Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jon Leon, bassist of White Wizzard argues that METALLICA & QUEENSRYCHE's huge 1991 albums effectively killed Metal, ushering in Grunge instead.

Jon Leon of Earache's Los Angeles-based NWOTHM band WHITE WIZZARD was asked to make a blog posting for HARDTIMES.CA website about metal.Instead of a mere posting, he wrote a bloody PHD thesis! On the subject of how Metal's 2 major breakthrough bands during the late 80s Metallica and Queensryche both made major lyrical about-turns for their follow ups in 1991.The unprecedented success of Metallica's Black album and Queensryche's Empire effectively brought the heavy metal era to a close, ushering in the grunge era instead.

Heres the posting in full:

The Day The Metal Movement Died: Metallica's "Black Album" and Queensryche's "Empire"
by Jon Leon of White Wizzard

This is a piece I am writing to explore a time when heavy metal music was at its peak in the U.S. during the late 80s, and how it then suddenly got washed underground in the early 90s.

The calender year was 1988...

Metallica and Queensryche release 2 records:

Operation Mindcrime & And Justice for All.

They are growing rapidly popular with rabid fans. They are doing this outside the box of the media and corporate controlled radio markets. It was a movement, a power-wave of a new generation of kids and a new art form with an intensity and ability to affect the mind and soul in ways never dreamed possible.

It was the pinnacle of musical empowerment, and a juxtaposition of the thinking man's rebellion in an era that capitalism made most run around like sheep trying to get a piece of the new era of Reaganomics. The music had the ability to change and inspire. To awaken and provide self-empowerment fuel to offset the tactics of control set in place within the confines of suburbs in the Reagan-era version of the American Dream.

There was something fake within the fabric of the whole sales-pitch and Metal music, and its fans awoke to this fact. This was perceived as a threat by the ones holding the strings of society, and in my eyes set up a behind-the-scenes war on the music I loved, as well as on freedom of expression.

Some within the U.S. government and those that hold a firm grip of control on the masses, the rich one percent, were leading the charge of paranoia about Heavy Metal music and its power. The PMRC created by Tipper Gore was in full-swing. There was a war of censorship as well as a fear by those in power, the rich and elected officials, that this music and its movement were a combined force to fear. They saw a musical genre never before experienced that had the power to make kids think for themselves.

This happened in the 60s as well. There was a huge musical revolution that inspired people to rise up. It is evident if you look at the history of what went down in the 60s that those in power would do anything to destroy the movement and take back control over the minds of the youth.

They needed to reclaim control of this beast before it caused a possible revolution of thought and rebellion. We can all debate how much of this was rampant paranoia and more than a belief rooted in reality, but a lot of the people behind this also burned records and thought the fumes or smoke would contain the devil in them, so anything is possible.

They saw an even greater capacity with heavy metal to shake the foundations of control they had upon the masses of youth. This was a musical force that had a certain power that they did not understand and that they feared. The parallel to the 60s was very evident. But these were not kids on acid and other drugs running around in a somewhat false reality, with euphoric ideals of utopian convergence and world peace.

This was an art form that, when used in the way these two bands did in 1988, was completely grounded in reality. It was one that exposed the lies and corruption not with conspiracy theories of stoned hippies, but with cold hard truths. This was truly a greater force to be reckoned with if it was not brought down to size and ultimately controlled.

Sure, you had your L.A. sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll bands that fed the religious right's paranoid extreme beliefs. This trend helped feed the argument that metal was just a bunch of wasted youth, dressing like girls, and shooting up & fucking everything in sight.

That was more fear grounded in religious idealism, but it was an easy scapegoat. The Decline of Western Civilization, Part 2 (a movie I despise for purposely showing only one side and making Metal look like a joke) exposed this fact and helped the case along. It was easy to get people to dismiss Metal as a 5th grade immature art form that only really stupid people liked, and that it was beneath society as a whole.

This angle was played hard and some idiots in the genre did ultimately help feed the fire. But that alone would not bring the movement to an end. It was going to have to be something orchestrated from the top-down. The owners of record labels, radio, T.V., and print media would have to be paid off and manipulated. The behind-the-scenes stuff may have to be speculation, but the equation I have added up spells something that is open to debate and worth talking about at the very least. Any opportunity was taken to try and bring it down.

Look at the attempts to sue Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne for the notion they were somehow responsible for the suicides of kids that just happened to have the records playing of the bands in question when they killed themselves. I am skeptical if those records were even playing at the time, or that the paranoid parents and others involved just blamed the fact these records were just in the room at the time. It is a telling example of the idiocy and delusion of the times, and of religious paranoia at its best.

These people are more scary than any heavy metal band. These are the types that have caused wars, false imprisonment, and death in all societies for centuries. It is the fear of the cult of religion and an inability to understand that manifests delusion and paranoia. They in turn try to destroy all that is different or perceived as a threat. Heavy Metal was seen as the enemy by both religious conservatives and by the rich one percent, for different reasons, but teamed-up together they would ultimately set out to destroy this art form and the movement that was on the rise.

Again, maybe delusional in the paranoid notion that this could turn into a scenario right out of the Operation Mindcrime album, but the blueprint was set with the concepts of this record to make a statement that could not be ignored. No matter what, they just wanted it gone or at least controlled.

With that said, the 2 bands I want to focus on as the center of this debate are Queensryche and Metallica.

They released 2 very powerful albums in 1988 that lyrically and musically was the strongest combined statement any artist has ever made against the powers that be by exposing 100-percent truth, and these were the strongest bands around who possessed the power to create some serious waves of change.

The reason I am focusing mostly on these two records and bands is because of the parallels between them and four records they both released at the same time, and what happened after.

Queeensryche released Operation Mindcrime, an album that showed a band that consisted of some very smart guys that had an epic delivery few could match. They chose to write an album so powerful in its lyrical content, that even today you cannot read it without seeing the truths exposed about the rich one percent's ultimate rule over the people, the sheep-like way society is set up to feed the machine, and the ultimate soullessness in art and music that is in mass media. It spoke of revolution and change from an awakening to these realities. This had words on levels of movement leaders; guys that were killed for the power of being able to take words and use them in such a way as to open the mind and expose truth, and inspire revolution.

Maybe they did not even quite realize it at the time, but the PMRC must have shit their pants when they read this record's lyrics. Coupled with the fact that this band was growing from fans' word of mouth, a movement outside the realms of manipulation and media control must have made these guys high on the radar of a beast to be tamed as urgently as possible.

Take the narration from the song Spreading The Disease:

"Religion and sex are power plays-manipulate the people for the money they pay selling skin, selling God, the numbers look the same on their credit cards.

Politicians say no to drugs, while we pay for wars in South America.

Fighting fire with empty words.

While the banks get fat, and the poor stay poor and the rich get rich and the cops get paid - to look away - as the 1 percent rules America."

That is some serious shit to put out in a song on a record when the powers that be are already on edge. When the PMRC is reading everything and everyone is watching like hawks, it was a bold move. To have the concept of the album be about overthrowing the U.S. government with a movement was also bold. The lines in Revolution Calling:

"I used to trust the media to tell me the truth, tell us the truth, but now I've seen the payoffs -everywhere I look - who do you trust when everyones a crook?

I used to think that only America's way was right-but now the holy dollar rules everybody's lives-gotta make a million doesn't matter who dies..."

Or from the Venomous Speak:

"The rich control the government, the media, the law - to make some kind of difference, then everyone must know - eradicate the fascists, revolution will grow...

The system we learn says we're equal under law - but the streets they are reality - the weak and poor will fall - Let's tip the power balance and tear down their crown - Educate the masses - we'll burn the White House down."

Powerful stuff. I am not going to quote the whole record; there is a fictional story woven between its statements as opposed to the opposite. This album is a huge statement, and the story is just there to support it. It is calling the listener to rise up and wake up. It exposes so many truths in its sheer attack.

This was highly-intellectual and thought-provoking, quite the opposite opposite of stoned hippies' banter with half-truth conspiracy theories in the 60s. These guys were stone sober, smart, and getting bigger.

The 2nd album was also released in 1988. It is called "And Justice for All" by Metallica.

If any band defied the record industry's formula and rules, it was this one. They had blown up solely on fan support and enthusiasm. They were not an easy beast to tame nor attach strings of manipulation to. They were a very determined group of guys, not stoned on a couch, but instead extremely aggressive and motivated.

The album had lyrical content that though maybe not as blunt and to the point of revolution as Mindcrime, still made some serious statements.

Metallica had to be one of the few bands the PMRC had on its highest radar, with lines slamming the American judicial system's corrupt payoffs, from the title track:

"Halls of justice painted green - money talking - Power wolves beset your door - hear them stalking -soon you'll please their appetite - they devour -Hammer of justice crushes you - Overpower.

Lady justice has been raped - truth assassin - rolls of red tape seal your lips - now your done in - their money tips her scales again - make your deal - Just what is truth I cannot tell - cannot feel -

The ultimate in vanity - exploiting their supremacy - I can't believe the things you say - I can't believe the price we pay.

Justice is lost - justice is raped - justice is gone - Pulling your strings justice is done - seeking no truth - winning is all - fighting so grim so true so real."

And the song Eye of The Beholder:

"Independence limited - Freedom of choice is made for you my friend - freedom of speech is words that they will bend - freedom with their exception. Limit your imagination - keep you where they must"

These songs explored the corrupt court system, pay offs, and censorship efforts of the PMRC and other powerful entities.

It was also bold and amazingly intelligent. There were a lot of rebellious themes and anti-system messages on Justice. It inspired many people with its lyrical power and musical force.

Metallica were becoming one of the biggest bands in the world and were showing no signs of relenting.

After these two bands toured together in 1988, they had defied all the odds, having made huge statements and showed what power this music and movement could have.

We all anxiously awaited what would come next.

What did come next was both amazing and odd. The bands disappeared for a good amount of time, a couple of years. Within that time the dismantling of the movement had been taking shape and things were dying down a bit. The seeds for grunge and burnout rock were being sewn, along with many labels and radio jumping ship on metal.

Queensryche and Metallica would release two new records in 1991.

These albums were called Empire and "The Black Album."

When the albums were released they got a shocking amount of airplay for the first singles. The bands were getting airplay constantly and everywhere, it seemed.

These albums would end up garnering five and seven hits respectively and would go on to make both bands rich beyond belief.

The funny thing is, if you read between the lines some really interesting points and parallels exist.

For starters, both albums were devoid of ANY lyrical content questioning any government entity or the system or the powers that be. Nothing of rebellion or inspiring deep thought.

The lyrics were in fact quite dumbed-down by comparison; but even more stunning was track six of each album.

Metallica's track six, "Don't Tread On Me," was a track that lyrically actually called upon people's patriotism and glorified support of the U.S. government and the blind devotion of patriotism without questioning.

It was an odd 180 to say the least. Lines like "Love It or Leave It" were a sharp contrast to the lines on Justice. So much, that it was hard to believe more did not see the difference. To have displayed such a strong lyrical stance on the Justice album that was so anti-system, exposing the lies and inspiring people to question the system, it seemed odd that their follow-up album would be virtually silent in this regard. On top of it, there was this patriotic song that encouraged blind devotion to one's own country.

Queensryche's track six, "Empire," was equally head-scratching from a band that had released the most lyrically-sharp attack on the government and system in music history. This song seems to paint a PG-rated picture of a call to have more cops on the street to avoid the kind of uprising the previous album had almost seemed to push for.

There is a narration in the middle explaining that we do not pay enough for law enforcement. What a huge almost hypocritical contrast to put out an album and statement at the level of Mindcrime, and then to basically say in this one song that we need more cops on the streets, and kind of a "Hey, yeah we fucked up and we should not have wrote about a revolution or exposed all these truths. Conform to the system; we are going to now and make a lot of money."

I guess you could argue they got wise and cashed in. But it is just really interesting to me and always has been. So that is why I decided to write this. Now they are warning us that conforming and not rebelling and getting more cops on the street will save us from "Empire;" thanks, guys.

When you couple this with the fact that both albums were pushed in all various forms of media so heavily - possibly on some of the highest levels we have seen in history, it at least makes one ask some questions.

What happened here? Were the bands promised more media than they could imagine if they dumbed-down the lyrics and put a song out that was Pro-government and system while also almost condemning the statements they made on their previous albums?

Worse, were they threatened? Were a bunch of games played and manipulated to get the bands to conform on such a high level that they ultimately gave in? If so, who was behind it?

Whatever happened, it is clear that the bands were rewarded for this. Sure, you can argue that they just happened to write some great songs and both bands' timing were perfect and that it was all on purpose.

But what is even more odd is the passion and intensity of the previous albums' themes and the epic 180 here.

What happened next?

Suddenly, all backs were turned on metal when a new dumbed-down, burnout scene was pushed from Seattle.

Though there was some good music that was to be offered in that scene, the equally stunning way the industry and media markets turned their backs on Metal in 1992 right at the end of both bands' amazing run is something that everyone should at least consider.

Grunge rock was everything the government and rich one percent could want. Dumbed-down lyrics and burnout themes; keep them high and out of reality. That is how the movement in the 60s was killed, after all.

At least that is how I see it.

The next few years would see the Internet and some horribly uninspiring music pushed out. Metal never seemed to gain ground again. Swept underground and kept in check, the metal that was pushed was not the thought-provoking kind. Further, it was the way it was pushed and how things were manipulated to keep any kind of revolutionary movement from happening.

The idiots in Metal got exposed in movies like Decline part 2, and Metal was given its bad rep as an immature joke. And the bands that were actually saying something were given a censored foot in the ass with riches falling into their laps for playing the game.

This is when I learned the system is unbreakable. I used to care so much and read between the lies and be so outraged but now it's a different story.

I just like living free and being myself. That is the only way you can beat the system, by being an individual and thinking for yourself. In the end I just look back on that time and I really think it's at least an interesting string of events that went down. I do believe something was orchestrated to kill Metal in the U.S., and Metallica and Queensryche helped it along, whether they realized it or not.

And I am sure the powers that be took a look at each other when their plan worked, and said these words by Neil Peart in the song 2112 - a possible look into the future about a government that censors all forms of expression:

"We have assumed control."

WHITE WIZZARD- Over The Top Official Video


Helm said...

I'm not sure why Queensryche and Metallica switched gears between these albums. However your theory rests on that And Justice... and Operation Mindcrime were extremely subversive and revolutionary and the music industry and powers that were took notice of that and tried to assert pressure and/or sabotage Heavy Metal on the whole. I don't think that theory holds much water because these records aren't very politically sharp, at least not more than hundreds of punk rock records, many of which had also sold a lot of copies combined.

Mindcrime loses steam very early, giving in to the secondary love-story plot and the politics of it are soundbytes at best. And Justice is even more fragmented, James Hetfield was using powerful symbols of words, he wasn't writing socio-political treatises at any rate. Perhaps for some teenagers these records were a political wake-up call, who knows. Their enduring strength probably wasn't in that aspect of them, though.

Heavy Metal doesn't do coherent ideology well, because on the whole, it's not about assessing social reality (which is contrary to your initial assumption) but instead the inner experience. If there is a way to deduct why HM crashed and burned on the mainstream in the 90's, I don't think conspiracy theories of how the US government was feeling threatened by some longhairs is where you should start looking, there are far more likely scenarios that beg examination first.

Anonymous said...

An interesting theory, but what metal fans were listening to Metallica in 1991? With stuff like Morbid Angel and Carcass widely available, that seemed like kids stuff anyway.

Chris said...

It's an interesting theory but I think ultimately Metal in the early 90s was brought down from within.

Metal throughout the 80s developed more and more into splinetered extremes: from NWOBHM through Thrash to Death and Grindcore.

The Metal scene was press-driven (despite what the fans liked to believe), particularly in the UK (and in those days, the rest of the world still took notice of what the UK Metal press had to say).

By the early 90s, Kerrang / Metal Hammer / Metal Forces were stuck with having to write about the Earache and Roadrunner bands like Napalm Death, Deicide, Morbid Angel, Obituary etc etc. They also had the mainstream bands (like Metallica and Queensryche) and a dawning awareness of the commercial potential in the Grunge / Alt scene.

The truth is that the magazines were concerned with shifting units. Metal was getting more and more underground and extreme. A lot of those Earache / Roadrunner bands got pretty boring fairly quickly, much as I love a lot of that stuff, and many of them had very little of interest to say. Obituary, Cannibal Corpse and others were incredibly dull interviewees. The magazines shifted their focus. Funk metal fizzled out (how many late-arriving thrashers and deathsters went funk, then grunge, at the instigation of the trend setting metal press??? Loads!!!). Grunge / Alt picked up the fallout and the rest is history.

Ultimately, metal culture as it was at the end of the 80s died as a result of the drive to be more and more underground and is only just recovering in the mainstream with dull-as-ditchwater Terrorizer-appoved 'Extreme Metal'. I don't think that was the fault of the mass appeal of Metallica and co so much as the LACK of mass appeal of the alternatives.

I know people love to believe that it was a corporate grunge conspiracy, but ultimately 'proper' Metal just wasn't a viable force any more as far as the masses were concerned, and the forces which drove the scene from within (magazines and labels) responded accordingly.

That's my thesis, anyway!

Anonymous said...

This guys tin-foil hat is on sideways. Grunge also killed John F Kennedy, and sank the Titanic. Maybe they're just songs and not major political statements. This over analysis is stupid.

Eric Syre said...

It's funny to read someone's words on why bands went 180 and bowed to corporate media to make them rich and then see him exploit all of the genre's clich├ęs in a single video.

This whole Thrash revival thing doesn't bring much to the table outside making it current for the kids getting into it.

Grunge itself didn't kill Metal, it's the overload of it in the media and a new generation of fans swallowing it all which took the spotlight away from Metal. People are into trends and this whole Thrash revival thing belongs to it as well.

We're still waiting for bands to revolutionize the genre and shift it into new and challenging territory.

satansfall666 said...

I think this may have some valid points. There is some truth in this. I do not think the writer is doing anything but asking some really intelligent questions. Though the last comment about punk bands is true, I think the writers point is that the microscope was on these bands because of the size of following they had. I remember that time, and the paranoia was very evident. The perception was by many one of fear and the need to control was certainly there.
Who knows, but I think he raises some good conversational points and it was intelligently written for sure.

Anonymous said...

And Justice For All certainly did rustle feathers did anyone really think Jethro Tull deserved that Grammy? Since Al Gore's wife Tipper was head of the PMRC it would have been highly embarrassing for an album with anti censorship sentiments being given a very high profile endorsement by the Music Establishment. Of course after releasing the unrecognisably bland radio friendly Black Album (which just begged Spinal Tap comparisons) they went on to collect six Grammy's a record in itself. Bourgeois Hegemony in essence they hung round elitist eMpTyV soft rockers too long and morphed into them. Grunge had its moments but was too defeatist and self absorbed for any cogent political commentary. Other than pockets of superb underground music which were rarely see in the mainstream politically aware teen music disappeared. What did fill that Vacuum was Hip Hop complete with Gun Crime,Crack and Gang Culture. That's the real conspiracy. When a Record Company essentially buys out a trial of a man who shot a rival in the back in self defense (Snoop Dog)to ensure his next records release you really have to ask yourself why?