I watched the BBC documentary Heavy Metal Britannia on Friday night, as the missus was out and I could indulged in a bit of sweaty maleness. It was a good history of the genre, from about 1970 to 1990 or so, just at the period when it's place in the teenage life as complicated by the arrival of grunge and goth.
Metal comes across in the doc as a kind of decadent form of the blues rock sound that had been evolving since the early sixties, a lineage coming via Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix and a few power chord-based rock classics like The Kinks's You've Really Got Me Going and the harder sound coming out of LA via The Doors, Steppenwolf and Iron Burretfly (the documentary does a great jobon the musical forebears and some guitarist (I forget who, might have been Ian Gillan, who's a singer.... but anyway) illustrates the evolution of a standard blues riff (from Brooke Benton's Kiddyo) into Led Zep's A Whole Lotta Love.
The hippy dream showed youth in the ascendent, but metal came along at a time - the early 70s - when the hippy dream was over and things took on a more hopeless tone, singing about apocalypses to come and self-abnegation through hedonism, a lot like glam but without the sexual ambiguity and artsy pretense. In fact, the lack of depth that characterises metal versus glam (and later versus punk and indie and various other flavours of rock) is what makes it so easy to mock. The limited intellectual scope for the genre makes it best when the pratitioners just get on with rocking out. As soon as they introduce elements of fine musicianship or intimations of a message, metal becomes rapidly unstuck.
Goth is pretty much the metal of the punk generation and it's interesting that metal and goth are both heavily associated with the fantasy genres, which also often dwell on past glories of vanished empires. The vampire is to goth what the rampaging Conan-esque barbarian is to metal, with Elric as a kind of intermediate figure. Metal comes at the end of the space race and the huge push that SF got from it, but by the seventies fantasy had so occupied the genre space that a blatant fantasy movie stole all SF's best toys. Goth comes at the end of the initial cyberpunk phase, pushing out the rationalistic fantasies of the burgenoing cyber world with fantasies of parasites and monsters.
Fantasy is a turning away in many ways, a way of saying things that are too hard to say in unadorned terms, a way to place the loss of hope or the death of the old away from us. These decadent forms grow out of the unfulfilled hopefulness of the previous genre - the hope offered by rock in the sixties and punk in the 70s turned sour, the hope of the rocket age and the computer age turned rotten. In these times, people turn to fantasy, but the next wave of hopefulness is never far behind.