We're not an American band

Recently I discovered the Australian site Metal as Fuck. The name is a hard sell, but the content isn't. It's interesting to see how another part of the world operates. Some posts I found particularly engaging stemmed from TweetChat, Twitter's version of chat rooms (at last, a constructive use for Twitter!). MaF got its readers to convene online and discuss issues in real time, which is potentially much more dynamic than blog comments or message boards.

A particularly compelling chat was EU Versus US Metal: ideas, factors, and themes. Having lived in Europe for a year, I've thought about these differences a lot. I didn't go to Wacken or other major European metal festivals. But just from going to shows, metal pubs, and record stores, I observed six major differences between European and American metal cultures.

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Epicness/tolerance for cheese

Bands like Sonata Arctica and Hammerfall don't come from the States. Being a secondhand culture, US metal is too self-conscious to engage in the unabashed frilly shirt-ery that pegs bands as "European, probably on Nuclear Blast." American bands like Pharaoh and Symphony X that have a European sound are usually more serious. This doesn't just apply to happy power metal. Even a "death metal" band like Arch Enemy has blatant "billowing hair/wind machine on 11" moments that are patently European. Americans are too busy grinding on one note and cursing their lack of health care.

Classical vs. blues influence

This ties into epicness and tolerance for cheese. Europeans have hung onto metal's classical influences much more strongly than Americans have. This makes sense, since they invented classical music. But it's not a foregone conclusion. Metal came from UK rockers (Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin) borrowing/stealing American blues music. For whatever reason, bluesiness largely disappeared from European metal, only to be resurrected by Americans via Southern sludge metal.

Infrastructure

Perhaps this isn't a fair comparison, since metal started in Europe and has had more time to develop infrastructure there. Europe and America have significant differences that shape their metal infrastructures. Europe's biggest advantage is its small size, which lets bands tour many countries quickly. The EU has also made passport control fairly painless, in contrast to the difficulties bands have in entering the US and Canada. The MaF article also notes that Europe has a long tradition of arts festivals (again, probably aided by short distances). In general, Europe is much more arts-friendly, whether in terms of government support or cultural awareness. It is well-known how European touring conditions are more humane than American ones.

Community vs. individual

For how nationalist Europeans can get (very), their borders are quite open (too open, for some). They routinely travel for things like football matches and techno clubs. They have networks like Hospitality Club that facilitate hosting of travelers in people's homes. Americans, in contrast, defend their homes with guns. (Then they go to their basements to make one-man black metal.) You see European openness at metal pubs. Metalheads go there to hear metal, drink beer, and meet other metalheads. With enough beer, you can be singing folk metal anthems with total strangers. Americans don't do this.

Physical reactions to metal

Americans mosh. Europeans headbang. Sometimes they do "brothers-in-arms" headbanging, where they link arms, bend at the waist, and headbang in unison for entire songs. It's cute.

Women

Once in Berlin I saw women do brothers-in-arms headbanging. Granted, they were making fun of men, but, still, it was something you'd never see in America. The European metal shows I attended usually had fairly even gender distributions. Also, I frequently saw women shopping in the "Hard 'n' Heavy" sections of record stores. Even if women aren't filling the ranks of European metal bands, they're active in the scene as photographers, journalists, publicists, label employees, and, yes, fans. Are European women wired differently than American ones?

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Note that these are gross generalizations. Many Europeans bristle at having a cross-national identity assigned to them, for good reason. German metal, for example, is a much different beast than French metal. Why are Germans the kings of power metal cheese? Why did they embrace thrash but not death metal? Why do the French dominate orthodox black metal? After pioneering heavy metal and death metal/grindcore, why is the English scene so inconsequential now? Why is Denmark's metal scene almost half as small as Norway's (in terms of numbers of bands), despite the countries having comparable populations? There's a book in there somewhere.

- Cosmo Lee

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