The mettle of metal

MIKE ROSS

, Last Updated: 9:12 PM ET

What a golden opportunity to beat some stale definitions into the ground! The new forbidden term of 2000 is "rap metal," also known as "new metal."

As Kiss's Gene Simmons says of such typecasting, "Shut the heck up," except he uses a different word than heck.

"If it's got drums and electric guitar, it's rock 'n' roll."

OK, let's review. From the primordial soup of the '60s came a band called Steppenwolf that wrote a song called Born to Be Wild, which contained the line, "heavy metal thunder." It refered to the sound of a motorcycle, but the media seized upon this dandy new term and a genre was born. There followed a pantheon of "metal" bands, from Iron Butterfly to Iron Maiden to Metallica - sensing a theme here? - whose fans worshipped them like martyred saints. Aside from a few prog-rock experiments, the basic metal style remained largely intact for years. AC/DC, in fact, is a living museum of metal, exactly the same today as it was in 1974, God bless 'em. The bands that forged this sound seemed content to tap repeatedly into the vast genetic resources of aggression commonly found in the North American white male. There was money to be made.

Then came the '80s, when metal started turning a little, well, you know, gay. It was David Bowie's fault, a slippery slope from his glitter rock to full-blown glam metal. Still, metalheads either didn't care or seemed not to notice the overt homosexual imagery of Judas Priest singer Rob Halford, for instance. Poison was the last straw, however, heralding the "death of metal" and a new movement in rock 'n' roll that called itself (well, OK, the media did it) "alternative rock." Nirvana had its heavy moments, but no one would dare accuse it of being a "metal" band. Metal, meanwhile, split into a multitude of hybrids with varying degrees of Cookie Monster lead vocals: thrash-metal, death-metal, doom-metal, apocalypse-metal and onward and downward. Now we're really beating a dead horse.

Like disco, metal refused to die. Then came rap music - once the "anti-metal," and yet it was only natural that kids raised in a climate where both styles were popular would one day grow up to combine them. Thus, we get rap-metal, of which there's a glut not seen since the height of the glam-metal excess. Rage Against the Machine, Ice-T or Beastie Boys may have pioneered it, but you can thank Korn - that's koRn, by the way - for inspiring the current rap-metal mania.

The band plays Friday in Skyreach Centre.

Opening act Papa Roach seems to fit the rap-metal mould, but it ain't easy. Bassist Tobin Esperance, 20, serves up the perfect quote: "It's hard to be different when everyone's trying to sound the same."

Sure, it's unfair. Papa Roach is a pretty good band that worked hard to get where it is, but just because the singer raps from time to time - and not all the time - it's been tarred as a rap-metal clone.

Time for some perspective from a metal veteran. Bruce Dickinson, in a recent phone interview to promote Iron Maiden's new album, Brave New World, says he likes Rage Against the Machine, but that's about it for "new" metal.

"Some of it's kind of interesting," the singer says. "Some of it leaves me absolutely stone cold. And it's not because I have any grandfather rights on frothing at the mouth about fashions. It's purely and simply that I love hearing elements of virtuoso playing and I love hearing great tunes. And a lot of times, I don't hear that too much in a great deal of music any more."

He also wonders why so many new metal bands are so angry. "How angry can you be after four years of touring and being multi-millionaires? What exactly are you pissed off about?"

Er, society?

"I can't really get angry with society. I can pretend I'm angry with society, but real anger is directed against the jerk that cuts me off in traffic. That's real anger. Real anger is one-to-one human contact with people who are (idiots). You can feel sadness, but anger at society? Only an (idiot) could feel angry at society. It's fake!"

As Papa Roach has quite a few angry moments, Tobin responds, "I wouldn't say everyone's angry. It's just that when you deal with real-life issues, trials and tribulations, everyone has them, it's just real serious stuff. It's not just getting mad for its own sake, it's expressing yourself."

As for metallic semantics, he goes on, "I wouldn't consider us rap-metal. I'd say we're more of a hardcore hip-hop thing. Maybe we should just call it rock 'n' roll. We're loud and in your face with guitar, bass, drums and vocals, rock 'n' roll. We rock. That's the bottom line."

No plans yet for an old-metal-meets-new-metal festival. Fans of the latter get theirs on Friday night, while Dickinson confirms Iron Maiden will hit Edmonton in late September. There's not much middle ground.


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