Sometimes, the stars just align. Quite literally, in this case. Today, Hammer is sitting comfortably in a spacious dressing room backstage somewhere in the hallways of the Toyota Park stadium, a near-30,000 capacity outdoor venue 12 miles south of Chicago.
Most weekends across the year, it’s home to the Chicago Fire football club (sorry, US chums, we’re not calling it soccer). At this moment, though, there’s serious business to attend to and big questions that need answering. Questions such as: is metal too stuck in its roots? Where has the danger in our scene gone? Who’s gonna make the holy step-up to greatness? And are rockstars really gone forever, or have the rules just changed?
We are currently sitting across from two men who know the subject better than most: Corey Taylor and Randy Blythe. Most days, the two men are known as the firebreathing, stage-destroying frontmen of Slipknot/Stone Sour and Lamb Of God: legitimate icons of Hammer’s world that took metal to fresh heights and new sounds in the 21st century. Right now, they more resemble two close buddies having a casual natter down the pub, Corey dressed in a t-shirt, jeans and trilby and Randy rocking a baseball cap, glasses and flip-flops. Given their famous capacity to offer an opinion or six, we couldn’t think of two better people to front our investigation and, unsurprisingly, they had plenty to say about where metal’s at, where it’s going and what should give us all hope for the future. Here’s what they had to say…
What do you think of where metal is at right now??
Corey: “I think it feels healthier than it was a few years ago. It used to seem like everything was sullen and a little too mapped out. A little too rigid, too stiff. That’s me, though; I don’t listen to a lot of new shit – or I didn’t! Now I’m getting into a lot of the newer bands like Code Orange, Knocked Loose, All Pigs Must Die, Nails...”
Randy: “All that stuff is coming out of the hardcore scene.”
Corey: “Right! But it’s a different style. There’s an inherent violence there that I just love. Randy, we were talking about Code Orange yesterday. Watching them made me wanna play!”
Randy: “When I saw them, I was telling my band and a bunch of other people, ‘Don’t sleep on this shit. Get up early and see these guys.’ There was no one there watching them but they still brought it so fucking hard, and you can see that they mean it, which I haven’t seen for a while, you know? No one cares how technically proficient you are, how fast you can noodle, your outfits, whatever, nobody gives a fuck. If you mean it, that’s gonna translate, and those kids mean it.”
Do you feel like heavy music had been missing some of that legitimacy lately?
Randy: “Absolutely! And the good thing about bands like Code Orange, Power Trip and others, is that they all came up the way that we did. I mean, I think the oldest person in Code Orange is like 24, and they’ve been playing together since they were 14. They came up playing halls, basements, doing shitty gigs. When we started, there wasn’t this overwhelming amount of festivals or big tours that there are now. A lot of the kids in the scene today don’t know that this huge metal scene – which it is now – didn’t exist when we were coming up.”
Corey: “It took a long time to break into that and really expand the range. There were certain bands that were invited in, but there was certain stuff that we would listen to that was a little too aggressive for some of those circles. Now that kind of aggressive, passionate music is being more accepted.”
Randy: “Yeah, the fact that Lamb Of God can play big festivals in the US and draw heads, and that Slipknot or Stone Sour can do that, it shows that there’s a shifting in the paradigm. It’s not that metal is becoming ‘mainstream’, it’s just that it’s got bigger.”
Corey: “I think there’s a reaction to what I call ‘iTunes metal’. Randy and I have been talking about this for years: the dudes who write music, but they’re not listening to it, they’re looking at it on a fucking grid. It’s lined up, it’s too perfect, you might as well just autotune it all.”
Randy: “Cut-paste! Cut-paste! Cut-paste!”
It’s felt like, for a few years now, there’s been a certain style – even a certain guitar tone – that’s the ‘right one’ for metal bands trying to make it big
Corey: “Yeah, and I know bands who are going into the studio right now, and they’re playing the drum sets, but they’re not playing the kicks, because they programme the kicks!”
Corey: “Serious! So there are people who are fucking learning how to play and record without the kicks, so they’re playing everything else, but then they programme the kicks? What the fuck?!”
Randy: “I think the democratisation of the recording process has been a great thing for people being able to demo at home, for bands being able to record at home. You used to have to save all your shitty money, go to the shitty local studio, record a two-inch tape and get a demo, and it cost a lot. You can do that at home now, and that’s great because I think everybody should have the ability and the accessibility to record music, because I think it’s good for you. However, right now, because of the nature of that technology, what Corey’s talking about with this cut and pasting stuff, kids could get a riff down once by accident, time-shift it, move notes around, and suddenly they have a song. I think at that point, the soul of the music suffers.”
Is that era of cookie-cutter, overpolished metal coming to an end now?
Randy: “I think so. The cream of the crop is gonna rise.”
Corey: “Yeah, the proof is always in the pudding. I do a lot of speaking gigs at schools and music programmes, and they always ask what my advice is. My advice is always the same: get in front of an audience. Learn to play, learn to make mistakes. Don’t be afraid of mistakes; mistakes are the best ways to find those cool ideas. And the young bands that we’re talking about, you can tell that that’s what they’ve done, they’ve played together, they’ve gelled together.”
Can truly heavy, abrasive bands still break into the mainstream?
Randy: “Dude, I’m playing the main stages of massive US festivals, and I can’t sing for shit! This guy right here is known for pure insanity in a mask with vomit and bile, and he can play huge places! If it can happen for us, it can happen for them.”
What do you think of the way the scene has become so fractured?
Randy: “I think the endless sub-categorisations are ridiculous. As soon as you put something in a category within music – and it’s often not the bands that do this, it’s journalists or fans... like, I’m supposedly one of the leaders of the ‘New Wave Of American Heavy Metal’. I always got asked, ‘How do you feel about being the leader of the NWOAHM?’ I’m like, ‘What the fuck are you talking about?’ As soon as you categorise a form of music, and it gets a little Wikipedia article, and people start going, ‘Hmmm, these are the codified rules, I better follow these if I want to be a part of bananacore!’ then you’re just fitting yourself into another little uniform to wear.”
Corey: “Plus, you put an expiration date on it. I mean, you mentioned the NWOAHM – there were people that put Slipknot in that, but there were also people who put us in nu metal, just really because of the year that we came out and the stuff that we were experimenting with.”
Randy: “I think you guys were your own thing.”
Corey: “I’m gonna be an asshole here, because that’s what I love to do, but it’s the pretentious dickweeds who sit at tables and argue this shit, who come up with these fucking categories. They’re not the ones who just buy it because they want to hear it – they need to ‘understand’ it. Sometimes, you don’t need to fucking understand it – you just need to feel it!”
Randy: “One genius thing our drummer did is when we first started making merchandise. You’ll see a lot of our merchandise that just says, ‘Pure American Metal’. That was a tag he put there immediately so people wouldn’t come up with ‘Pure American Death Metal’ or whatever. We’ve been called grindcore in our Burn The Priest days to groove metal to thrash metal... this just says ‘metal’. So yes, you can call us a metal band. Beyond that, whatever you’re going to colour our music with, that’s your fucking opinion.”
Do you think we’re all too tribal about this shit?
Randy: “I think it’s ludicrous!”
Corey: “I don’t think so, because most people grow out of it. I can remember going through a whole era of pretence when it came to punk stuff. You get to punk fans and they’re the worst, man, but you get to a certain point and you’re just like, ‘You know what? Who gives a fuck?’ You grow out of that. You stop being argumentative and start being more appreciative, and that just comes with age, it comes with time. And sometimes it comes with losing certain bands, whether they break up, or God forbid, something happens to someone in a certain band... you care for stuff more. The guys who don’t let go and they hold onto it, they’re collecting bits of lint and putting it in jars somewhere. But hey, who am I to judge? Ha ha ha!”
What do you think about metal getting appropriated by mainstream fashion? Kim Kardashian wearing Morbid Angel t-shirts and all that?
Corey: “I’m in two minds about that. There’s a part of it that makes me want to set fire to whole fields. There’s also a part of me that’s like, ‘Fucking right! Good! More people should know who Morbid Angel are!”
Is the age of the rock star dead?
Randy: “Absolutely not.”
What does that term mean right now, then?
Corey: “It just means, do what you do. I think it depends on what your definition of a rock star is. To me, David Lee Roth is just as big a rock star as Henry Rollins. I think rock stars are still alive, but I think people think being a ‘rock star’ means you have to be chemically dependent on something. To me, that’s just putting romantic bullshit on addiction.”
It feels like the glorification of that side of the scene is finally dying out
Randy: “I think that’s one good thing with the exposure of the idiocy of it. There used to be a romantic chic to being a junkie, but there are only two dudes who ever survived that – William S Burroughs and Keith Richards.”
Corey “And Keith’s been sober for what, 20 years now?”
Randy: “Yeah, and he’s an anomaly. Everybody else just died in their own shit and vomit and despair in a corner.”
That’s just not very rock’n’roll, is it…
Randy: “No! That sucks!”
Corey: “There’s something to be said about being young and crazy, and I get it, that’s fine. But there’s also something to be said about doing that same shit when you’re almost 50. That’s fucking pathetic, and I see it all the time. What’s the fucking point? I put on better shows now than I did when I was fucked up. People need to stop glorifying that shit. And there’s always people that wanna continue that weird myth.”
Do you think metal as a culture worries about ‘making it big’ too much? Should we be proud to stay underground?
Randy: “I wonder about the validity of the term ‘underground’. When you can download anything from any era of music, like, even if you’re in the middle of an Indonesian jungle – which I’ve done – how underground is that? Underground used to mean you had to search and hunt and use word of mouth. You had to go to some fucking sketchy shithole with a heroin junkie running the register in order to find something. Now you can go on Amazon and find any record. That’s not very underground.”
Corey: “Maybe the underground is now just dicks with wax cylinders that only listen to harpsichord music…”
This article originally appeared in Metal Hammer issue 300