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Omne sells out


Written by: omne metallum
Published: 19.06.2022


The phrase ‘selling out’ has long been a dirty word in the metal world, as if to break the long held unwritten rule that sticking close to your roots has an intrinsic value that, once lost, reduces an musician’s integrity in such a way as to relegate them to mere salesmen of the musical variety rather than artists. Does Mikael Åkerfeldt have less credibility now that he has traded in his growls for a deeper dive into his love for Moogs and moods? Though this rule is unwritten, I feel that all too often it is applied too arbitrarily and incorrectly, while also being too rigid, so it inadvertently constrains artistic creativity.

The stigma and negativity that surrounds an artist who is deemed to have strayed beyond an invisible boundary into the realms of selling out is one that can damage careers. Therefore, I would argue that there needs to be a greater discussion of what counts/does not count as selling out. Why? The line between artistic growth/creativity and selling out is so ill-defined that the latter is just used to excuse bands you like making a record that isn’t in their traditional mould, but you don’t want to consider they’ve moved on. Not only does it create a schism inside musical fandom that is central to many debates, it can stifle an artist’s creativity in fear that a backlash will erode interest and popularity should they dare take a step out of their musical comfort zone. Is this rigid application of a widely held but uncodified belief a reflection of unrealistic listener expectation or people disliking change?

One interesting point to consider is that if you were to ask someone to define or give an example of selling out, many would likely describe a move towards softer, more refined commercial sound. That this concept views selling out to be a linear, and, at times, arbitrary path is one that I think is malformed. A prime example of this is Testament, one of the leading lights in the 80’s thrash scene with albums such as The Legacy which are hailed as some of the best work to come out of the genre. By following this concept of selling out, then the band’s change of direction to a less abrasive and more radio-ready sound in The Ritual (following in the steps of genre leaders Metallica and Megadeth) meets the definition of selling out.

However, what this definition is blind to is when bands shift to a heavier, but more popular, subgenre of metal. Continuing with Testament, why are the band’s flirtations with death/groove metal in Low and The Gathering not met with the same level of scepticism and derision as the The Ritual in regard to being called sell-outs? When you compare the popularity and appeal of thrash and death/groove metal in the 90s, the band’s move to heavier and darker sounds was as much an appeal to a larger audience than their traditional home as The Ritual was years before.

How can chasing a harder and more extreme sound count as selling out, you may ask? Well, to bring in a more stark example, I would point you to W.A.S.P’s Kill, Fuck, Die, where a band’s glam roots were pushed aside in favour of an industrial direction right at a time when the likes of Ministry, Nine Inch Nails and Fear Factory were at their apex. Were W.A.S.P. not selling out by trying to hitch their wagon to one of the pre-dominant subgenres of the time when glam was all but a pair of brightly coloured spandex in a rubbish bin at the time?

My bigger problem with the concept of selling out, however, is how it indicates a loss of creativity or artistic integrity, when there are so many examples that have shown metal bands to flourish following such a shift in sound. Opeth went nearly 20 years as a growling, blasting metal band before giving up both growls and blasts and being condemned by many fans as a result. Contrast that to their friends in Katatonia; Jonas Renkse’s difficulties with growling came much sooner than Åkerfeldt’s, meaning that barely more than five years after forming, the group moved away from death/doom in favour of a more gothic, melancholic style that has defined the large majority of their career. Similarly, England’s Anathema, renowned for their inclusion in the iconic Peaceville trio of groups that helped pioneer both death/doom and gothic metal, abandoned metal at the turn of the millennium in favour of an atmospheric, progressive style of rock. Both Katatonia and Anathema, who have unsurprisingly been labelled by some as sell-outs, justified their transitions away from extreme metal with various great albums, yet other bands continue to be shamed for less drastic changes in sound.

When discussing the above examples, it’s also interesting to consider how inconsistently criticism is applied for similar acts of ‘selling out’. The backlash Opeth received in the 2010s with a series of releases that were less death-prog and more dad-prog was one of the stronger ones I have witnessed in recent years; contrast this to Katatonia and Anathema, who also transitioned themselves away from their heavy death/doom beginnings, and the backlash and acceptance of each band’s new direction appears highly uneven and arbitrary. Why do we accept that some bands are artists/expressing themselves yet seemingly feel betrayed by others for this same thing?

Is there some verisimilitude that some bands are artists whereas others are not? Am I trying to parse a common thread where none exists? Merely concatenating two parallel trains of thought that crash spectacularly when their paths cross? Much like Harvey Two-Face, I have played devil’s advocate to show that the flipside of the selling-out coin is artistic growth; whereas some people are quick to call which way the coin will fall far too early, it needn’t be the sure-fire bet that some commentators make it out to be.






Written on 19.06.2022 by Just because I don't care doesn't mean I'm not listening.


Comments

Comments: 8   Visited by: 78 users
19.06.2022 - 14:24
musclassia

I feel like selling out is something that probably matters more to younger fans (or at least, perhaps should matter more to them). I don't know if it's still the same for gen Z, but I know for my generation and likely those that came before, a lot of one's identity in your mid-teens as an emerging metalhead is placed into the idea that metal is a nobler, more artistically virtuous type of music that only you and the few others that are into metal truly appreciate, so bands that move in a way that opens them up to a wider appeal might seem like a betrayal of that secret circle of outcasts (which is perhaps ironic, considering at least when I was that age, a lot of the gateway bands are very much on the commercial end of the metal spectrum anyway). Maturing throughout one's 20s and getting a bit more life experience and worldly exposure helps both give some appreciation for the reasons why bands might fancy changing their sound a bit, and also having more appreciation for the new sound anyway. Of course, this isn't universal, but I imagine a lot of middle-aged people who still get genuinely offended or angry by bands 'selling out' are probably the same people who moan whenever they see a band photo in which the members have short hair and no leather/denim jackets.

I probably just don't swim in the circles in which such sentiments are shared as much anymore, but I've noticed less use of the sell-out term in the decade since Opeth dad-prog shift (I remember some epic tantrums on Opeth's facebook page, like the guy commenting on a Pale Communion post by saying Heritage/PC were such a betrayal that he was no longer able to listen to albums such as Still Life and Blackwater Park, albums that were once his favourites of all time; if you're retroactively unable to enjoy music because the band that made it stopped growling, I think you need to take a step back and evaluate your mental state). I'm sure Gojira and Mastodon have copped some flak, but I don't know whether it's been particularly intense.

From a reviewer's perspective, it can be hard to give a middling/negative review towards an album where the band, particularly if it's one that you're known to have previously liked, have made a big change in sound, particularly if it's in a more accessible direction. You need to put some effort into justifying your reaction so that it's not easy to label you as someone who just hates it because they sound different, particularly because there's going to be quite a few people who do explicitly hate it just because it sounds different. Change is a double-edged sword, and each case needs to be evaluated on its own merits; often, it comes down to whether the band is reducing the extent to which, or outright abandoning, an element that was a core aspect of their appeal (e.g. Fallujah losing the atmospheric ambient leads on Undying Light, the immense weight of Gojira on their pre-Magma albums), and how effectively they replacing with something new that's equally or similarly appealing (I know some people still mourn Amorphis moving away from the melodic death/doom on Tales From The Thousand Lakes, but they've got such an amazing ear for melody that I honestly prefer their music from Eclipse onwards)

Selling out isn't a concept I really think about much any more; the only band I've ever really felt strongly inclined to use it towards is In Flames, and that's mainly because not only the musical, but lyrical shift seemed ungenuine (I get not wanting to do dystopian sci-fi concepts albums forever, but writing an angsty "Oh I feel like shit But at least I feel something" chorus at 35 doesn't come across as authentic to me), and even then I like Reroute To Remain, which is part of that 'sell-out' trajectory
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19.06.2022 - 16:57
F3ynman2000
Nocturnal Bro
Written by musclassia on 19.06.2022 at 14:24

I know for my generation and likely those that came before, a lot of one's identity in your mid-teens as an emerging metalhead is placed into the idea that metal is a nobler, more artistically virtuous type of music that only you and the few others that are into metal truly appreciate, so bands that move in a way that opens them up to a wider appeal might seem like a betrayal of that secret circle of outcasts

You described that (perhaps immature but natural) feeling perfectly!
Written by musclassia on 19.06.2022 at 14:24

Change is a double-edged sword, and each case needs to be evaluated on its own merits; often, it comes down to whether the band is reducing the extent to which, or outright abandoning, an element that was a core aspect of their appeal, and how effectively they replacing with something new that's equally or similarly appealing

This is basically how it is for me. I can accept a band changing their direction if they retain their core elements of their appeal and if their new style seems like a natural and high-quality progression.
After all, two of my all-time favorite bands, Judas Priest and Death, had their fair share of changes in style in which they practically reinvented themselves with every successive release. Yet JP managed to keep that catchy energy and Death continued to showcase their technical mastery throughout both of their discographies.

Thanks for the interesting article idea, omne
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19.06.2022 - 20:04
Bad English
Tage Westerlund
From list Katatonia, Anathema and Opeth are biggest sell outs.
To me if band do it there are new band what takes tr00 metal title.
----
Life is to short for LOVE, there is many great things to do online !!!

Stormtroopers of Death - ''Speak English or Die''

I better die, because I never will learn speek english, so I choose dieing
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19.06.2022 - 20:44
Redel

The last time I really cared about someone selling out was at the end of the nineties when the shop owner of my favourite local hard rock and metal store decided to close his shop. I remember I was really sad about that. That was the place where I used to hang out for hours after school, looking out for the latest albums that were shipped in the morning and waiting until one of the three CD players was vacant so that I could spin me some metal. "Only two albums per capita" was his rule. But of course it happened frequently that people spent hours with two disks if they were really worth it.

He said he didnt believe in the business concept of a record store flourishing economically any more, with all the internet music coming up. And he had some ideas of switching it for some other business such as selling only t-shirts or the like. It was not just that revenues were going down because people were buying fewer hard copies of albums. He also felt pressure from the cost side of his business since rents for his shop located in the very center of the city were going up. He certainly didnt have much support from the city either because who felt the need for a hard rock and metal store next to a pharmacy and a café in the city center any way?

I have always liked the guy quite a bit. He also used to work as a DJ in our local night club from time to time so we could have been sure to get some heavier music those nights.

Have I ever hold his decision to close his store and go for something else against him?
Have I ever thought of writing negative comments about his shop in some forum because he betrayed the idea of a local metal store or something?
Have I ever thought of following the guy to his next business idea, visit his new store and see if I may accidentially also like the new products he was selling now, just because it was the same guy owning the shop?

A clear no to all counts.
I have just walked to the next metal store in the city and spun my albums there, though admittedly it wasnt easy to find an appropriate one.
Two years later I have moved out of the city.
I should go back and check whether his "new" shop still exists. I dont have high hopes for that to be honest.

Bottom line: Dont you mourn for your former favourite metal bands changing their style. They will all have their subjective reasons for it, which should be respected.
Go for another one. There is plenty of excellent musicians out there who deserve some audience.
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19.06.2022 - 23:16
Rot Teufel

Quote:
My bigger problem with the concept of selling out, however, is how it indicates a loss of creativity or artistic integrity, when there are so many examples that have shown metal bands to flourish following such a shift in sound.


The "selling out" as loss of creativity was a "common thing" in 70s with punk when indipedent group signed for big labels (even sold a song for a commercial was seeing as a "sell out" wich eradicate your legacy). So it's pretty been eradicated in musical culture and it's the easy way to tell others you don't like them anymore.

For Opeth, well, for me because my father likes a lot 70s prog rock, it sounds to me like a copy paste, so if i want to listen 70s prog rock i'll prefer listen the originals. And personally "the already listened" sound bothers me quite much; as it's their free choise as artist, it's a free choise as a listener i feel free to express that bothers me. But i loved Damnation (wich caused some polemics too at the time if i remember well), wich i feel was more original than the last ones; maybe the joke around Opeth about Martin Lopez putting an handbrake on Åkerfeldt's sperimentation was true (or not ).
I don't like a worst post production too, wich i found more bothersome, expecially if the album is good.
Bringing other examples of this "sell out" will point to a pointless personal list explaing the same reason on and on.

In short a lot depends from your musical background and personal tastes. Anyway i think like a band could change sound/style, the listener could like it or not.
And this feeling could amplificate much more if they have they proper "trademark" style than made them emerge from the others or they have been important to shift in a certain style.


Written by Redel on 19.06.2022 at 20:44

Bottom line: Dont you mourn for your former favourite metal bands changing their style. They will all have their subjective reasons for it, which should be respected.
Go for another one. There is plenty of excellent musicians out there who deserve some audience.


i still haven't found a substitute for early Tyr, goddamit....
----
Destroy all dreams, illusion damned in fire... A hellish need for power, it's my dark desire...
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20.06.2022 - 15:00
Arcticus

I just got curious and found an article from 2014 on another website that shall remain unnamed, that calls out Slaughter of the Soul and Individual Thought Patterns as being two of the biggest sellouts in metal lol. Some people take gatekeeping to ridiculous levels

Regarding the Opeth dad-prog-shift, I was and am a massive fan of their pre-Heritage material, and not much of a fan of the rest; however I never saw this as a sellout (let's be real, how is 70s prog more commercially viable in 2011 than their previous material that MADE them successful??), more a change in Mikael's mentality where he simply didn't feel inspired to write death metal anymore. And that is completely respectable. The disappointment for me came from the music, at least to my ears, taking a significant dive in quality as well as originality, which was something I had convinced myself would never happen to my beloved Opeth, haha. I would never let this stop me from enjoying their earlier stuff, as musclassia mentioned - people just get so entitled and possessive over their favourite artists, which is understandable but still stupid.

I think the line about not mourning your favourite bands changing their style is a tricky one. I think it's perfectly fine to "mourn" (strong word given the context but never mind) something that you genuinely love and enjoy coming to an end, but a line should be drawn at getting angry and bitter about it; unfortunately this level of emotional nuance is difficult for a lot of people, especially in the age of internet anonymity (no I'm not immune to this either, but I do try).

Great article, plenty of food for thought!
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24.06.2022 - 22:51
Chidder

Written by Arcticus on 20.06.2022 at 15:00

I was and am a massive fan of their pre-Heritage material, and not much of a fan of the rest; however I never saw this as a sellout (let's be real, how is 70s prog more commercially viable in 2011 than their previous material that MADE them successful??), more a change in Mikael's mentality where he simply didn't feel inspired to write death metal anymore.


Saw Opeth three weeks ago. "Ghost of Perdition", "Demon of the Fall", "The Drapery Falls", "Deliverance" on the setlist. And OMFG his growls were rediciolously good. He sounded like on the albums. Who knows, maybe he will come back to more death metal sound. Even "Sorceress" was heavier.
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25.06.2022 - 15:02
Arcticus

Written by Chidder on 24.06.2022 at 22:51

Saw Opeth three weeks ago. "Ghost of Perdition", "Demon of the Fall", "The Drapery Falls", "Deliverance" on the setlist. And OMFG his growls were rediciolously good. He sounded like on the albums. Who knows, maybe he will come back to more death metal sound. Even "Sorceress" was heavier.


Eh, they've still been playing their heavier stuff live the whole time since they stopped writing that sort of style - if it happens I certainly wouldn't complain, but I don't think it's likely at all.
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