Those of you who have been following theprp.com for the past few years know that we usually end the year with a top 10 best of from various artists, however this year we decided to forego the feature as most would be hard pressed to be able to even pick ten memorable albums from this past year, let alone compile a list they could be confident in publicly acknowledging. To put it bluntly, 2002 was not one of metal's most defining 365 days.
Heavy music as a whole suffered many hardships this past year and with a continuing downward trend for bigger labels to cut their losses as quickly as possible and no real artist development being exercised, 2003 will likely see independent labels once again take over the reigns of the genre. Back in the early 90's a heavy band could pretty much be guaranteed a video and a years worth of touring support to establish themselves, fast-forward to 2002 and a video is usually shot on a wire thin budget or straight out of the bands pocket, and if there isn't tens of thousands of copies sold on the back of a generally lackluster promotional campaign within a few months of an albums release; The group are grounded at home with no touring support and in some cases unceremoniously dropped.
In essence this is really nothing new, music as we know it is essentially a business and profits must be made for it to stay in business. However, with the post 9/11 economy and slumping record sales hitting home, labels have folded like origami in the past year and fledging a&r's now experience pressures akin to that of an air traffic controller if their first signing isn't an immediate hit. What does this mean to heavy music fans? Well, heavy music isn't always immediately embraced by the mainstream and needs time to grow and gain momentum, but with such a short attention span from record labels and immediate results being sought, most metal bands are left in the dust.
What this type of mentality leads to is one band breaking out and a few dozen similar sounding groups being signed quickly after as labels try to cash in on a "sure-fire" thing. This lack of risks being taken in turn leads to a glut and a new style is killed and billed as flash in the pan before it can even get off the ground as none of the creativity in the gene pool is ever given any of the attention. Think about 2002 and how many cookie cutter commercially oriented average metal bands there were released and you'll start to see the picture - Its no longer about how many albums inspired you, its about how many albums you easily forgot.
Indeed it is a turbulent time and bands pretty much need to fight tooth and nail to make a name for themselves but even with this dark cloud hovering overhead there were still a few surprising moments to make 2002 somewhat shine. Seeing The Queens Of The Stone Age make a name for themselves was a nice treat, even if half the attention that was drawn to them was probably a result of their association with Dave Grohl. Likewise the pairing of Mike Patton and The Dillinger Escape Plan was a fantasy scenario come to life and something that brought to mind the old split hardcore records of old, back when bands in the scene actually sounded different from each other (and no an emo breakdown doesn't count.)
System Of A Down becoming immensely popular and selling records by the thousands would have been deemed an almost impossible feat a year or two ago and yet 2002 was definitely a high point for their career, showing that creativity can still sell if given the chance to develop. dredg and Glassjaw releasing albums on major labels were also signs of hope; But while acts from the left field were breaking out, the old guard was pretty much left to crumble as slumping record sales and an inability to fill venues from the pioneers of the nu-metal scene such as Korn and the like really showed the genre to be on its last leg. Finally losing Alice In Chains frontman Layne Staley to his long publicized drug addiction was also a sad realization and though it was overshadowed by various other events, it was still a passing that any metal fan from the past decade or so should view as a dark day.
But a lack of interest wasn't the only strike against the genre in 2002, super groups forming and bringing nothing new to the table, bands splintering into side projects and taking every five minutes to remind us that their original meal ticket might not be together much longer, even though everyone is already pretty much over them, and so much more dulled our minds this past year. To top it off The big annual tours failing to showcase any new talent that actually had some integrity was also another show of just how boring and by the numbers this once "dangerous" corner of music has now come to be.
In essence we found ourselves bombarded by what the media would try and latch onto in 2002 and when judging by the sluggish record sales of retro rock wannabes and the glut of contrived and boring emocore records, they were way off the mark with their assumptions. Even the once venerable radio rock genre took a huge nosedive over the past year and felt the effects of its unimaginative inbreeding like so many a genre before it and thank goodness for that.
With all this going down, its not hard to see that a change is on the horizon, something new or something old is coming back to take the lions share of attention and remind us metal fans that the mainstream never really had any idea of what was going on in the first place. We will once again have to go back underground and actually seek out and enjoy the music rather than just buy whatever is being played on MTV and the radio like so many impressionable fans have been for the past few years.
Most are looking to metalcore, hardcore and indie rock as the next things to break, if so let's hope they can ditch the "the" in front of their names or even stop using the same 10 words in a different combination as a moniker for themselves. Because its sad to see a style start to play itself out and become a joke before the spotlights hit its face. Let's also hope for a bit of creativity and experimentation, something with integrity and edge while we're at it.
2003 will be a proving ground, major label emocore is on the way and you can bet a ton of crappy metal bands are as well, but for what its worth there is still some hope. New releases from The Deftones, Cave In, The Blood Brothers, Candiria, Nothingface, Lamb Of God, Dog Fashion Disco, Chimaira, Tomahawk, Poison The Well, The Dillinger Escape Plan, God Forbid and more are all on the way, so it definitely won't be a complete loss, and with new albums from Massive Attack, Radiohead, Year Of The Rabbit, Mogwai, A Perfect Circle being prepped to satisfy the non-metal urges, this new year should already be quite memorable - that is if you know where to look.
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