Tales from the Jugular

Social Media: Stimulus for Metal Renaissance
An Op-ed on Social Media and Heavy Music Resurgence

By: Eric Compton
Published: Friday, January 19, 2018
Is it just me or is hard music as a whole vastly improved? Are we experience a rock and metal renaissance, an invigorating explosion of artist expression done to near perfection when compared to earlier eras? I think we are.

We could look at a cross-section of genres and not find the same resurgence that heavy music has experienced. The closest could be Americana, a long-established genre that is finally getting some paydays and exposure thanks to artists like Jason Isbell, Margo Price, Avett Brothers, and Kacey Musgraves. Finally, the heavy bands we adored as a kid and followed for years are creating their grand achievements. One could look at Metallica, who for the first time since the early 90's has created the album that fans have asked for. After miring in the muck for decades, 'Hardwired to Self-Destruct', the thrash band's 2016 comeback, was met with critical accolades and global fan approval.

Here's the short list of band resurgence over the last couple years:

Megadeth--scored a career first by landing at number one on Billboard's Top Rock Albums chart.

Anthrax--these 36 years-old vets experienced a few career firsts in 2016. Number one on Billboard's Hard Rock Albums chart as well as a career high--number two for Top Rock Albums. In addition to that the band scored its first top ten (charted nine) on the Billboard 200 since 1993.

Flotsam and Jetsam--this 36 years-old Phoenix, AZ band had their highest US chart success since 1988 and highest chart success ever in Germany.

Accept--these 40 year veterans experienced their biggest success in 2014 with 'Blind Rage', the band's 14th record to date. The record charted the highest of their career, 35th on Billboard's 200. For the first-time ever the album landed a number one in their home country of Germany.

Vicious Rumors--the band entered US charts for the first time ever, and in Germany the album scored in the Top 100, another first. This is a 38 years-old band. The album received mostly positive reviews by industry and fans. I had it in my Maximum Metal Top 20.

Metal Church--this 35 years-old band experienced their highest chart success in the US last year. 'XI' charted at number 57 and was the only Metal Church album to enter the Billboard 200 since 'Blessing in Disguise' in 1989.

To spin on the U.S. President's campaign slogan, bands are "making metal great again". It's not just the album sales though. We are seeing some of the best material from bands that, historically, have just been a little "underwhelming" at times. NWOBHM bands like Quartz, Diamond Head and Tygers of Pan Tang released critically acclaimed records (metal scribe Martin Popoff has 2 of them in his top 20 of 2016). Steve Grimmett is back with the Grim Reaper name in a welcome return to his roots. You are now seeing bands reunited, welcoming former members and generally fulfilling the dreams of their fan-base. And that's just the vets. The crop of talent from the 00s are delivering quality records and improving their skill-set while a new crop has emerged globally to lay siege to "the next big thing" title. Nearly every day I am being turned on to unknown bands and albums that are impressing the hell out of me. It's a disease, and a cure isn't requested.

So, why is this resurgence happening? Why have we suddenly reached the summit where most albums are typically above average, exceeding expectations and generally good? It's an interesting question that I have posed to a few people and the general consensus is that bands are starting to not only hear the fans, but using their wants and needs as a blueprint. Fans wanted Metallica to return to the hard-hitting sound they preferred in the 80's. They wanted Joey Belladonna back in Anthrax. They were clamoring for Mike Howe to rejoin Metal Church. They were happy to see "Junior" back with Megadeth. People spoke. Artists listened.

Is social media the driving force for hard music's renaissance? Is it driving these bands to make changes to their personnel, sound and overall dynamic? I think it has a huge impact on what artists create. For the first time in human history we are all connected and in tune with each other's thoughts and actions. With so many bands (or band's' management) on Twitter, Facebook and other outlets, they are now getting direct feedback from their audience. Release a single that isn't received well? They will know about it. It's straight-forward with the fan base or peers discussing it in as much detail as they like. Want to play a show or special recording? They simply pose the question and receive instant responses. With it comes the instant gratification as well. A valuable motivating factor. They want favorable opinions.

As you can imagine, these artists read and hear everything now, a sponge that just soaks up information. There's no way it couldn't affect their creations. If you look at a situation where an audience wants a band to replace a member, change a style or create something...their voice can be heard. In that sense one would think that these bands that have really shown new purpose and life could be drawing internal strength from their social media accounts. Positive, negative or neutral...the voices and opinions have to have some correlation to the creation. Yes? No?

Prior to online access artists could only gage success with attendance, sales and print media. If they were well received, it showed in the crowd sizes. If they sold albums, then that was generally a sign that their audience was enjoying the product. Print media could be biased or subjective. If a journalist had dinner and drinks on the band's dime that could have led to a slightly skewed review. Artists had to rely on their management and label to gain much valued feedback. There was no direct voice to the audience other than the give and take on the stage and the few stragglers hanging around before or after the show. A meet and greet and an autograph could change an opinion of an album or performance. Again, it wasn't a direct voice providing praise, criticism, or suggestions.

In the late 90's, as the internet culture changed, artists were able to offer chat sessions with their audience. These were typically question and answer and involved a third party--often a company looking to market a product--as a moderator. Once social media arrived, then that direct channel was created for the first time. And it's a relatively new concept overall. In 2010 Twitter had 65 million tweets per day. In 2016 it was estimated that Twitter was experiencing 500 million tweets per day. That's 350,000 tweets sent per minute. That is a whole lot of audience talking about art and artist.

Think of it this way. Picasso released "Guernica", one of his most famous works, in 1937. He urged that it was up to the public to interpret the symbols in the work as they understand them. There was no direct channel for Picasso to hear what the public thought other than an exhibit. If "Guernica" was released today, Picasso could hear thousands of interpretations within hours of the public viewing it. How would "Guernica" be perceived if a community of thousands were discussing its symbolism within hours? It doesn't leave much room for individual thoughts or unaffected translation. You see the work, you read what everyone else thinks and then you either agree, disagree or form your own opinion. It wasn't that way in 1937, or 1977 or even 1987. Picasso may have changed his artistic style if he were receiving direct feedback, instant gratification or criticism from thousands of people.

Social media shouldn't be considered the essential reason for a band's success or failure. Artists have their own style, expectations and goals. There are many factors to consider when determining why metal is exceeding our expectations. The fact that it's available everywhere could play a part. Are we generally happy just having it instantly available at any time? YouTube, Spotify and others are streaming 24/7 with ads. Paid subscriptions are allowing us to stream and download all we want. It's an endless buffet of music that even our website can't keep up with.

The recent concert trend is the paid V.I.P. experience. Arrive at the show earlier than "normal" ticket-buyers, meet the artist and get a photo and autograph. There is a direct channel there as well when the artist is hearing direct feedback. It's no longer dialogue outside of the bus amongst screams and car horns. This is a more intimate, controlled environment that is fertile for discussion. Which then leads to a show that could be ramped up even more due to that positive or constructive feedback the hours before. Artists have to be dead-on great during their performances due to the larger audience that is viewing. They aren't just playing for the live audience any longer. Often multiple videos of the performance are loaded online or through YouTube, sometimes within minutes of the show's conclusion. If they miss chords, forget lyrics or generally just suck it up...the whole world knows, not just the 400 standing on hardwood floors. Bands have to be tight and on fire.

Whether it is social media, V.I.P. experiences or technology, the end result is that we are living in a hard music renaissance. It's great to be a fan, spectator, and a journalist right now. Music is fun, it's everywhere and it is as shallow or as deep as you want it to be. For the first-time ever we are experiencing new technologies that put us closer and closer to the artist and their work. Who knows, at some point in the coming years I may be able to just turn on a hologram of the '82 Iron Maiden playing a full set in my den, right by the 90" TV and the Playstation VR. Just clear some space so feet and hands are visible.

I want it as large as life...and I want it now.

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