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From Hell's Heart
"From Hell's Heart..." is an editorial column written by the Metal-Rules.com team. Every other month or so we
pick a metal-related topic and share our thoughts, feelings and ideas on it.
European Metal vs. North American Metal (July 2000)
I'd like to start this by saying that all of us writers here at Metal-Rules.com are North American which means we're from either Canada or the US. Therefore our perceptions of the European metal scene are based not on living it but perceiving it from the outside.
I believe that the European metal scene is much stronger than our North American scene. By stronger that means: more bands, more fans, more tours and festivals and better access to new metal through the media. In contrast, North America does not really have a TRUE metal scene at all. A string of Ozzfests does not constitute a metal scene, mainly because most of the bands on it aren't metal anyway. That's the problem over here. Things are based on trends and what's supposedly "in." I'm sure this is a problem everywhere but it is amplified over here as a result of crap like MTV dominating what's supposed to be cool (to me they define un-cool). That is not to say that there are not cool bands over here - for example there's Nevermore, Iced Earth, Annihilator, Steel Prophet, Kamelot, Crimson Glory, Jag Panzer, Virgin Steele, Morbid Angel, Deicide, Monstrosity, Testament, etc. etc. etc... However, talk to almost any of these bands about how they are doing in North America as opposed to Europe and you'll see that their primary reason for survival is the European scene. Many of these bands don't even do proper tours in North America!! I do feel that good music is not only ageless it's country-less. It's just that the band's from some countries are doing a lot more than others.
In Europe the metal scene has what I view as some very strong elements such as the melodic death metal scene with bands like In Flames, Children of Bodom, Arch Enemy and Dark Tranquility. Then there is the large power metal scene with bands like Stratovarius, Helloween, Rhapsody and newcomers Sonata Arctica. Of course, we cannot forget the godfathers of metal - they are also from Europe. They are Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. I could go on and name 100's of other bands so please forgive me if I've skipped over your favorite band.
To close off lets look at what some of the band members themselves have to say about the differences between European metal and North American metal.
Dan Zimmerman, Gamma Ray
Kai Hansen, Gamma Ray
Thom Youngblood, Kamelot
Steve Kachinsky, Steel Prophet
Mark Briody, Jag Panzer
Jon Drenning, Crimson Glory
First off, I must apologize to EvilG and the readers of Metal-Rules.com for being late with this monthís column. I had hoped to get this edition of From Hellís Heart... finished last night (July 5th, 2000), but of course I had a computer class which ran a little late. So I figured, "Okay... Iíll write it tomorrow during my lunch break." But apparently the gods thought otherwise and I ended up missing part of my lunch break due to an unexpectedly hectic work schedule. (To quote Randall from the movie Clerks... "This job would be great if it wasnít for the f*cking customers." Hehehe...) So anyway, here it is... I hope it doesnít suck.
Comparing North American and European Metal is kinda like comparing apples and oranges. Sure, they both develop through the same types of cellular processes, but the trees they grow on bear two very distinctly different fruit. Even in the various sub-genres of Heavy Metal, a bandís origins can be (for the most part) easily distinguished. Take thrash, for example... When you compare USAís (old) Metallica to Germanyís (old) Kreator, thereís a distinct stylistic difference between both bands even though they both play(ed) thrash. Another good example would be goth. Listen to Type O Negative (USA) and (old) Paradise Lost (UK), two bands that are both similar and yet VERY different.
Obviously the cultural differences between North America and Europe is a big reason for the differences in musical styles. Based on my admittedly limited knowledge of European culture, it seems to me that the music scenes overseas are less influenced by the media and are thereby less susceptible to pop trends. Iím sure the British, German, Swedish, etc... Metal fans get bombarded with groups like Backstreet Boys, Limp Bizkit, Spice Girls, et al, but not to the degree that North American fans do. Iím willing to bet that if I was suddenly dropped in the middle of downtown Hamburg, the "wigger factor" would be much lower than that of practically any North American city of similar population size. (God, it must be sweet to live in Europe!)
Aside from differences in culture and media, the main reason would have to be musical influences. From what I can tell, it seems that Blues and Jazz are the "backbone" of North American music, while Classical and Folk are the backbone of European music. This difference can also be related to the difference in lyrical subject matter. North American Metal, like Blues and Jazz, has lyrical content which deals with social/political matters and other subjects centered in the "here and now". European Metal lyrics deal with a lot of legends and fantasy stories involving evil and brave heroics, which are common themes for much Folk and Classical music. There is some subject matter which tends to be universal and can be found in songs from both sides of the Atlantic, but these are the subjects which happen to stand out the most.
As for who creates better Heavy Metal, North Americans or Europeans... I think the Europeans do. Hereís my argument... Many Bible scholars believe that the Anti-Christ will come from somewhere in Europe, and according to Bart Simpson (from the "Spinal Tap" episode"...) "Everyone knows all the best bands are associated with Satan.". So, logic says that European bands are the best. And if you donít agree with that, then you can EAT MY SHORTS!!!
It's difficult for me to compare European VS North American metal because there are so few bands from North America that strictly fit into my definition of real heavy metal, at least not in the traditional sense. There are quite a few good bands that have come from the US/Canada that are definitely hard and heavy, but when I think of the heavy metal genre in the purest sense, I think of (mostly) English, German, and Scandinavian bands. The metal bands from those places had/have that certain distinctive combination of power, melodic guitars, and dynamics that defines heavy metal to me. (Hummnn, must be something about those Viking and Anglo-Saxon/Germanic bloodlines!)
One notable exception that comes to mind was a Canadian band called Anvil, but there were/are also a few others (though very few). Some of the American bands like Queensryche and Metallica fit that description initially, but don't really now. Even a band like Motley Crue is not exactly real heavy metal to me, since it's not just about playing loud, mean, and fast along to high screeching vocals. Don't get me wrong, there are some Crue songs that I like (though I don't especially advocate the no-shame, ugly American image that the band perpetuates), and they are melodic, but it is an entirely different pop metal-type sound and concept. Lyrically, too, North American heavy bands tend to be different. Think of Aerosmith, Van Halen, Kiss, etc., vs. Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Priest, or vintage Scorpions, etc. Most of the best known '80's era hard and heavy bands from North America such as Ratt, Skid Row, Poison, Winger, Great White, et.al. would fit more into the heavy rock or pop metal description rather than being 'real' heavy metal.
As for the newer death metal, thrash metal, grunge metal, and rap metal bands, et. al, they are in another category entirely. They are specialized hybrids that do not fit my own internal definition of traditional heavy metal--at least not for the sake of this particular topic. They are heavier than hell, to be sure, but often do not uniformly have the melody, dynamics, mood, or lead guitar stylizations of traditional metal. Along those lines, some of the current North American bands are actually more than just heavy metal--they're in a new heavy lead category, I suppose. But someone could argue--convincingly--that they are actually new branches off the Motorhead limb of the heavy metal tree. In that case, the North American bands definitely have the upper hand right now, as there's so few Anglo-Saxon or Germanic bands coming into prominence at this time.
Actually, in recent years--the '90's and onward--most of the North American bands have gone from one end of the heavy rock spectrum to the other. In the '80's most of the North American bands bordered on the pop, hook oriented side of heavy metal/heavy rock whereas most of the current day bands--Pantera, Black Label Society, Rage Against the Machine, etc.-are actually on the heaviest end of the spectrum. (Traditional heavy metal lies somewhere in the middle.) If you want to characterize such bands as those mentioned above as heavy metal, then the North American bands definitely have the upper hand right now. But, other than the select few remaining metal bands (who defined the genre in the '80's), there's not much old-school heavy metal coming into prominence anywhere right now--at least not so far. As far as I can tell, the Scandinavian countries are currently producing more new bands (that still produce traditional heavy metal) than any other place in the world.
Well I am of 2 minds about this. I hate to pit one metal community against another. The fact is that Europe has the dominant metal community at the moment. When the fickle North American music audience abandoned metal in the early 1990s metal went underground. There were still lots of metalheads but the climate for making metal and getting it to the masses had changed. The mainstream fans revolted against big hair and manufactured bands. These bands shall rename nameless. Grunge became the order of the day along with flannel shirts and bands barely able to play even 3 chords. In Europe metal didnít suffer as big a blow as in North America. Germany, Sweden and other countries continued to turn out great metal. Bands like Gamma Ray, Helloween, Sinner, Grave Digger, Rage, Stratovarius, Sentenced, and numerous others continued to put out well received CDs. This more receptive metal climate allowed Europe to continue to create new bands while North Americas metal scene faltered under the weight of first grunge and then boy bands. In Europe bands such as Hammerfall, In Flames, Children of Bodom, Royal Hunt and Labyrinth were born and prospered.
Europe today continues to be one of the most prolific suppliers of metal to the world. Every day there are new bands coming out of Europe. Zonata, Madryghal, Freedom Call, Chastisement, Athena, Sinergy, Empty Tremor, Shadow Keep, Iron Fire and Vision Divine are just a few of the new bands that are being born everyday in Europe to carry on the metal tradition. These bands along with the veteran European bands such as Blind Guardian, Mercyful Fate and Iron Maiden help to make Europe the reigning power in metal.
However I donít want to make it seem like there is no metal being made in North America. That would be far from the truth. After years of being buried under the weight of flannel and "new" disco, metal is starting to rear its head again. Veteran bands such as Testament, Impelitteri, Voivod, Armored Saint, Iced Earth, Riot and Savatage continue to release well received, quality discs. Crimson Glory, Jag Panzer and Racer X have reformed and are creating great metal and finally there are the new bands such as Jacobís Dream, Steel Prophet, Deamon, Total Eclipse, Blinded By Faith, Emerald Rain, Kamelot , sHeavy and a host of others that are paving the way for a revival of North American Metal. The downside to the revival of North American metal is that most of these bands find most of their success is Europe. Even still the metal scene in North America is expanding at a fast rate. Everyday there are more bands forming and putting out CDs which can only be good for the return of metal on this continent. For the time being however it still looks to be Europe that is the main home and breeding ground for Metal.
Let me just start by saying that I'm not quite as pissed off as I was last monthÖI promise, no expletive filled rants this monthÖmaybe. My initial response to the question of "North American metal vs. European metal?" was a resounding, "who cares?" After all, not including hair rock, it is all heavy metal in the end anyway (and I refuse to include those idiot clods that think that Kid Cocksuck, Slipshit, and the rest are heavy metal). Anyway, in regards to the question, it depends what you are looking for. Traditionally, European metal has been viewed as more melodic (Stratovarius, Gamma Ray et al), while North American is seen as being more brutal (Slayer, Morbid Angel etc.), with both having exceptions. That was in the past, but now, there are European bands that are brutal (Vader, Scum, black metal bands), while there are also melodic North American bands (Iced Earth, Racer X etc.).
So where does that leave us? In a damn good position, I say! Bands from all over the world are influencing each other and some are coming up with entirely original genres of metal. Obviously, this is not a bad thing! Personally, I could give a shit where a band is from, so long as they kick my ass. Looking back at what I've listened to yesterday and today, there's been 6 European bands, and 5 NA bands. So, in my mind, there is no European vs. North American heavy metal standoff. As long as the quality bands from each side of the Atlantic keep pumping out great music the question of "vs." won't enter into the equation.
It is too hard for me to make a comparison when it comes to the bands and the music. So let me briefly discuss the attitudes and business aspects. First of all, it is well known that metal is better accepted in Europe than in North America. Thus, metal merchandise is more readily available in Europe. It is sad when an American band cannot even get their album released in their homeland, yet it sees a European release and weíre stuck buying the import because we donít want to wait two years before American record labels wake up and realize ďhey, you know, maybe we should put that album out over hereĒ. Or sometimes itís just a matter of distribution problems in North America. Why itís so hard to straighten that shit out is beyond me. And more metal bands get to tour Europe while us Americans are only dreaming of being able to see Edge of Sanity, Opeth, My Dying Bride (ok, they made it here with DioÖafter only four albums), Dark Tranquillity, and many others. And Europeans get killer packages too. What do we get? Ozzfest. Yeah, I want to see Slayer play with a bunch of lame-ass ďnu-metalĒ bands. Why is it so hard for labels to put together a killer North American metal tour??? When the fuck is Iced Earth going to tour with Nevermore???? They are on the same label for Christís sake! Sure bands have schedule conflicts, but come on! When a cool band comes around, they usually play with twelve shitty local opening bands that no one cares about. Oh, I guess we do have the Milwaukee Metalfest. But this, I am sure, doesnít even compare to the Wacken or Dynamo festivals in terms of professionalism and quality.
Furthermore, European mail order companies seem to care about the fans more than American ones do. I have experienced this first hand. Over the past several years, I have ordered countless merchandise from all over the world. My best experiences come from European mail orders. They seem much more professional, timely, honest, and caring. Just look at European mail order catalogs. They look better than American metal magazines! And even though the stuff I buy has to be shipped in a freakiní plane thousands of miles across the Atlantic, I frequently receive my European mail orders before my American ones! Not only that, but European mail order companies carry much more items. And I think it is just stupid that a record company, which has offices in both regions on this planet, does not carry the same merchandise in their mail order department. The most absurd thing is when it is cheaper to buy from Europe than to buy from America. And sometimes, European mail order companies throw in a free CD sampler or two. What a great way to discover new bands! And why is it so hard for certain American mail order companies to handle and package merchandise properly? I have heard numerous complaints from friends about receiving CDís with cracked cases. Sure, you can go out and buy a new case, but you shouldnít have to.
All Iím trying to say is that European record labels, distributors, and mail order companies take care of their fans more so than American ones do. Iím not saying that all American ones suck, because there are some really killer people out there doing a great job. This is just a way for me to bitch about something thatís been bugging me for a long time without citing specific names. As far as Iím concerned, the ingredients to a great mail order company are (in no particular order): variety, knowledgeful staff, imports, reasonable prices and shipping costs, making sure catalog items are in stock, ease of phone ordering, a regularly updated web site, a regularly updated mail order catalog which is automatically sent to people who have ordered with the company before, no damaged merchandise (cracked cases and CD spindles, dented/bend digipaks, etc.) and adequate packaging, and quick order processing and shipment.
There are a lot of angels that you can shoot from on this subject. But I just want to touch base on a few. First is the market of these two somewhat different metal groupings. The climate in Europe is more acceptable than North America. Fans are more loyal to their metal and their favorite bands. It does better, as a whole, in terms of record sales and concert attendance. There are more, bigger metal festivals that are attended by thousands of metalheads that help push metal to the forefront than we have here. In North America, we have the MTV generation who are very fickle and have little or no loyalty. Whatever is force-fed to them by MTV is what will be hip and cool to listen to. One day it could be Metallica, the next it could be Eminem. It makes it harder for metal bands to survive. If youíre not whatís "in" you could have a very short lifespan. As for who has had the greater success, I tend to lean towards the North American metal bands only because we have been lucky enough to produce the Metallicas and Panteras of the world. These bands have sold enough albums together to surpass the career totals of a hundred European bands. The last point I would like to touch on is the overall talent of these artists. I would again give the nod to the North American bands only because I feel we have generated better overall talent in terms of songwriting and live shows. Now, donít get me wrong, there are great European metal bands like Motorhead, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and The Crown, but I still must give credit to artists like Slayer and Anthrax. These are just my opinions and Iím sure a European Metal fan would disagree.