Monday, April 04, 2011

Why I Hate 80's Retro Metal

Retro metal is a really big fad right now. It may be a response to the perceived lack of quality songwriting in more modern forms of metal, or to modern production, or something else. But whatever the reason, it's really big. It comes in a variety of forms: so called "re-thrash", which mimics old school thrash metal, "old-school death metal", or 70's style heavy metal. I have no problem with any of these, as they all seem to be genuine homages to styles worth revisiting. I'm not particularly thrilled by re-thrash, but old-school death and 70's metal are welcome additions to the fold when done very well.

But I hate the 80's revival.

This issue really came to a head for me on a recent discussion at Invisible Oranges. It made me realize a couple major issues. First, it doesn't mimic the good parts of 80's metal like Iron Maiden, Venom, or Celtic Frost; the 80's revival mostly mimics hair metal, and I see no reason why anyone would want to resurrect that idiot offshoot of metal. It was huge in the 80's. As noted in Metal: A Headbanger's Journey, it was the biggest style of music in the world in 1986. As a metalhead, anything that gains a broad popular following is immediately suspicious, and in the case of hair metal that suspicion was thoroughly warranted. It was music made for the masses, and specifically for the lowest common denominator. Hair metal should be something we should disown, not celebrate. And besides, we already have something that celebrates all the cheesiest aspects of metal. It's called power metal.

Metalheads older than myself might not feel the same way. To many of them, it was the gateway into the world of metal, and it gives them warm fuzzy feelings, or whatever. But to those who fit that bill, I ask: When the nu metal revival comes, how will you feel about it? Now, there were certainly some good things about pure heavy metal as it existed in the 80's, just as surely as there were some good things about nu metal. But the way the revival pictures it highlights many of the negatives.

In other words, it brings back everything that makes metal seem like a joke to the mainstream. As a budding metalhead, I used to cringe whenever I heard some of the solos in my Metallica albums because they reminded me of the joke that was hair metal. It took me until I heard Mercyful Fate before I realized that solos can be a good thing.

The second problem I have with the 80's revival is its insincerity. Even Terrorizer, which openly endorses and celebrates Enforcer, questions their authenticity. I see no question whatsoever. They not only sound like hair metal, but they have also adopted the look. I could let them slide if that's all they were mimicking. But on top of that, they release some of their music on cassette, and mimic the cheesy poses of the era for photo shoots. I can get down with parody as long as it's done with an actual sense of humor. Metalheads are probably the biggest fans of Spinal Tap, and I can't get enough Metalocalypse. But parody without a sense of humor is called irony. And ironic love for something is the very definition of hipster.

So, far from being a return to the true roots of metal, I see the 80's revival as a hipster movement. I don't see how it can be anything else.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. I grudgingly admit that I enjoyed Holy Grail's Crisis in Utopia. Pressed for a reason why that's any different from the rest, I can't give you a good one. Maybe I had just enough of a taste for this phenomenon that I had room in my heart for just one band or album. I don't really know. Which got me to wondering what other exceptions people might make.

So, I want to know what you think about retro metal in general, and about the 80's revival in particular. I also want to hear whether there's an exception that you make--a band or album that you love, but you usually hate that kind of music.


  1. I like the Enforcer record. In the early 1980's when "hair metal" was getting big, there were several somewhat enjoyable bands. Bands like W.A.S.P., Dokken, and Quiet Riot had some good music. In the mid 1980's, "hair metal" had gone in a much poppier direction and eventually became a parody of itself, but for a time, there was some decent stuff out there. Enforcer is attempting to sound like the decent stuff, not the Poisons and Warrants and all that crap.

    As for Holy Grail, there is nothing "hair metal" about them at all. They are much more influenced by the 1980's American power metal bands like Jag Panzer and Omen, bands that evolved mainly from speed metal. They also have a significant thrash metal influence.

    There were a lot of very good bands in the 1980's that were completely forgotten because of the "hair metal" scene. Check out groups like Exciter, Anvil, Manilla Road, Brocas Helm, and the aforementioned Jag Panzer and Omen.

    By the way, I put "hair metal" in quotes because I do not consider a large majority of it metal. Most of it is just hard rock or pop music.

  2. I don't have a problem with retro metal in general, since realistically there's only so much ground that can be covered before we start having to rehash older material, but I don't like real hair metal, so a new wave of it is totally uninteresting to me.

  3. I think you're listening with your eyes and not your ears, so to speak. Enforcer have very little, if anything at all, to do with Hair Metal. To my ears, this has much more to do with Angel Witch and Di'Anno era Maiden than anything Warrant or Poison ever did. As far as the image goes it's definitely derived from the slightly effeminate "hey-this-is-shiny-it'll-look-awesome-onstage" look of early 80s' heavy metal than the lace and Aquanet look of Hair Metal. I mean look at Maiden's stage clothes in the early days. They may be taking the piss, but I'll take a thousand bands that look and sound just like Enforcer over any "brootal" metalcore/nu-metal band yelling at me to "GET DA FUCK UP!". Call me old fashioned but this is Heavy Metal just the way I like it.

  4. It's interesting to see all of your takes on it. Maybe I'm way off base, but I hesitate to give any credibility to bands that dress like a joke that got old a long time ago. Still, maybe I'll try to keep more of an open mind in the future on this subject. Maybe. I don't like WASP/Dokken/Quiet Riot, and honestly I haven't tried to keep it a secret that I don't really care for Judas Priest either (although Halford's solo stuff is pretty good). Blasphemy, I know.

    I'll also have to figure out what "taking the piss" means. I keep seeing that phrase, and have no idea.

  5. Speaking as a young[ish] metalhead...I cut my teeth on hair metal, the likes of Extreme, Skid Row and Twisted Sister (call it hard rock but its the same bag end of the day...)

    Reading this post, I was first outraged that music of such caliber (imo) should NOT be celebrated....

    ........but then that nu-metal remark hit home...:/....that would suck...balls.......

  6. I don't think "would" is the right word. I think "will" is more appropriate. It's already coming--or didn't you hear about Limp Bizkit's new album? Or the reformation of Spineshank? There's probably a whole new crop of nu-metallers waiting in the wings, too.

    Now that I'm not the subject, I think I'll have to post in the near future on the nu metal I still like (there is some), just to see how many people are flabbergasted.

  7. would you throw something like dawnbringer's "nucleus" album into this category? (i do like a lot of that album, but it is pure 80s action film montage riffing)

  8. No, I wouldn't. I think it's more the guys who are trying to ape everything about the glammier side of things that bother me. Dawnbringer only has the riffs of that era, but isn't borrowing the image, production style, vocals, or really anything else. Even with the riffs, not all of it is in that vein.

  9. I've never bothered to listen to Enforcer before. It's not that bad but I'd rather listen to DiAnno Maiden (as the above poster said). This doesn't do anything new nor does it have the same creative spirit that forged the sound in the first place. It's just mimicry and so ends up simply shallow. This is the problem with most retro acts. I guess your stance on them depends on your fondness for the source material.

  10. I'm of the mind that music is music, whether totally inspired or hopelessly rote. Whatever your personal feelings are about "hair metal", the truth is, many bands of that era wrote catchy tunes that stay with you. Over 20 years since Firehouse and Slaughter put out their debut albums and songs are still stuck in my head frequently. But then I could say the same about Carcass' brilliant "Heartwork" album as well - I still get the title track, "Blind Bleeding the Blind", "Arbeit Macht Fleisch" and various other cuts randomly playing in my cranium as well. Enforcer and their ilk may or may not be to your liking, but one can't deny that they are talented or have a knack for what they are doing. I personally am quite fond of the 80's metal scene in all its forms, from "hair metal" to classic balls-out metal, the initial rumblings of doom metal, to thrash and the beginnings of death metal. But then I love new wave, pop, punk, and rock music too, so I'm just a wide-ranging music lover of all kinds. Point being, don't allow a "metal mindset" to make you immediately suspect for the wrong reasons. Of course Enforcer is doing what they're doing because it's retro-chic, but that doesn't mean they're not good at it, or that they don't have credibility in their chosen craft.