Ireland may not be well known for its love of heavy metal, but there’s currently plenty of evidence in Dublin’s metal scene proving that there’s a strong following of the genre in our city.
Dublin has exported world famous artists of a variety of genres, from Thin Lizzy and U2 to Aslan and Westlife, but has exported few to none world famous metal acts.
It’s hardly surprising in one way; a mix distorted guitar, high-tempo drumming and screamed, almost guttural vocals will never appeal to the masses. Despite this, a growing number of new Irish metal bands are slowly beginning to amass followings in one of the city’s fastest growing music scenes.
As well as international acts frequently playing in Dublin with promoters MCD and DME, acts from the many subgenres of heavy metal can be seen playing in Fibber Magees; the spiritual home of metal in Dublin. Metal gigs of all different varieties take place at this Parnell Street venue, with event organisers such as EHT promotions and weekly events such as Carnage Metal Club giving metal fans plenty of options to choose from.
At the heart of this subculture though, is the musicians of these metal bands, who often play both in Dublin and around country for little to no payment. Doing something one loves for no reimbursement isn’t unique to the life of a metal musician, but countless hours of song-writing, rehearsal, travel to gigs and performing is too hectic a schedule to be regarded as a ‘hobby’. These performers treat it as a job, albeit not a very well paid job.
Instead, it’s the brotherhood that exists between metal musicians and fans that keeps the scene alive. This sentiment was echoed by Darndale local Matt O’Brien, guitarist for death metal band Axial Symmetry: “My favourite thing about playing in a metal band is the camaraderie,” O’Brien says. “In my opinion, whether you’re playing to five or a hundred people you won’t find a more loyal fan base than the ‘metalheads’ of the world.”
You only need to take a look at the average metal gig-goer to understand; fans dressed in denim ‘battle jackets’ embroidered with patches dedicated to their favourite bands serve as almost literal badges of honour to their favourite bands.
The genre may be rooted in loyalty, but this subculture is not without its faults. The wide variety in different sub-genres that all fall under the heavy metal banner lead to elitism and dissention between ‘metalheads’. Sub-genres exist in all forms of music, but differences amongst types of metal that may appear subtle or minor to the unfamiliar ear creates exclusive group of fans when it comes to heavy metal music.
As well as this, bands in Fibber Magees often find themselves competing with the hospitable beer garden outside the venue when attempting to attract fans to the stage, according to Catastrophe guitarist and Blanchardstown local Darragh O’Connor.
“If someone’s in a place where there’s a good band on, check them out,” Darragh says. “Don’t stand in the beer garden all night, give them a chance at least.”
These setbacks haven’t deterred the majority of bands though. With an increasingly loyal fanbase and local competitions to play at international festivals, bands have plenty of incentive and motivation to continue performing. One example saw an unprecedented six Irish bands play Bloodstock Open Air Festival in Birmingham.
Speaking to these musicians regularly, there’s always the romantic idea of ‘making it’ but the majority are firmly rooted in reality. To say that the majority of people working in music will not be able to properly support themselves from it is no big revelation, but the niche nature of heavy metal only adds to the difficulty.
If it weren’t for these barriers though, the music wouldn’t exist. Metal is rooted in aggression and counter-culture. It’s not supposed to be accepted by everybody, and if it was it would what makes it so appealing to its fans.
There are obviously exceptions to this rule; metal icons Metallica have sold tens of millions of record but for every five fans they gave, a sixth abandoned their bannermen for ‘selling out’.
Heavy metal will always exist in the dusty corner of Dublin’s music scene. It gains little to no attention outside of its close-knit circle, but as groove metal band Saint Slaughter point out, there is still a chance to break out beyond the streets of Dublin’s city centre to appeal to the genre’s appeal beyond Irish shoes.
“As an Irish thrash band, we’re never going to make our living from this, but there’s a chance we can get some sort of recognition from this… “We don’t want to be stuck in Fibbers for the rest of our life” Saint Slaughter vocalist Eoin Clarke says.
“If we played in Germany or even England in a few years and someone said “I love your guys, I have all your EPs”, I’d be happy”.
The cliché ‘we don’t do this for love nor money’ comes up often when talking to these musicians but in every case it’s nothing but true, as a love for performing and a longing to be recognised will continue to drive this underground scene forward.