If a band can't meet a metal audience's expectations, there will be another band in no time that is all too willing to do it instead. A successful metal band knows that they have to keep the spigot constantly flowing, conjuring forth brutal breakdown after wailing solo after chest-stopping drum fill after blood-curdling scream. On the one hand, it's all about quality control, with each band perfecting their sound through diligent persistence: metal bands have a work ethic that is miles beyond most indie bands or bedroom electro artists, tightening and refining their material in front of audience after audience until it is perfect. On the other hand, that perfection comes at the cost of any real innovation, in the sense that metal bands may come in a thousand million flavors, but at the end of the day, they are increasingly confining themselves within cattle pens of micro-genre conventions. Forget about "Big Four": nowadays, it's more like a Little Forty Million.


THROUGH THE NEVER

This proliferation of new product is all happening while the old guard of metal is rapidly aging. Metal giants have never been given the luxury of retirement, which is why a nearly 70-year-old man like Ronnie James Dio kept touring and writing and recording right up to his death last year — we can all assume that every other Dio contemporary, from Lemmy to Ozzy to Alice to Halford, will follow the same career path. And all those legendary figures just keep seeming older and older: with the untimely death of Type O Negative frontman Pete Steele last year, it began to dawn on old-timers that even '90s metal is getting up there in years.

Still, metal does have a knack of frustrating the hopes of those who would wish it vanquished. Perhaps its resiliency has something to do with the fact that metal has never been especially hip, even during its most "relevant" periods. Metal is often pop's less fun cousin, there to harsh everyone's mellow while they're dancing and having fun to remind them that life sucks and then you die. It also has a built-in primacy that never really goes out of style — which is probably why September's Big Four show will be populated with fans young and old alike.

But as rad as that Yankee Stadium show will no doubt be, most metal fans worth their salt will tell you that the best metal shows of the year won't take place in a stadium or arena at all: they're the smaller gigs at local venues (like Boston's own excellent Born of Fire series at the always-metal-friendly O'Brien's and Great Scott) where touring bands and excitable fans can meet in close proximity and participate in a group face-melt in the traditional manner held so dear by the faithful. Metal as a genre may never reach the commercial heights of decades past, when everyone throttled their own necks to the blastbeats of the same four bands, but maybe that isn't a bad thing — and the eternally multiplying fans can focus their enthusiasm not on individual superstars but on the handed-down traditions and sacred rites of a beloved musical heritage. In which case, Godspeed to the Big Four — and all hail the new plurality.

Follow Daniel Brockman on Twitter @Thebizhaslanded.

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