I’ve always admired heavy metal. It’s hard not to appreciate a subculture with an unflagging devotion to hedonism, a penchant for creative facial hair, and an embrace of the darker side of renaissance faire mythology. I’m particularly drawn in by its subversive nature. Who doesn’t love seeing some guy at a bar donning a “Goat Whore” t-shirt? That’s not to say I’ve always understood metal. While my admiration has only just begun to take shape, my relationship with metal runs deep.
The fascination is essentially a reactionary one. I grew up in a Chicago suburb with the most churches per capita of anywhere in the world (seriously, it’s in the Guinness Book of World Records). Nestled on the outside of downtown was the infamous Wheaton College, a school that upon enrolling requires their incoming Freshman class to sign a pledge that they won’t drink, smoke or dance. It was like growing up in the movie Footloose. Every good coffee shop in town was overrun with fundamentalist Christian kids, holding support groups to share times that they were tempted (Girl A: I let John sit on my bed last night; Girl B: You didn’t! Please tell me he kept his feet on the floor! Girl A: *blushes* of course he kept his feet on the floor!). You can imagine why a little Satanism would start to sound appealing.
My metal friend in high school (everyone had one) had endless recommendations from all over the metal spectrum, plugging various Icelandic Christian death metal bands (both musical subgenre and seeming oxymoron) and name-dropping his favorite polka metal band (Finntroll: a metal band best described as the soundtrack to a game of Tetris played in Hell). He certainly played a part in my metal development, but I definitely experienced some metal growing pains.
My first metal show particularly emphasized my metal outsider status. My high school friend’s band Aphotic River (it sounds metal, but the band name literally translates to a section of a river where no photosynthesis occurs) was playing its first show at the local VFW. Not only was I the only person there not wearing black, but the black light glow of my white t-shirt was literally highlighting how out of place I was. I spent most of the evening near the back, watching the poorly choreographed mosh pit that always seems to develop at local suburban shows.
Subsequent experiences with Metal have been equally alienating. In college, I picked up a job working a leg of “The Sound of the Underground” tour. I spent most of the day herding Monster-fueled teens into lines to get autographs from “the best ever death metal band out of Sweden”, eagerly anticipating a promised opportunity to go barhopping with Gwar only to later be turned away outside of their tour bus. Then there was the time I headed over to the Rave for a basement She Wants Revenge show (Remember them? Neither do I) only to discover my friend getting showered by a chorus of “Girl Pants” cat calls from attendees of the Jagermeister tour in the ballroom above (Actually that was pretty funny). I think the memory I would most like to forget is the Judas Priest show I caught at Summerfest as a bunch of drunken, middle-aged biker couples began to make out during “Breaking the Law” as though they were trying to fall in love again.
In spite of all of this, in some weird testerone-fueled and maybe even adolescent way, I feel like I am finally starting to figure out its appeal. The technicality of metal music in itself is impressive, to say the least. It’s basically Beethoven with a blast beat. And in spite of all of the enormous quantity of bands and subgenres, the fans seem to have an exhaustive knowledge of it.
Metal takes a certain suspension of disbelief at times that can be tough to get past. The songs aren’t exactly relatable. And unless there is a Norwegian band out there that actually consists of Vikings, I find it hard to believe that any of the people in these groups relate either. But once you get over that hurdle, it might just be the best release for any pent up aggression. It offers the same kind of twisted escapist thrill that I previously relied on repeat viewings of Evil Dead 2 to experience (I still say “A Farewell to Arms” would make for a great name for a metal band).
In short, it’s worth the effort. I’ve already started tracing pentagrams on the cover of all of my Five Star notebooks.
It’s gotten to the point, that I can consider myself an ambassador to the metal genre. There have been plenty of killer metal releases out this year, and I’m proud to report on them for FP as part of the extensive year-end festivities. Stay tuned next month.
Tim Myers is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.