Many of us will no doubt remember when the term New Wave Of American Metal first began being used, when it was a big deal. Remember when Killswitch Engage were seemingly the most popular band on the planet, When Shadows Fall sounded vital and fresh, or when Trivium were bound to become the new Metallica? If so; I imagine any people reading this will notice, as I have, the difference between the feel of the Metal scene back in the early 2000's to what it is today.
It goes without saying that the NWOAM signalled it's arrival in the early 90's with bands like Pantera, Machine Head, System Of A Down and even Korn, but what I intend to focus on is the point of explosion, when the ones that these bands inspired started to take flight.
It was around 2002 that the scene got sick and tired of Nu-Metal. It was time for a cultural shift. Some would say it was time for a more traditional Metal sound to take the helm. At this same time, the scene in America had turned into a vast melting pot of different influences and sounds; the Pantera-inspired barbarism of Lamb Of God, Hatebreed's Metallic Hardcore savagery, Mastodon's Progressive Metal meets Sludge Metal Frankenstein, and of course the Swedish Death Metal meets American hardcore sound of Killswitch Engage, who inadvertently set down the template for near a decade's worth of music. Though, breakthrough Nu-Metal and Hard Alternative bands such as Linkin Park, Slipknot and Deftones can be seen as major players in influencing the next wave of bands in the NWOAM and Metalcore scenes.
When it comes to the bands that followed the aforementioned groups, the list is vast, and in some cases may seem obvious. I can only list them as such; Shadows Fall, 36 Crazyfists, Atreyu, Avenged Sevenfold, All That Remains, Bleeding Through, As I Lay Dying, Darkest Hour, DevilDriver, Trivium, Five Finger Death Punch and Unearth all came forward in the following years, bulking up the NWOAM movement.
In the UK, bands such as Bullet For My Valentine, Asking Alexandria, Bring Me The Horizon, Devil Sold His Soul, While She Sleeps, Bury Tomorrow, Bleed From Within, Veil Of Maya, Rise To Remain and Glamour Of The Kill can be counted among the Metalcore movement. Of course, there are many other countries that have contributed bands, such as Parkway Drive from Australia and The Agonist from Canada. Needless to say, the number of bands speak volumes for the genre's popularity over time.
However; there is a discussion point at hand - has the Metalcore genre ran its course artistically, despite it's prominence?
Many may read that question and think "That's stupid, how can a genre be losing relevance if it's still popular?". While that point makes sense on the surface, when we look deeper, there is a case for the downfall of the genre.
Look to the eighties; Glam Metal was one of the most popular musical genres of the day, with bands like Van Halen, Skid Row, Motley Crue and Poison selling out arenas. Then, after several other bands tried their hand at surfing the Glam Metal wave, such as Cinderella, Ratt, Warrant, Dokken, Winger and Vixen, the scene took a drastic downturn as far as fan interest comes. Less tickets and records sold, less originality and less credibility with each coming band spelled an end of Glam's time as the dominant genre. As metal fans, we look at this as fact. It was time for something new, which we accept to be 90s Grunge. At the same time, on the heavier side of metal, Thrash Metal was starting to give way to primitive Death Metal and Black Metal as people sought something more original and heavy. Fast forward to the 2000s, and Grunge gave way to Nu-Metal, then Nu-Metal gave way to the NWOAM and Metalcore.
The pattern is clear; cultural shifts always happen, and the Metal culture is not immune to this pattern at all.
Recently, Metalcore has been fighting with genre's such as Djent for prominence and hype, as well as fast-rising underground Extreme Metal bands, such as Behemoth, Watain, Enslaved, Amon Amarth, Arch Enemy, Bloodbath, Kataklysm and Opeth. There are also increasing numbers of reunited and resurging bands that are taking precedence in the eye of the Metal world; Carcass, At The Gates, Sanctuary, Agnostic Front, Coal Chamber, Judas Priest, Nightwish, Marilyn Manson, Venom and King Diamond among many others who are constantly in the limelight at the moment. With all this, it certainly seems like Metalcore is getting left behind slightly.
Strictly speaking, Metal is not solely to blame. Rock is producing a number of fast-growing dominant bands, such as Halestorm, Alter Bridge, Black Stone Cherry, Blues Pills, Black Star Riders, Shinedown, The Darkness and others. There is still a great demand among fans of heavy music to hear the classic Rock and Hard Rock sounds, so the bands that are performing this style of music well are gaining and gaining in momentum. Arguably to become future arena or festival headlining acts.
Of course, the earlier point of dwindling artistic merit within the Metalcore sub-genre can be seen as a matter of opinion (As can everything else, where music is concerned) but there is a very clear trend within the scene as far as the way that new and rising Metalcore bands are portrayed, both by themselves and by the press, particularly the UK press.
Image is a difficult word in Metal that many people; writers, artists, promoters, journalists and fans alike will dance around in an awkward, bumbling way. Setting the record straight; many Metal bands have cultivated interest through imagery since Metal's inception. Be it America's KISS with their characters, make-up and onstage antics, to Venom's caricature Satanism, Iron Maiden's mascot Eddie featuring on their lavish artwork and stage sets, the smoke-and-haze occultism of bands like Electric Wizard, the macho/camp tongue-in-cheek presentation of Manowar, Slipknot's masks and much-documented insanity during their live shows, the dark destructive misanthropy of modern Black Metal bands such as Gorgoroth, or the faux-religious theatricality of Ghost. All of those bands give explanations for their imagery, as do countless others, but the point still stands that the visual aspect is part of the attraction, part of the overall experience and fabric of a band. Many fans and bands may sneer or shrug at the idea, but it is indisputable.
Now, when Metalcore first came to light most bands took on no readily identifiable imagery, similarly to the way that bands from the NWOBHM days or the Thrash and Death Metal scenes. These were musicians who took to denim and leather, head banging and playing their instruments in a no-nonsense manner, keeping a very transparent connection between themselves and the fans. To coin a cliché; the music did the talking. Fast forward to the present day, and you'll find the newer breed of Metalcore bands are taking on an arguably shallow image that can be likened to both the Emo bands of the early 2000's or the Glam Metal bands.
Obviously, one could say it is not for me, or anybody else to judge a band for this approach, but when you take into account the very formulaic verse-chorus-breakdown structure of the music, alongside which you can often find seemingly obligatory ballads, not to mention the overused lyrical themes, which come across as simply insincere copycatting of bands that came before, it's very easy to tire of these new bands.
Not to mention that it's only every few months that you see a new band coming up, being touted as the 'New hope for Metalcore'. This is hugely infuriating, from my own standpoint. You see the same phrases every time; "The heaviness is heavier, the melodic parts are more melodic", "This band is following in the footsteps of (Insert Metalcore band name here)" and "It's Metalcore with a difference", yet upon closer inspection of the music on offer, you'll hear the same formula nine times out of ten. With this, bands like Black Veil Brides, Escape The Fate, Falling In Reverse, Bleed From Within, We Came As Romans and many others now come across as hollow, with a short half-life.
Remember what it was that took the feet out from under Glam Metal and the others?
I will end this piece by stating an obvious rebuttal. Glam Metal bands didn't die off completely; Motley Crue made it through to now retire on their own terms, Twisted Sister carried on respectably, even Ratt and the like have been party to some shows, playing old classics to those still faithful, even though they do not gain momentum again.
The same applies for Nu-Metal; Coal Chamber recently released a well-received new record, Limp Bizkit still draw crowds at festivals, KoRn still carry on at a steady pace and Slipknot are one of the biggest bands on the planet! (Though how much they really ever counted strictly as Nu-Metal is still a topic of debate to this day, and for the record I stand on the side that says they are not Nu-Metal).
So in the end, where does that fact leave Metalcore and the NWOAM scene that had a large hand in spawning it? Simply; we are at the point in the genre's lifeline where the value of the bands involved is being truly determined. Avenged Sevenfold are not arena headliners who have scaled such heights as headlining Download Festival, among others. (Arguably, they've shed the Metalcore tag, but they came from that scene, so they are accountable in this topic of conversation). Killswitch Engage still pack venues with recently returned singer Jesse Leach. Lamb Of God stand high in the echelons of Metal, Five Finger Death Punch are hot on the heels of Avenged Sevenfold, Trivium remain greatly respected and prominent.
On the other side, Bullet For My Valentine's future is debatably uncertain, Bring Me The Horizon have shown signs that they will pursue other territories that could be likened to bands like Linkin Park (Listen to 'Sempiternal' or their recent-ish single for evidence to the possibility), and even Atreyu have reformed to release a new record.
What this shows is that the bands of value and commendable credibility, regardless of individual opinion, are maintaining their fan base and surviving these tumultuous times. That itself is something that deserves recognition and respect. Even some of the smaller bands like Glamour Of The Kill may well have careers of some description, even if it is to play small clubs and the like. As long as we stop hearing claims that they will take over the Metal world and change the landscape, then we're fine.
And those bands that have fallen may well return someday, the same way that the likes of Coal Chamber, Carcass, System Of A Down, Sanctuary, At The Gates, King Diamond and other bands have done. It may well happen at a time when the Metal world cries out for the good ol' days. Maybe a band will come out someday to revive this struggling animal into better health. If that happens, I'll be the first one to hand out commendations. Until then, I say the ball is in everybody's court to choose whether or not to look for something a little fresher to focus upon.