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Noisey Vs. MetalSucks - Shoegazer Metal is the Freshest Hybrid Since Polka-Core

The Next Big Thing for people who like to have their ears bludgeoned in but also know it's okay to cry.

Welcome to Point/Counterpoint, where we prove to the rest of the Internet that we are smarter and more right than any other editorial outlet on planet earth. We know these dudes who run a metal site called MetalSucks that people seem to like, so we challenged them to an editorial cagematch. The rules were simple: two blogs enter, one blog leaves.This week we're facing off over shoegazer metal, the Next Big Thing for people who like to have their ears bludgeoned in but also know it's okay to cry. We think it's the best of both worlds, they think it's hipster nonsense. You can read their wholly illegitimate response right here.

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To Gaze or Not to Gaze

Not to sound all academic and shit, but the dichotomy presented by shoegazer metal bands is an interesting one. Shoegazer metal, which commonly juxtaposes aggressive blast beats and angrily buzzing guitars with delicate, reverb-saturated textures, is one of the most exciting subgenres to emerge in recent years, yet it seemingly contradicts the very foundation metal was built upon. Even worse, it has been (at least temporarily) embraced by kind of irony-seeking indie rockers who thought it was cool to listen to Liturgy because indie blogs liked them and wear Motorhead t-shirts without knowing any of the band's songs except “Ace of Spades” (which they only know thanks to the Tony Hawk Pro Skater soundtrack).

A History Lesson

True metal has always been about power, volume, extremism, and speed, whether blinding and brutal or sluggish and doomy. "Shoegazer" music, a dumb term for a subgenre of ‘90s psychedelic rock, emphasized the opposite. Influenced by The Velvet Underground, Loop, and Krautrock, UK bands like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Ride, Lush, Chapterhouse, and Swervedriver created a very non-metal scene that blended monotonal rhythms, otherworldly guitar effects, understated vocals, and wispy harmonies to create songs that marinated in melancholy. The music embraced vulnerability—not strength—and the musicians often stood still when they played, heads pointed at the ground, eyes fixed on rows of effect pedals.

Hipster Blasphemy

So how did bands like Deafheaven, Palms (featuring Deftones vocalist Chino Moreno and Isis alum), Alcest, Agalloch, Les Discrets, Lantlos, and—to a lesser extent—Wolves in the Throne Room land on the metal radar, and what inspired them to combine elements of extreme metal with the gauzy textures of shoegazer rock? Hipsters may point to Sigur Ros, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Explosions in the Sky, and Mogwai—bands that constructed lengthy, meandering songs that ebbed-and-flowed between hushed, delicate tones and monochromatic swells of volume that approached the intensity of metal. But while some of that stuff is cool, most headbangers were pretty oblivious about those outfits.

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Neurotic Beginnings

It was a group of atmospheric metal-rooted bands—some of whom were aware of the sounds of the hipsters—that deserve far more credit for the evolution of textural, often transcendent noise. Most important were San Francisco iconoclasts Neurosis, who are just as adept at contorting crushing walls of volume into harrowing soundscapes as they are creating billowing clouds of ambience. These guys served as the unknowing ringleaders, influencing everyone from Mastodon to Nachtmystium. Also inspirational to the new breed were ex-Napalm Death and Godflesh co-founder Justin Broadrick, who got tired of making ear-damaging industrial metal in 2002 after suffering a nervous breakdown, and decided to focus more intently on ambient, yet weighty music in Jesu. The now-defunct Isis also relied on brooding atmospheres alongside pure dissonance, as did Pelican. Both are worth checking out.

Black Gaze

Even so, the current crop of shoegaze metal bands would have sounded entirely differently without the emergence of black metal, which provided the necessary contrast of darkness and light that makes the gazers so compelling. Structurally, the two forms blend surprisingly well; both are rooted in minimalistic droning and heavy guitar distortion, making it possible for talented musicians to shift between the two styles or combine them both at once. Early Darkthrone, Mayhem, and Burzum clearly played a major role in sculpting oppressive symphonies of speed and power that still resonate throughout all facets of black metal, but it was a French teenager who called himself Neige who laid the foundation of what would become black gaze. In 2001, Neige recorded and released a four-track demo, Tristesse Hivernale, which hinted at the amazing musical soundscapes he would create with the band a decade later. The bridge between early Alcest and the Slowdive-esque sounds of the band’s 2012 album, Les Voyages de l'Âme, was Amesoeurs, which Neige formed in the mid-2000s. The band’s music was dark and brooding, yet gauzy and textural, foreshadowing the path he would take with Alcest after Amesoeurs broke up in 2009.

Staring at the Sun

Underground metal devotees often fail to grasp the artistry of shoegazey bands like Deafheaven, whose new album, Sunbather, is one of the best metal releases of the year, equal parts My Bloody Valentine and Marduk. It’s heavy as fuck, yet utterly unconventional—a template for other bands to be inspired by. And yet there is hate and nasty verbiage flung at the new breed by the stodgy old guard. They blame shoegazey bands for not sounding “metal” enough and for corrupting the music they hold so dear. Worse still, they fear Alcest, Deafheaven, and their ilk will attract the "trendies," and metal pits will be replaced by rows of goatee-stroking poseurs sipping wine instead of guzzling PBR. Ignore your enemy, or break bread with him and bond to the sound of Neurosis. What's important are the bands, and most of these guys are as devoted to their craft as Baroness, Craft, Black Tusk, or whoever the metal elite are championing this month. If metal is to continue to move forward, bands need to be more open-minded and break beyond the confines of traditional metal. The black gazers may not be as consistently heavy as Slayer or Nile, but they’re striving to create fresh new sounds by tapping into previously unexplored genres. Who can fault them for that?

MetalSucks doesn't agree with us, which you might like if you like things in the world that are wrong. Read their wholly illegitimate response here.