Silent Witless

In London and New York, all eyes turn on the corporate media, and fail to grasp the point. Gleeful schadenfreude is the overwhelming reaction, as an antipodean plutocrat suffers endless humiliating comparisons to Mr Burns, a popular cartoon character that he owns and which has made him billions of dollars. On the point of vomiting with anticipation, they imagine there will come a moment when the crumbling edifice passes the point of no return and a new era of media plurality and democracy emerges; instead, a new elite will simply take News Corp’s place, and that’s if this damage even proves to be lasting.

In the Middle East, a thundering cry for revolution engulfs nation after nation, leaving a swathe of chaos, death and civil war in its wake. Arrogant westerners call it the Arab Spring, except it’s still happening, and it’s summer now. In Europe, entire economies tremble to the aftershocks of the panglobal financial meltdown of 2007 that still hasn’t had its last word. Unrest is in the air.

And in Covent Garden, yesterday, this happened:

For the uninformed and uninterested, this represents some spoilt, privileged white people complaining – against a background of looming catastrophe, no less – that their favourite band, Bring Me the Horizon, has been ignored by a corporate music prize, the Barclaycard Mercury. Some people thought reacting like this might make metalheads look myopic and cretinous. Some people thought it was just plain stupid (that was us). But some thought different.

Couple of points to make:

  1. Just because you like something really fucking hard, it doesn’t automatically make it not embarrassing shit – or by extension, popular.
  2. You can’t have it both ways, metal fans. Either your scene is the rebellious and headstrong alternative, gleefully defining itself in opposition to corporate rimjobbery the like of which the Barclaycard Mercury Music Prize represents – or it isn’t. Behaving like this just makes the superior attitude you cop whenever you aren’t being snubbed by an award committee look really artificial.
  3. Heavy metal is dead. As dead as my follicles. Deader than your sex life. Deader than a duck called Paul Gray getting bummed off its mates.

‘Heavy metal is dead’ is a pretty mouldy cliché by now, but as this is Demon Pigeon dot biz I have elected to bring something fresh to the table. I’ve gone on a search for heavy metal’s mouldering cadaver, hitherto undiscovered. And I think I’ve found it, or at least I know where to look.

The year is 1986. Diego Maradona invents the God Hand. A space shuttle disintegrates in the sky. Oliver Sykes is born.

Nobody knew it at the time, but heavy metal was struggling, about to breathe its last. Nobody would have seen it coming; it looked in ruddy health. Creatively, the genre was reaching its peak. The genesis of the Big Four was almost complete, paving the way for a string of seminal, genre-defining releases, incorporating all the last truly original ideas heavy metal would ever have; Master of Puppets, Reign in Blood and Peace Sells…, as well as landmark records by Kreator, Exodus, Testament and Death, all followed in 1987 (though recorded the previous year so it still counts, noob), by Anthrax’s Among the Living.

Then, against all the odds, Cliff Burton died, the silly old sod. I’ve a sneaking suspicion he might have taken metal down with him, because it hasn’t done anything genuinely new or innovative since. Hypothesis: Cliff Burton had plugged heavy metal, the genre, up his bum, hoping it would dissolve and give him the trip of his life. Dig him up, and let’s find out.

But what does all this tell us about the state of heavy metal in 2011 (which is now) vis-à-vis the Barclaycard Mercury Prize?

Like News Corp, the brave iconoclasts and rebels pictured above – who, nearly 30 years ago, let us remember, contributed something worthwhile, inimitable and lasting to their muse – have swept aside their posturing and joined forces, agglomerating into an all conquering, all sweating, all old commercial juggernaut; the apotheosis of which is a 17-piece rendition of a Diamond Head song from 1980. This is a curiosity, nothing more than a museum piece. They couldn’t be more squarely positioned in the mainstream if they tried, and they are definitely trying. These rich, white, heterosexual, conservative men are at the top of the heavy metal tree, which goes to show how far the genre has moved since 1986.

All that remains now is for Amanda Holden or Quincy to get hold of Cliff Burton’s bones and start having a good sciencey prod about. Maybe then we’ll know for sure what truly happened.

RIP heavy metal 1968 – 1986.

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