Why The New Wave Of American Heavy Metal Crashed
The development of metalcore was arguably the most important development within heavy music of the past 20 years. Today, when you hear double bass drums and melodic riffs over soaring clean vocals on rock radio, you have the New Wave Of American Heavy Metal — the early-’00s movement led by bands like Killswitch Engage, Shadows Fall, God Forbid, Lamb Of God, and more — to thank for it. But any genre that gets insanely popular is almost certainly destined to eventually collapse in on itself, and metalcore was no different.
In the latest episode of our podcast Inside Track, in which the true stories behind rock music’s most unbelievable moments are told by the people who lived them, members of the biggest bands in the New Wave Of American Heavy Metal discuss their rise to mainstream recognition and how their music helped change the face of metal and hardcore. But they’re also open about the fact that eventually, as their grassroots scene became profitable, it became more of a labor than a labor of love.
“In the early days, it was more about fun, and just pushing the band and taking up the best tours we could,” says Trevor Phipps, frontman for Unearth. “The band was getting paid peanuts as well — we were leaving a lot of money on the table, because we were just trying to play shows and tours, it didn’t really matter at the time. As soon as it turned into a career after the oncoming storm came out in 2004, there was a lot of pressure from management, from labels and agents and stuff to do certain tours and certain things, and it did create some disharmony within the band.”
Label pressure was an issue, and many of the young musicians in the scene, who’d never expected to get signed much less get paid for their work, had a tough time standing up for themselves without feeling ungrateful. But as Killswitch Engage’s Adam D points out, it wasn’t the label who shouldered their way through the sweaty clubs of the local scenes.
“At the end of the day it shouldn’t be the label’s call,” says Adam. “We’re gonna wanna make the music that we’re gonna wanna play. I think that’s important, that’s one thing bands have to remember. Just make sure you’re proud of what you’re doing and you do what you wanna do. Because at the end of the day, you’re the ones playing on the stage, you’re the ones who have to be proud of what you’ve done and say, we’re going to play this song for you.”
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What the New Wave Of American Heavy Metal eventually suffered from the most was what most musical movements have to deal with: a glutted market. When it became clear that metalcore was a moneymaker, labels began picking up every band that mixed European metal riffs with clean vocals. Not only did this mean that the scene felt oversaturated and kind of lame, but also that some of the bands who helped build it became disheartened and exhausted, and eventually called it a day.
“It’s not really unfair,” says Doc Coyle, former guitarist of God Forbid, now in Bad Wolves. “Nine out of ten times, the cream rises to the top, and you’ll see that when you look at different subgenres…John Boecklin who’s the drummer of Bad Wolves, and was the drummer of Devildriver who was a big part of that scene as well. Me and him were on a tour bus in Europe and we were talking about Lamb Of God and Killswitch, and he said, ‘You know, maybe they’re just better than we are.’ And they WERE. you know? If Killswitch is the corollary for God Forbid, and Lamb Of God is the corollary for Devildriver, I think they just wrote better songs and were better musicians and had something that was more iconic and connective with people at large, and that’s why those bands have never lost any steam.”
Listen to the full episode here:
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