It’s a common cry in many musical circles: “I like their early work…”. It’s not even a thought which needs to reach any form of completion; it stands alone by itself. It’s like professing a preference for a book, over the film version. It’s repeated so often it’s a well-worn cliché. I hate well-worn clichés.
Let us take, for example, the British band Paradise Lost. In their early days, young pimply men, filled with the spunk and agility of youth, they created the template for generations of Death/Doom imitators. In time, they developed their sound, honed their craft, and Gothic Metal was born.
In the decades which followed, their style changed every few years, driven by the then tastes of the musicians who formed the bedrock of the band. They dabbled with Depeche Mode style coldness, with industrial metal, with straight up heavy. It all worked; it was all true to the men making it.
Boredom and life never rest. As the band grew, and their experiences shaped and changed them, as the musical landscape around them blurred and billowed, they found themselves unhappy with simply making the same music as yesterday. Evolution took them wholesale; took them beyond.
The issue, however, is that some fans were never grateful. There was always the call for return; for a return to the crusty Old School days. A repeated assertion that they were better the way they were, before they grew up and learned how to be professional musicians. Repeated assertions are not fact.
Message boards across the metal-loving parts of the internet are filled with laments to the Paradise Lost of old. The same of myriad others: Katatonia, Anathema, Metallica. Each band is proclaimed apostate to its origins. As ubiquitous as the view that Connery is the best Bond. I prefer Daniel Craig.
Interviews by august music periodicals – may they rest in peace – were dominated by questions of returns to styles old fashioned, of the death of the old ways. As styles ebbed and flowed, as nostalgia fought with innovation, often inhabiting the self same space, bands continued to progress.
Underground scenes flourished: people hell bent on recreating their favourite old school bangers picked up guitars and set foot on beery stages. Bands built long legacies of old school primal filth, usually as second jobs, while the progenitors moved on. Genre begat subgenre, begat scene.
And therein lies the issue. As new scenes grew and flourished, built from crumbs of vast banquets honed by heroes past, what becomes of the masters? Pretty soon there is a two-tier world, where a band with a history is constantly creating and growing, while a healthy underground builds below.
This is why grunge overtook hair metal: the established acts become so overblown as to be easily deflated; a bedrock of underground formed with such credibility that it, rather than the big names, drew in the crowds and, with them, the attention of the money makers. This is evolution at work.
While evolution is natural, it is hardly the long term business plan most musicians would hope for: spending twelve hours a day forming the blisters necessary to build the callouses required to spend a working life playing dive bars, in order to progress in to the stadia they so coveted as children.
If they were lucky, one of their number would croak from booze and coke, and save everyone the ignominy of the chicken-in-a-basket circuit. The remaining members could retire on the sales bump alone. I’m pretty sure that we can all think of examples to fit both sides of that awful equation.
That does not, however, have to be the only way out. True trailblazers – the bands who really do create new forms of expression – have no real limit on the numbers of permutations available to them. They have no need to repeat themselves, so why not create another “something new”?
And that is precisely what bands like Paradise Lost did; and in many splendored ways. One approach to them was to innovate the PL sound, to build something new. Remembering that they had already done this, album after album, that seemed an easy way out. No, it had to be different.
The alternative was plain: Reinvent the “Old School” sound. With bands like Bloodbath (founded by Paradise Lost fanboys, and musical innovators, from Katatonia) and Vallenfyre, the Lost boys created whole new avenues of crusty, rotten, deathy doom to wow the world with. And wow us they did.
By satiating this growling, screaming, bellowing buzzsaw need they held deep within them, they were able to exorcise demons of decades past. By accepting the death they had grown out of, they were able to reintroduce it to their core sound with a veritable spring in their collective step.
Not every band can be imbued with the talent to create a new subgenre every few years, however. There are myriad hard-working bands out there who support underground scenes of every metallic hue. These are the nursery slopes of the big bands to come; the places where first gigs happen.
These scenes vary from town to town, from county to county. It may be that you grow up in a scene which favours brutal UKHC; it may be that the bands in your area worship at the altar of NSBM, but I strongly hope not. The local scene fuels your future; but it also gives you something to rebel against.
These underground scenes, full of nostalgic monochrome fill the gaps left by the innovators: they repeat the ‘early stuff’ night after night, so that the bands who inspired them don’t have to. Without a thousand pub doom bands, how could Paradise Lost become synth lords? They likely couldn’t.
Originality is one thing, but it has to start somewhere. While our new bucks spread through the whorl of social media, commentators will always proclaim their need for nostalgia. Me, I look to the future, for the next thing to grab my fickle, flailing attention. But, like I said: I prefer Daniel Craig.