Headbangers’ Brawl is a weekly column where Metal Insider’s contributors take a moment to debate and analyze two opposing sides of a topical issue occurring in the world of metal and/or the music industry.
After the sudden departure of… well, everyone but Mark Hunter, Chimaira has officially come to an end. This came just a few weeks after Shadows Fall announced plans for its final tours and indefinite hiatus. In their own ways, both bands played a major role in the American metalcore movement. With that in mind, this week’s Headbangers Brawl forces the Metal Insider crew to choose which band’s demise has hit them the hardest.
Zach: Chimaira was definitely the biggest surprise of the two. Sure, the band was no stranger to dramatic lineup changes, but losing five members in one week might have taken the cake. And while it’s understandable that Hunter wouldn’t want to revamp the lineup again (it’s hard enough to do it once), this all still seemed to come out of nowhere.
With that said, Shadows Fall’s future hiatus tugs on my heart strings the hardest. The writing may have been on the wall for the past year (you could even argue the signs were there since Fire From the Sky’s release in 2012). But hearing about the end of Shadows Fall brings back memories of what could’ve been. 10 years ago, three bands were poised to be the new kings of metal: Lamb Of God, Killswitch Engage, and Shadows Fall. Two of those bands broke out big. The remaining one, despite coming out with a classic album (The War Within) and getting on some considerably big tours, came really close but saw its popularity decrease considerably leading up to now (I think you can guess which of three I’m talking about). Some chalk it up to bad luck, while others could easily overanalyze the band’s creative and business decisions (even drummer Jason Bittner admitted to me that launching the band’s own imprint in 2009 might have been a mistake). Regardless, it’s a shame to see a band with so much talent and potential come to an end on an arguably low note.
Bram: Both bands’ demises are a bummer. When Chimiara revamped their lineup a few years ago, it seemed like it was a totally new era of the band that would carry them forward for a while. That tour that wrapped up last week must have been brutal, and I’m sure we’ll find out more about the last days of the band at a later time. It’s pretty unprecedented that a whole band quit on one member, but at least this saves us from having two versions of Chimaira touring around. On a personal level, I’m bummed out by Shadows Fall breaking up a bit more. They definitely seemed like they could’ve gone on to Killswitch or All That Remains-level popularity, and even on their last three albums, they had some songs with great solos and riffs. If there’s a silver lining in that black cloud, it’s that a lot of people that might not have given Shadows Fall a chance before will get to hear Jon Donais now that he’s in Anthrax.
Ultimately, we’re at a tipping point in the music industry. Bands that have been around for over a decade were signed when CDs were still selling and labels were still signing them for a decent amount of money. That’s not happening any more, and the only way for a non-commercial band to get make ends meet is by touring a lot. That applies especially to metal bands. After a decade plus of touring, having to downgrade from a bus to an RV or van to not make that much money has got to wear on bands, hence Shadows Fall, Chimaira, God Forbid, Bleeding Through and other bands. In addition, what’s fun, glamourous and adventurous when you’re 21 isn’t so much when you’re in your ‘30s, have a family and are playing to a half empty room. It’s definitely a bummer. Hopefully, we’ll get to hear some new projects from some of these bands, and when they inevitably reunite to play festivals overseas a few years down the line, here’s hoping they get paid.
Matt: No one really saw Chimaira’s break up coming, so the initial reaction is more of a “Wow, that was random” as opposed to “That’s such a shame.” Granted, many Chimaira fans are disappointed, but I think the latter phrase is more applicable to Shadows Fall in this case. They’re a band that should have been a lot bigger than they got to be, not unlike God Forbid who also broke up little over a year ago. They were one of the big Massachusetts metalcore bands, the others being All That Remains, Killswitch Engage, and Unearth, all of whom rose to prominence around the same time. To see a band so influential in the genre go sucks.
Bram’s got it right in regards to the industry. It’s sad to think of the very real possibility of another band or two from the New Wave of American Heavy Metal throwing in the towel within another year or less. That’s not meant to be pessimistic, since there are bands who are still doing well for themselves like Lamb of God. We just have to be realistic regarding the status of bands in the industry now compared to ten years ago.
Nick: The War Within and Threads of Life both hit me at a pretty formative time in my adolescence, and now that I’ve given away my age, I’ll definitely say that Shadows Fall and the rest of the Massachusetts metalcore scene played a massive part in my gateway into metal. Their early material was great, and I always felt that they didn’t get nearly as much recognition as their genre peers, but time showed me that they’re a classic case of peaking too early. Although Threads of Life had some really powerful songs, it felt lopsided in its songwriting and there’s only a handful of tracks I ever went back to. I know that there was a lot of label pressure involved with that record in particular , but even after things stabilized, it felt like the band never quite recovered and felt comfortable in their own skins. Are they great musicians? Absolutely, and none of that was lost, but it seems like the major label experience sucked the spark right out of them. The two subsequent albums were barely blips on my radar. I distinctly remember seeing a video for a track on Retribution and feeling a legitimate sense of guilt that I had absolutely no strong feelings one way or the other towards it. That’s really the problem; there’s no fate worse than mediocrity, and they never quite hit the mass-market, feel-good vibe of Killswitch Engage, or the full blown shark-jumping active rock transition that All That Remains seems to be heading towards. The middle of the road is never a good place to be. That being said, I stress again that when they were hungry for it, the songs were absolutely there. Maybe some time away will give their inevitable reunion the kind of visceral gut-punch that a song like “Thoughts Without Words” had back in 2002.
As for Chimaira, I can’t honestly say I “get it” quite as much. The band kind of passed under my radar at the peak of their popularity, and I think it’s got a lot to do with the fact that they never quite completely shook the nu-metal influences of their early material. My nu-metal fling in middle school was over in the span of a couple months; that kind of tough guy vibe was always something I found really insincere and didn’t identify with in the least. Even at their thrashiest, these awkward little Korn-isms would still creep in there as soon as I started to enjoy any of the Chimaira records that people told me I’d like. I saw them live a few years ago, and although I’ll say that it translates better in that environment, I watched the crowd moshing their brains out and felt like everyone else was in on something where I’d completely missed the point. It’s a bummer they broke up, because people obviously did enjoy their music, and everyone seems to feel like Crown of Phantoms was a career high. The internal politics of that band are clearly a whirlwind fustercluck, so even if Mark Hunter does continue with Chimaira somewhere down the line, I can’t imagine we wouldn’t see a third instance of the entire band quitting.