We’ve all been there. Tensions are high in some packed, sweaty venue, sparked by feverish excitement and the potential for violence. These people paid good money to enjoy some type of cathartic release. The frontman for whatever hard-nu-death-crab-metal-core outfit is brazen and demanding. Can you believe this shit? You PAID to be entertained, and this guy is telling YOU what to do! The speech goes something like this: “I want everybody in this room moving! Front to back, side to side, NO ONE STANDS STILL! When this part kicks in, I want total [Insert destructive word here like “chaos,” “mayhem,” or “bedlam” if you’re witty]. If the person next to you isn’t moving, MAKE THEM MOVE!” Than, if the action is not adequate, this screamer/pep rally organizer calls YOU some variation of “pussy” or “faggot” or really anything to make you feel like a soft, womanly bitch of a man in order to get in that pit and kick another grown man in the face, all in the spirit of making this band look like they are awesome. But then something happens, as if the air is sucked out of the room at the moment of impact – when those glorious staccato chugs kick in, the crowd is almost always powerless to its charms regardless of the obvious lack of substance. Like junk food and reality TV, we have a love affair with breakdowns.
I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Doesn’t this asshole’s band have breakdowns in it? What a goddamn hypocrite!” First off, the purpose of this blog is not necessarily to hate on breakdowns, but to examine how and why this guilty pleasure (for me) has managed to cement itself in the modern heavy music paradigm. Plus, it’s always good not take this stuff (or yourself) too seriously, and to understand that some of the things we like are patently absurd, and that’s okay.
Let’s segue with a little background information. My first exposure to metal as a young teenager consisted of classic staples like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Pantera, Sepultura, and Testament. It wasn’t until 1996, when we spent our pre-God Forbid days as a pitiful garage band, that the rest of the band and I discovered the hardcore scene. Through frequenting a local rehearsal studio, we made friends with some hardcore bands from the area, and started going to shows. For us, it was almost like a networking thing. There were finally some heavy bands that we could play with and the people were really cool. There wasn’t really a metal scene in New Jersey, so we gravitated towards the hardcore scene almost by default, although we never really fit in. We were always the token metal band in the scene – pretty much all the hardcore kids were semi-secretive metal heads, but being hardcore just seemed like something more acceptable and socially viable. I think breakdowns seeped in to our music almost by osmosis from being around this scene, and probably a need to be accepted. NJ is known for it’s tough guy scene, which is surrounded by bands that specialized in crushing breakdowns and extremely violent dancing. Although our major influences at the time were Carcass, At The Gates, Meshuggah, and Morbid Angel, our steady dose of danceable heavy parts made us popular with this crowd.
During this time period (1999-2000), I still enjoyed quite a bit of metalcore and hardcore that employed a tasteful dose of heavy parts that got the crowd moving, like All Out War, Cave In, Candiria, For The Love Of, Overcast, Irate, Etown Concrete, Blood Has Been Shed, and the band I think that exemplified this sound and era best, Hatebreed. This is also around the time when I started to sour on the whole idea. First off, the local hardcore shows, including God Forbid shows, became increasingly more violent, to the point where it was just ridiculous, and it was taking away from the music – not to mention that there were serious consequences, like injuries and shows and clubs getting shut down. We were musicians, not mosh pit referees. I’m sure many of you have seen the YouTube video of a girl getting beat down at one of our old shows. This was not uncommon.
The second thing was that when bands like Hatebreed and Unearth became popular, the dollar store copycats were so prevalent that you couldn’t breathe in vastness of the mediocrity. Breakdowns were easy to play, anyone could do it. Plus people liked it. Fools gold lied in them there mosh pits. It started to seem like one big gimmick. Throwing a stick of dynamite in the crowd could have the same effect. And if I see another wall of death, I’m gonna shoot myself.
The third thing was that I realized that it was a songwriting crutch. I found myself altering songs to maintain our “old” sound and to “work better in a live setting.” Although I felt we used breakdowns more creatively and dynamically than 90% of the bands out there, I needed to move past that mindset to become a better songwriter, and subsequently every GF album, with the exception of Gone Forever, has been less breakdown heavy than it’s predecessor. To their credit I think.
Around 2005-06, I thought people had pretty much gotten over breakdowns, and something new was on the horizon. Boy was I wrong. Deathcore hit and bands like Suicide Silence, Emmure, and The Acacia Strain just got heavier than I ever even thought about. I don’t even feel like a heavy band compared to these newer bands. I saw Oceano not too long ago, and I had chest pains for a week that shit was so heavy. These young kids obviously like breakdowns more than ever, to the point where some of these bands just play one extended breakdown as the song. People always tend to blame the hardcore scene, but in my opinion Pantera, Sepultura, Meshuggah, and Lamb of God are some of the biggest seeds of inspiration.
So where does this leave us? Is this albatross here to stay? I’m not gonna front, I’ve got Emmure and Parkway Drive on my iPod. Shit gets me amped! I suppose it’s a love/hate relationship. Chime in and let me know if I’m crazy or not. By the way, if you’re favorite band is Finntroll or Edguy, than this blog might not be for you.
Originally posted on Metalsucks.net