Why do I love Heavy Metal?
For one reason or another, this question has been rattling around inside my brain lately. Last week I went out to dinner with my good friend (and fellow-metal head) Josh and we talked about this for a while.
I think that in life, some people just like certain things or they don’t. Some people like coffee, others don’t. Some people like carrots, others don’t. Many times there isn’t an explanation, sometimes there is. I honestly think that lately I’ve been able to come up with some of the reasons why I feel so strongly about this style of music.
Sometimes I hear people say they like metal, but theres no new good music or that metal is dead. These people don’t get it. Heavy Metal is very much alive and kicking just as much ass as it always has. Within the last year, we’ve seen AMAZING new releases from Anthrax, Dream Theater, Iced Earth, Symphony X, Anathema, and many, MANY others.
So, if you have some free time and care to know, here are the reasons I came up with.
1. Heavy Metal is timeless. It has been around a very long time. Longer than alternative, longer than rap, longer than punk. Who was the first metal band? Some people will disagree with this, but for my money, without a doubt, the first heavy metal band was Black Sabbath. This means metal has been around since 1969. Sure, there were bands before Black Sabbath that had metal-like qualities, and metal may have never existed without those bands, but Im sorry, Led Zeppelin, Steppenwolf, and Jimi Hendrix were not metal.
Going along with the timeless topic, it never sounds dated. I can listen to the very first records by Sabbath, Metallica, Iron Maiden, whatever, and the music still sounds as great as it did way back when they first came out. Sure, metal has definitely evolved into many sub-genres, but those original bands and those sounds have not aged. I get as much enjoyment out of hearing “The Four Horsemen” or “N.I.B.” as I did the first times I heard them.
Metal has been around a very long time, and its not going anywhere, anytime soon!
2. Metal is fun! This one will surely boggle some people’s minds, mainly because of the sigmata that surrounds heavy metal music. In the 70s and 80s, there were a lot of parents groups who were convinced that Ozzy Osbourne was the devil, or that Iron Maiden promoted Satanism through their cover art and song lyrics.
People who still think that obviously have never actually paid attention to the lyrics of most of these songs. I learned more about Alexander the Great from Iron Maiden than I ever did in high school! Acknowledging some of the darker chapters of life make you appreciate the better things in life too. Look at the very first picture at the top of this blog of everyone throwing up the “devil horns”. What are all of those people doing in that picture? They’re SMILING! Do any of those people look evil to you? They’re all having a great time watching a band that they love.
As for Ozzy Osbourne? Come on, can you really take this guy seriously? Anyone who has ever heard an Ozzy Osbourne song or seen him on TV knows the guy is out to just enjoy life as much as possible. Granted, he took his drug and alcohol use to obscene levels, but I think anyone can admit he’s probably seen, and done more fun things in his life than you, me, or anyone we know. Seriously? Ozzy….evil? He’s CRAZY! Can you really take anyone seriously who looks like this?
It doesn’t stop there, there are literally hundreds of bands like Manowar, Hammerfall, and Rhapsody who sing non stop about Dragons, Warriors in Loin-Cloths, and Fighting MTV. We got Blind Guardian who has made whole albums dedicated to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Austrian Death Machine, the worlds first “Arnold Schwarzenegger Movie Quote Metal Band”. I haven’t even mentioned the hair bands yet. If there is anyone who doubts how much fun Motley Crue, Poison, and Def Leppard had throughout their careers, you really have had your head in the sand for a really long time!
Metal IS fun. What other genre of music so consistently crosses the line of past, present, and future, with comic genius or stark seriousness. It often pokes fun at itself and lets you know that you are supposed to ROCK or throw up your fists in the air and shout. Manowar reminds you on almost every album what it means to be a Brother of True Metal.
3. Metal is Loud. You could argue that any genre of music sounds good played loud, but there is a constant link between heavy metal and loud speakers. Metal is in your face, its got deep bass guitar, pounding drums, screaming vocalists and wailing guitars. If you’re having a bad day, crank up the volume on whatever stereo you have, your car, your MP3 player, even your cell phone and put in just about any metal song and you’re 4-6 minutes away from being in a better mood! There’s just something soothing and satisfying about the possibility of upsetting your neighbors. Look at the picture to the left, does that look quiet to you?
4. Metal is Diverse and Technical. I am combining two things here because they both kinda say the same thing. Rap music is basically poetry set to a beat. Pop is structured and predictable. Most pop music follows a pattern called Verse-Chorus form. This is a widely recognized pattern of pop music where the song starts with a Verse, then the song’s Chorus, followed by another Verse, then the Chorus again, sometimes the Chorus will repeat, then there’s usually a short solo or bridge, then a third verse, then the Chorus a third time, and sometimes even a fourth time before the song eventually fades out. Yeah, there’s some pop-forms of metal that have followed this pattern (most notably the hair bands), but the vast majority of metal is progressive and doesn’t follow a particular pattern throughout. Even songs with a chorus are often intertwined with melodies that don’t rhyme, solos, extended drum intros, etc.
Metal keeps you on your toes and every song brings something new to the table. Its never boring. Many metal songs are far longer than the typical radio friendly 4-5 minute lengths that you see with other genres. Its not unusual for a single album to contain one or more songs that are 10 minutes long. Even the very first Sabbath record had a 14+ minute track!
Heavy Metal bands implement sounds and instruments from all other forms of music. If you want to hear full scale orchestras, listen to Therion or Nightwish, Skyclad plays Celtic guitar and flutes, Orphaned Land implements the Arabic oud and bouzouki, theres the Theremin thats been used by bands such as The Gathering and Opeth, and many, many other strange and unusual instruments from all over the world that are used by bands to give their blend of metal a unique flavor.
Even the bands themselves implement other styles of music completely different from metal. Some metal bands like Anathema started out making death metal, and transitioned over the years to music that most people wouldn’t even consider metal, yet they managed to not alienate their original fans. There are bands I like, that I refer to as metal bands, that people I know say isn’t metal at all. That’s yet another thing that is so great about heavy metal. There is so much diversity and variance between the different bands and the instruments they play, that you can keep finding new things to love about them. You will never be bored being a metal fan.
Diversity aside, another great quality of metal is the massive amount of technical talent needed to play the many instruments. Very rarely will you hear a drummer or a guitarist who doesn’t at one time border on virtuosity. Some guitarists such as Michael Romero, John Petrucci and Tony Iommi are considered to be one of the greats of their trade. Behind the drums you got Dave Lombardo, Vinnie Paul, and Mike Portnoy. The bass guitar all stars are Joey DeMaio, Steve Harris, and Cliff Burton. As for lead singers, this list could be miles long, but there are none better than Bruce Dickinson, Russell Allen, or Chuck Schuldiner. There’s even guys such as Steven Wilson, Mikael Åkerfeldt, Dan Swanö, and Arjen Anthony Lucassen who are well known for their all around contributions to their music. These guys can play every instrument, write their own songs, and produce their own albums.
5. Metal is a Community. Not only is it a genre of music, heavy metal fans make up a “metal community” that crosses all ages, genders, races, and ethnicities. You are just as likely to stand next to a short haired, computer programming geek as you are to be standing next to the gnarly, tattooed muscular metal head that have stereotyped the fan base. Sadly because metal is an underground form, many of the shows are at 21 and older venues, but when there is an all ages show, you will see teenage and sometimes younger kids there with their parents. My first ever metal show was seeing Ozzy Osbourne when I was 12 years old with my dad. I’ve seen whole families make the trek out to see their favorite band. I have been to well over 100 shows in my life and seen maybe one or two fights. As a general rule, even the most extreme metal fans are respectable people who are just there for the thrill of seeing their favorite band. Being at a metal show breaks down all barriers and allows people who love the music to share their passion with others. I have seen and met so many cool people at these shows. I’ve actually found that the most commercialized bands often have the worst fans. You will see way more drunk, out of control jerks at a Jimmy Buffet or an Aerosmith show than you ever would at a Deicide or Cannibal Corpse show.
I could go on and on, and frankly, I doubt anyone is reading this far, but I love metal, and this blog post barely scratches the surface of why I love the music and don’t see that changing. I fully intend on being deaf, sitting in a retirement home in 50 or so years listening to Judas Priest and Opeth with my index and pinky fingers proudly in the air.
I mentioned Manowar’s frequent references to Brothers of True Metal, and even though their references are tongue-in-cheek, the word “Brotherhood” is something that I think accurately describes the entire genre. When you go to a metal show, it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do outside that show, when you are inside the confines of whatever concert hall, bar, or arena you are seeing your favorite band, you are all brothers of metal!
Sam Weiss said it best at the end of his excellent documentary, Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey:
"Ever since I was 12 years old, I've had to defend my love for heavy metal against those who say it is a less valid form of music. My answer now is that you either feel it or you don't. If metal doesn't give you that overwhelming surge of power, and make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, you might never get it. And you know what? Thats okay, because judging by the 40,000 metal heads around me, we're doing just fine without ya!"
I love heavy metal and I am not ashamed to admit it. If you do too, let the world know. You are not alone, there are MILLIONS all around the world just like you who get it. Maybe your favorite band isn’t their favorite band, but they do get it. Welcome to the brotherhood.
R.I.P. Ronnie James Dio
1942 – 2010