Arguably, one element of the heavy metal subculture that has allowed it to not only survive but to thrive (albeit, with some droughts) during the several decades it has been in existence is the culture of alienation that exists within it. With some exceptions, there has been little that has changed concerning the social norms of the heavy metal subculture. A primary reason for this is the fact that metalheads cast out those who don’t follow the social norms of the subculture. Those that they are cast out are presenting somewhat of a threat to the subculture at large. This social deviance is addressed in a variety of ways, but most commonly by labeling some fans as “poseurs” and some bands as playing “false metal”. In recent years, both the hipster subculture and mainstream culture have embraced (or re-embraced, in the case of the latter) heavy metal. The hipster subculture has embraced heavy metal in an ironic way while the mainstream has yet again embraced it as a viable sub-genre of rock music. The question is, how has the this culture of alienation within heavy metal changed with as a result of these new fanbases, or has it changed at all?
While heavy metal is, ironically enough, a music originally produced and avidly listened to by outcasts, it has become equally as exclusive of a subculture. Metal fans and media cast out other fans and bands alike for all sorts of social descrepancies within the metal subculture spectrum. These “social descrepancies” generally deal with either a fan “pretending” to like metal a band radically changing their sound to gain mainstream acceptance. Both of these cases deal with a perceived lack of authenticity as seen from a general perspective within the heavy metal subculture. Whereas these “discrepant” fans are largely viewed as “poseurs”, the “discrepant” bands are generally viewed as playing “false metal” which is often accompanied by the phrase, “Death to false metal”.
Author of All Known Metal Bands, Dan Nelson, has stated that “[The] phrase ‘Death to false metal’… represents the worst of metal culture. The idea that culture should somehow be kept pure is oxymoronic. Culture thrives and advances only through cross-pollination and corruption and misuse. The most prolific and usually boring subgenre of metal (black metal) is a testament to what happens when you stick to the formula. Long Live False Metal!” (www.invisibleoranges.com). Although one can certainly agree that a subculture, and especially a music subculture, thrives through “cross-pollination”, there is also a certain extent to which certain social norms must be adhered to for a culture to thrive as well. Arguably, it is this very conflict between the heavy metal purists and free-thinkers that has allowed heavy metal to progress while still retaining some of its most basic values. But I digress.
Despite the disgust that most metalheads (including me) have for hipsters, I would argue that their interest in metal has served to further expand metal’s audiences and creativity (even while some hipsters’ interest in metal is merely ironic or to gain more elitist street cred). None can deny that hipsters come from just as stringent of a culture of alienation which is why I think this particular cross-pollination is logical. On the other side of it “[hipsterism], in general, flies directly in the face of much that is Metal: dedication, the battle of Life & Death, and a lack of irony” (http://www.bigtakeover.com/essays/die-hipster-metal-die). That is, I think, where the disdain for hipsters and hipster culture comes from within the metal scene.
One thing that has defined hipster/indie music in recent years has been it’s unabashed experimentation with music forms that are either disdained or largely unknown to the majority of the population. I’ve heard hipster/indie bands play with flamenco, Caribbean, and African drumming. I think it is this creative freedom to interrogate other forms of music within an already established type of music that has been/is being brought to metal.
Being a fan of some weirder, more experimental metal, I fully embrace new ideas introduced into heavy metal’s veins. However, I will forever scoff at a hipster showing their face at a metal show. Such is the conflict. Metal, like everything else, goes in cycles. It has seen a rebirth in every aspect in the last few years. Call me Nostradamus, but metal will eventually fall under the radar again and then we can separate the faithful from the “poseurs”. But for now, enjoy the new creative peak that metal has reached, and when you destroy that fucking hipster in the pit, just look him with your bloodthirsty eyes and think, “Thanks.”
– Judge Dredd