Monday, 29 August 2011

No School Like The Old School. Or Is It The New?

It is a simple fact of life that the best ideas come to you at unexpected times. The idea for this post for example first came to me at about 2am, drunk and watching High Voltage festival highlights last week when my mind is, of course, working at full functionality. After that opening statement I suspect you’re sat there thinking “right...where is this going exactly?” but trust me, some of it was relevant.

High Voltage festival was only into its second year when it managed to pull out big names such as headliners Judas Priest and Dream Theater, not to mention bands such as Queensryche, Jethro Tull and Slash. Up and down the line-up it is a band of classic rock and metal, bands new and old but a sound firmly rooted in the old school. Combine this with the popularity of not just established, legendary bands such as Iron Maiden, AC/DC, the aforementioned Priest and the ilk; but also newer bands who have an old school sound and feel to them such as super group Black Country Communion (who were also a big name on the HV lineup), Black Stone Cherry, Evile and Alter Bridge and it seems that classic rock is the most popular that it has been in a long time.

Of course musical tastes are constantly changing in this most fickle of times, with genres and bands coming into fashion only to be cast aside when the next big thing comes around, but also fashion occurs in cycles, as it looks is happening here with classic rock, maybe a few years ago not being a huge concern to many is now enjoying major attention once again. Just look at the popularity Saxon have enjoyed over the last couple of years, Alter Bridge and Black Stone Cherry are now playing arenas in the UK, and not only did you have High Voltage but even Download Festival was filled with classic sounding bands varying from Twisted Sister, Cheap Trick and Def Leppard to the stoner blues sounds of Clutch.  With this new found popularity, new bands are coming into the fray with an old school sound. A couple of years ago there was considerable hype about a new wave of trad metal bands (NWOTM), new bands with the spirit and sound of metal bands of yesteryear from NWOBHM to beyond, these are the main concern of this blog post.

A couple of years after this initial hype about this supposed new ‘wave’, how are these bands doing? Mostly these newer bands are still going strong and being received well, but they aren’t shaken the world by its foundations as such. 2011 has seen new releases from many of the leading lights in this new wave. Wolf, Cauldron, Enforcer and Rival Sons have released albums this year. Wolf are going quietly strong with well received performances at some of this year’s festivals such as Hammerfest, whilst Rival Sons, most impressively have performed at High Voltage and found themselves as opening band for Judas Priest’s Epitaph UK tour! Cauldron and Enforcer on the other hand (in the UK scene at least) have appeared very quiet, whilst White Wizzard appear to be changing its line-up more than a chameleon changes it’s colours, or an angry Dave Mustaine changes his bandmates. So despite some success, much of these new traditional bands aren’t looking like they are going to become spectacular, and there lies the problem with this new wave, do they have proper relevance? Or are they purely a fun dose of nostalgia?

By following a strictly old school rulebook of making metal music can the likes of Wolf, Enforcer and the rest reach the next level? There is quite a bit of buzz about Rival Sons and their Led Zeppelin esque blues rock/metal, and with the illusiveness of Led Zeppelin have maybe found a hole in the metal void to become truly grow in, but for the others it doesn’t seem as likely. Right now these bands, even with some great albums between them may only seem good and fun, not much more.

Can these bands do anything to become more relevant and then become great bands? Some other classic sounding new bands have arguably managed to do so by embracing elements of the new and contemporary into their old school sound. Black Stone Cherry have taken a southern rock imprint and embraced heavier almost contemporary metal style riffs to become a classic yet modern entity, Alter Bridge have a modern metallic edge to an arena rock sound that fits comfortably in older rock fans and modern metal kids, and even Volbeat have achieved huge success by combining metal and punk with elements of Elvis. So perhaps the NWOTM bands could become more relevant by doing something similar. Unfortunately it is difficult to think of how it could be done without becoming simply a different metal genre, and also it’s hard to imagine any of these bands wanting to do so. Therefore it is doubtful any of these bands will become truly great or leave their mark on the metal scene for generations to come. Mostly they are good fun and certainly worth checking out, but unfortunately not much more.