Adam Zientarski’s opinion does not represent the opinion of the TPE Post or TPE foundation.
Music is all around us whether we realize it or not. From the seductive and sassy beats of the pop sensations Lady Gaga and Britney Spears to the dark riffs of metal bands like Memphis May Fire and Woe, Is Me, there are many different genres of music that influence us on a daily basis. Music can be found on street corners blasting through radios, in movies, video games, and commercials, on web sites, and even while riding in the elevator. The hand tapping the bored guy sitting in the business meeting does is considered music. Musicians are feverishly followed by the media and their fans, and are role models to youth and adults alike. The lyrics in any given song can convey a wide variety of themes such as racism, sexism, adultery, and drug abuse. The top forty charts in America are dominated by the pop and rap artists, but a new era of metal called post-hardcore is starting to gain mainstream exposure. As metal gains greater exposure to the younger audience, the sound of the genre is not only changing but the genre is slowly also becoming a less successful genre to promote tolerance of different races and sexual orientations because of the transition of values, the absence of positive role models, and growing parallelism to pop and rap music.
The atmosphere and sound of traditional metal of the 1980’s and 1990’s can best be described as dark, mysterious and “heavy.” To achieve this sound, artists play relatively simple chords on distorted guitars and employ bass drops that shake the ground near the stage or speaker of where the song is playing. Most metal bands do not sing but opt for low growls or “screams.” The scream is meant to express hate or anger and it can also be combined with traditional singing to create emotional variance in a song. It intimidates many listeners and deters many people away from the genre of music, but it also gets the adrenaline rushing in others. The new era of metal called “post-hardcore,” introduced songs that feature auto-tuned vocalists. Auto-tune is a computer program that automatically corrects the tone of a singer’s voice. Post-hardcore also adds pre-programmed beats and electronic sounds. In many cases, the beats and electronic sounds are more prominent than the trademark guitar riffs and thunderous drum beats. The resulting sound is a half-pop, half-metal mixture that makes the genre appealing to a greater group of people. The similarities are so great that a new line of CD’s was created titled, Pop Goes Punk where post-hardcore bands cover top forty hits by pop and rap artists.
As the sound of the metal genre changes to be more like top forty artists, so has the ideology. Metal music is increasingly straying away from the foundation that punk music laid in the 1970′s. While today’s metal genre has kept the tradition of shouted and “screamed” lyrics that punk and the early bands of metal adopted, it has, unfortunately, not kept its values. Much of the punk music in the 70′s and 80′s focused on social issues such as corruption in government and the harmful effects of drug abuse. The band Minor Threat coined a new lifestyle of living, called “Straight Edge” with their song Straight Edge. The lyrics, “I’m a person just like you / But I’ve got better things to do / Than sit around and smoke dope / ‘Cause I know I can cope / Laugh at the thought of eating ludes / Laugh at the thought of sniffing glue / Always gonna keep in touch / Never want to use a crutch.” The straight-forward lyrics to the song denounce the use of drugs and violence and promote clean living for the mind and body. Minor Threat also released a song titled Guilty of Being White where the lead singer talks of the bullying that he experienced because of being white in a predominantly black school. The band is hailed by many in the music industry as, “iconic for American hardcore, not to mention for the D.C. scene, for years to come, as well as any number of bands who conflated personal and social politics” (Raggett).
Camaraderie and tolerance are the main themes of early metal. In the metal scene, bands are always promoted before the individual. One of the only times that individuals in the metal scene are discussed is when they dismiss themselves from a band. Recently, there have been many line-up changes in the metal scene. Tyler Carter, the lead singer from Woe, Is Me, left the band to start his own solo project in the pop genre instead of the metal genre. In his official statement, Carter said, “I will be blunt so you all know the truth, directly from me myself, I’m not happy in this industry and I’m more positive of a person than I have been able to display on recent tours due to drama within the band” (Alternative Press). Austin Carlile from Of Mice and Men has jumped around to multiple bands and has allegedly stolen a large amount of money from one of his former bands Attack! Attack!. Johny Craig from Dance Gavin Dance scammed his fans out of money over the internet and has been admitted to rehab and facing possession of narcotics charges. Scandals are becoming normality in the post-hardcore genre of music and are counterproductive to the values of camaraderie and the bond between the fans and band that the genre was built on.
Now, the lyrical content of the metal scene is about drama within bands and personal conflicts of band members with groupies. The typical song will either contain witty insults directed at a former band member who left the band or they will brutally degrade women. Binge drinking on expensive alcohol, drug use, and partying are also very common topics. The band Attila has found success by branding themselves as a sub-genre of metal called “party-core” that glorifies the crazy and dangerous practices that occur at parties. Attila’s most recognizable song is titled Rage, a slang word for partying hard. While the music video for this song only has about half a million views on Youtube, the band frequently plays in front of crowds over a few thousand. The explicit lyrics to Rage could not be any more blatant: “Grab a cigarillo and a 40 and a Bic light / Lemme get a Newport, now it’s on!” Many of Attila’s songs also reference unprotected sex and use of hard narcotics such as cocaine. Bands like Attila and many others are increasingly promoting the use of alcohol and hard drugs. The subject value of metal songs flipped because the rock star lifestyle is appealing to the younger generation of metal fans.
The song We’re Not Gonna Take It by Twisted Sister is a classic metal song about fighting for the protection of rights. The song was wildly popular in the 1980’s, skyrocketing Twisted Sister into the spotlight, and can still be heard in sporting arenas all over the world. While the lyrics are very straightforward, We’re Not Gonna Take It proves that a metal song with sociopolitical relevance can still be popular and recognizable over decades and changes in trends. The most impressive part of We’re Not Gonna Take It, is that Twisted Sister front man Dee Snider stands behind the messages that broadcasts. In 1985, the Parents Music Resource Center proposed a system to place stickers warning parents of the subject matter of musical releases. Dee Snider, along with other members of the band, testified in front of the Senate to prevent the implementation of the system. Snyder was partially successful, preventing music from being censored and labeled with specific stickers based on drug references, language, and sexual content. Snyder continues to advocate for the protection of rights even though his musical career is almost over. In 2005, a school in Pennsylvania tried to prevent rock bands from playing in the show because they feared that students would “pit,” a form of dancing where dancers swing their arms and slam into each other that is common at metal shows (Pedroncelli). The new era of metal lacks figures like Dee Snider that stand for the values that they preach. The messages of brotherhood and freedom become ineffective without positive role-model.
The phenomenon taking place in the metal genre is not all that different than values prevalent in mainstream music. Mainstream music focuses on the promotion of the individual and the creation of stars. Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Lil Wayne, Kanye West, and many others have evolved into icons of the 21st century. The engineers and producers that create their music are behind-the-scenes figures and are often the reason for the individual’s success. Most often, the team members behind the production of the album, lyric writing, and composition are never recognized. The labels and producers of rap and pop are criticized for taking measures to produce the largest profits, often forcing artists to sing songs that go against their personal beliefs, but appeal to their listeners. Lyrical content of many songs in the rap and pop realm relate to drug use, sex, the objectification of women, and violence. The new generation of metal music focuses on these topics as well, slowly becoming an antithesis of what metal used to value.
Metal music lost its effectiveness to convey sociopolitical messages because they have opted to promote materialism, partying, and drug use. Granted, every song that is ever recorded does not need to be about racial/sexual discrimination, world hunger, war, or another social problem, but it is apparent that these topics have taken a back seat to what the younger generation views as popular. The large amounts of songs about partying that get produced every year are becoming cliché. Metal is selling-out under a veil of hypocrisy to increase the following of the genre with the hopes of increasing profits. But everyone wants to be the popular life of the party that always gets the girls. The record labels and producers are simply feeding that desire to compete with other more mainstream forms of music.
Attila. “Rage.” October 8, 2010. Online Video Clip. Youtube. Accessed on November 25, 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9MYSzfjRtI&ob=av2e>
Attila. “Rage.” Rage. Artery Recordings, Sacramento, 2010. CD.
“Exclusive: Tyler Carter leaves Woe, Is Me.” Alternative Press. Alternative Press, 10 Aug. 2011. Web. 19 Nov. 2011. <http://www.altpress.com/news/entry/exclusive_tyler_carter_leaves_woe_is_me>.
Minor Threat. “Straight Edge.” Minor Threat. Dischord Records, Washington D.C., 1981. CD.
Pedroncelli, Rich. Dee Snider: ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’. The Associated Press , 8 Mar. 2005.
Web. 16 Dec. 2011. <http://www.usatoday.com/life/people/2005-03-08-dee-snider_x.htm>.
Raggett, Nedd. Out of Step – Minor Threat. Rovi Corporation, n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2011.