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Dr. Nickel-Love or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Tolerate the 'Back

by Terry Stevens

"Look at all the f**ks I give regarding your opinion of my enormously successful band!"  (PHOTO CREDIT: Stusev, Creative Commons License )

Ah, Nickelback.  None more loved, none more loathed in the world of rock.

Mention their name and you'll hear adulation from one camp and admonishment from the next.

"Nickelback rules!"

"Nickelback sucks!"

As Vonnegut said, "So it goes."

[Full disclosure time.  I work for a station that has a "Nickelback Free Guarantee" .  We hang our hat on the fact that Chad Kroeger and Co. won't show up on our playlist.  However, this policy isn't due to a personal bias on behalf of the staff.  It's due to a bit of research we conducted that informed us that Rock listeners wanted "no mas back de Nickel, por favor."  (Obviously, this research was conducted on bi-lingual and Spanish speaking listeners.)]

So the question is, who's right? 

Is Nickelback a quartet of soulless corporate rock poseurs playing watered-down, by the numbers rock for meatheads and soccer moms?

Or, is Nickelback a quartet of accomplished musicians who play what people want to hear to the tune of a gazillion dollars (which converts to a fartzillion in Canadian loonies) in CD sales, downloads, concert tickets and merchandise?

As much fun as it would be to write a screed on how much fun it would be to Falcon Punch this guy in his sing-hole:

Must...not...punch...monitor... (PHOTO CREDIT:  Lunchbox LP, Creative Commons License )

That just isn't a productive way to go about things.

If you're the "OMFG, Nickelback iz teh suxxor.  Eff Choad kogur!" type, nothing I can say will convince you otherwise.  What I aim to do, is help you have a better conversation with the Nickelback fan(s) in your life.

One of my gigs at the station I work for is hosting a 3-hour metal show.  I freaking love metal.  Slayer, Meshuggah, Hatebreed, if it's heavy and aggressive, I'm all about it.

However, I wasn't born that way.  My parents raised me on Kenny Rogers and John Denver .

"Yes, human.  Worship the magnificence of my beard. (PHOTO CREDIT: Eva Rinaldi, Creative Commons License )

My first exposure to a guitar with distortion was not Celtic Frost, Venom or Motorhead.  It was Dire Straits:

The point is, while there are a few people out there whose parents had them listening to Napalm Death right out of the womb (like my kids, for instance) a lot of metal fans start off somewhere else, usually with some form of pop music.

Much like Nickelback, "pop music" is a polarizing bit of English.  It conjures up the most shallow of what music has to offer.  However, due to its ubiquitous nature, pop is simply what most people call "music".  It's what they know.  It's what they hear.  Many stay with what the radio or streaming service plays.  Some dig deeper.

In that pop world, Nickelback is probably the heaviest thing that a pop listener hears.  Compared to this guy...

Well looks like I'm replacing another punched monitor today... (PHOTO CREDIT:  Oh-Barcelona.com, Creative Commons License )

...Nickelback sounds like The Black Dahlia Murder!

When someone tells you they like Nickelback, and you respond with, "OMG, ur a dooshlord 4 liking nikelsux!" you're not doing any one any favors.

Someone who digs Nickelback digs music with down-tuned guitars, a lead singer with questionable vocal abilities and lyrics that aren't exactly all that deep.

Sound like any other genre you know?

Look, I'm not saying that if you play the new Meshuggah album for a Nickelback fan that they're going to renounce the Canadian scourge and embrace teh brutalz.  What I am saying, though, is that Nickelback can be a gateway drug to heavier music.  With this gateway drug, you are the pusher.  The question is, are you going to push them away with insults, or push them towards the heavy with some choice selections and a productive conversation like:

Random:  I like teh Nickelback

You:  Really?  You might like [INSERT BAND HERE] too.

It's really that simple.  For every norm who sticks with "Teh 'Back" and gets no heavier, you might convince 10 more to delve a bit deeper in to what heavy music has to offer. 

Choose wisely, though.  My buddies didn't push me straight from Bon Jovi and Poison into Napalm Death .  They suggested Anthrax, I dug it, then we moved on to Kreator and the rest is history.  Baby steps, yo.  Baby steps.

Is Nickelback a blight on modern music? 

MISSED!  Better luck next time, fire... (PHOTO CREDIT:  Lunchbox LP, Creative Commons License.)

Maybe.  But they're also a chance to have a conversation that might turn a friend on to something you dig too.  Take that chance.

Gateway Drugs

Whether you're a 'Back fan, or someone who's interested in getting into heavier stuff, here are some suggested "Gateway Drug Songs".  This list assumes you've already tried the obvious Metallica, Pantera, Five Finger Donkey Punch stuff:

Machine Head - "The Blood, The Sweat, The Tears"

Taken from one of Machine Head's most commercially accessible albums, "The Burning Red", this song features positive lyrics and mad hooks.  There's a good chance that fans of Nickelback's harder rocking numbers will be able to key in to this one too.  If you/they dig this, then put on the rest of MH's catalog and go from there.

Tesseract - "Nocturne"

Tesseract's "Nocturne" is a great demonstration that metal can do more than scream, growl and rage.  Lots of cool stuff going on in this song.  Plus, their new lead singer has some crazy-good vocals.

Otep - "Smash the Control Machine"

If you're a woman who's had it up to here with Nickelback's odes to strip club workers, you'll find Otep, a breath of fresh air.

In Flames - "Where the Dead Ships Dwell"

Another metal band with commercial accessibility.  Really, you're safe to start with pretty much anything from these guys from "Reroute to Remain" onward.

Gateway to Hell Drugs

In the event that you've made it this far and want to get even heavier, this is your next stop:

Dimmu Borgir - "Progenies of the Great Apocalypse"

If you just wet your self in fear after watching that, you should just stop now.  Dimmu Borgir is a very polished version of what death metal (and its 5-thousand subgenres) can do.

Napalm Death - "The Wolf I Feed"

Napalm Death is a bit more chaotic.  If you're still okay in mind and body.  Keep scrolling and clicking.

Meshuggah - "Demiurge"

Meshuggah is Yiddish for "Relentless mathematical ass-kicking machine".

I'll leave it to you to move on from there.  Let me know how your journey goes!

"Scary" Terry Stevens is the host of Scary Terry's Saturday Nightmare , a 3 hour metal show heard every Saturday from 9 to Midnight CST on Rock 94.7/102.9 in Central Wisconsin, online at www.rock947.com/listen-live and on your smartphone or tablet when you download the Rock 94.7 app.