The indie-fication of metal, 2009 

According to Encyclopaedia: Metallum, the Internet's central database for all that is "tr00" in the metal world, 10,000 metal releases appeared in 2009. As the database gatekeepers are occasionally a bit overzealous in their policing of metalness, the actual number is likely much higher. But using them as a guide, we see a roughly a 63-percent uptick in metal releases at the end of the decade compared to 2000. The result was a particularly strong year for metal, and—unsurprising given its recent trajectory—some of my metal got in your indie.

This metal-indie cross-pollination was inevitable, and actually started much earlier, but this year's December best-of lists are name-checking bands in strange places. Converge landed on The Onion's A.V. Club list, while Mastodon managed to crack Time's Top 10—the same list that put Brad Paisley's American Saturday Night at No. 1. And while it originally served as an insider source for the skinny-jeans set, these days the Brooklyn Vegan blog mentions bands like Marduk (face-painted, blood-splattered Scandinavian black metal) and Vampire Weekend (the Pat Boones of indie rock) in the same breath.

Not so coincidentally, metal coverage on Pitchfork has seemingly quadrupled in the past couple years. Sure, the whole "Pitchfork effect" has been analyzed to death, and the site's taste-making authority might finally have begun to wane, but their coverage still serves as a reasonably accurate barometer of blogospheric pressure. A monthly metal column called "Show No Mercy" and glowing reviews of bands like Sunn O))) helped place that band's September gig at Mercy Lounge rather than, say, The Muse—which is probably where they would have played had they visited Nashville three or four years ago.

While each camp adheres largely to parallel sets of rules regarding authenticity, metal's weirdo tendencies and indie rock's outsider sympathies are where their tastes intersect. The bands that exist within the shaded area of that Venn diagram get tagged with the "hipster metal" label, and, for the "cvlt" crowd, it's meant derisively. For a style of music that happens to be made in large part by blasphemers, metalheads have an odd fixation with purity. But once one begins missing the forest for the trees as blatantly as I—along with many fellow metalheads with stronger affinities for avant garde than virtuosity—this whole thing turns into the aural equivalent of porn addiction: We have to venture deeper into territory that alienates most in order to get our kicks. So when the guy in the fedora bumps into the girl with the neck tattoos at Mercy Lounge to see the same Sunn O))) show, they might as well have run into one another at the World's Largest Adult Book Store—they're looking for different things but achieving the very same end.

Too often the argument for metal is made strictly on the merits of musicianship, but—as is the case when that argument is central to any genre's worth—that's bullshit. Aesthetics carried punk and, by extension, go a long way in metal and indie. Music that I feel viscerally seems more potent than songs I can hum, but if a band is able to strike a chord with someone with damaged tastes like mine and someone else who might place greater emphasis on childish things like "melody," they're A-OK by me. Crossover appeal can be a good thing if one doesn't commit to it so entirely that the music loses any and all identity. (Looking at you, Taylor Swift.)

Outside the "Show No Mercy" column, the metal reviews on Pitchfork generally gauge an album's success on its appeal beyond the metalhead confines. In his unfavorable take on Wolves in the Throne Room's Black Cascade, their reviewer states that the band abandoned too many of the overtures they previously had made to non-metalheads. Their Pitchfork-approval rating prior to this release had already relegated them to hipster metal status, so they were damned if they did and damned if they didn't. Beyond all the semantics and scene politics, Black Cascade still is one of the best albums of the year. At the same time, I'm inclined to bitch about how sites like Pitchfork don't hold bands like Grizzly Bear to the same crossover criteria, since Grizzly Bear don't do shit for me. In the end, we're still going to maintain our separations and ridicule one another from the safe distances of anonymous blog comments and message board forums, but some small part of me thinks we're leaving this decade better than we entered it.

Email music@nashvillescene.com.

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