I’ve had a lot of free time this week to sit and read blogs. Some of them have really got me thinking. I read a list questioning which are the most famous Metal Songs and most famous Metal Bands. Generally; I love these sorts of things. But then you knew that already, didn’t you?. I read dozens and dozens of these sorts of lists, on blogs and in Magazines and on Rate Your Music or whatever else.
The thing I’ve noticed in dozens of them is that, there’s a sort of mythical set of perfect answers. Some of answers of course are pretty hard to disagree with; Metallica, Iron Maiden and Ozzy Osbourne for example. Ask everyone on a bus in the middle of Manchester to name as many Heavy Metal bands as they can think of, and I reckon those bands would come up quite a lot.
The thing is though, there’s quite a few other names that will regularly come up on the hypothetical average-list that are either controversial among metal fans as to whether or not they actually count as being metal or else are dubious as to how famous they actually are.
This isn’t necessarily a harsh criticism of metal fans and list-makers, but it does raise some interesting points that I think are worth stopping and thinking about. So; when considering who are the most famous Metal bands and Metal songs, you’ve got to ask yourself two questions. What is fame, and What is Metal?
Just a quick thought: Twisted Sister and Motely Crue are probably more famous than Bathory or Mercyful Fate. Bon Jovi are probably more famous than that. Limp Bizkit, Korn and Slipknot probably are too.
Machinehead, Avenged Sevenfold, Disturbed and Bullet For My Valentine are probably all more famous than Queensryche and Celtic Frost nowadays too.
I say “probably” because there’s really no way of knowing. Fame isn’t really a quantifiable concept, its more of an informed perception. We all know that Coca Cola is probably more famous than Only Fools And Horse, but we can’t really prove it on an individual level without gathering gigantic, unrealistic amounts of information that none of us could really be bothered to gather. To actually know for certain you would have to ask everyone on earth if they had heard of each, and then record and compare the answers. You would also have to know that they weren’t lying and that nothing was altering the results.
There’s another issue. The silent majority. You know when you go to a concert and its absolutely full. Think of how many people attend Download Festival every year, and then how many attend a single Motorhead concert. There’s more at Download.
Why does that matter? Well; There are so many people who are casual in their interest of Metal. People who don’t dress as Metal fans, don’t blog about it, don’t talk about it at work, but do know every word to System Of A Down’s Toxicity album. You can look at a Chemistry student who has no indicators of being a Metal fan and who does talk to you about a dubstep song they heard at the weekend, but they actually absolutely loves Disturbed and Bullet For My Valentine and just didn’t bring it up. You can find a girl in a nightclub listening to indie bands who will surprisingly be completely able to drunkenly sing all the lyrics of ‘Run To The Hills’ at you upon request. You’ll find people posting about how much they love pop stars on facebook and when you go into their bedroom there is a huge poster of Zack Wylde.
What I’m getting at, there’s a heck of a lot of people who listen to Metal that you wouldn’t necessarily expect. More than the readership of Metal Hammer Magazine, more than the crowd at your local sold-out mid-October Down concert. There’s hundreds of thousands of people who don’t even consider themselves a Metal fan that could tell you who Lemmy, James Hetfield and Corey Taylor are just from a photograph. My own mother could. Yours probably could too.
So. When we ask ourselves who are the most famous Metal bands; we need to ask “famous to who?” – because I’m pretty sure the average drunk stroppy teenage girl taking ecstasy tablets when asked to name ten heavy metal bands are more likely to identify Slipknot than Venom.
If you played somebody Helloween’s “Keeper Of The Seven Keys,” Judas Priest’s “Painkiller,” Pantera’s “Walk,” Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie,” Motely Crue’s “Girls, Girls, Girls” and Europe’s “The Final Countdown” I’m pretty sure more people can identify the last two or three than the first two. There may be a few generational differences, and there may be a bit of bias in the form of people not wanting to identify bands that they dislike (human nature, its annoying aint it?) but I recon more human beings know the answers to the less Metal-respectable bands on that list.
The easy way around that it to choose who you want “fame” to apply to. OK. Say, we only count people who have at one time owned a copy of Reign In Blood and have attended at least one Metallica concert? More of them will probably still know Marilyn Manson than King Diamond. More of them could identify “Welcome To The Jungle” than “Pull Me Under” by intro alone, because its still more famous overall, even if you are a serious Metalhead. Because you don’t live your entire life in a Metal-bubble.
Well, we’ve considered what fame actually means now.
But hold on a second. What even is Metal?
Are Europe a Metal band? Well, some people say they are a Hair Metal band. Hair Metal is a type of Metal. Therefore by that logic, they are indeed a Metal band. Not so fast though; Some people say Europe are a hard rock band. Some people say they are a Pop band.
Are Led Zeppelin a Heavy Metal band? A heck of a lot of people would say yes. A heck of a lot of people would say no. What about Deep Purple. Watch any worthwhile documentary about Heavy Metal and there’ll be talk of Deep Purple. That being said, nowadays most people on the street would call them “classic rock” rather than “heavy metal” even though the actual term was applied to bands like Zeppelin and Purple and AC/DC for years and years. So are they Metal or aren’t they? They themselves might call themselves “Rock n Roll” but so does Ozzy Osbourne and even Motorhead. If “In The Name Of Tragedy” by Motorhead is just Rock n Roll then I’ve seriously got to start checking out Buddy Holly.
Ok. Well what if you decide that Zeppelin aren’t Metal but Black Sabbath are. What about Queen. You go listen to “Dead On Time” and “Son And Daughter” by Queen and tell me with a straight face that it isn’t as Metallic or Powerful as “The Wizard” by Black Sabbath.
How about if we decide that the first ever Metal album is “Sad Wings Of Destiny” then? What after that is still Metal? Are Metallica? Are Helloween? Are Pantera? Are Machine Head? Are Slipknot? Are Bring Me The Horizon? Are Cannibal Corpse? Are Korpiklaani? Are Emperor? Are Limp Bizkit?
You can say Limp Bizkit aren’t because the vocals are not like Judas Priest and there’s an extra instrument (the DJ). Well, Cannibal Corpse’s vocals are very, very different to Judas Priest’s and Korpiklaani have extra instruments (Violins and Accordions).
I’ll admit some Limp Bizkit songs sound nothing like Metal. Ballads, and songs with electronic drums and effects and no distortion. What about Black Sabbath’s “FX” “Fluff” “Laguna Sunrise” “Changes” and “E5150” ? What about Judas Priest’s “Epitaph,” “Last Rose Of Summer” or “Love You To Death”? Ballads, songs with no distortion and incorporation of electronics on some songs.
Even at that, some classic tracks by Metal’s originators (which weren’t intros, experiments or ballads, but just normal songs) are still less-Metal than some Hair Metal and Nu Metal songs. I’d wager Limp Bizkit’s “Gimme The Mic” is much more Metal than Black Sabbath’s “Am I Going Insane?” or “Solitude” or even “Behind The Wall Of Sleep.”
Going the other way. I think that Korn’s “Blind” is closer to the sound and spirit of the original Black Sabbath tracks than Cannibal Corpse’s “Frantic Disembowelment” does. Hell, I think Twisted Sister sound a thousand times closer to the sound of Judas Priest than Darkthrone do.
Then there’s the people who don’t think Metalcore bands are Metal, either because of catchy clean choruses, or because of the incorporation of parts of Hardcore. Well, Chaos AD is incredibly Hardcore Influenced. Anthrax and Nuclear Assault were Hardcore influenced. Are they no-longer Metal?
Helloween and Stratovarius have some of the catchiest, cleanest choruses going, so are they no-longer Metal?
The thing is though? Who can really say? Metal-ness isn’t a fact. Its an opinion. Its a negotiation for consensus.
Half of the people who say something is not Metal but something else have no clear, quantifiable, non-contradict-able reason why. Its either just that they don’t like the band and have mistaken their own opinion with fact, or that its not something that can be definitively and incontrovertibly proven in the first place. There is no mathematical definition of Metal. Some people think death growls preclude you from being Metal, just read all the reviews of Children Of Bodom by Yngwie Malmsteen fans from the 80s who demand melodic falsetto singing. These people will swear until they are blue in the face that “cookie monster vocals” are the opposite of Heavy Metal. Try telling that to the audience at Hole In The Sky or Bloodstock festival though, they’ll give you a swift and unpleasant rebuttle more likely than not.
At the end of the day, there are people who think Krokus and AC/DC are Metal and that Limp Bizkit and Deicide aren’t. There are people who think that Immortal and Pig Destroyer are Metal but Poison and Quiet Riot aren’t. Heck, until about three years ago even I called pre-Dio Black Sabbath was just classic rock and not Metal.
What is and isn’t Metal is up to your own interpretation, apparently. Except Iron Maiden, nobody has ever said Iron Maiden aren’t Metal. Lemmy says Motorhead aren’t Metal but at least Steve Harris calls Maiden a Heavy Metal band. There’s at least comfort in knowing that whatever else in this world is up for debate, Iron Maiden are undisputed a Metal band (Although you could mistake “Prodigal Son” for a Boston or Rush song if you weren’t paying attention).
So. I guess where I’m going with this is that, there is an element of what the dedicated Metal fans want and indeed expect to be the most famous Metal music. It is based partly on the personal taste of a few Magazine writers, partly on actual consensus and partly on a self fulfilling prophecy of what we’re continuously told. The list seems to cover one arbitrary point of view and one arbitrary period in time. It isn’t full inclusivity nor is it completely strict and based only on true original Heavy Metal. Its often after the first Heavy Metal Bands go reclassified to “Classic Rock” but before other subgenres became popular.
I mean, I can’t tell for certain, but I’m pretty sure more people know and care about Bullet For My Valentine and Slipknot than have ever cared about Venom. But most people who actually like music to the point of making lists don’t want that to be the case.
Similarly, I think that year on year, Deep Purple, AC/DC and Led Zeppelin gain more new fans than Venom do. But we’ve all decided that they don’t count. For some reason. That is not particularly logical or fair.
Then there’s the really commercial bands like Linkin Park and Bon Jovi. Almost (not necessarily if you’re being pedantic, there have been flops, but you know what I’m getting at) by definition of being commercial, more people will know a band. A huge amount of us decide that if a band are too commercial, they aren’t Metal anymore. Why is that? Part of it may be based in truth, but again, part of it seems to just be based on what we want.
Take home message; when we ask ourselves which Metal songs, albums or artists are the most famous, I guess you’ve just got to ask whether or not they are Metal, or who you are being famous too that counts for the purposes of the list. You could spend years aggregating every list and reference to bands in every magazine, videogame, radio-show, podcast and television programme ever made and still only have a small, biased sample of a few people’s impressions of which bands were the most famous. You could count every Youtube view and LastFm scrobble ever recorded and still ultimately not know what’s in people’s heads or even who’s heads to look in.
After you to went all that effort to find the correct numbers, there’d still be debate on who “counts.”
And that’s just “famous.” It gets even muddier when we go onto “most-influential.” Oh well, at least everyone knows when it comes to “best” that its just straight-up unarguably subjective and we can all admit its just our own opinions. (Well, the sensible ones of us at any rate.)
So; With all that being said, I’d like you all to answer in the comments, who do you think are the 20 most famous Metal bands?