Deep Dive – The Golden Age of Metal

As a student of history, I have a hard time with categorizing and cataloging periods of time. These definitions always hide more than they reveal, neatly tucking away variations, deviations and anything else that might not fit the narrative they are trying to promulgate. However, that’s not to say that they don’t have their uses: like all labels, they are tools bred by convenience and necessity, allowing us to hold conversations which might otherwise be impossible. In order to best use them then, we need to make sure that they are in check, balanced by a clear and direct disclaimer which reminds us that they are only that, convenient, disposable labels that serve a limited purpose.

And so, we come to “The Golden Age of Metal”, a chronological classification which has been thrown around on the blog, and in the community, for a while now. In order to unpack this classification, we must first ask: what is a golden age? In history, it is used to connotate a period in which a society, culture or political unit flourish in more fields than one. That is, if a nation undergoes a fast-paced military reform but falls on its face in economy or diplomacy for example, that is not a golden age. But if that nation flourishes culturally alongside its military evolution, coupled with a rise in philosophy, diplomacy and music, that is a golden age.

Therefore, our goal and, indeed, this article’s goal is to examine the term “The Golden Age of Metal” in light of these definitions and see if our time can be classified as such. We’ll also touch upon other eras worthy of the term and ask what did or did not qualify them for the term. Lastly, before we dig into the meat of the article, it must be remembered, as with anything you read, that subjectivity plays a part here. Many of my points will be based on more “objective” facts, like proliferation and innovation, but some of them will be based on enjoyment and personal taste. Take those with a pinch of salt and remember: if you don’t feel like the Golden Age is now, then for you it isn’t. But for plenty of us, it really is. Let’s get started, we’ve even made you a Spotify playlist of the bands mentioned here to keep you company!

It might serve us well to begin with our detractors. According to these, encompassing various people, opinions and identities, the Golden Age of Metal has come and gone. Where exactly they locate this fallen age depends on the personal preferences of the specific detractor: it could be the birth of death metal and the fervor that it entailed in the mid-90’s. It can be even earlier, around the genesis of thrash/speed metal in the 80’s. Some even cite the early bloomings of black metal, with its abrasive production and dubious personalities as the essence of the metal spirit, an essence now lost to commercialization and fakery.

However baseless and hollow these claims appear to us, they also provide us with a unique opportunity to open with a strong claim for our own Golden Age. All these genres are alive and well, if one only lets go of one’s prejudices and opens their ears to how they have preserved themselves. Is it oldschool death metal you lust for? Alkaloid have released a brilliant album this year, building on and expanding on elements of classic, Gothenburg style metal. Obscura is also on their way. Melodeath was a big part of that 90’s scene and Borknagar have an album coming out in 2016.

Do you pine for the feverish twitchings of thrash? Overkill, one of the most oldschool names out there, had a perfectly solid release last year. In realms slightly more innovative, VHOL are absolutely kicking ass with their stoner-tinged thrash. Lastly, black metal, whose fans have perhaps fought the hardest against any type of optimism towards the current state of affairs, also has some very prestigious releases to its name in recent years. Even if you don’t want to subscribe to the Deafheaven fad, how about Downfall of Gaia, Myrkur, Behemoth (blackened death yes, but still plenty of black), An Autumn for Crippled Children or Keep of Kalessin? All of these bands are making black metal to some sort of extent, even if it is fueled by new ideas, and have released great music this year, or the last.

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And that’s a good thing. That’s a great thing; there’s a reason these sounds are old-school. We’re happy to see these genres hanging around and exactly because we are optimistic about the state of the scene. Because if we add to this fact a second one, we get the main point that makes us optimistic about the current state of affairs. In our eyes, the best indication of the health of a scene is innovation alongside inspiration, the twin urges to build something new while relying on solid foundations. This type of advancement prevents groundless, formless, pointless musings on musical themes while making sure that the scene doesn’t fall into stagnation; it allows bands to make new and exciting music but to also reach and explore new places with their current, modern iterations on those basic building blocks.

We have two fields then for our Golden Age, but that’s not quite enough. Worry not; alongside this form of careful, solid innovation, metal has its share of new, young and exciting ideas. We’ve extolled the many virtues of post-metal before, so we won’t bore you by doing so again. Suffice to say that it represents only one prong of where metal is going these days. What about the return to classical music and composition found in creations like Dreadnought‘s Bridging Realms or the electronic antiques of one Remi, AKA The Algorithm? Infusions of avant-garde and metal also exist: Dodheimsgard for example released a brilliant album last year, combining theatrics, black metal and a lot more. In progressive metal as well, the chromatic obsessions of  Native Construct push the genres into new sounds and places, while the genre-defying stunts of Gods of Eden create a unique, signature sound that is impossible to pin down.

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If this article seems heavy on the name dropping, that’s no accident. The sheer amount of modern, active bands we can cite hint at the next element to be added here: alongside innovation alongside inspiration and experimentation we have proliferation. While it would be foolish to say that there are more metal bands active today than in the past due to the impossibility of accurately verifying those numbers (although we suspect that is indeed the case), it’s almost axiomatically true to say that a lot more of these bands reach our ears. The internet is both chicken and egg in this case: it serves first to allow us access to these bands but is also the background upon which we then return to help those bands grow. Our online presence allows us not only to consume new music but also to support it by buying merch, sharing the names and identities of the bands and reaching more and more people with our favorite music.

Proliferation also shows itself in the “real world”, whatever that means anymore. While we’re still waiting for a Karnivool US tour (seriously guys), it would do us well to stop and see how blessed we are: smaller and smaller bands are crossing the Atlantic, and not only in the direction of the US. Europe, always a hotbed for metal, has seen its share of incoming, international bands (the Australian Ne Obliviscaris and Caligula’s Horse to name just two), perhaps adding some much needed diversity to its old, old blood. What’s more, fans are filling venues all across the world, with sold out shows spanning not only geography but ages, genres and social groups.

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Which leads us to our final and, perhaps, most controversial points. At the end of the day, music wouldn’t be the same (and perhaps not even exist in the modern sense of the word) without close ties to consumerism. It’s both a product and a statement, cultural affiliation and a transaction. In recent years, there have been many contradicting claims: sales have been on the rise, on the fall, changing, unmeasurable and predictable at the same time. Streaming, digital downloads and piracy have changed the playing field, making it something new. However, is it for the better or for the worst? Has the chance of making it big increased or decreased with the advent of online marketing and music sharing?

We’re not here to settle any of these scores because, frankly, we don’t have the tools. But as perhaps a closing statement, let me ask you: do you think that metal is on the rise? Do you feel the Golden Age of Metal? If yes, brilliant, welcome, enjoy the ride. If not, why not? If not, do you not feel that perhaps some, only some, of the responsibility for that lies on you? How many albums have you purchased in recent years? How many bands have you discovered, obsessed over, shared with friends? How many live shows that you were able to go to did you go to? At the end of the day, this “Golden Age”, whatever it is, relies on both sides of the equation. This heady, intoxicating feeling of being part of something that’s alive and kicking, perhaps even more than ever, requires that you participate, engage and challenge yourself.

The Golden Age of Metal is right fucking now. If you want it to be.

-EK

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Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.






6 thoughts on “Deep Dive – The Golden Age of Metal

  1. BarakalypseNow Reply

    Yes, we are absolutely in a golden age of metal if you ask me. Back when I was in high school I would just download the entire discography of an entire band like Opeth or Dream Theater because I wanted to understand the history and development of metal. After taking a break from metal for a long time, I returned in late 2012 and started keeping my ear close to the ground for new releases. That was coincidentally the same time I discovered HBIB. The rest is history. All the metal I’ve listened to from 2012 to the present is by far and away the best I’ve ever heard. The Internet is the portal into the best talent and skill all over the world.

  2. AlphaBetaFoxface Reply

    What’s come out lately? Releases from Alustrium, Wilderun, Cattle Decapitation, Imperial Triumphant, Saor, Native Construct, Beaten To Death, Arcturus, Animals As Leaders, Thou, Origin, Intronaut, Ulcerate, Extol, Enshine, Kauan, Panopticon, Lorna Shore, Nechochwen, Caladan Brood, Carcass, Dreamgrave, Horrendous, Vildhjarta, Be’lakor, Gloryhammer, Outre, Primordial, Voices, Soen, Darkest Era, Triptykon, just to name a few off the top of my head from the 2 or 3 years. We are definitely in a golden age. So damn excited for 2016 and the future of metal.

  3. Gaia Reply

    It seems to be a golden age to you because it’s the era you’ve paid the most attention to. The bane of the era you are born in, is that it’s the era you’re born in. The things that came before is harder to ascertain and understand. That which is made nowadays is a part of a continuous feed which you are well prepared for, a real question is, when does innovation feel like real innovation? When was the last time your world turned upside-down? The Industrial Revolution was innovation. The Internet’s commercialisation was innovation. Previous eras had probably the same effect on those at the time as those who are experiencing it today. In general, as adults, we always think our youthful eras are the golden age. Golden age thinking is often ascribed to those who are reflecting on a past time, like I rue for 1920s Paris, 1980s Tokyo, hell, when Aristotle was alive. In effect, this feels like a rather narcissistic, millennial innovation, putting present ourselves on a pedestal because we inherently feel like we are lacking success or achievement, so the things we like have to be the best ever, the best ever TV, the biggest ever blockbusters, the best ever food, the hardest-hitting fiction… Meh. The proliferation of the internet has allowed levels of navel-gazing that escapes me.

    • Eden Reply

      Hey man,

      First off, believe me you don’t want to leave in Aristo’s time. Well, you might if you were part of the privileged ruling class, but most people during those times had a really bad time. Let’s put aside for a second questions of disease, war, slavery etc. Just the fact that generations upon generations lived, worked and died in the same social class, without hope of respite or growth, should be enough to make you shun your pangs of desire for such eras. The same goes for 1920’s Paris, where a thin layer of the society lived well while the rest suffered under extensive urban reforms, still struggling medicinal practices, not to mention the millions of dead and wounded from World War I. 7/8 of the French Army was in Verdun. You don’t wish that upon yourself or on anyone else.

      As to your point, we didn’t say the actual era we’re in is a Golden Age. We were referring to the specific field of metal music, i.e innovation within the confines of music and musical creation. I don’t see the benefit in comparing artistic innovations with the Industrial Revolution or the commercialization of the internet. I wouldn’t even begin to try and unpack the claim or disclaim of the modern age being a Golden Age. That’s not what this post is about, it’s strictly about metal in relation to former periods in metal. When I referenced the proliferation of the internet, I wasn’t talking about anything other than the spread of music.

      Secondly, while many of the stuff are in those young eras you’re pointing out, many of us aren’t, me included. I’m 28, close to 29 and while that’s not old in any respect I don’t think you can levy the “wide eyed child” stereotype against me anymore. I made plenty of points in the article, supported by examples of the music itself. It’s a bit coy in my eyes to dismiss all that with one wave of the hand and a “bah, humbug” reply about the “youth of these days” and “millennials”.

      Thanks for your comment.

      • Gaia Reply

        I genuinely appreciate your thoughts in your reply, thanks for being a good sport.

        It’s a little embarrassing to outline Golden Age Thinking, and I imagine you do know its meaning, so needless to say, I’m referring to Paris’ literary scene, Tokyo’s wanton financial scene, Aristotle’s school era. Of course, a literal time-travelling aspect is nonsense. The defining cultural aspects are what remains to this day. Thank you though, for exercising historical knowledge.

        The two modern revolutions I acknowledged were mere examples of true innovation, it was a wry attempt to put musical innovation into perspective. To draw a musical innovation into the frame would be to mention streaming, introduced over the last five years, not least to observe the proliferation of cheap recording tools. An ensuing annihilating flood of releases has halted any opportunity for a monoculture in metal. The last ubiquitous metal record could possibly be Sunbather. Outside of metal culture, how much did it really penetrate? At one time we could have seen records of this stature played regularly on the radio. Today, there’s lots of good, but how many are truly great? A flood is a plague for most. I feel your satiation of this era is based on ‘how much there is’. Your Golden Age of Metal requires the test of time to properly manifest. How else could I refer to those previous ages I rue for so dearly. To declare in the middle of it is narcissistic.

        I appreciate that you’re in your late 20s. I’m in my early 20s. A wide-eyed child.

        P.S It’s natural to view the infinitesimal innovations as leaps and bounds. I’m sure they felt the same during the 70s looking at psych rock, the same as in the Golden Age of Rap in the 80s, as acid house in the 90s, as metalcore in early 00s. Whatever you’re studying the hardest the more you’re going to exert more meaning on to, it’s natural.

  4. steve Reply

    This golden age has influenced me to play, to play ALOT. I would spend hours and hours practicing, jamming, and searching online for the best deals of drums. I’m glad I discovered this site http://www.womdmart.org.

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