HEAVY MIDDLE: “Sometimes at festivals we feel like the proverbial turd in the punch bowl,” says Baroness’s John Baizley (second from right), “whether it’s because we’re too metal or not metal enough.”
Let’s cut to the chase — metal is back. And not just as a popular musical style, but as a subculture, freely seeping into the mainstream in a variety of strange ways, from the bullet belts you see on a dance floor to the devil horns being thrown by everybody and your uncle’s band. It’s hard to believe that, not long ago, mainstream America girded itself against the Satanic threat of heavy metal, combing record grooves for backward messages and blaming teenage suicide on innocuous Ozzy lyrics. I guess when the world around us starts to look more and more like a mid-’80s Nuclear Assault album cover, it becomes harder for the Man to crush metal — especially when, in 2010, the Man probably grew up with his parents throwing away his Twisted Sister cassettes.
Scott Lee has a sensible explanation: “People are angrier, and they want angrier music!” Besides being a long-time promoter and booker of (mostly) metal shows in Massachusetts, Lee is also co-founder of the annual New England Metal and Hardcore Festival. Now in its 12th year, the fest takes over the Worcester Palladium this Friday and Saturday for two all-day multi-stage shows. And Lee and company have outdone themselves, bringing in enormous-venue fillers like Mastodon, Cannibal Corpse, Baroness, Municipal Waste, and Holy Grail. “Not only are people angry,” he elaborates, “but the marketing of metal has gone through the roof, and it’s just far more accessible now.”
Part of the key to metal’s accessibility of late (aside from the usual talk of technology and social networking and whatnot) is the way the underground has gradually surfaced. Instead of trying to refine their sound for the mainstream, bands are seeing their respective niche styles attracting flocks of diverse new fans. “A band that we might have booked as an opener seven years ago can now headline,” Lee concurs. “When bands like All That Remains and Killswitch Engage get played on the radio, it opens up a bigger picture for other underground bands. Moreover, metal fans are loyal. They get behind a band the way people get behind the Red Sox.”
With the major-label star system rapidly failing, and access to new music easier than ever, getting into metal for a fan means entering a dizzying barrage of bands and sounds, with new strains and trends constantly hitting their stride. Anyone who complains that there’s nothing new or nothing good going on in metal is not paying attention.
Baroness singer/guitarist John Baizley agrees, though he suspects there might also be something more philosophical at work. “Since the turn of the millennium, there’s been a new movement that has been hesitant to have a strict adherence to metal, because that would limit them to that orthodoxy. These are bands from a punk or hardcore background with a greater open-mindedness in terms of music styles.”