Metal! It comes from Hell!
– Tenacious D
Earlier this year when I was with some friends, I got very excited talking about the most recent Lamb of God album (yes, it’s awesome) when someone overheard our conversation. When asked what we were talking about I mentioned it was a Heavy Metal band. What then followed was the age-old, unimaginative usual spiel “so is that shouty music all about the devil”. I am sure we have all been there at some point in our lives, either it is said in jest or as a (sadly) genuine question, the outsiders of our tribe have real trouble seeming to understand and you spend time explaining metal to them. My own reply is usually a variation of “Yea I used to be a Satanist, but it was such a pain trying to get the goat blood out of the carpet I gave up”.
It does beg the question
It does beg the question though, with bands like Black Sabbath now considered classic rock and Iron Maiden being played in the background of soap operas, why are some people still so opposed to this form of music?
I am sure that the simple answer would be that it can be quite controversial, there are plenty of stories of Ozzy covered in his biography, and Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast was denounced as Satanism with pickets around their shows in the early to mid-1980s. Then, of course, you had the PMRC (Parent Music Resource Centre) that looked to sensor music in the US, and who we can give thanks to the Parental Advisory sticker on album covers (like we all couldn’t work out that the front cover of a Cannibal Corpse album may not be appropriate for toddlers). On the slightly more serious side, you have the Norwegian Black Metal scene in the early 90s which I am sure most people will be familiar with (Church burnings and murders for the most part).
Close Relationship with Satan & Heavy Metal
There are so many areas that could be covered (with more dedicated articles for each one as there is so much to cover) but some of the more reasonable points to consider would be the relationship with dark lyrical themes, clothing, logos and album artwork, drug and alcohol abuse, Hedonism and even the hand gestures and imagery (the devil horns hand gesture). It is clear though that there is an affinity with Satanism, however much you may want to escape it, it has been there for a long time, and will (in all likelihood) still be there in the future. The close relationship with Satan and Heavy Metal are so interesting and intertwined, I think that will be better as an entirely separate article.
What is often more complex, is having that feeling of being put on the spot, or the feeling of having to defend/justify yourself, or even at times keeping things low key and being shy (certainly I was at a young age) of speaking up about it. Much easier to just fly under the radar.
The Typical Arguments
Accepting however that we are not going to simply fly under the radar this time, these leaves us with the typical arguments thrown my way (and likely yours as well) from friends, family & colleagues. There may be some variation, but the usual comments and judgements tend to be around the following:
- “It’s all just screaming & shouting” (I can’t understand the words)
- “They are all talentless”
- “You’ll grow out of it” (from the more patronising types)
- “It all sounds the same”
- “I like it sometimes; Nickelback are one of my favourites”
“It’s all just screaming and shouting” is probably the one I hear the most often. Very occasionally someone will use the phrase “Screamo” (which I always find hard not to wince at) and I feel is a very lazy argument. The person here is just looking at the most extreme forms of Metal, usually Death & Black Metal and decided that this forms their opinion of everything.
Opera is also screaming
Typically, I tend to ask if they would agree that opera is also screaming and shouting, and then remind them of the vocal talents of Corey Taylor, Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson and Till Lindermann. If I am in a self-righteous mood (and already on my soapbox) I may refer to Sabaton and Blind Guardian, or bands such as WASP, RATT, Motley Crue, Quiet Riot, and Dio. I am almost certain that you reading this will have been able to think of at least 30 more I should have mentioned above. What is the point though is that all of the groups and artists above all play in a different variety of Heavy Metal, and so to simply tarnish all metal as death metal shows that someone hasn’t done their research!
“They are all talentless” seems to be along a similar vein of someone simply not doing their research. Typically, in this situation, I ask if they are a musician and then ask them to play a melody by Dave Mustaine, Dave Lombardo, Cliff Burton, or maybe something by Yngwie Malmsteen or Chuck Schuldiner. Can they write songs like James Hetfield that are played all over the world in every continent and continue to do the same 40 years later?
You’ll Grow Out of It
“You’ll grow out of it” is possibly my favourite one. I really love how incredibly patronising and dismissive it sounds. It, of course, implies a lack of maturity, intelligence and is worded deliberately to also make you feel awkward and infantile. Whilst there are plenty of answers that you can reply to this with, I tend to hope that one day they may be open-minded enough to look beyond their own small safe boundaries and maybe explore. If I was again on my soapbox, however, I would also perhaps mention that unlike most forms of music, the sheer mass of sub-genres means that it is far more explorative and new than most other forms of music. It is hardly infantile nonsense.
“It all sounds the same” is again for me very lazy, with labouring the points I was making above, I simply tend to ask “who is that you have listened to that makes you think that?“ There is so much variety as we know and there definitely is enough Heavy Metal for everyone!
“I Like it sometimes; Nickelback are one of my favourites” is possibly more of an olive branch being thrown and I tend to grab that wherever I can. Just to be clear, I have tried at least three times to write my views on Nickelback specifically, but I unable to describe my views without an extraordinarily high use of expletives and vulgar language so I shall say nothing more. The hope in these situations is that there can be a genuine discussion, finding out more about what they like. It has mixed success, but anything that broadens knowledge has to always be a good thing. With more fans, we get what the world needs – more metal.
Part of the Make up
There are many more things that people have said, but these tend to be the main ones. It is true that Metal does court controversy, historically and probably again in the future. It is part of its very make up. Heavy Metal is counterculture, disinterested with societies norms up until the point someone wants to push the boundaries. I would argue that has to be healthy for any society.
I am aware that some people stick very much by the principle of ‘I have literally no interest in your opinion. If I like it then who cares?’ I can absolutely agree with this, especially at the times where you can sense someone has already made up their mind without the discussion even starting.
There is also no harm in explaining to people that it is just music. Of course, a simple and straightforward answer and that can be all the discussion needs to be. Variety is part of art, and good art should be able to cause discussion but not necessarily agreement.
So now I would say the time is right to go to your hi-fi, pick a truly awesome favourite and play it loud, with the hope of educating and enticing your neighbours!
Turn it up to 11, and as always, Party on Dudes
Check out my previous articles here