Genres thrive in the darkness, outside the media spotlight. Attention only engenders legions of imitators, flush with money from trend-chasing A&R execs, quickly diluting any creativity that exists. For a long time, country music was the pariah, and then for a while metal was the redheaded stepchild of the underground scene. Now, with punk thoroughly defanged and everyone in cowboy boots, strapped to an acoustic guitar or fronting an eight-piece string combo, metal's become one of the most vital sounds around. And people are catching on.
"I've grown up feeling that no one was into the music I was into," says bassist Mike Tiner of San Francisco Bay—area death metal act All Shall Perish. "If anyone asked what kind of music I liked or my band was into, I'd have to look them in the eye embarrassed and say, ‘Metal.' It was just a dirty word among the mainstream … only it doesn't offend them anymore, and some people just really seem to be into it that you'd never suspect."
As hardcore and extreme metal began to converge around the millennium, the stylistic straitjackets that had dictated the sound began to splinter. All the various subgenres — stoner metal, grindcore, death metal, progressive metal, power metal, Scandinavian metal and noisecore — began cross-pollinating, driven in part, it seems, by the attention paid to acts such as Poison the Well and Dillinger Escape Plan.
But even while some raced to jump the metalcore train, it was leaving the station, driven by an adventurousness across the genre that recalls the early-'80s underground. It's produced some interesting hybrids as acts explore different combinations. For some, including All Shall Perish, the sound comes out of the disparate influences of the members.
"We started playing what we liked even though nobody's styles matched," laughs Tiner. "So we started making something that was really odd."
In the case of God Forbid, who came of age in the New Brunswick, N.J., hardcore scene and were fans of Botch and Dillinger Escape Plan, it was a conscious decision to shed a constrictive skin.
"In the hardcore scene, it's like heaviness and breakdowns are like the end-all be-all, and it took us a couple albums to get rid of that," says God Forbid guitarist Doc Coyle. "We didn't have any control as far as being able to rock a groove, something simple, and have it sound good. We had to teach ourselves how to do that. Everything was so rigid and frantic."
Given the recent shelf lives of garage rock and dance punk, it's unlikely that Mastodon, Killswitch Engage or Dragonforce are more than momentary blips on mainstream's radar. But for the moment, metal's experiencing a stylistic renaissance, giving new life to old bands such as Cannibal Corpse and Converge and opening the door to a whole slew of new jacks, including Massachusetts metalcore quartet the Acacia Strain. Like a shark, metal will survive so long as it keeps moving.
"Everything comes from somewhere; it's about how you put your spin on it. You can take a very familiar sound and present it in an entirely new way that people won't even recognize it," says Coyle. "It's really about writing great riffs and music that's not filled with clichés or gimmicks."[email protected]