Kiwi metalheads seeking justice for all
Thu, 08 Sep 2011 8:00a.m.
By Dan Satherley
Metalheads, sick of being left out, want in on the music industry's annual celebration of its best and brightest, the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards.
Held at Vector Arena this November, this year's VNZMAs will dish out gongs for the best in rock, pop, roots, hip hop, alternative, Maori, electronica and even Christian music, but metal bands needn't even show up.
There's no metal category, sad but true, and that's got metal fans seeking justice for all.
Sarah Sampson runs an events and management company, looking after bands which play "various forms of metal, alternative, grunge metal, black and death metal".
Earlier this year she set up an online petition and Facebook page calling for the VNZMAs to introduce a metal category, saying metal bands are missing out.
"I started this petition because I've volunteered at the music awards the last two years and I'm pretty much one of the only metalheads there," says Sampson.
"I've met so many people like, Universal record label people, TV presenters, newspaper reporters, all that, and just sort of felt it's such an awesome experience, and it's a real shame that metal bands miss out on all that."
So far, over 800 people have signed the petition to have a separate award for metal, and over 1,100 joined the Facebook campaign. Still, the Recording Industry Association of New Zealand, the awards' puppet master, considers it the thing that should not be.
“We carefully look at the categories every year to make sure as wide a range of artists as possible can enter," managing director Chris Caddick told 3 News.
"The ‘Best Rock Album’ category states artists working primarily in the rock, hard rock and heavy metal genres are eligible.”
In a nutshell, the industry expects bands like Dawn of Azazel and World War Four to ride the lightning with radio favourites OpShop and the Feelers if they want some recognition.
METAL 'IGNORED' BY INDUSTRY
World War Four singer Paul Martin says metal bands don't get a fair go at the VNZMAs.
"The rock category is far too broad," says Martin. "If you look who's won the rock category for the last few years it's kind of shameful, really. It's pop bands and it's alternative bands.
"There just needs to be another category that's exclusive because there's exclusive categories for all these other genres, but for some reason we've just been ignored."
For the last 24 years Martin has hosted The Axe Attack, an all-metal radio show that began life on Hamilton's student radio station Contact in the late '80s, but has spent most of its life on The Rock.
In all that time, a metal band has never once won the 'best rock album' category. Shihad have picked up a few, but only after smoothing off the rough, industrial edges that typified their early work, and groups such as Blindspott and err, Push Push have been acknowledged with various minor gongs, but calling them metal really is a stretch.
"I've been asking myself for years why it hasn't been recognised," says Martin. "There's some awesome talent here, you know. New Zealand has it's own Metallica, we have our own Slayer, we have our own Motorhead, but it's hard to get these things out to people… they just can't get a foot in the door, you know?"
Sampson agrees, saying when faced with a choice between a commercially-successful rock band and a "real brutal" black or death metal band, "they're going to look at the commercial success, and a commercial band will always going to have more success than an underground band".
"It's a lot easier for more mainstream bands to get up there than it is for metal bands," she says. "Metal is kind of ignored by the music industry."
AWARD JUST FOR 'BOGANS'?
But just like in any other music clique, not everyone's heeding the call of Ktulu.
Promoter Gareth Craze describes himself as a bit of a "go-to guy" for Kiwi metal bands, and says having a dedicated metal award at the VNZMAs won't actually achieve anything because the bands that deserve recognition won't get a look-in.
"I don't think any of the bands that are well underneath the average mainstream listener's radar, but maybe out touring Europe or America, or releasing albums on overseas labels – bands like Ulcerate, Dawn of Azazel, bands like that – there wouldn't be anything in for them in such an awards set up, and that would suck," says Craze.
His fears the award would just end up going to metal bands who appeal to the lowest common denominator, further cementing the genre's "bogan" image.
I discussed with Craze the relative mainstream success of Kiwi metal bands 8 Foot Sativa and Blindspott about seven or eight years back, and he said the former were a "flash in the pan" – but had his respect – and the latter, not even a metal band at all.
"The style and the albums that rose [8 Foot Sativa] to prominence, and brought them into the mainstream sphere weren't particularly ambitious… they were playing a style of metal which I thought was quite dated, even at the time, and it was a style of metal which appealed to the more common bogan denominator element within metal.
"I think that's the side of the coin that maybe sees some merit in having a New Zealand metal award – but Blindspott, I don’t see them as a metal band at all. They may have some slightly heavy riffs or whatever, but culturally, aesthetically, fanatically and I think sonically, they're not a metal band in any meaningful sense of the term."
He says giving the award to bands who appeal to the mainstream would "further perpetuate this notion that metal in New Zealand is just a genre for bogans and for quite unsophisticated listeners".
Craze's passion for metal is deep, but I was warned beforehand he could have a 'holier than thou' attitude towards bands he didn't think were metal enough. He turned this 'snob' tag on its head, saying he is elitist, but not in a negative way.
"I think that metal has to have a certain elitist element about it because it always has been the genre where you have to have sufficiently sophisticated tastes to actually enjoy the music.
"It is not music for everyone – and particularly a lot of the metal that's coming out of New Zealand these days, it's not like Metallica or anything like that. It's not the kind of metal that's palatable to the average Rock FM, Joe Bloggs sort of listener.
"It's actually quite brutal, it's quite intricate and it's quite technical, and I think most metal bands would be quite happy to carry that elitist tag."
Martin says Craze shouldn't be so quick to assume the judges would pick a "bogan" band, but then again, bands at the more extreme end of the metal spectrum would never be nominated anyway.
"Frankly, a lot of these extreme metal bands will just never get any sort of publicity or mainstream attention," says Martin.
"I can see where Gareth is coming from, but he's got to think that you know, his bands aren't the only ones out there. There's a lot of bands that are busting arse that are as good as Metallica or Megadeth, but they're never going to get the chance to sell records or to get popular because you know, the industry is against them, and a lot of the extreme stuff is what the industry is using as an example of why they shouldn't back heavy metal."
METAL NEEDS TO GO 'MAINSTREAM'
The creeping death of a bogan-dominated future might have stopped Craze and others from backing the petition, but Martin says metal needs to get in the moshpit with the mainstream if it's going to flourish.
"I really admire what Gareth's done for New Zealand music and metal bands and stuff, but that kind of thing, I mean, if it wasn't for that stuff becoming a bit more mainstream like it is overseas, then we wouldn't hear about these bands at all," he says.
"If we don't make it mainstream, then we're stuck in the same little rut every time, you know, we're the pariah, whereas if we do get a bit of mainstream press attention, whatever, then at least people know about it and they can check out these bands.
"But at the moment everything's been forced so far underground and because we're a small country, we just don't have the population to support a small underground thing like that, whereas overseas – I think what Gareth's getting at is that overseas it works, being a bit more underground – but I don't think we have the population to sustain that here."
Artists who make it big in New Zealand first often struggle to duplicate their success overseas (Shihad's ill-fated 'Pacifier' experience a classic case in point), unlike Kiwis who make it big overseas, who generally have no problem importing that success back home.
Metal bands are no exception, says Craze. He told me younger bands often don't realise – or care – that there's an entire world of metal fans to reach outside of New Zealand.
"What I find with the more experienced metal bands… is that they don't want to just be seen as a New Zealand metal band – they want to be seen as a metal band that happens to come from New Zealand, but who have international ambitions, and who don't want to be pegged down to one very small, relatively insignificant country, which has got an MO around music, and particularly the state influence in it, that they don't agree with, or just don't really want to be a part of in any way."
METAL'S OUTSIDER STATUS 'SPECIAL'
Metal's 'outsider' culture also makes many fans and band members wary. Craze says metal fans like the fact it's not recognised by 'The Man', and its presence on the margins of popular culture and society is what makes it special.
"It's got an element of rebellion about it, and of being the outsider… and if you chuck it in the mix with the likes of Shihad, the Checks and the Mint Chicks and all the bands that seem to dominate these awards, it loses part of its special authenticity or appeal," says Craze.
Receiving a VNZMA as New Zealand's best metal band might not just ruin a group's 'outsider' reputation and peg them as "New Zealand metal" band, says Craze, but act as a "glass ceiling" on the genre itself – because the industry would then have a reason not to consider metal alongside other genres when deciding what's best overall.
Alternative music has its own category at the VNZMAs for the first time in 2011, and pop made its debut in 2010, both without much of a fuss.
Ian Jorgensen, better known as Blink, runs the annual Camp a Low Hum music festival – a mecca of sorts for alternative and indie bands from here and abroad. I asked him if the new award meant much to the indie music community.
"It's nice to get some mainstream attention," he told me, "but I doubt anybody I know is losing sleep over not being included."
Sampson understands her petition won't be signed by every metal fan in the country, but has no concerns an award would ruin Kiwi metal.
"I do agree to some extent with the people that are against the petition – I know where they're coming from – but I don't think that any true metal fan will let metal become mainstream," she says.
"It's not a mainstream kind of music. The bands that are against it, they don't have to apply. They don't have to nominate themselves or whatever. They can still be against it, that's fine, I just think that some bands would like the opportunity."
Programming director for The Rock, Riccardo Ball, says metal would benefit from the exposure an award would provide, but doesn't think winning the award itself would hold much meaning.
"There are so many genres within the genre that I don't see it as having any real meaning,' says Ball.
"I mean, Tainted and House of Capricorn are very different bands but both come under the 'metal' banner.
"It would just end up coming down to who the 'cool kids' who vote on the awards thought was the 'coolest' and would have very little to do with talent, but that's the same for the awards in general."
It's all in the eye of the beholder though. Martin isn't so cynical – he sees an award at the VNZMAs as being a stamp of credibility for the local metal scene.
"Some of these guys in metal bands work a hell of a lot harder than some of the guys in pop bands that sit at home and deconstruct a Three Doors Down song and write in their own words and put it all back together and hello, it's a single! I don't want to name names, but there's a hell of a lot of bands out there doing that sort of thing."
Sampson says it'll help rid metal fans of the bogan stereotype.
"While they might have long hair and tattoos and everything, they're not the sort of brain-dead bogans people think they are," she says.
METAL AWARD INEVITABLE?
It could just be a matter of time until the metal militia gets its own gong, though. In the past decade, the VNZMAs have ballooned to include separate awards for genres like rock, urban, roots, and dance/electronica.
"To me, the songs I write and the songs that Gareth [Craze] writes, and the songs that 8 Foot Sativa write are just as important to our culture as anything that Tiki Taane writes," says Martin.
"We're all sort of living embodiment of New Zealanders today, therefore our music is indicative of the culture of our country. We can't lose sight of that, we can't say, 'Your music is important and it's important for our culture, but your music isn't.'
"The better part of New Zealand metal is of a very high international standard. It's very original, it's very technically proficient, and it's doing well abroad."
And some would say nothing else matters.
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14/06/2012 1:11:28 a.m.
Thank god for dedicated metal festivals in europe such as Wacken, Bloodstock. What NZ needs is a successful music festival dedicated purely to metal, and non of that rap metal, nu metal crap i.e. korn, alien ant farm, limp bizkit etc.
I want behemoth, immortal, gorgoroth, cannibal corpse, deicide, nile, megadeth, slayer, anthrax, annihalator, kreator, destructor, Children of Bodom, wintersun, blind guardian, helloween, hammerfall, mayhem, Iron Maiden, Judas priest, Saxon, Venom, Toxic holocaust, warbringer, testament, machinehead, wolf, forbidden (evil), bolt thrower, Dimmu borgir, Dream evil, Manowar, Nuclear assault, Sabbaton, Satyricon, Turisas, TYR, Vader. Basically any Thrash/Death/Black/Power(cept dragonforce, they suck)/Folk/and good old NWOBHM.
To me it seems NZ is the least metal western country in the world which sucks. I have to fly out to europe every couple of years just so i listen to the bands live i want to at the festivals, get wasted, mosh and really get a good metal vibe going in me rather than that mainstream rap metal nu metal shit all the boy racers like to blast out of their shitty suped up cars thinking they looks cool.
8/12/2011 12:00:46 p.m.
the slayer wrote:
metal is best keept under ground away from the pop filth metal needs its own award seromony
17/10/2011 1:08:31 p.m.
I'm neutral about the genre, but I believe that the "metalheads" have a point. Depending on who you talk to the "metal" description can be applied to many of the early 1970's band that in their day were simply described as "hard rock". In any event, when you look at the range of styles acknowledged in the awards it does seem odd that such a popular genre as "metal" (with all its' sub-genres) is not recognised.
16/09/2011 4:00:41 p.m.
There will be a metal category in the vnzmas as soon as nz metal bands generate money.
Metal as a genre is not recognised at the awards cause it slips under the vnzmas money orientated radar.
Sad But True....ha ha
14/09/2011 7:15:24 p.m.
no real metal band would accept any such nomination, and would be insulted by vindication from an industry of pop filth. leave metal alone we don't want you.
12/09/2011 6:27:47 p.m.
@xan - have rare breed and satanica done for metal in nz what gareth and rw have?? pretty doubtful;that satanica thing looks amateur as fuck and i hardly doubt hed consider that or rarebreed legitimate competition.im all for the amateurs to have a go,but gareth seems to be the one guy who has made this work on a pro level.tbh i trust his judgement more than the other people interviewd
10/09/2011 1:02:10 p.m.
Well first ov all I have to say I agree with Paul Martin & Sarah Sampson. I believe that movement forward in this regard is a step in the right direction. There might be a tendency for the more underground & extreme forms ov metal to be still somewhat ignored, but the so-called trickle down effect should have some benefit for most.
Gareth Craze's stance has a lot to do with the fact that he is doing very well in the status quo climate. It is likely he sees something like this as a threat to his dominance & business, so it is no wonder he is not in support.
Already he has competition in the form ov Rare Breed Records (look out for this name!). If metal becomes more ov a "hot ticket" in this country, huge promotors who have formerly only worked with pop acts may turn their attention to metal. But they aren't going to be looking for grindcore bands, they'll be looking for quality acts that can entertain.
Gareth Craze is not the last word on metal. His view, as a an earlier poster put so eloquently, is myopic.
NZ bands doing well on labels overseas? Are they actually making enough money to live from doing their music? Surely that is the true litmus test ov how well a band is really doing. "Weekend Warriors" can kid themselves, but a true artist lives (or dies) by their art.
The most unfortunate aspects ov the NZ scene is the high amount ov backstabbing, petty disagreements maximised, closed little cliques etc. These elements are definitely something that has stopped the NZ thing as a whole having any impact overseas, in a cohesive fashion.
Everyone has heard ov Norwegian Black Metal, but no-one has heard ov NZ *???* Metal. The reason is simple. All innovators over here get shot down.
Finally, I would recommend that any NZ band that is looking for some support from a label should contact satanica.org without delay. You will find a very different approach there.
9/09/2011 10:13:07 a.m.
Alastair T wrote:
Seriously. First, no self-respecting metaller would watch an awards show anyway, even if there was a 'metal' award (so, so cheesy).
Second, Kiwi metal bands have just been getting on with it and going about their business for years without any acknowledgement from the NZ music industry. Why would they want any now?
Third, there are so many sub-genres within metal, where would you begin to get any objectivity from judges, assuming you got judges with any metal knowledge to start with?
Finally, the 'NZ metal bands need to get more mainstream' argument is just bollocks. NZ metal needs to keep doing what it's doing - METAL, not mainstream arse like the rest of the world. What a retarded statement.
Mainstream means 'commercial' 'radio friendly' ie likely to attract advertisers. If you're in metal to attract advertisers you need to get a life. I mean no disrespect to Mr Martin, but one hour a week of metal on a bland, ad-filled mainstream rock (not metal) radio station doesn't fill me with any confidence about any 'metal' award or the people who want to promote it.
It just sounds like a lame excuse for a piss-up. And who needs an excuse?
9/09/2011 8:46:22 a.m.
here here \m/ and El Roacho! this would only be the first step towards a fair go! we need government legislation requiring radio stations to have a quota dedicated to Metal played regularly throughout the day with NZ bands getting a good share of that airtime! we need NZ On Air funding for NZ Metal bands to produce rad videos for TV! Gin Wigmore gets given tens of thousands to make a video but metalheads are taxpayers like everone else arnt we? wheres our share!? people in major corporations and advertising agencies need to front up as well. they are happy to use hiphop and techno jingles in TV and radio commercials to sell everything from pizzas to energy drinks and sporting gear. why not heavymetal!? we need more hard out metal bands featured on childrens after school TV programs to cultivate future metalheads just like Blindfolded And Led To The Woods showed everybody! see youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fa9YS7bj9Wo dam it! there should be a annual NZ Metal float parade down queen street and in other citys just like the old hero parade or boobs on bikes with wicked as NZ Metal bands live on the street! would the city councils be willing to allow and sponser this sort of event? not if we dont stand up and do something about it! and i bet they would be more happy with this than the boobs on bikes! we just want the kiwi media and this nation to give us the fair go we deserve so bogans and elitists alike can stand together and stamp metal on the NZ map where it belongs!
8/09/2011 8:36:03 p.m.
I've seen metal being ignored not just for awards but for any media attention at all. I've also seen many metalheads complaining that the scene is neglected but not doing anything about it. I think more needs to be done from the inside and a lot of bands are too lazy to get their name out there all the while complaining. I think mainsteam media need to be encouraging hard working bands in the metal scene as some metal bands work their asses off for the love of it and deserve a bit of attention.
I've been keeping a close eye on the metal New Year's Eve festival Beyond The Black and have talked with one of the promoters who have had trouble getting any media recognition for this huge event. People like those guys are the ones who deserve the limelight for taking the risk to put on a festival that is much needed in NZ. Where is the TV3 coverage for that?
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