Heavy metal, or simply metal, is a misunderstood genre. While there is very little of mainstream music I admire or even listen to, metal has been a good friend through my teenage years and has followed me into adulthood. There is an element of metal music that hits home. It’s not just the loudness and the bass and distortions. There is feeling in it, the lyrics are more intense, the music conveys a far deeper meaning. It’s not noise. It’s larger than that.
I’m an 80’s child that grew up in the 90’s so I know what pop music is supposed to be and I’ve enjoyed my share of boy bands and solo artists. But most of the artists I like and songs I bobbed to were before my time. They were from the 70’s and 80’s. I couldn’t enjoy a lot of the late 90’s music because of the importance given to performance than actual singing or music. It became more about the ‘oompf’ factor. Metal, on the other hand, goes for the subtle bang. Yes, most to all metal musicians wear black and chains, have tattoos and long hair, wear leather and look creepy, are atheists or devout . But honestly, if anyone with a musical mind/ear listened to them, you’d hear more similarities to classical music than what you’d ever find in mainstream music – some genres of which I don’t even understand!! Before I get into my rant I should mention that I know my classical music too and have my favorites. From the Medieval period – Riquier, Pérotin; from the Renaissance – Tallis, Ockeghem, Byrd; from the Baroque era – Cavalli, Purcell, Vivaldi, Bach, Handel; from the Classical era – Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert; from the Romantic period – Liszt, Schumann, Chopin, Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, Dvořák, Verdi, Brahms, Rachmaninoff.
Think song/lyrical themes; metal compositions, while paying great attention to fantastic mind-boggling riffs and delectable beats – which takes (not only displays) talent but also skill with the instrument, usually deal with politics, war, relationships, soul-searing discoveries of honesty and truth. It’s not sugar-coated. Don’t expect it to be. Yes, it’s dark. But it’s the truth about humanity. No other genre, except perhaps certain rap artists, deals with something as brutally honest as metal.
Yes, the loudness of the music plays a big role in the sound of metal, but vocalists are plenty and have multi-octave ranges that are powerful as they are melodic and soul-searing. Gruff vocals – so suited to the image of machismo that this genre is supposed to be all about – death growls and clean, clear tones. Male and female singers, with a range of training, or none at all in a lot of cases, have made their mark here though a lot of them remain unknown to the general music listening population. Ronnie James Dio (my personal all time favorite – he never received musical training!), Bruce Dickinson and Rob Halford, three men that ushered in the operatic vocals that inspired generations of metal singers, appear on every possible list of ‘Best Singers’. There’s Lemmy, a cult icon, with his gravely voice. There’s Geoff Tate, Perry Farrell and Robert Plant. The women also bring on a force that ought to be reckoned with, from operatic soulful voices to the intense growls there’re Tarja Turunen, Simone Simons, Maria Brink, Floor Jansen, Sharon den Adel, Angela Gossow, Otep Shamaya and Kittie (one of the most successful all-female metal bands). Some personal favorites include Mikael Åkerfeldt, James Hetfield, Jørn Lande, Roy Khan, Shagrath, Marco Hietala, Tony Kakko, Luca Turilli, among several others.
Metal captures the softer side of humanity too. I’ve listened to Adele and I like her smokey voice. But I’m more moved by Judas Priest‘s Angel. I’ve cried when I’ve listened to this song. Even Apocolyptica‘s Not Strong Enough has stirred something in me. For the Fallen Dream‘s Last Dying Breath isn’t soft but the lyrics get to you. Sienna Skies‘ To All Aspiring is another example.
Pain is a recurring theme in metal. It’s deals with human sacrifice and suffering and the simpler aspects of life, when the loss of loved ones or disappointment tears at you from within. Metallica’s Until It Sleeps and Fixxxer are perfect enforcers of music and words woven together from the soul. Meadows of Heaven by Nightwish is a prime example of beautiful lyrics and brilliant musical arrangement – this from the same group that recorded Master Passion Greed , which is of human greed, and Phantom of the Opera.
Drummers and guitarists are as important, possibly more, as the singers since there are instrumental metal bands that have found wide spread audience too. The first names that pop into my head when one mentions drums are Lars Ulrich, Dave Lombardo, Vinnie Paul, Tomas Haake, Richard Christy, Igor Cavalera, Chris Adler, Martin Lopez, Charlie Benante… if you don’t know them, you’re not really an appreciator of music! Same goes with the guitarists – Yngwie Malmsteen, Dave Mustaine, Kirk Hammett, Synyster Gates, Dimebag Darrell, Fredrik Thordendal, Ritchie Blackmore, Adrian Smith, Steve Harris, Scott Ian, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Kai Hansen, Eddie Clarke, Jesper Stromblad, Mikael Åkerfeldt, Chris Poland, James Hetfield and so many more. Again, if you call yourself a music-know-it-all and aren’t aware of these men. Well, I wash my hands off you!
All of the names I’ve mentioned above are songwriters – they listen to a wide range of music, find inspiration and belt out amazing pieces of work. The same as most people in the music industry. The difference? These guys actually play and sing live. They’re not doing it for entertainment. They don’t wear skimpy clothes and sing only about love, sex, parties and drugs – isn’t that the most constant theme of every new artist? And every viral hit?
There’s something intensely satisfying and powerful when you hear a thousand, sometimes, tens of thousands of voices, bellowing song after song at you. A four or five person group incites passionate responses from the crowd. They’re all there for the music! Not for the themed shows that singers put on when on tour. That’s the same with classical music – it’s about the music.
I guess my point is, before you call my music trash, take a moment and consider. There’s so much more to music than just the usual thumping from a radio or the Top-40 lists. I’ve heard them too. I love Goyte‘s Somebody that I Used to Know, I admire Adele‘s Set Fire to the Rain and Imogen Heap‘s Headlock . I’ve appreciated 2Pac‘s songs and JustinTimberlake‘s transition from a nasally singer of a boy band into a mature solo artist. I’ve danced to Madonna‘s La Isla Bonita and even Diana King‘s song with Celine Dion – Treat Her Like a Lady. I’ve bobbed to Abba and Boney M and The Beach Boys. But somehow none of them stuck. On the other hand, I was taken in by Metallica’s Wherever I May Roam, Megadeth‘s Trust, Gates of Babylon by Rainbow, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Number of the Beast and Run to the Hills by Iron Maiden, War Pigs and Iron Man by Black Sabbath, Cemetary Gates by Pantera, The Bible Black by Dio and his rendition of Dream On, Queen of the Reich by Queensryche, Battle Hymn by Manowar, Divine Wings of Tragedy by Symphony X, Pull Me Under by Dream Theater, Testament‘s Over the Wall, Nightfall by Blind Guardian, The Scarecrow by Avantasia, Only by Anthrax, Terminus by Dark Tranquility, Wish I Had an Angel by Nightwish…
I will continue to appreciate all aspects of music, I always do and have. I will spend lazy Sunday afternoons listening to pop and rock from the good old 70’s and 80’s. I will put on my heavy metal tracks or my favorite classical compositions when I want to feel raw emotion. I will continue to tolerate my family listening to the Billboard Charts and nod my approval to some of them. I have my tastes and you have yours. But don’t accuse me of having no ear for music and claim what you listen to is music.
I rest my case.