Monday, January 19, 2015
Glam Metal: The Dream of the Eighties
Since it's forging in the industrial city of Birmingham, England, by the bluesy doomsters Black Sabbath, the metal genre has splintered into a number of subgenres. Each new branch produced ample fruits in the forms of significant game-changers who inspire many smaller berries of bands to follow in their footsteps. Sabbath's doom legacy has sprouted vines, with Down, Sleep, and Candlemass holding the reigns for sludge, stoner, and epic doom respectively Thrash rose with the Big Four and spawned the more extreme death and black metal movements. However, today all of the branches are stronger than they were over twenty years ago.
That is, all but one.
Glam metal, hair metal, pop metal, sleaze metal, cock rock, whatever you wanna call it reigned supreme for a decade. Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi, Ratt, Def Leppard, Poison, and so many others sat upon their thrones in Hollywood, the scent of Aqua Net marking the Sunset Strip as their territory. Their meteoric rise gave birth to the iconic rock star image; if you made it big, you had the world at your fingertips. Rampant sexcapades and copious amounts of drugs and liquor warranted both stigma and intrigue from the masses.
All this came to an end with the rise of grunge. Hordes of bands came out of Seattle, led by their warlords Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Nirvana. The craze surrounding these bands as they hit the mainstream put glam out of the spotlight. Many thought it had become a bloated beast, poisoned by its own excesses. Bands would die out and reunite years later, banking on their nostalgia aspect to bring crowds. It would appear today that hair band that's staying the strongest is Steel Panther, a group who satirizes the genre. A minor resurgence of interest occurred in the mid Aughts, with bands like Crazy Lixx and Crashdïet hoping to recapture the spirit --whether aesthetically or sonically.
It's strange: what was once the most popular and profitable of the metal subgenres has been forgotten-- no, dismissed-- by the metal community. I've heard people give several grievances about this brand of music, but these can be applied to just about every other genre and can be argued.
Let's take a look:
Argument 1: "It's not heavy enough. It's more hard rock than metal."
Metal elitists (AKA the bullies who stalk the comments section of every website music related website) will go on for days arguing whether they're "metal enough." However, they always have exceptions to their rules. They're either the kind of people who disregard anything that isn't extreme or will lump in bands based upon their legacy. There are many bands that straddle the line between "hard rock" and "heavy metal." Are Van Halen or KISS metal? Some yes, some no. Hell, Black Sabbath will say that they never were a metal band in the Seventies, but a blues rock band with a tinge of darkness.
The bands that dominated LA in the Eighties would not have existed without these groups. David Lee Roth's charisma bled into other frontmen like Dee Snider, David Lee Roth, and Jon Bon Jovi. KISS brought showmanship to the table and the scene tried to mimic it as best as they could with make-up, costumes, lights, and effects. The hair metal bands derived their sound from the NWoBHM movement; Def Leppard initially began as more of a traditional metal band than a pop metal band. The hair bands just took it a step further by adding some hooks, catchy choruses, and broadened the audience. Not exactly a bad thing. They may not be Pantera levels of heaviness (more on them in a bit) but there's a certain amount of heft to classic albums like Dr Feelgood, Whitesnake, and Hysteria.
Argument 2: "They're bad musicians and the music has gotten stale."
This is a complaint that is usually uttered when a band gains a great deal of commercial success. Sadly, a lot of bands compromise their artistry in order to ensure the maximum sales and radio play. It happens to just about everyone, regardless of genre.
That doesn't mean the artists aren't talented. Despite having emphasis on looks, the musicians do have great talent. Glam has spawned a plethora of guitarists, each looking to be the next Eddie Van Halen. Nuno Bettencourt, Michael Angelo Batio, and the late but always great Randy Rhoads are regarded as virtuosos of their instruments and incorporate classical music into their shredding. The band Pantera got their start with hair metal and Dimebag Darrel (then "Diamond" Darrell) was displaying his technical skills even then before they delved into heavier territory. Vocalists are known for their shrieking vocals and can hit some extraordinary notes; Nitro's Jim Gillette's voice travels from the abyss to his heavens with such ease and power. As well as sustaining high-pitched squeals, Gillette's been known to shatter glass with his voice.
Argument 3: "The image is stupid and I can't really relate to the lyrics."
To these people I say, "REALLY?!" You're okay with dudes decked out in S&M bondage gear, smothered in blood and grit, painted black and white, pretending to be vikings, or even in made up to look like monsters out of a sci-fi film, but looking a little effeminate puts you off? If anything, these guys are brave since a lot of men are so afraid of being perceived as feminine in some way. But even the greats of metal put a little too much stock into their appearance. I saw Judas Priest on their Epitaph tour and, I swear to God, Halford made a costume change every two songs! Not necessary! I get it. You wanna switch things up. Do it a different way.
As for lyrics, it is TOTALLY easier to relate to than most of the content of extreme metal songs. Have you had personal contact with serial killers, enemy soldiers, dictators, or demons? Probably not. The hair bands talk about the human experience. We all happiness and achievement and that's exactly what they sing about! Their songs tell stories about parties, love, and the glory of rock 'n' roll. There's love lost and won. People give them piss about bragging about their riches, but what they're actually doing is giving you hope. These artists weren't wealthy; they came to L.A. hungry and they worked until they broke out. They're promoting the American Dream! If they can make it, so can you!
I probably haven't stamped out all the hate glam metal has grabbed, but hopefully I've changed a perspective or two. I hope future bands try to take up this style and bring it into the light again. It'd be interesting to see where the genre finds itself five years from now; with any luck, it won't be wiped out. I know glam isn't going to be moneymaker it was in the Eighties, but it will touch as many people as it did when these artists were filling the Roxy.
So what do you guys think? Do you love it or leave it? Is there a band or album-- old or new-- that gets you goin'? Have any good glam recommendations? Any stories? Let me know in the comments!