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The Changing Face of Heavy Metal

By: Frank Hill
Published: Sunday, April 24, 2005
The Changing Face of Heavy Metal

Ask a bunch of real metalheads, the ones who can't go a day without some power coming out of their speakers, who the face of their favorite music is--the person who comes to mind when you say "Heavy Metal" and you will probably get a different set of answers based on who they are, what they listen to and the generation they came from.

Some possibilities:
Robert Plant, Ronnie Dio, Dimebag Darrell, Bruce Dickinson, James Hetfield, Rob Halford, Marilyn Manson, Alice Cooper, Angus Young

Opinionwise, all are valid answers at any given time in Metal's 35+ year history, but the name I believe that would be spoken most often by the average person on the street is--Ozzy Osbourne.

A 56 year old man!

Let's look quickly at how the image of metal has changed over the years to the more mainstream audience.

In the early 70's, metal was Rock 'n Roll's long-haired, retarded kid brother and dominated by two bands--Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. The former had a wide range of music, but the press mostly sold the wild and hedonistic lifestyle. For Sabbath, it was the dark, ominous and the occult which gave them reputation. Then along came Alice Cooper and KISS who added great showmanship and flair, yet continued with horror themes. Judas Priest brought in the leather and power; Motorhead the grime. Iron Maiden lent fuel to the anti-metal crusaders with artistic, albiet misunderdstood, uses of devilish imagery.

The early 80's saw Ozzy become notorious as a moon-howler and bat-biter, but the newer groups were younger and MTV took pleasure in selling the decadence of the hair bands with their emphasis on sex, drugs and partying. Power, Thrash and Death bands rose to prominence and expanded the scene, but were more-or-less seen as dirty, unwashed, younger versions of Sabbath.

The 90's saw angst and detachement from Nirvana and the Grunge bands while Marilyn Manson sold himself as the Antichrist Superstar. For the new Millenium, Ozzfest and Nu metal were popular.

So, Ozzy has given us a facial reference point for four decades! Those deep within the style know that popularity isn't an indicator of greatness, but what kind of face is Ozzy providing as a defacto representative?
  • Sabbath/Solo Frontman - Some only know him as the vocalist for "Iron Man" and "Crazy Train".

  • TV Celebrity/Whore - It may have only been on MTV, but "The Osbournes"
    generated enough press for them to be America's favorite dysfunctional family and got Ozzy spoken to by the President of the U.S.

  • Bumbling-Stumbling Fool - Who can't forget the moment when Ozzy fell back in his chair and crashed to floor or the times when he shuffles across his mansion floor uttering unclear phrases.

  • Horror Parody - In the 70's and 80's Ozzy had a wild, well-deserved reputation but now when he calls himself the "Prince of Darkness", nobody takes him seriously.

  • Financial Incompetent - Would Ozzy have made it without his wife Sharon? It's pretty clear that she controls the purse strings in the family.

  • Rich Bastard - OzzFest has consistently been one of the highest grossing tours per year since it started with take home estimates in the millions.

  • Recovering Alcoholic/Drug user - He said recently that he has been clean of drugs and alcohol for a year and a half now, and that he's never felt better. If so, good for him.

  • But is Ozzy the depiction we want for Heavy Metal and has it ever really had an extremely popular visual agent who symbolizes the genre in a fairly positive light to the non-metal masses? Does metal even need a positive figurehead?

    I'm not saying to replace Ozzy or his legacy. I'm just wondering, who can young people and the general public look up to today that will give metal a more positive image? Who could the metal community push into the spotlight as a rep for our cause that doesn't make us look bad and help to change the persona we have pretty much always had as the ugly, out-of-control son of R&R?

    Recent rumors went around that Ozzy had plastic surgery, i.e. a facelift, done to look younger. Maybe it's time to give the entire scene a change of face. If we decide it needs it, who could we appoint as The Statesman:

    James Hetfield--sober, becoming elder, some negative alcoholic past.
    Dio--nice guy but as old as Ozzy.
    Robert Plant--same.
    Eddie Van Halen--off the wagon appearently.
    David Lee Roth--an island unto himself.
    Tony Iommi--not in the spotlight.
    Manson--too self-promoting.
    Gene Simmons--way too self-promoting.
    Jonathan Davis--eh...
    Geddy Lee--nah.
    Bruce Dickinson--bit of a loose cannon.
    Phil Anselmo--too outspoken
    Dave Mustaine--no so respected in the industry.
    Ted Nugent--too controversial
    Brett Michaels--not metal enough.
    Tommy Lee/Nikki Sixx--too wild.
    Axl Rose--too flaked-out.
    Lars Ulrich--after Napster, hell no.
    Goeff Tate--possible
    Slash--?
    Dave Draiman--?

    My main choice would be--Rob Halford. He's not too old, he's respected, he's a dignified speaker and he's certainly an elder in the style. Rob, of course, will get dogged by the more conservative for his sexuallity, but without the political terminology, metal has always been pushing the forefront of music and instrumental innovation moreso than ideologies. Halford is a Metal God. in high standing.

    My dark horse candidate--Scott Ian who has been the backbone of Anthrax for 20 years, doesn't suffer from negative press and who seems to be a damn funny guy.

    Let us know who you think it should be and why in a coherent few sentences and we'll use your responses in a later column.



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