What I Love About Metal Music

I’ve been wanting to tell you about this for a while: my love of metal has nothing to do with venting aggression – although it probably once did – it is now just the language of music which I speak. If a piece of music is not written in massive guitars it is foreign to me. I like it heavy; I like it distorted.

However, I don’t just listen to albums of animals being slaughtered to a heathen god; my tastes are more varied than that. Let me take you on a journey through my metal tastes. We’ll start gently.

‘Pop’ music (Quantity to be found in my collection: almost limitless)

This is the kind of music which is found on most rock radio stations. Not normal commercial radio stations, but the likes of Planet Rock (Where Rock Lives) or Kerrang! Radio. It’s riffy, it has a sense of non-conformity, and it is easily accessible party music for all tastes. And it is mostly metal. This is the kind of stuff which most metalheads grew up on before graduating to something a little rougher.

I was recently asked if I disliked the Foo Fighters, because they weren’t heavy. The idea being that heavier, more difficult, music sneers upon that which is accessible and commercial. But they’re good, and good always wins. The Foos could quite happily sit in this group of bands; so much so that Dave Grohl has even played in Ghost, and no one noticed. This is what I play to you if I’m being friendly.

Lyrical topics are harder to pin down than a gust of wind: they can cover anything and everything. They will quite often include swearing and moderately adult concepts. Or just spaceships, really.

Heavier (Quantity to be found in my collection: limitless)

This music is the stuff your mother thought she was warning you about when she told you about the depravity of heavy music, but she was dead wrong. This is all perfectly friendly music, albeit with a greater degree of musical dexterity than the more abundant hard rock. It’s not scary; it is perfectly accessible. It is also the backbone of all other metal forms: everything darker builds from here.

This is the music which gets me through the day: it is friendly enough to not get me too involved in any of the absurdity or aggression, but it is toe-tapping enough for me to know that I am listening to some tremendously good things. It still mystifies me that so many people think all metal sounds the same, in the face of such abundance. If you want to like heavy music, start with the above, please.

Topics covered in lyrics include war, Vikings and flights of fancy with wizards. That said, they could also include misery, sado-masochism and seventeenth century farming practices. Who can say?

Heavy, but odd (Quantity to be found in my collection: a colossal amount)

Odd is good. I dislike listening to the same straightforward stuff every day. Right now I am listening to a bunch of Finns riffing away and singing operatically about 1,001 Arabian nights. That’s not likely to come up in your average rock song, is it? Crazy notions, odd time signatures, song and dance routines sit happily alongside Japanese witches and Scottish pirates. It’s an all-encompassing church.

It’s not what I would consider “extreme”, as the vocals are almost always clean, like a human being singing, but it is heavy in other ways. Also in this sphere is my love of Industrial metal: very dark metal music, with synths and guitars in discordant harmony. It’s not normal, but it is good. It’s a style of music which apparently went out of fashion a few decades ago, but I never noticed it was gone.

Lyrics can tend more towards the introspective, and off to the more experimental. They can deal with anguish, heartbreak and convents full of horny satanic nuns. Look, I told you it was all odd.

Reasonably extreme (Quantity to be found in my collection: significant)

This is the kind of music I had been avoiding for decades: I thought I couldn’t handle anything as heavy. Then, when I dug in to it, it was far from as heavy as I had originally assumed it would be. There are song structures and melody; there are points of rhythmic interest and passages which grab the attention. It is far from a wall of screamed noise and violence; it can be gentle and thoughtful.

This area of music has been my main focus over the past few years, and it is scratching an itch I had clearly been yearning to get to. Yes, it is brutal in its vocals; it is aggressive in its sound; but it is also very complex in its arrangements and its playing. Thoughts can be expressed here, and ideas worked out. It is a taste well worth acquiring, and will be my continuing musical focus for the near future.

Lyrical content will always have one foot in the idiocy of religion, and the path of hate, but a number of time-served bands have started subverting that in the drive towards a quest for human unity.

All the way extreme (Quantity to be found in my collection: not even nearly as much)

Now, this is the stuff your mother would warn you about, if she knew it existed. Although, mothers who know about Anaal Nathrakh tend to have lost that battle. It is terrifying, and intentionally so. It is sacrilegious, blasphemous and not suitable for minors. It is hard, heavy and uncompromising. I use this kind of music to clear my head after a hard day at work: it really blows out the cobwebs.

Extremity comes in a number of forms: it is not just the sheer brutality of the musical content, but the absolute seething hate in the vocals. I can’t shy away from the fact that this is deliberately nasty, but no more so than a horror film or a roller coaster ride. It takes time to appreciate, if you would like to. It’s the stuff I show people when they tell me metal is crap, because it may just hurt them.

Lyrics deal with hatred of the divine, the atrocities of war and the rotting of flesh in to earth. Then again, they could just be saying that, as it is really quite hard to decipher, at least at first listen.

That is a good rundown of the kinds of things I listen to. It is by no means exhaustive, as it fails to mention Black Sabbath or The Wildhearts; Avatar or A Perfect Circle. It also misses out all of the non-metal music I listen to, including the late Katzenjammer and the resurrected Paul Draper; both of whom skirt around the edges of rock, albeit with proggier elements. High degrees of musicianship and songwriting are a strong unifying factor here. There is more to heavy than metal, after all. Ish.

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