SITTING AT A PICNIC TABLE NEXT TO HELL’S POOL, PA – It’s the beginning of summer and I’m in the middle of enduring my 4th day over 90 degrees already, and the humidity is climbing again which means I’m sweating…a lot. I’m a ‘sweater’ guys, I’m sorry to tell you this. I use to think that sweating was due to me being a fat ass…but I haven’t been one of those in like 13 years now, and still…buckets. Anyway, that’s not why I’m writing today. See, the “sweat set-up” was a preface to the next few thousand words I’m going to unload about Sub-Genres, because there is only a few things that irritate more than sweating while sitting, and one of them is SUB-GENRES.

Over the last 20 or so years, a really irritating trend has become a staple in all music, but most obnoxiously in metal, and that’s sub-genres. This is marketing gone berserk. According to Rob Fitzpatrick of The Guardian, “the proliferation of popular music in the 20th century has led to over 1,200 definable subgenres of music,” 1,254 to be exact as of 2014. This is WAY too many in my opinion considering that most musicologists, you know, the people who actually study music, have music classified in only 3 categories. Phillip Tagg, a British musicologist and co-founder of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music, classifies music according to his axiomatic triangle consisting of folk, art, and popular music. He says that each of these styles are distinguishable from the others. I happen to agree with him, but not quite of that strict a level.

I feel that music as an over-arching entity in 2017 really has only 2 major categories, pop music and classical music, with each branching off into smaller categories.

Classical music is easy, it’s classical music. Chamber music, orchestras, opera, and movie scores. Now it can get a little dicey when you start talking about Broadway musicals and movie soundtracks because some of both of those things could contain some orchestral pieces and some pop music.

Pop music? Well, well, well, we’ve arrived at the apex of this issue. I’m willing to bet that out of the 1,250 or so definable sub-genres, 1,245 of them are on the pop side of this tree, and heaven forbid you label someone wrong. I swear to you, I’ve been chastised more in discussions on Facebook for mislabeling a band than going after President Pumpkin, nailing on religious wackos, and trying to take everyone’s guns…combined. Fans of Progressive-Symphonic-Black-Unicorn-Metal are not fucking around if you happen to say the wrong band belongs there.

Now I know Progressive-Symphonic-Black-Unicorn-Metal, isn’t a real thing, what would that even sound like? And now that I asked I’m sure some metalhead out there with a “Unicorn Stomp” shirt is going to email me and tell me it is a real thing (‘Unicorn Stomp’ is trademarked by Chris the Progtologist, and you will be charged $5 every time you use it, because it’s awesome) and I’m going to have a huge fight on my hands. With that being said, Symphonic-Technical-Melodic-Death-Metal is a thing and man, do you know how ridiculous you would sound if every time you wanted to talk about Epica or Into Eternity you had say STMDM (my hands don’t even want to say it).

Now without getting into all the sub genres and tearing them apart and analyzing all of them, because that’s really what I’m trying to avoid with all of this in the first place, let me just tell you what my issue is and why this frustrates me to my very core.

  • As a person whose entire career is based in music, and specifically one sub-genre of music, Progressive Music, these 1,200 sub genres make 95% of my show and research impossible. Progressive Music is a very broad brush to paint with, and I have a hard enough time convincing curmudgeonly, old-school, stuck in the 60’s and 70’s, Genesis and Yes fans to acknowledge bands like Coheed and Cambria, Porcupine Tree, Jolly, and The Dillinger Escape Plan as Prog bands without having people slap sub-genres like “extreme-Metalcore” on Dillinger, and “Emo-Pop-Punk” on Coheed.
  • I know that you sub-genreists think that by macro-categorizing every little thing, you’re escaping the unfortunate moments of having to listen to something that’s not exactly like Pierce the “Fucking” Veil but seriously, why not try something slightly different? You may ACTUALLY like something new. I think a lot of bands do get discovered by people using these sub-genres, and it can be a helpful tool, but I also believe that WAY MORE ARTISTS are losing out on potential listeners when someone searches Progressive Metal and a super specific sect of artists gets shown to them. Look, Dream Theater, Jolly, Coheed and Cambria, Porcupine Tree, Pain of Salvation, and Dillinger Escape Plan are all the same in my ears; technical, melodic at times, heavy at times, SUPER HEAVY at times, and metal as fuck. Here’s what they are actually labeled as:

*Dream Theater – Progressive Metal
*Jolly – Progressive Rock
*Coheed and Cambria – anything from Prog Metal to Post-Punk and EMO
*Porcupine Tree – Progressive Rock
*Pain of Salvation – Art Rock and Progressive Rock
*The Dillinger Escape Plan – Mathcore and Metalcore

NOW, if I were a newbie, and felt like some of these 18-25 year olds, and I didn’t know any of these artists, I’d think they are all completely different, but   they are not. With the exception of maybe Dillinger, these bands could all play on the same bill smoothly and everyone in the hall would be pleased, and that’s if they were close minded.

  • This one is my last reason, and possibly one of the most frustrating things I’ve ever encountered. I remember when I really started paying attention to the sub-genre thing was over a Facebook debate I had with a 22 year old, too cool for the room douche nozzle, who became heated when I said that Pantera should top the bill at “The Big 4” tour with Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax. Now, I’m not going to debate the issue of Pantera’s position among that group and why I feel they should top it, but I will focus on the part that frustrated me about the discussion. Look, if you don’t like Pantera, and you happen to be a Slayer fan (which means you like NO other bands, but that’s yet another discussion for NEVER…because Slayer fans don’t deal in reason or logic, they just deal in SLAAAAAAAAAAYER!!!!!!) then that’s fine, I’m open to the opinion of others usually, but this one was too much to tolerate.

His argument, the 22-year-old wearing his hat backwards in his profile pic, was that Pantera wouldn’t be on “The Big 4” tour, because it was the Big 4 of Thrash. I was like “uh-huh, so I get that thrash is a certain type of Metal, and I respect that, but where does the line end.  Megadeth, Metallica, and Anthrax haven’t been Thrash for quite some time, and Slayer is barely music anymore…let alone Thrash.”

“Well, they started the Thrash movement,” he says.

“Actually, Venom and Accept came out before all of them, and Queen’s Stone Cold Crazy in 1975 is often given credit for the early ‘thrash sound,’” I answered.

At this this point I assume his head started to spin and green shit started to spew out of his face, so he says “Pantera is not even like that heavy. How could they belong on the big 4?”

So it was at this point that I realized what I was dealing with, so I said “They are all metal bands, and considering that NONE of those bands are considered Thrash bands right now, Pantera should be at the top of that heap with Metallica. Metallica 1a, Pantera 1b.”

He then launches into this Slayer rant which I’ll spare you from, and then he says, “It’s just for the Thrash genre.”

I said “ugh, sub genres…it’s all fucking Metal.”

Fast forward a bit, and he sends me a list of bands and what I would consider them, and I answered “METAL!”

They were all metal, not Hardcore-Thrash-Grizzly Bear-Metal, just balls out Metal. Then his next comment launched my crusade against sub-genres forevermore, “well if there’s no sub-genres, how am I supposed to know what to listen too?”

I’m going to give you a second to process that……….

Here’s a 22-year-old, ever-so-stylish young man, sporting a backwards hat and a pristine Slayer shirt in his profile pic, looking oh so Metal as fuck, who is supposed to be the future fandom of our music, who has decided he needs to trust his EYES and WORDS on a screen to decide what he should listen to and not his EARS. This is a crime against music that shall be eradicated by my very hands. WTF?

I answered, “it’s called your ears you poor, poor soul you.”

What has happened that people are no longer listening to music to decide if they like it? I understand basic genres, Rock, Metal, Pop, Country, R&B, Rap, Hip Hop, etc., to tell you whether you’d like something or not. Obviously, if I hate Country music as a whole, then knowing something is Country music ahead of time might save me some minor anguish, but to whittle one genre down to a sub-genre containing 4 or 5 descriptive words, is robbing the music of its soul.

I bet with all that I have in this world that The Dillinger Escape Plan did not set out to write Math-Extreme-Metal-Core, but rather music, maybe Metal music…but after chatting with them, I don’t think they ever even intended to do that. By their own description of their music, they don’t even fit into ANY of the genres given to them. Ben Weinman, guitarist for DEP said in an interview on my show that he’d describe DEP as “Mahavishnu Orchestra, cranked up to 220 BPM.” Mahavishnu Orchestra is an instrumental Progressive Rock band from the 60’s….not very metal in the traditional sense.

So what’s the conclusion here? It’s pretty simple, listen to the music. For God’s sake, you’ll never know what you’re missing if you let these Sub-Genres point you in a direction. I know that there’s nothing that can be done about it, it’s fully woven into all of our listening platforms, and stores, BUT do this for your buddy Chris the Progtologist, don’t turn an artist away because they are labelled Folk-Progressive Technical-Death-Art-Metal-Rock….because you might miss an amazing artist. (That last label was a combination of all the things Opeth has been labeled over the years…pretty sick right?)

 

 

Written by Chris Elio for Bloodrock Media on July 1, 2017

 

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