Chronically tardy to the party, the jimmy-rustling headlines of rock being dead is one I’ve just gotten around to consciously acknowledging. Before I even knew this was a widely-identified topic, I had been quietly comparing my current fascination with experimental hip-hop to my obsession with the 2010ish prog renaissance. I largely kept my comparison to myself because I knew that even putting blessed-ass Between the Buried and Me in the same category as, say, Lil Whomsteverthefuck would make people pointlessly angry. As I’ve come to recently discover, this critical population points fingers at rappers and rappers only for rock and roll’s life support status. If you need a case study, just go check the comment section on one of my CVLT Nation articles. I’m not trying to serve up any tea, but the reality stands that people often like to take the reductionist approach of “so and so encroached on such and such and now it’s ruined.” It’s an understandable argument; that’s how we tend to approach many facets of change as humans. The problem with their blame game is that it implies fault, and really, there’s no reason to make actors performing in musical tides feel guilty—they are simply making the art that they feel compelled to make based off their lived experiences.
With this metaphor of tides in mind, perhaps it isn’t so accurate to say rock is washed up. Rather, some of its energy has just shifted into another current. Rappers I’ve discussed in the past from Pouya to Lil Peep to Omen XIII can trace their influences to metal’s rockier side, including the likes of System of a Down and Bring Me The Horizon. Interestingly, the individuals who were quick to critique rap in the days of Three 6 Mafia are the same ones begrudging Soundcloud. Despite the fact that today’s rappers have taken the recommendation to integrate “real” problems and “real” instruments defined in the most privileged of terms, it’s still not enough for subsects of metal fans. Since everyone is entitled to their entitled opinion, this distaste, for better or for worse, is okay. Hip-hop has stood its ground when it comes to the integrity of its production, and that’s even okay-er.
The argument can also be made that metal has muddled the chemical makeup of uncut rock and roll. Of course, there’s the argument that all metal is rock but not all rock is metal, leading to the assumption that as long as metal has a pulse, rock, to an extent, does too. However, when you consider the fact that movements like black metal developed as a response to the commercialization of what would be considered hard rock by today’s standards, it’s difficult to look at them as anything but diverging threads. Extreme metal—which, at least anecdotally, seems to be leading the pack of metal subgenres at the moment—heavily obscures traditional rock and roll instrumentation to the point of being almost unrecognizable at times. Doom metal is indebted to the 70’s scene from which Black Sabbath emerged, but the rise of blackened doom deviates from the spirit of, say, Pentagram.
That being said, while metal has helped kill hard-and-fast rock and roll, it’s also helped carry on its most beloved, nostalgia-laced legacies in the same vein of today’s hip hop (contrary to what it may seem like thus far, I really am a lifelong metal fan). As the top commenter on Beyond ARTV’s video about the matter put it, rock may be commercially, dead but you can’t kill the artistic aspect of it. It’s still culturally ingrained whether you grew up with the Led Zeppelin, Red Hot Chili Peppers, or Vampire Weekend. One example of rock’s enduring legacy can be found within the spirit of post-metal.
My all-time favorite band to emerge from the prog renaissance days was Dallas’ Fair to Midland. Categorized as both art rock and alternative metal in addition to progressive, the five piece rode the line between the ambiguous rock/metal splinter. While they encompassed heavy and prominent rhythmic guitar lines, they also incorporated more ethereal folk and orchestral breaks which helped define their sound. While it pains me to have to talk about the since-disbanded troop in the past tense, you can never take back what was. I’m also glad that there are some contributions from the European post-metal camp that read quite similarly to the crossover FTM mastered.
While this Parisian power duo has gained some notoriety, I don’t think their significance is quite yet full fathomed. Although the term “jam band” makes me want to be buried alive, Alcest’s sound does consist of a definitive jam element that blends nicely with post-everything riffs. While the brightness of post-metal can be traced to the collective Millennial experience with post-hardcore, the significance of grunge shouldn’t be taken for granted. While some experimental efforts have translated this style into drone’s distortion, Alcest preserves its purity. As the pair continues going strong their timelessness remains a constant.
Iceland’s Sólstafir teaches us a lesson in restraint, incorporating gothic metal elements without straying into the extreme. Organ-like synth is poignant but fleeting. Sparse landscapes and cloaked figures dominate visuals without overpowering. Overall, the hard-yet-subdued nature makes for something you and your Eagles-stanning dad can enjoy without anyone grumbling. Hopefully this is a gap that will continue to be bridged through rock’s shapeshifting.
Of course, these are just my theories as a 23-year-old in 2018. I could be singing quite a different tune ten years from now. The crux of rock’s wave may rise once more. While rock has become the tomato and cucumber on the sandwich rather than the tempeh, it’s a bit over-dramatic to completely seal it in its coffin and drop it six feet under. You never know when the tables may turn and we’ll see another era of what, say, Warped Tour represented. I guess we’ll just have to stay alive to find out.
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