It’s enough to break the sensitive heart of any modern-rock fan.
Metallica is not only headlining Lollapalooza, the traveling alt-rock fest; “Load,” the speed-metal pioneers’ radio-friendly new album, entered the charts at No. 1 and is getting extensive airplay on modern rock stations nationwide.
Pantera saw their latest, “The Great Southern Trendkill,” debut at No. 4. “Far Beyond Driven,” the Dallas headbangers’ 1994 album, topped out at No. 1.
Other metallers, from Anthrax and White Zombie, to old hands Kiss and Def Leppard, are blazing the concert trail this summer.
What gives? Is heavy metal, headed down a spandexed spiral since the 1980s, now gaining ground?
“Right now, it’s probably at its least popular stage,” Pantera drummer Vinnie Paul said recently, “because the bands that were metal don’t want to claim that moniker.
“People still think of heavy metal as the early ‘80s - leather and spikes, big hair, dungeons and dragons and all that stuff. But it’s not like that anymore. It’s got a street vibe, a true feeling, to it. It’s not about partying and bopping chicks like it was back then.
“If you look at a lot of these bands that call themselves alternative, they sound exactly like Black Sabbath. And last time I checked, Black Sabbath were the creators of heavy metal.”
Paul hits it right on the head: The once well-defined boundaries between alternative and heavy metal - alternative and many genres, really - have blurred.
Metal has never really gone away, it’s just changed its stripes. In the ‘60s and ‘70s, groups like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, fueled by testosterone and grounded in gargantuan guitars, pounded their way into the hearts of teenage males.
While the over-coiffed Whitesnakes, White Lions and Great Whites are history, Metallica, Pantera and Anthrax, thrash-metallers who grafted punk’s chaotic crankiness with metal’s high decibels, have decelerated their tempos, becoming more melody- and lyric-driven. They’ve even shorn their tresses.
Now, those bands easily meld with grungerockers Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains (and imitators Bush and Stone Temple Pilots), alterna-radio staples who borrow reverently from the Zep-Sabbath bag o’ tricks.
And metal has continued to evolve in a dizzying array of hybridizations, the ‘80s glam-metal of Motley Crue giving way to the gritty street-metal of Guns ‘N’ Roses, the funk-metal of Fishbone, the rap-metal of the Beastie Boys and the industrial-metal of Ministry, Nine Inch Nails and White Zombie.
“‘Heavy metal’ isn’t cool any more so now it’s called ‘hard rock’ or ‘aggressive rock,’ that’s the term they’re using in the industry now,” said Lonn Friend, former editor of the metalhead mag Rip and now an A&R; rep at Arista Records in Los Angeles.
“What’s enduring is that it seems to be the only genre left where there’s real musicianship still vital in the performance, where the artists can play their guitars and their drums as opposed to just banging out four chords and coming up with an alternative song.”
The metal groups that have survived - Metallica and Aerosmith for instance - have done so by redefining themselves, said Friend, a regular on MTV’s now-defunct “Headbangers Ball.”
“What was not fashionable about the metal or hard rock scene (of the ‘80s) was its lack of lyrical integrity,” he said. “The party song lost its importance in lieu of the introspective teenage-angst anthems of the grunge years.”
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.