What is the mainstream metal song

Heavy metal: from philistine horror to mainstream

Without the corona-related cancellations, the many festivals for metal fans in Germany would start now or would have already taken place, including the Rock Hard Festival on Whitsun, the world-famous Wacken Open Air in July or the Summer Breeze in August.

They are all well attended, because metal festivals and concerts are no longer just for the initiated. When bands like Rammstein call, everyone comes, from startup founders to bank employees to graying classical music fans. It doesn't look any different at Wacken. What was a scene meeting just a few years ago is now mass entertainment for all ages and income groups. Heavy metal and many of its subgenres are now even considered conservative by many, on metal cruises you can enjoy the hard sounds with a cultivated cocktail.

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The sound of the outsider

At the beginning, in the seventies and eighties, things looked very different: The metal fans from the very beginning were terrified of the citizens. With their long hair, black jeans, riveted bracelets and patch frocks, they were just as annoying to the average BRD grandpa as the punks at the train station. Until well into the nineties, the bourgeois media and institutions repeatedly launched attacks against individual bands or the entire genre. Metal was denigrated either as glorifying violence or drugs, satanist or blunt. The metallers took it easy and basked in the bad boy image of "the people your parents always warned you about".

Like all forms of rock, metal has its roots in the blues, but its real fathers are hard and psychedelic rock of the 1970s. Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath have already played riff-based, hard rock. Heavy metal emerged from this sound at the end of the decade. The fans of the new, louder and harder tones were kids from the working class. Later, young people from conservative homes discovered metal for themselves and pissed their parents off with it.

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"It is a subculture that functions on a low-threshold basis. Everyone can participate, everyone is accepted," says Carsten Schumacher, a music journalist for 25 years and a metal fan since the 1980s. "You can come from secondary school, but you can also be a professor's child, it doesn't matter. It is important that you share the passion, separate yourself from the mainstream in the same way and understand what others might find silly."

Differentiation and commercialization

Metal became a reservoir for people who weren't part of the mainstream, who rubbed against society or didn't feel understood. Here normal people could feel in good hands as well as fantasy role-players, gifted people, stoners or school dropouts. Accordingly, the music became more and more diverse and playful, and in the eighties numerous sub-genres emerged - from power metal to speed and thrash metal to black, viking or folk metal. Soon metal bands were no longer limited to drums, guitar and bass. Medieval hurdy-gurdy, Brazilian drums, jazz solos ... Metal became a field of musical experimentation. Even the synthesizers, which were initially hated, were allowed at some point.

Art historian and journalist Jörg Scheller, author of the book "Metalmorphosen"

The art scholar and journalist Jörg Scheller describes in his book "Metalmorphoses. The improbable changes of Heavy Metal", published in May 2020, very vividly and in great detail, how an underground scene with a rebellious attitude became a mass phenomenon. During his research, he was surprised by the "ease with which heavy metal is used for advertising even by staid companies today" and how it is perceived as "an amusing carnival and buzzing business," Scheller told DW.

Freedom and empowerment

This begs the question of whether every scene and every youth movement is gradually being taken over by the mainstream. It's all a question of perspective, says Scheller: "That applies to liberal consumer cultures. Certainly not to fundamentalist theocracies. In Iran, for example, metal is still underground. For us, however, there is nothing that cannot be messed up, normalized, commodified . "

Peace-loving freaks? A metal fan at Wacken 2019

Even more than punk or hip-hop, metal is now a kind of seal of approval, something reliable, solid. In addition, metal musicians and fans enjoy the reputation of being particularly relaxed contemporaries. The harder the music, the more relaxed the environment? Carsten Schumacher explains it as follows: "The regular outburst of anger in creative channels is a kind of psycho-hygiene. Not least because of this, fights are hardly known at metal festivals."

Place for discomfort

So is metal, the once so dark heart of rock, today just one of the most easily digestible genres? Jörg Scheller claims: "The core of metal is about freedom." Even today. "Music does not change the world like a tsunami, even if it sounds like that in metal. It slowly but lastingly erodes the stone of relationships, it changes hearts and minds." Metal today serves women as a medium of self-empowerment, like Elvis- Songs used to shape a new image of men. Schumacher also sees this effect of metal: "I keep researching new bands that appear from everywhere. The scene is global, and when I hear bands from Tanzania, Iran or Indonesia and hear how they free themselves with the help of this music, I feel connected to these people. "

Music journalist Carsten Schumacher has been a metal fan since the 1980s

Metal can - like no other genre of music - be pathetic and tongue-in-cheek at the same time, serious and playful, virtuoso and simple. Above all, however, Metal in many of its varieties still leaves room for the uncomfortable and the uncomfortable. Jörg Scheller is fascinated by the fact that "Metal does not suppress the evil, cruel and abysmal of our existence, but rather transforms itself critically into sound, text and image - the hardest form of mimesis of the hardened and alienated, to quote the secret metalhead Adorno." In this sense: off to the mosh pit as soon as it works again.

For further reading: Jörg Steiner, "Metalmorphosen. The improbable changes of Heavy Metal", 286 pages, published by Franz Steiner Verlag.