For my opening salvo, I suppose I should mention that it has been a long break between blogs. I’ve been meaning to get back to it, but this summer has been a very busy one filled with the musical composition of the new God Forbid album as well as a new project I’ve been working on, in addition to the daily pursuit of living life and getting by. I hope to contribute more frequently in the near future.
If you’ve followed my articles in the past, you may notice that I often address music history, and pertaining to this site, heavy music specifically. I have a great respect for artistic pioneers and the roots of where the most admirable and brilliant music stems from. I was the type of kid who would read liner notes and interviews by my favorite bands to find out who influenced them. I would always want to climb that musical family tree to see where it lead.
In my process of discovery, there was a common thread that jumped out at me that has been consistent through metal and rock history. There seemed to be an intercontinental ping-pong match between the USA and Europe in terms of trailblazing the cutting edge of whatever musical genre was the dominant force of the time. This goes way back before metal existed — and yet, it has helped shape the musical landscape that exists today. The torch keeps being symbolically passed from one shore to the other.
For a quick history lesson (those nerdier and more well read than I can skip this I’m sure), American blues and early rock n’ roll was pioneered in the 1940’s and 1950’s by American blacks such as Robert Johnson, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard, and later segued into white America with the like of Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly, and Jerry Lee Lewis, who, in turn, directly influenced for the most part British groups like The Beatles, Cream, and The Rolling Stones. The American southern, black blues influence was still heavily dominant in the formation of early heavy metal by Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Deep Purple, and still remains a pillar in the heavy metal sound, as evidenced by bands such as Pantera, Lamb of God, Rage Against the Machine, etc.
The period I want to focus on is really the last forty years, or, as I will just call it, “The Modern Heavy Metal Era.” Europe, and the UK in particular, has the historical advantage in that the consensus is that Black Sabbath was the original heavy metal band, and not long after they emerged, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motorhead, etc.) really jump started heavy metal in the mid- to late- 70’s. America was getting it’s metal ass kicked at this point! Directly influenced by the NWOBHM, the empire struck back in early 80’s with the formation of thrash metal. Although the 80’s is known for glam in the mainstream media, and tons of great metal came out of Europe during the decade, the paramount group that was highlighted then and is still standing is the known as the Big Four: Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax. FYI, none of them are from Europe. Check one on the board for America.
The late 80’s and early 90’s were kind of a weird and mainly transitional period, as we all know. We saw the uprising of death metal, grunge, and Pantera, as well as the commercialization of Metallica. This is known as a low period for metal, but America seemed to be in the lead in terms of innovating during this odd period.
While metal was supposedly dead, Europe was awakening the great sleeping beast. In the caverns of the underground, bands like Carcass, Meshuggah, At The Gates, In Flames, and Opeth were reinventing the wheel ,and Norwegian black metal came to true prominence. This was the era when I was really discovering metal, and I have to say that during the second half of the 90’s, Europe, and specifically Scandinavia, was delivering a bulldoze beatdown! Compare Destroy Erase Improve to Diabolus in Musica. ‘Nuff said.
The new millennia saw the emergence of nu-metal, but that was widely regarded as a bastardization of heavy music, and definitely not credible in contrast to traditional “true” metal. Popular metal needed saving. A superman showed up in the form of the New Wave of American Heavy Metal, with bands such as Lamb of God, Shadows Fall, Chimaira, Unearth, Killswitch Engage… even Mastodon can even be thrown into this mix. The NWOAMH was heavily influenced by the European metal of the 90’s, but also 80’s thrash, death metal, and even bit of modern metalcore. But these bands also held something distinctly American in the sound. Things seemed to come full circle and “real metal” was back… I suppose. Sweden was floundering a little bit as bands putting out their lesser works, like In Flames’ Soundtrack to Your Escape, Soilwork’s Figure Number Five, and Meshuggah’s Nothing (let the arguing begin!). Meanwhile, the NWOAMH was hitting their stride. Ashes of the Wake and Alive or Just Breathing were fresh and vibrant — familiar, but somehow modern and exciting!
The torch had been passed once again, and America was back on the map. I don’t know if you’re keeping score, but I’ve got it tied: U.S. and Europe, 2-2. In my opinion, the last five years have been somewhat foggy as to whose kicking the most ass and putting out the best records. Deathcore, prog/tech, djent, viking, pirate, warcraft metal… I really don’t know what the dominant genre or movement is right now, or which territory is leading the charge. Maybe the internet age has made the barriers of regional influence obsolete. That sick local band in your town doesn’t stay a secret for very long.
The real question I have is: Who do you think has been the most prominent force for innovation and original musical output — Europe or America? Having been all over the world, I’ve noticed that the grass is always greener. Americans tend to like European bands more and vice versa. There is a novelty and mystique applied to an entity that you do not have easy access to. So let’s hear it! I want World War III, but with… words!
Originally posted on Metalsucks.net