For those of us lucky enough to be around in the mid-80s, we saw heavy metal in its hey-day.
Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Twisted Sister, Venom… and the mainstream crossover with bands like Bon Jovi, Europe, Queensryche… it was all there, larger than life and everywhere.
I won’t get into what happened next with grunge/alternative basically pulling the rug out from underneath the scene in the early 90s (there’s many reasons why metal was driven back underground after the rise of grunge) but one thing that I do want to talk about is ultra-specific genre classifications.
Back when I was coming of age, 80s metal was in full swing. Motley Crue and Twisted Sister were some of the most dangerous bands in the world, everyone had an axe to grind about the “evil” influence this “heavy metal” “music” was having on our children. Iron Maiden sung about the devil in “The Number of the Beast,” Judas Priest made people commit suicide, Dio was throwing devil horns like there was no tomorrow, WASP were deranged sex perverts. Slayer, Megadeth and Venom were inconceivably heavy. Don’t even get me started on Ozzy Osbourne!
This all seems kind of silly now, 35 years on, but at the time this was insane. But one thing we all agreed on back then was this was all just “Heavy Metal.”
I can remember back to crazy backyard parties when I lived in the outback. Kegs of beer, crazy amounts of vodka and bourbon, a big bonfire and the ever-present (and usually beer soaked) stereo system blasting out tunes well into the kind of hours that made the neighbours upset and cops get to know us better several times during the night, before we all wandered off bleary eyed, back to our homes with plans to repeat it all the next weekend (although it may have taken a day or so for us to forget our hangovers and our “Never. Drinking. Again.” vows).
What did we have on the stereo? Maiden. Priest. Dokken. Slayer. Anthrax. Stryper. Venom. Bathory. Kreator. Helloween. Queensryche. Bon Jovi. King Diamond. Lizzy Borden. Lita Ford. Twisted Sister. Motley Crue. Kiss. Dio. Sabbath. Ozzy. WASP. Alice Cooper. Kreator. Laaz Rockit. Metallica. Megadeth. Leatherwolf. Onslaught. Europe. Testament. White Lion. And so many more.
Yeah – that’s a lot of names!
Now read through that list again. What do you notice?
What the hell is White Lion doing on a tape next to Bathory? Bon Jovi next to Onslaught? Stryper next to Venom? Who would do something so crazy?
We did. This was all just metal to us.
The subgenres either didn’t exist yet or just didn’t matter. Did we like the song? Was it right for that time of the night? Screaming along to “Painkiller” or breaking our necks to “Terrible Certainty” was great for the middle of the party, getting evil with “Blood Fire Death” or “Flame of the Antichrist” definitely got the party moving when things got messy, and the obligatory Dokken ballad singalong at 4am when things had died down was a mainstay.
It’s natural for us to want to categorise things. How do you explain a band to someone without having to at least narrow down the style to some kind of subgenre? White Lion doesn’t sound particularly much like Bathory, funnily enough. 😉 This is probably even more so important for music reviewers.
But when you get to the point of arguing if a band was playing “Epic Hollywood Progressive Power Metal with Symphonic Viking Metal overtones” or if they were a “Progressive Orchestrated Battle Metal themed Operatic Speed Metal band” instead, it’s gone well into the Ludicrous Zone.
Worse, a lot of the founding metal bands are now being re-categorised. Dio sung about dragons – AHA! Dio must be a power metal band. Judas Priest had catchy choruses, they must be hard rock. Despite early Twisted Sister being borderline speed metal, they had make up and big hair so they were definitely weak glam rock. Winger had some of the most incredible musicianship out of any band at the time, but they got lumped in to being hair metal because of their image.
Sure, you might have ULTRA HEAVY death and black metal bands now, but does that suddenly make “British Steel” a hard rock album? That was an album that helped define heavy metal as we know it. And worse, because it doesn’t fit into the very specific niche subgenre that someone may prefer, it doesn’t fit their opinion of what they think “metal” is, and it’s discarded without a second thought.
It’s dumb as shit.
As a lot of you guys might know, we’re dropping a new LORD album soon (hooray! Stay tuned for some announcements in the not-to-distant future) and that kind of pertains to what I’ve written here.
When we were getting into the swing of writing for it, we had the usual “so what will this one be like?” / “how will we approach this one?” kind of conversations. Usually that all gets tossed aside and the album just becomes its own thing, but this time we went into it with a “what would WE like to hear” vibe.
What stuff really made us go “oh fuck yeah!” when we listened to the bands we grew up with?
What if LORD never had a legacy or any kind of pre-conceived style before this next album, and any LORD/Dungeon albums were just part of the huge pile of music we liked to listen to and would draw inspiration from?
If we recorded an album fresh, bringing everything we enjoyed to the table, regardless of style, what would it sound like?
I thought back to those backyard parties, to the diversity of the music, to the whole “this is just heavy metal” umbrella, leaving any petty arguments about specific subgenres for drunken conversations around the bonfire where they belong, and focusing on how we all felt as we were headbanging together around that poor, party-weary stereo.
The specifics didn’t matter. How we felt while we listened to this music was the only thing that was important.
I think we’ve come up with our most diverse album yet, and knowing how we’ve done everything from AOR to exteme metal over the years, that’s a pretty big call! There’s a real feeling of nostalgia running through the album – not in a melancholy way, or some kind of desire to revive 1986 verbatim, but more so capturing that feeling: metal fans, listening to stuff they love no matter what it was supposed to be classed as, living in that moment and enjoying it for what it was.
It’s all just metal to me, and hopefully you guys will enjoy our new “all just metal” album when it finally gets out there too.
Stay tuned! 🙂