The recent statement made by Slayer’s Kerry King, claiming that Metallica and Iron Maiden live on past success awoke many responses from the Metal community and the social media, most of which agree that it is somewhat true about Metallica, totally false about Iron Maiden, and that Mr. King completely lacks self-awareness.
However, as this issue was brought into spotlight, it raised an interesting question: What actually defines a band that withstands the evolution of music and changing trends, and stays relevant over time? Irrelevancy is probably one of the biggest fears of an artist, and any artist that respects himself will try to shy away from the infamous club of those who live on past success. Udo Dirkschneider’s decision to “close the Accept chapter” is a good example of an artist who had enough of being regarded primarily for his past work with his original band.
In light of this statement, I decided to analyze five examples of long-time running bands that managed to stay relevant over the years, and in no way can be accused of living on past successes. Perhaps the most significant factors about how relevant the band is, are the reception of their recent materials, and the anticipation and expectations of their new records, so these will be the main factors that I’ll address in my analysis.
I doubt that there was anyone who was skeptic about the last Testament album, “Dark Roots Of Earth” before it came out, and when it did, it got a very positive reception in the Metal community and blogs, which was, in my opinion, totally justified; The music on the album is powerful and refreshing, while retaining all the classic elements that Testament are loved for by their fans. If you look back even further, you can’t actually recall any Testament album that is considered bad or was hated by their fans, and that’s in spite of the fact that Testament did experiment with their music and made albums that sound pretty different from each other. The main factor that contributed to that was the frequent change in lineup- you can hear how every member left a noticeable impact on the album he participated in, as did James Murphy on “Low” or Dave Lombardo on “The Gathering”, for example. Another noticeable fact is that every occasional member of Testament was a very regarded musician, and in general, the band maintained a high level of musicianship and professional attitude, while embracing development throughout their entire career. The recent joining of the bassist Steve DiGiorgio, and statements like “The upcoming Testament single will contain the fastest blast beat played by Gene Hoglan“, just fuel the curiosity about their upcoming output, and it’s hard to believe anyone has a doubt that it is going to be absolutely explosive.
2. Fear Factory
The recent, highly acclaimed new album, “Genexus”, didn’t bring any surprises to Fear Factory fans – It was exactly what they were hungry for, and done up to the standards they are used to. Fear Factory were much more stylistically consistent than Testament throughout their career, and that’s in spite of turmoils within the band and numerous lineup changes. In this case too the occasional band members were highly regarded musicians, among them Gene Hoglan and Byron Stroud of Strapping Young Lad. Fear Factory never disappointed their fans, as their albums retained all the trademarks of their music, were well performed and well produced, and in general, gave their fans what they asked for. It is hard to believe any future release by Fear Factory will be a bad surprise: At worst, they will release several records which will sound too similar to each other, or weak compared to previous releases, and will make fans lose interest in their future work, but so far Fear Factory didn’t give any reason to believe this may happen, and we can expect more good releases from them in the future.
After disbanding in 1996, Carcass were considered a Death Metal legend, remembered for their masterpiece, “Heartwork”, on which the band reached the peak of their musicianship and composing. Then, when the band resumed its concert activity in 2007, writing and recording new material was a necessity in order for them to stay relevant and avoid falling under the definition of a band that lives on past success. Most of the times reunion albums turn out as a great disappointment for the fans, but in the case of Carcass, the reunion album “Surgical Steel” showed that the band still has all the qualities that brought them success in the past. “Surgical Steel” sounds like a natural successor to “Heartwork”, and it makes it seem that the period of the band’s inactivity had never existed. It won’t come as a surprise at all if in their following albums (I truly hope that there will be more to come) Carcass will refine their musical direction and will bring more joy to their fans.
4. Paradise Lost
The British pioneers of Doom Metal really loved to experiment with their music. While the general gloomy atmosphere of their music was consistent throughout all their records, there were records like “One Second”, that significantly deviated from Metal, leaving many fans to wish that they will some day release something more along the lines of “Shades of God” or “Icon”. After a period of experimenting with synthpop, Paradise Lost started to return to its “Metallic” roots, and the last album, “The Plague Within”, is a pure atmospheric metal candy, that incorporates vocals varying from rock singing to growls, and combines slow and swampy heaviness with tasteful melody – And that’s exactly why we like them. The fact that members of Paradise Lost (One of the very few band that retains most of their original lineup, btw) like to experiment with the sound and music, suggests that their next release will probably be a good, refreshing Doom Metal record, with a slight chance that it may go to an unexpected direction – And even if so, it will still be an interesting experiment.
Sodom is probably the longest active German Thrash Metal band, and they are considered as one of “The Big Teutonic Four” – A German analogue to the American “Big Four” of Thrash Metal. Sodom stole the spotlight on this list from their compatriots Kreator because Kreator’s latest release, “Phantom Antichrist”, was more melodic and progressive, and changes like this in the musical direction are not necessarily welcomed by the fans, and many of them will certainly prefer to hear more early material on their live shows. Like most of the bands on this list, Sodom were trying different styles on their albums throughout their career, and many of their fans like only particular albums out of their impressive discography, which consists of 14 studio albums. On their last few records, starting with “Code Red” in 1999, their music became more consistent, resulting in records that were a fine mixture of Old School Thrash Metal in it’s most raw and aggressive form with subtle hints of Death Metal, and the balance between the two varying from record to record. Those are finely crafted, energetic and aggressive records, that will bring joy and pleasure to any Thrash/Death Metal listener. Considering their energetic live performances it seems that Sodom are not even close to running out of energy and their next record will also make their fans headbang furiously to their aggressive tunes.
Final Thoughts: It is easy to notice that all the bands on the list are walking on a thin line – On one hand, if the entire discography of a band sounds the same, the fans will eventually lose interest, and on the other, excessive experimenting is also not always received well. When this balance is maintained at least in a band’s several last records, the fans maintain interest and look forward to the next releases. Kerry King, who inspired this article, actually could be right about Slayer, if his statement was made after the release of “Christ Illusions” – A period when the last two Slayer albums absolutely devastated. Nowadays, however, after the anemic “World Paint In Blood” and the last record, it seems that returning to form at this point, especially without Jeff Hanneman, is pretty unlikely.
– Timur Sizov