Welcome back. I hope you got some rest since my last article. You will need it—this is a fucking Proust-level word grinder. Last Rites better be grateful they don’t pay me by the word. Or at all.
The explosion of metal in the early 80s was both due to and destructive of some acts that played hard rock to the point they crossed the line into heavy metal quite frequently. Some of these acts actually rode the wave they had rippled into effect in stunning fashion. Others never quite figured out how to—or never cared to—transition into an arena metal band. These bands were often characterized as metal by the pop press, but metalheads knew better. They were hard rock, right enough, but unlike Maiden and Priest, they were not dedicated to the sound.
But the weight of their metal output should not be dismissed. Nor should their contribution to the history of the scene. Even as they chose different—sometimes disastrous—paths, the stamp of their sound informed many of the bands that we have come to call legends.
I have done little research and talked to almost no bands who were massive in the early to mid 80s to arrive at this hypothesis, but I tend to believe most bands live in their own yesterday. Or someone else’s today. Which is to say, none of them know what they will be. No album is cut with the knowledge that it will be a game changer. The hope is there, certainly, but not the surety.
Things were strange in the early 80s. The music industry of the 50s made rock musicians a viable way to make itself wealthy. The Beatles made being a rock musician a viable way for a musician to get rich. Led Zeppelin’s manager made being a rock musician a viable way to get incredibly rich. The music industry of the 80s made rock musicians a way to make itself wealthy again. It might have made some musicians rich in the process, but as Chris Rock so rightly pointed out, the rich are paid by the wealthy to make them wealthier.
If you were a rock musician in the 70s, and had grown up on Hendrix, Cream, and The Who, had watched Zeppelin and Bowie blow up into regions of fame only movie stars and politicians once attained, your decisions would likely reflect two things: the desire to make great rock music, obviously, and the desire to get fucking sick rich. At least in America, land of opportunity—and lack thereof—the two seemed to be more intertwined than maybe other places.
So, it’s not a huge surprise to see bands that by all rights ought to have been heavy metal forces of nature for the ages make decisions that either made them a lot of money, but lost them a lot of fans, or just lost them a lot of fans. And today those artists can look pretty stupid, or at least, pretty sellout. But in those moments, at that time, what would selling out even mean?
Today’s quasi-proto-semi-metal article is about bands in these situations. Bands that tread the heavy metal line—or blew past it for a glorious moment—only to fall into either the lap or the trap of luxury by grasping for something lesser to become something greater: $$$. As we look, try to remember that none of these bands likely had any idea how vapid they would one day look to us. In fact, in one case, I am willing to bet they don’t even remember what “us” is.
As always, I am writing about three bands in particular that illustrate my point. And, as always, I will choose two tracks from each band. In this case the bands are Van Halen, Pat Travers, and Cheap Trick.
For anyone that does not know, Pat Travers is a Canadian guitarist and singer who played what might be called “hard rhythm and blues,” a-la Aerosmith, Foghat, or occasionally Joe Walsh. As with most 70s’ hard rockers, he grew up on 50s’ and early 60s’ rock and roll and the subsequent British Invasion, and his playing tended to reflect these sensibilities.
But whereas Birmingham industrial kids had gotten a nose full of UK hippy shit and decided to do something very different, a lot of North American rockers never quite felt that same disdain for the RnB, Blues, and Soul aspects of the hippy movement. Thus, guys like Pat Travers played a style that incorporated those aspects rather than actively moved against them.
You can hear that he was in love with the overdriven sounds of Alvin Lee, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix, and his guitar setup was filled with effects and distortion, his amps overdriven and dripping with power. His songwriting could, for a metalhead, be overly soulful or overly RnB, but it could also swerve into the hardest of rock and, now and then, heavy metal.
It must be noted that two of metal’s greatest drummers kitted with Travers over his early career: Nicko McBrain and Tommy Aldridge. And Mars Cowling is a legend among bassists, so you can imagine—though you don’t have to, you can just listen—how incredible these rhythm sections were. With talent like that backing him up, he was set for something amazing.
My two choices for this article are from his early 80s’ output, and may reflect his trying to fit into the sounds he was hearing. True or not, these tracks just smoke: “Snortin’ Whiskey” and “My Life is On The Line.”
We all have that riff which, the first time we heard it, caught us snoozing and whip-slapped us awake. I have a few: “Battle Scar” by Max Webster and Rush; “Too Hot To Handle” by UFO; and “Wrathchild” by some obscure UK band or other. ”Snortin’ Whiskey” was one of those riffs. It was the original Morbid Angel riff, in that it had a gross ton of effects on it, was played off time as an intro, and was almost too much to cotton the first time you heard it.
What follows the riff is a blues boogie, with all the blues and boogie replaced by fire and mass. This is the Aldridge / Cowling matchup, and includes the stunning Pat Thrall on second guitar, whose slightly cleaner soloing compliments Travers’s drunk flailing like Tipton complimented Downing. The riff permeates the verses, and power chords accent the bars making the guitars sound like how it might feel to be ripped to pieces by sharks. The rhythm section is up front in the mix, giving the whole thing a massive, “right here and right now” feel.
When the solos come, you can tell these two bastards are having a fucking blast. This is not just technique or showmanship, this is command and control of a search and destroy mission. They trade licks through the whole song, of course, because they are out of their minds, but it’s the goofs in the breakdown that let you know they were looking right at each other when they recorded them. These guys are genuinely having the best time two guitarists can have. And you FEEL that.
The unsung hero of this track, as I have alluded to earlier, is the production. It’s not garage or concert hall. It’s in your room. It’s right fucking here. It drags every moist chunk of sound and texture from the band and shoves it into your auditory canal with a ramrod. Dennis Mackay and Pat Travers produced a sound that was undeniable, and it made the album Crash and Burn Travers’s best selling effort.
Sadly, Travers never really found that combination of musicians, recording and spirit again, although the band’s next outing, Radio Active, still packed some punch. From that record comes my second choice, “My Life is On the Line.”
After being face-walled by Crash and Burn, my anticipation for Travers’ next record was high. When you are a kid you haven’t yet come to realize that a fantastic record is not an easy thing to create, let alone recreate. Radio Active was not exactly a letdown, but it was also not exactly an apt follow up, and was most certainly not a step up. Pat Thrall was gone; Tommy Aldridge was only on a few tracks; and the production was just not as immersive.
Moreover, the album seemed to be nudging up to the Foreigner / Journey / Starship sound of keyboard-infused melodic rock or ballads, and frankly that is not something Travers could pull off, whether you like that sound or not.
But, like most rock albums of that era, there were a few diamonds in the rust. Foreigner had “Jukebox Hero”; Starship had “Jane”; Journey had…well, Neil Schon and Steve Smith; and Travers had “My Life is on the Line,” a far more traditional hard rock song than “Snortin…”, but still a decent punch in the gut.
The cast that played on this song is not clear. Aldridge is noted as having contributed, but the style is slightly less inventive than what I expect from Tommy, so it may be Sandy Gennero—no slouch. And Mars Cowling is of course there to ensure the Jack Bruce-ian bottom end remains dependable.
The main riff is far more radio friendly than “Snortin’,” but it has a sweet descend between the B and the E that keeps it from being Aldo Nova hack. The breakdown and subsequent solo, while perhaps a little overly Police-y at first blush, demonstrate that Travers was still a guitar-flaying sonovabitch, and that Cowling is essentially perfect at any style or signature.
But whereas “Snortin’” was surrounded by killer-in-their-own-right tracks like “Crash and Burn,” “Material Eyes,” and “Born Under a Bad Sign”—along with a very, very questionable attempt to rockify Bob Marley, and an AWFUL ballad—“My Life is On the Line” is surrounded by sub-par songs almost entirely. Not, it must be said, poor musicianship. Not at all. But the whole is less than the sum of the parts.
The band would gain some of their former fire on Black Pearl and later recordings, and Travers can still be caught here and there to this day. If you can catch him, you should, because his playing really is the epitome of rock and roll greatness. But in trying to incorporate what was trendy, The Pat Travers Band lost what was magic, and sadly never really recovered.
Cheap Trick, though: Their actual metal output predates the other two bands here, but that doesn’t make them any less viable as an illustration of the 80s turning on a great band—and vice versa. They just kind of got there first. And they may be the most heartbreaking example in this list, because of all these acts, Cheap Trick was probably most likely to hit that Anthrax / Testament “up and down but always within the bounds” level of heaviness, which means their output could be as strong today as it was in 77-79: Poppy, but also some dark, weighty stuff that can’t be denied.
Cheap Trick’s early catalog is spotty from a metal point of view, but their incredible live sound, as captured in Live at Budokan, suggested the band had the ability to use their wall of sound, anchored by Tom Petersson’s 12-string bass, to create heaviness out of hard rock.
Again, they were children of the Beatles and the Kinks, and it showed and would always show. They would never be HEVY METL. But they could have been hard rock / heavy metal in the same way Saxon or UFO were. Rick Nielsen certainly had a knack for a good riff and was not afraid to walk it down a dark path. With the backing of the steadiest of the steady, Bun E. Carlos, and the anything-he-wanted-to-do vocals of Robin Zander, he could have made Cheap Trick into ageless rock legends. Or at least a really, really relevant, cool band for life.
Alas, the 80s undid the Tricksters almost completely, which is a shame, especially if you consider the two tracks I am considering for the article: “Gonna Raise Hell” and “You Must Be Dreaming.” And consider them you should.
Budokan was everywhere in 78–79. To this day, if you tell someone “I want you…”, before you get to the “…to clean my bum for me” part, there is a decent chance they will interrupt with “TO WANT ME!” Which is for the best. Clean your own bum.
It’s a catchy song, given a real roundness by the live setting. “Hello There,” “Need Your Love,” and “Ain’t That a Shame” are just as round and even a little punchier. But all the songs showed what Cheap Trick actually sounded like better than their records seemed to. They sounded exciting, gigantic and adept. When the immediate follow up was released, Dream Police, it caught a bit of that live weight at last.
The title track has some Saturday Morning Cartoon sinister keyboard pieces, but for the most part it is a heavied-up Beatles tune. Fine and dandy. “Way Of The World” and “House Is Rockin (With Domestic Problems)” are both serviceable, if slightly bland rockers. But the next song, which at the time was the closer for side one of the LP, was a new kind of beast.
“Gonna Raise Hell” starts with a two-four drum beat, flourished in a way that might have anyone at that time thinking, “great, here we disGO again!” It is no surprise the opening drum loop for Beastie Boys’ discotheque-ish “Shadrach” is essentially exactly the same, itself being sampled from TOMMY ALDRIDGE—IT’S ALL COMING TOGETHER NOW—during his stint with Back Oak Arkansas. It is also essentially the same as any number of disco tunes that were making the rounds at the time. It was the untzs-untzs of its day.
That intro was the set-up. Tom Petersson’s 12-string bass came in low and mean and disrupted your disco fears. His lick was funky, to be sure, but not in the Earth, Wind & Fire sense—more in the actual “sin” sense. The tripled strings gave the bass a vicious double-tracked feel, and it melded expectation with intent as Rick’s staggering opening licks, seemingly copped in part from the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” let a body know this was not just some fucking dance tune for cocaine addled yuppies-to-be. This was a deconstruction.
The guitars are Lennon-esque triads on top of Petersen’s crunching bass, and the lyrics feature a tortured Zander demanding that he is not going to play to your expectations at all. In fact, these sections of the song are clanky and obtuse—I would think on purpose—just to kind of rub how not-trendy this fucker is in your face. But the chorus brings us back to the now slightly demented funk riff. It’s the kind of thing that has been done by many artists since, but I can’t think anyone prior to Cheap Trick rubbing their heavy / funky disdain in your face to this degree.
It’s a gas, and it gets more metal in the breakdown. Carlos starts riding the hi-hat and stomping the kick, and Petersson breaks into a simplified but glorious Beethovian decline. It’s evil. To this, Rick adds more of his bendy notes and some Phantom of the Opera keyboards, acting as the horns to Petersson’s strings. Evil-er. And finally, Zander starts hollering “Mother,” climbing from a shout to a scream to a screech over the next few bars. It’s a strange, creepy thing that just sort of fits perfectly into what the band are doing with the rest of the song. Eventually, an orchestra accompanies the group through a drum break and another bass-fueled wind-up as the song draws to a close, after a whopping nine minutes.
Again, in hindsight this might seem contrived or even a little hack, but on its release, the combination of Alice Cooper mischief, anti-trendwhoring, and dependence on the darkness and heaviness of the riffs pushed it into a metallic space that I, at least, had never before experienced.
One day a movie called “Heavy Metal” came out. It was a cartoon, based not on music but on a semi-adult (read “horny adolescent bastard”) comic magazine. It had a soundtrack, though. And based on the title of the movie you might have expected that soundtrack to be full of nothing but heavy metal. I know I was.
Ha, no. It was about 3/4s garbage. Well, maybe 2/3. It DID have at least three songs that absolutely WERE heavy metal, though, and all three were fucking fantastic heavy metal songs. The first was Sammy Hagar’s “Heavy Metal,” which acted as a stick in the eye counterpoint to the other track on the album with the title “Heavy Metal,” which was by Don Felder. Of the Eagles.
The Eagles. DON FELDER OF THE EAGLES wrote a song called “Heavy Metal.” THAT WAS NOT HEAVY METAL. On a movie soundtrack called HEAVY METAL. With only 3 actual HEAVY METAL SONGS. NONE OF WHICH WERE BY DON FELDER.
Cocaine really is a hell of a drug.
Anyway, the second metal song on the record was by Black Sabbath, and was not just a heavy metal song by Black Sabbath, which would have been awesome anyway, but was “MOB RULES”—my second favorite Dio era BS song! So that was cool, except I had the album Mob Rules, so why would I need it on that soundtrack?
You can see I have some issues with this soundtrack.
The third song was by Cheap Trick. It was a strange song, maybe the strangest on the album. And definitely strange for a Cheap Trick song. But the thing is, it kills. It just kills. The song is called “I Must Be Dreaming,” and in case you missed it earlier, it kills.
It plays with techno, but not in the Kraftwerk way. In the Ministry way. In fact, when I first heard “Thieves,” the immediate connection I made was to “I Must Be Dreaming.” They both share speedy tremolo picked guitars interspersing with tasty riffs. They both seem to be composed of two different songs, mashed into one composition. And they both share an intensity that doesn’t translate to the written word.
“I Must Be Dreaming” begins with a ticking rev-up leading to Carlos and Nielsen chugging away, quickly followed by Petersson, creating a double-picked, rolled-snare speed metal intro. Jumping up a third, Nielsen gets to make some effect-mangled noise, and the whole combo does a couple of twisty, flanged-out power riffs before descending back into the chugga speed. This cross fades into the song proper, which is a militaristic march by Carlos and Petersson, while Rick plays a creepy little playground melody.
Here is where Zander finally enters the picture, singing a simple duet to the guitar, and playing it straight. For the lyric, things become blood simple. Just bass and drums with Zander’s vocals. And nothing is overly intense until the refrains, which are a traffic accident of noisy crashing chords and beats, Zander’s voice climbing and climbing until he sounds like he loses his mind. Before long, the song proper ends and there is a return to the speedy, rolling intro, now acting as an outro.
This is all magnificently dark and twisted—not less because it comes from the same band that gave us the power-pop anthem “Surrender.” These songs demonstrate that Cheap Trick, who would go on to be one of the most grating examples of 80s miscalculation there is, had everything they needed to be their era’s Nine Inch Nails or Faith No More. They had the sensibility of a Reznor, both in making rock music dark and making dark music inviting.
Van Halen. Right?
OK, so, the thing about Van Halen is they were not a metal band. Or anything else. They remind me of Queen in that both bands just play whatever the fuck they want and we can all go to hell. But while Queen were true renaissance rock musicians, Van Halen were barbarians from the get-go. Booze, chicks, fights, attitude. Period. And, like all the best barbarians, they had the skills to topple empires.
Van Halen played rock music so hard it became metal in a kind of tortured, dragged-by-the-eyelids-against-its-will way. The classic example is “You Really Got Me,” where they take one of the simplest songs ever written and… play it as simply as it was written. They change essentially nothing about the actual tune. But they drape buckets and buckets of glitter, gore, electricity, and jizz on it, so you can barely tell it’s that same tune. They force that fun little rock number to TAKE THE OATH at swordpoint.
And therein lies a conundrum. Van Halen had a LOT of metal tracks. So many, they kind of are a metal band. But those tracks are very often not metal the way Judas Priest understood it. And certainly not the way Sabbath understood it. And not the way a lot of bands who tried to coattail on them understood it. In this sense, Van Halen was almost as punk as they were metal. They were taking the music they had grown up on and did unspeakable but exciting things to it. Nevertheless, it almost always WAS the music they grew up on.
But they absolutely were arena music, even when they were playing back yards and garages. They saw what Zep, Kiss, and Queen were doing in the mid 70s and said “fuck the middleman, let’s go for platinum.” So that by 1984…and 1984…they were the apex of arena metal, in both positive and negative ways.
But what about their actual heavy metal songs? Not the “rock and roll on overdrive” or “RnB on steroids” tracks that made up the bulk of their early output, but the songs crafted to be what we think of as heavy metal? They had a few. I am choosing “Fools” from Women and Children First and “Unchained” from Fair Warning.
I am not choosing anything from their self-titled. That record is immaculate. Nothing stands out on that motherfucker. It is a whole, a piece, a work of fucking rock genius and depravity unmatched by anyone, ever. It’s not metal, hard rock, bebop, boogaloo, shanty, blues, cantor, acid, folk….it’s just Van Halen. Don’t even try to critique it. Drink it all up, and only that, friends.
In fact, the only real problem with releasing a Van Halen is that no matter what you do next, it is going to seem shitty. Van Halen II seemed shitty, at least to me. Everything about it was lackluster, forced, designed. It acted as an anti-Van Halen, but it was nothing special on its own merits, either. It was Rock and Roll Over to Destroyer. A couple of killer tracks, but just not in the same league. Only in this case, Destroyer is one of the greatest rock albums ever created, and Rock and Roll Over is barely even cohesive.
I was legitimately off the Van Halen bandwagon after II, so it took a few months to convince me to try Women and Children First in one sitting. Granted, “And the Cradle Will Rock” was a killer little number, and “Everybody Wants Some” had some grit as well, but I didn’t want to risk buying the thing only to find out those were the “Dead or Alive” and “Beautiful Girls” on an otherwise “You’re No Good” record.
Enter the Little Brother. He brought the thing home one day, and over the next year I came to see Van Halen in a different light. No, it was nowhere as remarkable as the S/T, but it was as remarkable as Mark II Black Sabbath, for example, or Judas Priest. Van Halen had shot their wad, perhaps, but it appeared they spent the next album resting and rehydrating, and had found another wad. A more sustainable wad. And they shot this wad on Women and Children First. And that is a horrific sentence I just wrote.
The track that kept drawing me back was the third on side one—a song that got zero airplay (and they were even playing “Loss of Control” on our local FM station at that time), a song called “Fools.” To this day it may be my favorite of all of Van Halen’s legit metal songs. It’s not the wildest on WnCF (that would be “Loss of Control”), nor the catchiest (“In a Simple Rhyme”), nor even the most sinister (“Romeo Delight”). But the RIFF. The fucking RIFF. And the TONE. They just blew me away. They got my head banging like no song in their catalog had at that point.
Starting as a little back and forth between David Lee Roth and Eddie Van Halen, who riff as though at dusk on an Adirondack porch, sittin’, jar tippin’, Sunday lazin’ shenanigan makin’. Suddenly EVH opens all the gates and the band crashes into a patented EVH solo built on speed and skill, just to show he is still He. But then it cools off and Eddie does a Moe Howard “follow my hand bit” with hammer-ons, only to slap you, the poor Curly, right in the snot box with THE RIFF.
Said riff is, compared to most VH riffs, deceptively simple. Sixteen beats in the measure, bend up on the sixth and hold it to eight, bend down on the fourteenth and hold to sixteen. But that is not what the riff is, because each beat is bent. Everything is bent IT’S ALL BENT GODDAMMIT! Not until Michael Anthony and brother Alex wander in do you finally understand what EVH was up to, as the band hits a boogie-woogie signature with so much gusto you’d think the Marlboro Man was fucking you in the ear.
David Lee Roth could not sing. But he was the best singer Van Halen ever had. You can figure that one out if you want. I can’t. He brought something to the band that was completely missing in any other combination. He was above mere tonality or craftsmanship. He was ridiculous. Nothing else describes him. But any other singer in that group made it too… perfect? Easy? I don’t know.
On “Fools,” he swagger-talks his way through whatever he is talking about—it doesn’t matter in the slightest. Fuck the system, fuck your parents, and fuck the rules. He was the sound of self-completion. We were just the sound of fools.
But of course, the true vocal hero of VH was always Michael Anthony. Aside from being a motherfucker of a bassist—one whom I spent several years trying to emulate, to not much effect—he was the tone-perfect choral accompaniment that made Roth palatable. In this song he rolls his voice’s eyes right along with Dave, and gets the emotional tone of the piece, as well as the sound, spot on.
The song kind of yaws about drunkenly through another verse and chorus, and a breakdown for Eddie’s solo, then walks off, hammered, into a foggy night of debauchery only guessed at. It actually doesn’t end as well as it begins. But it begins so magnificently….
Their next album is almost as phenomenal as their first, but for different reasons. WnCF was probably the most metal, if not the best quality, the band would ever get, but Fair Warning was just exactly what the title implies. It is the sweetest of sweet spots between the heaviness of WnCF and the catchy—almost too catchy—popstardom of 1984. If we consider Diver Down a somewhat failed experiment in becoming THE arena band in America, we should consider Fair Warning a spectacularly successful experiment in being THE premier hard rock / pop metal act at that time.
Why? For one thing, consistency. Far from the hobgoblin of little minds, consistency on a record this fierce is the… werewolf?… of great minds? Whatever. From tip to toe FW balances creativity with style, catchiness with verve. For another thing, it does everything the technical side of Van Halen needs to, from counter-timing in just the right spots to EVH’s spectacular fretticide. No single track demonstrates this better than “Unchained”. It’s an easy tune to follow, being very headbangable, but with a few of those counterpoints to let your neck breathe a bit.
But all of this rests on the one thing we are all here for: The RIFF. This riff is a better version of the one that would make “Panama” such a beloved song to so many. It’s better because, while Panama was catchy and technically adept, it was also bright and full of bros. “Unchained” has the riff that is for the metalheads. Slightly darker, slightly tenser, and backed by Michael Anthony’s growling bass.
Roth is his usual “I don’t know what he is doing but he is doing it and it works” self. Anthony is saving him, as always, on the chorus. And Alex was already a percussive monster on par with EVH, but had not yet attained quite the level of recorded ridiculousness he would display on “Hot For Teacher.” This probably has more to do with what the band was trying to accomplish than AVH’s actual ability, of course.
The song is emblematic of the album as a whole. It accomplishes heaviness, catchiness and technicality in equal measure. The same is true for “Mean Streets,” “Sinner’s Swing,” and “So This Is Love”. And while the ballad “Push comes to Shove” is a little bit garbage, the somewhat pop-ish “Hear About It Later” is actually one of the best VH tunes there is, in my professionally correct and unassailable opinion.
A quick mention of “Sunday Afternoon in the Park / One Foot Out the Door” for alluding to what Eddie might have been when it comes to keyboards. These two little numbers are by far the weirdest things on Fair Warning, and some of the weirdest, heaviest stuff VH ever got up to. Eddie’s use of keys on these… things… is not just dark, but NIN dark. One of the few times in that era keyboards were used to make a song more metal instead of less. You need to check them out.
Of course, it’s hard to call VH a failure for what came after these two records. They were post-Cliff Metallica before post-Cliff Metallica were post-Cliff Metallica. And it started, of course, with “Jump” and DLR’s solo record. Then the hilarious split. No one was more excited than I was that Sammy Hagar—who could destroy any stage he walked on as a solo artist—was getting the world’s best gig. But my god, was I disappointed by what they did together. They could have been anything, and they chose to be Foreigner.
Not even cool, early Foreigner—”I Wanna Know What Love Is” Foreigner.
And they did fine for themselves. And many bros in many 4X4s have gotten many chicks many pregnants while their music played. Wasn’t that the dream? It was for them. For me, not so much. But I was a little younger than they. As are most of us. We see things differently, perhaps. I came to regard Van Halen as sell-outs, probably starting with Diver Down, but certainly by the time 5150 limped onto my stereo.
Obviously these are three very different levels of “success.” All three artists are still around in some form or other. All are in most ways past their prime. So regardless of how successful they had been before the 80s took them, losing that success didn’t destroy them. But for a metalhead, seeing what they had been doing and then what they went on to do is eye-opening.
For one thing, as I have said in the past, we live in a golden age of metal right now. The WORST metal bands are as good as the mediocre bands of yore. The best metal bands are far more consistent in their output. New bands have a time-tested framework to build on, and old bands have the hindsight necessary to know their own strengths and weaknesses.
But even this embarrassment of riches may one day seem a little tragic to a future headbanger. Are there enough musical chances being taken? Is the business model of making little-to-no money sustainable? Will we hit peak metal, where everything that can be done has been? Have we already?
Iron Maiden was massive in the US in the 80s—as massive as almost any rock or metal band you can name EXCEPT Van Halen. They built their fame on sticking to a creed, a style they helped create. Instead of looking for trends they looked for ways around trends. To this day, metal fans see them as both innovators and flame keepers.
They and the other NWOBHM and punk bands that were in their generation and location somehow understood something all the American brass-ring groups missed, or dismissed: Your future is your fans. If you shit on the fans that placed you in a position to go for the money, they will not be sticking around when the money’s gone.
And if it is a Long Way To The Top if You Wanna Rock and Roll, it’s also a long way down.