Gene Simmons of Kiss once declared that “rock is dead’ – a statement he still stands by today.
In a recent interview with Metal Hammer, Gene Simmons spoke to this statement and why he believes in the sentiment. “I stand by my words: rock is dead. The people that killed it are fans. Fans killed the thing they loved by downloading and file sharing for free. How do you expect somebody who loves the guitar to come into this creative process? You’ve got to invent yourself. And so rock is dead.”
It’s fair to say that Simmons, a rock icon who is part of one of the greatest rock bands in all of human history, may have some additional insight into the lifeblood that is rock – but we don’t agree with him when it comes to this sentiment.
While everyone’s stance on this topic may come from a different subjective point of view, a common theme we tend to notice time and time again is rock viewed through the lens of nostalgia. Other artists have also spoken to how downloading and file sharing music has harmed the rock and roll world (unless you’re David Draiman of Disturbed, who believes platforms like Spotify helped to save music).
Rock is not dead though. It flat out just isn’t. The rock of the past is gone, yes – but rock still lives on today. It is just a whole other form of beast and musical force.
In a lengthier quotation from Simmons in that same interview, he shares the following:
“Point to a new look. I played this game before and it bears noting, rock continues to be dead. From 1958 until 1988, 30 years, right? You got Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones and on and on. Motown. You have the surf thing and the Beach Boys, the British invasion – hundreds of bands. The Hollies are hardly ever talked about, they’re a great band. Disco stuff, Madonna, Prince, Bowie, all that great stuff. You had the heavy bands Metallica and Iron Maiden, all that stuff in those 30 years. Eternal music and bands.
“But from 1988 until today, who is the new Beatles? BTS? There’s no denying BTS are world famous. But am I going to form a garage band to do those songs? No. I think they’re well-crafted and professional, but One Direction and NSYNC and all the boy bands don’t change the world. It just makes little girls hearts flutter and then they’re gone. That doesn’t have gravitas. Influential bands, that make somebody want to pick up a guitar, learn how to play songs and be in a band don’t exist, because you can’t make a living.”
While acts like BTS and NSYNC certainly have their own importance and legacy within the world of music, Simmons chooses to focus on this belief that we don’t have bands nowadays that “spark an inspiration” like Metallica, Iron Maiden, or Jimi Hendrix. That just isn’t true Gene.
We feel that, sometimes, the negative belief that “rock is dead” comes from a nostalgic view of rock shows and the legacy and fame built around classic rock acts. Like nowadays, we may not be getting folks biting the heads off of bats, but rock (and sure as hell metal), remain remarkable forces of musical ferocity and inspiration.
It goes without saying – but look at Ghost. Ghost have just as much thrill to their performances and music as much as Kiss do – and Ghost have seen a shit ton of success throughout their career.
Nu metal bands such as Slipknot and Korn continue to be powerhouses that sell out arenas and stadiums. You have the likes of Rammstein that take on global tours. And frankly Gene, even if you’re not super into Randy Blythe’s vocals, Lamb of God – along with Killswitch Engage, Meshuggah, Gojira, Mastodon, and many more – have taken the heavy music world by storm. And when it comes to rock, don’t count out acts like Shinedown, the Foo Fighters, and more kicking ass today.
None of these acts that we listed will ever, EVER, be forgotten. They are not a phase. They all display just as much commitment to craft, artistic integrity, and deliver on performance as much as any Iron Maiden or Metallica.
Along with these bands providing awesome entertainment, they are also still inspiring young artists today to pursue heavy music. Look at Gatecreeper, Undeath, Code Orange, and Vein.fm (just to name a few) – all bands that have been inspired by bands of the ‘80s and ‘90s in some way or another.
Also, frankly, there is a wild amount of innovation and inspiration taking place in the underground world of heavy music. Primitive Man, Thou, Full of Hell, Lingua Ignota, Mizmor, Khemmis, Body Void, Bell Witch, Spirit Adrift, 200 Stab Wounds – just a very small list of acts who may not get radio play, but are forever changing the landscape of heavy music. Who are inspiring kids today to pick up a guitar and create art – regardless of whether or not they make any money.
And we think it is that specific phrase, “radio play,” that gets stuck in so many people’s heads. Because let’s be honest here: The rock bands that are really getting radio play nowadays are acts like Imagine Dragons, and yes, Machine Gun Kelly.
The world of “radio rock” is not the same; that world that Simmons helped to shape with Kiss is absolutely gone. Gone is not the same thing as dead though.
If you’re looking for the next big thrilling heavy music act on the radio or at the latest mainstream rock festival, you just have to look more closely. They are there, they just aren’t going to look or sound like Kiss or The Doors exactly. They are going to look and sound like Ghost, Shinedown, Code Orange, Primitive Man, or Converge. A couple of those acts even get play on the radio.
The Gene Simmons world of rock and roll is no more, but rock is not dead Gene. There’s a remarkable world of heavy music just before us – we just need to shift from a negative perspective, to encouraging audiences to understand that heavy music is different today.
There have to be at least a couple million rock and metal fans in the world – each one adoring at least one or two modern bands. Young generations of music listeners have found their new rock, their new metal, their new heavy. Whether it’s bands being played on the radio or acts from the underground:
Rock and metal are still thriving – and we would say more now than ever.
Words by: Michael Pementel