Heavy Music for Indecisive People

I need to have music with me wherever I am. From radio, phone or computer, I need it around me; it’s important: It helps my mind work.

When I’m cooking, when I’m doing the dishes, or when I’m at work, I need to have music playing. I have even been known to dad dance while cooking. You don’t want to see that. For the most part that music could be classified as either Rock or Metal.

I am a huge metal fan, but I have gaps. I mean, you can’t like everything, can you? I don’t tend to like genres or subgenres as a whole: I like songs.

If I hear a song that gets me excited, I listen to it again, and again, for several days. If I’m sufficiently excited, I will listen to the rest of the album.

In years gone by this would lead to me buying a whole (physical) album for any song I got hooked on; I amassed an entire collection of, essentially, ‘empty albums’, where I would only listen to one or two songs. Now that we have easy access to YouTube and the like I am entitled to try before I buy, so I have far fewer of these wasted albums in my collection. That said, some empty albums go on to become favourites, but that’s the exception, rather than the rule. It justifies purchases, however.

Either way, I get hooked on a song, and I sample the album it came from. Recent examples include Amaranth by Nightwish and Night Comes Down by Katatonia.

  • In the case of the former, it led to me buying most of the back catalogue of Nightwish in the space of a few days;
  • In the case of the latter, it led to me buying several Judas Priest albums.

Night Comes Down was a song by Judas Priest, which Katatonia had expertly covered; the song was the thing that I liked. Everything starts with the song.

An indication of how immersed in a band I get is whether I own a t-shirt of them. I would never wear one of a band that I was not a fully-fledged fan of. Using previous examples, when I find a Nightwish t-shirt I like, I will buy it; I will not be buying a Katatonia t-shirt. I will likely buy a Judas Priest t-shirt.

Megadeth are another band which I am highly unlikely to buy a t-shirt of. It’s not that I don’t like them, I very much do. It’s just that I don’t like them enough to consider myself a fan. I have one album and a greatest hits collection, but I only ever listen to five songs from them (Trust, Almost Honest, Use the Man, Symphony of Destruction and À Tout le Monde, in case you’re interested).

I am wearing t-shirt at the moment emblazoned with the spidery logo of a band of the Black Metal (BM) subgenre. BM consists of walls of impenetrable noise, and an enduring love of both Satan and Lord of the Rings. However, BM as a whole eludes me. I enjoy the modern, avant-garde, experimental BM, far more than its defining Satanic gore. As such I am anathema to many within the Black Metal community; they would decry me as a ‘poseur’, and I am fine with that. My musical tastes are no longer about vanity; they’re about finding songs I love to hear.

If I get fully hooked on a band, you will know about it. It’s basically all I will talk about, much to the chagrin of my family, who have so much better things to do, and just wish I’d shut up, I’m sure.

Another defining aspect of fandom is the will to travel. A few years ago my partner and I considered a trip to Switzerland to see a band dear to both our hearts, Týr. They are our favourite shared band and were touring with two other bands. Týr would be on first so would have had the shortest set: perhaps about half an hour. In the end we realised that we would happily travel that far for them but not for the other two. We waited and saw them as headliners a year later far closer to home.

If I get particularly hooked on an album, I will then move on to sampling the band as a whole.

This can lead to me liking bands where I only enjoy certain albums by them – for instance Metallica: I used to be quite a fan of the band, with a fine collection of t-shirts, but more recent offerings have left me cold. I have found myself drifting away from them, alienated. I still listen to Load and Reload, but they’re a very different kettle of fish; they’re collections of songs which actually move me. Thrash, it seems, no longer moves me.

Paradise Lost, on the other hand, are a band I found myself getting fully immersed in. Their songs, their albums and then their career as a whole just seem to grab me. This is the ideal situation when it comes to a band – from one song (Say Just Words), to one album (One Second), to many albums (Faith Divides Us, Death Unites Us, Draconian Times), to a career – and it is all too rare. Paradise Lost have been a gateway band for me, reigniting my interest in the harsher ends of Death Metal. However, if it wasn’t for their songs, I would not have been drawn so deeply in.

More often than not I will fall at the hurdle of an album, the song I have discovered being less than representative of the album as a whole.

For instance, I wanted to love Parkway Drive, but I didn’t.

Parkway Drive fall in to a subgenre called Metalcore. It fuses extreme metal with Hardcore Punk. Anything Hardcore-based seems to leave me scratching my head. I keep trying it out, but I just can’t handle it. I find myself liking the occasional song, but I can’t make it through a full album. So many great bands through the years have their roots in Hardcore that I have to keep giving them a shot.

I also wish that I could get in to Göteborg-style Melodeath, but it leaves me cold. In the 90s, a group of friends living in the outskirts of Göteborg started forming bands and writing music. They fused the anger, distortion and blast beats of Death Metal with the melody of British Heavy Metal. I have read endless articles regarding the lasting influence and technical virtuosity of such superb bands as In Flames and At The Gates, but I just cannot seem to find my way in. I admire them unequivocally, but that one song eludes me still. As usual, everything starts with just one song; a key to open the vaults.

The analogy I draw here is with restaurant criticism: some critics go absolutely nuts over the technical virtuosity of a team of chefs creating the bleeding edge of modern gastronomy; others just want a good plate of food. As much as I love marvelling at technical virtuosity, all I ever really want – at the heart of it all – is the musical equivalent of a good plate of food.

Is that too much to ask?