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September 22, 2010

Guest Post: origins of metalcore

Brutal Tunes, Metal History

I am stoked beyond belief to introduce this guest post from one of my readers. Chris is only seventeen and is clearly shaping up to be an incredible writer, critical thinker, and cynical metalhead. If you have any thoughts, opinions or points of discussion about this article, please write a comment, but remember to be nice:

Metalcore: The Definitive Approach

The “metalcore” genre has produced a wide variety of reactions within the music community, and more importantly, the metal community. The controversial new genre has seized not only the spotlight, but an enormous fan base, lucrative record deals, extensive radio play, and album sales that would prompt many traditional metal bands to reconsider their style. On the flipside, metalcore has come under fire from conservative metal-heads everywhere. But perhaps you have not heard of this sonic phenomenon? Perhaps you live out your days in a dark forest north of Oslo or a cave somewhere in New Zealand with your cantankerous drummer spouse (sorry Steff) and little consciousness of modern trends. Therefore, I present you with a definitive history of metalcore, from its origins to its modern standing in contemporary culture.

Like all punk-influenced genres, metalcore originated in the United States. Punk rock and heavy metal emerged at about the same chronological time (late 60s/early 70s) and shared fundamentally similar musical, as well as ideological, roots. It is not unexpected that the two genres grew together and borrowed heavily from each others distinct take on aggression and heaviness. Punk rock had an enormous impact on traditional heavy metal, and heavy metal had an enormous impact on punk rock. In late 70s Britain, a new wave of heavy metal bands, inspired by the fast, aggressive sounds of their contemporary punk rockers, took the former genre to a new level and quite literally transformed the heavy metal image. Judas Priest, Motorhead, Iron Maiden, Saxon, Def Leppard, Venom, Diamondhead… Do I really have to introduce these guys? Even the earliest forms of punk rock manifested itself deep into the spine of heavy metal, transforming it from blues-driven psychedelia to tough, high-energy beastliness.

British (punk influenced) heavy metal paved the way for a whole new breed of metal bands to develop in the upcoming decade. As long-haired, leather-wearing metalheads dominated the music game for much of the 70s with a cunning double-threat of melodic, catchy, American glam metal and fast, aggressive British heavy metal, short-haired, denim-wearing punk rockers sought to diversify their own scene. In the late 70s, hardcore punk – the faster, thicker, heavier descendant of traditional punk rock – emerged with the works of Black Flag, Dead Kennedy’s, Discharge, Bad Brains, The Misfits, and countless others. Like its early predecessor, hardcore punk heavily influenced some of the most principal metal bands of the time with its aggression, speed, and ideology. Taking influence from British metal and hardcore punk, the legendary thrashers took the scene by storm with Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, Exodus, Testament, Annihilator, Overkill, as well as other groups throughout the world such as Kreator, Sodom, Destruction, and Sepultura. Other bands such as Corrosion of Conformity, Suicidal Tendencies, Dirty Rotten Imbeciles, Nuclear Assault, Cro-Mags, Murphy’s Law, Agnostic Front, Warzone, Anthrax, and Nuclear Assault became so incredibly influential for perfectly fusing the two rivaling styles, they created the prototype of metalcore, dubbed “crossover thrash.”

dead-kennedys

Dead Kennedys

Nuclear Assault

Nuclear Assault

From the mid 80s metal and punk diversified and cross-pollinated beyond the point of return. As both styles fragmented into millions of obscure subgenres (to which I cannot find the time or energy to discuss), and alternative rock seized the airwaves, thrash, punk, and metal as a whole suffocated in the underground for much of the early/mid 90s. With the temporary death of thrash metal, the term crossover thrash fell out of circulation and the portmanteau “metalcore” or “metallic hardcore” became synonymous with a wide variety of bands such as Integrity, Biohazard, Earth Crisis, Converge, Shai Halud, Starkweather, Judge Strife, Rorschach, Vision of Disorder, and Hatebreed.

Metallic hardcore bands began to incorporate elements from a wide variety of popular metal styles and bands of the time. Groove metal, or “Post Thrash,” bands such as Pantera, Machine Head, Sepultura, Soulfy, Slipknot and Korn, as well as a heaping dose of emerging hip-hop and dance music, helped further define emerging metalcore with an intense rhythmic focus, heavy downtuning, and groove over technicality. The arguably most important element of modern metalcore, the breakdown, was essentially an invention of early hip-hop artists (all true metalheads hiss, now) most likely incorporated into punk and metal due to geographic instead of musical reasons. The New York scene, where the majority of crossover thrash and metalcore bands emerged also remains to this day to be the single most influential hot bed for hip-hop. Whatever the reason, the breakdown found its way into metalcore music, and left its permanent mark. The final element which propelled (and continues to propel) metalcore artists to the top of the charts is the emphasis on melody which manifests in the vast majority of successful genre leaders. Oddly enough, modern metalcore artists decided (or were forced) to outsource for melodic influences, particularly to that snowy country across the ocean; Sweden. In order to gain an accessible, melodic sound without giving up groove, speed, and aggressiveness, metalcore bands took cues and influences from the emerging melodic death metal scene, centered around Gothenburg with bands such as In Flames, At the Gates, Dark Tranquility, and Soilwork.

august-burns-red

August Burns Red

trivium

Trivium

Modern, contemporary metalcore emerged as a distinct, undeniable genre with all the bells and whistles in the early/mid 90s. By this time, a wide variety of blasphemous rap-influenced nu-metal abominations controlled the airwaves. Metalcore sprung off the failures as well as successes of its predecessor. Killswitch Engage, All That Remains, Unearth, Trivium, Shadows Fall, Bullet For My Valentine, Atreyu, As I Lay Dying, Underoath, God Forbid, August Burns Red, and The Devil Wears Prada (the driving commercial force behind the genre), maintained the rhythmic focus, downtuned riffing, and aggressiveness of nu metal while completely abandoning its funk, rap, and industrial elements and adding speed, increased aggression, and commercially friendly melody and conservative touches. According to Garry Sharpe-Young’s book Metal: A Definitive Journey, a new crowd arose in response to the over-saturation of nu metal in the mainstream. Therefore a genre was invented and refined to apply “the same degree of aggression but laced with more finesse. … Breakdowns had been replaced by well-engineered riffs; where once there was an annoying turntable scratch, the space was filled by the long-overdue return of the guitar solo.”

the-devil-wears-prada

The Devil Wears Prada

In the last decade, metalcore has taken the metal world by storm. While many metal conservatives would like to ignore this impressive phenomenon, for whatever reason, it is hard to deny something so culturally powerful in this new century. For the past 15 years metalcore as a genre has continued to succeed through the times, producing new, promising artists every year without avail. Just last year, Killswitch Engage’s new self-titled album debuted at #7 on the billboard 200. Bullet For My Valentine’s “Fever” debuted at #3. In fact, the influence of metalcore seems to be so enormous, “experts” are attesting to a “New Wave of American Heavy Metal.” Impressive, eh? Metalcore’s actual invention and recognition, however, has required a process of nearly 40 years. Think back 30 or 40 years in metal history and you will recall some British stoners playing psychedelic blues at high volumes and calling it heavy. Perhaps metalcore deserves more credit amongst the learned metalheads than what it is regularly given. Or perhaps it deserves less. As always, let the history and the music decide. Thank you for reading. Stay metal my friends. \m/

-Chris-

Thoughts? Opinions? Requests for free beer? To the comments!

8 Comments on “Guest Post: origins of metalcore

Jean-Philippe
December 27, 2011 at 5:14 am

P.S. I’ve never heard a metalcore song that made me want to thrash my room to pieces; roar my fury to the heavens; jump in my car and shoot, full throttle, down the highway; bang my head ’till I bleed; or wreck my neck in the way Thrash metal has.

Nor has it ever filled my heart with hope, and transported me to worlds where pain and sorrow are but shadows and dust, or reduced me to tears at its unspeakable beauty in the way Power metal has.

Jean-Philippe
December 27, 2011 at 5:09 am

Personally I have never been able to understand the metalcore genre. When you’ve heard one band you’ve essentially heard them all. Most do not bother to even attempt to manifest any form of originality and, instead, insist on assailing us with an interminable barrage of muddy groove riffs (usually regurgitated from past metalcore bands or bastardised punk rock riffs), girlie-man shrieks intermingled with atonal “melodious” crooning.

The lyrics strive to be in depth and philosophical, but come off as trite and grotesquely narcissistic.

Granted there are a few bands who pull it off better than others (In Flames are competent, though Anders sort of detracts from my enjoyment of them), but they are the exception, not the law as far as I am concerned.

Again this is purely my opinion and opinions, as we know, are like assholes.

Phil
January 2, 2011 at 9:42 am

Good article, glad to see somebody can still be neutral on the subject. Being from the American Midwest it is hard for me to maintain a neutral stance on metalcore; its just so saturated here. I can scarcely walk out my front door most days without tripping over at least a couple belligerent metalcore fans. “They might not seem like much one at a time, but in a group all riled up and hungry, man you watch your ass.”

Chris Provencher
October 5, 2010 at 9:34 pm

thanks man! Metalcore is enormously popular in the States, so it is pretty hard not to know a bit about it. the problem is, most newcomers to the metal scene don’t understand the different between metalcore bands and more traditional metal bands. It is with great grief that I must declare, our current generation is pretty much musically screwed, at least when it comes to admirable, traditional metal music. =/

TN
October 3, 2010 at 6:13 pm

Good job! I am impressed with your knowledge about Metalcore.

AUGUST BURNS RED is an amazing metalcore band!!!

Chris Provencher
September 30, 2010 at 11:21 pm

Hey guys, I really enjoyed your comments! as well as steff’s appraisal. you are too kind. So I’m here to clear up some of the cynicism towards my own cynicism haha. First, Islander’s take on the UK 70s punk scene. When I claimed punk rock emerged in the late 60s I am referring to protopunk and the general foundation of the sound, not the explosion in popularity that indeed occured during the 70s. Another example of this reasoning that I can think of off the top of my head is black metal. The “1st wave” of bands like Venom and Celtic Frost were ancestors to the genre and ultimately established that sound but the specific genre of black metal was hardly its own distinct genre until the “2nd wave” of norwegian bands. I didn’t want to add even more material to my essay so I attempted to simplify it a bit. But you are correct sir.
As for the modern breakdown, it was originally (and still commonly) referred to simply as a “break” in most genres. It is simply a rhythmic divergence from the main composition in which drums and percussion take over. The breakbeat, essentially the same thing, originated in hip hop, soul, and disco. Then it found its way into punk, hardcore, and metal and essentially became the breakdown (because “breakdown” sounds much more brutal of course.) For more information, look up “break (music)” on wikipedia or some other somewhat reliable source. Also, the lead singer of Killswitch Engage (howard jones) argues that metalcore is indeed on its way out. Considering the genre is still producing enormously successful records, new bands are being signed at an enormous rate, and the billboards are still filled with metalcore names I wouldn’t be convinced at this point. I personally am not too fond with the genre, at least the leading figures.
Noctis, I didn’t intend to say anything good about metalcore, I simply wanted to present the genre in a completely truthful, creditable, and neutral way. Many don’t know it is its own genre. Most consider bands like All That Remains, Killswitch Engage, and Unearth to be simply metal or simply hardcore. I also agree that bands should be less categorized, but I myself find it very useful to have labels on music to get a better feel at what I am looking for or listening to. Thanks for the comments guys. Cheers.

Noctis
September 23, 2010 at 8:42 am

I definitely think this was well written. Though, there was a lot of information, but that was necessary for this kind of topic. I digress.

So….. I was actually happy to hear something good-ISH about Metalcore. I understand it’s the butt of true Metalheads’ jokes, but you can’t completely discredit the genre, IMO. They have made developments and several bands are *almost* as heavy as “true” Metal bands. There has to be a continuation of cross-pollination, amongst almost all Metal genres, if not even outside the Metal world. Is it a crime to have a faster beat (which I admit I prefer to the typical 15 bpm of some older Metal bands)? Or to not be as brutal as other genres? There, I ask, why does everything have to fit into the cookie cutter of “Black” “Death” “Thrash” etc? Though I will admit/agree, the frilly boys need to be shown the door. It’s almost heartbreaking to hear the pansies singing higher than a woman amongst the screams/growls.

Like most, I like a variety of music, and some Metalcore is on my list, right beside the Swedish Death Metal, and Black Metal.
*Waiting to be ripped apart by other readers*

Islander
September 23, 2010 at 6:39 am

Chris, congrats on a well-written and informative overview. Keep it up!

I think some people will quibble with your historical summary on the ground that things didn’t evolve quite as seamlessly or in exactly the way that you describe (though your central point about cross-pollination in the development of these extreme genres of music is definitely correct).

For example, you’d get a debate about your contention that punk originated in the U.S. or that it started in the late 60s. The bands that really lit a fire under the punk explosion — the Ramones in the US and the Sex Pistols and the Clash in the UK — didn’t come together until the mid-70s. Also, although you’re certainly right that punk influenced the direction of metal (or at least some metal) and metal eventually came back around to influence the development of hardcore, the two scenes were entirely separate and antagonistic during most of punk rock’s heyday. (As someone who was part of the punk scene, I can certainly testify to that based on my own experience.)

I’m also curious about the basis for your statement that the breakdown, as we know it in hardcore and metalcore music, originated with early hip-hop artists. I’m not saying that’s wrong, because I don’t know one way or the other — I’ve just never heard that before.

Finally, I’ll say that although metalcore certainly remains the most popular genre of metal at the moment, and although I still like lots of the music, it has outlived its usefulness and IMHO has become stagnant and increasingly dull. Metalcore ain’t where it’s happening in metal today.

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