Glam Is the New Metal


The Spiders are a metalglam band as opposed to a glammetal band—the difference being that glammetal bands are hairmetal bands that dress in spandex and incorporate the vocal extravagances of the ’70s, while metalglam bands are glam bands that insert the dark chords of modern metal. The advantage of being metalglam is that you can take it as a given that you’re to be stagy, showy, and ridiculous. Another advantage: People don’t walk up to you and say, “You sound like an ’80s hair-metal band.” A third advantage is there’s only one of you—the Spiders—so you get to invent the genre. (Sure, once upon a time all glam bands were metal bands—my new roommate sophomore year saw me unloading my Mott and Dolls records and said, “So, you’re a heavy metal fan?”—but that was ’70s metal of boogie and clomp, which no longer counts.)

Glitzkrieg is a good title. Chords and riffs walk the northern night, when they want to, and the singing is glam all the way, doesn’t go near Lemmy’s death rasp or Ozzy’s baying. It’s got a swish in its hips, and ham and mockery in its tone. This is a nice contrast, the tuney singing balancing the gloomy playing. Gloom is only a piece of it, anyway, since the guitar will abandon ye olde metal chords for the psychedelic ward, will ape French police sirens, will gallop to the boogie and skip along with dance beats. The singer takes this pose and that, from Iggybilly to elfin. And there’s even a track called “Hollywood Hills” that sounds like ’80s hairmetal.

Now, had they chosen to be a full-time glammetal band, they still could have been stagy, showy, and ridiculous. The disadvantage is that they couldn’t exist, except as a throwback (“You sound like an ’80s hairmetal band”) or an old act revived (e.g., Great White). At the turn of the ’90s the metal audience, brainwashed no doubt by their hardcore-punk brethren, decided that hairmetal’s high-pitched quasi-gospel or quasi-opera show-off extravaganzas weren’t as good for you as Metallica-Motörhead retch and bellow, so exit hairmetal as a popular form. But after years of werewolf growls, the metal audience is in the mood for something more sensitive. So these days, growls are interspersed with nongrowls, the latter coming from dark metal’s previously unacknowledged Depeche Mode ancestry. And you know what? Now that metal singers as such are abandoning their throat-clearing, I miss it—in fact, tend to prefer them scratching their larynx to singing pretty.

The latest metal album on my pile, Alchemist’s Austral Alien, is hard-driving doom music. But when the singer stops growling and starts crooning, the result isn’t invigorating wimpiness but dull kitsch. The music is powerful nonetheless, if you don’t mind that the guy delivers his lyrics with such high clarity that there’s no way to ignore dystopian schlock like “The sky aghast with windy brown/The choking storms hurl dust around.” Fortunately, the singer’s heart is in his growl, and I welcome the sonorities when he returns to the guttural and hurls his phlegm around.

Then there’s Funeral for a Friend’s Seven Ways to Scream Your Name EP, which mixes deathmetal and emo. The lyrics are vague, self-absorbed, and lacking in humor—though I love the song title “Red Is the New Black.” (I see a red door and I want it painted black. Or not.) The singer will do his death rattle, then he’ll jump to a post-grunge high agony, like Bon Jovi imitating Cobain. It doesn’t quite work. Too bad it’s not really Bon Jovi doing the high mopery. But something interesting is fermenting. The interplay between snarl and whimper succeeds only when it remains interplay and doesn’t go full-scale into sensitivity. But the break from coffin to quaver lifts the music.