How to Appreciate Metal: A Four-Step Guide
Step One: Admit the world- and worry-obliterating limitations of indie rock, Top 40 and basically everything else.
Boss getting you down? Spouse (or partner) ripping you a new one? Fido pissing in the house? Friend forgetting to pay you the $20 that you loaned him (or her) last Friday night? Is your anger making you feel powerless? It's time to take all that aggression and release it by listening to something more destructive than Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend" song.
Go to your local music store and pick up a copy of Black Sabbath's Greatest Hits; it's the first step down the ladder of metal appreciation. As Tony Iommi's guitar plays like a "velocitised speedfreak," lean your head back and enjoy the ride. It's 72:28 minutes of pure metal bliss. Thundering guitars, grueling rhythms, angelic lyrics. It's like speeding down Dallas North Tollway with your eyes closed. It's a symphony that will take you to a magical place where fairies wear boots and corporate politicians are exposed for the maggots that they are.
After you've absorbed the Godfathers of Rock, immerse yourself in the classics to further your appreciation: Anthrax, Armored Saint, Artillery; Dio, Exodus, Iron Maiden; Judas Priest, Kreator, Megadeth; Mercyful Fate, Metallica (pre-black album), Motorhead; Overkill, Pantera, Sacred Reich; Sepultura, Slayer and Testament are just some of the bands waiting to pulverize your mind.
Fast tempos, power chords, fingers ascending and descending the chromatic scale. Complexity infuses the riffs. "Shredding" is what the guitar slingers call it. Fiery solos and double bass drumming are key signatures of a sound that personifies aggression. Denunciatory language with a few derogatory terms sprinkled through the lyrics gives voice to the voiceless.
Step Two: There's a metal band out there for everyone. Find yours.
No one knows how heavy metal started. Some say it's a nightmare birthed in the darkest pit of the Abyss, while others claim it's a response to corruption. It's one part blues with a dash of classical and a fucking mountain of attitude.
Heavy metal, though, isn't just for delinquents, outlaws and rebels. Intelligent teenagers also listen to metal to cope with being talented. Stuart Cadwallader, a psychologist at the University of Warwick, claims: "They appreciate the complex and sometimes political themes of heavy metal music more than perhaps the average pop song." One student participant says, "It helps me with stress. It's the general thrashiness of it."
But, more important, metal tells a story. It's a narrative that unfolds like an Arthurian legend or a Shakespearian masterpiece. The music progresses through the elements of any good story: conflict, rising action, climax, resolution. Iron Maiden, for instance, chronicles the adventures of Eddie, a shifter who represents each album's theme. Dio weaves a tale of a demon named Murray who befriends the lead singer and, eventually, shares secrets of the netherworld. In The Puppet Master, good ol' King Diamond loses his love and awakens strapped to a hospital bed just as The Puppet Master leans forward to cut out the king's eyes.
Despite First Baptist Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress' warnings, metal isn't just a bunch of people screaming "Hail Satan!" as guitars of fire bleed flames all over the stage. The music is much more diverse, melodic and soulful than most church hymns. Guys like Ronnie James Dio, Peter Ratajczyk and Maynard James Keenan make angels weep and the heavens cry, while Amy Lee, Otep Shamaya and Cristina Scabbia make demons drown in cold water as the metal vixens dominate the stage.
And more than a dozen different metal subgenres are currently in circulation:
Heavy Metal, Thrash Metal, Power Metal, Black Metal, Doom Metal, Death Metal, Technical Death Metal, Melodic Death Metal, Progressive Metal, Groove Metal, Folk Metal, Funk Metal, Viking Metal, Nu Metal, Redneck Metal, Symphonic Metal, Speed Metal, Alternative Metal, Avant-Grande Metal, Christmas Metal, Glam Metal, Horror Metal, Industrial Metal, Sludge Metal, Stoner Metal, Gothic Metal, Minimalist Metal, Survivalist Metal, Metalcore, Deathcore and Neoclassical are just some of the choices awaiting you.
"But the Lord is my shepherd," you say, hugging your Bible close. "This music is just too dark, too passionate. And is that an f-bomb I hear? Did he just say 'goddamn'? Good lord, I don't like those words."
Never fear, true believer. Jesus loves metal, too. (What do you think they were playing when the lonely carpenter trashed the temple? It sure as hell wasn't "Amazing Grace.") And Christian metal is exploding across CBN airwaves, setting off several pacemakers in the process. Bands such as Mortification, Moonlight, Immortal Souls, Crimson Thorn and Ceremonial Sacred are playing aggressive music yet singing a pacifist's words; talk about yin and yang meltdown. These musicians are harnessing the same Dionysian power that Cannibal Corpse, Warbeast and Slayer evoke underneath a pentagram on a nightly basis.
Step Three: Get to know the people capable of making this divine noise.
After picking one or two bands from each subgenre, crank your speakers to maximum overdrive. (Don't worry. It needs to be loud.) Then turn down the lights, close your eyes and listen. Do you hear it? No, it's not an earthquake. It's the sound of a screaming guitar reverberating through your house. It's okay to move your head backwards and forwards as the music rises in pitch. Once it grips your soul, scream as if nothing else matters. By sunrise, either you'll find a style to appreciate or you'll spend the next month using a hearing aid while a mental health worker processes your papers.
Of course you don't want to make a rash decision about which subgenre you prefer without understanding the escapades of the thrashers and fans behind the music. For less than $20, pick up a used copy of a riveting rock memoir to add more depth to the screaming. For example, in Joel McIver's Justice For All: The Truth About Metallica, you'll take a trip with the Hetfields and the Ulriches and watch as they rise to MTV dominance; and in Brian Welch's Save Me from Myself: How I Found God, Quit Korn, Kicked Drugs and Lived to Tell My Story, (a fucking mouthful, I know), you'll learn an old adage from the road: shooting meth is dumb.
Now reading about rock stars using old heroin syringes to squirt their own blood all over the Hyatt Regency's walls tends to take a person to a not so-happy place. Thankfully, not all metal stars are repeating the antics of Guns n' Roses Izzy Stradlin, who fell into a coma after balloons of heroin exploded in his stomach. Most singers are just making music with their friends. It's like playing in their garages ... only bigger. Drugs are just a bonus for some and a demon for others. "It just goes with the territory like groupies and roadies," says the old rocker sitting next to me at the strip bar.
Step Four: You're ready. Get off your ass and go to a show. For best results, get as close to the blasting as possible.
Listen to the classics. Check. Find a subgenre (or two). Check. Read about a rocker's spiral into addiction. Check. There's just one thing left to do: attend a live show. Several metal acts are coming to the Dallas area: Warbeast at the Rail Club on April 6, Anthrax at the House of Blues on April 9, and Sevendust at the Palladium Ballroom on April 28.
If you prefer something a little more intimate, check out Suicidal Tendencies (think - "[Sid] Vicious meets hardcore thrash metal") at the Granada on May 7; or Nile at Trees on March 30. The guys and gals who staff these joints will make the evening more pleasurable with drink specials as these bands ignite the stage.
Once inside the venue of your choice, don't just stand in the back like some kind of over-aged stalker. Move to the front. As you slide between attendees, avoid the sea of moving bodies in the middle, or a flying elbow might knock you out. It's best to stand next to one of the monstrous speakers towering over the crowd. From this vantage point, you get a clear view of the stage. Don't be afraid. The loudness hurts, but it's a good feeling. Just move your head until the vibrations in your bones separates your soul from your body, and then you'll finally understand what it means to soar with the music.
One-hundred-and-twenty minutes of pure adrenalin. Guitars blazing, bass grinding, drums pounding. Blood, sweat and tears. Art and technique taken to the extreme. The music will leave you breathless when it's over. Sex doesn't compare (although it runs a close second). Think of it as a musical orgasm, but it'll take days for you to recover.
Now where's my Cannibal Corpse CD?