a relatively young art form that originated only at the transition from the nineteenth to the twentieth century. A musical genre can, over time, become a rarified niche.
2. Is an absence of new trends a positive or negative development?
The word “trend” tends to come with negative connotations, because, in art at least, it often signals a lack of originality (every press release heralds every band as “trendsetters,” never “trend followers”). Still — and, again, I can obviously only speak for myself as a fan — I wouldn’t mind seeing a new trend right about now.
Why? Well, for one thing, because it would be new (duh). New doesn’t necessarily mean better, of course, but still, it’s always nice to have something fresh to consider.
For another thing, I fear a lack of trends could mean a lack of trendsetters. I have no proof that this is the case, and I’m not trying to be alarmist. But where is the new Dimebag, the new Munky, the new Misha — the new dude all the kids wanna be like, the guy who will send the next generation to the store to buy an instrument? If I was thirteen right now and just getting into metal, like whom would I aspire to be?
Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe every generation having its own version of the same exact thing is all that’s important. Maybe kids don’t need something new, they just need something that’s theirs. That would be yet another bummer for those of us who are getting older, because it suggests that we really may never find new bands about whom to feel passionate. Maybe that’s why people seem to stop listening to new music when they get into their 30s.
But it still feels to me like, up until recent history, new bands were pushing the envelope, however slightly, adding their own flourishes in this direction or that direction. I’m not seeing a whole lot of development in the genre now, which is distressing.
3. If we assume that it’s a negative development, what can we do about it?
I honestly have no idea! Which I know isn’t helpful.
So let’s make the comments section an open thread. Is metal in dire need of a new trend? Is the lack of new trends a good thing or a bad thing or just a thing? What, if anything, can and should be done about it? I’m curious to hear what people think. Sound off!
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