Metal culture exploded at Shredmonton
There are a lot of funny things about heavy metal culture – and it’s not clear if metalheads are in on the joke.
BAND NAMES: Dying Fetus is one of the shockingly named bands playing the inaugural Shredmonton, a heavy metal conference and showcase happening May 6-8. Also on the list are bands whose names that suggest a like-minded attitude: Goatwhore (pictured), Planet Eater, Thunderstone, With Malice, The Dead Cold, Every Hour Kills, Mortillery, Disciples of Power and more, about 30 bands in all at the Starlite Room and its basement companion room Brixx. The all-ages metal conference proper happens Saturday, May 7 from 10 am to 7 pm at the Shaw Conference Centre.
ILLEGIBLE LOGOS: Rule: The heavier the band, the more scary and unreadable its name. They should have a Shredmonton logo-making workshop with nothing but bones, razor blades and some glue. “Even other metalheads make fun of unreadable band logos,” says Shredmonton producer Tyson Travnik.
UNINTELLIGIBLE VOCALS: Death metal singers sound like the Cookie Monster. Others sound like shrieking eagles. Some wail like opera singers. Some are more traditional. Whatever the vocal style, however, many lyrics are rendered into senseless garble when backed by the deafening din of relentless sonic assault (metal critic words) from the shredding guitars, bone-bashing bass and thundering double kick drum. It’s ironic considering how important their typically dark lyrics are to a band’s style and identity. Suggestions that metal shows have surtitles like they do at the opera have not been taken seriously. “That would be ridiculous,” Barney from Napalm Death once responded to the idea.
CONFUSING ALLOYS: Metal subgenres have become as strict and detailed as entymological husbandry. Lyrical content, tempo and vocal style help determine a band’s genus and species. Thrash metal (like Megadeth) differs from speed metal (like Motorhead), which are both distinct from old school power metal (like Iron Maiden), while despite popular belief, black metal (Goatwhore) and death metal (Dying Fetus) are not the same thing, which is in turn different than doom metal, grindcore, mathcore, metalcore, and war metal, and so on, endlessly.
It all stems from the same root: Steppenwolf, whose lyric “heavy metal thunder” was coined in 1968’s Born to Be Wild long before anyone thought to call aggressive rock music “heavy metal.” Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida also came out in 1968. Soon came Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and the evolutionary tree grew from there. Clear? Hopefully there’ll be a lit & style workshop on this topic at Shredmonton. Good opportunity to explore some of these ideas; this is first time we’ve had an actual metal conference in Canada, as far as we know.
The hallmarks of “extreme” metal – the shocking names, the scary logos, all the trappings parodied so perfectly in This Is Spinal Tap (required viewing for every rock musician) – represents but a small part of metal culture, Travnik says. Yet he admits that maybe half the bands at Shredmonton may fall into the extreme category. “We’re in Alberta,” he says.
SCARY MALE CULTURE: It’s no secret that metal shows are sausage parties. Maiden’s crowd was 90% male. Similarly guy-centric audiences could recently be found at Slayer, Black Sabbath and Megadeth. Yet metal culture does not shun women. Metal chicks proud to be called metal chicks are welcomed, and there are a few – not many – famous female metal musicians, like the most excellent rock chick Ruyter Suys from Nashville Pussy; a lot of metal bands also feature two singers, one male singing Cookie Monster, one female singing clean, for a “beauty and the beast” effect.
Travnik went on the 70,000 Tons of Heavy Metal cruise a couple of years ago – featuring 60 bands over five days – and reports a more or less 50-50 gender balance, “OK, maybe 60-40,” he says. Unlike any other cruise you could imagine, “no one was complaining, no one was whining,” he says. “Guys are doing belly flops in the hot tub and no one cares.” In Travnik’s 10 years in the metal trade – from musician (he briefly drummed for Striker) to sound tech to producer (also puts on the biennial Farmageddon event) – he says he has yet to witness a fistfight. “I’ve seen more fights at weddings,” he says.
All the male aggression in the room at a metal show is focused and channeled through what’s happening on stage. Males are the aggressive gender, so it makes sense that metal is their thing – and we’re eager to share it with anyone. Like trying to get your girlfriend into video games.
HEAVY METAL AS RELIGION: This one isn’t so funny once you’ve witnessed it: An intensity of devotion among metal fans that goes past even sports fervor. Fans have been known to weep with joy at metal shows, go on pilgrimages over great distances and spend great sums of money to see their favourite bands; and these bands come from all over the world because metal culture knows no boundaries. Also sometimes you can’t discern what’s being sung anyway, so language barriers aren’t a problem.
“It’s not so much like a religion as it is a family,” Travnik says. “They find things in common that they really weave their life into. Whether it’s black metal like Burzum or more traditional metal like Dio, people would still have that sense of belonging. It’s a brotherhood. The closest comparison I can think of is a biker gang, people into biker culture, not necessarily the criminal ones. They dedicate so much of their life to it, but there’s not really an agenda, per se. It’s just part of their life. They could be a surgeon, but there’s long hair under that surgical cap.”
Is it possible to take something seriously and find it funny at the same time? The studies continue.