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42 Decibel: Hard Rock 'n Roll

Every few years, we typically see some kind of change within the musical community. One style gains sudden popularity thanks to a sudden surge of new blood that figured out a successful formula, all the way to longing nostalgia reminding us why a specific sound was so successful before it began to morph or lose steam. The phrase “hopping on the bandwagon” is quite literal when it comes to music, and it’s just as true within the Metal universe.

Every so often you hear a new sub-genre come out of nowhere, branching off an already hardened style, or one that seemed to fade out. Killswitch Engage ushered in the starting blocks for the Metalcore genre’s success, while In Flames and Dark Tranquillity cemented the sudden boom of the short lived Gothenburg era. Then there’s the whole Death ‘n Roll approach that came out of nowhere, but ended a very violent and rather embarassing end thanks to the AC/DC album cover that Six Feet Under issued years ago.

But then there is the sudden rebirth of the existing style, which is the most famous, as well as infamous approach in Metal today. Toxic Holocaust seemed to help the start of the Thrash Metal resurgence for some reason, leading the way for labels to pick up on the young generation of the style. White Wizzard has become the most recognized name in the NWOBHM resurgence, and their fame helped pave the way for many others like them. Then there’s the early Rock bands being picked up today that seemed to get a kick start from groups like Electric Wizard, and especially Ghost (known now as Ghost B.C.). This is the current fad that seems to be growing a lot more than other resurgances that came before, which isn’t exactly the most positive of choices for some.

Now, before anything much is said, yes, Rock and Metal have always gone hand-in-hand with some labels, and not all of the legendary metal companies of today have been strictly Metal from the beginning. Look at Metal Blade Records and their track history. Many people are actually unaware that they had The Goo Goo Dolls signed back in the day, and are also responsible for the release the single “Name,” which cemented the band’s shift into a largely generic Rock sound that mainstream radio fans began to eat right up. Don’t believer me? Check out the label’s band page for them here.

Look at Prosthetic Records as well. At one point I started buying anything with the label’s logo attached to it until I bought my first Emo album, cursed the sun, and realized I would need to sample before I blindly buy anything from their multi-genre label again. And then there’s the legendary Roadracer Records, which housed legendary acts like Mercyful Fate and Annihilator for a while, eventually changing to Roadrunner Records, and helping to push the existance of the “Nu-Metal” craze of the mid to late nineties with bands like Slipknot, while also catering to garbage Rock bands like Nickelback.

Today, however, it seems that Rock is really starting to dominate the Metal community. While it has it’s place, it’s starting to make certain general assumptions a little more hazardous. Metal Blade has been picking up some extra Hard Rock groups since its partnership with Rise Above Records, and recently has been issuing their bands under the Metal Blade name in the U.S., while Rise Above Records handles the earlier overseas distribution. However, they are starting to just acquire some bands that really don’t fit that signature niche that the earlier groups this partnership spawned the success of. One new promo I have is Hidden Masters, which does show a bit of a Progressive Rock touch, but at the same time has lighter material that can be as upbeat as The Monkees, kind of violating the common perception of any release the label would normally make available.

SPV Records is definitely no stranger to the Rock aspect either, but at the same time they have started to scrape the barrel a bit. Some of the bands in that style they have been picking up over the past few years have been getting progressively worse. 42 Decibel‘s Hard Rock ‘n Roll is partially unlistenable for many reasons as I outline in the review. The rest vary, but many end up solid Rock offerings. This Buckcherry approach has been creeping in more and more, finding vocalists being off key, loud, and/or obnoxious to be kinda edgy, but at the same time sound horrible. Sadly, this is an in thing, and is only growing more and more popular, as evidenced with what Century Media recently did.

Century Media Records is also no stranger to some Rock material, but never as bad as it has become now. Recently they issued a slew of mainstream oriented Rock groups, including Buckcherry. The more you look at what the label is putting out, you can definitely see a shift from what once catered to solid Death, Power, and Melodic Metal groups like Dark Tranquillity, Grave, Sentenced, as well as the entire Strapping Young Lad discography, has now started catering to the generic and mainstream sounding Rock groups, as well as those that gained a huge following by listeners that would be labeled as “scene kids,” such as Girl on Fire and Monsters Scare You, who attained a good deal of fame thanks to their place on the 2011 Warped Tour.

Finally, there’s also Nuclear Blast Records, who, again, are no strangers when it comes to Rock, but also seem to be catering towards what’s popular. The biggest controversy was the label’s sudden interest in Deathcore groups, finding many elitists bashing the label more than usual for signing groups like Thy Art is Murder. As you can imagine, many nearly incited a riot upon some of the Rock groups the label has picked up, and while it’s within their largely melodic wheelhouse, they don’t always fit the mold. One of the most recent, as well as largely promoted for obvious money making reasons is the incredibly upbeat, almost family friendly Rock group Black Star Riders. Again, while not a bad band, it’s questionable as to what they are goin on a label such as this other than padding out their desire to profit off the next big fad.

It seems that Metal labels today are misunderstanding the latest of music revivals, and it’s a bit grim and scary for their fans. Some of the most established and well respected labels are beginning to cater more and more to what’s popular than to the music we have all come to largely expect from them. The more promos I get from underground and major labels, the larger and more obvious these shifts are becoming. Don’t get me wrong, I love and respect the hell out of all the labels I mentioned above, but if it weren’t for this site, I probably would have purchased a slew of albums that looked like excellent Metal releases, but wound up being meerly okay Rock outfits that give these veterans of brutality, hardened melody, or self expression and identification less of an identity us Metal fans can relate too, and more of a poser high school jock external appearance, complimented with their own letter jackets, or something that one might assume stepped out of Woodstock, but didn’t make it too far once the days of free love and drugs kind of died out.

In the end, there’s a time and a place for Rock ‘n Roll and all mainstream and popular things associated with it, and sadly many of today’s Metal labels have missed the memo. My MP3 player next to me is fifty percent Rock albums, and it’s already starting to wear thin on me. I need a good release for these stressful days, which Black Star Riders and Buckcherry simply don’t accomodate, and infact only amplify upon walking into the store and try to decipher when the awesome artwork hints at Death Metal or family friendly Rock ‘n Roll. While I have no problems with buying a release from the latter of those two styles, I’m just getting sick and tired of hearing them personally, and I’m starting to see that level of frustration hit my fellow Metal brothers and sisters to the point where I know this new fad will continue long past the point where these label’s core fanbases will ultimately end up no longer supporting them, shifting the balance away from top notch studios and labels to the grittier underground of labels like Hells Headbangers, Irom Bonehead, Kaotoxin Records, and many others.

Hopefully I’m wrong. Hopefully some of our favorite Metal labels are looking at this as a profitable fad as well, and nothing more. But if so, how far will they take it? Again, there’s a time and a place for this kind of music, but when you have a certain sound to your label or distro, the place isn’t all over it to the point where you image and presentation completely changes to accomodate it. These are troubling times in the Metal world today, and it’s only going to get rougher as time moves on. But, as I started this article with, every few years, we typically see some kind of change within the musical community. Today, the Rock style has gained sudden popularity once more because of new blood with nostalgic longing reminded us why a specific sound was so successful in the first place. Were in the middle of all hopping on the bandwagon, and as time rolls on and we get bored with the insane amount of band with that style being shoved down our throats, we’ll be abandoning ship for the next big thing just as quick as the life span of the following normal grind…