Confessions of a Closet Metal-Head

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Stirred up by the recent experience of attending a metal gig, long-dormant thoughts and feelings have come bubbling up from within me on just why it is that metal holds such an emotional power over its listeners, and on how it can so commonly suffer the fate of being snubbed by those of differing musical persuasions. In the course of this article I try to shed some light on these issues through the microcosm of the aforementioned gig; around which my ponderings are loosely centered. So if you fancy putting your feet up and chatting all things metal, indulging along the way in my own bumbling anecdotes and eccentric ramblings, then read on – you have my blessing…

DragonForce - Image via rockombia.com

DragonForce – Image via rockombia.com

Upon accepting the last-minute fill-in assignment of interviewing and reviewing Carcer City (whose astonishing single Infinite//Unknown is posted below) at The Joiners I was initially a little apprehensive, although – I hasten to add – not on musical grounds. I’ve long been an avid metal fan, albeit privately, listening to bands like Slipknot and Korn (from the nu-metal end of the American New Wave spectrum); Atreyu and Killswitch Engage (from the opposing metalcore end of the same spectrum); as well as Avenged Sevenfold and Bullet For My Valentine (who began metalcore and have since moved into more old school heavy metal niches; hard rock and thrash respectively). And all this from within the safe confines of my own headphones. My slight nervousness in this instance lay in the fact that I hadn’t been to a metal gig for nearly seven years, since I saw face-melting powerhouse DragonForce (of Guitar Hero fame, remember them?) and their other-worldly virtuoso guitarist Herman Li, whose legendary string-shredding fingers supposedly move too fast to be captured on camera. So the saying goes anyway… but I digress.

via tickx.co.uk

The Joiners – Image via tickx.co.uk

Herding together the most abrasive clothing I own, my outfit consisted of an Anti-Flag t-shirt which I got at my first ever gig aged 13 which somehow still fit me, ripped jeans, and a pair of worn-out but reliable Converse All-Stars. In hindsight it was pitifully pop punk, but the best that I could muster short of pilfering someone else’s wardrobe. And so it was that I chirpily set off towards Southampton, boning up along the way on my knowledge of the band I was to interview and see perform there. When I arrived at The Joiners it soon became clear how much of a fish out of water I truly was: groupies with all-consuming tattoos; piercings in places you never knew there could be; and basically a general agreement to appear as terrifying as possible to the uninitiated. As I cautiously approached the venue I quite rightly got some curious looks from the punters, as if to say “you sure you’re in the right place?” Unperturbed I ambled round the back to be greeted by drummer and manager of the band Karl, who introduced me to vocalist Patrick and guitarist Lewis; the gents I was to be chatting to shortly. WARNING: The next paragraph gets a bit muso-sophical, so if you can’t be arsed then scroll down.

Snob? - Image via thomasjamesillustration.com

Snob? – Image via thomasjamesillustration.com

It must surely be one of the great paradoxes of the musical world that those who play the most brutally aggressive music are so often the most kind-natured, humble, and charming people to speak with (as Patrick and Lewis most certainly were), whereas those who play the more quaintly demure “classical” music – I use the overly-generic term relunctantly – are just as often prickly, disdainful and snobbish towards musics different from their own, and therefore considered by them to be inferior. Metal is one such music to have regrettably fallen under that woefully misguided assumption, despite its relative musical complexity. Irregular time-signatures, shifting modes (Phrygian and Locrian endowing that particularly metal ‘sound’), and a technical mastery of their respective instruments all ought to help bestow metal and its performers with the respect it so deserves from the muso-intelligentsia; sadly however it remains relegated to the outermost fringes of the musical community, along with its equally derided and divisive spiritual cousin – rap.

The offended article - Image via wishbonecollective.bigcartel.com

The offended article – Image via wishbonecollective.bigcartel.com

Once the gig was underway, in one of the several intervals between acts I wandered over – cider in hand – to the various bands’ merchandise stalls set up adjacent to the bar. As I was flipping casually through a box of vinyl records I was accosted by a bloke next to me: “Oi, watch out!” As if I didn’t stick out like a sore thumb enough already, I had somehow managed to spill some of my very full cider on a beautifully crisp white t-shirt, onto which was emblazoned in bold shock-pink the word “WISHBONE“. Thoroughly embarrassed, I quickly sped off to the toilets to retrieve some loo-roll with which to clear up my mess. As I did so I received a blood-curdling glare from the girl behind the stall, although she soon softened when I offered to pay for the t-shirt, telling me not to worry; mistakes happen. Even though I now felt like an utter twat, had the incident not occurred I mightn’t have noticed the word so artily printed on the garment. The Wishbone Collective seem to be a very thrifty business enterprise, setting up their own stall at that gig (and presumably all the others on the tour), selling chic apparel and obscure vinyl records. At any rate they were certainly doing a roaring trade that night at The Joiners.

Image via pinterest.com

Image via pinterest.com

Back in the fray, the moshing was in full swing. The longer I watched it unfurl, the more it began to take on for me a kind of spiritual quality. By giving themselves up completely to the manic dance that took them, these people were expressing themselves on the deepest psychological level, achieving a sort of primal catharsis realised through violently kinetic motion. There was a real poignancy to it all; a sense that whatever woes they may have each built up in their lives, they felt able to release them by ramming into each other in this shared space. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I felt deeply moved witnessing it. And perhaps this brings us to the most beautiful aspect of metal. For all its supposed posing and melodrama, it’s actually a music that – through touching on the darker side of the human condition (albeit through artificial means) – is able to stir up and exorcise the blackest demons that lie dormant within all of our hearts, whether we care to acknowledge them or not. It’s a raw and brutally honest art form that shouts at the top of its lungs the things that we all sometimes feel but are reticent to admit. Ultimately though it has the courage to risk coming off as ridiculous, in order that it might reach out to the lost souls who follow its guiding light and steer them gently back home.

Carcer City’s new album Infinite//Unknown comes out September 16th. The title track is out now via Stay Sick Recordings, check out the music video for it below.

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A curmudgeonly Music student who likes to spend his days watching an obscene number of films whilst growing increasingly grumpy with the noise-mongers around him. He has on occasion also been sighted out and about performing with his band Nine Ace Deck, for whom he sings and writes songs. And when not doing either of the above, he takes great pleasure in composing music for the short films of the Wessex Films Society. Make sure to like his Facebook page (above right) to keep up with all the latest ramblings...

8 Comments

  1. avatar
    David Mitchell-Baker on

    As a metal-head myself, one of the big draws and appeals of metal is simply the sense of community/family of the genre. People love being part of a loyal and passionate following that is friendly, inclusive and fun. Plus the music exhibits actual talent and not just pressing play on a laptop so the appreciation is there for the sheer ability and musical prowess of the musicians.

    • avatar
      Harley James Mitford on

      Absolutely. And how ironic that a music which utilises the most exclusive and alienating of aesthetics – both visually and sonically – should be so inclusive and welcoming in its intentions! I agree with you that the technical prowess and talent that is so often displayed makes it all the more admirable from a musical perspective (although there’s certainly nothing wrong with musicians – such as those of Punk – that don’t allow a lack of technical mastery to prevent them from expressing themselves), however I would be wary of suggesting that Electronica-related artists, who necessarily must incorporate technology as a part of their live shows, are merely “pressing play”. It challenges notions of ‘performance’ as we recognise them, yes, but is that not a healthy, open-minded questioning of traditional norms? I wouldn’t say that Skrillex is any less a ‘performer’ than Herman Li, because their ‘performances’ entail radically different means of musical production. Questions of taste aside, I feel it would be unfair to regard the former as inferior to the latter on the basis of “pressing play”. Sorry if that’s a pedantic response, I just think it’s a point that’s worth mentioning. Perhaps you didn’t mean it in such a way and I’ve misunderstood you, but either way I feel it’s an interesting discussion that ought to be had.

      • avatar
        David Mitchell-Baker on

        I mainly say this in response to the current wave of dance/EDM music, which I personally cannot stand mainly due to the sheer laziness of the music.
        As a drummer I find that the “beats” are lazy, only a bass drum hit at a regular pace, how can the beat “drop” when it’s just a bass drum being hit? It’s then just usually one musical refrain repeated over and over again on top of this, with maybe a verse or two of lyrics.
        I appreciate dance music when it’s done well and actually uses instruments and is a well made song (I like Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem are one of my favourite bands) but most of it is just made up of computer produced sounds and other such means. It infuriates me that this music is so popular when there are bands out there pouring everything they have into their music and lyrics to only garner small audiences and little press attention.Two of my favourite bands, The Hotelier and Modern Baseball (both of whom I have written about for The Edge), are big victims of this; they’ve collectively produced several of the best rock/punk albums of the last few years yet are still virtually unknown.
        My laptop comment is directed at their live performances, several of whom have been known to play without their laptops even plugged in.

        • avatar
          Harley James Mitford on

          Sorry for the lateness of this reply. You’re right in that a lot of dance music is frustratingly lazy at the moment, but there’ll always be the generic trash in any genre unfortunately. In the end it comes down to the masses, indoctrinated as they are by whichever vast corporation can throw the most marketing at their artists, rather than those with the most talent receiving the most attention. If only we lived in a world where success was proportionately measured out according to talent!

  2. avatar

    Metal appeals to me greatly because it is, in my opinion, one of the most diverse and challenging forms of music; it is a source of study for me rather than just for pleasurable listening. I’ve been doing this sort of ‘studying’ for over ten years now and I daily encounter new sounds and forms, but I take slight issue with using the umbrella term “metal” because it generalises artists that are totally different. Carcer City, for example, sounds nothing like Electric Wizard which sounds nothing like Pig Destroyer which sounds nothing like AC/DC which sounds nothing like In Flames. And yet these almost entirely disparate artists are cobbled together as “metal”. And I think that is because the word “metal”, rather than referring to the actual music per se, denotes these and many more artists as existing outside the prescribed norms of musical taste i.e. outside of popular culture. To simplify an incredibly complex set of processes and ideas (I could talk about metal’s place if music culture for hours) metal is, and from the outset always was, an antonym to the status quo.

    • avatar
      Harley James Mitford on

      Totally agree with you on the umbrella term issue. Unfortunately the same issue has occurred to a far greater extent in the world of “classical” music. Although the term only really denotes the music produced roughly from 1750-1800, and that which accords to a specific set of Classical Antiquity-based ideals to do with balance and symmetry, it is somehow used as an umbrella term for approx. 900 years of art music produced by Western civilization! And even then the terms ‘art music’ and ‘Western’ are problematic for similar reasons – can any music not be considered as art? Where does the West end and the East begin, and on what grounds?

      Absolutely one of the greatest musical aspects of “metal” is – according to which sub-genre you take for your examples – its broad-ranging exploration of sound, and indeed noise (especially in the Industrial Metal of Nine Inch Nails and early Ministry). Interesting that you have, in a different way to me, picked up on the side-lining of metal as ‘other’ and outside the mainstream norms, being placed under an umbrella term for the sake of avoidance by people who for whatever reason disregard it. A genuine sadness for me comes when I hear people say “I don’t like ‘classical’ music”, and I have to question them as to what they consider to be ‘classical’, since it could be anything from the ecstatic canticles of Hildegard von Bingen to the satirical anti-opera of György Ligeti. Invariably they stare back at me with a blank expression, saying things like “It’s boring because it doesn’t have words”. Aaaaaahhh!!! How can people ignorantly generalise in such a grossly disproportionate way!?!?

      It’s probably to do with the fact that as marketing/advertising comes into play, people have to be given catch-all terms to make split-second judgements over what they will and won’t invest their time and money in, and such a system becomes the social norm to the point where it becomes socially acceptable and justifiable to disregard on the basis of a label a music which they know nothing about. Sadly it’s a reality of the way things operate in a world where people feel the need to have their tastes dictated to by better-informed (or worse as the case often is) individuals and companies and lack the ability and the will to make their own minds up upon being presented with something unfamiliar.

      So I feel your pain Oli, I really do. Just be grateful that due to the relatively short time “metal” has been in existence (approx. half a century), the fallout of such a misappropriation of terms is not as catastrophic to the genre as that of “classical”, whose 9 centuries of multitudinous delights are brutally squashed into one (often pejoratively used) term – whilst musics that have existed for about a tenth of the time are given their own headings on a service such as iTunes. It’s bad, I agree, but it could be a hell of a lot worse!

      • avatar

        Dude I agree with everything you say, especially about “classical” music. I’m no guru at all and it has been a few years since I read or studied music but even I, with my minuscule knowledge of “classical” music, can tell that Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’ is not the same as Rachmaninoff’s ‘Piano Concerto No. 3’.

        And the excuse of “well it’s boring because there’s no singing in it” is just infuriating. A lot of house, trance and techno songs don’t have vocals but they’ll listen to those for an entire evening!

        • avatar
          Harley James Mitford on

          Precisely. As you rightly point out it doesn’t take a guru to recognise such obvious differences, and yet even the most basic differentiation seems to be beyond comprehension for some, all due to the horrendous generalisation which allows such a conflation of musics to occur! And yes, the hypocrisy of dancing all night to house/trance (with its intelligently composed ebb and flow of wordless textures), and yet still dismissing instrumental ‘classical’ music as boring (which employs similar developmental techniques albeit in a very different way) is ridiculous to say the least. A very convoluted sentence there but I feel we’re definitely on the same page about this!

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