Tag Archives: deafheaven

The Metal Gimmick Reviewed

A while ago I wrote this article about the increased presence of gimmicks in the heavy metal world. Not trying to diss any band or be negative about it, I discussed the prominence of bands like Ghost, Babymetal and Steel Panther.

The original article can be found here and I found out it even got to reddit for some discussion. Reading those responses, knowing that they might not be all friendly, I did realise I might have not fully made my point there and unfortunately may have come across as a genre purist. I am in a way for the sake of argument used to genre terms, but in the end its all about the music. Gimmick and purism are two extremes on a very wide scale and in some ways don’t even have to conflict.


If we look at a band like Ghost, specially after their epic record ‘Meliora’ have shown that while maintaining the gimmick or show element, they are able to produce fabulous music. Interestingly, this coincides with a tuned down version of their stage presentation. There’s a bit more performance, but a little less ‘stuff’.

But what was that concern about ‘Gimmicks’ then? The concern I tried to voice is that some bands are gaining popularity only by the fact that they do something weird. Now, this is nothing new in the metal world. The whole black metal genre seems to revolve around that gimmick. Bands like the Misfits or Slipknot and even Black Sabbath added a mystique to their music by adding that element of showmanship to the band. There are band who push a bit further on that and the gimmick becomes their selling point.

When is something a gimmick? Probably when it is the first thing you have to say about your band, you probably are overdoing exactly that part. If your description starts with something that is not the music, the focus is on the wrong end of the stick. From a music purist point of view. Does that mean gimmicks are evil? Ofcourse not, it’s just whatever purpose you have with your music. For example, Hevisaurus is aiming their music at children.

A gimmick doesn’t mean it dininishes the band, a band like Ghost or Slipknot can hold its own with or without the gimmick. It’s sadly not just good music that comes out of the woodwork.


Luckily, things have a tendency to work themselves out. Glamrock and grunge prompted their own back to basic movement in the shape of the hard rock’n’roll movement that started out in the mid nineties and had a good run till halfway the noughties with bands like Audioslave and Velvet Revolver. A bit later followed Scandinavian bands like Gluecifer and The Hellacopters and now Danko Jones keeps the flame alive. It’s a movement back to something pure, where the stage outfit and decoration is not that wild.

Maybe grunge and stoner offered that to metal, but somehow the whole flamboyance seems to fly high and in a clickbait-culture of juicy headlines there seems to be little room for bands that offer something simple and pure. Although… that is the music press. There’s an amazing amount of bands that have been getting back to something pure. Ironically, the band I started my original article with was Deafheaven. In a way, apart from that slick album cover of ‘Sunbather’, that is a purist band. Even stripping the characteristics of the genre from the music. You see similar things happen. So the  whole focus on aesthetic will even out.

The future of heavy metal

So the real concern isn’t really the gimmick itself, but the way its lifted up to be the focus point for any journalism. If we talk about a band, the look and gimmick can’t be the point of focus. If that is the thing we talk about, two things may be wrong.

  1. The band is musically uninteresting.
  2. The journalist doesn’t have a clue.

Now, point one is really not so bad, because we recognise a boring band anyways as listeners and it just becomes ‘that commercial crap’. The point with metal journalism might be worrying, specially if the main sources for our music-info are just spitting out uninformed, politically correct garbage news, that puts people of the bands that should get some attention. I’m not telling you to love Deafheaven or whatever the new kid on the block is, but the press is surely not helping with some weird conservative hatred to anything new or blankly ignoring it. If Metal Hammer, Kerrang and the like writes page full about the weird mystique of a band, but forgets their music, then that’s the problem. Not to blame any specific media though, a site like Noisey really offers great stuff… and sometimes garbage. Same goes for most, but I think that’s more the writers.

But the problem is also the first, the lack of exploration of the fans. The overflow of information and the unfortunate side-effects of social media make it hard to find anything new or appreciate music solely on our own experience. We probably see some judgement pop up in our timeline and then just drop it.

So let’s keep exploring and listen to good music. Everything should be ok. I mean, Kiss was also kick-ass regardless of the make-up, right?

Short note on some of the accusations. Yes, I love my genre classifications. No, I don’t resort records in the shops from some priviligy point of view, just that I can’t handle disorder.

Cover image: Powerwolf, source press photo/Facebook band Though Cheesy as hell, probably not the worst out there. 

The Metal Gimmick

I wrote a blogpost about the hipster metal thing and Deafheaven. Unfortunately, not everyone got the point. I was not trying to defend Deafheaven by saying they are TRUE and KVLT. I was defending the necessity and value of progressing as a genre. You can read that bit here.

It was also pointed out to me that there are bands doing great stuff and that is ofcourse an absolute fact. I named some  myself in that blogpost. I was confronted with names like Ghost and Nihill for example, as true progressive acts in the genre. Now, for Nihill I can only agree that their intense blend of black metal and an almost noise-like soundscapism and industrial barrage is going onwards down the path where I guess Dodheimsgard, Mysticum, Aborym and recently Blacklodge have been travelling.  Ghost is a whole different story, and a good way to get into another thing I wanted to write about: the heavy metal gimmick.

Do I need to say more than Okilly DokillyBabymetal and even that weird death metal band paying tribute to Breaking Bad?

Disclaimer, if someone actually reads those

I’m not saying that any band is a gimmick, but I’m going to point out a tendency that is rather worrying next to the elitism, mentioned in my previous post. I’m trying to make a point about a tendency that is very visible and slightly worrying, regarding the future of the music genre and the shape its taking.

Gimmick Gimmick Gimmick… I need some more

A gimmick is, according to google ‘a trick or device intended to attract attention, publicity, or trade.‘ Now, a gimmick in itself is therefor necessary. There are other words in use for it, but it’s kinda like your party trick, the thing that makes people look at you or your band. Gimmicks in metal are as old as the genre, from Black Sabbaths obsession with crosses to He-Man outfits for Manowar or the make-up and lingerie of the glamrock scene. It’s an element of the showmanship and hedonistic character of metal, even when it comes to the most conservative elements of the genre.

Some genres have managed to become gimmicks in themselves or make the gimmick part of its general identity. Black metal is one of those, which is why breaking with that identity is such a major crime (deafheaven again). Hardcore is not much better, specially the beatdown/tough guy side of things, which is a look you can practically mailorder from Impericon or whatever. But why am I making a big deal out of it?

Mainliner, Headliner, Headline

Magazines always have headlines and for years those names where those of the great bands that we still know and love. Slipknot seems to be one of the last in line for that, a band that becomes bigger than their next release and big enough to survive it. According to many metalheads, Metallica has not released anything decent since the black album (and there are those who hate the black album as well), but they’ll still buy a ticket to the show (sure, ‘Lulu’ was really pushing the patience of the fans). Same goes for a bunch of names, some slightly smaller, others bigger.

The headlines of a magazine like Metal Hammer have in recent years not featured the names of new bands that are up and coming for their progressive and spirited music. It’s always been that way that the industry can be massively wrong. Who remembers certain bands from the eighties and nineties that were hailed as the next big thing? Hell, who remembers the likes of Mudvayne and Ill Nino as bands that actually where significant to the genre? A shift has taken place to the circus act, the fantastic and weird and in a sense the gimmick in metal.
Recent favorites of the metal press include: Steel Panther, Ghost and … Babymetal. Next to those, you’ll find bands whose greatness was built atleast 10 years ago. Ok, and the rare Feed The Rhino or Upon A Burning Body, which is really just for the kids (or is it?).

The Power of the Press

Do I think lesser of these bands? No, I actually believe all three of them are great at what they do and in the case of Babymetal, it’s giving metal that odd edge and different thing it probably needs. This is not why the band gets attention, they get it because of the gimmick, the circus act. Same goes for Steel Panther, who are an overdone blast from the past act (in a way then a postmodern full circle it seems). Articles and reviews are not so much concerned when it comes to these bands with the music, but with everything around it. That is really worrying for a genre. This is ofcourse the curse black metal carries, the sensational overtook the musical.

It’s all about clickbait, being funny and getting some likes and that is a general problem with the press, both online as offline. Everything has to be insta-awesome, there is no time for records that take time. Metal has always been partly about being big and imposing, sensational and shocking, but also about music and that side keeps losing ground.

source: classicvinylrecord.com. This doesn’t really need any further caption… and its not even their worst.

The question is, where do we go from here? 

Ghost has just lived up to their name with the latest album, featuring my personal favorite ‘He Is’, connecting the band to Selim Lemouchi. It is an interesting fact how this song keeps the band attached to the undeground, atleast for one more record. Instead of going for the big hit sound, amplifying the gimmick, the band has with this move created credibility. Is that selling them short? Maybe, the album is totally great but isn’t it rather far removed from the metal sound (and does that even matter)?  Should they drop the masks on next album maybe, or would the Kiss effect happen? It’s hard to say, but right now they are flagbearers for the genre with an album that sounds remarkably little like metal.

The Babymetal hype has died down and I think that Steel Panther had its moment of glory too. Ghost might be heading down the path of Slipknot, taking a gimmick all the way to the top. Who knows? But where is the purism?

The music

What was the last band that made it on music alone? Whose merit was just that they knew how to write a great tune without some over the top sensationalist antics on stage or crazy outfits? Volbeat managed to walk the line in a way. Mastodon relied little on their artwork in the eventual sound and bands like Bullet For My Valentine and Avenged Sevenfold can hardly be considered names that made the genre move any step forward. Still, these are bands we liked for the music, not the arty things around them.

The problem is that the metal scene seems to be way to crazy about its gimmicks and is in danger of becoming the novelty itself. If metal doesn’t put the music first again (this goes for the metal music press even more so), the beloved genre will become a bastion for has-beens, hipster post-metal kids and odd Wayne’s World references in films. Perhaps Ghost has a part to play in that, perhaps your band does?

Metal has always been rich with gimmick bands. Look at GWAR, Kiss or anything fromt he eighties. Look at the whole folk-metal genre and Austrian Death Machine. Even a project like Nekrogoblikon is hilarious but based on the gimmick. It is awesome though and we should not be without it. We just need some balance now.

My rant was not enough? Read:
Top Ten Metal bands with unusual gimmicks
Bent out of shape: Has metal become a joke?