The Rise of Extreme Metal in 06

The Rise of Extreme Metal in 06

Recent media coverage of the mainstream press on extreme music begs the question: Is extreme heavy metal and loud music in general en vogue in 2006 and if so why?

In late 2005, broadsheet newspapers such as the Guardian ran pieces on extreme bands such as High On Fire and the drone doom of underground experimentalists Sunn0))) giving the former gig of the week and the latter album of the month.

More recently, veteran Norwegian Black metallers Darkthrone debuted at a stunning number 16 in the U.K. charts with their very first single “Too Old, Too Cold” and Swedish melodic death metal act In Flames new platter “Come Clarity” managed to get inside the top 20 in the U.K. Album chart.

This sudden resurgence of metal into mainstream media seems to be coming about much in the same way as acts such as Brummie legends Napalm Death gained exposure from the late John Peel on his influential Radio One show.

Often, however, this ballyhoo is much to do with the work of radio DJs and mainstream press articles as opposed to the mainstream paying any attention to the Rock and Metal press.

Sweden’s In Flames had been plugging away relentlessly for years but have made many promotional videos for their last three records and toured relentlessly. Indeed they will soon be touring the U.K. supported by Brazilian luminaries Sepultura and have been credited with spawning much of the American metal / hardcore scene such as acts like Killswitch Engage who hit pay dirt at the start of the noughties.

It is possible to reason that American acts like the aforementioned Killswitch have paved the way for the Scandinavian maestros’ commercial success.

More curious is the successes of Darkthrone considering that the duo of Nocturno Culto and Fenriz never play live and are notorious for their basic raw sound. While “Too Old, Too Cold” may be the first single from a band that has a sizeable underground fan base, its expletive filled chorus, harsh aggro punk riffs and savage vocals hardly make it Top of The Pops material.

Extreme music has always been about rebellion against manufactured music of which it is the direct antithesis. This makes the fact that extreme music is doing so well compared to the infinitely more trendy Garage rock and Emo movements all the more curious.

However, in the current musical climate most of the so called “Emo” bands seem to become manufactured. Bands with floppy Flock of Seagulls type haircuts, tight t-shirts and jeans, make up and songs about relationships with names of a romantic nature [My Chemical Romance and Matchbook Romance to name two obvious examples] are more obviously marketed towards teenage girls.

Record companies are all too happy to sign them and exploit the market no matter how paper-thin the bands musical credentials. This [as is always the case with any scene once the cream of the crop have been found and exploited] will eventually start to die down but this music is currently enjoying its time in the spotlight.

It is, however reasonable to hypothesize that bands such as In Flames and Darkthrone are seen as the antidote to this over-commercialised corporate rock and in appearing so become even more appealing to teenage rebellion.
After all, Norwegian Black Metal [of which Darkthrone come from the first “true” wave] due to the dubious political ideas of some of its artists and association with Satanism is pretty much the ultimate in extreme music in terms of how far some of its followers have gone to stay “true” to the cause.

Yet even this underground genre has its poster boys, bands such as Dimmu Borgir who took the necro corpse painted image of their predecessors and added more beautiful sounds to their sonic palette such as keyboards and more recently a full orchestra on their albums as well as operatic vocals to off set the diabolical screams, frantic double bass drumming and razor sharp guitar work.

Darthrone and Sunn0))) in particular have found success on small labels [Peaceville and Idealogic respectively] with not much to sell their product apart from a fearsome reputation as sonic terrorists and a few reviews in the mainstream press that occasionally pick up on them.

Much of Darkthrone’s success can be attributed to the fact that black metal has been much mentioned in the press, following the trial of Varg Vikernes and the likes of U.K. act Cradle of Filth [who themselves have come to mainstream attention more through their infamous t-shirt slogans such as “Jesus is a cunt” which managed to get one young male fan sent to court on a charge of public indecency referencing the band as an influence.

It is also typical behaviour of a fan of extreme music to decide, once an artist gains a certain amount of popularity, that they no longer seem as rebellious and attractive to support.

Darkthrone has become increasingly popular with fans of mainstream acts like Slipknot and Linkin Park and Cradle who find that these bands no longer hold the appeal they once had. Some of their former fans therefore decide to seek out “Harder and more dangerous” music.

It is also possible by the same token that while many of these casual listeners will move onto other bands many will continue to search within the scene to find similar music until they exhaust themselves trying to find it.

Controversial headlines, no matter what the nature, are a proven way to boost any artists’ record sales and a strong image and mystique can aid any artist from Slipknot’s boiler suits to the sharp suited indie act The Killers.
If a record company can find an act with a gimmick either in the artists appearance or background that sets that artist apart from the herd then they have got it made.

However there is a limit to the extent that extreme bands can be successfully marketed for mass consumption. For example, Sony have signed several extreme bands e.g. Carcass, Sleep. Although Sony may have thought that they had cornered a speciality niche, this has proved to be unsuccessful. They even failed with Cradle of Filth which is considerably less extreme than previously.

There seems to be no one answer to why extreme music is enjoying so much prominent publicity in the mainstream press. Perhaps signing these acts or writing about them in their publications makes a record label or magazine seem more “cool” to its potentially lucrative customers. Could it be that metal and other similar music is occupying the place in young peoples’ formative years that was formerly filled by stadium rock acts of yester year? (They are still around but so much older and hardly role models for those in their teens and twenties e.g. The Rolling Stones). Whatever the underlying truth is, extreme music and establishment publications and multinational record companies make uncomfortable bedfellows.

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