Why Does Metal Refuse to Die?

Metal Forever

One of my most favorite quotes regarding early deaths or, more specifically, bad news or misconceptions regarding the demise or early death of something is Mark Twain’s quote on his supposed death. He said that the news of his death is greatly exaggerated.

Now, he was cracking a joke, but that same quote can actually apply to a wide range of cultural expressions and cultural phenomena. One of these, of course, is heavy metal.

When people say the phrase “heavy metal,” all sorts of images come to mind and, sadly, a lot of those images are not all that flattering. Let’s get real here. Let’s be completely honest. Usually, when people say “heavy metal,” the first thing we think about are big hair bands from the 1980’s.

You remember them, right? You remember the excess? You remember the spandex pants, the groupies, the wild guitar-playing? It seems so far away. It seems so long ago. It’s as if you are staring into a cartoon from a distant past.

Now, as entertaining as the cartoon may be to you now, deep down inside you feel like there’s really not much you can connect to. And sadly, this also applies to bands like Black Sabbath or solid gold performers like Ozzy Osborne.

But regardless of this conflicting sense of nostalgia and an impression of irrelevance, heavy metal still refuses to die. In fact, there are metal scenes in all major cities in the United States. There are metal scenes south of the border in Mexico and South America. There are metal scenes in all parts of Western Europe, and yes, even Africa, Asia, Australia, and everywhere else.

Now, keep in mind that these metal scenes don’t all share the same activity level. It’s not like all the people in these scenes are extremely active and cranking out all sorts of online and offline magazines or managing and hosting shows and performances. Still, they exist. And they communicate with each other.

Why does metal, both on a larger overall basis as well as on a microscopic scene by scene level, refuse to die? Well, it really all boils down to the main reason why kids turn to metal music in the first place.

Believe it or not, it’s not just about pissing off their parents. It’s not just about making some sort of fashion statement in school or coming off as the latest and greatest embodiment of the soul of James Dean. While a tremendous part of the equation can be chalked up to old school classical teenage rebellion and angst, there’s still a lot to account for. And the reason why metal refuses to die is because it focuses on a tried and proven formula.

Now, I’m not saying that all of metal music is so formulaic that it’s basically like cranking out music using some sort of template. Instead, metal focuses on virtuosity. You actually have to be good at playing guitar for you to be considered a good metal musician. Similarly, you actually have to know how to sing for you to be considered a metal singer that is worth your salt. Do you see how this works?

Unfortunately, in our modern musical world, such insistence of virtuosity is almost non-existent. Seriously. After all, if Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber can become very famous and successful using auto-tune or computer synthesized or enhanced vocals and music, there’s a lot lost in translation. It seems that the modern market for music, by and large, is ready, willing and eager to trade in actual talent and ability for the right sound.

Well, that doesn’t play out in the metal scene. Metal refuses to die because there will always be people who insist that people play real music, and they play it according to a set quality standard. This quality standard doesn’t change with fashion. This quality standard doesn’t go in and out with the tides. Instead, it’s locked in stone. Metallic stone at that. This is the reason why metal, in all its forms, simply refuses to die.