Stuck On Repeat – What This Year’s Download Festival Tells Us About The State Of Metal

Highlights of this year’s Download Festival? Where to begin? Motley Crue brought a dwarf on stage. Fred Durst had his shorts pulled down. Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix denounced “Shitney Spears”. And Los Campesinos! played a secret a capella gig on the Tuborg stage.

OK, that last one didn’t happen. But the rest did. And it was all good, drunken fun, as always – but did anyone else find something unsettlingly… retro about the whole thing? Look at the top-line acts: Limp Bizkit. Marilyn Manson. Korn. Faith No More. With a few exceptions further down the bill – Dragonforce, Enter Shikari et al – this could have been an Ozzfest line-up from 1997.

Mike Patton himself recognised the weird pall of nostalgia hanging over proceedings: “This is like an ’80s festival, right?” he asked the crowd at one point, acknowledging the battalion of weather-beaten classic rock acts such as Def Leppard, Journey and Whitesnake who dominated the weekend.

Indeed, the only ‘new’ band on the scene that anyone seemed vaguely excited about were Steel Panther – a decade-old old spoof act recycling the same ‘joke’ metal has been telling about itself ever since ‘Big Bottom’.

Steel Panther

Something is wrong here. When a scene is so utterly reliant on its past, you know its future is struggling to be born. But this is unlikely to change any time soon – because metal is inherently conservative, granite-minded in its resistance to change.

The last youth-oriented, forward-looking movement in metal was the emo-tinged confluence of metalcore and ’80s thrash that spawned Trivium and Bullet For My Valentine, circa 2004. Both those bands produced brilliant, fresh-sounding debut albums – but were then so desperate to be accepted by the metal ‘fraternity’, they returned with second records that were embarrassingly, forlock-tuggingly in thrall to the cornerstones of the genre, in particular Metallica’s ‘Master Of Puppets’.

Is anything genuinely new happening in metal right now? Or is the scene destined to replay its former glories forever, with a narrow elite of super-big-hitters crowding out new artists and stifling innovation? In ten years’ time, will the Download line-up be significantly different from last weekend’s? Or are rock fans locked into a grim merry-go-round – Maiden one year, Judas Priest the next. Corey Taylor telling the “maggots” to jump the fuck up, one more time.

The miserable truth is that metal has sold its soul to the only two sectors of the entertainment industry that still make serious money. First, the ‘heritage’ live circuit. Pity all those wide-eyed, twenty-something bands paying vast sums for the privilege of supporting the monsters of rock on heartbreaking summer tours of sweltering US car parks – in the forlorn hope that fans of, say, Slayer, might stop booing them long enough to actually listen to one of their songs.

Second, and far more troubling, there’s the deadening influence of the video games industry. Is there anything more tragic than acts as long-running (and wealthy) as Aerosmith hawking their back catalogue to ‘Guitar Hero’? For years Metallica wouldn’t even licence their songs to iTunes – yet for £40 you can bash out ‘Enter Sandman’ on a toy plastic axe. It’s enormously undignified.

I’m more than willing to be proved wrong. Recommend me some bands. I don’t want to believe that metal has no future. It’s just that – judging by the hazy nostalgia-fest that was Download 2009 – it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this is a genre that’s stuck in a moment it can’t get out of.