From the beginning, hard rock/metal almost always been an afterthought for mainstream attention, the recent shenanigans at the Grammy’s emphasises this. Yes, some bands have broken through and have been a success in a commercial environment, Metallica and Nirvana to name a few. But for the most part we, as a genre are not given the time of the day, and generally sit under the radar. But it begs the question, does heavy music really need the attention of the mainstream or is it completely fine without this?
The Basic history of heavy music goes by this general rule, the blueprints of heavy music was written in the late sixties/early 70’s by the likes of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple etc. thus, the idea of heavy music has been a known thing for the better part of 40 years. There has been a consistent rise and fall in the popularity of heavy music, but it has always been there in one form or another with a consistent fan base. Iron Maiden are an interesting example to look into. For all of their career they have been a band shunned by mainstream radio or exposure, but through hard work, dedication and a near consistent output of great music, the band have gone on to become arguably the biggest name in metal. In 1982, following the release of Number of the Beast, the band were subject to a witch hunt, with many believing their music promoted Satanism, of course this is not the case and the whole ordeal arguably helped to elevate the band further, developing notoriety and bringing in intrigued listeners. another example, as previously mentioned, Metallica are one of the few genuinely heavy bands who have broken through in to mainstream attention. After building up a name for themselves throughout the eighties with four of the finest metal albums of all time, the band stripped back their sound, favouring a more straight forward heavy rock output and released the self-titled Black Album in 1991. Some considered this a sell-out by the band who cut their teeth in the field of thrash metal, but the songs maintained heaviness and obviously still fell under the bracket of metal. These examples don’t really have much relevance in today’s environment, both Iron Maiden and Metallica came to find fame in a much different period in time.
In this day and age; heavy bands don’t reach the gargantuan levels of the likes of Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath or Metallica. It’s highly unlikely we will see another metal act reach these highs, however great it would be for the scene. To focus on the breakthrough heavy act of the last five years, Bring Me The Horizon have pretty much left metal behind these days. 2015’s That’s the spirit favoured pop melodies and at time touched on dance and R&B aspects. The band have made an active choice to leave behind their heavy roots in order to gain recognition in a mainstream environment, and it has worked for them as they have successfully sold out arenas around the world and are on the verge of headlining festivals. This example suggests that bands must cater to a certain set of conventions to be acknowledged on a commercial level. Heavy music as a whole has, as previously mentioned, been on the go for over 40 years, and in that time frame, it has provided more than its fair share of world beating bands, the likes of Alter Bridge, Black Stone cherry, Five Finger Death Punch, Volbeat, A Day to Remember and Slipknot are filling big venues around the world currently, with many more knocking on the door whilst staying true to their sound, which offers a clear counterbalance to the previous argument.
With all of the above taken in to account, it is safe to say that heavy music is at its best when it operates on its own terms and the progression of a band is pure, without aiming to sound particularly radio friendly or watering down their sound. And if bands do happen to crossover, and bring in new fans, that can only be a good thing for the scene as whole, right?
We are entering an interesting time, with many of the old guard of bands hanging up their instruments and a wealth of interesting acts working their way up through the ranks. It feels like another resurgence in heavy music’s widespread appeal could be just around the corner, bands are creeping up the charts and scoring high places in recent years, Avenged Sevenfold, Mastodon, Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes and Creeper to name a couple of examples. So the writing is most certainly on the wall, and it feels as if the next Nirvana ’esque breakthrough could be a realistic possibility sooner rather than later. But with the older acts calling it a day, the metal community will have to re-adjust in order for this to happen, getting behind younger bands and realising that the big names aren’t going to be around forever, in order to provide the next crop of festival headliners/big names. perhaps we may have to lower our expectations as to the size a band can reach, but then again, in the not too distant future, maybe we won’t? There’s a lot of great bands out there, with enough to please all corners of rock and metal, if people take the time to absorb newer music rather than comparing it to the artists of yesteryear, then rock/metal can, and will be in a good place moving forward, with or without the attention of the mainstream.