Metal and the Media: Ignorance or Just Not Newsworthy?
Just imagine if there was an airplay requirement for commercial radio
stations to play at least one track a week from every Top 20 album.
During 2009, radio would have had to play songs by Alice in Chains,
Dream Theater, Lamb of God, Megadeth, Karnivool, Alexisonfire,
Mastodon, Marilyn Manson, Killswitch Engage and Slayer. Even if you
don’t like any of those bands, you’d have to admit that hearing
“Headcrusher” or “Psychopathy Red” blasting out next to the latest
inane Nickelback or Black Eyed Peas pap would put 2DAY FM on a level of
awesome it had never before experienced.
That simply isn’t
likely to happen, because commercial radio is format-based and the only
real guideline is a flimsy and often-flouted “local content”
requirement, but what about other media formats? At least 50 foreign
metal bands toured Australia during 2009, compared to less than a dozen
ten years ago, when only three metal albums made the Top 20. The
seemingly ever-lasting Pink tour was in the news at least once a week,
but visits by Slayer and Megadeth, and even the likes of Cannibal
Corpse passed by with barely a whisper from mainstream reporting. Has
metal become so normalised in our society that even a group with a
media-baiting name like Dying Fetus can tour Australia virtually
unnoticed? Or is this ignorance deliberate?
Clearly there has
been enormous growth in the local market for this music in the last
decade, and certainly since the 1980s, when a charting heavy metal
album was a rare thing indeed. It’s a trend that doesn’t look like
abating: the week I began researching this article, Mechanize
by Fear Factory was at #24 on the album chart, debuting higher than the album by Owl City. Option Paralysis
by The Dillinger Escape Plan only missed out on a Top 40 berth by two
spots. Yet media coverage of the metal phenomonon appears to have
actually decreased since the beat-ups about riots and violence at shows
back in the 90s.
Between January and the end of March this year,
Australia played host to more than 25 metal bands from around the
world. Several of them were attached to Soundwave, a festival that now
in its eighth year is close to rivalling the Big Day Out as the
nation’s premier summer touring event.
If you followed the
mainstream media instead of the street press or websites like this one,
you could be forgiven for not hearing about any of it. There was barely
any major news service coverage of Soundwave, despite the presence of
bands like Faith No More and Jane’s Addiction. The Age’s
review of the day was 257 words in length, most of which were about what the crowd looked like. The Daily Telegraph
offered 353 words on the police making a few drug arrests there, which
was only 105 words less than a story about the actual festival they ran
three days earlier. Ironically, Classic Rock FM – whose regular
playlist includes none of the bands that appeared – posted a near-1000
word review on their website.
“Good Vibrations here was the day
before Soundwave, and that was covered on the six o’clock news,” says
WA metal promoter Glenn Dyson. “Soundwave had just as many people, and
that got nothing!”
Soundwave artists Meshuggah, Anthrax,
Baroness and Whitechapel have their music distributed in Australia by
the Wollongong-based Riot! Entertainment. Riot! services releases by
labels like Nuclear Blast, Relapse, Season of Mist, Metal Blade,
Earache and more. It is also a label in its own right, with about a
dozen local bands signed along with several international acts like Ace
Frehley, Fozzy and Black Label Society.
Chris Maric is the
national publicity manager for Riot, and well aware of the difficulty
in getting the media interested in heavy metal music.
dailies and radio really only want to talk to Alice Cooper. Or Ace
Frehley. He did Jono and Dano and they mentioned he had a new album out
-- because I made sure they did -- but they were playing 'Rock N Roll
All Nite' in the background and the whole interview was about the KISS
days,” he says, before acknowledging, “but that's how the media is no
matter who it is. Even if it was Chisel, it would be about The Last
Stand, which was quarter of a century ago."
When Slash was interviewed by the Daily Telegraph’s
Kathy McCabe this week, the focus was on his solo album. Over on Channel 7’s Morning Show
however, Molly Meldrum instead concentrated on Guns N Roses, a band
Slash left in 1996. His new album was only mentioned in passing by
Larry Emdur in the intro to the story. Slash
debuted at #6 on the national chart.
M is the largest Australian commercial radio network that specialises
in the so-called “active rock” format, which covers almost everything
in the rock vein from classics to current tunes. In recent years, the
network’s Sydney station has struggled in the ratings, changing on-air
teams and programming frequently and even falling behind the dismal
placings of Vega FM at one point. While currently doing well in the key
25-39 demographic, it is consistently beaten in other age-groups by
JJJ, WSFM and Classic Rock, the latter two of which play the same music
as Triple M.
"On the music page of [the Triple M] website,”
Maric goes on, “they had 15 bands listed, and all of them were safe:
Green Day, Foo Fighters, Bon Jovi, Nickleback, Nirvana, U2 -- boring
According to Maric, one of the station’s marketing
guys once took a poll in the mall under World Square in Sydney, where
the studios are located.
"He asked blokes what they liked
about Triple M, and they said they didn't listen, because they wanted
to hear Pantera and Slayer and Machine Head and Killswitch Engage, and
Triple M didn't play any. When he played [management] the tape, they
thought he must have done it in the main street of St Marys."
M’s night-time announcer Ugly Phil O’Neil has been known to squeeze a
few metal tracks into his shows whenever he can and is considerably
well-versed in the genre. O’Neil even turned up at the Australian Metal
Awards night in November last year. When he interviewed Zakk Wylde
recently, he also played the Ozzy song “Miracle Man”.
to do Kerrang! Radio in the UK for a few years, so he's not completely
clueless when it comes to the bands,” Maric says of O’Neil. ”And all of
his producers are metalheads! They even suggested to the program
directors, 'What about TOOL?'. And they went, 'TOOL! They're tools!'”
of TOOL’s last two albums debuted in Australia at #1 and their tours
sell out immediately, but even this level of popularity isn’t enough
for the nation’s biggest “active rock” station to give them air-time.
A decade ago, Triple M, Sony Music and the now-defunct local version of Kerrang!
Magazine put together a show emulating Britain’s Kerrang! Radio, which
these days is a national digital rock station in the UK playing
everything from emo to death metal. The music was supplied by Sony and Kerrang!
, whose editor Rod Yates was a presenter.
ran for a couple of weeks,” Maric says. He was working for Sony at the
time and spent a few months developing the concept. “Then one night one
of the general managers was driving home and was tuned in. In Flames
came on, and as soon as Anders went ‘Brrrrrrrrreeeeeeeee’, he pretty
much just – like Packer did with Doug Mulray when he did that show of
naughty clips on TV – just rang up and said, ‘Get that shit off my
station!’. And that was it.”
Rugby league writer and heavy metal fan Steve Mascord tells a similar story of Triple M's indifference.
shot their program director an email last year because I was told by a
lot of people that they would go for it,” he says. “I said to them,
‘You’re putting a lot more footy shows on air and you’ve got a bloke
like Eric Grothe who’s a mad metal fan, why not have a show late at
night that combines both?’ If they had a name like Grothe doing it,
they’d get a sponsor for sure. Jamie Angel called me back, but he
didn’t go out of his way. It was more of a courtesy call. And I said in
the email that these bands sell so many concert tickets. It seems like
a no-brainer to me.”
Radio is a cut-throat industry, and
program managers believe they know what's best for their stations. But
Maric and Mascord are right in that the sales figures for both recorded
music and concert tickets show that heavy metal is getting more popular
In 2008, Iron Maiden sold out Sydney’s 17,000 seat
Acer Arena in less than 10 minutes. The same year, Slipknot scored a #1
album in Australia – both their previous albums hit #2 -- Trivium
peaked at #4 with Shogun
and even Opeth scored a #7 slot. All
with barely a mention outside the independent music press. The main
talking point for the Iron Maiden tour was that their private jet was
piloted by singer Bruce Dickinson. There was barely a mention of their
70 million album sales. News of Metallica’s forthcoming tour was on
every news outlet in the country when it was officially announced.
Channel [V] even played “Enter Sandman” a couple of times – during the
day. Since then, it has hardly been mentioned.
countries, heavy metal is considered a serious musical genre to the
point where some nations have a metal category in their annual music
awards. Even the Grammys have categories for hard rock and heavy metal.
The closest the ARIA Awards had was Best Alternative Release, a
category that hasn’t existed since 2001.
It isn't as if there
are no domestic metal bands doing well. Psycroptic toured Europe, the
US and South East Asia in 2009 and will likely do so again after the
completion of their fifth album later this year. Parkway Drive have
toured the world almost constantly since 2005 and are currently in the
middle of yet another a massive tour across Europe and the US. Their
peaked at #6 on the chart in 2007, higher than
all but two of the nominees for the ARIA Best Independent Album award.
Parkway Drive wasn't even nominated.
At least the Hobart press hasn’t forgotten Psycroptic, Tasmania’s most successful musical export since The Paradise Motel. The Sunday Tasmanian
ran a feature on them in March as they geared up for their national tour with Decapitated.
Steve Mascord is a journalist with Rugby League Week
and previously with the Daily Telegraph
, but twenty years ago he wrote about metal for magazines like Drum Media
and Hot Metal
when I was a kid working as a sports writer for AAP there was literally
no one in the media who was a metal fan,” he says. “No one was
interested in it, until one day there was a bit of a riot at a
Metallica concert back in 1989, and they got me to come in and cover
it. I turned up in a suit, which I think disappointed them a bit, but I
was working as a sports writer! But now, a lot of those guys like me
who were just starting out back then, who’d grown up listening to metal
in the 80s, are now in the upper levels of the media. I’ve been
following the AC/DC tour, and this is probably the first tour they’ve
ever done here where there’s been no disparaging comments from anyone
about how the fans are just total bogans and whatever else. The media
has just been really supportive.”
Glenn Dyson noticed the same thing.
“Back in ’91 on the Razors Edge
Tour -- I was 18 at the time -- there was a lot of negative publicity.
At the Entertainment Centre, everyone who went in actually got
searched! 45,000 at Subiaco Oval the other night, and not a single
person was searched. Not that they could have with that many people
there. But it was almost like a family outing, compared with 20 years
ago when they were searching everyone for knives! It’s a massive
That kind of acceptance doesn’t seem to extend to
the more extreme end of the market. Dyson’s Perth-based company
Soundworks Touring has put on over two dozen tours in the last five
years. Now perhaps the most prolific of the country’s metal touring
operations, he never rates a mention outside of the street press.
nothing in the papers, nothing on the radio here,” he says. “You never
get any postive stuff coming out of it apart from the punters who go
along and enjoy it and thank you for bringing the bands out. And the
venues, when you sell out the venues, they’re quite happy. The street
press often review the shows the following week, but from the
mainstream media, there’s never a single thing, ever. It’s like we
Steve Mascord admits that there is most likely a
reluctance to support extreme metal among the media. In his opinion,
the biggest hurdle for metal is that the people who make the decisions
just don’t know enough about the subject to consider it newsworthy.
key thing is that it’s not really reporters, it’s decision makers in
news rooms who decide,” he explains. “A guy who’s a news director at a
TV station might have had a casual interest in AC/DC as a kid but he
might have preferred Midnight Oil. But if a reporter loves AC/DC and
tells him they’re coming to town, the news director will agree it’s a
good story and the reporter will get his way. But if the reporter is
into Slayer, and the news director has never heard them and just thinks
they’re noise, he won’t run a story on them. That’s where it becomes a
bit self-perpetuating, because Slayer never got any press when he was a
kid, and AC/DC did. And so it’s very slow to break down those
He also asks why it is that there doesn’t seem to be that many extreme metal fans at the right levels in the media.
think one question to answer is why do people who listen to the more
accesible metal and hard rock get involved in the mainstream media, and
the people who follow the more extreme end of it don’t tend to become
so influential? The record sales are comparable, so I don’t know what
the answer to that would be.”
“Well I don’t watch Sunrise
or anything, but Alice Cooper’s been on there, and Kiss,” says Dyson.
“And they’re still heavy of course, but you’ll never see a Cannibal
Corpse or a Suffocation or an Arch Enemy because the powers aren’t into
it. And also because they probably think it’s not suitable for a
mainstream audience. Which is a shame. Metal’s been around for a long
time and it has a massive, loyal following.”
So even with metal
bands charting higher and selling more tickets in Australia than ever
before, don’t expect to see As I Lay Dying splashed across the front
page of your newpaper’s entertainment lift out anytime soon.
This article was originally published at Pyromusic.net on April 28, 2010.