11 movements in rock that everyone should have seen coming

We look back over 11 cultural shifts in rock music that now seem pretty obvious in hindsight…

11 movements in rock that everyone should have seen coming

There are moments in rock'n'roll that no-one's ready for. Whether it's artists you didn't realise would influence the state of music or killer bands who just never got enough respect for their incredible talent, it's hard to know what you have until it's passed you by. This can be frustrating, sure – there's nothing worse than ignoring a band because they're not in your current wheelhouse, only to fall in love with them five years later and realise you missed them on their first tour. But it's also educational, teaching listeners to pay attention to emerging artists and trends that might not normally speak to them.

Even more frustrating, however, are those moments that stared us right in the face when they were happening, but which we were blindsided by. We often don't notice these cultural shifts until we're living in them, and struggle against them in ways that later look foolish. The truth is, these waves were usually so ready to crash that we should've seen them building a mile away, and yet we were so caught up in whatever was hot at the time that we didn't notice the plain-as-day signs of them.

Here are 11 examples of movements in rock that everyone should've seen coming…

Goth, emo and punk join forces

Goths, emo kids and punks often connected during all of the genres’ salad days, coming together over bands like The Smiths and The Cure. It wasn’t until the mid- to late-2000s, as acts like My Chemical Romance and AFI combined elements of all three, that they became impossible to tell apart. And yet, leading up to that unification, those fanbases had already begun to collide in a blur of eyeliner. The music that came out of the bands that used all three sounded as though it was always meant to be – even as hardcore punks (who usually listened to all three genres separately) were aghast at the supposed poserdom of it all. Go figure.

Photo: Justin Borucki

Metalcore becomes the new hard rock

What’s truthfully odd about metalcore’s birth in the early 2000s is how extreme everyone thought it was at the time. Delicious riffs with huge, heartfelt choruses – surely that was meant for smelly clubs in suburban Massachusetts, right? The fact that bands like Asking Alexandria, Killswitch Engage and Bring Me The Horizon would evolve to write music that was hugely listenable – and that they would also inspire metal-tinged radio rock acts – seems pretty natural in hindsight.

Hair metal collapses in on itself

It can be funny to think about how the overcrowded, gaudy cruise ship of hair metal didn’t foresee the inevitable waterfall that was up ahead. But when the despondent flannel-clad kids on the northern part of the West Coast started making louder, tougher-sounding songs than they were, most Sunset Strip acts were struck dumb, and rallied against the change with the foolhardy mantra of, 'Yeah, but we're rich!' And so the genre and its fans surged headfirst into their own demise, not thinking for a moment that flashy excess would wear out its welcome eventually.

Pop-punk emerges and conquers the world

By the ’90s, punk had become a much-loved and somewhat scholarly addition to rock’s history… and it was kind of a bummer. Grunge’s languid sound and aggressive sensitivity could be a tad exhausting, but driving upbeat punk riffs and lyrics about skate-park goofball shit were relatable and fun to dance to. It's logical, then, that a new generation of punks would arise, armed with a biting sense of self-deprecating humour and focused on the Ramones’ concept of fun at all costs.

Thrash gives way to death metal

To think that when death metal emerged in the late ’80s, a lot of thrash fans looked down on it for being too noisy and having guttural vocals. After all, metal has always been an arms race, and yet thrashers were turned off by the idea of bands making Slayer’s shouts and Venom’s riffs grosser and meaner. And hey, thrash only came to be when fans of old-school NWOBHM wanted their influences to sound faster and incorporate some punk. In retrospect, death metal feels like the final product, and thrash, though awesome, is just the stepping stone.

Shock rock and theatrical artists are surviving (and thriving)

As streaming services make the live arena more about enjoying an artist’s performance than getting to know them or the scene, those acts with big, visual stage shows are able to dominate the scene. Bands like Slipknot and Rammstein still draw huge crowds, while 'newer' acts such as Ghost and BABYMETAL show the possibilities of a live rock show. And that makes perfect sense in hindsight – the more digital entertainment feels small and impersonal, the bigger the impact of an insane sensory feast onstage. Even a kid who’s never loved thrash metal in their life wants to see GWAR on Halloween.

Photo: Nat Wood

The meteoric rise of nu-metal

Metal and hard rock have long enjoyed showing off their kinship with hip-hop. But most of the time, attempts to merge the two sounded like one genre’s artist cameoing on the other’s track. On top of that, the kind of metal that was embracing hip-hop was long-form and artsy. That there was a generation of kids from shitty, everyday America, who wanted to rip out all the guitar solos and hood experience and turn the most effective parts of metal and rap into one furious sound, should have been a pretty clear progression.

Black metal grows up

Of the genre developments to whhich metal fans have responded angrily, few rank as high as the ‘hipster black metal’ boom of the late 2000s and early 2010s. Thing is, black metal had always entertained academic sensibilities – Emperor's Ihsahn never missed a chance to mention that he only listened to classical music – so it made sense as the chosen underground music of a generation of contrarians with contempt for everything.

Stoner doom becomes metal’s go-to genre

Stoner and doom metal were generally considered too slow, far-out, and misanthropic for mainstream audiences. But what that led to was the genres becoming places where musical originality flourished, even as the power of the huge, heavy-hitting riff remained the highest virtue. So in the last echoes of 9/11, and the re-ignition of interest in classic metal caused by metalcore, it was pretty clear that acts like Neurosis, Sunn 0))), High On Fire, and Pallbearer would become the last holdout of metal’s true believers. Instead, it took most of us until The Sword was on the radio to catch on.

Festivals become rock’s bread and butter

Back in the day, huge rock and metal festivals were meccas to which pilgrimages were made in the name of, say, seeing Sabaton on a big stage. They were also primarily a UK and European tradition, with America being the home of traveling circuses like Ozzfest and Warped Tour, or rock-neutral parties like Bonnaroo. But those fests had gotten so massive in France and Germany that it's almost ridiculous it took so long for that model to catch on all over the world. We all should've seen that weekend-long romps through the mud were the way of the future.

The rock / hip-hop collision

After the epic fall of nu-metal’s oversaturated market, it was assumed that the lesson learned was to keep rap and rock separate. But both genres have matured a ton since the turn of millennium, and the 'guilty pleasures' of nu-metal are now being championed by the kids who grew up loving them. Equally important is how many of today’s rappers are the ones leading the charge this time around, so that their use of and collaboration with rock and metal artists feels like appreciation rather than cultural appropriation. This one should've been a given.

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