Monday, April 5, 2010

We Were Cool, Once

ah, the mid-late 90s. What a wonderful time to be a heavy metal fan, if you were in it for the music and could deal with feeling betrayed by the old guard and with the overall scene being dead dead dead.

Because We Knew. We had a secret, and it was powerful.

In this environment I started my zine. I dedicated many pages to then-unknown bands like Opeth, Katatonia, The Gathering, HammerFall, Arch Enemy, Devin Townsend, Nightwish, Nile... lots of bands. Some had careers already on the rise, others seemed doomed to eternal obscurity.

Something that awesome couldn't stay a secret for very long. Many of these bands I worked hard (and spend five figures) to promote never went anywhere. Maybe they changed and I hated their followup albums, or maybe they continued to be fine acts but just never caught the public eye.

The worst that happened is that some of these bands became popular, and did so at the same time their sound was shifting.

Metal came back. Not the superstar 80s by any means (although some bands like Iron Maiden are more popular now than they ever were), but there was a solid base of talent across the entire metal spectrum.

We would hem and haw that the popular bands weren't the right ones, of course. Or that bands had to change to get there. To become successful, the scene was lifted away from the hobbyist/enthusiast business of the 90s and came into the commercial realm of major label partnerships and slick music videos.

And we remembered when we were cool. When we had some sort of secret code with which to talk to one another. When we were close and when the bands were true and when the other guys at shows looked more like us than like kids with their faddy hairstyles and weird clothes. And where'd all these girls come from (you know, all these fake ones, not the good ones us real guys were fucking)?

In addition to all this being pretty much garbage memory (and not even all of it mine), this turn of events and regrowth of metal has some pretty amazing side effects, even if half the bands are rather false and half the rest are just shit no matter how well-meaning.

The old guard is getting respect. Yeah, there's Maiden (and Megadeth and Metallica have regained some of their respect so easily thrown away in the 1990s) and it seems every band and their side-project from the 80s and 90s are reforming - not that even this can be argued with as it brought back Atheist and Cynic - but bands that yesterday were considered very old news like Saxon get magazine cover features when releasing a new album today, and never-wases like Anvil are tasting success for the first time in their 30+ year career.

So no, it's not so cool anymore, and it's definitely not exclusive.

But there are records being sold (yes, records being sold) and there are butts in the seats as musicians perform on actual stages to actual audiences. For good bands as well as the bad.

Yes, this post is about gaming.


  1. Listening to Symphony X as I read this

  2. I'm old enough to have seen indie scenes become the mainstream plenty of times now. First one for me was the Thrash scene in the 80s, then Grunge/Alternative, then punk, then the whole melodic death metal bit. I can see where you're going with the analog to the role playing underground, but I'm not sure I'm convinced. The OSR would have to get a hell of a lot edgier and progressive (and loud) than it currently seems to be.

  3., after some more consideration, I guess I'd say it's just the "Loud" part that's really missing. There are plenty of people doing interesting and forward-thinking work, it's just that there's almost no way for those outside the circle to know about it. Cool/scary looking guys don't walk around town with OSR shirts and make people wonder what they're missing out on.

  4. What's the "we" shit? I was never, ever cool.

  5. Saxon is on the covers? Cool, I've been a fan since the eighties. ;)

  6. HWOBHM + Games Workshop (when they were still cool, and their artists looked like bikers and riffed on Dürer and Bosch) were my gaming gateways.

    This post is relevant to my interests.

  7. "Hammerfall...we will prevail..."

  8. Great post. It brings back memories of screaming guitars and thundering drums. It was always about the music, the power, that tingle at the base of your neck when the power chords were played in certain combinations and you felt that a flaming crack would open up in the earth and all hell would break loose. The power, the desire to flail about like a madman, the music would play and the berserkergang would come upon you and the whole world would turn red...

  9. Great post bud, and sorry, admittedly can't relate. After all,I'm a guy who just saw a Beatles tribute band Saturday night.

    That said, even I know metal has... its place. And like the tides, it comes in, and out. For example, Seattle rock overnight destroyed American metal bands credentials and exposed them as hair-sprayed, overwrought, make-up wearing, tight pants-ed, ugly dudes. You couldn't even play a mainstreamer like "Pour Some Sugar" at a frat party and get away with it while I was at school in '94.

    And, the conformers to nonconformity who latch on when the tide is "out" are best served still like it when it is "in". Bask in it. Enjoy it!

    This coming from a guy seeing Foreigner, Styx, and Kansas (surviving original members) in June, and would die to see Jeff Lynch get ELO together again on tour. So, my credibility is lacking.

    But, even my brand of late 70's & 80's "airbrushed picture on the side of an old-school van" has come back in style.

  10. Interestingly enough, this post mirrors both my entry into metal and into old-school gaming.

    Thanks, Raggi.