GOOD GOD IT’S HOT! It’s currently 27 degrees (80F) outside and Rebecca Wood on Midlands Today reckons it’s going to peak at 31 (82F). It’s made worse by the fact that the office air conditioning is ‘suffering from a major fault’. Basically- They can’t be bothered to turn it on at the valve.
It’s rare that I’ll write two entries in the space of a week, but because the air con is bost and after seeing a video on YouTube earlier on this question before heading to work I kind of had to offer my two cents worth (or as it is in sunny Blighty- Roughly just one penny) to the table
The question posed isn’t as much as much of will there be another band that sounds like Metallica, but will there be another band with the fanbase, legacy, influence, defining sound and money making prowess of Metallica? In this modern technological world where we’re used to streaming music via Spotify, YouTube and now Apple Music, artists are not being paid as much as they used to via album sales, as 2012 became the first year where downloads outweighed physical copies. Recently, Spotify and Apple Music have come under fire for not paying decent amounts of royalties to artists per song, as was the case recently with Taylor Swift writing an open letter to Apple.
We as guitar players have at least once in our playing careers dreamed of being a band on the scale of Metallica with the multi-platinum albums, the signature gear and world tours and if these figures are anything to go by: Earning $5m+ for one show in Sao Paulo, Brazil (Before tax and paying individual road crew). Metallica, a band that has been around since the early 1980s is able to pull this off to great effect because they were around when people bought CDs/Records and even today The Black Album shifts around a hundred thousand copies a year which shows that almost twenty five years later they are reaching a younger fanbase.
One of the most obvious ways Metallica was able to reach such a wide audience is that they dared to ‘bridge the gap’ between two different musical styles. While their first four albums Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets and …And Justice for All were very much thrash metal (New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Heavy Metal and Punk influences mashed together), they changed direction in 1991 with their self-titled album more commonly referred to as The Black Album (insert Spinal Tap reference here)
The Black Album, compared to previous Metallica releases, was simple. “Simple compared to what we’ve done before” said Lars Ulrich on the VH1 Classic Albums episode about the record. While they had kept elements of a heavy metal influence, they injected elements of rock n’ roll and pop into the album: There are strings on Nothing Else Matters, a nylon string guitar on The Unforgiven and simple catchy hooks as found in Enter Sandman‘s main riff and chorus. This not only kept the older Metallica fans happy as they had something to headbang to (Especially that monsterous riff to Sad But True) it attracted more people to the band as the music was more ‘palletable’ to them. Me included: While I do enjoy Puppets and Justice, I prefer The Black Album, Load and Reload as they suit my hard rock/blues rock backgrounds in playing and listening. Older Metallica fans may shun Load and Reload but there is a large portion of the fanbase that likes them for songs such as Fuel, Aint My Bitch and one of my personal favourites Mama Said that has a country influence on it with Kirk Hammett even doing some pedal steel licks. Odd for a band that is best known for it’s brutal thrash riffs. Even my mum likes this stuff, and she likes ABBA…
There have, of course, been other artists that have branched out mixing styles or changed direction altogether: Taylor Swift, love her or hate her, is even more of a global star since she moved from country to pop; Ed Sheeran has combined that folky troubadour indie sound into something else and Michael Buble has essentially become jazz for those into pop music which reaches a wider audience. Shania Twain’s country-rock album Come on Over is still one of the best selling albums in the UK, despite her albums previous going largely un-noticed as pure country is not something we listen to here. John Mayer is being taken seriously as a guitar player since his album Continuum as opposed to his acoustic pop rock found on Room for Squares.
Are there any bands out there that can challenge Metallica for their size and reach as a band? I
guess we won’t find out until many years down the line but at the minute in terms of influence amongst young guitarists and music fans I can think of Avenged Sevenfold as one of those contenders. Total Guitar loves these guys and out of the current crop of hard rock and metal players Synyster Gates is one of the few that has an identifiable style. A7X are very popular amongst younger guitarists interested in metal and Gates is one of the few, I think, ‘original’ players out there. Muse are approaching that status, although they have been around a lot longer and have an original sound and are selling out massive venues. They are not a group I particularly enjoy, but they combine electronic elements with rock to help draw in crowds from both sides and create an innovative style. Matt Bellamy was voted Guitarist of the Decade in Total Guitar, a magazine that caters primarily to the younger guitarist. Other modern influences regularly getting magazine coverage include the amazing Joe Bonamassa (who has been praised by Clapton, Jools Holland and the late BB King), Slash (okay, he’s been around much longer but has only recently become ‘mainstream’), John Frusciante, Kurt Cobain (Shots fired… No pun intended) and Guthrie Govan (A little more niche, but still). What do these guys have in common? All have an identifiable voice on the guitar, something hard to come by these days. In the 70s and 80s, guitar heroes were as common as mud and many of my own inspirations have come from that era: Joe Walsh, Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, Angus Young, Brian May, Carlos Santana and Ritchie Blackmore to name a few. It could be argued (because fuck you academics) that it was probably easier to be innovative back then as the things they were doing had not been done before. That said, there are guitar players out there today you can identify by their style.
The fans have a big part to play in all of this though: The metal community for the most part is not interested in “bridging the gap”. Metalheads have a certain anti-social pretentiousness to them: Rather than becoming commercially successful they would rather write more unconventional songs, become more exclusionary, and get “cult” status rather than popularity, often claiming “we don’t want to be sellouts like Metallica.” Metallica did not “sell out” during the 90’s, What happened is they were not interesting in writing the same albums over and over and over again and were burned out from touring the …Justice material. My theory is Metallica wanted to change just for the sake of not letting themselves stagnate like their contemporaries so they played more rock and roll style metal instead of the balls to the wall thrash metal. The album they actually did in fact sell out on was Death Magnetic (SAY WHAAAAAAAA!?). Let me explain. The motivation for the album wasn’t musical; It was commercial. They tried to appease those who thought the band’s credibility had been damaged since 1991 and did it to appease those who can’t let go of the ’80s. That’s why, for me, the album sounds half arsed in production and writing.
For a band or genre to be successful and reach the top, you need to have a torch bearer to almost be the ‘face’ of your area of expertise that can bring in sales and be the person that allows people to find your band through the ‘you may also like’ part of Spotify or YouTube: Country has Brad Paisley, pop has Taylor Swift, metal has Metallica, blues has Joe Bonamassa and John Mayer and so on. Luck may have a part to do with it now in the 21st century, but from the perspective of the metal scene, maybe the only way to be a megastar like Metallica in today’s climate is, unfortunately, to go as commercial as possible.
Thanks to Ryan Bruce aka Fluff on YouTube for the basis for this. You can like and subscribe to his YouTube channel here
Addendum: In the time it’s taken to write this it’s now clouded over… Please rain… Please?