Metal music is changing. The signs were there. Everywhere. Record labels, artists and bands, promoters and live shows, physical and digital products, press, magazines and online media, social media. The music industry is changing.
The "old" is relevant nowadays. I was listening to Saxon's "Unleash The Beast" yesterday and for most people around my age (and not only) this is something like "new" Saxon but this is already an album 20 years old...
There is a new trend in metal music since years, where "traditional", "retro" and everything related to the 80s, is overhyped. Even the younger audience is looking and dressed like James Hetfield in his youth. 80s and before is the "old" and after that, even if decades have passed, for some weird reason, everything is considered "new". Nostalgia and worship of the past is the main key of how music industry is moving and the classic acts must stay with us forever, with one way or another.
It is very difficult for music industry to create new major acts like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, and most likely it won't happen in the near future. It is even more difficult (nearly impossible) for a new band to become like those old major acts. From time to time, there are some "new" bands that create fuss around their name and get high slots in big open air festivals but they can't make arena or big venue tours. On the other hand, older bands always get more attention when they are active and when a major act is touring, the music industry is moving around their name.
What will happen when all these old and major acts will retire?
Underneath the current status there is a thrust to perpetuate the presence of all the major acts. We have entered a period where older bands will keep moving even without founding members or with so many lineup changes that will transform their sound and image. At this point, there is an inexplicably trend to keep in purpose some elements to those acts that will connect them with their past so they will keep going as the "old act". This might came up randomly or as a business plan, but music bands are transformed in a similar way of a sport club or team that keeps going with new members and players using the same brand name.
Is there a morality issue?
Let's speak with some examples that raised controversy.
Recently, and just few weeks before their world tour (with many dates, many people and money involved) guitarist and main composer of Judas Priest, Glenn Tipton (that is already 70 years old) announced that he won't follow the band to the tour due to health problems that will affect his performance. Tipton revealed that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, with which he was first diagnosed in 2008. In 2011, K.K. Downing also left the band with a statement: "There had been an on-going breakdown in working relationships between myself, elements of the band and management for some time", and he also added that he wasn't happy with the band's live performance. A decent and respectful desicion until one point.
We all understand that people are getting older and they can't perform as they used to be at their prime. The controversy raised in the case of Judas Priest is that without both original guitarists and since this guitar duo is one of the most recognizable elements of the band, can they continue using the name with new members? You still have the voice of Rob Halford and the silent presence of bassist Ian Hill, but is it the same?
Before continuing let's answer a simple question. What is closer to the essence of the Judas Priest sound, "Demolition" or "Resurrection"? "Jugulator" or "Firepower"?
After answering to yourself the above question, let's share another one: Is the music personified or just music matters even if the "persons" are not there?
And when you will answer yourself this question, think if Glenn Tipton knew from start that we won't follow the Judas Priest tour and everything was a well constructed business plan, or it just happened.
Let's go to some more examples.
Candlemass are touring without the main composer and founder of the band, Leif Edling. But what is closer to the essence of the Candlemass sound, what we see now live or the band during mid to late 90s?
The classic Venom lineup is Cronos (vocals & bass), Mantas (guitar) and Abaddon (drums). In mid 80s, Mantas left the band and was replaced by two other guitarists and just few years later he came back and Cronos was out of the band. For the next years until mid 90s, the band's main lineup was Demolition Man (vocals & bass), Mantas (guitar), Abaddon (drums) with the addition of Al Burnes on guitar. The original lineup was reformed in the late 90s, but by the mid 00s, only Cronos remains in the band using the Venom moniker. Meanwhile, Demolition Man, Mantas and Abaddon are recording and touring under the name Venom Inc. Which one is the "true" Venom? Or can we have two bands performing the same songs and sharing the same legacy?
There are more similar occasions over the years with bands like Rhapsody and Tank.
Do you want something more extreme? Giuffria is an American hard rock band formed by Gregg Giuffria when his previous band, Angel, broke up. They were active for few years and broke up in 1987. In 2015 some members of the band reformed Giuffria for live shows, without Gregg Giuffria...
Blackfoot also caused some controversy since the band is touring without any original members, and as it seems, these changes in music industry will be something usual in the (near?) future.
But besides the members and persons of each band, there is also the music. And maybe this is the most important thing. We must not forget two crucial things:
1. Most musicians and artists cannot stop composing and performing. This is what they do and it is an inner need. They live and breath music.
2. Many musicians evolve and change. No matter how much you might love a specific era of an artist or band, you don't own them. You can't tell them what and how to play. Either you like it and follow them again, either not.
For example, Ozzy Osbourne (70 years old) after the last Black Sabbath world tour, started the last tour of his solo career. This last tour might last for two years and despite the business plan and how many people might work behind the "Ozzy" brand name, you can easily spot that Ozzy, the man, lives for the stage and really having fan up there.
Fates Warning is a band with different faces and unique evolution. There are people who like only their early works, there are people who like only their mid period and there are people who like everything they do. Can you tell them how to play? No. You can just follow what you like. However, they did something very special that pleased everyone. Fates Warning have a specific lineup today with only one founding member (Jim Matheos) but last year, they played two special shows with the 1986 lineup performing only material from that era. They have done this before in 2010 when they reunite "Parallels" lineup for selected shows.
And with that we come to another case where the "old" comes to present again. Nostalgia is the key and some promoters have found a way to offer this kind of special shows to the audience, so older fans will remember their youth and new fans will get a glimpse of a legendary or cult past. Music industry follow them and everyone is working on this direction. For example, when Fates Warning perform this special show, the old albums will get reissued, a live album will be released and press will cover the event and the band.
But besides that case, that was done with respect to the fans, involving all past members but without overcome the current status of the band, there are many more different cases, especially to the underground metal scene.
Over the last years, there are many shows that involve just one member of a band and in some cases not even the main composer. You see an old underground "name", but on stage you see something completely different. There are many people who consider many of those acts as "tribute bands" that have nothing to do with the original group.
Let's close the examples and cases we analyze with another band and another case. Riot was one of the most underrated US metal bands that suffered from many lineup changes and musical styles, but guitarist and composer Mark Reale was always there. Reale died of complications related to Crohn's disease in January 2012, just after the album "Immortal Soul" was released, where he appeared as guitarist but didn't really played on that record. After his death, there were more lineup changes and the band slightly changed the name to Riot V and kept going playing many shows and releasing albums. We all have to admit that their live shows are great but we also have to admit that it might be awkward for some people to hear live songs like "Outlaw" with completely different musicians. But they still continue. Can someone tell them that they don't deserve to do it?
And yet, music industry again found a way to follow such a case by re-releasing the Riot catalogue on different vinyl variations and compact discs. The band will also find a way to perform some special shows, and press will cover it.
Music industry will always find ways to follow the progress of each band when there is impact to the audience. But as we mentioned, underneath the current status in music, there is a thrust to perpetuate the presence of the "old" that is more safe than risk with something new. If you will visit a record store, probably you will see more reissues than new releases, and it will be much easier for an old established band to play live shows and get paid for those.
How will music industry keep the "old" always up-to-day? Are there new major acts?
There is a band that might continue for many years and you will never know or care of who performs. Ghost is a big band of our days but the way they are promoted makes no difference to who is behind each Nameless Ghoul or who will be Papa Emeritus. Tobias Forge is the singer and songwriter, but also the business leader of the act and probably he will keep his successful brand name for a long time. Ghost is presented in a way where he can do it and there are unlimited ways of moving on, behind specific persons, with just music and shows. This is an exception of a "new" that can become a successful "old" in the years to come.
There are new bands playing traditional heavy metal like Enforcer or Night Demon that have all the elements of a band that could make a career in the 80s but they are active in the wrong period. They have catchy music, great production and over-the-top live performance. On the other hand, there are few other new bands like Sabaton, Amon Amarth and Volbeat, plus US bands with diverse modern metal sound that have gain great recognition from a younger audience (like Avenged Sevenfold), but we can't really say if they will become timeless. Only time can tell, but we must support new bands, too.
I am going to see Judas Priest in few months in Rockwave Festival along with Accept, Saxon and Iron Maiden. Meanwhile, few weeks earlier Udo will also perform a special Accept show... Will this be the last Judas Priest tour? Can't tell, but in a very weird, scientific fiction future, Rob Halford and Ian Hill might slowly step aside and the "new" guys could continue playing special festival shows under a name like "The Legacy of Judas Priest".
Is it possible that many similar "legacy" and "special shows" could appear in the near future? Maybe including some special guests or even past band members of the "legacy"? Will "tribute bands", "celebration shows" and "heritage act tours" be the future of the music festivals? Or "holograms" will keep art always in front of our eyes?
"The music that touches you in your youth is magnified as you get older. Each record can be a virtual time machine and all you need is to hear a second or two and you go back to that place and time when you first heard it. It's a brilliant feeling when music touches you so profoundly and stays with you through time." - Rob Halford
There is always an emotional bond between a beloved artist and his fan. This emotional bond can have a different impact to different people, especially when they do not separate the art from the artist. But we need to clarify this: The artist is mortal and the art is immortal.
What will happen when all these old and major acts will retire?
Is the music personified or just music matters even if the "persons" are not there?
Is there a morality issue? Or is it just music after all?
Or simply, everything about major acts will be just business, like there is a businessman that has bought a big band (or bands) and hired managers to handle his investements, no matter who is in the band?