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.”
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.
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.”
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/
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