Time and time again I hear people in the metal industry wonder aloud who “the next Metallica” will be. Always Metallica, never any other band. I've heard managers say this, I've heard agents say it, label staff, publicists, everyone. Even guys in bands. It comes up all the time in casual conversation.
“Who's the next big band that's gonna break?”
“Just waiting for something to pop.”
“Is it gonna be <insert name of reasonably popular metal band here>?”
It's understandable why those in the industry want there to be another massively popular metal band. When metal reaches the mainstream, it creates an entire economic ecosystem underneath it, both in the near term and long term. Short term: when Metallica tours, all sorts of people outside the band members themselves make money, from the managers and agents to the stage hands, techs, merch companies, show promoters, publicists, blogs like this one (via advertising) and on and on, right down to the friggin' beer vendors and parking attendants at Corp-U-Sign Arena. Long term: Metallica's popularity brings in new fans to the genre. Sure, some people just got into Metallica and their dalliance in heavy music stopped there. But thousands upon thousands kept going, diving deeper and deeper into metal and spending tons of money on it along the way. The fans benefit too: more money in the pot means more investment will be made into bringing new, young acts along. Everyone stands to benefit. Well, I hate to break it to you guys. There is never going to be another metal band as big as Metallica. Not even close. Here's why:
1. There are too many bands. There are too many metal bands out there, plain and simple, pulling metal fans in a million directions at once. The days of the universally loved metal band are gone (except for Agalloch). It's not a bad thing that there are so many bands... not at all. In fact, it's wonderful: never has metal been more diverse and artistically rich than right now. But the fact that there are so many bands — and choices — means that every metal fan has a lot more options when it comes to selecting their favorite one, or favorite few, to pay attention to and to spend money on. This behavior, of course, is enabled by...
2. The Internet. This one is two-fold. Yes, file-sharing has made it harder for musicians to make a living, that's obvious. But in this context I bring up the Internet as the ultimate narrowcast experience: any music fan can find a band that's suited EXACTLY to their tastes. No longer are music fans beholden to the broadcast experience — being given a limited menu at the record store or on the radio and being forced to choose their favorite. Whatever you want, it's out there. Spazz-crunk-techno-core? There's a band for that. Space-fusion-post-pop? You betcha. There are no common denominators anymore simply because we don't need them to find music we like. Think of music on the Internet like a giant dating site: if your fetish is Asian girls with big boobs, blond hair and shaved hoo-has, all you really have to do is click a few check-boxes and you're on your way to getting laid tonight.
3. Rock radio won't support metal. The rock radio format, against all odds and common sense, has not changed one iota in the past 15 years. I've spent plenty of time talking about this subject in the past so I won't harp on it here. But if there's going to be a metal band that hits the mainstream it seems pretty damn important that radio — the ultimate broadcast medium that big fat dumb America listens to in their soul-sucking cars — gets on board. Unfortunately, rock radio in 2014 won't take any chances whatsoever. Oh, I know, Sirius Liquid Metal plays metal, but it's a pay service and it just doesn't cast a wide enough net; it's too specialized, and it's even billed that way. For a metal band to hit the mainstream they have to be played on mainstream radio... crossover, as they say. This is becoming increasingly difficult because...
4. Screaming. Screamed and growled vocals have gained some acceptance outside of the metal world (see: indie rock kids getting into metal in recent years by way of Pitchfork, Stereogum, NPR, etc.), but the world at large is just not having it. The general music-listening populace likes melody in singing, and they like to be able to understand lyrics. Bands like All That Remains, Avenged Sevenfold and Five Finger Death Punch that have gotten some radio play have either had to transition to only clean singing or were mostly that way to begin with. Hard though it is to believe for us — people who listen to much more extreme music every day — those bands are considered pretty abrasive to a lot of listeners. OK, fine, those bands never had much metal cred to begin with the way Metallica did in the '80s, so let's kick it up a notch on the extremity meter: bands like Mastodon and Killswitch Engage were able to expand their fanbases by incorporating more clean singing and melodic, pop-driven song structures into their music. Lamb of God are the lone exception; miraculously they've never sung a clean note. But, love all those bands as I do, I don't see any of them going beyond playing 3,000-5,000 seat venues on standard tours (festivals don't count). That's hella impressive, and it's a great way to make a living, but those numbers don't even approach Metallica numbers. And still, many people consider Lamb of God to be tame these days by modern metal standards. When we talk about “metal” we're talking about stuff that's even heavier in every sense, not just the vocals. And mainstream culture is never gonna get into that shit.
5. Music doesn't matter as much as it used to. I'm sorry guys, it's just the world we live in. It doesn't. “Kids these days” have a million other ways to spend their time: Facebook, Instagram, video games, sex, drugs, etc. And, to be honest, it's not just “kids” (I hate that expression when used by industry folk): it's you and me, too. When was the last time you sat in front of your stereo (if you even have a proper one not in your car!) and listened to an album start to finish? Be honest. That time when you passed out to Dark Side of the Moon after your BBQ doesn't count. Music has been relegated to background status now for all but a select few die-hards. It is no longer the main activity. So, with apologies, that's reality: there is never going to be another metal band as big as or even close to as big as Metallica. The way it is now is the way it's going to be for a while, probably forever, if it even stays this good. Stop hoping, and make the most of what we have right here, right now, which is pretty fucking great if you ask me. The metal scene is better than healthy... it's thriving. Let's keep it going.