It is dusk at Knebworth and we had just finished rolling a joint while standing around in the crowd waiting for the show to begin. The stage was a 50ft monster, a fitting tribute to The Big Four, the oldest and in some circles best heavy metal bands to have ever lived. They had been touring the 2011 summer festivals together and tonight was the last night of their appearances at an English festival. Suddenly the lights fade and an almost haunting silence falls over the 120,000 person crowd. Restless and impatient fans are put at ease as the screens begin to play a rusty clip from an old western film accompanied by a piece of classical music named "The Ecstasy Of Gold." Eventually the clip and the music both fade away and the stage is once again dark. But not for long.
What follows is a two and a half hour-long set of face melting riffs and ear bleeding solos courtesy of the boys from Metallica, one of the most influential and longest running heavy metal bands of all time. And for four guys pushing fifty, it was a king hell bastard of a show!
For the past forty years heavy metal has been shredding the audio nerves of its audiences across the globe with its energy, musicianship and all out "Kill 'Em All" attitude, but recently this attitude has shifted towards a more melancholy and reserved mood. Don't get me wrong, These guys still don't give a f--k, let's have no confusion about that, but there is a certain air of betrayal about them, a hesitancy only those who actively support their favourite bands could even have a chance of understanding. The problem is the fans.
Modern metal fans can be categorised into two sets of people, the first are the veterans, these guys have usually been there since the beginning and they are the ones that pay their way, they go to the gigs and the festivals, they buy the t-shirts and the wrist bands and the posters, they eat Slipknot, sleep Slayer and breathe Iron Maiden. They are the heavies. The ones with an unbreakable connection to their music, it is the soundtrack to their lives and they fight to keep it alive.
The second set are the posers, the fakes, always younger and supposedly heavier and meaner than the last, but this is purely speculation churned up for themselves by themselves. They have no allegiance to anything but their own gains and being able to tell other people they have the best library of filthy heavy music, there is no contribution coming from them anytime soon. These are the people who piss and whine like prepubescent armadillo that their music isn't in the charts or played on the radio, yet refuse to go out and buy the records they preach because they can download them illegally for free. And unfortunately the latter are the majority in the modern metal scene. But how did it get this way? When did these leeches crawl out of their own selfish swap and infest the once proud metal market?
"I sometimes think that the metal community is just so f-king serious and up its own a-s. Once in a while it needs a little poke, and I don't mind being that guy. Nobody else seems to do it."
- Lars Ulrich, Metallica drummer
Mr Ulrich has lived up to his word, lest we forget the incident with a certain music download site. But we have no time for that now, or do we... shall we go for it? What's that... yes? Alright then.
The Napster escapade put what seemed like a permanent taint on Lars' reputation as a heavy metal high roller and he received an influx of bad vibes so brain shattering it would make George Bush Jr's head perk up from whomsoever's thighs it was between and slightly tilt to one side like a confused Afghan hound. The case enventually ended in Metallica's favour (Dr Dre also claimed a similar case against Napster and won) with Napster having to remove all songs by artists who didn't want them shared and resulted in 230, 342 accounts being terminated.
After the release of the bands fifth studio album "Metallica," appropriately nicknamed "The Black Album" due to its completely black front cover, many fans accused Metallica of selling out by playing the same old metal for the same old people. Both true and false at the same time, but that's deviating from the subject at hand. So this plus the Napster affair has cast in the minds of some a certain feeling of disdain towards Lars, and maybe, just maybe, the feeling is mutual.
But are metal fans really that uppity? The evidence, from where I can see it, would certainly seem to suggest so. All you need to do to be able to ogle at downright abuse from metal fan to metal fan is go on one of the thousands of message boards or guitar websites and read the comments left to each other about whose band is better etc.
You begin to understand the level of insane narrow-mindedness these little punks are on, and it is the young ones, make no mistake about that, sure there are older swine that act like kids but most are in their early teens to mid to early twenties. Just for the sake of proving a point, I am going to find an example for you now. Into the endless interactive void of the world-wide web.
Metal head one "Slipknot f--king rules man anyone who disagrees can die."
Metal head two "You are full of sh-t Slipknot are f--king sh-t so suck my b-lls."
This is exactly the type of gibberish that I'm sure these people listen to everyday of their lives as inner monologues in their own heads. But lets not forget the faithful and tolerant, they are not alone. They should be proud of what they have managed to do so far to keep the flame flickering that little longer. All they need to do is keep their precious away from filthy little posers and challenged moronic hipsters and they may stand a chance of surviving the era of technology with not just their dignity but their true fans too.
The old front is ever-present, still shredding with every breath and every moment that passes. There is some promise in the new generation with bands like Mastodon and Lamb Of God and Machine Head, but these guys aren't getting any younger and there seems to be an ever-increasing lack of them. Who will replace them? It is a tough question to speculate on with the growing use of technology in metal and the old scriptures written in blood on Ozzy Osbourne's back that seem paradoxical to its current state. My belief is that it is a question only the fans can answer, but how loud they need to scream is anyone's guess. Whatever happened to the heavy bunch?