• Peggy, Howard and Woody go to the ends of the earth to find… half of the puzzle?!
• Who’s running the last gulag in town? Hydra! That’s who!
• And who’s the woman hiding among them? Who is the man named Vanko? And why can’t Woody trust a talking bear? When interests collide, worlds crack open as Immonen and Ellis continue their rampage across Siberia!
This week, I wanted to talk about heavy metal. Heavy metal is often seen as outside of the standard world of rock music, and the fanatical devotion of so called Metalheads can actually discourage people from exploring the genre. It may seem like most people either listen to NO metal or ALL metal, but really, metal is a fascinating genre, and it’s less intimidating than it may seem. Here are 7 songs, and 13 reasons, to listen to metal.
1. In general metal music tends to require a high level of technical proficiency to play.
Now, to be fair, there’s a lot of music that requires lots of technical skill that still are really not that fun to listen to. A lot of 20th century experimental music, free jazz, and classical music pieces are hard to play, and something being virtuosic does not mean it’s good music.
(Pictured: Clearly, a masterpiece)
But if your first thought when thinking about heavy metal is that it is all just meaningless screaming garbage, remember that it’s meaningless screaming garbage that is hard to do.
2. The line between “rock” and “metal” is hard to define.
That might not seem to necessarily be a good thing. But if you like any rock music at all, there’s going to be at least some metal you’ll like. I’ll start with a song that probably everyone has heard before, but serves as a good introduction to how metal can still be fun, catchy, and have the same energy as the best of rock music.
The style of metal presented in Enter Sandman and many other Metallica songs is perhaps one of the most popular and known styles of metal, but one good way to start to understand metal is to look into its history. for a lot of genres, the earliest foundational work is more experimental and difficult to listen to. Electronica music, for instance, was created by experimental composers using giant computers in universities and isn’t that much fun to listen to. But since heavy metal grew largely out of out rock music, early metal can be a good place for first time metal listeners to start. Because really…
3. Metal has been around for a long time
Songs like The Who’s “I Can See For Miles,” or the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” or “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” are essentially early metal tracks and were hugely influential to the genre.
(Pictured: clearly Satanic Devil Worshippers)
There’s even some bands that were considered “heavy metal” during their time that would be considered “rock” now, someone like ACDC or Queen, who sometimes get the term “classic rock” or “hard rock.” Even though their sound isn’t exactly like what we would call metal now, much of their sound and aesthetic is essential metal, and extremely important to what metal would become.
Black Dog is probably most notable for its central riff, which is surprisingly complex, the legend going that Led Zeppelin wanting to write something too difficult for other bands to cover. Huge riffs like this have always been a main part of what metal is. But one of the most interesting parts of this song, and in fact led z’s work in general, is the influence of the blues. The blues is of course an essential part of rock music, and very influential to metal as well, but the what I’m really saying is..
4. Metal is that metal is in a lot of genres, and a lot of genres are in metal.
A lot of times, it can seem like there’s a big divide between the big, scary, alienating world of “heavy metal,” and then far away, everything else. But that’s not really true. This next song is by Sleigh Bells, who are in no way metal, but take a lot of inspiration from metal groups, so they can be a good place to start.
Here’s the tricky thing about metal though. Even when you’re fully in the genre of metal, it’s hard to tell what metal really means. That’s because..
5. Metal is really diverse!
Again, the stereotype is that all metal is just slimey boys in dungeons playing dark, evil, satanic music, but there is really so much that metal is about. There is christian metal, there is industrial metal, there is metal mixed with rap, there is metal that features cellos, there is metal that basically sounds like folk music, really everything you want can be found in metal. The Napalm Death song “You Suffer” has the Guiness world record for “shortest recorded song” at about 1.5 seconds, and then there are bands that have songs that last for hours. There are bands like Wreck and Reference who have an entirely guitarless metal sound, and then you have bands like Sunn 0))) and Earth who are described as Drone metal, and have long, minimalist pieces lasting 20 or 30 minutes based on atmosphere and slowly evolving melodies.
(Pictured: clearly nice boys)
6. Metal is still so new
Even though it seems that every iteration of genre combination has been done, different styles are being invented all the time. Metal is a constantly growing genre, and the as the stigma of listening to metal is lessening, more and more people are exploring new ideas of what metal is. This next band is fairly traditional and punk inspired, but represents the fun of metal that still exists.
7. Perhaps more than any other genre of music, metal has an incredible international presence.
Metal also seems to act as a kind of universal language in music. There are giant, influencial metal scenes in America, South America, East Asia, the Middle East, and especially Northern Europe, which the most known and influential scene being Scandinavia. When you listen to metal, you usually end up listening to bands from all over the world, and much of the time where bands are from is reflected in the music or lyrical themes. For instance, the popular band System of a down is highly influenced by the band’s Armenian-American heritage. And while in most genres, non-English speaking bands have to sing in english to get worldwide attention, metal songs will be performed in practically every language on earth. There are even bands singing in new languages, like Tolkein’s Elvish, or languages the band has written themselves.
8. Metal is popular.
Having this worldwide audience, it’s it shouldn’t come as a surprise that metal is popular, but it may be the most popular music on earth. recent data on Spotify has shown that metal is the most listened to genre, beating out even pop music. I know I was saying before that metal isn’t only the typical fans with leather jackets and corpsepaint, but these are an important part of metal, and it’s important to this genre that it has had this extremely loyal fanbase for almost 50 years.
(Pictured: your key to popularity)
9. Metal is escapist.
One of the major reasons for metal’s popularity is how escapist it is. While metal is often about Darkness, it’s usually not about the harsh realities of life that punk often is about, more commonly you hear themes of epic wars between good and evil, hell, demons, death, and destruction.
10. Metal is often larger than life and flavorful.
Usually bands are just bands, a group of people who play music, but metal bands often have intricate backstories, albums with detailed plotlines, and music that really lives in huge world with biblical battles , crushing defeats, and stunning victories.
11. Metal is surprising similar to classical music and opera.
Metal songs can often be 8 to 10 minutes, or even much longer, and can incorporate forms and structures much more diverse than traditional rock music. The music is often very grand in scope, frequently introduces themes and riffs that are repeated and reprised, are composed for “chamber groups” of many talented musicians, and incorporates a wide range of soft and loud tones. Despite often being on the outskirts of music, metal often tends to be supremely well produced and having a clean recorded sound. This is of course a clean recorded sound of a extremely distorted sound, but shows what metal is really about: these might be devil worshippers, dark wizards, or just moody teenagers, but they’re not slackers. In opposition to punk rock, which is often intentionally recorded in a lo-fi or sloppy manner, much of heavy metal tends to be obsessed with accuracy. Many bands, especially the ones inspired by or incorporating elements of prog rock, will devote hours and hours to get the perfect tone for a song, and may have dozens of pedals and guitar effects. The stories told can be fantastical, but the execution is pure.
12. Metal is almost always highly emotional, and extremely high energy.
This is one of the reason that the live show is so important to metal culture, having the already huge sound amplfy-ed even more by lights, pyrotectnics, sweat, and moshing, creates an experience unlike any other genre of live music. Even when just played on headphones, metal music demands to be played loud. And this isn’t even for the traditional, evil-sounding metal bands. Even for bands that can be uplifting, like the divisive Deafheaven, who combine shoegaze, post-rock, and black metal, a track like “Dream House” will always take all of your attention.
Metal is hard to play, it’s diverse, it’s all around the world, tons of people listen to it. And I know, there are a lot of people who just won’t listen to it. And that’s ok! But it’s fun to be evil. it really is. We always root for the hero, but you always know that evil is cooler. You don’t have to worship Satan or wear all black to realize that, sometimes Boba Fett is cooler than Luke Skywalker, or that everyone kinda wants to be Bellatrix, or that Sauron definitely had the best armour. And metal usually is just that: it’s fun. It’s awesome. It makes you want to pound your fist, scream to the heavens, jump around with a group of sweaty people you just met, and just live. For all the talk of death and dying in metal, it’s really about living.
(But be this guy. You’ve always wanted to be this guy. Art by Michael Komarck)