Old Bands Never Die…

Twenty years is a long time.  Two decades in the music industry is an eternity.  Back in 1996 most people had no idea what an MP3 was; now there are likely young people who have never seen a CD, never mind a cassette.  But several major bands from that time period are set to release albums in October and November of 2016.

Metallica’s album Load was released on June 4, 1996.  Metallica releases albums so infrequently nowadays it’s easy to use each album’s date as a touchstone for others.  If only their albums were still landmarks that drove other bands to strive for improvement and innovation.

Korn’s album Life is Peachy was released on October 15, 1996.  This has always been the weakest Korn album in my opinion but it did give the world Jonathan Davis scat singing on “Twist”, the ne plus ultra of indecipherable lyrics born out of the alternative music scene.

Green Day’s album Insomniac was released on October 10, 1995 and Nimrod was released on October 14, 1997.  “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” off Nimrod catapulted Green Day into the stratosphere of popular music and capped many of my generation’s high school years by its (over)use at proms.

Metallica’s album Hardwired to Self-Destruct is set to release on November 8, 2016.

I was a big fan of Metallica’s previous album, Death Magnetic, and I’ve patiently waited for their new album, although to say I was holding my breath would be a huge overstatement of my anticipation.  Suddenly the song “Hardwired” pops up in my Facebook feed.  And all the user comments are glowing, effusive even.  Then I watched the music video.  To say I was disappointed would be a fair understatement.  Gone were the thoughtful lyrics.  Nowhere was the symphonic, neo-classical composition of epic songs.  In its place was a short, staccato song with the f-bomb and s-bomb as the centerpiece of its chorus.

While I always knew Metallica had profanity laden chatter during concerts, their song lyrics were always clean, a small detail for sure but a noticeable one to my ears when I first discovered the band.  For a singer bordering on AARP membership, James Hetfield sure seems angrier than he ever has been.  Except he’s really not.  Why exactly are we so fucked?  Why are we shit out of luck?  The lyrics appear to be a generic rant against everything wrong in the world.  Maybe it’s the ecology and climate change.  Maybe it’s instability and potential for war.  Who knows.  Other bands do this type of angst all the time, but Metallica used to be more focused and intentional in their youth.

Even worse, the video itself isn’t anything special.  Just four guys standing in an undisclosed location playing while a seizure inducing strobe light illuminates them.  It’s like a terrible version of “Enter Sandman”‘s effect.  Speaking of which, why is James the only one shirtless in “Enter Sandman”?  I wonder if the director for “Hardwired” had to tell him to show up with a shirt this time.

I loved Metallica’s Holy Trinity of albums (Ride the Lightning, Master of Puppets, …And Justice for All) and The Black Album.  Hell, I even enjoyed the first half of Load and a handful of Reload.  I really hope the rest of Hardwired to Self-Destruct turns out more like those albums than Kill ‘Em All and St. Anger.

Which leads perfectly to the second video released off the album, “Moth Into Flame.”  This song nails everything.  The lyrics are hard hitting (“Seduced by fame, like a moth into the flame”, “Sold your soul, built the higher wall”) intertwining addictions to drugs and fame.  The melody is super catchy and the rhythm is heavy.  Kirk even uncorks a killer one minute guitar solo that he appears to pull off effortlessly with his graying hair flying around as he flicks off note after note.  It’s also a six minute song, which seems to be the duration Metallica needs to make a great song, compared to the scant three and a half minutes of “Hardwired.”

As for the video itself, I laughed that even the moths change the TV away from the “Hardwired” video.  I’m certain that’s not the connection the band or director intended but it’s amusing nonetheless.  I also enjoyed James histrionics throughout.  At times he looks like a stereotypical Guitar Hero player, a style which he himself helped inspire in the first place.  The old fashioned TV interspersed throughout the video starts a trend in several of the videos covered in this article (Korn’s Victorian rooms, Green Day’s mid-20th century technology).  Also, the hanging light bulbs surrounding the band for some reason reminded me of the light holes in Korn’s “Freak on a Leash” video.

Korn's Freak on a Leash

Korn’s album The Serenity of Suffering is set to release on October 21, 2016.

Korn is still acting all crazy and inferring some sort of evil (as opposed to bluntly tackling actual evil).  You’d think at age 45, Jonathan Davis and company would be a little bit happier about things, but I guess just like Metallica something is still pissing them off.  There are surprisingly few lyrics to this song, with only two verses, a repeated chorus, and an outro.  The outro features what has always been one of Korn’s strengths.  Jonathan Davis’ scat singing, which unlike some other singer‘s trademark sounds, has beyond belief aged well.  Then again I’m a sucker for non-verbal singing.

Digging into this video a bit… what the hell exactly is that dude doing with his respirator?  He goes all crazy eyes before deciding to cut the cord.  Did he invent a way to breath music?  Or is he just a crazy dentist?  Also, at first brief glance he looks like an aged, cleaned up, greying Jonathan Davis.  Meanwhile, the locales of each band member actually relate to that player.  One guitarist, presumably Brian “Head” Welch, is fittingly in a room full of mounted animal heads (if that’s not Head, that’s a totally wasted opportunity).  The other guitarist, presumably James “Munky” Shaffer, is a science lab filled with beakers and tubes, presumably because of how well monkeys and science experiments mix.  Drummer Ray Luzier is, appropriately, in a room with clocks covering the walls.  Singer Jonathan Davis sits in a bathtub filled with dead leaves, representing decay and sadness just like his lyrics.  Bassist Reginald “Fieldy” Arvizu appears to be in a library or study, though.  Maybe he just really likes shortcuts to the kitchen?

The second video off The Serenity of Suffering doesn’t even feature the band, somewhat odd for a band with members so visually striking.  Instead there’s a photographer taking a picture of a posed corpse.  Was this a common practice at some point?  His disappearance at the end doesn’t really make sense, given the dead lady’s body was still corporeal given the photo op.  I wonder if they got a two-for-one deal on the set since that room certainly fits thematically with those in “Rotting in Vain.”  And is just me, or does the insane dead lady look like the dude on the cover of Slayer’s Diabolus In Musica?

The song itself reminds me more the laid back angst of Issues, which is good, but also unfortunate since all those songs tended to blend together into one musical stew (albeit it a delicious one, if your ears could taste, that is).  The video and song certainly go together with the generic theme of insanity.

Green Day’s album Revolution Radio is set to release on October 7, 2016.  What’s a United States Presidential election year without a Green Day album? (Warning was 2000, American Idiot was 2004, and ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tre! were 2012.)  Green Day is ahead of the curve with not one, not two, but three music videos already.

What’s most interesting about the two lyric videos is how similar they are.  Both are obviously lyric videos, albeit very elaborate ones.  They both feature old fashioned equipment, from old school TVs to actual radios in “Bang Bang” to all the industrial panels in “Revolution Radio”.  There’s also a tiny leitmotif with the use of “lullaby” in both songs: “I testify like a lullaby of memories” in “Bang Bang”, “Sing like a rebel’s lullaby” in “Revolution Radio.”  That word, “lullaby”, invokes the gentle intro track, “Song of the Century”, from the band’s 21st Century Breakdown album.  And speaking of self-references, “Revolution Radio” is chock full of allusions to past Green Day songs.  “Cherry bombs and gasoline” sure sounds a lot like “Horseshoes and Handgrenades”.  The couple kissing at the end sure looks like the couple on the cover of 21st Century Breakdown.  Basically, the video for “Revolution Radio” appears to be an homage to one of the band’s own albums.  But what to make of those running bears and unicorns in “Bang Bang”?  Given the symbolic meaning of the unicorn is purity, innocence, and childhood, its inclusion in a song about gun violence is surely ironic.

Meanwhile, the “official” music video for “Bang Bang” is actually somewhat staid and boring with seemingly dated references.  The three bank robbers in Green Day masks are reminiscent of every bank heist in a movie, ever.  The band itself simply plays to a crowded house, presumably the “rager” mentioned in the song’s lyrics.  The robbers proceed to toss their ill gotten gains into the air to the apparent delight and awe of the crowd and band.  Is this some commentary on the mid-2000’s financial crisis, “Occupy Wall Street”, and 1 percenters?  If so, that’s reaching back in social history at this point.  And how exactly does this bank robbery sequence relate to the gun violence and mass shooting theme of the song itself?

The third lyric video is for the song “Still Breathing.”  So far this is the catchiest, most powerful song of the bunch.  The video continues the trend of old fashioned technology with the inclusion of film spots and graininess, both of which are nonexistent in a digital film age.  The use of skeletons obviously allows highlighting the breathing lungs and beating hearts to emphasis the song’s lyrics.  But I wonder if an alternative interpretation is the fact skeletons don’t have skin, thus making them applicable across all races.  That’s fitting given the angst filled lyrics such as “I’m like a junkie tying off the last time/ I’m like a loser that’s betting on his last dime/ Oh, I’m still alive” and “I’m like a son that was raised without a father/ I’m like a mother barely keeping it together/ Oh, I’m still alive.”  In these racially charged times it’s nice to hear a hopeful anthem.  When Billie Joe sings “My head’s above the rain and roses” and the video shows a scythe, he’s convincing himself (and us) to mourn all the senseless deaths but keep our chins up, to soldier on, to keep breathing, to love the people you hold dear because we’re destined for the same destination.  All this meaning wrapped up in a song I could listen on repeat.  Green Day has likely hit one out of the park with “Still Breathing.”

I’m finding myself psyching myself up for these albums, but I fear it’s all based on nostalgia for their past greatness.  Being a musician for a career must be worse than being an athlete.  At least with sports there’s a definite, objectively measurable point at which your skills have deteriorated so much everyone including the athlete knows it’s time to hang it up and call it a career.  For musicians that slide is much more gradual and insidious and subjective.  A singer’s voice eventually fades or morphs into a different style.  A drummer can’t maintain the wild stamina for a whole concert or even song.  Guitarists perhaps age the most gracefully but most inevitably mellow in their elder years.

How will these elder statesmen of rock and metal perform in their second, third, or fourth decade?  Will they recapture some vital element of their youth and filter it through the prism of wisdom gained over the years?

That’s why they keep playing.

That’s why we keep listening.

Old bands never die, they just fade out into silence (followed by a hidden song several minutes later).

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Travis Hudson
Chief Editorial Officer at Rampant Discourse
Software developer by day. Member of the literati by night. Full time father of one son and one daughter. Music enthusiast. Comic book defender. Cultural deconstructionist. Aspirant philosopher. Zen but not Zen.

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