Metal, what is one to make of this ridiculed yet hugely popular genre? As someone who grew up with it from the mid-90’s onwards, I have often been mocked for my love of the genre in a way that a lot of people who are into other types of genres aren’t Indie, Hip-Hop, Punk Rock and Jazz all attract their fair share of detractors, but none have attracted the same level of outright scorn and ridicule that Metal has.
To be fair to its critics Metal (and in particular its’ fans), don’t often do themselves many favours. One only has to watch the 1986 documentary ‘Heavy Metal Parking Lot’ directed by Jeff Krulik and John Heyn filmed in Landover, Maryland prior to a Judas Priest concert to see metal heads behaving like stereotypical Beavis and Butthead caricatures, drunk, stoned and in search of cheap thrills. Not to forget the hideously outdated dress sense, especially the infamous ‘zebra man’ whom I paraphrase with the immortal words ‘Heavy Metal rules, all that Punk shit sucks. It doesn’t belong here; it belongs on fucking Mars man’. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can view the whole thing on Youtube, its’ roughly about 17 minutes in its’ original form. Also take into consideration some of the downright silly music released by a heavy majority of Metal bands as well as the actions and words of its protagonists. Whether it’s Norwegian Black Metallers burning churches and singing about vikings, Death Metal bands droning on about Satan, particularly Deicide frontman Glen Benton who once made the ill-advised and frankly stupid remark that he would kill himself before the age of 33 (the age at Jesus was when he was crucified. This was the same man who had an inverted cross branded on his forehead and who called his firstborn ‘Damien’) and of course the sexist tripe sung by the nauseating Hair Metal bands of the 1980s’ who borrowed The New York Dolls sense of style but sadly none of the talent. Even the outdated swords and sorcery imagery of relatively harmless bands such as Dio, Saxon and Iron Maiden makes me ashamed to admit in public my love for Metal.
In its defence, Metal has often been unfairly scapegoated for all the ills of society. There was the absurd idea prevalent in the 80’s and 90’s that Metal was somehow responsible for kids turning to suicide and devil worship. Ozzy and Judas Priest saw themselves in court for apparently ‘inspiring’ kids to kill themselves, AC/DC found themselves in hot water after the track ‘Night Prowler’ was reported to have inspired serial killer Richard Ramirez to commit a series of truly horrific murders. It didn’t help the bands case that Ramirez’ AC/DC baseball cap was found at a crime scene and that he was frequently seen wearing one of their T-Shirts. In addition to this Tipper Gore and her exorable PMRC (Parents Music Resource Centre) launched a virtual all-out war on artists whose lyrics they perceived to be ‘offensive’ and ‘harmful to children’. Madonna and Prince were included in the ‘Filthy fifteen’ but the majority of it was unsurprisingly dominated by Heavy Metal acts such as Mercyful Fate, AC/DC, W.A.S.P. and Twisted Sister, http://www.nndb.com/lists/405/000093126/. Finally let us not forget the appalling miscarriage of justice that was the West Memphis Three who were finally released after 18 years rotting in prison and death row for a crime they did not commit. Despite there being no physical evidence linking them to the crime, the fact that they wore black and listened to Metallica was enough to secure a conviction. ‘Experts’ such as Dale Griffiths were even brought in to try and provide tenuous links between Satanism and the defendants as further proof of their guilt.
Proper Metal (whatever your definition of that is) at its best shares a lot of the traits that can be found in Punk Rock/Hardcore Punk, it is anti-authority and anti-social. Just as Vic Bondi of Articles of Faith once said that ‘normal people didn’t listen to Hardcore and we liked it that way’, the same can be said for Metal, its’ music for the outsider, for the person who doesn’t fit into the safe, manufactured, corporate world with its strict codes and values of how you should or shouldn’t live your life. Metal much like punk has its’ own community where you can feel safe and valued. Where people don’t care if you’re wearing Marc Jacobs’s latest designer clobber, what’s really important is that you dig the music and are true to yourself. As a lonely, shy teenager in the 1990s it was something I could count on and it didn’t pass judgement. Believe me, wearing a Sabbath or Metallica T-shirt in 1996 when Britpop, Dance music and lad culture was rife was likely to lead you having the crap kicked out of you, luckily I never experienced this, although I did experience a degree of social isolation as a result. But much like with Black Flag and Minor Threat later on, Metal taught me that its’ alright to be different, that its’ better to be alone and true to yourself then with people who only respect you as long as you fit into their world.
Also contrary to popular opinion, Metal is an incredibly diverse and intelligent genre of music. Its’ unfortunate that a lot of what gets publicised is usually the stuff with the least to say, Nu-Metal for instance which I am ashamed to say I had a brief flirtation with in the late 1990s/Early 2000’s. Self-pitying, middle-class white boys heavily influenced by Public Enemy/Anthrax’s ‘Bring The Noise’ as well as Faith No More and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, but applying none of the inventiveness or creativity of any of those acts to their own music. Nu-Metal was followed by the so-called ‘Emo’ scene with the same woe is me, aren’t I so misunderstood ethos. I say so-called because the original Emo sound has nothing to do with the make-up wearing poseurs of the modern day, but I’ll save that argument for a future piece. Instead what should be focused on is how bands such as Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper helped to produce some of the most intelligent and insightful expressions of teenage rebellion in our time, inspiring a young John Lydon in the process, proving that Metal needn’t be music made mostly by drug taking, drunken, horny knuckleheads (although Cooper and Sabbath did engage in their fair share of indulgences). It could have a brain as well as balls and bands such as the brilliant Voivod, Celtic Frost and Soundgarden (especially on Badmotorfinger) could not only kick your ass but make you think as well. They eschewed the tired clichés of Metal by maintaining not just the intensity and heaviness but by also experimenting with different genres whether that was Progressive-Rock, Hardcore Punk or even new wave in Celtic Frost’s case.
The point although somewhat trite, is that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover and Metal’s is multifaceted. Give it a try, you might just surprise yourself.
For a bit of fun I decided to compile my top 5 Metal albums, in no particular order:
- Black Sabbath – Paranoid (1970)
- Voivod – Dimension Hatröss (1988)
- Celtic Frost – Into The Pandemonium (1987)
- Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger (1991)
- The Obsessed – The Obsessed (1990)
Furthermore I would recommend Ian Christe’s ‘Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal’ as well Sam Dunn’s Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, both of which provide a far more in-depth analysis of the genre.