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The Weird Global Appeal of Heavy Metal (wsj.com)
81 points by nkurz on Feb 23, 2016 | hide | past | favorite | 94 comments

What a strange article. It obviously has appeal because it's amazing and it's far from weird because the metal scene has always been very international. "I like Metal" is also similar to saying "I work in AI". There's tons of sub genres. I enjoy the more "melodic" stuff (Savatage, best band of all times).

What I thought was interesting: back in roughly 2000 the word "Metal" had a different vibe to it in the U.S. compared to Europe. I think the popular use of the term in the U.S. tended to include stuff I'd call Rock. My guess would be that the common mainstream answer to "name a metal band" would probably have been something like Iron Maiden in Europe and maybe Led Zeppelin in the U.S. +it seems like Black and Death Metal were much more common/represented in the European scene. Once again strange because most of the DM bands I liked at the time (still do of course) are from the U.S. I feel like my view could be highly distorted so I'd love some feedback on this.

I think it's also interesting that some U.S. bands are superstars in the European Metal scene or parts of it but seem to be fairly unrecognized in the U.S. (Savatage, Iced Earth).

South America has a huge Metal scene, too. I think it's mostly similar to the European one. Don't know much about Asia other than the fact that some German bands are really popular in Japan (Blind Guardian etc.)

Savatage turned into Trans Siberian Orchestra, which does very well in US. Big Savatage fan though, from the 80's.

And funny that so many people enjoy TSO, but turn up their noses at Savatage and related power metal bands. I took my wife to see TSO twice - and the first time was their performance of Beethoven's Last Night, not their typical Christmas stuff - and she enjoyed it both times. But if I put on Poets and Madmen or Wake of Magellan, she yells at me to turn off that noise.

Yeah, funny. TSO can sell out a 10k seat venue, but Savatage, who's that? Some of the early TSO stuff is right off Dead Winter Dead and Hall of The Mountain King. After buying a couple of Avantasia albums, I like them more than TSO, but not original Savatage.

Japan has weird taste in metal. My friend Jake in Aether Realm has a picture of a Japanese chart that had their album at the #1 spot for a week. And they are a small NC band.

Japan has weird taste in punk too. The Fat Wreck band Hi-Standard plays one show a year, in Japan, where they sell out a baseball stadium. It's so popular that from what I understand, there's a lottery for the tickets.

I take issue with the headline - how can something with global appeal be considered "weird"?

It has a level of appeal globally, but not enough to be mainstream most places.

E.g. the top Norwegian death metal bands are amongst the most successful Norwegian musicians ever, yet they don't sell much at home. Yet they do extremely well by Norwegian standards because they sell ok all over the world.

I presume you're referring to Norwegian black metal. Norway doesn't have a lot of DM, in fact the only band that comes to mind is Vomit from the 80s.

Darkthrone's Soulside Journey is great Norwegian death metal, not that they obviously stuck to that for very long.

We are definitely more known for our "true norwegian" black metal, but we got some other stuff too...



Quite possible - I don't listen to any of it, just going by memory of mass media articles.

Wasn't even aware of them. My favourite is probably Chton, though their work after Chtonian Lifecode has been spotty at best.

Speaking of Norwegian DM from 90s I think Cadaver and Fester are quite great.

It's mostly a male, working class dominated genre in terms of audience, so it's ignored and ridiculed for not being glamorous enough to fit mainstream media's mindset.

That's a good thing because they would slowly change it if they got their hands on it. Sony buying Century was disappointing but there's alternative labels. Metal should stay underground to protect itself from the people who see it as 'weird'.

The mainstream do try do do metal, but its ends up crap, like Nickelback.

I've never heard someone try to say Nickelback is metal as a serious argument. I have heard arguments for Evanescence. I usually toss Nightwish their way instead.

I was wondering the same. Does "weird" in this instance mean that the phenomenon does not begin from marketing departments of large IP owners?

It's weird if all you know is pre-packaged mass-consumption pop music

It's literally like they are fulfilling the Portlandia "Weirdo's" sketch: http://www.hulu.com/watch/758287

That headline is saying it's the global appeal that's weird - not the 'something'.

As someone in the West who often despairs that popular music has moved to auto-tuning vocals, corporate pop and everything else, this article brings a smile to my face.

Great genre, great to hear it has spread so far despite the perception of it being a genre on its way out perhaps these days in certain countries.

Was there a time when popular music wasn't mostly bad? Before the discovery of auto-tune, they must have done lots of manual-tune involving lots and lots of studio takes and other magic.

The 1990s had moments of unexpectedly good, non-traditional music that brushed the mainstream, with stuff like the more "eclectic" grunge bands (Soundgarden, STP, Alice in Chains), metal (Tool), Industrial Rock and Industrial Metal (NIN.)

>Was there a time when popular music wasn't mostly bad?

The 1960s? The Beatles for example were extremely popular.

As were the Monkees and the Archees.

> [Lefutray]’s guitarist, Cristian Olivares, 32, says: “Metal is huge here in Chile, and I think that is because of our history—full of violent acts of repression and injustice.”

It really is big in Chile. After spending a year here, in Santiago and Concepcion, rarely a day goes by without seeing Slayer and/or Iron Maiden T-shirts on someone walking by me on the sidewalk. I've seen 6 year old children with metal shirts.

As a Chilean, I can confirm. I played in 4 metal bands while being between 15 and 26. And enciclopedia metallum is crazy, even I am there! (And we were pretty underground)

Today I still play my instrument (piano) and enjoy metal, jazz (which is also big in chile) and classical music mostly :)

A coworker once told me that when he visited he heard about an Iron Maiden cover band called Ron Maiden.

Anyone who liked this should definitely check out the below documentary


Or more specific to this article, the documentary Global Metal:


Why is it weird?

I mean is pop, rock, hiphop, dance or even dubstep any less global?

Is it weird because heavy metal still has the "satanist' label attached to it in jurnalist minds?

Hell, I'm 44 and wear my Iron Maiden and Dream Theater tour shirts to my EE job (RF/Microwave circuit design).

Death to all but metal!


That description matches dozens of persons I know ;)

And in my experience, a Sepultura tshirt did wonders for not getting picked for jury service.

From personal experience I observe that metal has become more present in society than it was some years back.

One of the personal experiences is that only about 10 years ago, it was difficult to find metal music online, even on mainstream services. Today, I have an Apple Music subscription with tons and tons of metal music in it, with curated playlists and really good recommendations based on my listening habits. I wouldn't imagine this would ever happen.

Another anecdote is the ever increasing acceptance of headbangers as regular folks. Yes, with a peculiar musical taste and an unusual lifestyle, but nothing really suprising anymore.

And as for metal itself, I really love how people from all over the world have found in this music style something meaningful and special to them. You can go all around the world, meet fellow metalheads and see their eyes glow and their hearts accelerate as they talk about their favorite bands and the live shows they have seen. It's one of the truly friendliest "communities" I have ever found, way ahead and more welcoming than the tech community.

This one weird trick to make any link clickbait.

2016 - Editors of Wall Street Journal discover heavy metal

Funny that Sweden ain't mentioned there with atleast bands like At the Gates, In Flames and Dark Tranquillity (I saw some mention of Opeth)...

In Flames post Come Clarity is no longer Metal. I hurt to.

Wondering whether In Flames was named after that Kruiz song from the 80s?

Entombed was my favourite Swedish band - esp the Clandestine album.

It is mentioned.

Searching for 'sweden' on the page gives me one hit, which is the context of old bands like Opeth. What am I missing?

Ten+ years ago, I used to weird out people by telling them about my favourite technical death band Meshuggah ("It is like modern jazz or something, really complex and interesting. Just faster...")

Today, it seems that half the kids under 25 know more about Meshuggah than I do. :-)

As a fellow Swede, this is a bit funny:


What I don't get is why Finland don't have more famous metal bands? If you check a jukebox in Sweden, typically at least half is factory made pop music made to sell for money. In Finland, half is good hard rock and metal.

(Edit: For a good take on metal, search for the interviews with the Darkthrone drummer on Youtube. See both the old and new ones. It gives a strange feeling how he dismisses everything I like... :-) )

I think that might be because Meshuggah are the most obvious and direct influence on a lot of the newer "Djent" bands like Periphery and Tesseract that are popular with younger fans.

What's interesting to me about those bands is that they took some of the elements of Meshuggah's sound - the complex time and extended range instruments - but usually end up with something that's not as heavy or extreme, often having very melodic sections and lots of clean singing.

For a long time it seemed the direction was a bit one way - bands tending to get more extreme - and while that's still the case it's maybe going the other way at the same time.

Yes there has definitely been a lot of experimentation in the last decade with blending very technical death metal (following Meshuggah's lead) with elements of jazz and melodic elements from prog rock and metal.

Gojira, for example has been carrying the Meshuggah sound forward while Between the Buried and Me, who was born from very technical and chaotic metal, almost devoid of groove, to extremely proggy and theatrical like Dream Theater.

Mastodon moved closer to rock from technical death metal and Opeth once a paragon of death metal, doesn't even use death vocals any more.

For me at least it has been very interesting to see the exchange of ideas.

But OK, let's talk weird...

IMHO, you can't be more metal than to play black metal in a country where you would be killed if identified... :-)


Here is an article about another band in Saudi A: http://www.vice.com/read/anti-religious-black-metal-band-in-...

(And no, I'm not metal. I just like the music.)

The "globalisation" of metal happened a long time ago, it's definitely not attributable to the world wide web or the Internet by any means, the explosive growth perhaps, but not the initial seed in a lot of countries.

Why weird? A music with the technical demands of classical music, channeling the angst and rebellion into unity. A music with power - the brotherhood adversarial nature of the mosh is something to be experienced - everybody is doing their best to crush all of your bones, except when you stumble or fall - then literally 20 hands will pick your up and throw you away to safety. A music that is good for training, fragging people in Quake, sex or invading neighboring country. A music with infinite variability and versatility. Why is weird that it transcends borders, cultures and generations?

it's weird to generic shallow pop-infested mind... why is this lad sticking out of the conformity crowd? he must be weird, right?

(btw that sex part works only if both have same attitude :))

They dared to mention Baby Metal, which has like nothing to do with real metal.

Poe's Law applies to metal.

Is Turbonegro metal?

> Is Turbonegro metal?


Well, but they call their genre "black metal".

Is punk metal satire?

What about grunge?

And then there's Kiss ;)

Ah, I miss grunge with a fiery passion.

This thread reminds me of the underrated film Airheads, when the band is asked what kind of music they play - the three members all start saying different things ("kinda this, but not really") but end up converging on "power slop".

Airheads is a guilty pleasure film for me. It's a pretty dumb film, but I like it anyway, and I think it's aged pretty well over the years.

> Well, but they call their genre "black metal".

As far as I know they call it deathpunk, and their discography tends to be classified as punk.

I think that they've called it both, and many other things too. But then, I don't speak the language.

My broader point is that there's a lot of metal parody in punk. And a lot of metal is arguably metal parody.

There are so many derivatives that are accepted. I don't see why not this one. I would understand if it were watered down or something. Could you elaborate?

Heard them right now - they catch a person by a surprise. But what is real metal anyway - are HIM counted as real?

And so the "it's not real metal" arguing begins...

Well in Japan the whole pop music scene is a farce - putting idols together just to grab the massive otaku market, and trying to make music in different genres (electro, hip hop, and now metal) just to differentiate because the girls are all underaged and unable to sing anyway.

Regardless of how vapid Japanese pop music is, I had the "metal-not-metal" argument enough times when I was a teenager to know that it's nothing more than an easy way to waste 30 minutes.

When did Metallica stop being metal? Was it "Metallica", "Load", or St. Anger? Were they ever metal? Does anyone over the age of 16 care? (the answer is yes).

I guess it goes from both ends. From what I understand, Marty Friedman (of Megadeth and Cacophony fame; there are few metal guitarists better than him) is now playing J-Pop, not even pretending to be metal.

For anyone into metal looking for a way to discover new stuff they haven't heard before, I recently discovered that there's a pretty great selection available on Bandcamp if you're willing to sift through the various metal-related tags and/or find some good users to follow. There's a lot of stuff on there that easily rivals mainstream "big label" metal. All the music there is available as DRM-free mp3/ogg/lossless often with a name-your-own-price tag.

This tells everything there is to know about the popular appeal of heavy metal in Finland: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXhhlYdySqQ


Honestly can't believe this coexists with Demilich, Ride for Revenge, and Convulse.

Here's a related chart from a couple of years ago: https://flowingdata.com/2012/04/09/metal-bands-per-capita/ (Enlarged: http://i.imgur.com/P5Yfz.png)

I'm not much of a metal fan, but I'm just glad the Internet has kept a genre of music alive and thriving. Oddly enough, surf rock has a bit of a global following. Nothing compared to metal but I was surprised when I bumped into a surf rock band from Brazil of all places on Jamendo. I think the Internet definitely has opened more genres to people than radio and record companies ever did.

Ah, the rebirth of heavy metal. It reminds me of that old Marx's quote:

"History repeats itself - first as tragedy, then as farce"

edit for the downvoters: I've listened to a lot of heavy metal in my teens. It kind of had sense at the time (late eighties, early nineties) - heavy metal had evolved naturally from other genres, and probably it's a type of music that appeals to a certain kind of person in a certain environment and age range (and that would explain its persistence). Nonetheless, it's a pretty ridiculous and backwards musical genre, extremely rigid and codified and, in my view, hardly evolving at all. The sight of the idols of my youth, now well aged but still dressed like satanists, monks or ancient warriors, and still singing the same stuff after decades, is a sorry one.

Now you can downvote me more :)

Did it ever occur to you that you certainly wasn't interested at all in that music?

I know some people who where only interested in metal because it made them more rebellious. Their interests quickly fade always as they grew up and now they are the first to tell everybody how it's a music for teen. I remark that your souvenir is about your idols and how they acted/are dressed and not that much about the music.

But some people are genuinely interested in metal and if you happen to be a bit curious, it's easy to see that it's not more rigid, codified or stalled that any other genre.

There are two comments, yours and another one, that suggest that I might not ever been a "true listener" of heavy metal. That's the "no true scotsman" fallacy. Why can't someone who sincerely enjoyed a genre of music in his teens outgrow it? No, better, outgrow the whole idea of genres.

Heavy metal is (you have to admit that) a pretty rigidly codified type of music. It requires a certain set of instruments, with few variations (I still remember debates in the eighties on whether keyboards were kosher). It mostly deals with a fixed set of themes. It sounds in a very recognizable way, so it's rather easy to classify songs that fall into it. Performers dress in a codified way, also easily recognizable. (To all these points there are obviously a few exceptions here and there, as always.)

As for the richness of subgenres: it seems to me that these subgenres are just the partitioning of a fixed space of immutable size. The urge to classify them is another proof of the fact that the rules of the genre are so rigidly codified that the slightest deviation or emphasis on an element requires (or allows) a new classification bucket.

Heavy metal is (you have to admit that) a pretty rigidly codified type of music. It requires a certain set of instruments, with few variations

Nothing could be further from the truth. For example, the OP itself talked about "folk metal", a sub-genre that uses traditional themes, musical styles, and instruments.

It sounds in a very recognizable way, so it's rather easy to classify songs that fall into it.

Again, you've missed out (and even claimed that it never happened) a HUGE amount of evolution. Metal fans love to bicker and debate, and you'll see, for example, discussions over whether the evolved Opeth, that eschews their older death metal trappings, still counts as metal at all. In the proggy sub-genres that I enjoy, there's ample debate over whether a particular band or song is prog metal or "just" prog rock.

In its infancy, much of metal was dismissed as being stupid, three-chord performances. It's evolved so that today, it's undoubtedly the most technically demanding genre within the entire poo & rock oeuvre. Bands like Meshuggah, or the whole math-metal sub-genre, are performing music so technically demanding that no high school garage band is going to get near it.

In its expansion into these prog, technical, death, extreme, folk, etc directions, there is no doubt that the variety of expression covered by metal today is many orders of magnitude greater than in its younger days.

For example, the OP itself talked about "folk metal", a sub-genre that uses traditional themes, musical styles, and instruments

Folk metal is actually well inside the tradition of heavy metal, that spans from the black/ gothic to the epic and fantasy themes. By the way there's even a more extreme musical genre called "folk": where people from different regions of the world perform actual folk songs strongly connected with their real traditions. Can you imagine, you can actually listen to folk music outside of the rules of heavy metal? That's extreme.

Metal fans love to bicker and debate ... over whether ... still counts as metal at all.

Exactly. A little bit of evolution or variation and people start debating whether you're still in the group or out. That's silly.

And oh yes, I've listened to my share of Yngwie Malmsteen and Cacophony. Heavy metal fans are certainly very proud of the raw technical skill (which is, in fact, just speed) of their players. But it's a sort of pissing contest, who can play the riff or the solo faster is not a good meter of one's musical talent or skill.

which is, in fact, just speed

Sure, if you're talking about just Malmsteen or Cacophony. But again, you really have missed the evolution. Things have moved well beyond that in the 21st century. For just one example, the band Meshuggah that I mentioned requires the performer to shift fluidly between bizarre odd time signatures. It's debatable how much this improves the musicality, but it's an advanced skill that requires a ton of experience; some small amount of this was visible in the era you're referring to, but the evolution has been, well, extreme.

Listen, I can understand that for a serious chess player, the style of chess has evolved enormously during the 20th century. That doesn't make it less of a strictly codified game. Anyway, it's a matter of tastes..

One last observation. I remember that in the early nineties, a single chord from Nirvana - I was hearing them for the first time- was enough to make me say "this is not heavy metal" (I was actually pretty disgusted by that sound at the time :)). How is it that after more than twenty years (during which I haven't listened to new metal bands), 3 seconds of Meshuggah are enough for my brain to categorize them with absolute certainty as heavy metal?

> Heavy metal is (you have to admit that) a pretty rigidly codified type of music.

No we don't have to admit that.

I'm curious what you've listened to that makes you think it hasn't evolved since those times. Bathory, Cradle Of Filth, Napalm Death, Belphegor, Skeletonwitch, Dream Theatre, Watain, Kalmah, Exodus, Daylight Dies? Because there's a lot of new stuff that broke out cleanly into sub-genres (Insomnium, In Flames, Amon Amarth, Septicflesh, Avantasia, Blind Guardian, Eluveite, Sleep, Abagail Williams, Alestorm etc) and now there's quite a few bands that blur those lines as a form of counter-culture (Deafhaven, Fallujah, Meshuggah, Atoma).

I would if I could, and i think we both understand why. what you describe as yourself is "fashion metal listener" to me, unfortunately probably most popular type, especially in late '90s/early '00s.

what many of us are is deeper - in hard rock & heavy metal I found something that works with me, makes me happy etc. The genre itself is slowly evolving, but this is not something I care for - I listen it for same reasons as before, and expect same effect as before... which is delivered, 110%.

if I pick 1 out of gazillions of bands - Iron Maiden - take their album from 80s, take any recent and compare. Technical quality aside (which went from stone age to 21st century) - some say not as good as before, some say better, for me - same quality, delivered in a bit different way.

Hmm. I wouldn't say it's backwards. It's nothing more than another art form (sounds so cliche, but true nonetheless). If it is backwards, what is considered the defacto standard? The same could be said for Jazz, Pop, Classical when compared to others. I happen to love metal (older 80s to 90s), but listen to anything newer that gets me through a good workout in the garage ;) Maximum the Hormone has interesting sounds, but I could care less about having the t-shirt or taking the lyrics seriously. I love listening to and playing classical guitar, and for me at least metal is not something that you necessarily grow out of.

P.S. no downvote from me because not everyone can or should be expected to love every form of music

Can you explain the non evolving part? We have so many new subgenres and bands with excellent technical capabilities?

This is quite a surprising view. "Not evolving" bit especially. As a factual example of evolution in the non-satanist non-warrior sense Nightwish's latest album 'Endless forms most beautiful' "was primarily inspired by the work of naturalist Charles Darwin". [1]

Pun intended :)

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endless_Forms_Most_Beautiful_(...

"...hardly evolving at all"

Have you heard Between the Buried and Me, Animals as Leaders, Meshuggah, Intronaut or Haken?

Yeah - Animals as Leaders sprung to mind, as well as Tesseract. I think someone has mistaken their ignorance for a lack of material.

> still singing the same stuff after decades, is a sorry one.

I imagine you consider classical music backwards, then, and look down upon it. It's stayed the same for centuries...

> It's stayed the same for centuries...

that's _seriously_ wrong.

i agree that lots of music is ridiculous and backwards, extremely rigid and codified, hardly evolving at all. have you heard any blues lately? :)

but seriously, the impression you describe is of your own making. metal is much wider musically and lyrically than the narrow subsection you used to listen to as a kid.

try UneXpect: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVwl3kZwRX0

There are plenty of new genres since then, power metal, space metal, pirate metal...

I think the appeal of metal is obvious: people everywhere are angry at authority figures. It's music that expresses that anger.

A bit offtopic link. Or shoud we all start posting Cats and Food on NH? This site takes it all :)

How is it off-topic?

Anything people might find interesting is welcome on HN as far as I understand it.

Keep in mind that the Internet was primarily created to share pictures and videos of our feline overlords. Everything else is just a sideshow.

If it has an intellectually interesting component to it, sure.

Cool my karma droped from 21 to 19 with this Comment :)

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