I’ve been reading (and writing) articles that deplore the lack of originality in metalcore for years. It’s always ‘on its last legs’ or ‘a stale, stagnant genre’. The way people like me go on about it, you’d think it was in its death throes, and yet, it’s kind of been there for at least six or seven years. So why does it appear to be not only alive, but actually growing in popularity?
Let’s do some history. I could delve into the hardcore punk and thrash metal crossover of the 1980s and the metallic hardcore of the late 1990s, but frankly, that stuff is really boring. All you need to know is that the seeds were planted a good two or three decades ago and bands like As I Lay Dying, Killswitch Engage and Atreyu ran with it and wound up charting in the Billboard 200. Everyone in the scene was terribly excited, everyone outside the scene was horrified and confused and literally no one had seen this coming.
“Who have foreseen that such bleak, aggressive and indecipherable music would resonate with rebellious, disaffected youths in such a powerful way?”
Then, in 2007, The Devil Wears Prada released Plagues and things started to go horribly wrong. Synth had been a part of metalcore for a while, but Prada made it socially acceptable. Suddenly, almost every band was copying it and it’s led to the situation we have now where Warped Tour is basically an amorphous glob of dubstep and Drop-D breakdowns, with the odd pop-punk band thrown in for some variety.
So, if metalcore is in such dire straits, how come August Burns Red’s Rescue & Restore hit the Top Ten on the Billboard 200? How can A Day to Remember announce to six thousand people at the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney that it was the largest headlining show the band had ever played? And how can Bring Me the Horizon do the exact same thing three months later? And hit #1 on the Australian mainstream charts? Twice?
This man has more #1 albums than The Ramones and The Clash combined. Seriously.
One possibility is that metalcore is not in dire straits at all. In fact, it’s arguably one of the healthier genres going around. R&B is, in the immortal words of Stan Smith from American Dad, “one long song.” Hip-hop isn’t even a thing anymore. Rock ‘n’ roll has some strong bands, like Stone Sour and Alterbridge, but they don’t sell anywhere near the number of albums or concert tickets as old-school bands like Van Halen, KISS or AC/DC. By far the genre in the most amount of trouble is straight up heavy metal. Think about it: once Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth and Anthrax go the way of the dodo (and one look at Lars Ulrich’s hairline suggests that day isn’t far off), what are going to be left with? The only bands in that genre that come even close are Avenged Sevenfold and Bullet For My Valentine. You can argue as much as you want, but BFMV don’t even come close to thinking about maybe considering being compared to Anthrax, let alone Metallica.
Metal never looked so hung over.
The idea that metalcore is strong is, unfortunately, utter bullshit. There’s been a realisation that it’s stagnated and bands are making a conscious effort to change that, and in doing so, have brought about the genre’s demise. Look at August Burns Red. Rescue & Restore is the best album they’ve ever done. Their flawless execution in every aspect is unparalleled in metalcore. The Devil Wears Prada have run kicking and screaming from Plagues, releasing two incredibly solid albums in Dead Throne and 8:18. A Day to Remember have their blend of pop-punk and hardcore and they’ve tweaked it enough over the years to keep it fun and interesting. Prog-djent-funk-whatever-core band Northlane are about to take over the world, and While She Sleeps have a real back-to-basics approach that proves if you do the basics right, results will come.
While She Sleep’s results.
Even the underground metalcore scene is displaying the genre’s evolution. Stories, for example, are similar to Northlane, but heavier and much more tripped out. They sound like what you’d get if you blended Meshuggah and Karnivool and they’re amazing. Download their debut EP, Void, for free here. Another band that are demonstrating an ‘every direction except backwards’ approach are Polaris, who remind me of August Burns Red and We Came As Romans, just without WCAR’s shittyness (and again, free EP, right here). There are the French lunatics in Magoa, Sydney-based djentlemen Arteries, and let’s not forget Safe Hands, Australia’s answer to Norma Jean and possibly the best live band I’ve ever seen.
However, the craziest example of this evolution are Bring Me the Horizon. Forgive me, for I’m about to become extremely unprofessional: how the hell did the band that was basically just breakdowns and Oli Sykes vomiting vitriolic bile into the microphone, the same idiots who wrote songs like ‘Fuck’, ‘Football Season Is Over’ and ‘Tell Slater Not to Wash His Dick’, write Sempiternal? In all seriousness, have you heard that fucking album? It’s so good that I cried when I first heard it. ‘Can You Feel My Heart?’ is an anthem, ‘Sleepwalking’ is without peer, ‘Hospital For Souls’ is a heart-wrenching introspective examination at Sykes’ battles with drug addiction, and ‘Deathbeds’ is the best song ever written. Shut up, it is.
The short story is that they kicked out Jona Weinhofen and hired Jordan Fish, who then went and fixed pretty much everything they’d done. Still, the fact remains that Sempiternal is one of the best albums of this or any other age, and it was written by these…things:
Let’s reel this thing back to the original point: how does a genre that’s supposed to be dead in the water produce quality of this calibre, and how does that high quality mean it’s dead? Well, there’s a lot of shit coming out of the same reservoir, and the good ones are so far removed from the crap ones that it feels like a blasphemy to even put them in the same group. Every band can’t be as awesome as Parkway Drive, and one hour spent walking around a leg of Warped Tour will tell you that. However, the point is that once Warped finishes, those bands are playing to crowds of eight girls and a confused ferret, while luminaries like Parkway Drive, BMTH and ADTR are selling out six-thousand seat venues, and those three bands aren’t really metalcore anymore.
If I learned anything in high school Biology, it’s that survival of the fittest means just that. All these god-awful bands who spend more time on their hair than on their actual music will fade into oblivion, but the quality artists will remain, and to remain, you must constantly reinvent yourself. That doesn’t mean that bands will last forever (Anberlin’s recent announcement proves that even the best things in life are not eternal), but the music and legacy of a band like Parkway Drive will endure.
Ultimately, metalcore is functionally extinct. It’s an unsustainable yet eternal horror, destined to putter along for the rest of time, soiling itself at every opportunity, longing for death but too fearful to pull the trigger. Recent events are proof positive, however, that an exciting new movement is taking place. Metalcore is dead in the water, and all the groups with any sense of self-preservation are running as far and fast as they can from that anchor of a label. The strong survive and pass their legacy on to the next generation, furthering the evolutionary process. The next generation of musicians have albums like Rescue & Restore and Sempiternal as inspiration, and While She Sleeps, In Hearts Wake and Northlane as their figureheads. Those who insist on perpetuating the metalcore chugfest will fall by the wayside, while the innovative ones will tower above them. Safe Hands, Stories, Polaris, Magoa and Arteries are already part of this revolution, and I couldn’t be more excited to see what the future has in store.
Shit’s about to get very, very good…