Heavy load – why Liverpool’s metal scene is thriving

Metal fans at Eric's

Metal fans at Eric’s

As Spotify deems metal fans the most loyal and with a new metal night starting at Erics, Getintothis’ Shaun Ponsonby takes a look at the Liverpool metal scene with the help of Oceanis’ Phil Dyer

Metal is an oddity in rock circles. It’s never really been fashionable or unfashionable. It’s often derided by arsehole critics like us, but it has always thrived in some form.  From the initial Brummie surge of Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and Venom who came up during the post-punk New Wave of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM for short), the Motley Crue-inspired hair bands bursting out of the sunset strip in the 80s or the Big Four trash bands (Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer) who opposed them to all the other derivatives (Nu Metal, Black Metal, Gothic Metal, Prog Metal and who knows what else) and beyond.

It’s safe to say that heavy metal has been one of the most enduring forms of rock & roll, no matter how polarising and controversial it may have been at various points. Not to mention how little help from “the industry” (cue thunder, lightning and spooky music) that it may has received over the last four decades. Its endurance lies firmly within the audience.

Only recently, a study from Spotify found that metal audiences are by far the most loyal music fans in the world. A metal fan has a badge of pride. Sometimes literally (as this writers’ old jacket adorned with Iron Maiden, Metallica and Motorhead badges and patches can attest).

Perhaps it’s the ultimate music of the outsider. It’s erudite, it’s thoroughly anti-commercial. And, let’s not beat around the bush; take a look at Judas Priest. They spent the 70s and 80s decked out in fetish outfits bought at gay sex stores. In that time period, can you really think of anything more outsider-ish than that? That took guts and a willingness to be who you are no matter what.

Maybe that’s why metal has been so absent from mainstream culture. Oh, it seeps through occasionally, but consider that even the ever-eclectic Glastonbury has only started making way for metal very, very recently. Even then the largely middle class dickheads who think The Libertines are edgy were up in arms about it and it has been on the decidedly tamer end of the spectrum. That pretty much tells you what the outside world thinks of heavy metal.

It’s been the bastard son for so long that it has carved out its own world and caters for its niche market in its own way. Is there a bigger genre-specific festival than Download? Held in the Heavy Metal Mecca of Castle Donington, previously home to its spiritual predecessor Monsters of Rock, it’s hard to think of a UK festival of such size, scope and ambition that caters pretty much solely for hip-hop, synthpop or punk.

Naturally, this extends regionally too.

Liverpool, in fact, has a thriving metal scene. You just don’t get to hear about it.

Phil Dyer plays guitar for soul acts such as Xam Volo and Kof, however he is also a member of Liverpool based metal band Oceanis is unsure why that is; “Perhaps it’s metal’s lyrical content that has kept it out of the limelight? The Satanic connotations and dark imagery are very much at odds with teenage heart break and elated indie anthems we all love so much but maybe that’s why we need something different, an antidote to love sick teens and sugar sweet pop. Metal bands are well known for their conceptual lyrics and nothing could illustrate this more beautifully than our very own Reperium’s Kintsukuroi. ‘Kintsukuroi’ is the Japanese art of mending broken items with gold so as to fix them and show the breakage as part of their history increasing the value of an object.”

Indeed, just like horror movies, the imagery of metal is a way of articulating other feelings or ideas. In the same way that Dawn of the Dead is often viewed as a metaphor for capitalism and consumerism (making its 2004 remake highly ironic), the “satanic connotations and dark imagery” that Dyer speaks of is often seen as a metaphor for the alienation the listener – and indeed heavy metal itself – feels from mainstream society. This means opposition to the imagery only fuels it. And rightly so.

As the aforementioned Spotify survey suggests, Liverpool’s metal scene is also fiercely loyal. “As a band Oceanis have strived to be the best we can to deliver explosive shows to our dedicated fans,” says Dyer. “It’s become our mission to drag the local scene into the light kicking and screaming – screaming being a key word here! In our relatively short four year tenure we’ve accomplished some great successes from supporting some of our idols such as Sikth and Hatebreed, to playing to thousands of people at outdoor festivals such as Bloodstock.”

Oceanis are not alone. Dyer is quick to point out other bands in the scene that are equally deserving of attention; “One thing that really stands out about Liverpool’s scene is the musicianship. You only have to take one look at the fleet fingered Scare Tactics to know that every member of that band has spent years honing their craft and turning themselves into absolute shred machines! Just as capable are the phenomenal Rain May Fall who straddle the ground between hard rock and heavy metal, all the while delivering incredible catchy riffs and similarly anthemic choruses.

Dyer and Oceanis have begun holding metal nights a Eric’s. The first such event took place early in June (gallery below) and featured up-and-coming acts such as the “angsty teenage thrash” of Reaper and the “zombifiedNovacrow alongside some of Merseyside’s more established acts. It’s success has led to a second offering in the future “probably for the end of August”.

Metal has been ignored for too long, both regionally and nationally. In contrast to the popular myth that all metal is merely big, dumb, sexist riffs, a 2007 study found that metal fans are actually the most intelligent. Giving it time, you find the music can be challenging in a way that most rock music isn’t. It is very much music to believe in, and furthermore it constantly progresses and develops in surprising and enthralling ways that most breeds of music tend not to.

It’s time for metal to lose whatever stigma it has gained.

Oceanis play Zanzibar on 11th July.

Photographs by Getintothis’ Martin Saleh