Metal Gatekeepers: a rant

Back in the day, I was one of those “death to false metal” dudes. I was also on a lot of drugs, as well as being a frustrated bass player with neither gigs or gear. I bitched, complained, and argued about metal, and felt entitled to spew judgment after judgment. As far as I can tell, being a dick about it somehow made me feel legit, superior, and “in the know” about what real metal was.

Such bullshit!

I also smoked two packs a day. I’m still one of those ex-smokers who simply can’t stand the stench of anyone that smokes. Internally: full of judgment. But I try not to be a dick about it. The same goes with the so-called TRVE METAL folk and gatekeeper reviewers/sites. It bugs that crap out of me, but I try not get all bent out of shape about it- I move on.

That’s not working for me so much today, so I’m going to bitch about it.

According to what I know about social psychology, one of the best ways to maintain superiority and power is to pit marginalized groups against each other. Get folks riled up enough about what some other group or ‘enemy’ is doing, and you can maintain effective control. We see it all the time: it’s the #1 spectator sport in the U.S., possibly the world. And we, the people, make it far too easy for that crap to work.

It’s bad enough in politics. But when I see it in metal commentary and websites, it really pisses me off. Not just as it relates to Stoner/Doom or heavy psych in general. It ticks me off when I see any review slag any specific genre. It’s lazy, ignorant, and manipulative gatekeeping at its worst.

You may notice I almost never refer to Power, Death, or Black Metal. It’s because I don’t like them in general. There are exceptions, and I might write or comment on them, with the qualifier that I don’t usually get into this kind of stuff. But I swear, I’ll never, and I mean EVER, start out a review or commentary by writing that an entire genre is tepidly mediocre and tedious. In an academic but very real sense, one loses all credibility to comment any further when that happens. Any authority to comment intelligently has been ceded, from the opening sentence.

All that aside, it’s fricking lazy. Even the most articulate and experienced reviewer is at a tremendous disadvantage starting out that way. Who in their right mind is willing to take the time to learn about a genre: the history, the major influences, the sound, the lyrical topics or the reasonable expectations of the fans? Unless you do that, and more, you have nothing to say beyond, “I don’t like this kind of music.” It’s called bias, and it sucks.

It’s also totally destructive towards the heavy metal community as a whole. It pits us against one another in ways that a self-defeating and ultimately legitimizes mass media bias against heavy music. Yay, the producers and labels win again. Way to go, buddy.

At its best, music commentary and criticism inspires, it informs. There are many times that negative criticism is valid and essential: keeping egos in check, encouraging quality and calling-out things like lip-synching, plagiarism, and copying tropes and trends. Fair enough: even Lester Bangs had his moments, both good and bad.

But when a site repeatedly slams particular genres, it can negatively impact artists and fans. What, exactly, is the upside of alienating an entire fanbase just to get some snarky shots in? As a whole, our community lacks mainstream respect or revenue. Disrespecting any part of it is bound to have a negative effect, both artistically and financially. And dudes!, heavy bands need all the help they can fricking get! It’s hard enough finding reliable venues to play in, reach a fanbase and fund recording and distribution of CD’s and downloads. I would think, as a community, we would rally around one another and support each other in an effort to at least break even. By slagging a whole genre, the gatekeepers are making it harder on ALL of us. The last thing any heavy band needs, from Metallica to Messa and Slipknot to Elder, is more sabotage and barriers coming from fans and reviewers. You might not like Ghost, and that’s fair enough. I just don’t think it’s too hard a task to respect Ghost, offer legitimate criticism and at the same time be aware that every dollar Ghost earns is likely to have a ripple effect, potentially leading fans to discover MORE bands, like Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats or even YOB. Which in turn means Bell Witch or Acid Mammoth might be able to financially afford writing and playing more music…

We all lose when we pit one genre, or one band, against another. Here’s a specific example:

I fully respect Thomas Gabriel and his feelings about Metallica covering Celtic Frost. But I do wish he could have handled it differently and been at least supportive on the surface: I’m pretty sure more Metallica fans would have migrated to CF and even Triptykon if he came across like he was eager for their attention. Instead, it was the usual anger and bitter resentment that for some people represents metal as a whole. Again, no one has more of a right to bitch than Thomas G. Warrior when it comes to being screwed. But I’m not sure he gained anything beyond a few Trve fans nodding their heads in agreement and grunting.

So, reviewers and metal sites: I hope someday you stop adding to the bullshit heavy bands have to endure to survive. If you legitimately don’t like a sub-genre, that’s your right. But I hope you can show little bit of dignity and respect towards those that do like it, and refrain from reviewing them! You’re hurting all of us, so STFU and let someone qualified to analyze the music do so. We’re all marginalized enough, dammit!

End Rant

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