Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Two of the Worst Conventions of Non-Metalheads Writing About Metal

(1) Referring to any metal that wouldn't get played on an Active Rock station as either "death metal" or "speed metal."

Death metal is a pretty clearly defined subset of metal, but is more useful to the mainstream as an archetype of how ridiculous metal can be. This is helped by its memorably brazen name, and somewhat feeds into the whole metal will kill your teenage children idea. The fact that most of these people don't know about black metal or Varg Vikernes makes this slightly bizarre.

Speed metal is sort of like the word berry: what people think it means and what it actually means are almost completely unrelated. It's also sort of the opposite of berry. Berries are actually a much larger set of things that people are unaware of (which mostly exclude what we commonly call "berries"). Conversely, speed metal, inasmuch as it refers to anything specific at all, is a very narrow grouping of 80s bands like Annihilator and the first couple Helloween recordings. It's basically thrash without any punk elements. But it gets used to refer to just about anything.

(Notably, in the example linked above, the metal referred to as "speed" is actually pretty slow and grooved. And actually it's pretty much numetal.)

Recommended fix: Just call it "metal" and you'll probably be right.

(2) Using Metallica as the canonical and universally accepted paramount of quality metal.

Metallica are a thrash band from the 80s. They put out two good albums, then they put out two great albums, then they put out garbage for about a decade and a half, then they put out another pretty good album. Their first great album was essentially an improvement of the style on their first two good albums, and their second great album was a bit more experimental. It was also mis-produced almost into the grave. They are actually remembered best by most people for their first bad album.

Now, I don't expect mainstream pundits to go around talking about how their favorite metal band of all time is Bathory, or how revolutionary the first couple Celtic Frost albums were. But the thing is, there are several other bands that everyone has heard of who are better than Metallica, and even more agreed-upon both within and without the metal community.

Recommended fix: Black Sabbath or Iron Maiden. Show me one person who likes metal and does not like the first six Sabbath albums, and I'll show you a liar.


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