Opinion: Who says British metal has a problem? It’s the best it’s been in years

Iron Maiden fans
(Image credit: Getty)

Yes, it would be lovely if young British bands could suddenly reach a vast global audience and put the UK firmly back on the metal map, but what would that actually mean for the rest of the scene? In truth, the UK scene is absolutely fine and healthier than it’s been for a long time. Whether it’s metalcore, death metal, black metal, power metal, tech-metal or any other of the countless sub-genres available, the UK has tons of great new bands. But does the lack of any major commercial breakthroughs mean that we are failing in some way? Only if you regard mainstream acceptance as the be all and end all of musical endeavour. And, you know, it really fucking isn’t.

Ultimately, the media – and that includes us – are more to blame for this state of affairs than anyone else. Yes, metal fans in the UK could and should put more effort into supporting homegrown talent, but it seems a bit unfair to blame punters for not propelling our bands to worldwide glory. The problem is that magazines, websites and TV stations generally play it safe, for fairly sane reasons of commerce and necessity, endlessly pandering to a transient, teenage audience and showering teen-friendly lightweights with attention while stoically ignoring all of the brilliant, exciting and avowedly less commercial things that are going on in our native scene. I have to admit that I haven’t heard any potential world-beaters emerging from the UK recently, but given the bands that have succeeded in recent times, it’s probably best not to encourage anyone else to dilute and sanitise the music we love in order to conquer more mainstream tastes. Popularity doesn’t automatically denote a lack of quality, of course, but it’s a lot easier to become huge by being timid and bland than it is to achieve success by playing balls-out heavy fucking metal.

One significant difference between the most successful British metal bands of the last 16 years and the ones that ruled the world during the ‘80s is that the likes of Bring Me The Horizon and Bullet For My Valentine have never made any effort to appeal to the broader metal audience.

Instead, whether they admit it or not, both bands were signed and marketed specifically to appeal to a predominantly teenage audience – take away their youthful support and their success would vanish in an instant. Sure, BFMV and BMTH have flown the flag for British music overseas, but it’s hollow victory and certainly not one that translates into a growth in support for more worthy (and more metal) acts from the British Isles. The fact that Bring Me The Horizon are headlining the O2 Arena does fuck all for the hundreds, possibly thousands, of killer metal bands in the UK that are doing it for the love and keeping the underground and the spirit of metal alive in the process.

Metal will survive regardless of whether the mainstream wants a piece of the action or not, and that’s as true in the UK as anywhere else. The music industry in 2016 is no longer in a position to hurl shitloads of cash at promising young bands, particularly when they make music that most “normal” people would find absolutely terrifying. If the UK never produces another Iron Maiden or even another Bullet For My Valentine, it won’t make a shred of difference to how much great music is being produced here. It never has made a difference. Conquering the world is an admirable goal, as long as your music doesn’t suck, but it’s not what metal is for. As far as I can see, we Brits are still just as good at making heavy music as anyone else. If the rest of the world – or even the UK itself - doesn’t pay sufficient attention… well, what can you do? The music still exists and that’s what we all signed up for in the first place.

So what will we do when Iron Maiden hang up their boots? Once we’ve all stopped sobbing hysterically, we’ll carry on listening to and supporting British metal bands, just like we’ve always done. Some of them will become successful, possibly even on a grand scale, but most will just do their thing and not waste time worrying about getting played on Radio 1 or winning over the unimaginative masses. That’s just how we roll in the metal world. Nobody likes us and we don’t care. If they do suddenly decide to like us, then hooray! If not, fuck ‘em.

Opinion: British metal has a massive problem – and here’s why

Dom Lawson

Dom Lawson has been writing for Metal Hammer and Prog for over 14 years and is extremely fond of heavy metal, progressive rock, coffee and snooker. He also contributes to The Guardian, Classic Rock, Bravewords and Blabbermouth and has previously written for Kerrang! magazine in the mid-2000s.