Mainstream Metal is F*cking Dead

The following story by longtime contributor Shawn Macomber was originally slated to run in Decibel‘s recently released Top 100 Greatest Metal Albums of the Decade Special Issue, but was held at the 11th hour due to spatial constraints. As we head into the final breath of the 2010s, we’d be remiss to leave this piece on the death of “mainstream metal” on the cutting room floor. Enjoy. 

My dear Wormwood,

It’s been a long time, nephew. I must admit I did not anticipate communicating with you again after our post-Decibel Top 100 Greatest Albums of the Decade 2000-2009 Special Issue rupture. After all, your incompetence had, by that point, caused me humiliation in the Lowerarchy sufficient for a hundred thousand eternities. First, by delaying that Lewis fellow’s arrival in Narnia only long enough for him write a book of Christian apologetics bearing my name—me, Screwtape! An actual Senior Tempter previously in good standing suddenly the poster demon for unwitting Christian conversion! Then, once your well-earned outer darkness sentence had been served, I toss you a simple layup to get your field career back on track: Corrupt the next generation with heavy metal. And, look, even I was malevolent enough to treat the ’90s nu-metal debacle—turning Adidas track suits with rubber-banded braids a thing, setting the bar for red hat dumbassery incredibly high, and, worst of all, taking Sepultura from Arise to Roots in five measly fucking years—as a teachable moment.

Yet, while the aforementioned Decibel “aughts” list was stacked with oodles of sick riffs and nightmarish gamechangers, it was also obvious you were still on some level chasing the mirage of chimera—ugh…Chimera—of mass mainstream soul perversion. You presided over a decade in which a Slayer record shits the bed at #100—how could you let Kerry write that many tracks? have you ever even read the South of Heaven liner notes?—yet Andrew WK, Queens of the Stone Age, System of a Down, Deftones, At the Drive-In, and, like, 35 Mastodon records almost all crack the top 50! Now, I love getting wet and partying hard as much as the next malignant spirit, and dark lord knows I’ve always secretly found the chorus of “Toxicity” approximately as catchy as “Chop Suey” is stupid—which is to say, profoundly—but that, dear nephew, is not potent enough to cut it on the metaphysical plane. Was I impressed you got Hatebreed on Universal? Uh…hell, yes. And Perseverance (#64) is a great album—epic, even. Trouble is, Jasta’s lyrics don’t take the delightfully blasphemous tack of Satisfaction bangers like “Puritan,” “Empty Promises,” or “Prepare for War.” In fact, much of it is like Dale Carnegie or Napoleon Hill yelling at you in a crowded bar.

You may be surprised to learn, however, that, despite my perhaps too-harsh words—even amidst that debacle, you had admittedly not earned the barb “a vulgar poser without historical precedent in any of the scenes or subgenres that exist throughout the multiverse”—I did not forsake you entirely at first. Alas, in 2010 I phantasmically penetrated the studio in which the Illud Divinium Insanus sessions were underway, ultimately losing several rounds of Grand Theft Auto against Trey as well as all hope for you. A few days later I saw the embarrassing cable in which you tried, in vain, to argue the whole record wasn’t industrial hip hop, rather, simply “Too Extreme!” for Lowerarchy squares and determined to go my separate way, forever.

Or so I thought. Turns out Professor Graffin max have been a bit off base when he sang, “eternity, my friend, is a long fucking time.” Because I am looking at this Decibel Top 100 Greatest Metal Albums of the Decade 2010-2019 list and, by Jove, I think you’ve finally got it! It seemed for a hot minute as if the lower dominion might have to rely solely on streaming service “binge watching” and social media flame wars to blacken souls—a total nightmare because, yeah, they’re corrupted souls, but also completely insufferable; the Hell of Hell is, we’re beginning to realize, being thrown in the pit with these preening, lecturing school marms and hall monitors—but you did it. You brought the subversive, dangerous, nasty, alluring, mesmerizing underground back in a big fucking way. Trading Interscope, Columbia and Reprise for Dark Descent, 20 Buck Spin and, of course, Hell’s Headbangers? The darkest genius, nephew. The legacy bands have largely returned to slaying form after years of flatline quietus or worse-than-death evolutionary malformations while a kinetic and rising new guard breaks new ground and gives the old school a run for its money. Just bask in the synergy of that top twenty: Carcass alongside Khemmis; Tom G. Warrior’s Triptykon alongside Power Trip; Paradise Lost alongside Horrendous; Watain alongside Blood Incantation; Deathspell Omega alongside Nails…

Okay, so it was still a decade in which Metallica released both Lulu and earned a laughably AOR 2016 headline from the New York Times. (“Metallica, Still Thrashing but Comfortably Adult.”) And, yeah, one of the most promising bands from our perspective—Ghost—traded in its sonic iniquity and Mercyful Fate worship for prog-tinged ’70s arena rock after Opus Eponymous (#13). But I’m willing to give both (and, I assume, you) a pass: The former because Hardwired…to Self-Destruct manifestly sought to appeal, in the best way 2016 Metallica could, to the true metal militia rather than whatever boomer normies its metalized Bob Seger cover jams were aimed at. And the latter for signaling your reformation to me on 2015’s Meliora: “Devilish creatures trumpet the end of time/Cloven Hooves/Enticing Wormwood catapulting your mind/Into the jaws of death.”

Your glorious aural grotesqueries honor me, nephew. The underground is not just surviving but defiling! Mainstream metal is fucking dead—and, thanks to you, we shall be the beneficiaries, not some expense account wielding major label dweeb.

Your affectionate uncle,